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Down among the “Peaceniks”

The founders of Fort Wayne’s “Camp Casey” possess a commitment to nonviolence that goes beyond politics

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-10-17


The two Iraqis tied up Kindy and two of his male co-workers, and had the women sit over on a couch. “He said, ‘I don’t want to kill you people. I like you people. But there are two guys out in the street with automatic weapons. If we don’t carry it out, they’ll see that it’s done.’”

For a peace advocate and a firm believer in the power of non-violence to change the world, Cliff Kindy has credentials that even the staunchest supporter of the war in Iraq has to respect.

Now, why anyone who advocates peace and non-violence over war needs credentials is a larger question that we just don’t have the space for. Nevertheless, there seems to be a perception of peace advocates as naïve or at least unaware of the harsh realities of the world. The old, sneering cliché of the blissed-out, hippie peacenik, smiling in the face of brutality, is still a prevalent image.

But Cliff Kindy, one of the primary organizers of Fort Wayne’s “Camp Casey,” has been face-to-face with the sort of anger and rage that fuel terrorism, and survived.

Kindy, an engineer by training, works with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a group which describes themselves as offering an organized, nonviolent alternative to war and other forms of lethal inter-group conflict. As part of CPT, Kindy has been to many of the world’s “hot spots,” including three trips to Iraq over the past three years. During a trip there after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, two young Iraqi men approached one of Kindy’s co-workers with a list of detainees. They asked if the group could help find where the detainees were being held, what the charges were, and whether they could help the families to visit.

Kindy’s co-worker invited the two men to come by where the group was staying to discuss what might be done. The two Iraqis showed up at the house at the appointed time. “They were very angry,” Kindy says. “One was part of Saddam’s Republican guard, who returned after the war and found many of his family dead. The other had been educated in New Zealand, had come back to see the invasion. They were full of anger and emotion.”

Kindy and his co-workers drank tea and talked to the two men. After about an hour, one of the Iraqis stood up and told everyone to put down their tea glasses. “He pulled out a gun, and said ‘we’re on a mission to take out this building and everyone in it,’” Kindy recounts. “He asked his friend to raise his shirt. This guy was strapped with a bomb. They said ‘the bomb goes off in 15 minutes.’”

That Kindy is sitting here in the Fort Wayne Camp Casey in the NAACP parking lot is evidence that the bomb didn’t go off. The two men ended up robbing them — money, digital cameras, cell phones, computers — and ran out the back. Guards chased them for two blocks, but they weren’t caught. Perhaps robbery was the motive all along, though in a place where civilians, foreign contractors, aid workers and other non-military personnel are targets of suicide bombers, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that what the Iraqi told Kindy and his co-workers was the truth. Either way, confronting armed, angry, and desperate men in a war zone, and maintaining your faith in humanity… well, it’s hard to argue with something like that. “We faced terror, and we survived,” Kindy says. “They took things. Those can be replaced. They didn’t take trust in other human beings. We still opened our doors to strangers, we still visited families all across Iraq.”

“Maybe we’re alive because we listened,” Kindy continues. “For me, that was important learning. It was clear that, for whatever reason, listening kept us alive.”

It’s this commitment to non-violence that led Kindy and Tom Benevento to found “Camp Casey” as a protest against the war in Iraq. Started on October 2nd (Gandhi’s birthday), it takes its name from the makeshift camp set up outside President Bush’s home in Texas last August by Cindy Sheehan, whose son had been killed in Iraq. According to Kindy, there are about 70 Camp Caseys across the country and overseas. “Maybe we should ask questions,” Kindy says when explaining Camp Casey’s mission. “Why are we in Iraq? If we shouldn’t be in Iraq, what are the steps we take to get out? I think that’s a very important process that needs to happen.”

For the core group of people involved in Camp Casey, the attitude towards the war in Iraq seems to delve a little deeper than the usual pro/con debates that we see hashed out on the Sunday morning talk shows and the editorial pages. Questions about weapons of mass destruction and a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 seem almost beside the point. So does the mishandling of what’s called “post-war” Iraq.

That could be because, to the Camp Casey founders like Kindy, war is never an answer to anything. “For me, war has become obsolete,” Kindy says. “The tools of war don’t resolve the conflicts we face. The tools of non-violence are consistently, over the last decades, tools that work to resolve conflict — in South Africa, the ending of apartheid; the end of Marcos’ regime in the Philippines; changes across Eastern Europe. The work of Gandhi, (Martin Luther) King, Caesar Chavez… Non-violent tools work.”

“In some ways this struggle is being dealt with on an emotional level rather than a logical level,” Kindy adds. “It doesn’t have to be true that Iraq was connected with the attack on the WTC, or that al Queda was in league with Iraq. It may be false, but our brains don’t work logically. Maybe this dialogue can help us get past these emotional barriers that keep us from thinking clearly.”

This commitment to non-violence may provide the foundation for what Camp Casey is trying to accomplish, yet the people lending their support to the camp are a diverse lot. During my visit, a young man named Matt is there out of concern for his twin brother in the army. Rob Rouse, a Camp Casey supporter who gave a day-by-day chronicle of the camp on his blog Left of Centrist (leftofcentrist.blogspot.com), describes himself as “a 50-year-old daddy of toddlers,” and says he just wants to do whatever he can to make sure that “the world my children grow up in is a little more peaceful.” He says the people who dropped by Camp Casey — those sympathetic with Camp Casey’s cause, at least — expressed a wide range of views about the war in Iraq, from people who initially supported it but find themselves disillusioned, to people who thought from the start that we could have ousted Saddam Hussein without resorting to invasion.

They say Fort Wayne has been pretty supportive. “I feel like there’s a great openness to listen in this community,” says Amy Fry-Miller, a young woman from North Manchester. “I remember doing peace protests before, and just having such amazing resistance to it, people who were really angry when we tried to talk to them. Now people are willing to talk. They’ll take the flyer, and maybe they don’t agree with us, but they’ll listen, because they know something is wrong.”

If there was a common ground among the people at Camp Casey, it was the need to bring our troops home. Immediately.

It’s something that Kindy, based on his visits to Iraq, thinks could be accomplished in a matter of weeks, rather than months or years. He believes that we need to hire Iraqis to rebuild their own country, rather than giving the job to foreign contractors. We should also pull troops out of urban areas and stop the friction caused by house raids, check points, and convoys in the streets, a decision that was actually made by coalition forces over a year ago. “We don’t need to provoke people with helicopter gun ships flying low over residential areas,” Kindy says. “That’s a good way to promote the resistance.”

As far as the foreign fighters entering Iraq, Kindy believes that a U.S. withdrawal would simply take away their reason for being there. “They know that as long as we’re in Iraq, the less likely it is that their countries will be invaded,” he explains. “The reason al Queda is there is because no where else in the world can they hit 60 to 100 targets a day against ‘the empire’.”

“Iraqis are upset because their country is occupied, and someone else is making the decisions that impact their lives,” he concludes. “The US pulls out, what do they have? They’re going to have to rebuild their country if they’re going to have anything.”

However, most experts in the field, whether they support the current administration or not, believe picking up and leaving would have disastrous consequences. But Kindy says that Iraq is already in the middle of a “civil war” that U.S. presence there did nothing to prevent. I ask if, in the absence of a central power in Iraq, there is a danger of old tribal or ethnic identities reasserting themselves; a sense of common purpose didn’t stop a bloody war in the Balkans, to site just one example. Kindy acknowledges this, but he thinks there’s still a chance to negate that potential problem. “A year ago, when we asked if there would be a civil war, they said no. They said, ‘we’re married to each other. My wife is Shia and I’m Sunni’ or ‘I’m Kurdish and my wife’s Sunni. We live side-by-side.’ Now that’s changing. When the U.S. took control of Fallujah, we removed the Sunni police, and replaced them with Shia police. We fought that battle with Kurdish militia from the North, Shia from the South, because the regular troops refused to fight. With Shia police in charge, it only exacerbated those tensions. Same thing is happening all over the country. People from outside the area are brought in, making those tensions greater. If we get out, there’s still a chance for them to come together.”

I ask why they think criticizing policy in Iraq has become equated with showing a lack of respect for our military. “It’s almost as if we have a need to believe the war is noble,” says Rob Rouse. “If it’s not, then why was my son sent over there? Why did my son or my daughter risk their lives? In a community like this, that has always been supportive of Republican administrations, they believe that patriotism means supporting the President.”

Indeed, counter-protestors have shown up at Camp Casey. One had a son in the Army Corps of engineers who was concerned about who Cindy Sheehan represented. Another protestor was part of a family that had been in the military for generations. “We had had an American flag up with a peace sign on it,” Kindy says. “He said it really hurt him. So, we took it down.”

And, Kindy went over to talk to the protestors, something he calls an amazing experience. “It was important for me to have that exchange, and I sense it was important to the two counter-demonstrators,” he says. “If we can help ourselves from ostracizing each other, if we can benefit from the strengths that each of us bring to this very serious question, that’s how we move from where we are to where we want to be… The questions that face our society don’t have easy answers. It’s not going to be some intellectual genius who sits down in his pup tent and finds the answer. It could be any one of you that helps us take the next step, it might be the young girl across the street that is left out as society moves on that had the answers, so we better not abandon anybody.”

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