Oral History 05.2015: Bobby Pacheco, Veteran, College Student, and Political Activist

Leah Whetten-Goldstein interviewed Bobby Pacheco, a U.S. Military veteran who served in Afghanistan and who is now studying in college and exploring politics.

Leah Whetten-Goldstein: Hi Bobby! Some people thought I was writing a paper, but this assignment is actually to transcribe a couple different oral interviews of different people about their experiences in peace building. I’ve talked to traditional students about student activism and why it is important to start at a young age and what does college bring to peace building?

Bobby Pacheco: Well I can build off of that real quick. I think that the short version of it is that even though a nineteen year old goes out and engages in political activism or anything in society really often times they are dismissed as being nineteen years old. At nineteen you think you know everything. Looking back at it from my early thirties I see that those people had a point, but I think it was more about my decision making, not my political opinions. People’s opinions are already well formulated through high school. When you are awkward, you don’t really fit in groups in high school. College takes that away because you get to meet other kind of awkward, and by awkward I mean thinking outside of the “I’m in jock culture or homecoming queen.” The faculty at a liberal arts institution, the really I took my GI bill and went to a liberal arts institution, is because the faculty networks in the community. That is something Guilford is really good at, perhaps better than UNCG. That networking allows the students to meet with people, get outside the classroom and learn tangible skills to build their own skills in politics, peace building, and political building. It also allows when you have a thirty five year old professor, like Maria Rosales in Political science who is very integrated in local politics and local small politics in the community, it allows her to introduce you and then you are no longer dismissed as a nineteen year old child, you are accepted as an adult who is forming their own skills and opinions. So I agree and I think that is one of the great things about college is that it gets your foot in the door with meeting people, engaging, building your skills and the faculty can really be that person who opens the door and lets you in.

LWG: Would you say that it is almost bridging that premature nineteen year old who still has that passion and youth to someone who is educated with their beliefs.

BP: Well let’s look at it tangibly. It is getting to be hot and in the summer. The campaigns are in the summer. That is really what everything revolves around, even if you are not really into politics yourself. It is about time where you can motivate people for that one time to get out and vote, and that vote will hopefully build people who you can work for and with so you can go after whatever social-political issue you are engaged in. Nineteen year old people are the ones who are going to go out on the hot days and knock on the doors and start building that momentum to get people elected. It aint going to be fifty year old people with two kids and a nine to five job. You need the nineteen year olds because they are going to go out and hustle and they want to know the game.

LWG: Have you had any particular or specific experiences/opportunities you took specifically through collage?

BP: Interestingly, I came to this college because of someone I knew from working on the Obama 08’ campaign. When Obama’s first campaign came around, I was getting out of the military. I sold a house and I knew the way the economy was going. So I sat there and was like, things have to change, and I spent eight years working under Bush and I wanted to make it right. I was in the military, so I knew about Iraq before most people. I knew that it wasn’t going to be good because I heard from my generals and admirals who went through Vietnam saying that this is the exact same thing we did back then. I knew what was up and I felt a little bit of guild. I decided to take that momentum and engage in the Obama 08 campaign and I met a girl who was going to Guilford. She was a political science major and I always wanted to be a journalist so how I wound up coming here. It is almost the revers thing of networking we were just talking about. I came to Guilford and took advantage of my education after I got politically engaged and met somebody who was representing the college.

LWG: So you mentioned your time fighting in the military and your campaign work. Would you mind elaborating on how that connected you to peace building?

BP: In the military you have a sort of black sense of humor because you deal with so much death. You are training to die at the drop of a hat and you have to be prepared for that. That is what boot camp is. It beats you down to the point where you go okay if I die I won’t question orders because it is for the greater good hopefully. The difference is, even though you go through that and develop this humor. I want to make the point that there is a difference between my military life, which was completely selfless and trusting in authority to be the greater good. Being young and nineteen, well I was seventeen, but being young. You go okay well I don’t really get along with adults too well, but I’m going to trust that they kind of know what they are doing. Then I became an adult when I was in the military and I was like wait a minute you mean nobody knows what they are doing. It was selfless and I gave everything to the idea of my community. That is really what it is. Not my country, my country men (and women). When I got out it was more motive for me. That was a weird adjustment, but the black sense of humor I still have. One of the things I always tell people when they ask me why I joined the military is “I didn’t join to die for my country, I joined to kill for my country.” Even that joke has gotten stale. It is dark and morbid, but it doesn’t really get to the point. Most people in the military don’t shoot guns or they are not in front line. They sign paper work or process documents just like any job. It is a giant HR department with some soldiers.

LWG: I have talked to people about the amount of money that we spend on our military and they always wonder how we can spend that much money.

BP: A lot of people here have the idea that once America invades a country or starts a war, they always have a permanent base there. I think that is true and that is the idea of a dove, but a hawk will look at it and say “yeah we are advoiding these people but we are protecting them at the same time by having a military presence there.” But most people are doing paperwork. Just as many times as I dropped seals off in combat, just as many times as I was leap frogging from Taliban hot points in a helicopter, juxtapose that to all the times we have dropped off USA ID in the country. USAID is the paltry sum of the military’s budget that send people out to do work like when the Hattie earthquake happened they come in. There are always MRE, meals ready to eat, ready to go in and be dispersed. There was a lot of humanitarian work that went in but no one is going to remember that when we get out of Afghanistan because we are not building schools. This gets back to the central point. If the military had a bigger budget and was building things and if we were helping to repair Mosques, because they are just a symbol, but you have to respect that. And that is the ultimate thing, we don’t respect it. I will tell you one story. This is not community building and this is how the military thinks, because it is so alpha male. We had a lot of insurgent attacks in 2005 in Iraq and I was in a forward deployed operating position. There was video that the air force team created to go on Iraqi TV and be like propaganda. All these people that would go and be suicide bombers were dying to get to heaven and we would make fun of that. Some guy high up in the pentagon goes “oh I have an idea.” So they hate pork and we got all this fat and lard from all our mess halls. Let’s make videos of us dipping our bullets in it and shooting their body parts to let them know that they are not going to haven because we are going to taint your body with pig. So they actually did that. They developed a video that went on the Iraqi news saying basically that if you blow yourself up we are going to shoot your body parts and you never are going to get to nirvana. That is not peace building. That is deeply disrespectful to people who even might have been on our side. The upper one percent who were oppressed under Saddam Hussein. The normal person, all they know is that there apartment is getting shelled from both sides and they see that video and no matter which side they fall on it is deeply offensive. The military could use more people involved in the hierarchy who go “wait a minute, do we want keep fighting this war for another hundred years, or do we want to just go in and out. These wars often become open ended because of the military industrial complex behind them. It is interesting too, because you were also asking about my work in politics, and politics too has also become an industry of itself, and it is deeply intertwined with the military industrial complex. So the really question is, what is the third check. What is the thing that is going to separate the two, because it is not going to be the supreme court, and how is the common man going to be able to operate to make the case of peace building as a means to avoiding war and conflict or ending war and conflict. If nothing else limiting war and conflict.

LWG: Interesting. Have you had any thoughts on that you would like to share with us?

BP: I’ve paid attention a lot to the Black Lives Matter movement and other social things that I believe in. Having been a political organizer, I know that it doesn’t matter how many people you get out on the street if the message is not presented correctly. You have to remember how our elections go. It is not about winning North Carolina, It’s not about winning New York, California or Texas. It is about winning Florida Ohio, and all the others bellwethers. When you have a generation that grew up with cell phones that make flapjacks and have an app for everything it is not easy to tell them, this is twenty years before we see these issues being addressed. And you talk about the hierocracy. The election now, the change is going to be twenty years down the road. Obama’s legacy has evolved remarkably considering how long he has been legislating. The next election we will see the benefits down the road. When you look at the forward momentum we have towards civil rights and the LGBTQ community, it started with Clinton. He wasn’t the most out there we need to have marriage equality now, but don’t ask don’t tell happened and I remember the debate and I remember him trying to present to the conservative and religious elements to our countries. The evangelicals who ruled all through the Ragin and Bush years, to explain to them that Gay people aren’t going to come and take your babies and make them gay. They are not going to have to teach sex ed. about gay sex. What is that anyways, sex is sex. You have the banana, you have the condom. Everyone who when through sex education knows that it’s pretty lame, and everyone just goes away walking, “okay I’m going to be careful.” There is no way that it is presented as something that is indoctrination, and all these fears were real. Now you look at it, there is a handful of states that are still fighting it, no longer does a Gay person in North Carolina feel like they have to move to in San Francisco to be in a community where they can be accepted and away from violence and fear. It still does exist. There are obviously still violent elements but, the rights are being extended. Twenty years ago that wasn’t going to happen. So now you look at black lives matter and what is so frustrating about it is it is a continuation of the civil rights. You hear peoples debate about do the riots benefit or hurt. I don’t know. The thing is violence never helps anything, it only creates more violence. So that is not the right charge, but the frustration is real. Race, class, gender is all the same. It is all othering, it comes from the same place of fear. Well you don’t do it through violence, it’s immature. There are a lot of people on Guilford who talk about peace and then sit there and use the words of violence. I consider myself a patriot and patriot does not mean violence. Our founding fathers considered themselves loyal British men and had to be really pushed to consider forming a militia. There was of course the Boston tea party and things like that, but those were spontaneous acts. What you see more over right now through social media is, on one hand it spreads the message. Obama used a lot of social media to get elected. Political and military techniques ae used its power. Moreover, it is not just military and politics that are imbedded in each other, look at our over militarization of our police force. They have tanks. Look at Ferguson, look at Baltimore, they have armor vehicles that were made to avoid IEV attacks. We are not in Bagdad. There will be a time and place where the police should have that equipment but it’s not every day. It’s not that the military has a surplus and local governments go “oh, we will pay you for your tank.” That shouldn’t be allowed. Let me make this point too. Anybody how talks about the second amendment and says “oh, well the second amendment is there to protect us from tyranny” listen, unless you are getting yourself a nuclear aircraft carrier, a couple of nukes, and some NC15 tomcats, that ship sailed a long time ago. If the government decides they are going to hold you down, there aint nothing you can do about it because they got the nukes and you don’t. Really what that speaks to, especially when you couple that with the nineteenth amendment, is that local government should not be able to invade your home, tell you to say at home, have over militarization, that is what the federal government has tried to assure over the amendments they have passed. So the over militarization of the police force is a problem. When you see a tank rolling down the road and you are in a community that has suffered through violence and oppression and the steam ketal finally blows, you are not going to care about a freaking tank. The tank is going to instigate more and that is not going to tamp down flames. So the political and military industrial complex goes to local level two and they have gotten really savvy at social media. Now it is to the point again where the power structure is trying to deeply entrench itself and adapt. Ultimately it is like any other movement where it has to go through the courts. I don’t know if we are doing that enough. Because it can’t be the courts alone and it cannot be burning down buildings alone. When both are done in the proper proportion, just enough to get the guys in America to understand that this can happen in any city, because this is the political climate, you are treating these people like second class citizens and you have been for four hundred years, and this is bad for you because your business is going to be next. When you burn down buildings, and this is why Detroit is a frailer and other riots too, in the progressive ara it was a lot more successful because the people in politics were a lot more willing to talk about the children in the mines. Newspapers were trying to turn out these article, because people wanted to read them. Now it is not so much with the 24 hour news cycle. The other thing that happened is that there was the proper amount of violence as well as people fighting in the courts. They could go “you see that violence, that is going to happen again.” The thing is you have to strike that balance of violence. Burning down your city is not enough. Some will argue that you have to go into the rich neighborhoods and burn down the one percent, but that won’t do much either. Really what it comes down to is that there has got to be a strong influence, a charismatic organization or leader, who can kind of tamper it and keep it moving for years and years, that is what the 60’s had with MLK. Right now I think ours in in the Whitehouse.

LWG: In the past has been ideal, but is there any historical event that might have helped you base your ideals off of?

BP: Gandhi’s salt march. That was violence, combined with mudroom, combined with pushing against the social norms, social beliefs and current legal system. People in the military are not pro-war. That is a misconception I get a lot at this school. People in the military are very anti-war because they have a wife and kids and don’t want to die but they follow orders. It is the orders that have to change. So getting that elite requires that kind of work that Gandhi did.

LWG: What would you tell students or the younger generation who want to get involved?

BP: first off selectionism isn’t activism. It is great that you liked something on Facebook, but that isn’t changing anything. Second, not all protests are worth going to. Look at the political leaders on our campus. The loudest one are the militant pacifists. They are the ones who talk about peace but use the words of violence. Listen to MLK or Malcom X talk, there is frustration but there is not chastising, just this needs to change. It was “I believe in my case, I’ going to make it and I’m going to make it forcefully, but because I’m right, I don’t have to feel threatened.” It is the person who can be measured and forceful and right and act correct. There actions bolster their opinions and their words, it is that person who propels peace. Don’t forget, protest is a form of social control. It is written in the constitution so that people can let off steam and then go back to being working for the rich. Every protest here at Guilford does not go out in the community, therefore it does not mean a thing. Go to Greensboro county club and hold a protest, now you are challenging the power structure in their face on their land. That is the thing with this generation. Everyone body wants to change the world, but nobody wants to get arrested. It’s safe to protest on Guilford’s campus. How many of those people are willing to go out and do a sit in at a country club where all that power lies? No one wants to go challenge the power structure, and people who say they do, don’t. They just want other people to do it for them, sit back, and watch them get arrested. I experienced that in the military with the generals sitting back when the troops go out. Think about the civil right leaders who went out and got arrested. It is something that you need to do effectively, not every protest is worth going to. Finally, all politics are local, so all change is local. It doesn’t have to be a fifty man march. It can be seven people who sit by a homeless man with signs. Be like “I gave this guy a buck, you should too.” Think about what that means to the driver to see these people saying ‘hey I helped out, Hey you should too.” If you believe in that stuff, just go and do it. I have a lot of respect for the students and faculty who work in the gardens over the ones who protests ever hot topic CNN has out. Because one is lasting social change, and it doesn’t take much effort just time, and one is just rousing the rebel.