Crawford's House of Peace
The large number of Bush signs and photos in Crawford, Texas might lead one to think all the locals are Republicans, but Democrat Chet Edwards, who represents the state's 17th Congressional District, ran a highly contested race and was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November, making him George Bush's congressman. Still, it's not easy being a Democrat or progressive in Crawford. Last February, five peace activists were arrested and convicted of violating the city's protest ordinance. The AP reported that during the trial, Crawford Police Chief Donnie Tidmore testified that a person wearing political buttons without a permit could violate the city ordinance that requires prior notice before a protest or parade.
That's the climate the Crawford Peace House faces on a daily basis. In March, 2003, activist John Wolf made national headlines when he announced plans to buy the house and convert it into a resource center and meeting place for those opposed to the Bush administration's policies. After passing a sign on the highway that welcomes people to Crawford and reminds them that its the "Home of President George W. Bush," the Peace House is the first structure you see. "We the People Say No to the Bush Agenda" and "Veterans for Peace" banners hang in the window, while information about everything from the war and military spending to Israeli/Palestinian issues and social justice can be found inside.
Kay Lucas, an activist who drives 25 miles to maintain and care for the Crawford Peace House, says the few locals who've expressed support for the Peace House are brave. Expressing any form of dissent against Bush is frowned upon in Crawford. During our interview, two men stopped by to say hello and see the house. One of the men agreed to answer a few questions, but didn't want to give me his name for fear his neighbors would find out he voted for John Kerry, but preferred Ralph Nader. I asked him if he thought the Peace House has any impact on the locals. "I know it does," he says. "It gets some people to look deeper, but not very many. This is Bush country after all. He has the right formula. I'm a pro-lifer myself, but I'm against the death penalty, too. There's a difference." When I told Lucas about that exchange, she said when locals stop by, they don't want passersby to even see their cars in the driveway. Here are excerpts of my interview with Kay Lucas:
You've experienced a lot over the past two years.
This has been a gratifying experience. If it weren't for us, there would be no alternative voice. I hope we've made some sort of a difference. It's made a difference in my life, some positive, some not so positive. My son resents me for doing this work. He's a hardcore conservative. But we can't create change by fighting. We can only do it by education and people wanting to change their consciousness. And it will happen. There will be a shift soon. We need to get our community back. That's one of the main problems with this country. We've lost our sense of community. We moved so quickly towards a mobile society and lost our connectedness as a result.
You're not working in the most welcoming environment here in Crawford. When it comes to activism, what works and what doesn't?
Education and bringing up the issues. Whether they get it or not, it's getting into their consciousness. It's issues that most people don't even want to be aware of; they just want someone else to deal with them. They have their own little world and can drive their SUVs and live in their own home and have their green grass and never bother to look up over the fence and see that they're in a cage. We're all in boxes and we want it that way because it's easy. There are times when I think there's no hope. This society is complacent to that; they would rather have their freedoms taken away than be responsible enough to stay informed on the issues. That's where I believe we've had some effect. We're trying to put information out there and maybe, just maybe, people will be interested enough to do research on their own. One day we tabled at a festival and we got into a good conversation with people; even my husband got involved. My husband is an ex-Republican. He didn't vote for Bush this time around. He didn't vote in 2000. He's been a conservative Republican all of his life because that's what his family was, but he's not anymore.
Since meeting you?
Well, he's now educated. Before, he listened to the corporate media and Rush Limbaugh and that's what he heard. But he's had to become educated because if he was going to live with me, he was going to hear the truth. I made a point to print stuff out and leave it on the table for him to read because it affects him, it affects me and it affects our lives. There are so many things that so many people don't want to know about, but it affects them personally. Someday soon, it's going to come home and affect them personally. That's when the change happens. That's a shame. We should be concerned when it affects our neighbors, whether the neighbor is next door or across the sea.
Where do you get your news?
I like Buzzflash, CommonDreams, TrueMajority and TomPaine. I watch local news for the weather mostly. I do still watch CBS at 5:30.
Before the election, the term "liberal ideologue" was always being thrown around by politicians and pundits. What does the word "liberal" mean to you?
That's a good one. I become defensive when this comes up because we've let other people define it for us. To me, liberal means the truth. We're willing to see another side, walk in someone else's shoes and allow other people their beliefs. It's a noble term. A liberal person respects other people's rights.
What about Conservative?
Conservative to me is someone who is close-minded; someone who is not willing to search out the truth and wants things to stay the same whether they work or not. A Conservative is a fearful person. They're not willing to search out the truth. I don't think conservatives are always wrong and liberals are always right, but both sides can go too far. I think there is a balance and we need to find it instead of labeling each other.
What message would you send to the Democratic Party?
To get some backbone. Stand up for what you believe and don't back down. Don't name call, but be firm and get some integrity. Stop with all the crooked politics. Maybe we should vote them all out and start from scratch. Even people with no knowledge couldn't do any worse.
Do you feel like you're part of the dialog the left is having about where to go from here?
I guess so. The first thing we need to start doing is listening to each other. We could protest all we want, but does that make a difference? It does make noise and the squeaky wheel gets greased sooner or later. We're involved with the Veterans for Peace and Austin is a very progressive town. It's these little pockets that give you hope and know that in the midst of this blindness, there are pockets of people that care enough to want to know what's going on.
How do you feel about the national Democrats ignoring states like Texas?
That goes back to the electoral system. If politicians can ignore numerous states because they know they don't have a chance, then those people are not part of the dialog, so in that respect we're not part of the dialog. That's one of the reasons I respected Ralph Nader. He actually came here and people listened to him. There's talk about this guy Karl Schwarz from Arkansas who is anti-Bush, anti-war and is running as a Republican candidate for president in 2008. He contacted us and said he wanted to announce his candidacy here. That's the whole point of the Peace House. We're here for anybody that wants to talk. If you are part of the machine, you get to talk. You have to be part of the Democratic and Republican elite in order to be heard. We also have to try new things. Some people are saying we have to quit being so nice. (laughs) I don't know that I go along with that because that's how Bush got elected.
Do you think Texas could vote for a Democratic presidential candidate again?
Yes, I do. It's a strange state. Texas has the Texas pride, like the USA has the USA pride. Texas was at one time a country so that's makes a difference. Texans are proud of being Texans. Before you get out of junior high, you have to take Texas history. It's just like taking US history. That's why most Texas kids know more about Texas history than they do about US history. Texas could become Democratic again, but it'll take some time.
What message would you send to progressives in large Democratic cities?
Go to smaller cities and get involved in the middle of it all. Take the message to conservative towns nearby. If you're in Northern California, go to Bakersfield and Sacramento. Have an action or a protest. Actually, I think we need to quit calling it protest. At first, we had to get permits to protest and march. We had a big event planned last summer and the chief of police said each separate group involved, whether it was Austin's Code Pink, North Texas Peace and Justice or the Dallas Peace Center, had to get a separate permit for the protest. I asked him, when you have local parades, does the fire department have to get a permit? Do the Girl Scouts have to get a permit? He said, no, they don't have to get separate permits. So I said, we're having a parade. It's changing the dialog. We're not protesting. We're having a teach-in. We're having a parade. We are celebrating our version of patriotism. We need to start looking at the negative terms that are being used against the progressive community and change the words. We've had several parades since then.
How do the locals treat you?
They're real cool. You know where they stand. The sign at the Yellow Rose gift shop used to say: You're Either With Us, Or Against Us. Now it says: We Shall Not Tire, We Shall Not Falter. These people in this town had an inauguration ball at the community center in February. I don't go to the local businesses because I don't want to support them. They feel like we're intruding on their territory. People used to drive by the Peace House and scream, "Go back to California, you hippie assholes!" The truth is, I'm a fifth or sixth generation Texan. I'm a community member. I live 20 miles down the road. The locals think we're all foreigners, but most of the people involved with the house are Texans.
Have many locals expressed support for the Peace House?
A man drove up one day and said, I'm sure glad to see you here; I thought I was the only one. I don't know if he would say that out loud and I sure wouldn't want the locals to know he said it because it could cause him some problems. That is a real shame. At that local festival, a couple people approached us and said thanks, but I could tell they didn't want people to see them at our booth. I had a display board about the corporate media and Fox near the table and a few people looked at it.
Has Bush ever passed by the house?
No, he comes in on helicopter. His people see us. They come in with 20 SUVs. Then a few minutes later, another 10 SUVs drive through. Bush sees us when he goes to the cafe and shops and the dignitaries always see us. I suspect they have us bugged. Look at the wires across the street in that old abandoned house. I don't care. If I can't say what I want to say, where I want to say it, then take me away. I'm not gonna back down. It's too important. That said, I've got two peace flags and am still debating whether I should put them up at home. I keep debating because, I'll say it, there's a little fear there. This part of the country used to be heavy Klan. I used to have an American flag up, but it came down right after 9/11. My husband wants to put it up on the 4th of July and Memorial Day, but I always say no. It makes a statement. I don't separate myself and put myself above the rest of the world and that's what the flag signifies these days.
What are your plans over the next four years?
We've talked about moving. I even considered going to Costa Rica after the election, but I'm tired of moving. I'm trying to convert my piece of property back into its natural state. First it was a cotton field, then it was a hay field. I don't know if I've got the stamina to continue with the Peace House. It's a lot of work. I hope someone at the local level will get more enthused about it. The gardening is even tough to keep up with, but it's not easy finding dedicated people with time. Also, everybody got real depressed after the election. I was there. I'm still there to some extent, but I still think it's important. This place has a purpose for being here. If nothing else, there is a consciousness of peace in this town. At the time it was established, that's what I felt was the most important thing to do. I guess this is my purpose and I'll give in to that. I'll do what I can do, but I won't overdo it anymore.