Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Crawford Peace House/Camp Casey diaries

Thursday, August 25

I did not play on the same stage as Joan Baez on Sunday... I OPENED FOR HER on Monday night! I spoke about my personal passion, the ending of torture, and then spoke about the Pocono Progressives, how it had grown from a Move- On vigil into a strong movement. I sang the song I wrote for Cindy and asked the audience to repeat the chorus... which they did! At the end of that, with much applause (and it was a cappella!) I sang five new verses to Guantanamera which I have written, and which deal specifically with torture. I spoke about the School of the Americas, and our efforts to close it down. I did some cries in Spanish and English about ending torture... yes, it was an ovation at the end, but for me, the fact that Joan would follow was just amazing...

I have been volunteering since my arrival, sometimes sweeping floors, picking up garbage... today I prepared breakfast for all of the people at the Peace House; tortillas, which you know as those omelettes I make. I had only intended to do two, and then there was a line of people in the kitchen, and when I asked what they wanted, they said it was the best thing they had eaten and they were standing in line to make sure they got a piece of the next one... so the two became three and then four and then five! And almost three dozen eggs later and a trillion onions and a gazillion pounds of potatoes (and four and a half hours later...) some of us left for a rally for the veterans in Waco. They are talking about closing a multi-billion dollar hospital facility in WACO, in the midst of one of the worst wars we have been involved in...

We chanted, walked, had a lot of support from passing motorists, and the press was out, TV and radio and newspapers... so by the time we were riding back to camp, people were honking at our Casey Camp van... and I have been asked to help the Vets for Peace in NYC with bilingual presentations.

Yesterday was one of the most incredible days of my life... in the evening we had a number of families with children/spouses/relatives either deployed to Iraq or have been killed or injured at one of our recent acts of aggression. One woman spoke through tears about the death of her only son... Afterward there was a vigil, with roses and candles, through a field of white crosses. I had begun sobbing when a Presbyterian minister read a beautiful Buddhist prayer for peace; the walking through the hundreds of white crosses did not help. Taps was played... We ended with a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace by Joan Baez.

Joan has been doing a retrospective of her career as a political activist/pacifist. Yesterday we had sat together the Peace House and spoken about some of her work in Latin America... her singing with Mercedes Sosa, my hero... she would remember a tale or a year or a place, and would also sing a song of that time. I felt so fulfilled... so much plenitud here.

After her performance I was asked to play again. There is a local vet who came from NYC and who spearheaded today's march at the local hospital; he has written the most wonderful song which I have been asked to translate, and you will all love it. It is the soul of wit and sarcasm...

There are so many stories, so many wonderful people, so many moments of bliss and outrage, many of us have noticed that this movement feel similar to the Civil Rights movement... These are historic moments, and I feel privileged and thankful to be living them.

Cindy is coming back, hopefully today; there will be more laughter and grief, but ultimately, as the song in Spanish says (from the labor movement), No nos moverán, (we shall not be moved).

You know that friendships are forged at these types of events; they are friendships that nurture body and soul. I have wonderful friends back in the Poconos and everyone has heard of our group; now I will bring you tales of these new friends, and I shall write later, but right now I have to go because otherwise my beans will burn and the Peace House shall not eat tonight...

Any good recipes for squash?

Thursday, August 25

I was asked yesterday afternoon whether I wanted to be 'it' as far as the Peace House and cooking... I was then named the official 'kitchen queen' for the Peace House. As you all know, I am incredibly modest, so I have decided to be, instead, the Kitchen Goddess... So last night's dinner was followed by crêpes this morning, and lunch today was spaghetti with a mushroom sauce with fresh basil. Delicioso if I say so myself...

Of course, as you all know, kitchen goddesses are actually kitchen slaves, but I do have a crew of people doing the prepping, so I can say, cut, chop, this way, that way...

Last night we went back to Camp II because Cindy had returned, and Joan Baez was singing again... It was a super treat, and she sang Gracias a la vida, which I love. I came back exhausted...

I am about to feed the crew of a radio show called the Brad show on Raw Radio, which had an interview with Conyers. They will be taping my songs on it tomorrow, and I think you can listen via live streaming, but hopefully I can let you know.

Last night we saw some incredibly moving documentaries about the war; I spoke to the man who presented these, and he has agreed to come to the Poconos to do a presentation for us. One of the movies is on Fallujah... I cannot tell you enough about it. It was devastating. If people only knew how much harm we are doing in the name of freedom.

We are expecting a bunch of anti-us protesters this weekend, but I will be training my replacement in the kitchen, and I just found out she was in jail for a year for a School of the Americas protest... I am going to play my song for her and for a nun that has also been jailed.

I have been crying/sobbing on and off, sometimes because the things we are hearing (we have been listening to stories of young vets, such as the founders of Iraq Veterans against the War) and seeing in the documentaries are more than a human body can stand...

I want us to consider opening our own Camp Casey in Tobyhanna... Cindy remembered quite clearly her visit with us; she looks so exhausted... and there is so much hatred out there. There was a printed flyer in a local store saying they would give the 'out of town bitch' a taste of 'Texas justice.'

So, until later or tomorrow or whenever,

la abuelita revolucionaria

Late Friday, Early Saturday, August 26/27

No, I am not being facetious; the kitchen goddess' day began at 4:30 A.M., so I am a bit tired and I have had a hard time remembering what day of the week it is. I have been worrying about this weekend, because we expect over 2,000 visitors, people from all over these dis-united states... Last night I slept two hours and then I put pinto and garbanzo beans to cook, put on a load of laundry and then went outside with my guitar. I fell asleep on a chair, guitar in hand, and woke up when a train went by. It was too early but I put on coffee anyway, took a shower, began to plan the day's menu.

When you enter the Peace House and the camps, you find a map of the United States and in Casey II, a map of the world as well. People put pins on that section of the country/world that they come from. There are pins in places such as Australia, Canada, to name just a couple... Here at the Peace House we understand that several thousand people have signed the visitor log; many come from Texas, but many more come from California, Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia, Ohio and Minnesota and Colorado and New Mexico... And every day there are people who share their stories. Today I met Juan Torres, an Argentinian father who lost his son to 'non-combat related injuries' in Afghanistan, and who sobs as if he were a young boy when he tells me about it. He tells me that when his parents died he felt grief, but that the grief from the loss of his son Juan is 100 times worse. He and his family are devoted to learning the truth about this 'unexplained death' of a young soldier, and have created a website at >

There is a journalist/blogger/radio personality by the name of Brad Friedman who has been taping daily at the Crawford Peace House; he was the first to interview Cindy Sheehan when she returned this Wednesday. Yesterday we heard a telephone interview with Congressman John Conyers, and tomorrow there will be a live simulcast with Air America Radio's Laura Flanders. Today, on the last segment, I was interviewed; I sang my version of Guantanamera and spoke about torture, both at Abul Ghraib and at Guantánamo. As many of you know, Guantanamera is a folk song from my homeland with the refrain, Guantanamera, guajira guantanamera, meaning, a peasant woman from Guantánamo, in the province of Oriente, Cuba, where the United States has had a naval base for over a century, which is now being used for torture. I have changed the refrain to "Tristeza guantanamera," which means Sadness from Guantánamo. I translated the five new verses to English and then sang three of them in Spanish; hopefully you can hear the interview at

Last night all of us who are staff at the Peace House met to go over preparations for the weekend, transportation, lodging, food... Tonight, we have had a similar meeting. Everyone is sporting unfashionable dark circles under their eyes. Truly, everyone here is running on empty; most of us have had little or no sleep, and the heat is not helping. It has been over 100 degrees, with high humidity, since my arrival. Yesterday we had a woman with a heat stroke and a man who suffered a heart attack. Still, people continue to arrive, all ages, all states of health, and they refuse to leave! We have medics at each camp, and for the weekend we have had a number of people, both MD's and people with EMS experience, sign up as volunteers...

I just stopped this to say goodbye to Rich; he is leaving tomorrow to return to San Diego, California. His wife heard about what Cindy was doing and did not know anything about her but somehow got her cell phone number and called to ask what was needed... she said, I need people to show their support. So Rich's wife came and stayed for a week, and when she went home, Rich came here and has been driving one of the shuttles for a week. He hugs me and whoever is here at the Peace House; it is well over midnight, but our lights are on and we are warming up food (I forgot to eat again) and sharing stories. We are hugging and telling each other to keep our faith and our spirit and our love, and oh, this is all about love, if we had enough love would we be causing birth defects in our own young men and women and their children with depleted uranium? Would we be perpetrating the horrors of Fallujah? So Rich and I hug and this strong and tall young man bends down to hug the abuelita... And I remember this afternoon the school bus full of very young children flipping their small hands to give us 'the bird' out of the windows of the bus, and yelling out curses in their infant voices. How sad, to be taught hatred at such a young age. We don't learn, no matter how many Columbine incidents take place...

This morning we cooked breakfast with song. There is a wonderful blues queen visiting, called (and I know I am not getting the name right) EZ ily; we began the morning singing to each other. She starts with a spiritual, and I try as best as I can to follow; she has that quality which I crave. Oh how her voice soars and reaches us all. I cannot do justice to her gift... After she leaves, I tell my crew of magnificent goddesses of the kitchen to sing, and so we do, Dylan and Peter Seeger, and a Religious Science Minister sings a song I heard at Unity Church, by the Agape Choir;; it turns out she is a member of the original Agape Choir and she is amazed that I know the song, 'I release and I let go,' when I attended Unity Church in Teaneck this was one of my favorite songs, the record, given to me by our choir director, Sandy Billingslea, has inspired more than one of my own compositions. It feels wonderful to be belting out spiritual and peace music, the music of love, once again, in this hot Texas day while preparing food to share with peace pilgrims.

I have decided to stay the weekend; I don't know if Travelocity will honor my return ticket, even if Northwest Airlines is on strike. To begin to explain the power of this 'movement' that has grown in this small Texas backwater I would have to ask each of you to stop and spend a day with us; this is a combination love fest and revival meeting... Twice today I had to stop what I was doing to direct someone who had driven three hours, five hours, all night, to bring donations, toilet paper, cases of water, office supplies, bags of rice. To a degree, we are feeding the multitudes, and it is the parable of the loaves and fishes. Every time I have asked for something, have said, oh, we have no more oil or lettuce, someone shows up and brings a box of it... No eggs, and now there are eight dozen or more in the refrigerators.

A man who came to volunteer his time is putting up shelves. Another young man is a silk screen artist... There are musicians young and old, cooks and drivers and greeters and there is Jeannette, who cleans endlessly and beautifully, anything that anyone dirties; I have named her the goddess of cleanliness. There are smiles and laughter and yes, tears, but they are the tears of that friendship of the heart, and as Castañeda's Don Juan would have said, we know that ours is a path with heart, and that is the only path to travel.

In love,

la abuelita

Sunday, August 28

Thank you all for sharing words with me; I have to run because I have to, so to speak, get dinner on the table, and then go to Casey II for Martin Sheehan's visit... and there is a wedding going on in a little bit as well! Oh, this is so amazing... please share this with everyone else. Someone donated a hotel room last night, which I shared with three other volunteers, so we slept in an actual bed~!

Tuesday, August 30 - Days 7 through 10

It is Tuesday and I am going to try to do an entry for days 7 through today; I am tired, but it is a good kind of tired. We are winding down, but there are still many people to be fed, so the kitchen is still hot and busy. I have two sweet potato pies in the oven and two cooling; we have just taken out a large batch of grilled zucchini/squash from the oven and a pot of beans and rice. I am going to be making a paella... someone sneaked in a special contribution of shrimp and mussels and clams and scallops for our volunteers, who have worked so very hard... and there are fresh asparagus and artichokes and hearts of palm and fresh tomatoes and and and... I have been interviewed and photographed in my dirty bare feet and my filthy apron, and someone came in yesterday to ask about the singing cook of the Crawford Peace House... It is going to be very hard to come home.

I want to talk first about last night's miracle. Mind you, this entire experience has been one miracle after another... but this one qualifies as a major miracle. Last night we had scheduled a prayer/meditation service here at the Peace House at the same time as the vigil was taking place at Casey I; the bugler, a tall marine, asked the rest of the Camp I participants whether anyone minded his inviting the Bush people over, and when no one objected, he did just that. There were not very many of them, but one man in particular carried a flag over and they all joined the vigil. We later found out that the man was a Gold Star father himself; he had lost his own son.

Many of those who were beginning our prayer service at the Peace House decided to go to Camp I and participate in the vigil. Those of us who chose to stay began our interfaith service with a prayer of joy, for this is the first time that the two sides have met without taking sides, without considerations of right or wrong or party affiliation; it was simply a gathering to honor the fallen, and to grieve together. We sobbed for joy... and we sang and prayed and meditated; in particular, we sang a poem written by Rumi, both in English and in Farsi and in Spanish (that is one of the miracles I have not told you about, of me cooking and having Hadi, one of the founders of the Peace House, recite Rumi to me in Farsi and in English, bringing tears to my eyes...) Here is the poem:

Ishq Allah Mabood lil lah
Ishq Allah Mabood lil lah
which means: I am the love that loves to love, lives to love, loves to love and: Soy el amor que ama amar, vive para amar, ama amar.

I will write a final entry later about yesterday; suffice it to say that the miracle of reconciliation, which is how I think of it, was just the final miracle in a long day full of them. As an example, a couple had driven in from New Orleans; I was making potato pies for lunch and wearing my kitchen goddess, 9th day in the trenches label that someone made for me when Louie Ludwig and his friend, Naomi Duffey, walked in carrying bags. Naomi, who has a prosthetic limb, and Louie drove all night because they didn't know if their home would be blown away by the hurricane, so they brought whatever was in their refrigerator, freezer, pantry, to feed the people here. I mention the limb because it was amazing to me that they would drive all night in order to be here despite whatever the personal discomfort.

And you see, so many of the people that I have been honored to meet here are amazing examples of the best that a human being can be... Walking Mary, for example, who told me as an aside that her name comes from something 'small' that she has done over the years, no big deal, she said, where she walks into nuclear plants and then gets arrested, and she apologized because she has tremors from her experiences in prisons as an anti-nuclear activist... or Bill, who has begun a ministry of reparation, going to Vietnam and to Brazil and working with the children, because, he says, 'there were things I did in Vietnam...' or working priest Tom, also a Vietnam Vet, who took out the garbage and the recyclables several times each day, and who maintained a soup kitchen for years and years for which he had to beg during the day in order to buy the food to feed the homeless. The stories are endless... part of me wanted to tape them or write them down, but they are simply part of the beauty of this pilgrimage, and my contribution was to love them all, feed them all, nurture their bodies with food as they were nurturing my heart and my soul with their acts of courage and selflessness.

Last night one of the medics, a wonderful doctor/resident from Chicago who has been incredible, all work and no sleep, left for Chicago and I yelled at him for starting his trip at 1 in the morning; he hugged me and said I had made the Peace House into the Peace Home and that everyone felt I was their mother, so I then realized that I was doing what my daughter calls my 'momshit' which is pronounced almost in one syllable... but what I wanted to say is that I feel so blessed to be here, even though I will need someone in the Poconos to donate a pair of feet.

Saturday as you know we had over 2500 visitors at Camp II and several hundred at the Peace House. It was one of the hottest days I remember, so we had case after case of heat exhaustion, and we had to walk around the bodies of people lying on the floor, surrounded by medics. There were people lying on the living room floor, the kitchen floor, the pantry, the back room... it was incredible, and no one wanted to leave...

I had volunteers chopping vegetables and washing dishes; at some point someone asked whether I was ready for a flood of people (I wasn't...) who were on their way from Camp II and of course I said we were... it was one of those days of my clean-the-refrigerator concoctions, where we used leftovers to create new dishes. I think it might be fun to have a Crawford Peace House cook book... we have had such a wonderful esprit de corps in my kitchen, and young and old have been coming to say goodbye and to say they felt as if they were at home and had never been fed so well in their lives... but you see, I always remember that saying reputed to Napoleon that an army travels on its stomach... and this is is truly an army or perhaps it would be more appropriate to call them a peace corps.

We ate, sang, shared stories; I had been meaning to go to Camp II but it was not possible to leave. The Peace House, I believe, is the heart of this whole thing, and it is the first place most visitors come to; they have questions and sometimes they need to use the bathroom, drink water, eat something. I will write to you later about the history of its founding; it is a beautiful story.

The flood of people came following Laura Flanders of Air America who was taping jointly with Brad Friedman of the Brad Show. As I said in a previous email, Brad Friedman has been taping daily at the Crawford Peace House; he interrupted a vacation to cover this story. Did I mention that I drove Laura Flanders to the airport Sunday morning? She became a journalist after working as an anti-nuclear activist as well...

Sunday I was put in a car and driven to Casey II in a VIP car! The shuttles won't leave unless they have 10 passengers, but the head of transportation said she knew I wouldn't go unless I was physically put into a car, so she grabbed my arm (first removing a knife from it...) and made me take off my dirty apron. Kathleen Rumpf, who had been helping out in the kitchen, and is one of my heroes (she did twelve months for an SOA protest, and was sentenced by notorious Federal judge Martin Elliott, the one who pardoned Calley of the My Lai massacre!) had called Martin Sheehan and he was going to come lead a rosary. She asked me to come on the stage and help with the hymns... guys, do you have any idea how much I love Martin Sheehan, not because of his considerable acting ability, but because he is an awesome activist and always has been? So there I was on stage doing the rosary and singing hymns with Martin Sheehan and Cindy Casey and going back to my lapsed Catholicism. Martin joked about having met Kathleen in jail (you know that he has been arrested numerous times for activism) and said she was one of his heroes! (Can you imagine Elliott pardoning Calley and then sentencing these activists to sentences of 6 months and over, for prying metal letters off of Ft. Benning's main entrance sign, and using paint to stencil in their place: "Home of School of Americas/School of Shame" and "SOA=torture?" Does anyone else see anything slightly wrong with this picture?)

We did the peace offering that Catholics do after the rosary, where you go up to everyone around you and say, the Peace of God be with you; I had been saying Hail Marys in Spanish for all the men and women with Spanish surnames, so that instead of Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen, it was Santa María, madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte, amén, because I figured they had had their abuelas pray for them and with them en español, but as usual, I was crying most of the time and afraid it would interfere with the hymn singing... So I have given la paz del señor to Martin Sheehan en español, and he smiled and hugged me and gave it back, en español as well...

Well, I have to go; tomorrow is the final day, we are having a farewell lunch for our activists. Kay and Michael of the Peace House and Karen, a friend of Cindy Sheehan from California, went to Camp I tonight to spread wildflower seeds over the ground, including poppy seeds, blue bonnets, Indian blankets; they performed a ceremony to reseed and plant beauty and peace on this hallowed ground, where the crosses representing Arlington West have stood all these days. The crosses will come off tomorrow; it has been moving to go over there and hear taps being played, and to honor these men and women and the grief of their relatives and friends, asking, 'for what noble cause' have these lives been lost, as well as those of over a hundred thousand innocent Iraquis. We are all asking you, señor presidente, for what noble cause...

Respectfully and lovingly submitted,

Silvia A. Brandon Pérez, la abuelita

Thusday, September 1

You may have seen in one of my last reports that several of our volunteers came from New Orleans with whatever they had in their homes because they figured if they lost everything anyway, at least what they still had could be donated... Last night, I made a paella for the volunteers with fish and shrimp donated by Louie and Naomi from New Orleans, and Louie made a wonderful asparagus with a vinaigrette that I would kill to reproduce... Later on we all hugged them as we heard the continuing disasters about their beautiful city, their home...

The people left there are black and poor and dispossessed; they are the ones no one cares about. Please please please help them out.

At the Peace House yesterday we donated pallets of water, food, bathroom tissue, etc. to the place in Texas that is going to be taking refugees and they will be opening the Peace House to any overflow of refugees.

These are not 'wealthy' people, they are the people that man our kitchens and mop our floors; they are hurting because in the end, the little people who have nothing are the ones most easily forgotten.

Remember that every man's death diminishes me...

P.S. As I wait to 'ship back' to you guys, I am driving to a local shelter with perishables from the Peace House. This Peace House is awesome; we need one in Stroudsburg. A sanctuary in these very difficult times...

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