On New Year's
Day, I decided to start 2006 out with a public protest against
the war. Little did I know how public it would become.
brother and I (he was only the wheelman, led astray) tagged three
highway overpasses near Toledo with "TROOPS OUT NOW!" (see
photo, above). Suburban cops with too much time on their hands
and citizens with cell phones being what they were, we were soon
pulled over by five (no kidding) patrol cars and arrested on no
fewer than five felonies each. For those of you who haven't
been paying attention to how state legislatures protect
us from crime, in the late '90s in Ohio it became a felony to
spraypaint a public building (called "getting tough on gangs")
AND a felony to possess a can of spraypaint in the commission
of that crime ("possession of criminal tools" says the Ohio Revised
that night in jail and the next day appeared, shackled together,
before a judge who set bond at (this is all for
real, pals) $3,000 each, no 10 per cent business.
week we went to one suburban court, plead to misdemeanors,
and found out how much the Ohio Dept. of Transportation (ODOT) charges for
the "preliminary" repair of each overpass (grey paint) -
$600 - with the final repair bill due at our sentencing next month.
Technically, that includes up to 90 days in jail.
went to the second suburban court and my brother plead to misdemeanors.
I, on the other hand decided that if I'm going to pay
that kind of money and face time in the cooler, I'm at
least going to have a trial and speak my mind about the war. I've
now been "bound over to the grand jury" (which may mean something
to those of you who watch cop shows) for a trial in county common
pleas court on the remaining felony charges.
our local paper, the Toledo Blade, ran an editorial last
week titled "Defacing
a reputation," referring to my time on city council and what
it considered acceptable war protests, opining that I
went too far with the spraypaint. Below is my response to the
paper and our fellow citizens.
was gracious enough to list me in the company of some civilly
disobedient heroes, indicating my behavior fell woefully short
of those honorable standards. Spray paint wasn't invented in Gandhi's
day, but might he at some point have scrawled "Brits Out
Now" with whitewash and a brush? One might think
why break the law," people ask? "What about this
war troubles you enough to break the law?"
In one word:
never leave me.
young soldiers and marines lying in row upon row of hospital beds.
Images of picking shrapnel out of Mike Ramsack's backside... dressing
Bob Butikofer's wounds every day and trying not to make him scream...
changing colostomy bags on guys hoping they won't defecate out
the hole in their guts caused by a gunshot wound to the abdomen...
trying to give a brain scan to a young soldier missing his entire
left temporal lobe... Images of eating in the chow hall as dozens
of patients in wheelchairs, on crutches, missing arms and legs
and eyes line up for dinner... Images of a young man sitting silent
and broken in a corner of the psych ward.
are other, more recent images from my trips to Iraq that I cannot
forget. Images of the kids I met on the streets of Baghdad, and
the ones in Abu Siffa who shared their chicken and rice dinner
with an American journalist two days after a cruise missile blew
their orange grove to bits. Images of Fatima in the Sa'adoon St.
copy shop who told me how beautiful she thought her country was
and how she hoped there would be no war. Images of the young U.S.
Army sergeant from West Virginia I accompanied on patrol one night
near Balad, who answered my question, "why are you in Iraq?"
with a tired shrug saying, "I really don't know." And
his partner from North Dakota, just as bone-tired, who answered
I see these
images every day. And I know that the young men in that Navy hospital
35 years ago, just like the ones I met last year in Iraq, are
getting killed and maimed for a preposterous lie. As my blood
boils I tell my government to "BRING THEM HOME NOW!"
by writing letters, signing petitions, speaking, and yes, painting
is not only causing great suffering by this war, it is also violating
dozens of international and domestic laws. See the Veterans For
for Impeachment" for a partial list. As citizens we are
complicit in these crimes and suffering. That is why historian
Howard Zinn's words make more sense to me each day this war continues:
disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.
Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the
dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war,
and millions have been killed because of this obedience... Our
problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the
face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty.
Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full
of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running
the country. That's our problem."
important mistake I made on New Year's Day was not that I painted
"Troops Out Now" on overpasses, it was choosing a form
of civil disobedience not many people are comfortable adopting.
If you believe we must end this war, what kind of civil disobedience
would you choose? Refuse to pay part of your taxes this April?
Sit in at a Congressional office? Organize a strike? Or will we
be content to speak quietly, watching the petty criminals go to
jail while the grand criminals continue the slaughter in our name?
Mike Ferner served as a Navy Corpsman from 1969 to 73, was discharged
as a conscientious objector, and is a member of Veterans