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One Marine’s ‘Liberty Walk’ for the Rest of Us
Posted on Apr 11, 2010
By Chris Hedges
I met Ernest Logan Bell, a 25-year-old Marine Corps veteran, as he walked along Route 12 in upstate New York with a large American flag strapped to the side of his green backpack. There was a light drizzle and he was wearing a green Army poncho. Bell was on a six-day, 90-mile-long self-styled “Liberty Walk” from Binghamton to Utica in a quixotic campaign to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Michael Arcuri in the 24th Congressional District. He camped out along the road for three nights and stayed in cheap motels the other nights and was accompanied by Kevin Barlow, an unemployed welder. Bell opposes the health care law, calls for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, advocates the abolishment of the Federal Reserve, is against the bailouts for Wall Street and wants to see immediate government relief for workers trapped in prolonged unemployment, including his own. He carried a handwritten sign: “End the Fed.” In his backpack he had a copy of “The U.S. Constitution for Dummies” and a book on the Federal Reserve by Ron Paul that he planned to deliver to Arcuri’s office in Utica.
Bell, who lives in Lansing, N.Y., is the new face of resistance. He is young, at home in the culture of the military, deeply suspicious of the federal government, disgusted by the liberal elite, unable to find work and angry. He swings between right-wing and left-wing populism, expressing admiration for Reps. Paul and Dennis Kucinich and the tea party movement. He started out as a supporter of John McCain in the last presidential election but soured on the Arizona senator and the Republican Party’s ties to Wall Street. He did not vote in that election. He has raised about $1,000 from neighbors and friends for his own campaign. He is adept at martial arts and made it to the semifinals of the 2010 Army National Guard Combative Championship at Fort Benning in Georgia, in which, in his last bout, he suffered a broken nose, bruised his opponent’s ribs and thighs and lost in a split decision.
Bell grew up in Oakwood, Texas, a small town in East Texas between Dallas and Houston. His father was an alcoholic, and his parents frequently separated and reunited. They divorced when he was 13. His mother raised Bell, his younger brother, who is currently in the Army’s 82nd Airborne, and his younger sister in a tiny one-bedroom apartment. There was little money, and his mother worked off and on at odd jobs. There were 18 people in his high school graduating class and, with no real jobs in Oakwood, Bell, along with a few of his classmates, joined the military.
“You couldn’t stay in Oakwood, Texas, and have a job,” he said flatly.
“I got out of the Marine Corps and went back to Texas for 10 months and was involved in the John McCain campaign,” he said. “I really got disillusioned with the neoconservatism. I had never been involved in politics. The idea that we needed all these troops all around the world defending freedom, as they called it, when we were actually engaged in nation-building and supporting special interests that drive these wars, was something I began to understand. As far as foreign and economic policy, I could see there was no difference between the two main political parties. There is a false left-right paradigm which diverts the working class from the real reasons for their hardships.”
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Bell’s own employment struggle mirrors that of many of his neighbors. He moved to upstate New York two years ago after leaving the Marine Corps to be near Shianne, his 3-year-old daughter. He and the girl’s mother are separated. Bell found work as a carpenter with a traveling construction crew. He earned $14.50 an hour and could sometimes make as much as $800 a week. Then the financial meltdown knocked the wind out of the local economy.
“Everybody in my apartment building has had their hours cut, are unemployed or have taken minimum-wage jobs,” he said. “I was laid off last year. I try to find work as an independent carpenter. I don’t have health insurance.”
The dearth of work, which left him attempting to survive at times on $600 a month, saw him enlist last year in the New York National Guard, even though it means almost certain deployment to Afghanistan. The enticement of a $20,000 signing bonus was too lucrative to pass up. The National Guard unit he joined recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan.
“We are training to go back to Afghanistan,” he said. “The fact that they are still using Army National Guard, state-level troops, to police the streets of Afghanistan is not good. These units are really overstretched. We do not get the benefits. We don’t get health insurance like active-duty military. But the guard gets deployed just as much. Some of these guys have been on three and four tours.”
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