Organizing Notes

Bruce Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He offers his own reflections on organizing and the state of America's declining empire....

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Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


The Portland and Bangor newspapers in Maine reported today, on the front page, our plans for a peaceful protest on Sept 10. The Navy's Blue Angels will come to the Brunswick Naval Air Station to "perform." The protest is being sponsored by Maine Veterans for Peace and I am coordinating the event. Cindy Sheehan and Kathy Kelly will be speaking at the protest. Already hate mail has begun to pour into the VfP web site and I have received angry phone calls at my office. Some people feel we have no right to protest at the Navy base. They say the airshow is family entertainment. VfP maintains that it is a recruiting gimmick for the military - in these days when enlistment numbers are sagging. Others say, that because the Navy base has just been put on the base closure list (set to shut down in 2011) we have no right to protest there. Others say Cindy Sheehan has no right to come to Maine to protest. Should the peace movement have to request permission in order to protest in public? Should we take a poll of the public and if the public thinks the protest "not at the right time or place" should we back off? I think not. Did Martin Luther King ask for permission before he led civil rights activists over the Edmund Pettis bridge into Selma, Alabama? Did King cancel the protest because controversy would ensue? Did Gandhi cancel plans for his salt march knowing that it would be controversial? Should Cindy Sheehan not have gone to Crawford, Texas because it would open up "wounds" in the hearts of Americans? I think the peace movement must shine a light on the manifestations of violence in our culture. We must do so with a non-violent spirit, but we must not fear the inevitable conflict that will result. The great American abolitionist Frederick Douglas said, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."

14 Comments:

Anonymous steve said...

Great! another place for these screwball trustfund baby wacko's to go and protest.

8/30/05, 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Yogimus said...

You have EVERY RIGHT to protest whatever, whenever. I recommend gearing the protest toward getting a message out, as opposed toruining the day for everyone.

8/30/05, 6:57 PM  
Blogger Vic Jacobs said...

But yogimus, creating a stink by deliberately offending people is a surefire way to make yourself, er, I mean, your cause the center of attention. And what better way to offend great numbers of people than by hitching yourself, er, I mean, your cause to a thing or an occasion people appreciate and enjoy and trashing it? Take those kooks who protest Christmas shopping, for instance: they could protest against consumerism, capitalism, etc. any time they want, but they know they will get more attention by trashing Christmas, the most beloved holiday of the year (unless you're in Bruce's camp, in which case it would probably be May Day).

But not to worry, people who witness Bruce's spectacle next weekend will probably be too busy giggling in embarrassment over the presence of the contrived Mother Sheehan to pay much attention to the message Bruce and company are trying to preach.

8/30/05, 9:35 PM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

Should we take a poll of the public and if the public thinks the protest "not at the right time or place" should we back off? I think not.

Nor do I. You get your say and they get theirs.

8/30/05, 9:42 PM  
Blogger Vic Jacobs said...

Ignoring the ridiculous moral equivalence you are attempting to draw between King, Gandhi, and Douglass on the one hand and Mother Sheehan on the other, here's another quote from another great thinker you might like to ponder, Bruce, for the insights it provides into why your "ardent critics" are so ardent:

The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to the taking of life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists whose real though unadmitted motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States. Moreover they do not as a rule condemn violence as such, but only violence used in defence of western countries. -- George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism", May 1945

8/30/05, 9:44 PM  
Blogger Vic Jacobs said...

Brian, do both sides get the benefit of the presumption of unquestionability? Or is that only the left?

Oh, and I just have to ask, would you be so opposed to an aerial acrobatics show if these guys did it?

Or is your disdain a function of the fact that the Blue Angels are a tentacle of the American military?

8/30/05, 9:52 PM  
Blogger Vic Jacobs said...

Whups: that should be "Bruce, would you be so opposed".

8/30/05, 9:53 PM  
Anonymous Yogimus said...

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."

The blue angels represent the thunder and lightning. They are a symbol of the plow that grants prosperity.

8/30/05, 10:40 PM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

Brian, do both sides get the benefit of the presumption of unquestionability? Or is that only the left?

I speak for no one but myself; I never presume unquestionability on my own part. If someone does so presume .. well that's a stain on their soul and no trouble to mine.

8/31/05, 12:45 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

The blue angels represent the thunder and lightning. They are a symbol of the plow that grants prosperity.

Grants prosperity to whom?

"The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas... And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."

-- Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree

8/31/05, 2:28 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

Take those kooks who protest Christmas shopping, for instance: they could protest against consumerism, capitalism, etc. any time they want, but they know they will get more attention by trashing Christmas, the most beloved holiday of the year (unless you're in Bruce's camp, in which case it would probably be May Day).

How odd, then, that the most trenchant criticisms of Yuletide consumerism I've known have come either from 'kooks' in the pulpit or 'kooks' writing in the pages of journals like The Canadian Mennonite or the Catholic New Times.

Trashing consumerism? Yep.

Trashing Christmas? Nope.

Consumerism does the real trashing of Christmas.

Now, the quote from Orwell is interesting and he's an interesting figure. For one thing, he distrusted 'orthodoxy' and defended the rights of dissidents to have their views heard.

Here's another quotation, from Orwell's preface to 'Animal Farm,'--a preface which, ironically, went unpublished for many years:

'At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

When he wrote this, Orwell--long an advocate of socialism--was upset that many on the 'left' in Britain were unwilling to criticize Soviet crimes; they wanted to look the other way because it 'simply wouldn't do' to mention certain things. Their unwillingness to tell the truth contributed to a cultural climate in which Orwell's novel (obviously aimed at Stalinist evils) was unwelcome.

History has moved on from the particular political struggles with which Orwell was concerned in his late-40s writings, but people who challenge the prevailing orthodoxy still face obstacles similar to those Orwell talked about in his preface. Just look at how Mayor Ken Livingstone was vilified for departing from the 'They hate us because we're free' orthodoxy in some of his recent comments following the awful bombings in London.

We should still be thinking about what 'orthodoxies' our present-day intelligentsia, left or right, is unwilling to challenge.

I think Brian Dunbar, in another comment, expressed hope that the internet would turn more people into part-time activists. I'd add to that hope the promise that the internet (through things like Bruce's blog) could potentially grant us all some freedom from the self-censoring orthodoxy of Orwell's 'popular press' or 'highbrow periodicals,' whoever is running them today.

Maybe, if Orwell had had a blog, his unorthodox 'Preface' wouldn't have lain in a drawer for all those years.

8/31/05, 3:29 AM  
Anonymous Yogimus said...

Grants prosperity to whom?

You, your family, friends, and neighbors. The flourish of McDonalds and silicon valley are the flourish that raises living conditions world wide. Our economy moves the world.

You don't have to like it.

8/31/05, 3:41 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Brunswick said...

Perhaps comparing your little "protest" to the efforts of Dr. King is just a wee bit pompous?

I look forward to taking my family to the Blue Angels show so we can show our appreciation for our fine military. I might even take them by your "protest" just to show them the type of people who's freedom is protected by that military. Then I will explain to them how confused and silly you are, so that they will be prepared to deal with confused and silly people like you.

9/1/05, 8:12 AM  
Blogger Van Helsing said...

You're no Martin Luther King. Your hate mail is well deserved.

9/1/05, 7:23 PM  

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