By William Stewart-Starks
Feb 13, 2011
Will Stewart-Starks, an Iraq Veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) gives an audience of Lawrence art enthusiasts and local activists a summary of his organizations recent campaign to address military deployments of wounded soldiers.
Art show introduces Lawrence community to Operation Recovery Campaign
February 12, 2011, Lawrence, KS -- Iraq Veterans delivered a hopeful message to a crowd of art patrons at the Lawrence Percolator Friday night as part of an outreach effort to bring awareness to the deployment of traumatized troops. The show was a call to action, developed by a collaboration between the Just Seeds Cooperative, a Chicago based art group and Iraq Veterans Against the War. It informs a Veteran led campaign called Operation Recovery, which intends to stop the deployment of troops suffering from a list of signature wounds of the current war on terror, including military sexual trauma (MST), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is the conviction of these Vets that soldiers have the right to heal and that right is being consistently denied at this time.
The Percolator just ended a show this month that featured work from the Just Seeds Cooperative in celebration of peoples history. Dave Lowenstein, a Lawrence artist and a member of the board for the space said, "that it was a coincidence that both of these things came together", as the work continued the narrative of art that inspired action. It gives a modern context to the work of activists that came before.
The images tell the story of men and women who have been affected by trauma only to be ordered to serve in combat zones. Many highlight soldiers who have chosen to resist and opt for punishments for their decision in order to prevent themselves from compounding their untreated conditions. Specialist Suzanne Switf, who was sexually assaulted by her command is one such person that can be found amongst the prints. The piece recounts her statements after deciding that she would not deploy with her unit.
" I said, "I can’t do it. I can’t go." I looked at my mom and I told her, I was like, "I can’t go." And she said, "Seriously?" And I was like, "I just can’t do it." I just felt—my heart was pounding, and I felt like I was just frozen. I think I kind of stuttered when I said, "I can’t do it." It was hard to get words out." --Spc. Suzanne Swift
Aaron Hughes talks about service members right to heal
Aaron Hughes, a field organizer for IVAW, who brought the series to Kansas from Chicago, talked about his own experience as a truck driver in Iraq who saw the humanitarian work that he was expecting to accomplish unfulfilled for the duration of his time in theatre. "The same kids that I saw on the streets when I arrived were still there when I left". He recalled his commanding officer crying as they were leaving at the end of his deployment, wondering "all this time, what they had done." To a captivated audience he discussed the importance of the Operation Recovery campaign and the art of Operation Exposure in bringing these stories to a broader audience. Hughes, expects the work to continue to travel across the country and be used to engage more people as it has been shown in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Killeen, TX. The series already has a scheduled stop in Minnesota later this month.
Many patrons were encouraged by the ambitious efforts of both the art and the veterans campaign to bring the cost to soldiers health to the forefront of public debate. Courtney Ducharme, a student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence said, "It was inspiring!" She suggested that people "Sign the petition and get involved in upcoming events around the subject." She noted an upcoming fundraiser for the campaign happening in Topeka in two weeks where more collaborative work between Vets and artists would be happening. The event concluded with attendees signing a petition to support the campaign and conversations about ways the local community could get involved in town and at the base at Ft. Riley.
Brian Wolfe a local member of IVAW said some words about his own experience with the military and how they typically deal with troops with trauma such as PTSD. Wolfe cited that often the solution of Veteran Affairs(VA) administrators is to give patients pills in response to requests for help. Wolfe said, "When the first drug did not work to resolve my problem they [the VA] did not hesitate to give me a second one." He went on to say that he was prescribed four different medications before finally seeking alternative care, "I decided, that's not the answer to take some drugs". He is now getting therapy from a psychologist which he says is, "helping him far greater, but from an Army point of view it is more expensive to pay a psychologist to talk to you than it is to hand you a bottle of pills."
Game Day Wheat Paste, Lawrence Kansas
Will Stewart-Starks is optimistic about the future of winning service-members right to heal. He calls Operation Exposure, "a creative tactic to present the issue" and that it is part of the organizations outreach drive to turn more on to the campaign. An artist himself, he describes the series as "poignant in its use of screen printing design traditionally used to express peoples-issue advocacy. It really inspired people to get involved in the work, at the grassroots level and build momentum."
Although traditionally art exhibits tend to stay in the confines of an indoor space, it is only natural that Operation Exposure finds its way to the streets. As the show travels it leaves its mark. This image by Matt Howard, of a soldier's silhouette accompanied by a poem about PTSD remains behind to continue to expose audiences to the growing need for adequate Veteran mental health as conflict rages on. Another piece hauntingly proclaims, "War is trauma." Similarly, Operation Recovery will persist in its pursuit to prevent further damage to be done to these Veterans' wounded brothers and sisters.
For more information about this campaign visit www.ivaw.org/operation-recovery