Challenging Youth in Camden, NJ: We Are Not Your Soldiers

Soldiers Are Not Heroes
By Koyuki Yip

Under the non-profit tent @ the Camden, NJ – Warped Tour - Matthis Chiroux (the Iraq War resister), Jessica, and I embraced the 95 degree weather to set up the World Can’t Wait table and meet young people to bring the We Are Not Your Soldiers Tour to their school, town, or wherever.  It was an unbearably hot day, but it was a pretty amazing day, because we talked to hundreds of kids, passed out flyers, and posted flyers around the venue.  

Even as we began setting up and decorating our table at 9am, our knee caps were sweating from the heat and humidity. The heat wasn’t going to stop our determination to get our visuals up and out there for everyone to see. Mainly we stood in front of the table with one of our Abu Ghraib images, and passed out the We Are Not Your Soldiers flyers.  The Abu Ghraib image along with Matthis’ body signs (he wrote on his stomach - “No U.S. Genocide” and on his back  “Soldiers Are Not Heroes”)  challenged hundreds of people to stop – look – and comment on the wars in the Middle East.  While many people walked by our table and rubbernecked our images  - many people stopped in their tracks and either: were totally upset by the image, pissed off by our anti-war position, or agreed and were interested in who we were.  A number of young women, either in high school or younger, were  taken aback by the Abu Ghraib image and just asked with their mouths open where these images came from.  A bunch of people would walk by Matthis and say “that sign is not cool.”  And even one asshole had the nerve to tell me that he didn’t care about the Abu Ghraib prisoner.  While these people were in the minority, they were vocal about their disagreements.  While others were the complete opposite they were drawn by our poster and our table and were interested in talking about Obama, Afghanistan, or the tour.  A couple of  people thanked us for being out at Warped Tour.  Also, we learned that many of the kids that signed our list were from small towns.  It wasn’t just youth that stopped by our table, there were many people of different ages some people were in their twenties and others were parents accompanying their parents.   

We met lots of people who were interested in the tour and disappointed by Obama’s administration.  One young woman, who was tabling for the pro-choice table under the non-profit tent with us, liked what we were about and she took some flyers and flyered with us for a little bit.   I met a high school teacher in an area outside of Philadelphia that has a large Latino community and he said the recruitment at his school is very intense, so he would like to bring this tour to his high school.  We met teenagers who said “oh yeah, my teacher brings speakers in all the time, maybe his tour could come to our school.”   A lot of the people were against the “wars” on principal, but did not know much about the Afghanistan and the Iraq wars, so we provided them lots of materials and got people to sign up to learn more and become activists on the spot.     

It was pretty amazing that we were able to get our World Can’t Wait crew together.  Jess, a musician, and a new volunteer to World Can’t Wait, responded to the call for volunteers at the table and jumped in a car to help out.  She went around and tried to connect with a couple of bands that she knew and posted the flyer around the venue.  Matthis, a vet, was not afraid to get into any conversation about the U.S. occupation in the Middle East, was out there with the Abu Ghraib image and talked to anybody and  everyone.  Also, on short notice, Matthis  hopped in a car to help promote the tour that he has presented on in the past.  It was helpful to have Matthis because he can command a group of people to engage with him and listen to his unique story.  He is highly critical of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and a lot of young people engage and respond to him. Some people disagreed and were disgusted with what he had to stay, others engaged with him and even became sympathetic to his argument.  While we did not meet many vets, there were a couple of active duty members or family members of service men and women, and they were also challenged by what we were putting out.

It was a good day - challenging but good.