Tour De Peace
Stops In Phoenix Metro
Led By High Profile Anti-War Activist Cindy Sheehan, National Movement Has Taken To Bicycles To Promote A World That is Less Polluted And Safer
Cindy Sheehan. Images by Wayne Schutsky.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
April 24, 2013 — The Tour de Peace, a cross-country bike ride that will see acclaimed peace activist Cindy Sheehan travel from California to Washington D.C., passed through the Valley on April 21 and 22.
Sheehan is best known as the woman who camped outside of President George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas in 2005 as a protest against the War in Iraq. Sheehan’s son Casey died while serving as a member of the United States Army in Iraq in 2004, and the activist has since stated that she is not satisfied with the justifications the United State’s government has given validating the decision to go to war.
The Tour de Peace has multiple tertiary goals, according to its website, all related to to the overarching goal of peace. The stated goals are “To End Wars, To End immunity for US War Crimes, To End Suppression of our Civil Rights, To End the use of Fossil Fuels, To End Persecution of Whistle blowers, To End Partisan Apathy and Inaction.”
“The reason I chose a bike ride is that I sold my car about seven or eight years ago and I’ve never owned a car since then,” Sheehan said. “I think our personal and institutional demand for fossil fuels is what causes wars, and, of course, it’s harmful to the environment.”
The Tour began in Vacaville, Calif. at the site of Casey Sheehan’s grave. Sheehan and a few supporters will travel the length of the country, stopping in various locations to spread her message of peace and civil disobedience.
After beginning the Arizona leg of the Tour in Kingman on April 14, the Tour de Peace crew gradually made its way through the state before arriving in Phoenix last weekend. On Saturday, Sheehan spoke outside of the offices of Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake at an event focused on stopping drone warfare.
On Sunday, Sheehan pedaled to the Military Sexual Trauma Garden at Garfield Gardens in Downtown Phoenix to bring awareness to the problem of sexual assault in the military.
Following several introductory speakers, Sheehan began a short improvised speech regarding sexual assault in the military.
She spoke on various topics related to the central theme, including the culture of predatory behavior in the military and the effect this culture of violence can have on occupied peoples.
“If they are doing this to their fellow soldiers, then what are they doing to occupied peoples?” Sheehan asked.
Sheehan related an experience from earlier in the Tour that related directly to Sunday’s topic. Upon reaching the Twenty-Nine Palms Marine Corp Base in California, the Tour de Peace crew saw a sign on the base’s fence that read “Hide Your Wife, Hide Your Daughters, Hide Errbody (sic), 2/7 is Back in Town.”
Sheehan said that the attempt at humor exhibited on that sign exemplified the lack of seriousness given to sexual assault within military culture.
It is for that reason that Sheehan and her crew “liberated” the sign from the fence and took it with them as a token representing the problem they are combatting.
Sheehan expressed concern that a sign with that kind of message could remain hung in open view at a military base.
“Every person who passed that sign and left it up is complicit,” said Sheehan.
After speaking for a moment, she asked Colleen Murphy to give her testimony. Murphy’s late daughter was a victim of sexual assault in the military and died of what appeared to be a suicide, though Murphy claims she and others know that is not the case.
Murphy highlighted the hush hush nature of investigations of sexual assault in the military and the disastrous effect this culture has had on victims.
Specifically, the speakers attempted to shed light on the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, an Air Force officer convicted of sexually assaulting a female independent contractor, a conviction that carried a year of detention and dismissal from the military. However, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the conviction and the Air Force has since reassigned Wilkerson to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson.
Event organizer Lisa Blank MC’d the event and introduced the speakers.
Blank also made special mention of the STOP Act, proposed legislation that would, among other things, appoint civilian investigative teams to look into military rape cases in order to avoid conflicts of interest, such as in the Wilkerson case.
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier of California is sponsoring the STOP Act.
The speakers at Sunday’s event spoke out against the overturned conviction and those with local roots encouraged the audience to write their government officials to voice concerns or downright disagreement with the decision to send Wilkerson to Arizona.
Karen Kondej of the Phoenix Chapter of the National Organization for Women read a statement from the victim in the Wilkerson case. The crowd became visibly moved as Kondej related testimony from the woman, who faced additional personal and professional hardships as the case against Wilkerson progressed.
“I’m almost 50-years-old, I’m pretty together, but if I went through all of this, what is in store for a young airmen?” the statement read. “I did the right thing. I was sexually assaulted, and I reported it. How could a young woman who just joined the Air Force go through all of this and survive?”
In addition to addressing the Wilkerson case, the speakers focused on sexual assault and violence in the military in general. Department of Defense estimates indicate that over 19 thousand rapes occur a year in the military a year, said opening speaker Panayiota Bertzikis, Executive Director of the Military Rape Crisis Center and a survivor of sexual assault in the military.
One in every three women in the military will be raped by the end of their first term, said Dennis Stout of Veterans for Peace.
Stout, a Vietnam War veteran and former radio host in Arizona, is a longtime advocate for sexual assault victims in the military, said Blank. He emphasized the need to hold the military accountable, recounting multiple atrocities he witnessed while serving in Vietnam and the ways military officials covered those instances up.
Currently, over 87,000 military sexual trauma survivors live in Arizona, said Bertzikis.
The multiple Phoenix stops illustrated the overarching theme driving the Tour de Peace, promoting peace and government accountability by bringing awareness to the causes and effects of unchecked violence.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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