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Anti-war vets unite with community groups at national gathering

By Jacob Flom |
April 23, 2013
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Participants in Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)  organizer training
Participants in Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) organizer training. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Decatur, TN - This past weekend, April 19-21, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) hosted a three-day organizer training in rural eastern Tennessee. Over 50 activists shared skills and strategies as veterans and active-duty soldiers were joined by civilian ally organizations from around the country, including IVAW's partner organization Civilian-Soldier Alliance (CivSol,) One Love Movement, Students for a Democratic Society, The Poverty Initiative, Concerned Citizens for Justice, and many others.

This type of combined gathering was unprecedented for the nine-year-old IVAW and many of the attendees were excited by this new development. "We’re seeing a shift in the overall movement and the world right now, and its making me very excited and inspired," said IVAW member Jacob George.

Collective liberation was a theme of the weekend. Activists represented a huge range of issues, including anti-racism, education rights, Palestine solidarity, poverty, environment, labor, media justice, LGBTQ rights, healthcare and immigrant rights. Many discussions over the weekend emphasized the interconnected nature of the struggle against war and occupation to other movements. IVAW chapters around the country reported back on work they have done with community groups and labor unions around the issue of mental health care in the community, and at Veterans Administration hospitals.

"The work we’re doing here, the work we’re doing in Maryland, I don't see it as work, I see it as healing." Said CivSol member Sergio Espana, who organizes for healthcare in Baltimore.

IVAW and CivSol are currently leading a national "Right to Heal" campaign, which demands that the government stop deploying traumatized troops and provide adequate physical and mental health care for victims of the U.S. occupations, and of military trauma such as PTSD, military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury. At the weekend retreat, workshops and panels addressed the trauma faced not only by combat veterans, but the similar experiences of immigrants, refugees and victims of sexual assault and police violence.

Last May, IVAW brought national attention to the victims of U.S./NATO war and occupation as they joined Afghans for Peace and 30,000 protesters to march on the NATO convention in Chicago. 40 IVAW members returned their medals in a memorable ceremony outside the convention. Some of the veterans dedicated their medals to friends who had become victims of combat deaths and suicide, noting that 18 veterans commit suicide every day, and demanding the government recognize the Right to Heal.

In summation of the retreat, organizers were optimistic about the future of the campaign and its growing support among ally organizations. To learn more about the Right to Heal campaign, visit http://righttoheal.org and http://www.ivaw.org

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