Newport vs. the First Amendment
BY JACK DRESSER
After a cold night and a grey morning, a bright spring sunshine had emerged by noon on May 5. It looked perfect for the Newport Loyalty Day parade. Our Veterans for Peace bus and crew were invited and sponsored by a Lutheran Church and the Democratic Party of Lincoln County to join them in this event, featuring support for the U.S. Armed Forces with the local Army National Guard unit poised for deployment to Iraq the following week.
We arrived at the Safeway parking lot staging area where we met the Lincoln County Democrats who intended to ride along. They had registered for the parade and had announced they would have a bus.
However, upon seeing our bus with STOP THE WAR emblazoned on both sides, the organizers decided that we, not the war, must be stopped.
Our hosts were furious. They argued heatedly, demanding a satisfactory explanation. None, of course, was forthcoming. With a four-hour round trip from Eugene that we did not intend to waste, we joined the fray. The parade organizer was summoned. She arrived, and we demanded to know what was wrong with our bus. She stated that "the spirit of the parade is loyalty to the community."
"How is peace disloyal?" we asked.
Slipping quickly from that noose, she immediately tied another. The bus "wasn't declared on the application." This statement was refuted by an incensed Dan Beck, chair of the Lincoln County Democratic party. But the proof had apparently vanished. Although parade participants had to be checked in against their permits, the Democrats' registration document had somehow become unavailable.
Then, displaying an impressive gift for Orwellian redefinition, the organizer had expected the "bus" to be "a van with supportive signage" — not only shrinking her mental bus but implying that a peace message doesn't support the community. And obviously vice versa.
How is a peace message unsupportive, we asked, when most Americans and virtually all Democrats want the Iraq War to end and our troops returned home, and this was an explicit plank in the Oregon Democratic Party platform in last year's election?
Beck put it plainly, "I'm part of this community and I support peace, and you're stopping that message!"
Two Lincoln County sheriff's deputies provided back-up for the embattled organizer. One re-affirmed that we would be unable to join the parade. We challenged his power to deny our First Amendment rights under color of authority.
He said he was "tired of hearing about amendments" and had other things to do.
We asked why groups of active duty soldiers visibly expressing their support for American militarism were welcome in the parade while ex-soldiers were prohibited from visibly expressing opposition. No honest answer. It was just about registration.
Ms. Organizer was locked irreversibly in position. The deputies left for their more important, non-constitutional duties. The parade proceeded without us.
But soldiers don't just take orders. They must quickly and flexibly adapt to conditions in the field. We devised an alternative strategy. We had a secret weapon: a PA system. We remembered Tokyo Rose.
Parked at the outer edge of the Safeway lot, we Excluded Ones began a steady stream of broadcasts to the steady stream of Included Ones passing by.
To the non-marching band on the flatbed, to the costumed pony riders, to the line of old-car drivers, to the Shriners in purplish fezzes circling on scooters in the street, we broadcast that we were not permitted in the parade despite being sponsored by the Lincoln County Democrats, that veterans opposing war were not to be seen, much less honored at this military-honoring event.
Most importantly, as the National Guard troops in fatigues marched past, we broadcast facts they have every right to know: that aggressive war has been prohibited under international law since 1928; that Nazis were tried and executed at Nuremberg for waging aggressive war; that this principle was re-confirmed in the 1945 United Nations and Nuremberg charters; that occupation and torture are prohibited by the 1949 Geneva Conventions; that the U.S. is a signatory to all these treaties; and that Article VI of the Constitution defines our treaty obligations as the "Supreme Law of the Land."
We reminded the parade that the Virginia Tech tragedy is replicated many times on a daily basis in Iraq from the violence and chaos we have inflicted upon a people innocent of any aggression against us.
We cited the Nuremberg Tribunal that "to initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
We explained this principle as the basis of Lt. Ehren Watada's refusal to deploy to Iraq, which the Army has evaded by prohibiting his defense witnesses and declaring a mistrial at his court-martial rather than litigate in open court before the eyes and ears of the world press.
We suggested that Newport and Lincoln County citizens make known their feelings about our exclusion to city officials, that they decide what information and viewpoints they want at public events, what they stand for and what our country should stand for.
The final parade entry passed, the parking lot opened and we pulled our bus behind the procession, continuing our broadcasts to the still-assembled spectators for the full length of the parade route and back again after loading the bus with Democrats for transport back to their cars at the staging area.
Sending Newport's young men and women to risk death, disabling injury, inhalation of radioactive DNA-altering depleted uranium particulates from explosions of American ordnance or lifelong psychological damage from participation in horror while committing war crimes hardly seems supportive of them or an occasion for celebration.
It was a small victory in the struggle to redirect our nation onto a path of peace and justice, and we hope it communicated care and truthfulness to the citizens of Newport.
Jack Dresser is a longtime polittical observer and fomer columnist for The Springfield News.