Moving from Hope to Action was the theme of the Veterans for Peace national convention last week.

The group’s executive director, Michael McPhearson, and other leaders hailed the movement that helped elect the first U.S. president of mixed heritage, and emphasized the need to build coalitions with other organizations to end war and build a lasting peace.

There was criticism of the Obama administration over the war in Afghanistan but, at the same time, credit was given for many things Obama has done to restore faith in our democracy at home and mend fractured relations internationally.

The event, Aug. 5-9 at the University of Maryland College Park campus, was packed with stimulating workshops covering topics like resisting the war economy, abolishing nukes in our lifetimes, debunking America’s ‘good war,” eliminating “weapons of individual destruction,” counter-recruitment, holding the architects of illegal wars and war crimes accountable, military sexual trauma, and creating a culture of peace.

Several documentary films were shown, among them the excellent ‘The Good Soldier,’ produced and directed by Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys. Its power comes from the opportunity it offers viewers to hear from VFP members who are survivors of U.S. wars ranging from World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf War (allowing Michael McPhearson to talk of his experiences) to the current ones. All have realized that war must be abolished, particularly Sgt. Jimmy Massey, whose experiences in Iraq led him to become a strong voice against war. We see him standing on a corner in his hometown with a sign reading ‘I killed innocent people for my government’ — what a powerful statement against war!

On Friday evening, a young woman from the RAWA organization, representing women of Afghanistan, spoke at the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ. She told of the hardships women in the countryside are experiencing under the present rulers and the omission of women’s rights in the constitution of the Kharzai government. He was handpicked by the U.S. and faces much opposition, she said. She said the people of Afghanistan are fighting the warlords, the Taliban and the U.S. If the U.S. would leave, the people would ‘only’ have to fight on two fronts, she said.

At Saturday evening’s banquet, Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies gave an update on Iraq. She debunked much of the information coming from the mainstream U.S. media, especially the emphasis on the divisions among the various Iraqi factions. She expressed her belief that these groups are actually working together for the security of Iraq.

Chris Toensing of the Middle East Research Information Project presented many facts and figures about the war which are not heard from the mainstream media.

Bill Fletcher, a longtime labor and racial justice advocate, gave a very welcomed speech which strongly expressed the need to defeat the right and push the Obama administration to fulfill its promises.

After the convention ended, a number of participants went to the World War II memorial in Washington for an event in remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A Japanese survivor (hibakusha) of the nuclear attack told the vets her family’s tragic story. It was a moving experience. The veterans thanked her for continuing to tell her story so future generations will understand the horrific results of the inhuman decision to drop nuclear bombs.

Next year’s Veterans for Peace convention will be held in Portland, Maine, Aug. 18-22, 2010.