Monday, September 19, 2011

Afghan war vet trades in weapon for bicycle

Published Sep 17, 2011 8:52 AM

Since May 2010 Jacob George and some friends have been on a bicycle trip through the United States. Equipped with banjo and bass fiddle, he and others have been singing and performing anti-war stories while bringing a message of peace for Afghanistan. They’ve traveled most often through areas of the U.S. South, where anti-war sentiment is probably as low as anywhere in the country. That in itself is impressive.

But what makes this campaign, which George calls “a ride till the end,” even more striking is that George is a honorably discharged veteran of three tours in Afghanistan. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and as he said: “I was there in 2001 right after the U.S. forces landed in October. Then we went back once more in 2002. And then again at the end of 2003 and the beginning of 2004. No tour was for more than six months.”

Workers World spoke with George on Sept. 9 near New York’s City Hall. He had just participated in a news conference held by the Emergency Mobilization Against Racism, War and Anti-Muslim Bigotry to publicize its Sept. 11 demonstration near City Hall to answer right-wing attacks on Muslims, including Muslims’ right to build an Islamic prayer center.

Speaking at the news conference, George told of his “fourth tour in Afghanistan. This time, for a month this summer, I went not as a soldier but as a peace activist. I went not to shoot at the so-called enemy — we were trained to fire at targets wearing turbans — but to talk with the people. I learned to love my Muslim brothers and to appreciate their culture.”

WW asked George how he got the idea of the bicycle tour.

“I’ve been a longtime cycling advocate,” George answered. “After I got out of the military, I used to ride around in the mountains of Arkansas — I’m what some people would call a ‘hillbilly.’ But since I’ve been to the other side of the world I might be known as a ‘rambler.’

“It got so that if I was driving and stopped at a station to buy gas, I’d start feeling like I was encouraging a war for oil. I decided to ride bicycles everywhere. At my job, which was to enforce the parking laws on campus, I would ride my bicycle carrying the ‘boot’ to place on illegally parked cars.

“The job suited me. But it suited me even more to actively combat the war and try to end the misery for the people of Afghanistan. I got some friends together and we started riding, almost exclusively in the South. We weren’t visiting peace groups.

“Most of the people we met with were people who supported the troops and supported the war. But we sang their kinds of songs and we could talk their language. They listened. It was a challenge but we could relate to them and they could relate to what we said.”

That seems like a general rule for good organizing. WW asked about the economic conditions George observed in the South these days.

“The South is falling apart,” he answered. “Pine Bluff in Arkansas is half closed down. People are hurting. We see homeless people all over.

“Even worse was Mississippi. When we went through Jackson we saw a mall where even the Taco Bell and McDonald’s were boarded up. We had never seen anything like that before in the South.”

George and his bicycling team, who have performed at the Bluestockings bookstore and other places while in New York City, will be leaving Sept. 13 for a 250-mile ride to Washington, D.C., going through Philadelphia; Wilmington, Del.; and Baltimore. Their plan is to get donations of 250 bicycles.

As he said: “As a community of Afghan war veterans, we feel a peace offering is needed as we approach 10 years of war in Afghanistan. Upon collecting the bicycles, we’ll be attempting to send some to Afghanistan and others will be used to get more veterans on bicycles. We’ve asked Bikes Not Bombs to help us in this effort and we’ll be pedaling together as reconciliation approaches.”

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