Walking, witnessing against war, 13 arrested at Fort McCoy

Witness Against War, a 450-mile walk from Chicago to St. Paul for the Republican convention, reached a Wisconsin Army base on Sunday, and 13 walkers were arrested when they tried to enter the base to interact with soldiers there.

Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who organized the walk, was held on an oustanding 10-year-old warrant for civil disobedience at Project ELF in northern Wisconsin.  The others were released and the walk continues today.

This report is from Jeff Leys, one of the walkers who was arrested:  

Sunday, August 10, began with breakfast at the home of Dick and Violet, our hosts. We arrived at Tunnel City, our starting point that day, at 9:30 a.m., in time to meet with Sheriff Pederson to discuss the day’s walk. We explained that we intended to walk on the shoulder of the road facing traffic, as required by state traffic laws. He explained that he’d met with his officers and with officers of the Wisconsin State Highway Patrol that morning. Their intent was to ensure that the walk was able to proceed safely, and not to interfere with the walk’s progress. Indeed State Patrol and County Sheriff patrol cars accompanied the walk as it processed from Tunnel City to the edge of Fort McCoy and onward. One patrol officer turned on his vehicles flashing red and blue lights to slow traffic down along the highway (with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour and a fairly narrow shoulder), keeping a health distance form the front of the walk and backing up on an even pace with the walk.

We began walking at about 9:45 a.m. The first question mark of the day arrived three miles into the walk. At that point Highway 21, on which we were walking, enters Fort McCoy with a yellow sign informing motorists that they are “Entering a Military Area.” We were relatively certain we’d be able to proceed without any difficulty since we’d received a letter from Colonel Daniel Culver of the base advising us that normally the only time the base law enforcement would get involved along Highway 21 is if the operations of the base were being interfered with. Since we were walking on the shoulder, we were relatively certain we’d be fine. Yet, the question mark remained: would there be a change in the base’s position now that the walk had arrived? Would we be met by Fort McCoy security determined to prevent us from crossing the base?

The answer was “No”. Fort McCoy’s command would not block the progress of the walk. We would keep on walking forward, never turning back.

Witness Against War aimed to engage in civil disobedience / civil resistance at the main gate of Fort McCoy. A flashing traffic control sign located along the highway near the entry to Fort McCoy advised incoming traffic that the main gate was closed and directed traffic elsewhere.

Had Fort McCoy decided to wait us out? To allow us to engage in a vigil on the entryway into the base, without allowing us onto the base? Since our intent was to remain in order to gain entry into the base to talk with soldiers about the war, the question began to be raised: How long would we have to wait to gain entry?

Witness Against War arrived at Fort McCoy at 11:45 a.m. We gathered along the shoulder of the highway, across from the main gate. Those of us intending to seek entry into the base-and to risk arrest in doing so-gathered together. We thirteen crossed the highway together when a break in traffic made it safe to do so.

Fort McCoy had placed wooden horses across the driveway entrance to the base. Two officers from the base security were present. As we approached, and began to pass the wooden horses, Fort McCoy’s law enforcement engaged us in conversation. The officer advised us that if we went beyond the horses and continued to walk up the driveway towards the entrance that we would be subject to arrest. He asked if there was any communication which would like to present to him for him to relay to the base commander. We replied that we sought to distribute an open letter regarding the Iraq war to those currently serving on the base and to engage in dialogue with those on the base.

The letter we sought to deliver began:

“”We today come to Fort McCoy to seek an end to the war in and occupation of Iraq by the United States. We come to Fort McCoy because of its key role in training National Guard units deploying to Iraq-a training that should end immediately with the commitment of the U.S. to keep National Guard units home and withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq….”

The letter concluded:

“…the strain upon service men and women and their families continues unabated with repeat deployments to Iraq. The Washington National Guard’s 81st Heavy Brigade Combat Team will deploy to Iraq for the second time this fall. The 32nd Red Arrow Brigade Combat Team of the Wisconsin National Guard will deploy to Iraq in 2009. This will be the largest deployment to combat of the Wisconsin National Guard since World War II when it logged the most days in theater of any U.S. Army unit. We call upon the United States to keep the National Guard at home in the U.S. and to end these repeat deployments abroad.

“We come to Fort McCoy to, in some small way, act in solidarity with members of the military who choose to nonviolently resist this war by refusing to be deployed to Iraq. We encourage members of the active duty military, Reserve and National Guard to consider refusing deployment orders and to be in contact with the GI Rights Hotline regarding their rights within the military at 1-800-394-9544.”

We stated that we intended to move forward to deliver the letter to those on the base and that we understood the potential consequences of doing so. He said he understood what we intended to do and moved aside as we processed up the driveway.

Then a “swarm” of officers from Fort McCoy emerged from the garage at the base entry point. We were walking slowly and deliberately towards them. They were walking slowly and deliberately towards us. It was clear that we would meet somewhere in the middle but that neither felt intimidated by the other nor that either side felt as if it was necessary to try to intimidate the other side.

We thirteen were arrested, processed and released in short order on the offense of trespass to land. We’ll be notified at some later time the date on which we are to appear in court. Those arrested include: Kathy Kelly, 54, Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence ; Jeff Leys, 44, of Watertown, Wisconsin; Joy First, 54, of Madison, WI; John Bachman, 56, Eau Claire, WI; Brian Terrell, 52, of Des Moines, IA; Renee Espeland, 47 of Des Moines, IA; Kryss Chupp, 49, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Chicago; Ceylon Mooney, 33, Memphis, TN; Eileen Hanson, 34, Winona, MN; Joshua Brollier, 25, Clarkesville, TN; Lauren Cannon, 38, seminarian at Chicago Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL; Alice Gerard, 51, of Grand Island, NY; and Gene Stoltzfus, 68, of Ontario, Canada.

All but one were released the same day. Kathy Kelly (pictured at left) was detained on an outstanding warrant that dates back over ten years to an act of nonviolent civil resistance at Project ELF. ELF was the Navy’s old transmitter system, closed in 2004, that played a key role in the nuclear first strategy of the United States (ELF was the bell ringer to call U.S. nuclear missile subs to the ocean’s surface to receive precise launch orders for a nuclear first strike against another country). It’s expected that she will be transferred to Ashland County to appear before the judge on the warrant. Arrest warrants have also been issued for several others previously arrested and convicted for acts of resistance to Project ELF who refused to pay fines.

Witness Against War continues westward to La Crosse later this week and then begins its northwestward trek along the Mississippi River, aiming to arrive in Saint Paul on August 30, in time for the Republican National Convention. Emphasizing that the issue is not about Democrat or Republican; that it’s not about Left or Right; but rather that it is about what is Right and Wrong-Witness Against War began its trek in Chicago, site of the 1968 Democratic Convention and will end in Saint Paul, site of this year’s Republican Convention. It truly is a matter of challenging the powers-that-be within both political parties and holding both accountable for ending the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

Kathy Kelly explains why she and others do what they do:


By Kathy Kelly

August 9, 2008

About six months ago, Dan Pearson, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, swiveled around in his office chair in our tiny “headquarters” to ask what we thought about organizing a walk from Chicago to St. Paul, arriving just before the Republican National Convention. Our dedicated group of volunteers joined Dan to plan a project, which, to me, is one of the best organized efforts I’ve ever encountered, all aimed at voicing a witness against war, which particularly in Wisconsin, where 3,500 National Guard troops are on alert for a call-up to combat duty, in Iraq, in 2009. Generally, three to five “day walkers” will join our core group of nine walkers. We walk about fifteen miles each day carrying signs that call for an end to the war and for keeping Wisconsin National Guard troops home. The sign I carry on this walk reads “Rebuild Iraq, rebuild the U.S.”

Another of our signs, decorated with the obligatory elephant and donkey, reads “We hold both parties responsible.” We began walking on July 12, 2008 and will arrive in St. Paul Minnesota on August 30th.

Our “Witness Against War” walk is in Wisconsin, traversing traditional land of the Ho- Chunk Nation, also known in English translation as “People of the Big Voice.” In 1836, U.S. settlers, including farmers and miners, coveted this lush farmland and its rich mining resources and forced the Ho-Chunk to sell it all for a pittance. The US government imposed repeated roundups and “removals” on them, resettling them from Wisconsin to Iowa, from Iowa to Minnesota, then to South Dakota and onward, in dangerous, and for some deadly forced transports. “In the winter of 1873, many Ho Chunk people were removed to the Nebraska reservation from Wisconsin, traveling in cattle cars on trains,” according to the Nation’s website (http://www.ho-chunknation.com/). “This was a horrific experience for the people, as many elders, women and children suffered and died.”

Some of the transports were imposed to remove the Ho-Chunk people from conflicts with other nations – conflicts created by previous forced transports. But after the removals by train, they walked back on foot to Wisconsin, to reclaim their former homes, It’s a tale of immeasurable suffering, but because of these walks back they are still here, as the “Ho-Chunk Nation” in this beautiful Wisconsin land where their ancestors were buried.

And we’re here too, walking on behalf of people in Iraq who’ve been made refugees to escape U.S. violence, and also the sectarian violence made inevitable by the U.S. government’s wholesale dismantling of their country, whether achieved deliberately or through incompetence we can’t know. We’re walking for people who, like the Ho-Chunk people, were told that if they didn’t cooperate with a U.S. project to seize their precious and irreplaceable resources, we would kill them.

The name of the “Ho-Chunk” nation means “People of the Sacred Language,” or “People of the Big Voice.” And when no-one was listening to them, they spoke to each other and chose to return, and strengthened each other for the return here where their action spoke louder than words and they eventually, after eleven removals and five weary returns, were ceded parts of their original land.

I and my companions here think of deliberate nonviolent action as a sacred language. Tomorrow we’re crossing the line into Fort McCoy to protest the cynical use of our young men and women, many of them seeking opportunities denied them in their communities, to kill and dispossess members of the Iraqi nation, to drive them into refuge in Jordan and Syria, to drive them into conflict the one against the other arming first this faction and then that with more and more weapons in the name of establishing “security forces”, so that we will have an excuse to occupy this oil-rich region for ages to come, whatever platitudes our leaders may offer now about eagerness some day to withdraw. Several of us may face several months in jail. Our leaders will continue to use these lands for wrongful purposes and we will keep walking back, until enough of our fellows join us that we are allowed to reclaim these lands, and our resources, to be the refuge and the comfort of all.

The United States is called a democracy. That means “People of the Big Voice.” A sacred language. But we as a nation are not yet ready to use our voices loud enough to be heard, or to use our feet, when our voices are ignored, in the sacred language of nonviolent direct action, in resistance to the greedy powerful few who would limit our choices to choices of war and claim all lands, heedless of the voices of the people living in them, for the purposes of greed. The world looks to us, much of it in genuine pain and anguish, asking when are we going to rescue them from our government, by expressing our wish for peace at long last in the Big Voice we have always claimed as our heritage?


  1. I walked with them for a day in Milwaukee, and it was inspiring.  Join them for a day if you can. Route and dates.

    • OPOL on August 11, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    and all the other horrible injustices we have been subjected to.

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