“This is an example of the banality of evil.”
The Mother's Day action on May 8 in Sacramento was nothing too threatening. About thirty-five people attended the rally, which was co-sponsored by CodePink, the Peninsula Raging Grannies, and Gold Star Families for Peace, a group whose members have lost loved ones in Iraq.
The protesters gathered on the grounds of the state capitol near the Vietnam War memorial and urged an end to the Iraq War.
"We wanted to commemorate the original creation of Mother's Day, dating back to the 1800s with Julia Ward Howe's anti-war proclamation," says Natalie Wormeli, a co-founder of the Davis chapter of CodePink.
Howe's proclamation, which the women read at the event, begins, "Arise, then, women of this day!" It says that women should "bewail and commemorate the dead," and it warns, "The sword of murder is not the balance of justice! Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession." The proclamation urges disarmament and ends with the hope that "the great human family can live in peace."
The demonstrators wailed and sang a few songs, Wormeli says, and they also heard from Pat Sheehan, whose son Casey died in Baghdad.
"My wife, Cindy, was supposed to be there but couldn't make it, and so I was just there to say a few words about my son," he recalls. (Cindy Sheehan, an outspoken opponent of the U.S. occupation, is active in Gold Star Families for Peace.)
Unbeknownst to the protesters, the National Guard was monitoring their action, according to a June 26 article in the San Jose Mercury News by Dion Nissenbaum.
"Three days before the rally, as a courtesy to the military, an aide in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's press office alerted the Guard to the event, according to e-mails obtained by the Mercury News," the story said. One of those e-mails was from National Guard Chief of Staff Colonel John Moorman, who was writing to Major General Thomas Eres, head of the Guard: "Sir, Information you wanted on Sunday's demonstration at the Capitol." Moorman copied the e-mail to other top commanders, including Colonel Jeff Davis, who oversees a new intelligence gathering operation by the California National Guard, the paper said. Davis responded to the e-mail: "Thanks, Forwarding same to our Intell. folks who continue to monitor."
When Wormeli heard about this, she was taken aback. "I was both kind of angry and sad at the same time," she says. "Angry that they would waste their time and money on this, and sad because I don't know how it would impact activists who might not want to deal with the National Guard."
Pat Sheehan also denounced the apparent surveillance: "I think itís ridiculous," he says.
Medea Benjamin, one of the founders of CodePink, said, "What has this country come to when our National Guard is off fighting in Iraq instead of home protecting us from natural disasters, and the few Guardsmen and women who are still here are assigned to investigate women who are calling for peace?"
At least one California state senator, Joe Dunn, who heads the subcommittee in the legislature that oversees the Guard, was not happy to hear about this, either.
"My concern," he told the Mercury News, "is that we're back into the 1960s and '70s, when under allegedly legitimate reasons, military officials engaged in spying activities on American citizens. That is not their responsibility. That is not within their jurisdiction. And it sets an extremely dangerous precedent for this democracy."
Senator Dunn urged the Guard to preserve all documents concerning the new intelligence unit, the paper said, adding that he intended to hold hearings on this subject.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger commands the California National Guard, but his office referred a question on this subject to the Guard's director of public affairs, Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Hart.
Hart told the Mercury News, "We do not spy on people."
And he told The Progressive, "We didn't do it. Let me explain to you exactly what happened. There was a protest down at the capitol and they have to put in a request to do this kind of protest at the capitol. And in their request they said they were going to urge the governor to bring National Guard troops back from Iraq. The governor's office forwarded that information to me, and I let my boss know, and he had our joint operations center monitor the news so he could see what was said. It's that simple."
But another spokesperson for the Guard, Lieutenant Colonel Stan Zezotarski, justified its interest in at least following the protest groups in the media. "Who knows who could infiltrate that type of group and try to stir something up?" he told the Mercury News. "After all, we live in the age of terrorism, so who knows?"
The Mercury News reported that the Guard's new Information Synchronization, Knowledge Management and Intelligence Fusion program has "broad authority" and a high degree of "discretion."
In hindsight, the Raging Grannies suspect that a man who sent them money may have been somehow connected to the Guard's monitoring. He was insistent that they set up a chat room, recalls co-chair Ruth Robertson.
"I said our grannies weren't that e-mail literate," says Robertson, "but he said you should definitely set one up."
The Raging Grannies are responding in typical fashion.
"We're planning a satirical skit at one of the National Guard offices on Friday, July 1," says Robertson.
To the tune of "Someone to Watch Over Me," they have already written the following verse:
"Schwarzenegger do you think I'm a spy?
I know that I
Cannot see why
Someone would watch over me."
Gail Sredanovic, another co-chair of the Peninsula Raging Grannies, found the report of spying absurd and alarming: "You have to ask who's next: The League of Women Voters? The PTA?"
She thinks the legislature should censure Schwarzenegger for this.
In the meantime, she is busy coming up with additional lyrics for the Grannies upcoming event. One is based on an old Christmas carol:
"You Better Watch Out
You Better Comply
You Better Not Doubt
The National Guard is all over town."
CodePink and Vets for Peace are planning an additional protest in Sacramento at the California National Guard headquarters on July 6 at 10:00 a.m.
Addendum: On July 1, the Peninsula Raging Grannies went to Redwood City to protest outside of the National Guard's armory. "The Raging Grannies put on skits, mocked the governor, sang songs, chanted 'Free speech now!' and handed out tea and cookies," according to an article in the Mercury News. The Mother's Day incident is receiving more scrutiny, the paper added: "The National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., is sending inspectors next week to look into what happened, while Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said she planned to question Guard officials at a Congressional hearing later this month."