After Protest Arrest, Soldier's Mom Says, 'I'm Doing What David Is Doing. I'm Fighting a War.'
By Helen O'neill
Then she taps out an e-mail to her son in Iraq.
"I'm going to be arrested tomorrow," she tells him.
From a tent somewhere in the desert comes the cryptic reply.
"That's nice, Mom," writes Army Maj. David Floyd. "Just keep protesting as long as you keep sending food."
The exchange occurred two weeks ago, but similar lighthearted correspondence flies back and forth between mother and son nearly every day.
Their banter masks many things: His true feelings about his mother's anti-war protests, her deepening dread about what could happen to her son the longer the war drags on.
Floyd, a 44-year-old reservist from Birmingham, Ala., is a surgeon's assistant with the Army's 3d Medical Command. His family knows only the bare details about his deployment, that he is based in Camp Doha, Qatar, that he flies into the battlefields of Iraq to treat the wounded - Iraqis as well as Americans.
Brown bursts with pride when she talks of her son's work. He's saving people, not killing them, she says.
But she cannot bear to watch the television images of smoldering buildings and burning oil-fields without wondering if David is near them. She wonders if he is getting any sleep. She worries about chemical weapons.
"Please wear your goggles and your gas mask every time you go out," she chides in an e-mail. "Don't breathe those fumes."
She can't stop thinking about the images of death and suffering he will carry in his head when the war ends.
And so, every day she gathers up her banners and marches to one of the busiest intersections in town, Cobbs Corner, where she brandishes her son's photograph and pleads with anyone who will listen: "My son is in the army in Iraq. Please stop this war and bring him home."
She knows that many who wave and honk see only a mother's pain.
Others see street theater. To attract attention, Brown dresses in the flowing skirts and white bonnet of a Pilgrim. She waves a colonial flag in addition to anti-war banners.
And some just see another protester who would be opposed to any war.
In a sense, Brown is all these things, this tiny 65-year-old woman with her beatific face, who crams in as many protests as possible, between picking one grandson up from high school track practice and cooking dinner for another.
But she is more.
For years, Brown worked as a software designer, writing encryption software for defense contractor Raytheon Corp. and other companies. She is proud of her computer expertise, proud of contributing to her nation's defense system, especially proud of the top-secret security clearance she held.
She is equally proud of her family's military service.
Her father was in the Coast Guard Reserve. In World War II, one uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge, another at Iwo Jima, a third in the Solomon Islands.
"You couldn't belong to a military family prouder than ours," Brown says.
So it was natural for her son to join the service too - and for him to thrive. He loved the marksmanship, the camaraderie, the weekends training with his unit.
Neither mother nor son ever expected him to go to war.
Scheduled to retire in April after 20 years, Floyd told his mother he had seen enough misery in Afghanistan to want to get out. Among other missions on his six-month posting in Kabul, he was one of the medics who treated the Canadians killed and wounded by an American bomber in a friendly fire incident.
Upon his return, Floyd said he was ready to settle back home with his wife and two young daughters and resume civilian life as a nurse at the Cooper Green hospital in Birmingham.
But with the call-up for Iraq duty, he was sent to a war zone again.
His latest deployment terrified his mother. And it convinced her that after years of "sideline" protesting for all sorts of causes - going back to anti-segregation and Vietnam war protests - it was time for her to get more deeply involved.
"I was a coward," Brown says, "until my son was sent to the front."
And so she threw herself into civil disobedience courses where she learned tips from veteran protesters: Never touch a police officer, hide small items of food in your clothing, write a lawyer's number in permanent ink on your arm.
She joined peace groups, including an Internet one called Military Families Speak Out. She started speaking at rallies, doing local radio interviews. She became a plaintiff in a lawsuit - since dismissed - charging that President Bush had illegally declared war without the proper consent of Congress.
But she also participated in town efforts to support the troops, going door-to-door on drives to collect war-bound goodies, and attending a town meeting to graciously accept a small symbolic flag from a veterans association. The flag, red and white with a blue star in the center, was presented to all 35 families in this town of 20,000 who have members in the military. It hangs in her front window near another small flag with the words "Stop the Slaughter."
Last month, when Bush delivered his final 48-hour deadline to Saddam Hussein, Brown decided it was time to prove she had the courage of her convictions.
At a March 19 rally in front of the John F. Kennedy Federal building in Boston, she joined dozens of protesters who blocked the entrance. In her Pilgrim outfit, Brown lay limply on the ground, eyes closed, arms crossed over her chest. It took four officers to carry her to the police van, where, along with 11 other women, she was handcuffed and whisked off to jail to be booked on charges of disorderly conduct.
"Getting arrested," Brown says, "was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life - and the most exhilarating."
For the first time in her protesting career she had the strange sensation of being in battle herself, of being part of a unified force with a singular mission.
"I felt like a soldier in a campaign," she says. "And I thought, I'm doing what David is doing. I'm fighting a war."
Awaiting trial, she plans to take her lawyer's advice not to get arrested again until it is over.
But she still goes to rallies whenever she can. She still pickets outside recruitment centers. She still stands on Cobbs Corner every day with her flowing skirts and beaming smile, and the banner that says "Bring my son home."
And she still sends daily e-mails to her son, filling him in on her latest exploits, sending him photographs of her arrest.
From a tent in the desert comes his response:
"I'm sharing your picture with everyone. Most are not impressed until I tell them that the cookies are from you."
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