Central Florida Tour with Col. Ann Wright Jan 24 - Jan 29, 2008
CODEPINK Florida women Monica, Leslie, Deidra, Sheri, Lydia and 6 UCF women joined forces in putting together the most fantastic and fun book signing tour ever for the beloved Col. Ann Wright and her book "DISSENT - Voices of Conscience". Tons of Kudos also to Mike Fox, Jeannie Toth and Samm Simpson in the Tampa/Clearwater/St. Petersburg area, Faith Fippenger in Sarasota, Michael Heaney for his contacts, Dr. Dennis Jett and Mabel at UF and John Bersia and Stephanie at UCF. Finally, a special thanks to Scott and Sherrie Camil, Veterans For Peace in Gainesville. Here’s what we did:
Ann touched down in Sarasota on Thursday, Jan 24th. Ann remarked that it was the "geriatric flight" - cracked her up. Faith Fippenger, Monica Spain and I met her and headed home to meet Marco Bell of Marco and Monica/CODEPINK Sarasota. Monica was the point person for the Sarasota News and Books event later that evening. Ann was introduced by Arnie Schmidz from the Southwest Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice. She gave the most wonderful talk. She autographed books at every event which was really special for all who attended. After a great talk we headed up the street to a wonderful Two Senoritas Restaurant, compliments of the CODEPINK Sarasota women (there were, by the way, a number of them at the event - you know who you are :-D)
We were up early, had a wonderful breakfast and Ann started her radio interviews. There were many, many radio interviews. Some in the car, some at homes, one in a fancy pancy resort parking lot in South Florida area and even in offices outside of speaking engagements. It was amazing to see how she juggled all of those calls.
Early Friday Marco got us packed and ready and off we went to meet Deidra Lynch and daughter Autumn Rain in Orlando. Our housing host was the amazing Leslie Klein, also CODEPINK Orlando. Deidra and Leslie were point persons for the events in Orlando on Friday. We landed at Leslie’s awesome place first where we rested and got ready for dinner. Deidra and Sheri Heitker had made reservations at the Thai House Restaurant and the meal was just delicious. We met retired military men and women and the veterans shared lots of stories. Joseph R. DuRocher and his wife Rosemary related their experiences and feelings when he sent his Naval Aviator Wings and his shoulder boards to President Bush with his letter protesting the war in Iraq. Check Ann’s web page at www.voicesofconscience.com for his letter. We were all glad to hear that the White House returned his honors intact with a letter of regret.
Deidra, Leslie and Sheri, all CODEPINK Orlando, had also made arrangements for Ann to speak at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Orlando. We were met there by a new college CODEPINK group of women from the University of Central Florida. They supported the Friday night event at the church and also the following Tuesday afternoon event at UCF. This totally awesome group of young women will be at the CODEPINK House during the March actions. Ann’s talk was great and she signed lots and lots of books there also.
We left Leslie’s on Saturday morning to head back down south to meet Mike Fox and his awesome gang in the Tampa/Clearwater/St. Pete area. We started with a well attended event on the University of South Florida campus. After about an hour of speaking and signing books Mike took us to their weekly protest across the street from the Veterans Hospital in Tampa. Lots of South Florida peacemaker activists were holding IMPEACH and Troops Out Now signs and banners. Mike had also arranged for a television interview with FOX NEWS and Ann was able to put the word out about her book at that action. We stayed for a while at the action, then headed to Jeannie Toth’s home for a 2 night stay. Jeannie has completely remodeled this place, practically on her own, Ann and I couldn’t believe it. Wonderful. Mike stayed close by and things ran smooth as silk. We ate some chilli, washed up and headed to the First Unitarian Church of Orlando to meet the amazing Samm Simpson. Samm introduced Ann but first the most amazing singer (he sang "Abraham, Martin and John") brought the mood of freedom into the room. Ann gave the most amazing talk that night. She talked about herself a little more on this talk - she is a true patriot and a real rabble rouser! Saturday was a really great day.
Sunday we were up early for a event at The Beach Theater, an alternative movie theater in a funky part of town.. It was the weekend of the arts fair and the weather was fantastic, even a little cool, always breezy. We watched part of "Why We Fight" and then Ann spoke to a moderate crowd of really interested activists. Mostly older women this day. Ann signed books and met new admirers. We headed right out to a luncheon/fund raising event at Ferg’s Restaurant. Again, Mike, Jeannie and Samm got a great group of heros and activists together. We had burgers, chicken, salad and drinks. Ann spoke for a short time and also got to do a newspaper interview with "Military Times" - a magazine that makes it to veterans everywhere. "DISSENT - Voices of Conscience" will now be on the "reading list" in that paper - a major step toward getting to those folks who aren’t "in the choir". Ann wants to get her message to everyone.
Our day wasn’t over then. Our next stop was a wonderful meal at Leo’s Restaurant where Samm was able to join with supporters and once again introduce Ann to those who attended. It was a long day and a very busy weekend but we sold tons of books. Mike Fox and company put together a fantastic weekend and we had a wonderful time. It was a long day - the food was wonderful.
After hot showers and a good night’s sleep we had a little time to just hang out with Jeannie on Monday morning. Ann started radio interviews, we had a good breakfast and then headed back up to Orlando to our hotel at the University of Central Florida. Ann did a couple of radio interviews on the way. My brain is so full of the most awesome talks and answers to questions. The University of Central Florida arranged for a beautiful room at the Raddison Hotel. We checked in, got organized and took off to meet the UCF CODEPINK women for dinner at Miss Saigon. Ann had wanted Vietnamese food and it was really good. It was great fun to get to know the UCF women better and talk more about their March ‘08 trip to the CODEPINK house in DC. We would see them again the next day on campus and cannot say enough good stuff about these awesome young women. Ann had one more radio interview that evening and then we watch the final, last, end of it, finis, over, been there/done that, hasta la vista, don’t let the door hit you in the ass State of the Union address by George W. Bush.
Early Tuesday, the next morning, Ann met Dr. David Houghton downstairs in the Raddison restaurant for an extensive interview. Dr. Houghton also introduced Ann to the group at the UCF event later that afternoon. After the interview we went over to UCF to meet John Bersia and his office. Ann was introduced to Harriet L. Elam-Thomas who was Diplomat/Ambassador-in-Residence at UCF (2003-2005). Harriet was truly looking forward to meeting Ann and they had much to share with one another. It was really an honor to see these fantastic women who’ve paved the way years ahead of my time. Soon after arriving John and his staff took us into downtown Orlando for a luncheon/forum with the Global Connections Foundation. They had their meeting, we had a nice lunch and Ann spoke briefly. After chatting and signing some books we were off once more for a talk at the University of Central Florida. We had a large student crowd and one very concerned war supporter. Ann spoke truth to power to his questions (we did have to finally say "Sir, do you have a question?" - he was going on and on and on.....) Ann mentioned she loves the conversations with those debaters and wished she had more time to talk with him. CODEPINK UCF was on the scene and Ann’s talk was perfect for the student crowd.
After just over an hour we were out the door headed to the University of Florida. Thanks to Michael Heaney from UF who is currently working in DC, we were able to get Ann into The University of Florida. The event was sponsored by Dr. Dennis Jett and his staff at the School of International Studies . The event was well attended, mostly older activists and lots of Veterans For Peace/Gainesville. It was a wonderful talk followed by snacks and drinks. A great crowd gathered for the book signing. We took some great pictures and I will post a small slide show of the entire trip asap. We have some really fantastic pictures to share.
Next we began what was for me the most amazing and truly life affirming time of this trip. Scott and Sherrie Camil met us just outside of the University of Florida event and guided us onto the campus for Ann’s talk. Scott Camil has written books, done numerous interviews and shares his story about being a Marine in Vietnam in "Winter Soldier". After the event at UF we followed Scott (at break speed by the way :-D) out to Scott and Sherrie’s place. Our final night in Florida was truly activist affirming. We were welcomed with open arms by local VFP and IVAW members and their spouses. The house rambles on and on and each room is a testament to the history of the anti-war movement beginning back in the 1970's. From that time to this day they are an organized "family" of people who, combined, are doing it all. Scott and Ann spent a lot of very personal time together. Scott loaded her up with books he’d written, gave us both copies of "Winter Soldier" and VFP t-shirts and he shared a new video in progress that really shows what was happening during the Vietnam war. I believe this effort/movie will travel our country to open the eyes of many who have no idea about what happened THEN and don’t really have a clue of what is happening (to our military and to civilians in Iraq) NOW either. Ann also signed tons of books. One woman we met is an attorney who is supporting soldiers whose PTSD claims have been denied as "pre-existing conditions", PRO BONO. She bought a copy of the book for all of her employees (and she has a lot of employees) and VFP Gainesville bought a stack for their area. It was not only a great way to end the tour financially, it was probably one of the most amazing nights of my entire activist life. It was the anti-war movement past, present and future. But, for me, most importantly it was the focus of "love" and the importance of that energy in Scott and Sherrie Camil’s house.. Love and communication are the fabric of the work they are doing in Gainesville, Florida. Scott told me they have been playing volley ball every single Sunday afternoon since 1979, rain, lightening, freezing cold....they play. Then they all shower up, eat a big meal and sit down to decide what they will do next week for peace. They share ideas, hammer out plans and do it as a family................sound like any place you know :-D?
Our last night in Florida was authentic and energizing. We should all have a house like this in our own cities and towns.
It was such an honor to represent CODEPINK Women For Peace all over Florida. The CODEPINK Florida women helped in a huge way with rooms, food, event locations and preparations, press, setting up tables and awesome food (CODEPINK Orlando had this fantastic sheet cake with the front of Ann’s book on it- and it was edible). This trip could not have happened without them. Thanks again to Mike Fox and his unwavering dedication to peace and justice here in Florida. I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone who helped, lots of people helped.
Anyone who gets a chance to see Ann and get her book shouldn’t hesitate one second. A night you will remember and a book you can’t forget.