S.O.N. of Nun performed two benefits for the Coffee Strong Coffeehouse during his "Art of Struggle" national tour.
Taking a page from the anti-war movement among soldiers and veterans in the Vietnam era, the Coffee Strong Coffee House has opened its doors to enlisted men and women seeking counseling, resources – or just someone to talk to who's been through combat.
The java spot is located near Fort Lewis, at 15109 Union Ave. Southwest, in Lakewood, Wa.
Started by Seth Manzel of the G.I. Voice, and Matteo Rebecchi of Seattle's Iraq Veterans Against the War chapter, backers include Tully's chairman Tom O'Keefe – who donated $15,000 worth of coffee supplies for the startup — and Baltimore hip hop artist S.O.N. of Nun, who brought his "Art of Struggle Tour" to Seattle for two fundraisers earlier this month.
"If you look at the role that active duty and veteran soldiers had in ending the Vietnam war, I don't think that could have happened as quickly or even at all without GI newspapers and GI coffee houses, which were ways to interact directly with soldiers who otherwise would not have a lot of contact with the outside world," a coffee house organizer known simply as "Jason" told The Skanner.
"I think that this coffee house in particular is going to offer a lot of things to soldiers that they can't get elsewhere."
Contrary to popular belief, the movement of the 1960s and 70s against the Vietnam War was largely led by soldiers and veterans. One key component of empowerment and activism among enlisted men and women were "coffee house and counseling" cafes set up near military bases.
As depicted in the award-winning 2005 film documentary "Sir! No Sir! The Suppressed Story of the GI Movement to End the War in Vietnam," the facilities offered a "demilitarized" environment where soldiers could talk openly about the issues and problems they saw in the military and the war.
The first GI coffee house, called the "UFO," was opened outside Ft. Jackson, S.C. in 1967, drawing hundreds of soldiers within its first months in operation.
An estimated 20 similar cafes eventually opened their doors within a few years.
Jason, who organized the S.O.N. of Nun fundraiser and other events around Coffee Strong Coffee House, said the café will provide the kinds of services the military itself has struggled to provide to all who need them – as well as room for soldiers and veterans to agitate against the military itself.
"Not only contacts with the antiwar movement and ways they can actually plug in to get involved, but also they can learn all kinds of things like where to get Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatments, or if they've been deployed illegally, or if they shouldn't be deployed and they are, all kinds of things that they would need that are not going to be provided on base," Jason said.
"In Tacoma right across the highway from Fort Lewis, Fort Lewis being one of the most deployed bases in the country, I think there's a glaring need for something like that."
The coffee house had its official opening during the week of the Veterans Day holiday, featuring music by S.O.N. of Nun, whose current national tour agitates against the two current wars U.S. forces are waging in the Middle East.
"I think his politics and the people who want to support the GI Coffee House, I think there's a certain dovetailing there, so I thought it would be a really good thing to out on to let people know the coffee house is finally up its running, and it needs the community's support," Jason said.
The coffeehouse opening comes at a time when the anti-war movement in the Pacific Northwest is shifting from citizens in the street to returned Iraq and Afghanistan veterans organizing around their own stories of the conflicts, Jason said.
He pointed to the Winter Soldier hearings held in Portland last October, which drew more than 800 people from across the Pacific Northwest to listen to eyewitness testimony on war crimes by Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans – some of whom spoke about what they believe may have been crimes against humanity that they themselves personally participated in.
The event was part of a national tour of similar hearings held by Iraq Veterans Against the War to commemorate the 5-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"I think going down and seeing what they put together with this coffee shop, I mean this is amazing," Jason said.
The Coffee Strong Coffee House hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information call 253-581-1562, or go to www.givoice.org.