Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A walk with Nick Kimbrell

by Kit Kimberly

For Memorial Day, I wanted participate in a pro-peace action that did not dishonor or threaten the pro-troop, pro-military activities happening throughout the city. I believe, like Code Pink, that the best way to support the troops is to bring them home safe and whole as soon as possible. Over the weekend, I get an email from Gael about a young man, Nick Kimbrell, a just-graduated Masters student from University of Virginia who is walking from Charlottesville to the White House in support of bringing the troops home. He (in cooperation with folks from World Can’t Wait) is asking for people to meet him at the Key Bridge Marriott and walk the last mile and a half to the White House. Here, I thought, is the perfect opportunity to support peace without “dishonoring” the troops—after all, Nick’s walk IS to bring the troops home.

The majority of Pink House population return Sunday night from a road trip to New York, where they protested Veep Dick Cheney’s speech to the graduating class of West Point, and supported the Iraq Veterans Against War’s actions in the streets of NYC. The new summer intern, Ena, comes with them; she and I get acquainted and offer to be in charge of props for the next day’s walk. After a brilliant breakfast (huevos rancheros—thanks Celeste ;-), Ena and I head down to the Peace Room and produce several posters (“Honor the Fallen; Make WAR a Memory”, “War is not Healthy for Soldiers and Other Living Things”, and “Thank You Peace Walker Nick Kimbrell”) as well as working on a supersize “Support the Troops—Bring them Home” banner. As the heat and humidity of Washington begin to settle on the house, Desiree says, “Let’s go down to the waterfront at Georgetown and just be a pink presence,” a suggestion met with grateful enthusiasm by all residents. Clad in pink slips (for Bush and Cheney) with sashes, hats, and parasols, five of us drive down and strolled along the waterfront.

The response is strong and gratifying. Individuals and small groups of people—out for a leisurely holiday afternoon of boating and relaxing—approach us, ask about Code Pink and our mission. When they hear we want to end the war and bring the troops home, they are overwhelming in their support.

“We have a friend who’s over there, and he’s writing home, telling his mom and us about how bad it is and how we shouldn’t be there,” a pair of young women from New Jersey tells us. “But former friends of his have told him to take them off his email list—that they don’t want to hear that.” I am shocked that people are not willing to listen to a soldier on the front lines telling them how wrong this war is, these US people here, safe and comfortable with their SUVs and their ability to continue to buy $3/gallon oil. That $3/gallon at the pump, however, fails to reflect the billions spent on the war and the priceless young lives lost and destroyed by it. **(See Retired Colonel Ann Wright’s article on how the US’s continued presence in Iraq is primarily to make sure private corporations get to control the oil: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/052607Z.shtml ; and join Faleh Abood Umara, General Secretary of the Iraq Federation of Oil Workers and Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, President of the Iraq Electrical Utility Workers Union at Offices of Bearing Point (80 M St. , SE – near Navy Yard Metro), Tuesday 5 June 5:00 pm, the company contracted by USAID to rewrite the Iraqi Oil laws.)

Our pinkness makes a colorful and apparently welcoming presence, as people approach us constantly asking to have pictures taken. Liz talks to everyone about political action: “Have you called your congresspersons? We need you—AMERICA needs you—to stop this war and these war criminals.” Despite the seriousness of our cause, the afternoon is festive and fun. As we leave the waterfront to walk back up to M Street, the main shopping avenue in Georgetown, we pass the apartment building where Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recently bought a flat. We decide to stop in.

The doorman is incredibly polite and welcoming, as he ushers us into the cool, tasteful lobby. Dim and inviting, it is decorated with pots of dramatic orchids and original oil paintings. The desk clerk, an East Indian, rings Representative Pelosi’s apartment but gets no answer. “She must’ve forgotten our appointment,” ponders Desiree convincingly—we don’t want to get anyone in trouble here. But the desk clerk invites us to leave a message, pulling out one of those standard “While you were out …” message books with—AHA!—pink pages! All five of us take the time to leave Rep. Pelosi a personal message thanking her for voting against the supplemental funding bill that passed last week (a blank check for the President and his war) and asking her to bring the troops home. As each of us waits her turn to write a message, the desk clerk talks to us. “India, my home country, is a democracy,” he notes (yes, the world’s largest) “and we believe in democracy, but we do not try to force other countries to have democracy. We are right next to Pakistan, a military dictatorship. We encourage them toward democracy through our business and diplomatic channels, but we do not us military force.” His criticism of US policy, while oblique, is evident. We spend more time talking to him about US support for Pakistani Military Leader and President Musharif, as well as about India’s difficulty in maintaining democratic processes in the face of globalisation. It’s a productive and invigorating chat, and again I am awed by how much better people from outside the US understand the very policies and political structures that we arrogantly claim to lead the world in.

Just outside Ms. Pelosi’s building, we encounter three young local boys, collecting money for their basketball team. They grin for pictures with us, and tell us they’ll go to our website to get copies of the photos for their MySpace pages. Their open, innocent faces remind me of why we’re out here.

M Street’s narrow sidewalks are crowded and the response is more muted, though we do get a few honking horns and friendly peace fingers from folks. On Celeste’s recommendation, we stop in at Clydes for drinks and make new friends with patrons and bartender, Jenny.

When we get to the Key Bridge Marriott, several people from World Can’t Wait and Grassroots for America are there waiting for Nick. We all stand on the corner of Lee Highway holding our posters—the other folks have arresting photos of an Earth in flames, based on satellite photos. The number of “Honks for Peace” is gratifying—especially from people in luxury cars.

Finally, at just before 8 pm, Nick hobbles down the hill with his mom, who has walked the last 10 miles with him. His feet have become incredibly blistered and infected—“I thought I might not make it,” he admits—and he has an unexplained swelling on his left shin, but he is smiling and grateful for our welcome. A tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed young man, Nick is not only handsome, well-traveled and politically sophisticated, he has undergraduate degrees (with honors) in three different areas from the University of Virginia as well as a recently completed Masters. “I’ve traveled all over the world, partied with people in far corners of the Earth, and had the most incredibly privileged life,” he told me. “I had to do something about this war—this was the least I could do.” Nick is cheerful and gregarious, despite his obvious pain and difficulty walking—even lifting his feet onto the curb is a struggle—but he does ask once that we keep moving, as stopping and starting is even more painful. Desiree and Nick’s mom cheer us on with songs: “We’re gonna Impeach George, that’s what we’re gonna do” (to the tune of “He’s Got the Whole World In his Hands”) through the twilit streets of the capital city.

By the time we reach the iron railings of the White House, it is dark. Nick stands in front facing the building, for photos to be taken of the poster on his back: “Bring Our Troops Home: Memorial Day March Charlottesville to DC.” He (and we) try to leave the poster threaded between the rails, but the capital police stop us. A young, new Marine, angered by our peace walk and protest, snatches down the poster and throws it to the ground. Do these young recruits not know the stories from returning veterans and currently serving military personnel? How can they not be listening to people on the front lines? The process of indoctrination is so powerful in this country.

Across from the White House, we stop in to see Thomas, a man who has camped here since 1981 in support of Nuclear Disarmament. Ena is awed by his vigil, which is older than she is, and stops for a chat. Despite full dark, the humidity has not abated and we are wilted; Nick is exhausted and ready to go home for a hot bath. “I’ll be going to the foot doctor tomorrow,” he smiles wryly. We hug him and extract a promise for him to visit the Pink House, then head around the corner where Celeste has the car parked and waiting.

All and all, it was a perfect Memorial Day.

Kit Kimberly

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