Gathering momentum

Local activists gear up for ‘A Season of Change’

STORYTELLING <br>Jennifer Harris found out about Lt. Ehren Watada’s refusal to be deployed to Iraq at a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert about a month ago. Today she’s telling his story to fellow Chicoans.

Jennifer Harris found out about Lt. Ehren Watada’s refusal to be deployed to Iraq at a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert about a month ago. Today she’s telling his story to fellow Chicoans.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

It was just another sunny summer afternoon in Chico last Saturday. For most of us, that is. But in one corner of the city, a storm was brewing. Or perhaps it was being brewed.

Saturday (Aug. 12) marked the beginning of “A Season of Change.” A gathering in Children’s Park beckoned to local activists. It attracted groups and individuals—anyone angry or just plain passionate about war, politics, or the United States’ democratic system itself.

For six-plus hours, they introduced themselves, mingled, discussed their missions and passions with likeminded others. In other words, they brewed.

Sue Hilderbrand of Camp Casey Chico, organizer of the event, called the day—and Camp Casey—a “movement of energy” rather than anything truly organized. Camp Casey originally formed last year outside President Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch. Cindy Sheehan named it in honor of her son, Casey, who had been killed in Iraq. At the same time last August, Camp Casey Chico formed to protest the Iraq war.

“People are pissed off and they’re saying, ‘I want to do something,’ “ Hilderbrand said. There is passion in her voice. It is clear that she will do something, even if some of the other Teva-wearing hippies in the crowd don’t get around to it. She did, after all, travel to New Orleans last year to help with the relief effort.

Effort like that is more than she hopes for, though—a little change goes a long way.

“A lot of people don’t know how to get involved,” Hilderbrand said.

Camp Casey Chico has dubbed Aug. 13 through Sept. 28 “A Season of Change,” a time to gather all of that energy and put it into action. Unlike last year’s focus on the Iraq war, this year’s emphasis is on action, no matter the issue. Camp Casey and the Chico Peace and Justice Center will invite speakers to motivate people and will hold classes to teach people how to transform their passion into action.

“We want to encourage people to take one step outside of their comfort zone,” Hilderbrand said. “We’re so comfortable in this country, but things are going so badly in the world.”

That one step could be donating money to a particular cause, writing a letter to someone like Rep. Wally Herger, creating fliers or leading discussions.

“My goal is to provide people with enough different kinds of opportunities to become politically involved,” Hilderbrand said. “I want to have more people involved in the [political] process and in more sophisticated ways.”

Bob Trausch, also from Camp Casey Chico, estimated that 200 to 300 people showed up on Saturday. They came with different agendas. Jennifer Harris promoted supporting an Army lieutenant who refused to be deployed to Iraq because he didn’t believe in the war. Dorothy Parker, who went to prison for civil disobedience earlier this year, spoke out against School of the Americas. Some were anti-war. Others were anti-Bush. Others opposed the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

With so many issues represented, will anything concrete really come out of this new season? If nothing else, some said, there will be education.

Jennifer Harris describes Chico as a “nice little cocoon,” a place where you can forget what’s going on in the rest of the country—and world.

RALLYING SUPPORT<br>Sue Hilderbrand and Bob Trausch, of Camp Casey Chico, offer words of support for all who attended the “Season of Change” kickoff event last Saturday in Children’s Park.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

“I want to bring an awareness to sleepy Chico,” she said. “It’s time for people to openly and publicly discuss the legality of war.”

That’s Harris’ passion at the moment. She went to a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert about a month ago, and while perusing the vendor stalls she noticed signs supporting Army Lt. Ehren Watada. She was eager to learn more.

Watada is the first commissioned officer to publicly refuse to be deployed to Iraq because he believes the war is illegal. His first hearing—he is charged with contempt toward President Bush, conduct unbecoming an officer and missing movement—is today (Aug. 17), in front of a military court. Because of his actions, Watada could face seven years behind bars.

“I thought, if he’s willing to spend seven years of his life in jail for his convictions, then I’m certainly willing to spend a few nights [telling his story],” Harris said.

A native of Chico, the enthusiastic Harris lived in Washington, D.C., for 11 years working for the federal government. She lived so close to the White House, she was practically hit in the head every day with politics. She then decided to bring her political outlook and knowledge back to her hometown.

“I can make a difference,” she said, “because it starts at home, by educating my fellow people of Chico.”

At her booth on Saturday, she had informational postcards to send to friends, as well as pamphlets and buttons. Her mission was to spread the word and spread the support for this one soldier.

“A month ago I didn’t know about Ehren Watada, but now all these people know,” she said. “This is what makes me passionate these days.”

Education? Check. Action? Here we come.

At the end of this “season,” Camp Casey Chico will dissolve. So will the Texas group—it will become Camp Democracy, out of D.C. Camp Casey Chico will not follow suit, but there will be a reemergence of the direct-action group Peace Works.

“My feeling is that Peace Works is a very powerful, proactive organization in town,” said Trausch. It was his idea to bring it back—it sort of died out a couple of years ago. “We really need to point the finger at ourselves—we’re the ones who have to change. We have to impact our community, starting with Chico.”

Hilderbrand said that when she came to Chico about a year and a half ago from Phoenix, she was surprised at how involved the local activists were. And looking beyond Chico, she uses her connections around the country to spread the word about what’s going on here.

“It’s inspiring for other people to see what we’re doing,” she said. “Just by doing what we’re doing and sending that message [to other communities], we continue to spread our views.”

Her goal for Saturday was to get to know everybody again—many attendees were active in last year’s Camp Casey demonstration, but she hadn’t seen them since. She also hoped to create momentum and excitement.

“The main reason for this day was to remember each others’ names,” she said. “We can’t have a revolution if we don’t know each others’ names.”

That revolution—that storm—is a-brewin'. Whether it drizzles or pours remains to be seen.