Portland vigil for Aaron Bushnell – Veterans protest genocide, burn uniforms

 Click here for the full transcript of Johnnie Lewis’ speech

Aaron Bushnell, the 25-year-old U.S. Air Force soldier who self-immolated in front of the Israeli Consulate in Washington, D.C. to protest the U.S. military role in the Israeli genocide in Gaza, has inspired millions of people around the world for his sacrifice — from Yemen to Malaysia to Palestine to right here in the U.S. 

Despite rain, a crowd of Portlanders holding candles gathered to hear anti-war speakers and cheer as U.S. veterans burned their military uniforms on Feb. 28. The protest was to honor Aaron Bushnell and to oppose the U.S.-Israeli imperialist war on Gaza. There was international coverage of the uniform-burning, which was organized by About Face Veterans Against the War.

Johnnie Lewis addresses the Aaron Bushnell memorial demonstration in Portland, Oregon, where veterans burned their military uniforms, Feb. 28, 2024. (Credit: Photo: Lyn Neeley)

Johnnie Lewis, a member of Workers World Party and a Vietnam war resister, got a passionate response from the crowd of nearly all young people, while addressing them: “In 1967 I was 22. I was drafted into the U.S. army but refused to go. The FBI arrested me and threatened to send me to jail for three years. At the time, there were hundreds of thousands of young men who were resisting the draft, many of whom went to prison.

“While at an anti-war conference at the University of Kentucky, I met members of the American Servicemen’s Union. They were in their military uniforms talking about organizing against the war within the army. And I thought, ‘what the hell, I’m going to do that too instead of going to prison!’

“There was a huge anti-war movement, and military prisons during that time were full of soldiers. Anti-war service members who were put into the Fort Dix stockade in New Jersey burned the jail down in June of 1969. While at Fort Dix, I wrote for and helped distribute the ASU newspaper, ‘The Bond.’ It was read by military men at Fort Dix and circulated around the world wherever there was a base or Navy ship, including inside Vietnam.”

Lewis asked the crowd: “Millions upon millions of young men were drafted. Can you imagine a draft today?” There was a resounding, unanimous “No!” 

Concluded Lewis: “Young people today want the U.S. out of Gaza. We in the military in the late 1960s and early 1970s were a factor in ending the Vietnam war. The undying Vietnamese resistance was the main factor resisting U.S. imperialism, just like the Palestinians are today.”

Long live the Palestinian resistance!

Full transcript of Johnnie Lewis’ speech:

Aaron Bushnell is a casualty of war and he is a warrior and he died fighting U.S. imperialism. We all honor him today.

I was drafted into the US army. At first I refused to go. I was arrested by the FBI. I was threatened with 3 1/2 years in federal prison. At the time, as you all know, there was a huge antiwar movement. It was on every campus. It was in every city. It was in every workplace. I knew that I didn’t have to go out to the military.

At the University of Kentucky where I had been a student, and there were members of the active duty military there in the uniforms and the imperialist anti war soldiers who were organizing within the ranks of the US army. What the hell, I decided I’m going to do that too. And then in three weeks when I was at Fort Knox KY, I had a group of soldiers who put out a newspaper, an anti war newspaper on the base.  Soldiers in Vietnam were arrested and they were in jail, in Long Binh Prison and they burned the motherfucker down.

I was an organizer for the American Servicemen’s Union. I was in the Fort Dix Stockade that was in New Jersey. I received orders to go to Vietnam and I was awaiting a court martial. There was a riot in that prison and we burned part of that down. Military prisons were full of antiwar soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines who refused to commit war crimes. Could you imagine a draft today? Never! You wouldn’t go you wouldn’t go. They were a factor in ending the war of Vietnam. The Vietnamese people lost millions of lives. They were the main factor in ending the war. Their resistance, Just as the Palestinians are today. Their demands for their homes, their demands to end the occupation .Their demands for their life. They are the leaders of this resistance movement.

Who can imagine they could draft you all? Who wants to die for imperialism? Think of what the United States is doing today, what it is doing to Gaza. The  United States is sending money. Israel wouldn’t last a week without the United States . We have to continue in the streets. You know, in a way I wish they would draft you all. It would be a tremendous anti-war movement. Okay. You don’t have to go.

Aaron Bushnell, like so many young people in this country, they have no future. There are no jobs. They owe tens of thousands of dollars in debt that they will never be able to pay off. They are looking at a catastrophe of their earth. The future, it appears to be in flames. Like what happened to people like Aaron. I don’t know if Aaron was a working class kid. But I bet he was. Like a lot of other young people he thought he would go in and he might be able to do some good, he might be able to help people in some way.  Like so many young people today – there is something called the poverty draft – have you heard of it? There is no future. And they think, I could go into the military and get a career. They say yeah I want that j. But what do I have to do to get it? Aaron refused to do it. He said I wouldn’t be part of the genocide.  I refuse to do it. I cried for the young man. My heart goes out to him. And to all young people who rise up and struggle against this monster and bring it down