Saturday, September 26, 2015
While the concerns and positions reflected in the statement below differ somewhat from my own, there is actually a considerable overlap. Although I am not a statist, I am a person of the Left broadly who sees VFP's utter failure to reach out to anti-war moderates and conservatives as an indication that its leaders and members are not serious about non-violence or working to end war. They seem very serious about pursuing a broader statist, Leftist social agenda that, at best, is questionable on the merits but also sure to preserve VFP's continung marginality. It would be one thing if we had solved that whole US militarism problem but we have not.
I also echo Genesio's concerns about the lack of transparency and democracy in VFP and the recriminations awaiting anyone who runs afoul of leadership or dogma in VFP. In my experience they are well-founded.
Why I Am Withdrawing My Lifetime Membership From Veterans for Peace
By Jerry Genesio (Website)
Ever since the Peace At Home – Peace Abroad project was introduced to the VFP rank-and-file membership at the last annual convention as a fait accompli, I’ve been corresponding with members of VFP in an attempt to determine if anyone could explain why this mission-changing project was never drafted as a resolution and submitted to the entire membership for a vote. Much less important issues certainly were. To this day I have not received an explanation other than that the Board of Directors, in its infinite wisdom, deemed it to be so, and that’s just not good enough. I should add that Ken Dalton, then a member of the Board, opposed the PAH-PA concept. In response, he was called a f***ing idiot, a racist, and told he was not being a team player and had become “suspect”, and these comments came from fellow Board members, as hard as that might be to believe. In the face of such unforgiveable intolerance, Ken resigned, and I can’t say that I blame him.
For the past seven or eight months, since the 2014 convention, I’ve been paying close attention to the VFP website and the activities of VFP’s national leadership circle. I’ve complained about much that was missing from the website such as financial reports for the past couple of years, and Board minutes since October of last year. The financial reports finally materialized, and most of the missing minutes have only recently been posted, but the minutes for November and December of 2014 are still missing without explanation. Why?I recently saw a national roster that indicated former national Board of Directors member Margaret Stevens’ military service had never been documented (a requirement for full membership) and that her dues had lapsed in June of 2014 (also a requirement for full membership), and yet she held a seat on VFP’s Board of Directors and was certainly one of the strongest advocates of the Peace At Home – Peace Abroad project. I was told only recently that Stevens’ military service has been documented, but I have no idea when that might have happened, if indeed it has. If the roster is correct, Ms. Stevens was never eligible to be nominated for a seat on the Board of Directors, nor was she eligible to be reimbursed for travel and accommodations associated with VFP conventions and Board meetings during her tenure. But I have been told her expenses were indeed covered by VFP.
Perhaps the February 2015 Board minutes weren’t posted previously because our national leaders did not wish to reveal how they addressed my concerns during that meeting. Every VFP member should read them. The discussion not only questions why the Board should feel obligated to share information with the membership, but it gave several members, especially Tarak Kauff and Michael McPhearson, an opportunity to express their opinions of me. Tarak said of me, “the guy is a racist”, and McPhearson advised the Board to “let him reveal his racism”. Simply because I dared to challenge the membership status of Margaret Stevens during her tenure as a National Board member. Such comments are ignorant at best, and because they have been published perhaps libelous as well as slanderous at worst. This is the very same syndrome that so often manifests when one criticizes Israel for any reason: dare to do so and you are anti-Semitic.
The same roster indicates Board member Michael Prysner’s dues lapsed on January 1, 2013. According to the By-laws, that means he was not a full member of VFP at least through mid-November of 2014 and therefore ineligible to serve on the Board. I for one would like to know if expenses Prysner incurred to attend VFP conventions and Board meetings were unlawfully reimbursed, while Lifetime and regular dues paying members were required to pay their own expenses. Further, I suspect that every motion he and/or Stevens’ voted on during that period arguably could be legally challenged. On February 10, 2015, well over six weeks ago, I submitted a formal request to VFP President Barry Ladendorf for an investigation into several of these allegations which I was aware of at that time, but I have not yet received a copy of any formal investigation or its conclusions. And based on an informal e-mail response I did receive, it appears that the entire matter might well be swept under the national office rug.
While some insist Peace At Home – Peace Abroad is naught but a “lens”, it has become a major national office focus without a vote of the membership. The phrase is ubiquitous within the VFP organization. It’s even prominently displayed on the banner carried by our national leaders at the recent Spring Rising in D.C. PAH-PA rose to the top of VFP’s agenda in Ferguson, MO, where VFP national leaders chose a side during the Michael Brown protests, which in and of itself was in conflict with the spirit and intent of the VFP Statement of Purpose. I was there when it was written and it was never intended to embrace domestic social justice issues. Those who would amend the statement to include domestic social justice issues should write a proposed amendment and submit it to the full membership for a vote. That’s what democratic principles require. And that is certainly what is required of every issue, resolution or amendment that is not supported by the Board.
When the VFP Statement of Purpose was created, it was considered very unique, perhaps because VFP has always been and until very recently still was very unique. There is not now nor has there ever been another military veterans’ organization exactly like it. Our focus has been unique. VFP members have been respected, if not for their opinions, for their service, and because we have limited our projects to activities and pursuits we know something about: the military and war. We are not nationally recognized as an authority on social justice issues, or the constitution, or law enforcement, or medical indications for marijuana, or criminal psychology. In other words, VFP cannot be all things to all people. If it continues trying to be, I firmly believe it will become ineffective, insubstantial and eventually irrelevant.
According to a report titled “Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of the ‘War on Terror'” produced as a collaborative effort between Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has thus far been responsible for the deaths of approximately 1 million Iraqis, which is 5 percent of the total population of that country. The report also tallies hundreds of thousands of casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The total number of lives lost in these three countries is at least 1.3 million since the onset of the wars that followed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001.
How can the Board possibly justify removing VFP from its formerly enviable and unique position in the U.S. peace movement presuming that a paradigm shift will allow it to compete and not be lost among the other 3,513 U.S. organizations that result when you search the GuideStar non-profit directory for “social justice” organizations in the U.S.? But when you search the same directory for “true costs of war”, only seven organizations result and two of them are VFP National and VFP Chapter 132. This is where all of VFP’s members, time and resources are desperately needed, and this applies in particular to VFP’s national leadership.
I’m also concerned about the fact that VFP’s Executive Director Michael McPhearson is co-chair of the Don’t Shoot Coalition which includes the New Black Panther Party. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the New Black Panther Party “a virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers”. It is also very troubling to me that while VFP Board members have been standing with those protesting the killing of African-Americans by white police officers, they have not protested or issued a statement condemning the deliberate and related murders of two police officers in New York and another in Ferguson, Missouri. Former National Board member Ken Dalton asked the Board to issue such a statement following the New York incident, but there was no response of which I am aware. On March 12, 2015, when I asked VFP President Ladendorf for a VFP response to the Ferguson incident, he told me the Board should issue a statement condemning the murder. That was more than a month ago but to the best of my knowledge, no such statement has yet been made public, nor do I expect to see one.
One of VFP’s directors, Michael Prysner, is also a leader, perhaps even the founder, of an organization called March Forward! Their web site states that they and “Veterans for Peace . . . are actively building a multinational, multigenerational group of veterans and service members who will stand up and fight back against the injustice perpetrated by the Pentagon against our sisters and brothers throughout the developing world, against working and poor people in the United States, and against those still serving in the U.S. military.” What exactly does that mean? After reading March Forward!’s 10-Point Program, also on their web site http://www.marchforward.org/10_point_program , I am certain I don’t wish to be associated with them any more than I wish to be associated with the New Black Panther Party.
Another of VFP’s national directors, Kourtney Mitchell, is on the Steering Committee of an organization called Deep Green Resistance. As I read their website http://deepgreenresistance.org/en/ it appears that they advocate attacks on the infrastructure of civilization in the interest of destroying civilization as we know it today so we can begin again. I simply cannot bring VFP’s Statement of Purpose and DGR’s philosophy together without encountering more contradictions than anyone could possibly explain.
It has been reported in the minutes of VFP Board meetings or teleconferences that the national leadership has given IVAW as much as $60,000.00 in loans over the past couple of years. And I understand these were unsecured loans, which means the funds were knowingly placed at risk. I have a problem with VFP asking for funds to support VFP’s work and projects and then loaning $60,000.00 of those funds to another organization to benefit them and their work, and accepting the possibility that those funds could be lost. The VFP National Board of Directors is responsible for safeguarding the organization’s assets and vested interests. Have our national leaders become such hypocrites that they hold everyone accountable but themselves?
I have asked why VFP has seen such instability and rapid changes at the national office over the past few years. Several Executive Directors have come and gone without explanation. I was told the reasons were “confidential”, which left me wondering how VFP can celebrate people like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, when it apparently has some dark secrets of its own. Perhaps the VFP national office, or at least the membership, could benefit from a few Wikileaks as well.
For the past few months, I have subscribed to the vfp-all Yahoo list serve and at times I really can’t quite believe what I’m reading, at least not in terms of how it relates to VFP. I’ve seen insulting, angry and intolerant exchanges. Some members claim the U.S. government is working with ISIS and the Mafia…..Really? Just exactly what kind of conspiracy theorists is VFP attracting these days…..how many…….and perhaps more importantly……WHY? There was a time when VFP attracted thinkers who considered their words carefully and never made accusations they couldn’t support with sources generally deemed reliable. They believed that “Black Lives Matter” because they believed “All Lives Matter” regardless of their color. They loved no country more than their own and wanted nothing more passionately than to correct their country’s mistakes. Unfortunately, far too many of them have already left VFP in disappointment and frustration. I did the same thing some time ago but recently returned hoping to find the wrinkles had been ironed out. Instead I find the wrinkles have become folds that are hiding new and even greater problems.
Today I watched a video of Ben Swanson’s interview of Gerry Condon concerning the Bowe Bergdahl controversy on RT-TV, which is the English language U.S. satellite of Russian Television. In it Condon was introduced as VFP’s president. He is not. Condon claimed to know why Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan. He does not. Condon claimed to know what motivated President Obama and the Pentagon to bring charges against Bergdahl. He does not. And I’m not at all sure President Obama has been involved in Bergdahl’s case in any way other than to approve the terms for securing his freedom from captivity by the Taliban.
Ben Swanson introduced Gerry Condon not only as the President of VFP, but also as a deserter from the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. The VFP Statement of Purpose is clear about our military service:“ We, having dutifully served our nation, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace.”
But veterans who were deserters, draft dodgers, or were otherwise discharged under less than honorable conditions did not “dutifully” serve their nation in the spirit of that phrase as it was written. I make no personal judgments, but I do not believe veterans who served under less than honorable conditions should campaign or be nominated for national leadership positions in VFP, for whether right or wrong, their personal status will tarnish the organization’s credibility in the eyes of most Americans. I believe it’s also the reason why VFP’s recruiting efforts have not been very successful in attracting veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars. For good or ill, VFP derives its credibility solely from the singular claim that its members have “dutifully served our nation”. Some, perhaps even many members, will say they could not care less what most Americans think. But their attitude will paralyze the progress of VFP toward achieving its stated goals for no politician will publicly stand with us, and without politicians standing with us in agreement, we will accomplish very little in terms of policy reform.
I sincerely hope others will pick up the gauntlet where I have dropped it; continuing to ask questions and demanding answers. But I am getting on in years, my health is not what it once was, and I don’t want to spend the years I have left swimming against the tide in the company of people who are so busy fighting among themselves and casting aspersions on the organization and everyone in it that they have lost sight of the good fight altogether.
The VFP that exists today is not even close to being the VFP that was founded in 1985. I don’t really know what this VFP is, what it stands for, or what it hopes to accomplish. Radical protests appear to be its raison d’etre rather than activities like Project RENEW or the Children of War Rescue Project, which require a lot of personal sacrifice and hard work. VFP has evolved into something much different than it was when it began and I don’t wish to be a part of it any longer. Perhaps, if and when VFP should ever return to its original mission, new leaders who respect democratic principles, openness, and the rights of those who would disagree will invite those of us who have left to return, but until then I will march only with those who stand in defense of the rights of ALL others. I have been asking a lot of unsettling questions lately so I don’t doubt that some, perhaps many, will be pleased to learn of my departure. But that only serves to further define what VFP has become.
Jerry GenesioFounder & Past PresidentVeterans For Peace
“(I)n America, disagreement with the policies of the government is not evidence of lack of patriotism.” U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-ME)