Friday, February 23, 2007

Wheel of History

On a work day afternoon, 2/23/07, Barak Obama
spoke in Austin to gathering of 20,000 plus
people. Friend Carolyn and I walked along
Riverside drive, closed to traffic, to the beat
of "For the Funk of It."

We found our way into the thick
of the crowd, wrangling a view of the stage.
I'd heard Obama at the Dem convention
in 2002, and have watched him with interest —
watched the film of his visit to Kenya,
grew up outside Chicago, know the rough
Midwestern chill of Springfield where
Lincoln said, "A nation divided cannot stand."
I was curious to see Obama in person,
like many, want him to vote for cutting funds for
the war now, but am encouraged that
his bill for re-deployment stipulates
no permanent military bases in Iraq.

Today, in an almost conversational tone, Obama
gave a speech I will in the future think of
as his Wheel of History speech.

He talked about American history —
the revolution, the civil war, suffrage,
the labor movement, civil rights.
He talked about New Orleans, said
we are at a turning point in history.

He'd said the roots of terrorism were in Darfour, in injustice.
"If all of you are willing to put your shoulder to the wheel
of history at this moment, then amazing things can happen."

Obama has a way of talking to thousands of people
as if he were talking to a small group, backs off
rhetorical crescendo, is more intent on connecting
past to present to future, less eager to lead cheers
than tell a story about civil rights.

I couldn't help realizing how completely vulnerable
he was, on a raised platform, surrounded
by thousands of people, no security at the gate
of a free event, we signed our names to get in,
or showed email invitations.

He quoted MLK --
"The arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice."

He talked about the Wheel of History,
and the building of a movement.

Give it a listen. Part two and three are the best.

*Photo from the Obama website. You can watch the video here too.

©Susan Bright, 2007

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.

Re. yesterday's post about the coal plants Rick Perry has
proposed to fast track in Texas, check out Ric Sternberg's
You-Tube video
produced for the SEED Coalition.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two notes from Alan Pogue, reminding us of the need to keep pressure on all the Dem candidates to get out of IRAQ now. --

I take it that no one was able to ask him about his votes for the Patriot Act, votes for funding the war, or anything else. No town meeting action? Just a speech?

In Iraq the crucial question at this moment is whether Exxon and British Petroleum will be able to ram through legislation that allows foreign corporations to own controlling interests in Iraq's oil.

This legislation is what the 16 years of war have been all about. The permanent bases are there to protect that ownership of the oil. If not the bases themselves then the U.S. military presence to "help with security". "Every U.S. soldier ( and mercenary contractor) out of Iraq now" needs to be our constant demand, nothing less. Candidates will go no farther than they are pushed.


Oily Truth Emerges in Iraq
by Juan Gonzalez

Throughout nearly four years of the daily mayhem and carnage in
Iraq, President Bush and his aides in the White House have
scoffed at even the slightest suggestion that the U.S. military
occupation has anything to do with oil.

The President presumably would have us all believe that if Iraq
had the world's second-largest supply of bananas instead of
petroleum, American troops would still be there.

Now comes new evidence of the big prize in Iraq that rarely gets
mentioned at White House briefings.
A proposed new Iraqi oil and gas law began circulating last week
among that country's top government leaders and was quickly
leaked to various Internet sites - before it has even been
presented to the Iraqi parliament.
Under the proposed law, Iraq's immense oil reserves would not
simply be opened to foreign oil exploration, as many had
expected. Amazingly, executives from those companies would
actually be given seats on a new Federal Oil and Gas Council that
would control all of Iraq's reserves.

In other words, Chevron, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants could end up on the board of directors
of the Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council, while Iraq's own
national oil company would become just another competitor.

The new law would grant the council virtually all power to
develop policies and plans for undeveloped oil fields and to
review and change all exploration and production contracts.

Since most of Iraq's 73 proven petroleum fields have yet to be
developed, the new council would instantly become a world energy

"We're talking about trillions of dollars of oil that are at
stake," said Raed Jarrar, an independent Iraqi journalist and
blogger who obtained an Arabic copy of the draft law and posted
an English-language translation on his Web site over the weekend.

Take, for example, the massive Majnoon field in southern Iraq
near the Iranian border, which contains an estimated 20 billion
barrels. Before Saddam Hussein was toppled by the U.S. invasion
in 2003, he had granted a $4 billion contract to French oil giant TotalFinaElf to develop the field.

In the same way, the Iraqi dictator signed contracts with
Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and Spanish companies to
develop 10 other big oil fields once international sanctions
against his regime were lifted.
The big British and American companies had been shut out of Iraq, thanks to more than a decade of U.S. sanctions against Saddam.
But if the new law passes, those companies will be the ones
reviewing those very contracts and any others.

"Iraq's economic security and development will be thrown into
question with this law," said Antonia Juhasz of Oil Change
International, a petroleum industry watchdog group.

"It's a radical departure not only from Iraq's existing structure but
from how oil is managed in most of the world today."

Throughout the developing world, national oil companies control
the bulk of oil production, though they often develop joint
agreements with foreign commercial oil groups.

But under the proposed law, the government-owned Iraqi National
Oil Co. "will not get any preference over foreign companies,"
Juhasz said.

The law must still be presented to the Iraqi parliament. Given
the many political and religious divisions in the country, its
passage is hardly guaranteed.
The main religious and ethnic groups are all pushing to control
contracts and oil revenues for their regions, while the Bush
administration is seeking more centralized control.

While the politicians in Washington and Baghdad bicker to carve
up the real prize, and just what share Big Oil will get, more
Iraqi civilians and American soldiers die each each day - for
freedom, we're told.

Thursday, February 22, 2007 by the New York Daily News

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan,

Loved your poem about Obama. We got to see him too. I loved that there were so many young folks there and all races. Finally a rally with all of us!


7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Susan, thanks for this on Obama. I am curious, since I didn't go, if Obama mentioned Iran? I heard him on one of the morning talk shows about a month ago (Good Morning America perhaps???) saying that "we invaded the wrong country." Was that rhetoric to serve the Israelis to get him this far? (NO candidate can win today without the Israeli Lobby's approval imho.) I would love to think that he will play their little game in order to get far enough into a position to be of some help, but I do fear that he meant what he said and will heed to the call to leave Iraq only to enter Iran. Did he mention this at all in his speech?
Thanks in advance


7:56 AM  
Blogger SB said...

Sent by RW -- Veterans for Peace

I met Mark and Sarah Wilkerson several years ago at the Crawford Peace House at a Veterans For Peace meeting. Mark had just returned information on our website at

The following account of Mark’s court martial was written by film maker Patrick Phillips who has documented Mark’s experiences from the beginning of his war resistance.

Yesterday, February 22nd Spc. Mark Wilkerson was sentenced to 7 months in prison with a Bad Conduct Discharge. Mark was charged with an Article 85 (desertion) and an Article 87 (missing movement) after failing to return from block leave on January 3rd, 2005. In December he signed a plea bargain admitting to his guilt and lessening his sentence from a maximum of 6 years to a maximum of 10 months.

The Court Martial room was filled to capacity with family, friends, and supporters including members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and approximately 15 active duty soldiers.

The Court Martial began with a formal review of the charges and then proceeded to witness testimony. Six people testified on Mark’s behalf including his mother, wife, brother (who is presently active duty and appeared in uniform), a Sergeant, Sergeant First Class and Staff Sergeant, two of whom served with Mark in Iraq. None of the witnesses were cross-examined by the prosecutors, nor did the prosecution present witnesses testifying on their behalf.

Mark’s Platoon leader described his performance as a soldier in Iraq as “outstanding.” The Sergeant First Class described him as “a good person,” as a soldier who was capable of successfully completing a myriad of missions. The Staff Sergeant described him as reliable and hard working. He went on to describe how he had been influential in persuading Mark’s Command to grant him off-base and leave privileges after his surrender.

Taking the stand, Sarah Wilkerson, Mark’s wife, described in great detail the letters she received and phone conversations she had with Mark while he was in Iraq. She described how his initial honor to serve turned into concern and finally disgust. How Mark witnessed the changing perception by Iraqis of American Soldiers from liberators to occupiers. How when an RPG was fired at a police station he was guarding he could not fire back although the person who launched the RPG was in clear site. And finally, how he had not been the same person since returning and the toll flashbacks and nightmares had taken on him.

Mark made the decision to plead guilty because to claim innocence would require an argument against the legality and justness of the war in Iraq. Although personally this may be what Mark believes, the process would be lengthy, costly, and practically impossible for him to defend in a Court Martial and would incur a punishment upwards of 6 years.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive evidence of Mark’s character, the fact that Mark did not maliciously abandon his fellow soldiers and made every attempt to be discharged from the military through official means and then sought reassignment to a non-combat rear detachment, and the accolades and respect shared by his fellow soldiers, he was still given seven months confinement. Why? Because he was honest, and stood up for his beliefs. But more importantly, for the government to let Mark off with anything less would be an admission of the unjustness of their war.

Below is a statement written by Mark on the eve of his Court Martial and a link to a recent interview he did with Steve Inskeep on NPR:

I am now a twenty three year old man. When I made the decision to join the Army, I was a boy. When I made the decision to go AWOL I was still in many ways a boy.

I realize in retrospect that going AWOL may not have been the right decision for me to make, but given the circumstances I found myself in at that time, I felt it was the only logical decision for me. I felt as though I wasn’t being taken seriously by my chain-of-command. I was crushed when my conscientious objector application was denied. I had failed somehow in conveying in words just what I felt in my head and heart, and that was that I could not, in good conscience, serve as a soldier in the United States Army. I could not deploy to a foreign land with a weapon in my hand, representing my government. I am not willing to kill, or be killed for my government. When I enlisted in the Army, I thought I would be able to, but after Iraq, my beliefs became such that I could no longer participate.

This was what I told my chain-of-command. I felt they didn’t care what I said or believed. So I fled. I quit my job. No other occupation in the United States punishes you as badly as what the military does for quitting your job. But that’s ok. I’m willing to face whatever punishment the government deems appropriate.

In my Battalion’s Retention Office, there is a quote by Retired Army General Bernard Rogers, and it states “This is a volunteer force. Soldiers volunteer to meet our standards. If they don’t meet them, we should thank them for trying and send them home.” Well, I enlisted into the Army with the best intentions. I had other options. But I wanted to serve my country. And when I felt my country was doing the very thing we pretend to condone, I took a stand. And to me that is the core of democracy. If the Army feels as though I didn’t meet the standards, they should thank me for trying and send me home. There’s no lesson prison can teach me. Prison is established for criminals who committed crimes that the majority of our society can say in morally wrong. And with this crime, I don’t know if that can be said. Even though I committed a crime, I’m no criminal. And even if I do go to prison, I’m no longer a prisoner. My conscience is clear. I’m no menace to society. I have stayed true to myself and my moral code throughout my life, and that will never change. Just let me live my life, and I know I will live it well.

Mark Wilkerson
February 22, 2007

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This gave me chills, thinking of him standing open to the crowd and speaking of, gasp, changes!


8:03 AM  
Blogger Ivan G. Goldman said...

For some time now I race to turn off Bush when I hear his voice on the radio or TV. Listening to his programmed ignorace and deception is like a bad day at the dentist. It's almost surreal to hear someone like Obama, who is intelligent, thoughtful, and decent, and realize it's possible to have a President like that. And remember what Biden said -- he's clean! (joke, son, a joke) But why not give Edwards a hearing too? His health care plan, for example, looks solid and has been praised by Paul Krugman.

9:08 AM  
Blogger respectisthehub said...

Great post. Like you, I am very curious about Obama. Your description of the security is concerning to say the least. Without mentioning the obvious historical references, it is important to remember that Arthur Bremer shot Wallace because the security around Nixon was too tight.

As Mark Chapman and John Hinckley, Jr. taught us, there is someone out there for everyone. In 2007, Barack Obama should not feel like he has anything to prove, and we should not have to go through the unspeakable nausea and deja vu again.

12:59 PM  
Blogger respectisthehub said...

Great post. Like you, I am very curious about Obama. Your description of the security is concerning to say the least. Without mentioning the obvious historical references, it is important to remember that Arthur Bremer shot Wallace because the security around Nixon was too tight.

As Mark Chapman and John Hinckley, Jr. taught us, there is someone out there for everyone. In 2007, Barack Obama should not feel like he has anything to prove, and we should not have to go through the unspeakable nausea and deja vu again.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about Obama. I think I'm voting for Hilary if I get the chance.


4:23 PM  
Blogger SB said...

It's been really interesting to read the comments today, thanks to all who sent them in.

We'll see how the races progress. The last time I saw Hillary in Austin she appeared in the same room at a mega hotel up north that Karl Rove spoke in the night Code Pink did a citizen's arrest.

One friend likes Edwards -- well he has some strong points, but supported the war all during the last campaign.

My favorite candidate will always be Dennis Kucinich -- no strings.

I continue to be impressed with Obama. Maybe my cynicism is cracking.

More comments welcome.

4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama kept the crowd awaiting a tad too long from my pov. Even though the mist never quite turned to rain there was a mini-stampede to the exit towards the end of his speech. I caught the last of it on the live Channel 8 broadcast at the bar at Threadgill's South.
I'm still prepared to vote for Senator Clinton, too.
Obama doesn't seem to have the fire of, say, a Howard Dean, for example. It's a long way to November, 2008.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Charlie Loving said...

In my view a positive force that may indeed be a force of change. Change we need. Sometimes you have to wait for something good to happen and maybe, just maybe OBama is it. Like I said before he was great at luch eating Pizza at Morehouse three years ago. He has the charm and I think he will do well. Hillary to me is a vixen with no humor and a pawn of her own making.

As Obama said," If we continue to engage in small devisive tit for tat the nation will nemain at a stand still."

6:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would prefer Obama if he were more like Kucinich. Now there is a candidate I would support over HRC if he had a chance.

8:39 AM  

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