On New Year's Day, I decided to start 2006 out with a public protest
against the war. Little did I know how public it would become.
younger brother and I (he was only the wheelman, led astray) tagged
three highway overpasses near Toledo with "TROOPS OUT NOW!" (see
photo, below). Suburban cops with too much time on their hands and
citizens with cell phones being what they were, we were soon pulled
over by five (no kidding) patrol cars and arrested on no fewer than
five felonies each. For those of you who haven't been paying
attention to how state legislatures protect us from crime, in the
late 90's in Ohio it became a felony to spraypaint a public building
(called "getting tough on gangs") AND a felony to possess a can
of spraypaint in the commission of that crime ("possession of criminal
tools" says the Ohio Revised Code).
We spent that night in jail and the next day appeared, shackled
together, before a judge who set bond at (this is all for real,
pals) $3,000 each, no 10% business.
Earlier this week we went to one suburban court, plead to misdemeanors,
and found out how much the Ohio Dept. of Transportation (ODOT) charges
for the "preliminary" repair of each overpass (grey paint) – $600 – with
the final repair bill due at our sentencing next month. Technically,
that includes up to 90 days in jail.
Today we went to the second suburban court and my brother plead
to misdemeanors. I, on the other hand decided that if I'm going
to pay that kind of money and face time in the cooler, I'm at least
going to have a trial and speak my mind about the war. I've now
been "bound over to the grand jury" (which may mean something to
those of you who watch cop shows) for a trial in county common pleas
court on the remaining felony charges.
Finally – our local paper, the Toledo Blade, ran an editorial
last week titled "Defacing
a reputation," referring to my time on city council and what
it considered acceptable war protests, opining that I went too far
with the spraypaint. Below is my response to the paper and our fellow
The Blade was gracious enough to list me in the company
of some civilly disobedient heroes, indicating my behavior fell
woefully short of those honorable standards. Spray paint wasn’t
invented in Gandhi’s day, but might he at some point have scrawled
"Brits Out Now" with whitewash and a brush? One might
"But why break the law," people ask? "What about this
war troubles you enough to break the law?"
In one word: images.
Images that never leave me.
Images of young soldiers and marines lying in row upon row of hospital
beds. Images of picking shrapnel out of Mike Ramsack’s backside…dressing
Bob Butikofer’s wounds every day and trying not to make him scream…changing
colostomy bags on guys hoping they won’t defecate out the hole in
their guts caused by a gunshot wound to the abdomen…trying to give
a brain scan to a young soldier missing his entire left temporal
lobe…Images of eating in the chow hall as dozens of patients in
wheelchairs, on crutches, missing arms and legs and eyes line up
for dinner…Images of a young man sitting silent and broken in a
corner of the psych ward.
And there are other, more recent images from my trips to Iraq that
I cannot forget. Images of the kids I met on the streets of Baghdad,
and the ones in Abu Siffa who shared their chicken and rice dinner
with an American journalist two days after a cruise missile blew
their orange grove to bits. Images of Fatima in the Sa’adoon St.
copy shop who told me how beautiful she thought her country was
and how she hoped there would be no war. Images of the young U.S.
Army sergeant from West Virginia I accompanied on patrol one night
near Balad, who answered my question, "why are you in Iraq?"
with a tired shrug saying, "I really don’t know." And
his partner from North Dakota, just as bone-tired, who answered
I see these images every day. And I know that the young men in
that Navy hospital 35 years ago, just like the ones I met last year
in Iraq, are getting killed and maimed for a preposterous lie. As
my blood boils I tell my government to "BRING THEM HOME NOW!"
by writing letters, signing petitions, speaking, and yes, painting
Our government is not only causing great suffering by this war,
it is also violating dozens of international and domestic laws.
See the Veterans For Peace "Case
for Impeachment" for a partial list. As citizens we are
complicit in these crimes and suffering. That is why historian Howard
Zinn’s words make more sense to me each day this war continues:
"Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil
obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed
the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to
war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience...Our
problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face
of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our
problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of
petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the
country. That's our problem."
The most important mistake I made on New Year’s Day was not that
I painted "Troops Out Now" on overpasses, it was choosing
a form of civil disobedience not many people are comfortable adopting.
If you believe we must end this war, what kind of civil disobedience
would you choose? Refuse to pay part of your taxes this April? Sit
in at a Congressional office? Organize a strike? Or will we be content
to speak quietly, watching the petty criminals go to jail while
the grand criminals continue the slaughter in our name?
Ferner [send him mail]
served as a Navy Corpsman from 1969 to 73, was discharged as a conscientious
objector, and is a member of Veterans
For Peace. He would like to add that any contributions to his
legal defense fund above $5 will be returned.
© 2006 Mike Ferner