Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nadir's Report from Camp Democracy

Photos by Chris Land
(except the one of Chris which is by Nadir)

Activists from all over the nation have literally set up camp in Washington DC.

From September 5 to September 21 Camp Democracy will create a ruckus in front of the Washington Monument and the US Capitol organizing, teaching and rallying the troops in the struggle to change the direction the nation has taken, and to hold the Bush administration accountable for its criminal actions.

The idea that progressives should bivouac in the nation’s capitol came from many places, but is most directly inspired by Camp Casey, which was established by activist Cindy Sheehan outside President George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas during his summer vacation in 2005. Named for Sheehan’s eldest son who was killed in Iraq, Camp Casey was a watershed moment in the anti-Iraq war movement. The camp received international media attention as Sheehan demanded a face-to-face meeting with Bush hoping to receive acceptable answers about why her son was sent to fight in Iraq.

When the third Camp Casey ended on September 2 this year, the residents of that camp moved to Washington DC and Camp Democracy. The new camp’s focus is to rally the progressive political community, teaching and organizing around issues like the end of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, human rights, healthcare, the plight of Katrina victims and impeachment.

My own sojourn to Camp Democracy began on September 8 when I performed at a concert on the campsite, participated in a political songwriting workshop on September 10 and sang at the 9/11 memorial program on September 11. But like most of the other campers, designer/photographer/activist Chris Land and I drove from Detroit to DC to network with others, and to learn how we could make our own activism more effective.

For a long time now, the progressive political movement has suffered from the illusion that it is fractured and unorganized. Camp Democracy dispels this myth.

Hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals fight the good fight every day. Considerable progress is being made on the ground in cities all over the country. Camp Democracy has brought hundreds of people together to share their experiences, tactics and wisdom with the progressive community. As Chicago activist, musician and producer Tristan James said in his blog on the camp, “It felt like I was at a progressive think tank, strategizing for the future.”

Many of the camp’s sessions are informational with a lecture format, but others are more like roundtable discussions with presenters and audience members sharing information and passing ideas back and forth. There are blogging workshops, lobbyist training and screenings of films and documentaries.

Former diplomat Colonel Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Department in opposition to the invasion of Iraq is one of the camp’s primary organizers and will lecture several times. Attorneys Brendan Smith and Jeremy Brecher of lectured about the need for the US to return to rule of law and presented the legal case for the impeachment of the Bush administration.

Author Larry Beinhart, whose novel American Hero was turned into the film Wag the Dog, asserted that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are dead. What generally exists now are “realists,” those who examine the world as it really is and recognize the consequences of the government’s actions, and “true believers” who follow a dogmatic ideology that they believe is true even though reality is often quite different. He called for a new political paradigm organized around this concept.

Dahlia Wasfi, a physician from Denver who left the medical profession to become a full-time activist, offered a stirring presentation called “Putting a Face on the War”. Dahlia’s mother is Jewish and her father is Iraqi. She has visited her father’s family in Iraq several times to reach a better understanding of how the war is affecting them. Her compelling slide show cut from grim statistics about the occupation to family photos to pictures of dead Iraqi children and US soldiers.

Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace and military families maintain a strong presence at the event, emphasizing the human toll that has been taken on the American side of the war. Not only did the veterans lecture and participate in the discussions, but they were arrested for their activism during their time in DC.

Four Iraq War veterans and a supporter were arrested on Sept. 9 when they attended an open house at the Pentagon and left flyers about the dangers of depleted uranium weapons in the Pentagon chapel. That these men risked their lives for their country - one of them suffering from the effects of exposure to depleted uranium - and were then arrested for distributing educational material that could help save the lives of other soldiers, is more than ironic. It is tragic. Click HERE to view video (WMV) of the press conference at Camp Democracy where the Vets tell of their ordeal.

Carlos Arredondo touched many hearts with the memorial he erected for his oldest son Alex who was killed in Najaf, Iraq. When Marine officers told Carlos of his son’s death, he was so overcome with grief that he set the Marine van and himself on fire. His memorial included a flag-draped coffin and an enlarged copy of Alex’s last letter home which filled the camp with tears when it was read out loud by poet Chris Chandler.

The artistic presence at Camp Democracy is strong and visible. Bill Moyer of The Backbone Campaign was there with his "Bush Chain Gang" - a set of large masks with the faces of Bush Administration officials, and there are banner making workshops on several days.

The political songwriting workshop I participated in was entertaining, informative and emotional. Organized by Jay Kohn and moderated by Graham and Barbara Dean who host a radio show in Massachusetts, the workshop’s diversity of voices and styles was striking.

From the satire of Eric Schwartz whose song “Get Your Jesus Off My Penis” has received over a million hits on YouTube, and George Shrub, the world’s only singing CIA agent, to the dark trip-hop of Tristan James and the spoken word and soul-drenched vocals of Chris Chandler and David Roe, the show was both intelligent and fun from top to bottom. There was singing, laughing, dancing, anger and tears. How often do you get that at a show these days?

In contrast, the September 11 Memorial program was more somber. The rain that fell off and on all day cast a dreary haze on an already sad occasion. Still there were great performances by John Flynn, Sonia from Disappear Fear, Spook Handy, Chandler and Roe, the Deans and several other singers, songwriters and poets.

The terror attacks of 2001 have provided the Bush administration with a convenient pretext to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, to trample civil liberties at home, to practice torture, to detain American citizens and foreign nationals without charge among many other criminal acts. We honored the dead from that day five years ago, and we honored those who have been killed by our government’s actions in the aftermath.

In a private conversation later that day, Camp Democracy coordinator David Swanson of railed on the Internet’s preoccupation with 9/11 “fantasies”.

“If [the Bush administration] were guilty of firing a missile at the Pentagon, disappearing an airplane and all the people on board and bribing hundreds of people to say they were witnesses, they would be superhuman,” Swanson said. “We would bear absolutely no responsibility for our failure to rebel against such a government.”

However, they are human, and they are criminals. There is enough evidence of crimes they have committed that speculating about the crimes of 9/11 isn’t necessary. “They couldn’t be more criminal,” Swanson added.

As we packed up for the return drive to Detroit, I asked Swanson what he would like us to tell others.

“Send more people. We have several more days of great events.”

Camp Democracy will pay for buses for any organizations that can bring groups large or small for any portion of the camp’s last few days. For more information please visit


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nadir, thanks so much for such a complete picture of this, and especially for all the links. I'm listening to Chris Chandler for the first time, as I type this, thinking of wjat I'll write to the Deans, etc etc. This historical event really does seem to embody the unity that is present in the progressive landscape, and it does represent the possibility of it coming together to change the course of this criminal + disasterous regime.

September 17, 2006 2:09 PM  

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