Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charlie's Dad

On the first of this month President Barack Obama spoke from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point announcing his "new" strategy for the current occupation of Afghanistan. I add the quotation marks due to the fact that his proposal to send 30,000 more troops into that beleaguered country quickly, accomplish what they haven't been able to get done in the last eight years within 18 months, and then begin to bring our troops home (only if conditions on the ground warrant it, mind you), about a year and a half before the next Presidential election, was widely leaked beforehand. And I call our operations in Afghanistan an occupation rather than a war, because that is exactly what it is. We won the war in that country way back in 2001, and have occupied Afghanistan ever since, although we've failed to subjugate it.
I've voiced in an earlier post (see, Afghanistan) my views on this subject. Briefly my position is that we've done enough in Afghanistan, chasing a dispirited Al Qaeda out of the country and into the desolate and mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, effectively neutralizing them. The troop escalation therefore is intended to deal with the Taliban, not Al Qaeda (which is being dealt with by utilizing drone attacks directed by the CIA, rather than the military) in what is essentially a civil war, one in which we find ourselves defending a corrupt and ineffective regime. I believe we should bring our troops home now (not one soldier should die attempting to defend the Karzai regime), and that we should direct whatever efforts we can toward stabilizing the tenuous situation in Pakistan, which of course is a nuclear power.
It would seem that others agree with me... at least about bringing our troops home.
On December first and the day before, while in the middle of my morning 73 count Burpee exercise workout routine, while listening to the tail end of The Bill Press Show, Bill mentioned a protest march scheduled for the evening of the 2nd, at nearby MacArthur Park, sponsored by my local Progressive Talk radio station, KTLK, 11.50 in my FM dial, the very same station that allowed me to listen to Bill's show in the first place. Bill directed me to the KTLK web-site for more information.
There was no information whatsoever on the KTLK web-site concerning the proposed march. But thanks to Bill I was aware of it. How he found out about it I'll probably never know. Perhaps he has some inside information. Thank you Bill for sharing.
I decided to participate. It's not like I was doing anything else on that lonely Wednesday evening.
Accordingly, on the evening of the 2nd of December, at about half way through the Countdown Show with Keith Olbermann, or 5:30 Pacific Standard Time for you non-political addicts, I left the warm security of my box, grabbed the 18 bus to the downtown area of Los Angeles, dug a tunnel underground to the Red Line subway, which transfered me within minutes to the MacArthur Park Station, right near the corner of Wilshire and Alvarado.
It has been getting dark by 5:00 PM as the nights lengthen approaching the Winter solstice. The skies were clear, the temperature a tad chilly. On the north west corner of Wilshire and Alvarado I spotted a small group of people holding up signs gathered together, who I presumed to be fellow protesters. I joined them.
We were an odd assorted lot. Mostly middle aged individuals like myself, about evenly mixed between male and female. Some grizzled veteran's with long hair and beards held a large sign, stating "Veteran's for Peace." Other's held smaller, similar signs denouncing to President's proposed escalation of troops, some quite colorful. Others held up-ended paper bags decorated with peace signs, with flashlights within illuminating light outward. Others held simple candles.
I stood around taking it all in. This was bound to be a small march, with approximately 50 people showing up I estimated.
I was watching a couple of men with video cams recording the event when a little white haired, older gentleman wearing glasses came up to me out of the crowd and asked how I was doing.
"How ya doing," he asked me.
"Fine. Thanks."
"You gonna walk with us?"
"Sure am," I told him.
"Want'a candle?"
"Yeah... sure..."
It was at about this time that it dawned on me that I was speaking to the actor, and activist, Martin Sheen. Golly... he looked almost exactly like he does in the movies.
Along with starring, or acting in such films as "Apocalypse Now," "Gandhi," and "The Departed," as well as television shows ranging from the original "Outer Limits," to "The West Wing," he is a well known and long time political activist, beginning with supporting the farm worker movement with Cesar Chavez in 1965, to working on a host of progressive causes ever since, ranging from the environment, women's rights, nuclear weapons testing, etc, etc, etc, culminating in that evenings protest against the occupation in Afghanistan.
He gave me a nice white candle, and a young lady who was accompanying him gave me a napkin, supposedly I thought to catch the dripping wax as the said candle burned. How thoughtful.
He walked around, many recognizing him and gathering as he continued to pass out those candles.
One man approached him, and said, "I'm a big fan. You're an inspiration..."
"You too," he replied smiling. "It works both ways."
He would use that phrase repeatedly as others complimented him.
He began talking to a group of ladies, one a pretty teenager, then wandered off into the growing crowd.
The guy with the video cam came up to the pretty teenager, taping while interviewing her. She smiled while replying.
"Do you know who that man is?" he asked.
"Martin something," she replied.
"Yeah, Martin Sheen," he said. "You know... Charlie's dad."
"Charlie Sheen?" she asked.
"Oh yeah, I know who he is."
It was determined that she was a high school student.
"We need more high school students out here protesting. Why aren't there more?" the cam guy asked her.
She smiled and shrugged.
I patted his shoulder and told him, "Because there's no draft," then walked off as the march got underway.
The group had swelled to several hundred. Somebody gave me a light for my candle, and I cupped my hand partially around it as we began to march west on Wilshire Boulevard. That lovely flame did not once expire throughout our short journey.
We carried our signs, lanterns, and candles, while being called upon to chant for peace by others speaking through bullhorns, all the while being escorted by a roving contingent of LAPD officers on bikes, and in cars. It was exceptionably exhilarating.
I had no idea how far this march would take me. Eventually we passed Lafayette Park, continuing on in the west bound lanes, while cars and trucks blew their horns in appreciation of our cause (or because we were disrupting traffic, one of the two), while the police stopped cross traffic at intersections as we passed. I could see people looking down at us from the windows of the tall office buildings as we walked.
Soon we came to the Red Line Station at Vermont, and continued on one more block, where we veered right into the Iglesia Presbiteriana Immanuel Presbyterian Church, at 3300 Wilshire, on the south west corner of Wilshire and S. New Hampshire Ave. So this is where we stop, I thought. The whole thing taking about forty five minutes.
Inside the huge Gothic structure, a band was playing... a young dark haired man and a beautiful black girl singing. I'd lost track of Martin by this time, and didn't see him inside the church as the nave filled with marchers.
I sat listening for awhile. Then after ten minutes or so I got up and left the building, walked over to the Vermont station, and made my way home. It was only 7:30 or so.
What a great way to begin the evening, I thought.
I still have what's left of that candle. I'm looking at it right now, on my work desk sitting atop a pile of paperback books. It's looking back at me placidly.
It's reminding me of the candle used in the Amnesty International logo. Stop doing that candle.
My lovely case manager, Erin, covets my candle, I can tell.
I think I'll keep it for awhile.

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