Florida event welcomes Cindy Sheehan, via phone

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TAMPA, Fla. — Participants packed the hall for a Dec. 11 banquet organized by Chapter 119, Tampa Bay Veterans for Peace, that celebrated voters’ rejection of the Bush administration’s “stay the course” policy and urged Floridians to keep up the momentum by lobbying all elected representatives for immediate disengagement and a start to withdrawing all American forces from Iraq.

Those attending included elected community leaders, teachers, Pinellas County School Board members, students, union and peace activists, Gold Star families and veterans of U.S. wars and police actions over the past 65 years. Chapter 119 veterans were encouraged to wear their military uniforms and awards, or a military hat, and many did.

Gold Star Mother and peace activist Cindy Sheehan had been invited to deliver the keynote speech, but at the last minute she was unable to attend because she had to appear in court in New York City, where she and three other women were found guilty of trespassing for trying to deliver an antiwar petition to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations last March.

Sheehan telephoned the event to express her regrets, and promised to travel to Florida in the near future.

Michael McPherson, executive secretary of Veterans for Peace, spoke of the need for all peace organizations to reach out to the community, to explain what is really happening in Iraq, and to encourage them to join VFP and other peace groups.

“Keep up the pressure, don’t back off,” said McPherson, emphasizing that the climate is very favorable for growth of resistance to the Iraq war.

Zeina N. Salam, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Florida, described the support the American Civil Liberties Union is giving to Chapter 119’s education committee in its campaign to help high school students counter pressure from military recruiters. VFP, which is still not permitted inside the schools, is among the peace and justice groups trying to inform high school students of non-military career opportunities.

Many veterans present served in combat during the “police action” in Korea and more were involved in the “deep muddy” of Vietnam and every conflict since, including the “liberation” of Grenada and Panama, Desert Storm and the present Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Asked by this reporter if an order for speedy withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a wave of depression among our troops, or a feeling they have not finished their job, most vets just laughed, and said their brothers and sisters would be eager to climb aboard the first plane leaving Iraq, no matter where it was headed.