Saturday, July 26, 2008

The New G.I. Coffeehouse

A social movement doesn't have a specific place or a location. It lives in the actions, the minds, and the relationships between people. But there are places where the ideas of a movement develop, places where the movement's ideas go more mainstream.

A group of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are planning to start up a G.I. coffeehouse near the entrance of the Fort Lewis military base in Washington State. Though the project is still in its planning stages, the idea is that it will be a center for supporting GI rights and war resistance in the region, as well as a place for G.I.s to get coffee right off the base.

On a street littered with barber shops and abandoned dry cleaning businesses in Tillicum, WA, the veterans have found several possible locations for this project. Seth Manzel served in Iraq with a Stryker Combat Team before joining his local chapter of IVAW, and is shown in the video talking about these locations. Most of the places he and the other vets have been checking out are abandoned dry cleaners, oddly enough, because with fewer Army requirements for cleaning their attire these places have virtually disappeared from the communities around military bases.

A coffeehouse like this would not be the first of its kind in the nation since the 1970s. One known as the Different Drummer Cafe has begun operating since 2006 in Watertown, NY near Fort Drum, and near Fort Hood, TX a coffeehouse known as Under The Hood will begin operating soon. During the Vietnam-era dozens of coffeehouses popped around the nation. Near Fort Hood, TX one was called the Oleo Strut, which was named after a part that made sure helicopters landed smoothly. In October of 1968 coffeehouse known as the Shelter Half was established Tacoma not far from Fort Lewis. It took its name from a makeshift military tent structure. Aside from continual harassment from the police force, however, the Shelter Half's shortfall was that its location was still a twenty minute drive from the base. Still, it was in its later years deemed "off-limits" by the U.S. Army. Jane Fonda, the popular anti-war actress, was also banned from Fort Lewis around this time. IVAW believes that one of the closer, newer locations will be more effective.

When the Shelter Half opened its doors, the same month saw the first issue of Counterpoint, a G.I. resistance publication, followed by the Lewis-McChord Free Press, B Troop News, and Fed Up!, which were all published off-base near Fort Lewis. This all happened within a short period of time. The Seattle Chapter of IVAW last year started publishing the G.I. Voice, a publication that makes its way onto Fort Lewis, and has also begun a G.I. Radio project, available on Though G.I.Radio currently broadcasts from Seth's garage, playing re-runs of Winter Soldier—IVAW's testimonies about Iraq and war crimes recorded in Washington D.C.—the vets plan to move the show to the coffeehouse once its setup.

"We're promoting GI resistance," Seth says, "something that hasn't been done a whole lot." Civilians are realizing they can actually do something about this war, he tells me, whereas active-duty G.I.s are not so much in that position. A number of individuals and groups have already started donating equipment to the coffeehouse, such as a cash register. IVAW says the next step in organizing is to raise enough money to pay for the lease they need to start operating and selling coffee. They are several thousand dollars short at this point.

As far as a name goes for the coffeehouse, the vets are tossing around "Ogive Plunger" which is the name for a part on a Mk19, a gun that can be mounted to a Stryker vehicle. Seth told me he thinks that's a silly name though. IVAW and volunteers will vote on a name as the project unfolds.

See Also:

Different Drummer Cafe, Fort Drum, NY.

Under the Hood, Fort Hood, TX.

"Sir! No Sir!" - a documentary about the Vietnam GI movement.

This video uses images from, as well as footage from Seattle "Oct. 27", 2007, Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, 2007, and the Lt. Ehren Watada court martial rally, 2006.


Army Sergeant said...

GI Coffeehouses sure are great, aren't they? However, I have to say it will not be the first in the nation...Fort Drum already operates a GI Coffeehouse outside its gates, called the Different Drummer.

Acumensch said...

Thanks for pointing that out - I added corrections to the article, and also the video should have bubble-like corrections that pop up on it soon.