Gabriel, Slavery, Richmond’s History, Sacred Ground


Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project

  1. Jan. 5, 2010: Suit filed against the Commonwealth of Virginia, naming Kathleen Kilpatrick, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources for failing to preserve and protect state owned site of historic significance, Richmond’s African Burial Ground and calling for the state to pay for a test excavation to assist in determining the boundaries of the burial ground. This Writ of Mandamus was filed by Sa’ad El-Amin, director of the Society for the Preservation of Richmond’s African American History and Antiquities and includes the deposition of Dr. Michael Blakey, director of the Institute for Historical Biology, College of William and Mary, as expert witness. This suit was publicly supported by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, SGHRP and the State Conference NAACP. DISMISSED Oct. 13, 2010
  2. Participation in the Future of Richmond’s Past planning committee to conduct Community Conversations to provide the public the opportunity to input their stories and interests into the programming of our regional cultural institutions as they plan for the upcoming Sesquicentennial of the Civil War and Emancipation.
  3. Participation in the Lincoln Memorial Subcommittee of the Martin L. King, Jr. Commemoration Comimission of the commonwealth of Virginia, serving on the sub-subcommittee, Slave Burial Grounds/African American Cemeteries project – identification and cataloguing of all such sites and the interred throughout the state. Details to follow.
  4. Planning a Richmond Community Delegation visit to the New York African Burial Ground newly opened interpretive center for November 2010. Details to follow.
  5. Sep. 8: Ana Edwards (Sacred Ground), Shawn Utsey (Dept. Af. Am. Studies), King Salim Khalfani (State NAACP), Phil Wilayto (Va Defender) meeting with VCU president Dr. Michael Rao and Wayne Turnage (chief of staff), John Bennett (finance), David Ross (attorney), Mark Rubin (government liaison/lobbyist) – Land swap under negotiation with Mayor Jones (though no timeline indicated), stated agreement with sacredness and significance of the site, and while VCU’s limited resources will not be directed there, he is interested in community collaborations.
  6. Sep. 28: El-Amin files injunction against VCU and Dr. Michael Rao to force end to parking of all cars from the site of Richmond’s African Burial Ground.
  7. Oct. 10: 8th annual commemoration of Gabriel’s Rebellion and Richmond’s African Burial Ground held as a Town Hall Meeting with presentations by Shawn Utsey, Janine Bell, Sa’ad El-Amin, King Salim Khalfani, moderated by Ana Edwards, with a full hour for audience discussion.
  8. Oct. 13: Final ruling on Jan. 5 lawsuit against Kathleen Kilpatrick and Dept. of Historic Resources: DISMISSED, stating Kilpatrick had fulfilled her discretionary duties regarding the site by producing the July 2008 report, flawed or not.
  9. Oct. 24: 1st organizing meeting following Oct. 10 town hall meeting. 13 people attended. General strategy discussion led to initiatives launched: mass e-mail petition; weekly leafleting on sidewalk leading to and from the Burial Ground; public education and recruiting for upcoming demonstrations and possible civil disobedience actions.
  10. Nov. 21: 2nd organizing meeting following Oct. 10 town hall meeting. 19 people attended. Reports on initiatives launched: 250-300 letters/petitions to Rao/Jones/McDonnell; 1500-1900 leaflets distributed; WTVR meets with King Salim Khalfani of State NAACP and Sa’ad El-Amin, agrees to air Meet Me In The Bottom as counter to Holmberg’s commentary; Rao/VCU response to El-Amin’s lawsuit received/Sa’ad seeking preliminary injunction by Xmas; 30 VCU Black students organize/implement “Die-In” on campus, WTVR News airs at 5,6 and 11pm, 500 fliers distributed (Burial Ground on 1 side, Oscar Grant injustice information on the other); City’s Shockoe Bottom Economic Revitalization Public meeting event held/Burial Ground, Lumpkins Jail, Trail of Enslaved Africans included as sites to preserve/National Slavery Museum factored in. Next issue of Virginia Defender to be published Dec. 9; distribution begins that weekend.Local Protestors Carrying Bowfishing bows
  11. Dec. 21: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell calls a press conference with Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Delegate Delores McQuinn and a representative from Virginia Commonwealth University to announce that the state of Virginia was putting forth a budget amendment for $3.1 million to compensate VCU for the transfer of the Burial Ground site property at 1541 E. Broad Street from VCU to the city of Richmond; this legislation is to be authored by Del. McQuinn. Gov. McDonnell further stipulated that the property fall under the management of the City of Richmond through the city’s Slave Trail Commission and that within 5 years substantive progress must be made to memorialize the site, or the property would revert to state ownership.
Burn Baby Burn Productions website has been updated to include information about ordering a copy of this film, recent awards and a schedule of screenings on Community Idea Stations, our local PBS station, and throughout the community.

Meet Me in the Bottom: The Struggle to Reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground is an award-winning documentary film directed by Shawn Utsey, with cinematography and editing Jennida Chase, Shanika Smiley and Calvin Jamison Jr. This film is an excellent introduction to the significance of oldest municipal cemetary in Richmond, Virginia, the Black community’s struggles to reclaim the RIGHT TO KNOW their history by having the right to determine how it is revealed, examined and commemorated for the edification of generations to come.
Coming in 2011: Chris, a documentary about one Richmond man’s role in the industry of cemetery body-snatching for medical education and the medical schools that couldn’t teach without it.


Institute for Historical Biology (IHB) Review of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) Validation and Assessment Report on the Burial Ground for Negroes, Richmond, Virginia by C. M. Stephenson, 25 June 2008. Prepared by Michael L. Blakey, Ph.D, Director, Institute for Historical Biology, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, 20 September 2008

About the Institute for Historical Biology:

Download the IHB report

Burial Ground for Negroes, Richmond, Virginia: Validation and Assessment – Prepared by C. M. Stevenson, Ph.D., for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Ricmond, Virginia, 25 June 2008

About the Virginia Department of Historic Resources:

Download the DHR report

The Burial Ground: an early African-American site in Richmond, Notes on its history and location © Jeffrey Ruggles, Dec. 2009

About the Virginia Historical Society:

Download Ruggles’ report

Buried in the unremissive ground: reading Richmond’s subterranean signs by Katherine Walker a University College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA. Online publication date: 17 December 2009

Download Buried in Unremissive Ground

Petition to Reclaim our Richmond’s Oldest Municipal Burial Site for Free and Enslaved Black People. Included with the petition is a form to complete so you can Tell Us Your Vision for memorialing the Burial Ground and the ancestors buried there as well as for Shocke Bottom. Bring it with you to the next meeting or mail it to us at Sacred Ground Project/Defenders, PO Box 23202, Richmond VA 23223.

Download petition!

4/14: 2010 Community Defenders of the Year 

The Defenders held our Annual Fighting Fund & Community Awards Dinner on Saturday, April 24, 2010, with keynote speaker Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan African News Wire.

This year the following people were recipients of the Community Defenders of the Year awards, which recognize members of the community who have distinguished themselves by their work in advancing the ideals of Freedom, Justice and Equality. They were honored for their work in the ongoing struggle to reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground:

Afrikana – Student organization of the VCU Department of African American Studies

Janine Bell – Founding Director, Elegba Folklore Society

Dr. Michael Blakey – Director, Institute for Historical Biology, College of William & Mary

Sa’ad El-Amin – former Richmond City Council member and former chair of the city’s Slave Trail Commission

Sister Maat Free – Spiritual Advocate for the Burial Ground

King Salim Khalfani – Executive Director, Virginia State Conference NAACP

Shanna Merola & Kenneth YatesRichmond activists who exposed the plans by Virginia Commonwealth University to repave the Burial Ground

Dr. Shawn Utsey – Director of the documentary film “Meet in in the Bottom: The struggle to reclaim Richmond’s African Burial Ground”

News coverage of August 2009 protest of repaving of VCU parking lot:
“The 300-year struggle for the African Burial Ground, from a strictly scientific standpoint, constitutes a continuing assertion of human identity against those who would belittle or belie that status for reasons of economic expediency.”Dr. Michael L. Blakey, from The New York African Burial Ground Project: An Examination of Enslaved Lives, a Construction of Ancestral Ties, presented August 19, 1997 to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Sub-Committee on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.
What is Shockoe Bottom now? It is a singular site of far-reaching historical importance for the Black Community and for all who would come to Richmond to experience history, to absorb it, to understand it. And because of where they will be able to place their feet, and what they will see from this vantage point, they will remember and they will share it. And others will come.

Mayor Dwight Jones – (804) 646-7970 –

Delegate Delores L. McQuinn – (804) 698-1070 –


IN DEFENSE OF IRAN: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey through the Islamic Republic

Released December 2008!

1st book release from Defenders Publications:



     Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s

     Journey through the Islamic Republic”


by Virginia Defender Editor Phil Wilayto


200 pp, Defenders Publications, Inc., $14.95

Perfectbound, fully indexed, 180 endnotes, 16 pages of photos

Cover design by Ana Edwards

ISBN 978-0-615-25123-3

First Edition: December 2008


In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey through the Islamic Republic” tells the story of the People’s Peace Delegation to Iran, a journey organized by Virginia Defender Editor Phil Wilayto and co-sponsored by The Virginia Defender and the Virginia Anti-War Network.


In describing the delegation’s travels, Wilayto attempts to address the many charges being leveled against Iran: that it is developing nuclear weapons, supports terrorism, is “meddling” in Iraq, wants to attack Israel, that its government represses Iranian women, etc. Read the Table of Contents.


Scroll down to order



“Honest, intelligent, and daring! At last, an American journey beyond fear and political rhetoric to reach out to ordinary Iranians…. In its unpretentious and accessible stye, In Defense of Iran answers a whole range of questions left unanswered in many a specialized study of that country. This is an eye-opener, a must read for every American curious to learn about Iran.”   FATEMEH KESHAVARZ, author, Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran.

“This book covers a lot of ground about the history, culture and political will of the Iranian people and their right of self-determination. It helps to debunk some racist myths and stereotypes created by U.S. imperialism about Iranian society. It is an important contribution to the U.S. and international anti-war movement.”  SALADIN MUHAMMAD, founding member, Black Workers for Justice

“‘In Defense of Iran is an excellent book on the history of Iran and U.S. relations. Phil Wilayto’s description of a trip he and former U.S. military took to Iran, with history and culture woven into the story line, provides fascinating glimpses into Iranian society. I wish it had been published before my trip to Iran so I could have benefited from the wealth of information it contains.”  ANN WRIGHT, retired U.S. Army colonel, former U.S. State Department official & anti-war activist 

“Entertaining and well-researched … Besides being a must-have for anyone who wants to learn about the history of Iran, U.S. involvement, and recent political changes, this book is full of fascinating insights and contradictions of this culturally rich, diverse and evolving country.”  MARGARET SARFEHJOOYA, Women Against Military Madness (WAMM)

In Defense of Iran is a blueprint and road map for citizen activists and practitioners of all stripes. Phil Wilayto principally highlights the root economic causes of Imperialist war, reminding his readers that it has always been people, not politicians, who have made humanity better. The Civil Rights Movement taught us the power of ordinary people, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, radically changing society. It is in this tradition I recommend In Defense of Iran to all those yearning to make peace.” JONATHAN HUTTO SR., Co-Founder Appeal for Redress and author of Anti War Soldier

“This is a unique contribution to the growing body of book-length writing on U.S.-Iran tensions. Phil Wilayto is a veteran organizer whose activism has spanned the full range, from entrenched racism in the United States to Washington’s adventurism abroad. His insistence on the self-determination right of Iranians is a shining corrective to the fog of propaganda that has even a segment of the progressive community in its grip.”  ROSTAM POURZAL, Washington, D.C.-based political commentator & former president, U.S. Chapter of the Campaign Against Sanctions & Military Intervention in Iran (CASMII)

“The best defense Iran could have would be awareness in the minds of Americans of who the Iranian people are, a people with great love and affection for the American people, great generosity toward others, and great commitment to peace. The best way I know that this defense could be created would be for Americans to give every other American they can a copy of Phil Wilayto’s new book “In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic.” … Wilayto does not air brush Iran’s flaws or exaggerate its achievements, but he does set them in proper context and provide illuminating comparisons with other countries, especially our own. His tale mixes travel records with history and political argument to provide the best window I’ve found through which to peer halfway around the globe and into a complex and conventionally caricatured culture.”  DAVID SWANSON,


  • Margaret Sarfehjooya, Women Against Military Madness, June 2009
  • David Swanson,, December 2008
  • Chris Dovi, (Richmond) Style Weekly, January 2009
  • D.D. Delaney, The Treehouse Magazine (online), February 2009

Virginia People’s Assembly, anti-imperialist, anti-war

Back to the Streets!  
April 9th: Demonstrate Against the Wars at Home and Abroad

Call to Action
And Request for Endorsement

April 9, 2011

New York _ San Francisco

from the

United National Antiwar Committee

To endorse the call, click here





THEY are the government, corporate, and financial powers that wage war, ravage the environment and the economy and trample on our democratic rights and liberties.




WE are the vast majority of humanity who want peace, a healthy planet and a society that prioritizes human needs, democracy and civil liberties for all.


The Warmakers spend trillions of dollars yearly on endless wars in pursuit of global domination and profit while murdering millions of innocent people, installing corrupt and hated governments and funding occupations that displace millions from their homelands – trampling on the right of oppressed people to self-determination.


THEY send our youth – victims of the economic draft – to fight over the very fossil fuels whose unrestrained use threatens the future of the planet while corrupt and virtually unregulated oil giants dump billions of gallons of death into our rivers and oceans.


THEY wage a fake “war on terrorism” at home – the new McCarthyism – that promotes racism and Islamophobia aimed at destroying civil liberties and democratic rights.


THEY grant repeated and untold trillions in bailouts to banks, corporations and financial institutions while breaking unions, robbing pensions, destroying jobs, foreclosing homes, de-funding education and vital social services and are once again threatening Social Security and Medicare.


THEY offer no solutions to the current crises other than more of the same.


THE PEACEMAKERS DEMAND a better world. Only a massive, united, inclusive and independent movement has the power to bring it into being.


WE DEMAND Bring U.S. Troops, Mercenaries and War Contractors Home Now: Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan! End the sanctions and stop the threats of war against the people of Iran, North Korea and Yemen. No to war and plunder of the people of Latin America and Africa! End U.S. Aid to Israel! End U.S. Support to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and the Siege of Gaza!


WE DEMAND trillions for jobs, education, social services, an end to all foreclosures, quality single-payer healthcare for all, a massive conversion to sustainable and planet-saving energy systems and public transportation and reparations to the victims of U.S. terror at home and abroad.


WE DEMAND an end to FBI raids on antiwar, social justice, and international solidarity activists, an end to the racist persecution and prosecutions that ravage Muslim communities, an end to police terror in Black and Latino communities, full rights and legality for immigrants and an end to all efforts to repress and punish Wikileaks and its contributors and founders.


WE DEMAND the immediate end to torture, rendition, secret trials, drone bombings and death squads.





All Out April 9, 2011


To add your group’s name to the endorser list,

local, state or national, click here 



Initial List of Endorsers (List in formation)

* = For Identification only


UNAC –United National Antiwar Committee

Center for Constitutional Rights

Muslim Peace Coalition, USA

Voices for Creative Nonviolence

Veterans for Peace

International Action Center

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Fellowship of Reconciliation

Black Agenda Report

National Assembly to End U.S. Wars and Occupations

World Can’t Wait

Campaign for Peace and Democracy

Project Salam

Canadian Peace Alliance


Lynne Stewart Defense Committee

Office of the Americas

Tariq Ali

Dr. Margaret Flowers  PNHP *

Ramsey Clark

Ahmed Shawk, editor, International Socialist Review


American Iranian Friendship Committee
Ana Edwards begin_of_the_skype_highlighting     end_of_the_skype_highlighting, Chair, Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project – Richmond, Va.
Andy Griggs, Co-chair, California Teachers  Association, Peace and Justice Caucus/UTLA-retired*
Bail Out the People Movement
Barrio Unido, San Francisco
Bashir Abu-Manneh

Baltimore Job Is a Right Campaign

Battered Mother’s Custody Conference
Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace
Bob Hernandez, Chapter President, SEIU Local 1021*
Bonnie Weinstein – Bay Area United Against Wars Newsletter
Boston UNAC
Caf̩ Intifada РLos Angeles
Camilo E. Mejia, Iraq war veteran and resister
Campaign for a Mass Party of Labor
Carole Seligman – Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal *
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War
Coalition for Justice – Blacksburg, Va.
Colombian Front for Socialism (FECOPES)
Columbus Campaign for Arms Control
Committee for Justice to Defend the Los Angeles 8
Dave Welsh, Delegate, San Francisco Labor Council
David Keil – Metro West Peace Action (MWPA) *
Defenders for Freedom, Justice _ Equality – Virginia
Derrick O’Keefe, Co-chair (Vancouver) and
Detroit Committee to Stop FBI/Grand Jury Repression.
Doug Bullock, Albany County Legislator
Dr. Andy Coats  PNHP *
DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) – New York
Elaine Brower  – national steering committee of WCW and anti-war military mom
Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST)
Freedom Road Socialist Organization
Freedom Socialist Party
Gilbert Achcar – Lebanese academic and writer
Guilderland Neighbors for Peace
Haiti Action Committee
Hands off Venezuela
International Socialist Organization
Iraq Peace Action Coalition – Minneapolis
Jersey City Peace Movement
Journal Square Homeless Coalition
Kim Nguyen, Metrowest Peace Action (MWPA)*
Lillie “Ms. K” Branch-Kennedy – Director, Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (R.I.H.D.), Virginia
Lisa Savage, CODEPINK Maine, Bring Our War $$ Home Coaltion *
Los Angeles – Palestine Labor Solidarity Committee
Maggie Zhou – ClimateSOS *
Maine Veterans for Peace
Maria Cristina Gutierrez, Exec. Director,  Companeros del Barrio
Mark Roman, Waterville Area Bridges for Peace _ Justice
Marlena Santoyo, Germantown Friends Meeting, Philadelphia, PA
Masjid As-Salam Mosque, Albany, NY
Michigan Emergency Committee Against Wars and Injustice
Middle East Children’s Alliance
Middle East Crisis Committee
Mobilization Against War and Occupation  – Vancouver, Canada
Mobilization to Free Mumia
Moratorium NOW Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs
Muslim Solidarity Committee
Nancy Murray, Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights*
New Abolitionist Movement
New England United

New Socialist Project

New York Labor Against the War

No More Victims
Nodutdol for Korean Community Development
Northeast Peace and Justice Action Coalition
Northwest Greens
Nuestro Norte Es El Sur ((NUNO-SUR) Our North is the South
Pakistan USA Freedom Forum
Pakistani Trade Union Defense Campaign
Peace and Freedom Party
Peninsula Peace _ Justice, Blue Hill, Maine
Peninsula Peace and Justice Center – Palo Alto, Ca.
Peoples Video Network
Phil Wilayto, Editor, The Virginia Defender
Philadelphia Against War
Progressive Peace Coalition, Columbus Ohio
Queen Zakia Shabazz – Director, United Parents Against Lead National, Inc.
Ralph Poynter, Lynne Stewart Defense Committee
Revolutionary Workers Group
Rhode Island Mobilization Committee
Rochester Against War
Ron Jacobs, writer
Saladin Muhammad – Founding Member, Black Workers for Justice
Sarah Roche-Mahdi, Code Pink Boston*
Saratoga Peace Alliance
Sherry Wolf – International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Author Sexuality and Socialism
Siege Busters Working Group
Socialist Action
Socialist Organizer
Socialist Viewpoint
Solidarity Committee of the Capital District

Stop the Wars Coalition, Boston

The Campaign Against Sanctions _ Military Intervention in Iran
The Thomas Merton Center
Twin Cities Peace Campaign
Upper Hudson Peace Action
Virginia Defender
West Hartford Citizens for Peace and Justice
WESTPAC Foundation
Women against Military Madness
Workers International League
Workers World Party
Youth for International Socialism

Richmonders condemn Israel’s massacre of international aid activists


Richmond, Va., June 1 – More than 75 people held a spirited protest this evening outside Richmond City Hall to condemn the Memorial Day Massacre of 20 international humanitarian aid activists by the Israeli military. The protestors only stopped to eat and drink, bringing with them iceboxes and coolers and immediately resuming protests.

About 50 Arab-Americans from the Greater Richmond area were joined by Black community activists, students, anarchists and members of local peace organizations, chanting “Free, Free Gaza, Free Free Palestine!” as passing motorists waved and honked their horns in support.

The murdered aid activists were among 700 volunteers from some 20 countries traveling on six civilian ships to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip, where Israel has imposed a now 3-year blockade on the 1.5 million Palestinian residents, creating a grave humanitarian crisis.

Early on the morning of May 31, some 15 Israeli naval vessels and helicopters surrounded the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla.” Commandos dropped on the lead ship proceeded to open fire, killing up to 20 internationals and wounding more than 50 wounded.

In addition to demanding murder indictments against the Israeli political and military leadership, the Richmond protesters called for an immediate end to the $3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Israel, money that makes possible Israel’s suppression of the national rights of the Palestinian people.

Organized in less than 20 hours, this evening’s protest was co-sponsored by the Arab-American Association of Virginia and the Defenders for Freedom, Justice _ Equality.



Union miners hold mass protest outside Massey Energy stockholders’ meeting


Richmond, Va., May 18 – More than 1,000 members of the United Mine Workers of America and their supporters marched today on the upscale Jefferson Hotel where the stockholders of Richmond-based Massey Energy Co. were holding their annual meeting.

Chanting “Don Blankenship has got to go,” the union members demanded the firing – and imprisonment – of the coal company’s notorious president.

The protest was organized by the UMWA to condemn the deaths of 29 miners who lost their lives April 5 in an avoidable mine explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, W. Va.

The evening before the march, some 600 miners, other union members, allies and friends held a candlelight vigil outside Massey’s downtown corporate offices, where the names of all 52 miners killed over the past 10 years in Massey mines were read.

Among those supporting the vigil and march were members of the Communications Workers of America, United Food and Commerical Workers, the Defenders, Virginia People’s Assembly and several environmental organizations.



A HOAX TO ILLUSTRATE A POINT: “France to Repay Haiti $21 Billion”

The video below is the hoax video and beneath it I have included the text of the article that accompanied it. Now, of course the Defenders believes that France should return the restitution it forced Haiti to pay – 90 million in gold francs – from the years 1825 to 1947.

REPORT-BACK: Richmond teach-in calls for end to U.S. wars and occupations

“Rethinking Afghanistan and Iran” was the name of a community teach-in held Oct. 17 in Richmond, Va., by the Defenders for Freedom, Justice _ Equality and the Richmond Peace Education Center. Part of national day of protests to mark the 8th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the event was one of about 45 actions across the country held in response to a call by the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations.

About 30 people, more than a third of whom were African-American, attended the Richmond event, which was filmed by NHK-TV, a public broadcasting station based in Tokyo with a global audience of about 100 million. The footage will be used as part of a documentary about President Barack Obama’s first year in office.

The teach-in opened with excerpts from “Rethink Afghanistan,” the recently released documentary by Robert Greenwald, which examines the human and economic cost of the war as well as the U.S. occupation’s negative impact on women.

Larry Syverson, a member of the national steering committee of Military Families Speak Out, spoke about being the parent of four sons who have or are serving multiple terms in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “These wars are wrong on two counts,” Syverson stated. “We are fighting a war in the neighborhoods of innocents of another country and are sending our loved ones to be bait for attack.”

The second speaker was Phil Wilayto, editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper and author of “In Defense of Iran: Notes from a People’s Peace Delegation through the Islamic Republic.” Wilayto examined the current negotiations between Iran and the so-called Group-of-Five-Plus One countries and the Western drive to prevent Iran from developing into a regional power.

The two speakers were then joined by the event’s co-chairs, Adria Scharf, executive director of the Richmond Peace Education Center and Ana Edwards, chair of the Defenders’ Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, to form a panel for the public forum portion of the program.

Single-payer advocate Andrea Miller captured the spirit of the discussion when she called for “Health Care Not Warfare,” leading to an exchange about how the issue of the seemingly endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and now possibly Iran can be raised in the context of community struggles.

For media coverage of other Oct. 17 events, log onto


Cindy Sheehan Impeachment Caravan in Richmond


Carlos Arredondo, who lost his oldest son to a sniper in Iraq, peers through the window of his mobile shrine to his son – a pick-up truck outfitted with a flag-draped coffin, his son’s military portrait, his boots and dogtags, as well as a waffle (his son’s favorite food) and a small pile of stones, representing the power of the small and determined over the large and seemingly inconquerable. Mr. Arredondo was traveling with the Cindy Sheehan impeachment caravan which stopped in Richmond Va on July 21, 2007.



Click here to read an analysis of the counter-demonstration at the March 17, 2007, March on the Pentagon.

VAWN takes a stand against U.S.-Israeli aggression in Lebanon — click here for flier for Aug. 12 march in D.C.

Photo by Caine Rose

Photo by Caine Rose

Rallying in Fayetteville. Bring the troops home now!

Getting ready to march in Fayetteville.


In Defense of Iran

Reviewed by Margaret Sarfehjooy

Women Against Military Madness Newsletter, June 2009


The WAMM Middle East Committee hosted Phil Wilayto as part of his book tour on In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic. This entertaining and well-researched book describes the tour of Iran Wilayto took with four other Virginia activists in 2007.

Wilayto’s goal is to set the record straight on “lies and propaganda constructed by the Washington politicians, the oil industry lobbyists, the bought-and-paid-for political pundits and the profit-driven commercial news media.” As Wilayto met with students, workers, goat herders, businesspeople, clerics, government officials, even members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, he found a country rich in culture and diversity, whose people were friendly and welcoming to Americans. While he heard an array of political opinions, with praise and criticism of their government’s policies, he didn’t hear any pleas to be saved by America nor did he find any interest in a military confrontation with the U.S.

Wilayto writes, “So the first thing to understand about Iran is that it can’t be judged solely by one standard. It has seen many invasions, many rebellions, many attempts at creating a truly free and democratic society. And it is a society that is perfectly capable of proceeding on that path, without “help” from the very countries that have in the past subverted its attempts at freedom. What it can use, especially in this difficult time, is determined solidarity from the progressive people of the world.”

Questions such as “Does Iran have nuclear weapons?” “Is Iran a threat to Israel?” “Does Iran support terrorism?” and others are answered with a combination of history, facts, scholarly journalism, and political analysis, all extensively researched.

Besides being a must-have for anyone who wants to learn about the history of Iran, U.S. involvement, and recent political changes, this book is full of fascinating insights and contradictions of this culturally rich, diverse and evolving country. Examples: Women must cover their hair, arms and legs, but 65 to 70 percent of university students are now women; women and men can use Iranian taxis, but women who prefer to ride without men can use a taxi company created only for women; abortion is illegal but Iran is the only country that requires couples to take a class on modern contraception before being issued a marriage license; Iran has become the adopted home for many Iraqi and Afghani refugees with 12.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 25 million people now living in Iran.

A veteran organizer whose activism has spanned the full range, from entrenched racism in the United States to Washington’s adventurism abroad, Wilayto offers keen observations on how Iran’s social reforms affect class structure. “Public education in Iran is free, up to and including the university level. Poverty has been reduced to one-eighth of what it was under the shah. Health care is free for those who can’t afford to pay. Small wonder that the poor—including poor women – tend to support the government, while the more secular and affluent middle class is the major source of anti-government resentment.”

Wilayto’s background in investigative journalism led him to uncover disturbing connections between wealthy, neo-conservative foundations and their financing of popular books and movies that reinforce negative stereotypes of Iranians. Some of his harshest criticism goes to Dr. Azar Nafisi, the author of the bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran. Dr. Nafisi’s acknowledgment at the end of her book of a generous grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation raised red flags to Phil, who spent years researching and writing about neocon foundations and their role in shaping public opinion and government policies.

“Smith Richardson’s real issue, of course, isn’t democracy or women’s rights, but the fact that Iran pursues an independent foreign policy and defends its vast oil wealth from encroachments by multinational corporations. . . . Dr. Nafisi’s acknowledgment didn’t say just how “generous” Smith Richardson was, but a little digging turned up copies of the foundations’ annual reports. From 1998 to 2004, Dr. Nafisi received six grants totaling $675,500 from the Smith Richardson Foundation, Inc. Very generous indeed. . . . Why is this an issue? Because Dr. Nafisi’s heavily promoted portrayal of Iran helps create and reinforce the stereotype held by most people in the United States. That stereotype is reinforced by Western journalists and writers whose sources come from a relatively narrow, Western-oriented layer of Iranian society. The resulting false popular view of Iran then becomes the political context within which we evaluate current events.”

Reading Lolita in Tehran and other neocon-funded books and movies offer a biased, simplified view of Iran that is promoted by policy-makers, one that reinforces and encourages the belief of American superiority and exceptionialism that we (the U.S.) must “save” these repressed Iranian women from the terror of their own culture. Instead of focusing on our own eroding civil and human rights, we are encouraged to patronize, condemn, sanction, and attack a country whose people have a right to self-determination and are quite capable of reforming their own country. If more people read In Defense of Iran, they would gain a better understanding and appreciation of the Iranian culture and be able to refute the lies and propaganda that is preparing us for another war.

Phil Wilayto wrote, “The goal of this effort is to try and help the public understand, just as we were lied to about Iraq, resulting in an extremely costly and unjust war, we are now being lied to again, about Iran.”

The Best Defense Iran Could Have


By David Swanson

Given the fates of the other two members of Bush’s axis of evil, some would argue that the best defense Iran could have would be a nuclear bomb.  They would, however, be wildly wrong.  The best defense Iran could have would be awareness in the minds of Americans of who the Iranian people are, a people with great love and affection for the American people, great generosity toward others, and great commitment to peace.  The best way I know that this defense could be created would be for Americans to give every other American they can a copy of Phil Wilayto’s new book <> “In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic.”

And an amazing journey it is, visiting people and places in Iran that you would not expect from either Iran’s portrayal in the corporate media or from the position I’ve taken in the previous paragraph.  Wilayto does not air brush Iran’s flaws or exaggerate its achievements, but he does set them in proper context and provide illuminating comparisons with other countries, especially our own.  His tale mixes travel records with history and political argument to provide the best window I’ve found through which to peer halfway around the globe and into a complex and conventionally caricatured culture.  Wilayto even recounts running into a U.S. television crew in Iran and shows us what they reported as well as what was really there.

Wilayto’s book provides an understanding, among much else, of the following:

Everyone in Iran is provided with health care.

In Iran abortion is illegal, male sterilization legal, and couples required to take a class on modern contraception before marrying.  A condom factory in Tehran produces 45 million condoms per year in 30 colors, shapes, and flavors.

In Iran live Persians, Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis, Bakhtyaris, Lurs, Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Brahuis, and Iranians of African descent.  Israel has had very little luck offering Iranian Jews large sums of money to move to Israel.  Minorities are guaranteed representation in Iran’s government.

The CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected leader in 1953 for British oil interests repackaged as Cold War struggle.  Fear of another CIA coup was a major cause of Iranian students seizing American hostages in 1979.  The hostage taking caused President Jimmy Carter to cut diplomatic ties and create sanctions that remain in place today.

Iranians like to put hard sugar in their mouths and sip tea through it.

The issue at the heart of U.S.-Iranian relations is Iran’s nationalization or privatization of oil.  Working class Iranians tend to favor nationalization and tend to be more religious, while those speaking out for more personal freedoms tend to be wealthy and to favor privatization.

When Iranians, including members of the military unit that the United States has bizarrely labeled a terrorist group, meet Americans in Iran they are thrilled, friendly, delighted, and eager to offer their assistance.

Iran has not attacked anyone in centuries but was attacked by Iraq with support from the United States, in a brutal eight-year war that included the use, by Iraq, of chemical weapons.  A major Iranian peace museum documents the horrors of war.

Women and men can use Iranian taxis, but women who prefer to ride without men can use a taxi company created only for women.

Iran opposed Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and the Taliban, and assisted the United States in Afghanistan.

In 1988 a U.S. ship shot down an Iranian passenger plane, killing all 290 passengers.  President Reagan gave the ship’s officers medals, and President Bush I. swore he would never apologize for it, something neither of his presidential successors has done either.

Literacy for Iranian women has climbed from 25 percent in 1970 under the U.S. backed shah to 80 percent in 2007, and school enrollment from 60 percent in 1970 to 90 percent in 2000.  Between 65 and 70 percent of university students are women.

In 2003 Iran offered to negotiate, including putting its relationship with Israel and its nuclear energy program on the table, and President Bush II. said no.

Hand guns and alcohol are banned.  A strong social safety net prevents poverty.  Women feel safe walking alone at night.

Iran has an all-female fire department.  U.S. cities banned female firefighters until 1974.

The president of Iran proposed regime change in Israel, not genocide of Israelis, and is open to a two-state solution for Palestine.

Working women get 90 days maternity leave at two-thirds pay.

Iran ranks high in lists of nations with rights for workers.  The right to organize and strike is not respected.  But overtime is voluntary and paid at 140 percent.  Vacations are four weeks.  Wages cannot be varied on the basis of age, gender, race, ethnic origin, or political or religious convictions.  Those laid off get severance pay.  Those falsely accused of crimes get back pay and retain their jobs.

The above list is a fraction of the topics addressed brilliantly in Wilayto’s book.  He also addresses the topic of nuclear energy, arguing that Iran’s oil supply will run out and that therefore Iran must build nuclear energy.  However, there are alternatives that Wilayto does not discuss.

Of course, Iran’s and everyone’s oil supplies will indeed run out, although we’ll probably destroy the planet for human life if we exhaust those supplies.  On the other hand, nuclear energy is extremely dangerous as well.  One alternative that is viable in Iran is wind.

CODEPINK Women for Peace recently announced the creation of a company called Winds of Change, which will invest in Iranian wind energy, specifically in the Saba Niroo Wind Company, as well as in a campaign to end sanctions.  Saba Niroo builds wind farms in Iran, but has been forced to halt production because the United States has pressured the Danish wind company Vestas to deny the Iranian company necessary parts.

“It’s ironic that the West is so vehemently opposed to Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear energy, but it is sabotaging our efforts to develop clean energy sources like wind,” said Nader Niktabe, Sara Niroo’s managing director.

“Under present U.S. law, companies that invest in Iran are subject to a $1 million fine,” said Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK co-founder.  “We’re challenging those unproductive restrictions and pushing the Obama administration to lift sanctions and establish peaceful relations with Iran.”

David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press and of the introduction to “The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George W. Bush” published by Feral House and available at  Swanson holds a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including press secretary for Dennis Kucinich’s 2004 presidential campaign, media coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as communications coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson is Co-Founder of, creator of and Washington Director of, a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, the Backbone Campaign, and Voters for Peace, and a member of the legislative working group of United for Peace and Justice.

Iranians Love Mint Condoms, Author Finds


Chris Dovi, Style Weekly, Jan. 7, 2009


The rush to find the perfect Christmas gift is over, so may we recommend an ideal Valentine for that special someone?

“In Defense of Iran,” a new book by local journalist and peace activist Phil Wilayto may not smell as sweet as a dozen roses, but your special someone is certain to learn a thing or two about why opposites attract.


The book’s simple premise, he says, was to take the filter of politics and nationalistic egoism off of American’s periscope of Iran, its people and government.


“[I] wanted to do it in defiance of the [President George W.] Bush administration’s portrayal of Iran as a hostile country to Americans,” says Wilayto, who also publishes the Richmond Defender newspaper and is a founder of Richmond-based Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality.


In preparing for the book, Wilayto did the international travel version of speed dating — an intensive eleven-day, 1,700-mile tour of Iran in July of 2007 with a small delegation, followed by countless hours of research back home. It was hardly enough to make him the definitive expert, he says, “but what we did learn was that the popular image of Iran is completely inaccurate.”


That image, one of “very oppressed people — very fanatical and probably hostile,” Wilayto says, was “exactly the opposite of what we found.”


In fact Iranians love Americans, says Wilayto, they just have a funny way of showing it at the United Nations.


“We felt perfectly at ease no matter where we were in the country — including during a chance encounter with 300 members of the Revolutionary Guard about two months before the Bush administration declared them a terrorist organization,” Wilayto says.


That’s not to say Wilayto gives Iran and its sometimes hyper-charged political rhetoric an easy pass: “There’s something here to offend everybody,” says the author.


But while picking through the prickly geopolitical love-hate marriage that has been U.S.-Iranian relations for the past 29 years, Wilayto dissects some surprising inaccuracies about Iranian culture.


Wilayto found an Iran where contraception is encouraged and free to all; where gay sex is outlawed, but where the government subsidizes sex change operations and social programs for transgender citizens; and where state opposition to abortion is similar to policies in Ireland.


“Iran has the only state-sponsored condom factory in the Middle East,” he says. “Favorite color, pink. Favorite flavor, mint.”


Fifteen chapters and 40 pages of carefully researched footnotes later, Wilayto says, and detractors may think he took a sip or two of Iran’s state-sponsored Kool-Aid. But he wears no blinders in his view of Iran — or of the United States.


“Does this mean everything [in Iran] is great? No,” says Wilayto, of his book’s conclusions. “It just means things are far more complex there than we are led to believe by our government.”


The book is available at Chop Suey Books in Carytown and online at


.  .  .


A Citizen’s Report on Iran

By D.D. Delaney – The Treehouse Magazine – Magazine of Possibilities


At Barack Obama’s prime-time news conference on Feb. 9, Reuters journalist Caren Bohan asked him what his administration’s strategy will be for engaging Iran.

Here, in part, is Obama’s reply, as it appeared on C-Span:

“I said during the campaign that…(Iran’s) development of a nuclear weapon, or their pursuit of a nuclear weapon,…(creates) the possibility of destabilizing the region and (is) not only contrary to our interests but I think (is) contrary to the interests of international peace.

“What I’ve also said is that we should take an approach with Iran that employs all the resources at the United States’ disposal, and that includes diplomacy.”

Appointing diplomat George Mitchell as special Mid-East envoy and granting his first interview as President to Arab television “indicates,” Obama said, “the degree to which we want to do things differently in the region.”

But how different is that from U.S. policy for the past three decades?

Richmond journalist and author Phil Wilayto would say, I believe, that the difference is negligible.

Wilayto, editor of the community-organizing newspaper the Richmond Defender—which in April will morph into the Virginia Defender—has just published an impressive book of scholarly journalism which seeks to set the record straight on U.S.-Iran relations.

In Defense of Iran: Notes from a U.S. Peace Delegation’s Journey Through the Islamic Republic, is part politics, part history, and part travelogue describing the eleven-day tour of Iran Wilayto took with four other Virginia activists in July, 2007.

On Feb. 3 Wilayto, with his wife Ana Edwards, appeared at the Off-Base Coffee House in Norfolk to promote his book and meet with the like-minded. He read a couple sections from the book and fielded questions from the dozen or so people who’d turned out to hear him at the third
monthly meeting of Off-Base’s “Political Pages,” where activist literature is discussed.

Off-Base co-proprietor Tom Palumbo hosted the evening. Palumbo was among the five who went to Iran to see for themselves what conditions were like there and to reach out in a peaceful gesture toward the Iranian people.

The trip, incidentally, was hassle-free. There are few travel restrictions upon Americans who visit Iran.

But a literary presentation in a pleasant social setting pales by comparison to the contents of this book, the purpose of which, Wilayto reminds us again and again, is to prevent a war with Iran.

If he is right in his well-documented assessments of Iranian culture and U.S. policy—which he very well may be—Barack Obama should read this book.

He should have read it, in fact, before his prime-time press conference.

For example, on the nuclear bomb issue, Wilayto makes the accurate point that Iran, as a signer of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, is guaranteed the right to acquire nuclear power plants, which need enriched uranium to operate.

The fact that Iran is enriching uranium, which it has never denied, is its right under an international treaty.

But enriched uranium is also needed to build a nuclear bomb. Because of that, the Bush administration charged Iran with working to develop nuclear weapons and sent a strong signal that a military attack would be appropriate to prevent that. Obama chose to continue that charge, complete with the veiled threat of war, at his press conference.

But Wilayto presents arresting evidence that the nuclear-bomb charge against Iran is disingenuously contrived.

First, he says, “there is a huge difference between uranium enriched to produce nuclear power and uranium enriched to produce nuclear weapons. The difference is the degree of purity. Uranium intended to produce nuclear power has to be enriched to a degree of less than 5 per cent. For nuclear weapons the threshold is 90 per cent.

“This is a big difference. To enrich uranium you need thousands of machines called centrifuges. To go from less than 5 per cent to a 90 per cent degree of purity, you’d need many more centrifuges, and you’d have to set them up—configure them—differently.

“And if you tried to do that, the International Atomic Energy Agency would find out.”

In 2003 the IAEA concluded that there was no evidence suggesting Iran was trying to build a nuclear bomb. In 2007 a comprehensive U.S. National Intelligence Estimate announced the same conclusion.

Wilayto cites the Federation of American Scientists as the source for his technical information. (Those interested may find more on the FAS website.) His argument seems untainted, unlike the Bush administration policy which Obama has apparently adopted.

In similar fashion Wilayto lays out well-documented arguments to refute or, at least, deflect all the common talking points politicians and pundits routinely offer for why Iran is a rogue state with dangerous ambitions, which must be curbed, to dominate the Mid-East.

Among these talking points: that the Iranian government is run by radical Islamists who deny the Holocaust and seek to destroy Israel, that Iran supports terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza and supplies Iraqi insurgents with weapons, that Iranian women are oppressed and gays executed, that Iranians hate Americans.

In contrast, through encounters and interviews with Iranians from all walks of life, from government officials to goatherds, Wilayto brings forth an impression of a lively, graciously hospitable society whose differences with western culture, though often significant, have been vastly over-simplified, badly misunderstood, and riddled with prejudice of every sort.

And, unfortunately, the errors, certainly wanton, may also be deliberate.

In one of Wilayto’s most compelling chapters—”What’s Really Behind the Crisis?”—he makes the case, well-documented as always, that the actual American objective in Iran is to extend its control over Mid-East oil.

Wilayto gives multiple reasons for why the U.S. wants this control, but benefiting the American people is not foremost. A large percentage of the oil burned in the U.S. comes from our own hemisphere or from Africa, while—another surprising statistic—the U.S., which itself still produces ten per cent of the world’s oil, is the third largest oil producer in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The real reason the U.S. wants control of those oil fields, Wilayto suggests, is to profit from the flow of energy to the economies of Japan, Europe, and much of Asia, including China, Taiwan, and the Philippines, because those countries, unlike the U.S., depend to a great extent on Mid-East oil.

Whether this high-stakes game of chess is worthy of the America where you and I thought we grew up is, I suppose, a matter of personal opinion. But clearly, if Wilayto’s keen-eyed, well-informed conclusions are correct, activists have a lifetime of work ahead of them to reset the moral compass of the American government.

In Defense of Iran is a solid, disturbing, but readable and eminently informative work. It’s available from Defenders Publications Inc., PO Box 23202, Richmond, VA, 23223. Call 804-644-5834, or go to on the web.