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Nelson Daily News: Vietnam era political powerhouse to attend war resister event


Published: February 15, 2006

OUR WAY HOME: 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern to join Ghandi's grandson, Council for Canadian's Maude Barlow and Svend Robinson at july gathering

A legendary name from vietnam-era U.S. politics will be amongst a crowd of heavyweight activists and internationally renowned government watchdogs this summer, when hundreds head to Nelson and Castlegar for the controversial Our Way Home event in July.

Organizers say the gathering is aimed at honouring the legacy and contribution made to Canadian life by U.S. war resisters, both men and women, who came to Canada during the Vietnam War, and the Canadians who welcomed them.

Senator George McGovern will be speaking at the event, which is slated for July 6-9.

McGovern, a household name amongst those familiar with the turbulent times that defined the Vietnam War, was the U.S. presidential candidate for the Democrats in 1972.

Our Way Home organizer Isaac Romano, who Tuesday announced McGovern's agreement to attend the event, says the senator "has been one of the most important humanitarian and peace promoting political leaders in the U.S."

Romano read a statement from McGovern.

"I think it's important to remember the lessons of the Vietnam War -- a war where we are finding even some of the major architects are now saying was a mistake. We need to remember the sacrifices of the young men who died, as well as the courage and wisdom of those who stood up against this mistaken conflict. That is why I'm coming to B.C. on July 8."

At Tuesday's press conference, Romano also announced a number of other major guests for the Our Way Home event, including the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi, Council for Canadians Executive Director Maude Bariow, big-name New Democrat politicians Svend Robinson and Bill Blaikie and Rabbi Michael Lerner, a famous Vietnam War protester who former CIA director J. Edgar Hoover once called "the most dangerous man in America."

The guest list will also include the mother of a little girl caught in one of the Vietnam War's most horrific and iconic images. Kim Phuc's daughter is remembered as the naked child seen fleeing from a napalm attack, captured in a black and white photo that for decades now has been internationally infamous.

Originally slated for Nelson, the Our Way Home event has now been moved to Castlegar's Brilliant Cultural Centre. Romano says local opposition to the event had nothing to do with the move.

"We're making a wonderful, harmonious connection between the war resisters who came and were assisted by the Doukhobours in the Slocan Valley and other areas of the West Kootenays," says Romano, who adds that along with a number of other peaceful ethnic and religious groups, Doukhoubours assisted U.S. war resisters 'lay the thousands."

Romano also says the rental charge for Nelson's new arena was quite expensive.

The Brilliant Cultural Centre is providing in-kind financial support for the four-day event.

A number of the weekend's events will be held in Nelson.

The weekend will indude major keynote speakers, workshops which will include draft dodgers and war veterans, live theatre performances, a film festival and a major peace concert featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie, punk legends DOA, Pied Pumkin, Ronnie Gilbert, and Bill King who has played with Janice Joplin and Linda Ronstadt.

Romano also announced that the Our Way Home group is looking for a home for a 60-foot art work honouring Vietnam war resisters. The piece will feature a nine-foot tall bronze sculpture of an American man and woman being welcomed by a Canadian with outstretched arms.

"Wherever there's an interest on the part of a group, we're willing to look at their proposal for placement of the peace sculpture," says Romano.

Romano was joined Tuesday by local 21year-old singer Yoko, writer and theatre performer Nicola Harwood and Mark Nykanen, an international author and Emmy Award-winning TV journalist who moved to Nelson from the U.S. three years ago.

Yoko performed at last summer's Jan Arden concert. Her parents fled the U.S. during the Vietnam conflict. Harwood will be leading a political theatre workshop at Our Way Home. Nykanen will be hosting an opening night event.

Romano says a number of the same major U.S. media oufiets that brought huge and unexpected press to the Our Way Home announcement a year and a half ago will be sending journalists to the July event. That will include ABC news, the New York Times and the L.A. Times. There's no word on whether the right-leaning FOX News network will send a crew. FOX has provided the biggest press for the Our Way Home, coverage that garnered a considerable amount of opposition and protest from its mainly conservative-minded American audience.

Interest in the peace gathering, which will see war resisters and war vets side-by-side, has been especially heightened due to the Iraq war, support for which is at an all-time low in the U.S. according to recent polls.

"This is a time in the United States of great demoralization among people who care at all about what their country is doing," says Nykanen, who also worked as a campaign manager and political consultant.

"A good half of the American people are very much opposed to what's going on. The American people are not war mongering people. They bought a set of lies from the president and the vice president and the Department of Defense."

Nykanen was asked if the Our Way Home event might rekindle the same wave of anti-war spirit that surrounded the Vietnam conflict 30 years ago.

"It might not rekindle it, but it will sustain the kind of activist spirit that exists in so many people," Nykanen answered.

Ticket information for the Our Way Home event can be found at www.ourwayhomereunion.com.