Friday afternoon at 5 o’clock at Pioneer Courthouse Square I was ten minutes early, but Brian Willson was already there. He has been fasting, the only person on the West Coast, in solidarity with the more than 100 hunger-fasting political prisoners of the United States invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, now imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in Gauntanamo, Cuba. For three months these prisoners have been on hunger strike, and the U.S. has resorted to force-feeding them, a violation — as if the US hasn’t already committed more than its share — of international law. The United Nations on 1 May issued an official statement to that effect, referring specifically to US treatment of its Guantanamo prisoners.
I asked him how he felt. He said fine, but he’s lost 13 pounds so far. This is a man who lost his legs as a result of a munitions train running over him in a 1987 protest against US sponsorship of Contra terrorist attacks against the democratically-elected government of Nicaragua. His autobiography came out last year. John Ketwig, who stood with Brian in a fast on the Capitol steps in 1986, says in his review:
The America that was presented to Brian, myself, and our generation is long gone… sold to the highest bidders. Where our country once symbolized hope and caring to the world’s oppressed, today we buoy up the oppressors and export only death and destruction. Brian has made it his business to see it all, to investigate it all with a lawyer’s eye for detail and undercurrent. He has stood upon prosthetic legs and journeyed to the hotspots of the world, listening to the peasants, the tortured, the maimed survivors. His book tells their stories. He is uniquely one of them, and their spokesman.
But Brian Willson did not stop there. He continued to think, to examine life from a spiritual perspective. Today as I write this he is pedaling his arm-powered three-wheel cycle from Oregon to San Francisco, his “book tour”. Brian avoids automobiles and airplanes, preferring to live simply and not contribute to our nation’s bloodthirsty need for petroleum. He is a purist, a pilgrim, an honorable man doing honorable work. After years of encouragement from friends, he has written his memoirs. His tales are amazing, eye-opening, and gut-wrenching. His method of telling them is crisp and clear, enlightening, uplifting, and utterly enjoyable.
I worry, I said to him, that activists who commit themselves emotionally to changing the world may well suffer the consequences of isolation and a sense of futility. Brian would have none of it. “We are hard-wired to be sociable,” he said, smiling. As well, Brian does not demand that the world change due to his acts of conscience. In talking with a woman who shared some of her pessimism with us Brian said that the extinction of the entire human race in the near future might be a good thing, taken from the point of view of the planet as a whole.
Veterans of Iraq and Vietnam, and one from World War Two, joined the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition yesterday to draw attention to the opening of the trial, Monday, of activist, veteran, and whistle-blower Bradley Manning. There were perhaps three times as many demonstrators there as usual; I ran out of the flyer “Still Voting the Corporate Two-Party System?”. One of the people who took them, a young, rather earnest, man, argued with me that Bradley Manning deserved to be punished for “aiding the enemy”: I asked whether he should have been confined, naked, to his cell and awoken every hour throughout the day and night, and the man admitted he had been unaware of that treatment. Still, he said, Manning was a soldier who helped the enemy.
My reply was, that the Constitution makes the sovereign power in our country the citizenry; to inform the citizenry of crimes being committed by their leaders in secret may be against the law, but it is aiding the citizenry, not the enemy. He said that that he’d think about that one.
Meanwhile, today is Brian Willson’s 20th day of fasting on 300 calories a day.