Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Notes on the Camp Casey Detroit Project
By Abayomi Azikiwe

This has been a tremendous three weeks since we set up Camp Casey Detroit on August 22, 2005 at the corner of Woodward and Adams in Grand Circus Park. I cannot recall anything similar in regard to the peace movement in the Detroit area. Special thanks should go out to all the members of the Michgian Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and the many people who came and joined the Camp over the last several weeks.

Camp Casey Detroit lifted the anti-war and peace movement to a new level. This was no ordinary protest or conventional demonstration. It represented a community of activists making decisions and creating new forms of expression on a round the clock basis. The character of the debates and discussions during the last three weeks were highly charged and probative.

In order for the Camp to survive sucessfully for 21 days it required a high degree of discipline, commitment and mutual respect among the participants.The Camp had to make democratic decisions after weighing the merits of various issues. We had to work out how we would deal with each other as well as the supporters of the Camp. In addition, we had to develop strategies for dealing with the various people who stopped by the literature table to discuss a myraid of issues that the Camp represented.

There were many pledges of support and we changed some minds and hearts as it relates to the war policies of the current government in Washington, D.C.At the same time there were detractors who sought to upset the Camp participants with denunciations of the peace movement. Our response varied but we never reacted violently to any of the negative forces that came to our literature table. We often debated those who could not understand why it was necessary to stage an extended peace camp with such determination and vigour.

Moreover, we worked out means of relating to the various street people who approached the Camp in various ways. We fed and provided water as well as advice to many homeless and destitute people who live in and around Grand Circus Park because they have no where else to reside. We were provided with a glimpse of the depths of poverty, exploitation and oppression that far to many people have fallen victim to in Detroit. We saw clearly that there are at least three Detroits converging in downtown.

There are the successful business owners, professionals and retirees who represent the new emerging elites in the downtown area. These people live in the newly renovated lofts, apartments and condos. Then there are the working people who are struggling to survive and prosper in the economically distressed city of Detroit. Also there are the low-income people, the mentally ill, drug and alcohol addicted who have either accepted their plight or are struggling to rise above it and change the conditions under which they live.To all of these residents and the people who transit through downtown going to work, to shop or attend entertainment centers, we brought an uncompromising anti-war message: "Bring the Troops Home Now, Money For Our City, Not For War."

Also the city of Detroit employees were highly supportive. There were bus drivers who took petitions calling for an end to the war. These petitions were delivered when the drivers returned from their routes. The work crews were quite accomodating and even assisted us in keeping the Camp clean by sweeping and empyting the garbage containers.

Most of the top level police officials stated that they would not close down the Camp. We had problems with only three sargeants who sought to harass us by asking us to remove hanging banners and crosses that represented the war dead from Michigan. Eventually we were granted a permit for the Saturday September 10 rally. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson attended the rally and spoke. Attorney Charles Brown, who works on Councilwoman Watson's staff served as the Camp's legal represntative in residence. Atty. Brown spent a considerable amount of time at the Camp both day and night. His participation was essential in keeping the entire process smooth and yet militant in its determination.

Our decision to end the Camp on September 11 was related to the visit and departure of the "Bring the Troops Home Now" Tour which left Crawford, Texas (home of the original Camp Casey) on September 1. The people who represented the backbone of the anti-war project in the heart of Crawford left the area surrounding the vacation home of President Bush on September 1 after Bush returned to the White House. They are travelling the country in three trailers. The visit of these unique and couragous inviduals represented the high point of the three week Detroit Camp Casey project.

Saturday's rally at the Camp was very inspirational as well as emotional. The speeches of local activists and the tour participants energized all of those in attendance. The potluck on Friday night when the tour participants arrived was a festive occasion of historical significance.We had collected hundreds of signatures on a petition to President Bush calling for bringing the troops home now. These petitions were turned over to the tour participants who indicated that they would be delivered to the US Congress when they arrive in Washington, D.C. for the massive weekend of action starting on Saturday September 24. MECAWI and the Detroit Area Peace and Justice Network (DAPJN) are taking buses to the march which will begin outside the White House.

The Camp Casey Detroit project brought together a number of peace organizations including both MECAWI, DAPJN, Pointes for Peace, Peace Action, Women in Black, Veterans for Peace and others. The Camp represented how groups can work together on an equal and mutually respectful basis.As a member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) we wish to extend our deepest gratitude to all that made this important project a success.

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