By Liisa Wale
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
On the Weekend of April 20th and 21st Cindy Sheehan and Tour de Peace made a stop along their journey towards Washington D.C. While in Phoenix the group visited Senator McCain’s and Flake’s office as well as the Military Trauma Garden.
On Saturday, April 20th the tour joined a protest against drones and war taking place outside the Senators offices on Camelback in Phoenix. They arrived on their bikes to banners, signs and horn honking outside of Flake’s office. There was another planned rally taking place at the same time regarding gun control and the vote in Congress last week so when the other group arrived the action moved over to Senator McCain’s office entrance. Outside of the doors of McCain’s office there was a reading of the names of 129 Arizona soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. After each name there was the beating of a drum followed by the crowd saying “Not One More Death”. This was followed by the reading of the “known” victims of drone attacks with people standing behind with blood (red paint) on their hands. This visual was to make a statement that the death due to attacks by drones is “blood on our hands”. The group wandered back to Flake’s office to continue the protest to find the other rally was still going on. Senator McCain came out to speak to those rallying about gun control across the street from where the protest was taking place. The protest against drones ended with Cindy Sheehan talking to McCain through a bullhorn as he walked quickly away.
Video of the weekend by Dede M:
On Sunday, April 21st people congregated at the Military Sexual Trauma Garden at Roosevelt Row in Phoenix. The garden was created a year ago and was dedicated by the Military Rape Crisis Center, the National Organization for Women (NOW) and FACT to all survivors and victims of military sexual assault. Dennis Stout of Veterans for Peace spoke about how woman who serve in the US military are not protected from rape. He spoke of how cases of sexual assault in the military are more than likely not filed and/or there is no punishment for soldiers actions. According to Retired US Army Colonel Ann Wright, “”One in three women who join the US military will be sexually assaulted or raped by men in the military”. Stout went on to say that as long as there is “no punishment for sexual assault it will continue”.
Panayiota Bertzikis of the Military Rape Crisis Center spoke about the case of Lt. Col James Wilkerson. He is a Air Force Lt Col who in November of 2012 was convicted of sexually assaulting a civilian contractor. He was found guilty and sentenced to 1 year in jail. However in February 2013 the conviction was overturned and he is now being transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson; the hometown of the victim and her family. Karen Kondej, of Phoenix NOW, read the victims statement about this decision to the crowd at the garden.
One of the most powerful stories of the morning was from Colleen Murphy, a Gold Star Mother who lives in Sun City, who spoke of her daughter Staff Sgt Amy Tirador. Tirador was found dead from a gunshot to the back of her head November 2009 at the base she was stationed at in Iraq. The military has said that they determined it is a suicide. However Colleen believes that her daughter was killed after being raped and the Army is hiding the truth. She is working with others to not only find out the truth about what happened to her daughter but to protect others in the military.
Sheehan finished up the morning at the garden by talking about her son, Casey Sheehan, and how he had been harrassed by his peers for his beliefs and went on to say that violence is part of the military culture. She spoke of the Tour de Peace stop at Twentynine Palms where they encountered as sign along a fence heading into the base that depicts that culture of violence. The group was so disturbed by this sign that they “liberated” it and are carrying it along on their journey. They plan to leave it on the fence outside of the White House when they arrive at the beginning of June.
While at the garden Cindy Sheehan left the crowd with words of empowerment and a message meant to inspire the peace and justice movement – “We can not rely on the government we must rely on ourselves”.
*Feature picture taken by Robert Haasch of Sand Angel Media