“The purpose of this living memorial is to ensure the individuals represented will be remembered not merely as victims, but as people with stories and dreams,” says Cheryl Branch, executive director of SAFE Shelter. “Then they fell in love with someone and that person killed them.”
When the Wheels of Justice Tour rolls into town, people take notice.
The full-sized school bus is covered with bright colors and peace slogans.
Its a 1979 school bus we converted into a rolling peace resource center, says Mike Miles, one of the coordinators of the tour.
The Wheels of Justice Tour is a five-year-old nationwide educational outreach program. The tour brings first-hand accounts from Iraq and Palestine to the general public.
The bus will be in Savannah Jan. 22-25, and will end its visit with a special event on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at The Sentient Bean.
The visit is a collaborative effort of the Savannah Fellowship of Reconciliation, Code Pink, Savannah Global Video Theater and The Sentient Bean. The Jan. 25 event will feature a presentation on Iraq by Miles, a multi-media presentation on Palestine by Dave Lippman and a short guest appearance by Lippmans alter ego George Shrub, the worlds only know singing CIA agent, plus other speakers and a short film.
Miles has been to Iraq three times since 1997 through his work with Voices in the Wilderness, a group of people who have studied the situation in Iraq by going there. During the whole period of sanctions, we would take medical supplies to Iraq to the hospitals, he says.
It was against American law to do that, Miles says. The penalty is 12 years in prison and a $1 million fine for taking medicine to children.
Miles knows this because he called the Department of Justice to ask. But the risk was worth it, he says.
In March 2003, the war in Iraq started, so visits were no longer an option. We do everything we can to go all over the country to meet everyone we can to talk about Iraq, Miles says.
When you go over there, you see all the struggle that is going on, he says. You see children in the hospital dying right in front of you and you see the parents grief.
Miles would like to go back to Iraq, but knows it would not be safe. The people who are over there say it is too dangerous, not only for us, but the people who host us, he says.
I became a prisoner of war of the Iraqi people, Miles says. They have captured my heart.
Some members of Voices in the Wilderness were trapped in Iraq when the war started. We had eight to ten members who were in Baghdad during the shock and awe bombing, Miles says. They felt so strongly about this that they wanted to be with the Iraqi people through it all.
Miles visited Palestine a year ago as part of a humanitarian relief campaign. We talked to everyone we could about what was going on there, he says.
The founder of Anathoth Community Farm, a center for the study of nonviolence in Luck, Wis., Miles has been involved in the peace movement for 25 years. His activism started in 1975 while he was attending a seminary in Chicago.
I was in a youth ministry program and wanted to become a youth minister, Miles says. I had a great professor who had a class called The Biblical View of Oppression. The message was, if youre involved in Christianity, you must pursue justice.
At that time, the Cold War was still going on and nuclear weapons proliferation was a major worry. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Miles turned his attention to the MIddle East.
Over the years, Miles has paid a price for his views. He has been arrested dozens of times, and has served more than a year of time in jails and prisons.
Wheels of Justice is jointly supported by Voices in the Wilderness, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, the Middle East Childrens Alliance and affiliates of the International Solidarity Movement.
The event at The Sentient Bean will not be entirely serious. Lippman is a comedian, and will bring some humor to the presentation through his anti-folk songs and interventionary anthems in his role as Cultural Director of the Department of Homeland Security.
Lippman traveled in Palestine and Israel last year. He will present his impressions of the conflict there through a song and picture piece, Star of Goliath.
The Wheels of Justice Tour makes stops only where it is invited. Before we start out on tour, we send notices to the areas we will visit, Miles says. People start getting back to us.
Miles particularly enjoys visiting students. Weve done everything form kindergarten to post-graduate classes, he says.
This morning, one of our people is at the University of South Carolina, Miles says. We also will visit a Junior ROTC class at the high school. We always go where we are invited. We go to schools Monday through Friday.
Even if no classroom sessions have been planned, the bus can be rolled into the middle of campus. We set up a display, Miles says. We have a TV to show VHS tapes. It really starts conversations with people who arent even thinking about the Middle East.
Lots of churches invite the Wheels of Justice Tour to visit, too. We go to a lot of potluck dinners, Miles says.
Although Miles feels compelled to keep touring for peace, sometimes the constant travel gets to him. I would much rather be at my farm, he says. I coach track, I have a life, but I cant get away from this. You really do get consumed because you know solving problems through war doesnt have to be like this.
Heres what our take on the world is, Miles says. Heres the info, if you want to go farther with this, come on. Were trying to say we can do better.
Local activist Molly Hall, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, is helping organize the Wheels of Justice visit. Theyre very organized, she says. Theyre doing this regionally.
Theyve been in the area before, Hall says. They have big plans for Columbus, and theyre going to Athens and Hilton Head. They plug is wherever the community wants them to.
Hall is as dedicated to the peace movement as Miles is. The Fellowship of Reconciliation is a group that comes to peace work through the belief that war should be unthinkable, she says. A lot of the organization is done through churches. A lot of our members are members of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Hall says.
I was always kind of an activist, Hall says. When I was in my 20s, I was more of an angry feminist. I was living in New York downtown on 9/11. A combination of things changed me -- seeing everyone come together and the personal shock, trauma and terror I felt. It laid the groundwork for something more urgent.
While seeing Americans draw together in the wake of the attacks was heartening, the declaration of war in Iraq was horrifying, Hall says. Seeing what came out of 9/11 -- the need for revenge -- so saddened me. she says.
This is an event we hope attracts people of every political stripe in Savannah, she says. The country remains divided about the true motives behind the war -- this leads to different reactions to the growing cost in blood and treasure.
Thats why it is important to have a forum in which to listen to eyewitness accounts and watch films -- and hopefully, discuss the issues across party lines, Hall says.
A group like Voices in the Wilderness, that has been to Iraq and Palestine, offers a perspective that integrates the impact on civilians, and places the current war in a historical context. In my view, these are crucial elements missing from much of our media today.
Kathy Bush is a member of Code Pink, a grassroots organization that also is involved in bringing the Wheels of Justice Tour to Savannah.
Code Pink is an international organization of women who are working for peace, Bush says. My son recently returned from Iraq. When I joined Code Pink, my son was not in Iraq, although he was already in the service.
The group seeks change through non-violence. I dont think violence is ever a solution, Bush says. We teach our children not to be bullies on the playground, yet its foreign policy.
Bush feels the government has not been honest with the public about the war in Iraq. Her son enlisted in the Air Force in 2000 when he was 17, yet he was deployed with the army. This is another indication that there is a back-door draft, she says.
My son was a construction engineer, so he was not shooting at people, although he had people shooting at him, Bush says. He says his tour in Iraq has left him with a heavy heart. He says the Iraqi people have so little and Americans have so much that everyone should be grateful for what they have.
Bush declines to name her son, as he is still in the military. There is so much he is not able to talk about, but he does have a heavy heart, she says.
Code Pink is closely following the case of St. Kevin Benderman, who has recently filed for conscientious objector status at Fort Stewart. I understand his struggle, she says.
Bush has not yet seen the Wheels of Justice. Im very excited to see it, she says. I have looked at the pictures of the bus on their website. It is gorgeous.
I hope this is a great opportunity for people to come see it and think, Bush says. I refuse to call myself a protester. I work for peace. I dont think you should have to protest for peace.
The tour will be in Savannah Jan. 22-25, and will end its visit with an event Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at The Sentient Bean. For more information call 232-4447.