“Veterans are the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation. If Veterans can achieve awareness, transformation, understanding and peace, they can share with the rest of society the realities of war. And they can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.”
– Thicht Nhat Hanh
Today marks the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people, and remains the single largest loss of life from a foreign ‘attack’ on American soil. We look to the after math of this tragic and controversial event, and see how it was kindling for a raging political and military wildfire, leading up to the U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, it is estimated that over 6,700 U.S. deaths occurred as a result of both wars, with much higher numbers for those wounded or injured. In rememberance, Eternal Queens honors the lives of those who died in war, and takes a look at the artistic expression of able bodied and disabled veterans who returned from the harsh realities of the war.
EQ went out to San Francisco Veteran’s Alley to show support and tune into the mural project that has been evolving in Shannon Alley over the past 2 years. We met up with Amos (below), one of the mural project founders who invited myself and my partner, Dino, out to paint a commemoration piece in the Alley. Amos, a veteran of the U.S. Naval Submarine service, realized this mural project when he was photographing homeless vets (a.k.a. Angels) at night, in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood where many homeless vets reside in the streets suffering from the aftermath of war trauma, mental health issues, and addiction. This inspired the birth of a massive, one-block long piece of living, healing artwork. The alley vividly showcases the voices, struggles, and expression of veterans, regardless of their discharge status, gender, time served, or sexual orientation.
As we arrived, there was one artist painting a wall which read, “CHELSEA MANNING: Wikileaks Whistle Blower + LGBTQ HERO.” I soon find out that he is a veteran just as most, if not all of the other artists who have painted in the alley are. You can hear the passion in their voice when they speak about current events, the war, service, and of loss.
An overwhelming number of people have directly or indirectly experienced loss or know someone who has lost a friend or loved one as a result of war. My partner’s cousin, Christopher Rose, was in fact the very first Iraq war casualty from San Francisco back in June of 2006. Christopher, a Filipino-American known for his smile and devotion to his family, was out one day on a regular duty patrol when he stopped and climbed out of his Humvee to remove some barbed wire blocking the road. As he was doing this, he stepped on a buried explosive device that detonated and killed him. He was only 21 years old.
That day we painted in Chris’ honor…
As we painted, kids walk through the alley and ask about the many pieces of art. I hoped that it got them thinking about the consequences of war in a different way than the fictionalized dramas that are projected to them through the media. The art in this alley provides an alternative to the images, movies, television, and video games that glorify warfare, militarism, and violence. It brings awareness to the reality of war, illuminates the fact that service in the military isn’t as entertaining as playing Call of Duty at their house or watching their favorite violent action movie.
As you walk up and out of the alley, it takes only a block or so before you see an ad for the flavor of the week role-playing video game. I hope that the message that people absorb by walking through the alley day by day serves as a buffer to these types of visual assaults. May it grab the attention of who ever needs to see it and get them thinking more about the control that media has in feeding the military-industrial complex. Some people may not like it, they may think it’s an ‘eye-sore’, I say- it’s only sore because the truth really hurts.
The conversations about the reality of war and violence and its impact on our selves, culture, families, economy, environment and collective psyche are important and they are healing. That’s why this Veteran’s Mural Project is a gem in the concrete jungle of San Francisco. It takes back a public space that houses parts of a collective wound and initiates meaningful conversation about one of the most relevant issues of our time. It gives veterans who have painful but truthful stories about the harsh reality of their experience a space to speak their mind and transforms the space into something more positive.
Today, I am disheartened and angry to be witnessing the beginning of yet another war in Syria as the U.S. government continues to lobby to gain support for the use of military force as ‘retribution’ for what it says was a deadly chemical weapons attack. What will the toll be for the soldiers, the people, our community here in U.S. to get involved in yet another war? What wounds does this create for our future generation mentally, physically, and spiritually? What do you have to say about it?
May we remember today on 9/11 that peace is in every step we take… We have the power to stop the violence in our lives and help to Stop the violence worldwide.
1 Love and Peace to All in Mind, Body, and Spirit