I am editing the upcoming book House Keys Not Handcuffs by Paul Boden, a former homeless man and 30-year advocate for homeless and poor people in the San Francisco Bay Area. (His story is included in my book, Finding Home: How Americans Prevail in the “Outsider Insights” section.)
Paul started the Coalition on Homelessness after he witnessed the inability of local and federal governments to deal with ever-growing homelessness. He now is head of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, a group of California programs that works together toward creating housing for those without shelter and putting an end to mass poverty.
His book gives organizing tips to others who would like to begin advocacy organizations or groups. We follow the pitfalls he has skirted throughout the years and see what concerns activists should be alert to as they plan to help others in an efficient and generally successful manner.
Bob Prentice has written the introduction to House Keys. He was formerly director of the San Francisco Public Health Division and founded the Bay Area Health Inequities Initiative, a collaborative formed to transform public health practices and eliminate inequities, and to create healthy communities.
The book contains artwork that embodies homeless and poor people’s struggles and other civil rights efforts during the 30-year period Boden addresses. Artist Art Hazelwood, famous for his artwork in this genre, adds a detailed history of art that has been created to accompany justice movements and publications in San Francisco.
Boden’s book is due out in October. He will speak at the Howard Zinn Bookfest (billed “a celebration of subversive books”) in San Francisco on Nov. 15 and at landmark City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco (co-founded by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti) on Nov. 18.
I met Doug Gale and his wife Dorothy when I spoke to a Veterans for Peace group in Pueblo, CO, in 2011. After I interviewed him for my book, Finding Home: How Americans Prevail, I was in frequent contact with him and his family. His beloved Dorothy preceded him in death a couple of years ago. I want you to read about him, and perhaps an excerpt from the book too because he was one of the most kind, courageous and indefatigable people I have ever met. I am privileged to have known him these last few years.
The last time I saw Doug Gale he wore a T-shirt that said, “Feeding children is our number one goal,” and sported a “Wage Peace” button. Doug did not just speak about and promote peace. Doug Gale lived it.
He told me several years ago about how in World War II he was miraculously singled out to live when many of his fellow Navy sailors died from an attack on their PT boat as they patrolled the Japanese shoreline. Most naturally, those deaths started him thinking about the senselessness of war.
These thoughts were refined further on the ship that carried him home as he met and talked with other young men about their feelings of loss and regret. These experiences solidified his desire to work for peace the rest of his life and to engage in activities that he felt zealously about in terms of preserving the human race. As a schoolteacher and Boy Scout leader, he took the opportunity to pass on to countless young people his values of caring for others and caring about the world as a whole.
His car and front yard were plastered with bumper sticker messages representing the many and varied causes he and his beloved wife Dorothy thought worthy of support. One of the things that worried him most was the use of nuclear power and power plants with their potential to harm the earth and its people. He voiced hope that the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, would “wake people up.” He believed in the absolute abolition of nuclear weapons.
In 1987, he walked the United States Great Peace March for Nuclear Disarmament that went from Irvine, CA, to Washington, D.C. The marchers visited homes, churches and workplaces along the way. “Atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Christians—every conceivable race and color—joined the march,” Doug said.
Locally he opposed several plants in the Pueblo area that gave off toxic waste, and nearby munitions dump storing napalm gas, mustard gas and deteriorating nuclear weapons. He talked about mercury contamination that was carried from the electricity plant on the wind. The electricity was not even for local use, Doug said. “All we get is mercury contamination that continues to poison all God’s creations.”
Doug and Dorothy belonged to the United Church of Christ. He said felt good about being part of “a church that welcomes everybody.” After more than 60 years of marriage, Dorothy Gale was declining from Alzheimer’s. Doug, showing his devotion and love for her and his truly Christian spirit, took care of Dorothy in their home. The day I last visited, he fixed lunch from food their grown children had made and delivered to the fridge, and poured glasses of milk the couple made trips to get from a local dairy. I led Dorothy outside while he prepared our meal and we lunched under the cedar tree where they were married in 1949.
Public radio from Manitou Springs was always on in their house. They listened to music on the station and kept up with issues of the day. Doug read daily to Dorothy from magazines geared toward current events. When Doug and I talked during my visit, Dorothy did not speak but she smiled. Her eyes were still lively and she seemed interested in all we discussed.
Doug was an active member of the Howard Zinn Veterans for Peace Chapter 129 named for the author of A People’s History of the United States, one of Doug’s favorite books. He said he was lucky to have been able to spend time with other soldiers on his trip home from the war. “They bring soldiers right home today,” he said. “It’s a shame. Our Veterans for Peace…tries to stay in contact with homeless vets in this area. Many are suffering from PTSD and drug addiction. Our chapter works on all these issues.”
Doug has gone from us now, gone to join Dorothy and his parents. The world’s loss is heaven’s gain. How much we will all miss this dear, loving and lovely man.
In 1945, one month after Hiroshima, I was with the command squadron at the head of all the PT boats. My boat had been chosen because it was surrounded by armored plate and was deemed more defensible. They picked our PT and said: “You’re going back with a silver star or a medal or you’re not going back at all.”
Our job was to patrol the beaches of the Japanese shoreline. The Japanese had landing craft back in the jungles. We’d go after these barges and shoot at them with .50 caliber machine guns and .40 millimeter cannon too. Our boat was special, so special. We worked with a destroyer escort. They would be 3-4 miles out. We would tell them: “This is where you shoot.” They would pick it up on their radar and shoot.
One time we reported barges and the skipper told the escort: “Here they are. Go after them.” But the destroyer took us for the barges and fired on us. I had fortunately gone up on deck for air and was sitting on a life raft. We lost half our crew. I was cushioned from the explosion and thrown up in the air.
I had a life jacket on. Most of force of the explosion took place in the boat underneath me. There were 20 men. Basically I was the only one who wasn’t injured. I had just gone up to get fresh air. I had a break. It was stuffy in the armored compartment down below.
Ten of my fellow soldiers died in the explosion. That experience has influenced me to work for peace for the rest of my life. Wars just breed hate. There’s nothing good about wars…it’s up to us — our patriotic and civic duty — to speak up for peace.
A Town Hall Meeting in Colorado Springs
American Legion Post 209
3613 Jeannine Drive
April 6th, 2014, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A comprehensive program during which the public can learn about “the battle veterans, their children, grandchildren and future generations have with agent orange/dioxin.” People are encouraged to make known their experiences with the substance and to “make your voice heard.”
Also sponsoring the event is the Colorado Springs Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1075
Information from War Legacies and Ford Foundation by Susan Hammond and Charles Bailey (warlegacies.org):
“AGENT ORANGE was one of a class of color-coded herbicides that U.S. forces sprayed over the rural landscape in Vietnam to kill trees, shrubs and food crops over large areas.” The mixture was a combination of two herbicides. It remained toxic over a short period—a scale of days or weeks—then degraded. More than 11 million gallons were used in Vietnam between 1965 and 1970. “DIOXIN is a member of the class of persistent organic pollutants which resulted from the deliberately accelerated production of 2,4,5-T, one of the compounds in Agent Orange. The chemical companies that produced the herbicide claimed they were unaware of the dioxin contaminant however many dispute this claim…
“Dioxin can shorten the life of humans exposed to it and is associated with severe degradation of health in this, and potentially, future generations. Dioxin is toxic over a long period of time—a scale of many decades—and does not degrade easily.”
This is by Joe Barrera, one of the people in my book, Finding Home: How Americans Prevail, who has discovered that telling one’s story has salubrious effects.
By Joe Barrera
In 2005, I was a member of a group of Vietnam War veterans who became aware that many returning soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were exhibiting some of the same symptoms of alienation and aimlessness that had plagued soldiers coming home from Vietnam in the 60’s and 70’s. Colorado Springs, home to the large Fort Carson Army post, saw many returning veterans. We decided to do something about the loneliness of many of these soldiers and began to invite the younger men to sessions that at first we called “Impact Panels.”
The format of the meetings, which we held in community rooms at libraries, on college campuses, and later in bars and restaurants, was informal but structured in the form of a “post-mission reports,” or “debriefings after combat action.” This worked pretty well, especially because the younger soldiers and veterans seemed to like talking to older men who also had served in combat in Vietnam. This has always been one of the successful characteristics of our sessions, that we bring older men, veterans of previous wars, to hear the younger men, veterans of the present wars, tell their stories. This is a formula that unlocks the reluctance of men for self-disclosure–young veterans talking to older veterans.
At first, we focused on the relatively small number of soldiers who had actual combat experience, as opposed to the vast majority of troops who spent their time in the war zones in the base camps. Combat veterans have a great need to talk, to share their stories, and to unburden themselves of the heavy load that war always lays on soldiers. But it has to be done right, in a safe environment with respectful listeners who understand the telling of war stories. We have since invited non-combat veterans to speak, and their stories are just as significant as those of the men with actual combat experience.
We quickly noticed that many of the men we “debriefed” kept talking about their wives, their children, their friends and other people in their lives with whom they seemed to have lost connection. We saw that there was a very real need to address this reality of loss that war always brings. We decided to expand the audiences during the sessions to include not just veterans, but also their families and friends. We added a third circle, the community, when we realized that many returning war veterans need the symbolic permission of the community at large in order to re-enter society.
This is the structure of the Veterans Remember Community Dialogues as we do them now in Colorado Springs. There are three circles always present:
1) The veterans and soldiers
2) Spouses, families and friends
3) The community at large.
The sessions typically can take up an entire day and last into the evening, with breaks for lunch and dinner. Often, we adjourn to a restaurant and continue the stories. People take turns talking. No one is required to speak, of course.
Participants can stay as long or as short a time as they desire. We don’t get into the politics of the wars. That is not allowed. We do not allow anti-war or pro-war activists. We have learned that these types can very quickly kill the delicate sensitivity to emotional pain and trauma that are always manifested during the Dialogues. The Veterans Remember Dialogues are about creating the space and time for healing. The prerequisite for this is always non-judgmental acceptance by the listeners for the soldiers telling the stories, and acceptance of any and all experiences.
The listeners engage in dialogue with the soldiers and veterans. Many times this is the first time that any meaningful communication about war experiences between husbands and wives, families and friends, occurs. People invariably say, “This is the first time I have ever heard him say those things. I had no idea about what he had gone through.” The main reason this true communication happens is that soldiers are talking to other soldiers, and the families, friends and community members are listening in. And then the soldiers get real feedback from their loved ones.
We have now expanded the Dialogues to include all military experiences. We have hosted WWII veterans (they tell some of the best stories), Korean War veterans, Cold War era veterans, Vietnam veterans, Desert Storm and OIF (Iraq War) and OEF (Afghan War) veterans. All veterans are welcome, including women veterans.
One of our most successful panels was entitled, “Women and War.” We have also hosted sessions in which the wives of soldiers are the focus. We tell the wives that they are also war veterans, because their husbands bring the war home with them. This is especially true for families where the husbands, and sometimes the wives, have deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan. The military wives panels are always especially poignant because they reveal the huge emotional pain of women and children waiting for their husbands and fathers to come home, and the fear, anxiety and even panic that comes from not knowing what has happened to their loved ones.
Joe Barrera retired in 2010 from teaching Ethnic Studies and American Southwest Literature at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Texas in Austin. Joe’s contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tibet Styles A lovely shop in the Upper Haight in San Francisco.
Ugyen Dolma is an interviewee from Finding Home. In the book, she discusses her escape from Tibet as a child, her childhood in Nepal and India (where she worked closely with the Dalai Lama) and her uprooting to the United States. She is a citizen of the U.S., has raised three children here and is still paying off their college educations. A proud Mama.
I encourage you to stop by her shop Tibet Styles at 1707 Haight St. in San Franciso,CA
She has a lovely selection of jewelry, Tibetan crafts and gifts.
Get a singing bowl and Dolma will teach you how to make it sing. She will also give you a special Tibetan blessing!