March 31 2022 / Gary Ghirardi / NNOMY – I received an invitation from Rachel Brunke, a newly joined steering committee member of NNOMY and an organizer for Codepink San Pedro, to come up from our office in San Diego and participate in their Peace Week activities during the Memorial Day weekend.
Getting out of the The National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth office and making it up to the Navy’s Fleet Week at Los Angeles Harbor was an eye opener on a few important levels.
Fleet Week is five days of celebratory militarism all packaged over Memorial Day without a sign of the purpose of that day of remembrance for those who fought as combatants in US wars and lost their lives. Fleet Week is a window into the comfortable relationship the military enjoys with all types of corporate sponsors including the Fox Network, Princess Cruises, Wells Fargo Bank, UPS, Delta Airlines, Clear Channel and many more plus governmental entities like the City of Los Angeles and of course The United States Government.
The festivities include Navy ship tours, live entertainment, exhibits and displays, food trucks, live competitions and aerial demonstrations with jet fighter and attack helicopter fly-overs; it is a city fair of war without mention of the suffering that war causes to all involved.
A peace action is planned to run concurrently as a counter event held every year at what the organizers named Peace Park located across the boulevard in front of the Battleship Iowa museum. With local peace group push back by Codepink San Pedro, San Pedro Neighbors For Peace and Justice, Military Families Speak Out and the Veterans for Peace Jim Brown Chapter, the park is actually its own commemorative site from Labor struggle days in the 20’s and 30’s, originally the location of a dock workers bar where the workers gathered and organized.
Around the corner is the Liberty Hill location where, Socialist Presidential candidate, social justice activist, and author of the famous book, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair held an International Workers of the World rally that led to a violent confrontation with Los Angeles Police.
There was the re-installation of a Teen Memorial with crosses representing those 18 and 19 years of age soldiers killed in Post 9/11 wars brought out of storage from their original purpose as a witness to high school students on their campuses and re-assembled in Peace Park facing the BattleShip and Fleet Week crowds.
The two days I attended were focused on leafleting blocks of cars and attendees waiting in line for up to two hours to gain entrance to the event with a commemorative Memorial Day pamphlet and educational brochures donated for the event.
The reception to this “intervention for peace and memory” was generally greeted with either indifference, or passive and pleasant agreement to accept the literature volunteers passed out among the captive audience waiting in line to get into the event. Different appeals and appearances of those distributing the materials seemed to make a difference in how willing people were to accept receiving them. Some actually came up and asked for them. Repeated canvassing of the lines of people was necessary as new attendees arrived. We were surprised to find only one packet of materials on the ground. Those military personnel in uniform seemed especially welcoming and curious to what they received. One of the groups distributing packets together told of a uniformed officer with a Christmas tree of badges on his chest thanking them profusely for what they were doing.
One brochure that served as the outside cover of the packet was a reminder of what the Memorial Day was intended for including a section discovered in sublimated history. A cadre of black union soldiers from the American Civil War were the first memorializing act. These formally slave soldiers commemorated the first actual event that formed the progression to an acknowledged holiday by exhuming a mass grave of union soldiers at a confederate prison camp and giving the soldiers a decent burial. The Memorial day brochure made an accounting inside of all the one-million plus American soldiers lost in direct US wars from the Civil war to Afghanistan where statistics had been available.
The Memorial Day Brochure addressing such an important omission by the Department of Defense’s Fleet Week events was probably one of the strongest contributions the Peace Action made and likely one that should be repeated at all similar events nationally whenever they take place.
Inside the Memorial Day brochure was a teaching resource requested by Codepink San Pedro’s Rachel Brunke to answer questions in her high school class that students had about the Ukraine / Russian war. This was developed anonymously and unaccredited other than its sources of information taken from both English and Spanish language sources that told the story of the historical conflict while condemning the act of war itself and the conditions that lead to it rather than taking sides.
In the Peace Park were hosted tables with food and additional literature against war including stickers and posters. This served those attending for peace a place to gather to plan, commune together and discuss past actions at other Fleet Weeks and actions planned going forward through the summer.
I realized on this trip the importance for the NNOMY office to make “live in the flesh” contact with groups in our network witnessing their activism on the ground, seeing how they work together and understanding how NNOMY can better serve their activism.
I also witnessed the importance of activists having better quality and engaging materials to distribute within their community encounters and that those materials clearly articulate how costly are our wars in human suffering and lost treasure, wasting the resources needed to serve the domestic needs of our citizens across all the generations.
Gary Ghirardi for NNOMY
You can view additional photos from this action at the following Links:
Here are links to past actions by Codepink at Fleet Weeks in San Pedro at the LA Harbor:
Resources from this Action
- Memorial Day Learning Resource – pdf – 2022
- Understanding the Russia and Ukraine War Learning Resource – pdf – 2022
- Abolish the Military-Entertainment Complex – David Sirota – Jacobin Magazine – 2022
- Against the Militarized Academy – Henry A. Giroux – Truthout – 2008
- Wargasm: Militaristic imagery in popular culture – Simon Reynolds – 1996