At the LaVena Johnson event

June 6, 2008 by Philip Barron  Email This Post Print This Post

I attended Wednesday’s panel discussion on LaVena Johnson at Legacy Books & Cafe - the Black & Green Wednesday event sponsored by the Gateway Greens Alliance and the Universal African Peoples Organization - but readers would doubtless be better served by video on the event. That content is on the way; I hope to get the raw footage in a couple of days, and will format a portion to share online. Until then, some brief notes:

Forty-odd people attended, with the diversity you would expect from an intersection of the Greens and the pan-African USOP. There were also members of Veterans for Peace in attendance, including good-guy Chuc Smith who has been so helpful and diligent in his efforts on behalf of LaVena’s family.

Michael McPherson, Gulf War I vet and Executive Director of Veterans for Peace, led off the discussion with remarks on the larger issue of sexual harassment and assault in the military. He drew upon sobering statistics from such sources as “The Private War of Women Soldiers,” the Helen Benedict article published in Salon in March 2007. He stressed that the military does not exist in a vacuum - that the pathologies of the larger society are mirrored in military life. McPherson - an African-American - also spent some time talking about the problematic ways in men (and Black men in particular) approach violence, power, and relationships with women.

Redditt Hudson, Racial Justice Manager for the ACLU Eastern Division and former police officer, spoke from a personal standpoint. While his organization has not involved itself in the LaVena Johnson matter, Hudson found himself moved to assist LaVena’s father, Dr. John Johnson. He struggled at times when describing having viewed the photographs of LaVena’s body taken by the Army in its initial investigation, but his emotions lent a force to his words. His demands that legislators take action on behalf of the Johnson family were echoed by everyone in attendance.

Dr. Johnson spoke in conclusion, describing for the audience some of the difficulties he has encountered in trying to bring LaVena’s story to official attention, and also describing welcome and vital assistance from such people as activist and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright. It was Col. Wright who helped open doors in Congress for the Johnsons when they recently traveled to Washington, including direct access to Rep. Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

The session concluded with some statements and questions from people in attendance. VFP announced that the home page of their website would provide contact information for Rep. Skelton and his assistant, Kyle Wilkins, and implored everyone to contact them to request official action on LaVena’s case.

Brief personal note: It was at once both heartening and humbling to see firsthand the way in which people have been moved by LaVena Johnson. The petition to the two Armed Services Committees is a part of the effort, but only one part. There are other people and other forces at work here. Realizing that puts you in your place a little bit. It’s also a comfort.

Apologies for the day’s delay in putting this post together. I hope to provide some video from the event soon. Many, many thanks to moderator Lionel Nixon of the African Newsletter, to the Gateway Greens and the Universal African Peoples Organization, and to the good folks at Legacy Books & Cafe. As always, thanks for your attention, and your own efforts.

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