Update from Catalyst’s Antiwar/Global Justice Program

In August, Catalyst supported 3 of our fabulous former interns to participate in field organizing with Iraq Veterans Against The War, in an outreach drive based out of the G.I. coffeehouse Coffee Strong outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord (near Tacoma, WA). Anna Stitt, Sarah Lombardo, and Julian Marszalek outreached to soldiers and helped build the Operation Recovery campaign, working to stop deployment of traumatized troops and sink anti-militarist roots into working-class communities.

Operation Recovery organizers from IVAW and Catalyst hold Bradley Manning solidarity action in Tacoma during outreach drive

Some of Anna’s reflections: (click “continue reading” for her powerful story)

Working on the Operation Recovery outreach drive was hard, provocative, and beautiful. I have done mostly white ally work in racial justice struggles, as well as white anti-racist work. Working as a civilian ally in a veteran-led space was new for me. It was powerful for me to work with veterans, whose processes of politicization looked different than mine.Negotiating gender, and how to organize together with people coming from an institution that has established very different patterns from the ones I’m used to, and to offer my strengths and skills strategically but not overbearingly, all were on my mind. Ultimately, I developed strong relationships with the veterans
I was organizing with, that challenged me to think about myself and my work in new ways.

It was powerful and beautiful to be able to engage honestly with questions of efficacy, strategy, and approach from a place of mutual support and commitment to the end goal of demilitarization, and building working-class power against militarism and imperialism. To not know all the answers, but know that the people committed to this justice and heal
ing work are not fragile and are in it for the long haul, just like me. I’m left with organizing questions and some moments were hard, but I also have memories of driving all around the townships near the military base to do follow-up visits with people, debating about driving directions, the nuances of political issues, gen
der identities, and organizing strategy, and debriefing conversations from the morning, all with hope and heavy metal music pulsing through the car.
I learned a ton during my time at Coffee Strong. Things as small as how to lodge a flyer between the doorknob and the door so it stays there, for when someone’s not home for a house visit. As challenging as using gentle, warm persistence in holding someone’s attention outside a ga
s station or clinic on the base, long enough to help them figure out their self-interest in working to help all soldi
ers get adequate health care without stigma. And then realizing how connected the small things are with the big ones in this work. One thing that sticks out in my mind was when I did a home visit, and my visiting partner and I could hear scuffling behind the door and sensed someone inside. But everything got quiet and no one came to the door, so we left a note lodged between the doorknob and the door, inviting them out to Know Your Rights Night. The next night, the couple behind that door came out and brought another couple. Both the soldiers and their partners had been struggling in huge, painful ways with getting the mental health care they needed, with having suicide attempts laughed off,
with having their health records read to the entire platoon, with seeing the army therapist stamp their record with “RTD”–ready to deploy–before they had sat down for their very first appointment.

 

We started building community with them that night. And it reminded me that while some of the work is tangible, some of it is not.
Planting little seeds of possibility in people on base who say you’re crazy for trying to work on something like this. Listening to people’s painful stories of deployment and return, and validating that it is not okay that they had to go through that. That no one should have to. The practice of not blasting people with condemning anti-war rhetoric, but building community, healing, and open spaces for listening, and moving together toward self-determination and a demilitarized world, felt so slow at times in Tacoma, but at times it felt electric.