by Cynthia Cone
On October 7th, 2013, I was arrested with members of Veterans for Peace at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in NYC. My arrest was not a surprise. As a matter of fact, I went to NYC fully intent on going to jail that evening. Ending the wars is a cause I care very deeply about, and VFP is an organization that I have grown to love and respect since first learning about it. I have been fortunate enough to get to know some of the members personally and have nothing but admiration for what they do. Because of my work with the internet radio show Dangerous Conversation, I have been exposed to both veterans and active duty servicemen from all walks of life, but the ones who always stay closest to my heart are the ones who fight for peace (which sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but sadly we do need to fight for it, now more than ever).
My work with the radio show began in February of 2012 when Scott Ledger asked me to produce a segment geared towards veteran’s issues. He knew it was something I was passionate about, and while I had never produced anything in my life, I was up for the challenge. I aptly named the segment “2100 Hours,” and our first show aired March 28th, 2012. Ever since then, we have been giving both veterans and active duty service members a platform on our airwaves. We’ve had guys on from every branch of service including special ops, but my favorite guests are always the ones who do not tow Uncle Sam’s line, the one’s who know what these wars are really about—not terror, but good old-fashioned greed.
VFP is made up of veterans from all different eras. The oldest member I have met is a WWII veteran and the youngest is an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran named Micah, but most of the guys I interact with are Vietnam-era veterans, particularly Mac, Ward and Bill Perry. I’ve heard many Vietnam veterans, beginning with Kerry Longsworth, the first guest I ever booked for “2100 Hours,” speak about the parallels of the wars we are fighting today versus the one they fought so many years ago. It amazes me that so many people in this country are willing to call out the Vietnam War for being horseshit, yet countless Americans still try to justify the wars of today—they just can’t seem to make the leap. Call it cognitive dissonance or just plain ignorance, but either way you slice it, it seems to me that, like Robert Plant sang back in 1973, the song remains the same.
From the moment I found out about the action VFP was planning on the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, it was a done deal. I knew I’d be attending. I try to make at least one action every few weeks and this was one I was not going to miss. The previous year, on October 7th, 2012, twenty-five veterans and their supporters were arrested at the monument while reading the names of the dead. At some point, Mayor Bloomberg (or, as I like to call him Mayor Doucheberg) decided that the memorial was going to be closed at 10:00 PM rather than stay open all night as it had in the past. Keep in mind, we are talking about a sidewalk with a tall structure on it and several benches scattered about—it’s a completely open space. It’s not a gated park or an enclosed structure, so I am not sure why its “closure” is so imperative. It also happens to be sandwiched between two commercial buildings in the middle of nowhere, so surely reading the names quietly aloud was not a disturbance to anyone. If you want my opinion, this was just NYC’s mayor doing what he does best: being an asshole.
As I approached the monument at 7:30 PM sharp, I was surprised to see the already heavy police presence. I had assumed they would have gotten wind of the plan; however, I was taken aback that they felt compelled to watch us for the two and a half hours leading up to the park’s closing time. I have been to loud, disorderly protests before, and this most certainly was not one of them. It was a respectful, solemn memorial meant to honor those who had lost their lives in America’s endless parade of wars. It wasn’t a party.
As I stood there listening to the people speak, the reality of getting arrested weighed heavily on my mind. I had come into the city alone and was not sure what part of the city they would be carting me off to, or at what time of night I’d be let out of jail. As I stood there contemplating if I was really ready to snag my first civil disobedience arrest, I listened to Micah Turner, U.S. Army veteran, speak about his three tours in Afghanistan, one tour in Iraq and the friends he had lost to a lesser known side-effect of war that nobody seems to be talking about: suicide.
Micah was a seasonal firefighter who had joined the military with the hopes of using his visual communication skills to bring resolution to situations that would otherwise require death on both sides. After a time, he began to realize that his idea of “resolution” and the military’s idea of “resolution” were two totally different concepts. In 2012, with the support of VFP, Micah made the decision to go AWOL and he has been speaking out against the wars ever since. It was while listening to him that I knew I was not going to walk out of that park. If Micah could sacrifice all of that—lose so many friends and be courageous enough to leave the Army—well then, I could surely figure out a way to make it back to Penn Station in one piece. So, as Bloomberg’s army gave us the first warning to leave the park over the bullhorn, I, along with the others, stood my ground. I knew what was coming and I was fully prepared.
As far as I know, Mayor Bloomberg has never served in the military, and I am fairly certain that he does not have many friends who have. If he did, he would have understood what a solemn and somber event this was. He would have recognized the sadness in the veteran’s eyes as they spoke the names of the dead, and he would have identified with the pained look on their faces as they shared their memories of war. If he understood anything at all about what that night represented, he would have made the call to let this one slide. Instead, they chose to arrest us.
It was around quarter after ten when the officers first began placing us under arrest. The ones who took me in were actually very respectful. I have nothing bad to say about them except for the fact that they arrested me. They arrested me for something that, as an American, I had every right to be doing.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
Let’s not gloss over the irony of arresting veterans for practicing the very rights and freedoms that the politicians like to say they are fighting for. I think of all the shit they spew, that shit makes me the sickest. There comes a time when we all need to stand up for what we believe in, and for me nothing is more important than the First Amendment. As a country, we need to practice it now more then ever, and we need to show the powers that be that we will not allow them to take it from us without a fight. Now is not the time to roll over. Too much is at stake.
“I really hope to change the law, it’s a really trivial law that the park closes at 10 PM. There’s a curfew and that trumps our right to assemble, our right to free speech, even our right to respect the soldiers that fell for this country. And for such a trivial law to trump all of what makes us American is just wrong, and so we have to fight to try and change that and if that means getting arrested, so be it.
“We didn’t steal anything, we didn’t take anything from anyone, we didn’t hurt anyone. It’s the law that’s wrong.”
– Micah Turner
Monday night we had a conference call to discuss our next step with the lawyers, and so far it looks like all of us are in agreement: we want to fight this case. I suppose the easy thing to do would be to take the ACD and try not to get in trouble for the next six months, but to me that feels like only fighting half the battle and I am in this for the long haul. As much as I do not look forward to taking time off to trudge into Manhattan every month until we have a trial date, it seems to be my only moral option. I was recently asked during an interview on the Shannon Burke Show if I thought what I was doing made a difference. My reply was, “When I come to the end of my life, what’s important to me is that in the end I know I stood for something, for the things I cared about. That I did not just stand idly by and do nothing or just sit back and complain about the way things were, that I tried to change them.”
There comes a point in life when you have to pick a side, and I have finally figured out which side I’m on. My question is, have you?
Author: Cynthia Cone is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Cynthia is also a satellite producer for the radio show Dangerous Conversation which can be heard on radioio.com.
Contact Cynthia at firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter: @BookingGoddess Read Cynthia’s Other Articles/Essays Here
Photo Credits: Jenna Pope
Video Credit: Luke Rudkowski