MFSO History: Charley and Nancy’s Story

In the summer of 2002, Charley’s son, a U.S. Marine, came to him with distressing news: “Dad, they’re sending us to Iraq.” Charley was a life-long peace and labor activist who had protested the Vietnam war.

Charley and his wife Nancy knew they couldn’t sit by silently while their son was being sent into harm’s way, to a war that should not be happening, an illegal and immoral war of aggression. They made a sign with their son’s picture on it that said, “Our Son Is A Marine – Don’t Send Him to War for Oil!” They carried the sign with them to some early Iraq war protests in fall, 2002 and were overwhelmed by the response they received from others, and the power of their voice as a military family protesting the war.

In late October, 2002 they attended the large demonstration in Washington, D.C. where they met a father whose son in the Army was being deployed to Kuwait. In a phone conversation in November, 2002, the two families decided to form an organization that would organize and amplify the voice of military families, and encourage them to speak out to prevent an invasion of Iraq. Thus, Military Families Speak Out was formed.

In January, Nancy and Charley spoke at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. that was crowded with press from across the country and around the world. The day before, Charley created a rudimentary website and Nancy bought an answering machine for their home phone with two voicemail boxes so that people could “press one for Military Families Speak Out.” They made a sign with the name “Military Families Speak Out” on it, as well as the website address and their home phone number. In the next few days, two hundred military families from around the country joined the organization. MFSO has continued to grow ever since.

In February, 2002 Charley and Nancy were lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit against then-President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, calling for a temporary restraining order that would prevent the U.S. from invading Iraq until there was a Congressionally-mandated declaration of war. Three active-duty service members, other MFSO members and twelve Members of Congress were part of that lawsuit. The case went two rounds in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and finally failed on March 18, 2002. The bombs dropped on Baghdad the next day.

On July 2, 2003, in responding to a reporter’s question about the insurgency in Iraq, George W. Bush, sitting in the comfort of his office in the White House, said, “Bring ‘em on!” So outraged by this, Military Families Speak Out, together with Veterans For Peace and several other organizations decided to launch a campaign. As George W. was saying, “Bring ‘em on!” this campaign shouted, “Bring Them Home – NOW!” The Bring Them Home NOW campaign held two press conferences in August, 2003: one at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. and one outside of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. MFSO doubled its membership within a week. Charley and Nancy received a phone call from Congresswoman Maxine Waters inviting them to participate in a Congressional briefing on the war in Iraq that she was organizing in September. MFSO’s voices were being heard by people across the country, from small towns to big cities, from military bases to the halls of Congress.

For the next two years MFSO existed in Charley and Nancy’s living room. On top of their day jobs, Nancy and Charley wrote grant proposals, helped members start chapters, trained families on how to speak to the media and pushed tirelessly to create a home for families like them, who had loved ones in the military and were opposed to the war. Families came to them with the same story. “Thank God I found you. I thought I was the only one! What can I do to be a part of this?”

In 2005, MFSO was able to rent an office and hire a small staff. The chapter network grew from 6 to over 30 chapters. MFSO members spoke at local, national and international press conferences; rallied and vigiled at the offices and homes of Senators and Members of Congress; formed chapters on military bases and base towns; spoke at forums in churches, union halls, community centers, high schools and universities; appeared on “The Lehrer News Hour,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” National Public Radio, and CNN; and were featured in articles in The New York Times, Military Times, War Times, Stars and Stripes, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and other local, national and international press. MFSO helped to change the definition of what it meant to “support the troops,” as MFSO’s mantra “Support Our Troops – Bring Them Home NOW!” caught on across the country.

Today, MFSO has grown to an organization of over 4,000 military families – the largest organization of military families speaking out against a war in the history of the United States. Its mission has now expanded to include opposition to the war in Afghanistan.

In May, 2007, Charley and Nancy received devastating news. Charley was diagnosed with a very advanced, aggressive cancer. Despite treatments including surgery, radiation, hormone deprivation and chemotherapy, the cancer has continued to spread.

Today, Charley is back on chemotherapy and further experimental treatment is being considered. The prognosis remains poor. As Charley continues to battle this disease Military Families Speak Out is creating the Charley Richardson Legacy Fund to honor the energy, vision and and leadership that both he and Nancy have contributed to MFSO, its members, and the movement to bring these wars to an end.

The Charley Richardson Legacy Fund will help ensure that MFSO continues to bring together and amplify the voices of military families speaking out to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, bring our troops home now and take care of them when they get here.

Contribute to the Charley Richardson Legacy Fund

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