Saturday at Casey II
Two weeks ago we were chopping potatoes at the Peace House amid utter chaos. The place was overwhelmed with people, donations, and cars. Camp Casey was 100 people and their gear in a ditch at a triangular intersection in the middle of nowhere. I put $20 in the donation coffee can, stayed the day, helped out a little, and went home.
We went back yesterday, Saturday, and boy howdy, things have changed!
There are people in orange vests directing traffic. Busloads arrived from Houston, Austin, and Dallas. The storeroom of the Peace House has new industrial shelving to hold food. The lot next to the house accommodates cars and shuttles. Broadcasting equipment was being set up in the yard. But for all the new organization, in the kitchen there were still three women pitching in, chopping vegetables.
As we waited on the bus at the Peace House to go to Casey II, three… well, I’m sorry, there’s no other word for them… rednecks with pro-Bush/war/troops signs ambled east across the railroad tracks trying to walk in front of the Peace House. I hesitate to describe their beer guts as I am similarly afflicted, but you get the picture. A small woman in an orange traffic vest stopped them. I couldn’t hear what she said. I guess that either she wanted to keep the drive clear for the shuttles or that the Peace House grounds are private property. Whatever it was, these three big, menacing guys amiably complied. They turned back and stood on the other side of the tracks past which all the shuttles to the camps had to drive and genially waved their signs at passing traffic.
From my seat high in the bus, I could see down main street Crawford where the opposition was congregating. Very large men with very large bellies in tight white muscle shirts stood on the main corner waving flags at the shuttles. I watched as a family of three (blonde mommy, little daughter, guy in white t-shirt–it’s the uniform) left their parked car and crossed the street holding hands on their way to the warmonger fair. Later Laura Flanders had estimates of numbers: pro-war 3000-4000, anti-war 6000-7000. I don’t know if that’s official or true.
We got to Casey II about 11:30. I hear the opposition is snidely calling it Cirque du Soleil. Well, when they’re right, they’re right; that’s the kind of tent it is: big pointy peaks. Somebody said it reminds her of the Dallas airport. The kitchen and the port-a-potties are at the back, the stage is at the front. Under the tent are big round wedding-reception-style tables, in front of the stage are folding chairs set up theater style. Cindy was sitting at a table in the center of the space when we arrived; that was the first time I’d seen her. She’s prettier and thinner in person. There are awnings for different groups: the Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Gold Star Families, and there were some people doing tai chi in the heat. And holy shit it was hot! There was a medical booth continuously full of overheated people with ice packs on their heads. We were instructed to drink water water and more water, and bottles of it were everywhere packed in coolers full of ice. We lucked out and got hold of a terrycloth rag and kept dunking that in the freezing water in the coolers and draping it around our necks. By the time we left we were drenched.
When we got there the place was still a little sparsely populated, but over the next 90 minutes, four or five busloads of people arrived and things started hopping. The show started about 12:30. Families spoke; Iraq veterans spoke; Russell Means spoke (he was very funny). A little girl sang a Jewel song (I’m sorry I don’t know what it was) and she started out kind of shaky but got better and better and the crowd quieted down, and she was very clear at the end. She was really good! She got a standing O. Joan Baez led us in Amazing Grace and We Shall Overcome, but the best, the best best best, was Joan singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. Oh lordy I’ve always loved that song. I know every word.
Cindy came up to speak and got such a wave of applause and love from us it made her cry. We were going to scream and stomp and applaud another 20 minutes if she’d let us, but she shushed us up and then was succinct and to the point and clear. (Damn, she’s good. She is sharp as a tack.) She talked about the early days in the ditch and the smears from the right and this groundswell that’s changing things. She ended by advising us to “DRINK WATER!” so we did.
During the main rally we could hear voices through bullhorns from the street, but they were faint; we couldn’t make out what they were saying, and when there was music onstage or someone was speaking (they had a really good sound system) the counter-protestors couldn’t be heard at all. Even their little bit of noise ended long before the main rally ended. I heard later that they’d packed up after an hour and left.
The people who bore the brunt of the opposition were the volunteers protecting the perimeter and Arlington West–the crosses at the front of the camp. About 30 people stood along the roadway and held a canvas sign that said “Bring Our Troops Home” (we took a turn standing behind it holding it and couldn’t read it from there; we were joking that it might say “Shop At Wal-Mart” for all we knew). Those people must have been standing there in the sun holding that sign all through the rally. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. Because they were there I could sing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” with Joan Baez, which is one of the great moments of my life.
There were more musicians and more announcements and requests for volunteers. (They’d announce that they needed volunteers to do something or other, so we’d go to volunteer, and the problem would already have been taken care of.) They served BBQ at 4:30 (and it was really good). We took the shuttle back to the Peace House about 6. In the parking lot, on our way back to our car, we met a guy arriving from Galveston. He was unpacking kids and gear. He was so excited to be there that he wanted to talk to the first people he came across, we were they. He was driving back that night, too. He said he just had to get there to show his kids what’s going on, even for just a few hours. We knew just how he felt.
I’m going back Tuesday to help pack up.