…in Benicia, California.
During the run up to and in the immediate aftermath of the current Iraq war publicly opposing the rush to wage war by dubya and his administration was not exactly something that would endear you to the old media and a significant and vocal number of the general public. As a consequence activists across the country who were involved in the anti-war movement and who were engaged in public protest reached out to each other to offer encouragement and support.
That is how I first met Patricia Kneisler of Benicia, California. Trained as a civil engineer, she became one of the founders of the online Iraq War Coalition Casualty Count when she found that old media wasn’t keeping up with the reality.
During our years of public protest we exchanged e-mail, letters, care packages, stories, and ideas for protest signs.
This past weekend I received an e-mail from Pat:
“No Blood for Oil”
From: “Patricia D. Kneisler”
Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2009 18:49:21 -0800
Subject: The Benicia Vigil for Peace: The End.
Hullo, all you Peace-Lovin’ Folks out there:
This is a difficult essay that I have to write today. The Benicia Vigil for Peace has been such a large part of my life for nearly 6 years now. My last Vigil was January 15th … the 305th consecutive one since we started in March of 2003. Just a few days later, work came down hard on me, causing me to miss the next three.
Deep down, I knew what was going to happen if I missed a vigil. On January 22nd, Matt held down the fort all by himself. On January 29th and February 5th, our corner at 1st and Military was vacant. Our streak was over.
What really blew my mind was hearing that one or two people are STILL standing on the other side of the street with all of their flags! I can’t fathom why. But they have been there for the last three weeks.
It used to be there were people available to take over for me if I had to miss. But those folks are gone now. It seems to me that we’ve come to the end of the line … but not in a way I would have wanted.
We did accomplish much to my mind. Good lord, we raised consciousnesses every week we stood there, reminding people that Iraq was in chaos and our soldiers were still dying. But I really didn’t want to see it end with a whimper, buried in a pauper’s grave. Especially when Iraq is still a mess and our soldiers are still there.
I’d like to invite you all to bookmark a website called Iraq Today: http://warnewstoday.blogspot.com/
Whenever you catch yourself thinking that things are fine and dandy in that country, just click over to this site and you will be speedily disabused of that notion. Just today, a roadside bomb in northern Baghdad killed 2 people and wounded 11, a bomb in Mansour District of Baghdad injured 4 civilians, a bomb in eastern Baghdad killed one and injured 14, an IED in central Baghdad injured 2, there was an IED attack on a police patrol in Mosul, men in military uniform attacked a village near Mosul killing one policeman and kidnapping another, and an election monitor was assassinated near Ba’quba in a “hail of gunfire”. All this in a country roughly the size of California.
It is now estimated that over 1 million Iraqis died as the result of our occupation … and 4.5 million were displaced. 1 to 2 million Iraqi women became widows and 5 million Iraqi children became orphans. All this in a country with a total population of only 27 million. More than 70% of the children in Baghdad cannot attend school. Many provinces report that less than 40% of their populations have access to clean drinking water.
Here’s what my gut is telling me about our vigil: that if we let it die a slow, silent death, we will lose our last big chance to remind the world, or at least our part of it, that all is not well in Iraq. Obama may have good intentions … but our troops are still risking death daily over there for something they should never have been involved in. Why not let the vigil go out with one hell of a finale, one last pull-out-all-the-stops session, complete with TV and newspaper coverage? (I’ve been in touch with former Benicia Herald editor Les…who has volunteered to handle the media and take pictures.)
As it happens, the Sixth Anniversary of the Invasion of Iraq, March 19th, occurs on a Thursday this year. How about that? Serendipity? If not, it sure is a date tailor made for one last rousing send-off to what was one of the longest running vigils in the Bay Area. If nothing else, don’t we owe it to ourselves after all these years to see to it that the funeral is a fitting one for such a noble enterprise?!
How about it? Are you folks up for it?
Patricia Kneisler received a lot of responses to her end of vigil notice:
From: “Patricia D. Kneisler”
Date: Wed, 11 Feb 2009 19:04:07 -0800
Subject: The Benicia Vigil for Peace: Responses to “The End” …
Hello once again, Peaceful People:
This will be a quickie. I just had to let you all see the kind of response I’m getting to the March 19th Vigil to End All Vigils:
Hi Pat – You write, “How about it? Are you folks up for it?”
I’ll be there. I’d like to help with publicity. And signs.
I know this was a difficult letter to write but as always you handled it with grace and integrity. I think having a blowout on 3/19 is a great idea. I will be there.
Yes, I’ll be there Pat, I’ve marked my calendar! And maybe we can continue to raise consciousness and get our message out in other ways…
Do the people in the group realize there are still two wars going on???
I think you’re right about needing to have a final vigil, with press attention, as you’re recommending, to mark the day of invasion and remind everyone of the length of the war and its massive destruction of human life and culture.
… let’s let everyone know on the anniversary that we are still there and they had better keep up the good work or we will be back on their case.
Yep, I’m up for it!
… (barring any unforseen misfortunes) we’ll be there!
Everything seems to end, even the Bush presidency ! ! The March 19th last vigil would be fitting.
Pat- I’ll be there, talk to you then…
[From Napa:] You are brilliant! I may need to arrange for a sub that night, but I’ll be there. I understand it’s hard to let go, but it’ll make room for something else.
[From a note to Napa area Peaceniks:] I’ll be taking the night off to join them [Benicia Vigil for Peace]. If you want to ride with me, holler back.
[From the Mount Diablo Peace Center:] We are getting a good response to coming up for your vigil. What time is it? We may be able to bring 20 or so folks. I think a few others from the Lamorinda Peace group and the peace center might come up also.
Steve and RedBird are u
p for it!!!
Dear Pat, Thanks for sending me the message, which I’ll share with Helen. We WILL see you and the others on March 19th.
And now if you’ll excuse me (sniff) I think I have a date with a box of Kleenex (sob). You folks are the best. The BEST.
One of these days I hope to meet Pat in person.