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

Friday, February 18, 2005

WE NEED TO STRETCH OURSELVES

It was a big day here in Brunswick for our local group called Peace Works. In today's local paper was a full page advertisement with the headline NOT IN OUR NAME that 100 folks helped pay for. The 100 names were listed at the top and the text of the ad was labeled "A Statement of Conscience." Not only did the ad raise the illegal war in Iraq as an issue, but also talked about the loss of our civil liberties and the growing erasing of the line between church and state under the Bush regime. The ad reminded people about the movements against the war in Vietnam and for civil rights and called on people to take "responsibility" to oppose the "disastrous course" we are now on as a nation.

Each Friday at 5:30 pm Peace Works holds a vigil on the green of the town center. This has been going on non-stop each week since 9-11. Usually about 10 people show up. Tonight we had 20 there as a large group of students from nearby Bowdoin College joined us in the cold wet snow that began to fall just as were arrived. Since I moved to Brunswick two years ago I have made the observation that the worse the weather is, the more people come out to the vigil. Mainers are hearty folks.

We usually get a pretty good response from people, lots of honks and waves. One man and woman walking on the other side of the street hollered over to us that if they had a horn they would honk. But not everyone is happy about the vigil. We have a Naval air base in town and many of the military personnel drive by and either stare straight ahead or give us the middle finger in disapproval. Tonight one woman screamed at us "Move to another country" as she roared by. It's funny how the most ardent supporters of the "war for freedom" don't seem to support the notion of exercising our rights back here in the good ole USA.

It's hard for me to figure out. Do some people really not understand that "freedom" means us too? Or are they just so invested in the war machine that they have to strike back even if they realize what they are saying makes no sense?

This is the question that I really struggled with while I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam war. There were frequently protests against the war at my California base. The military brass would tell us GI's to stay away from the front gate on the weekends. They'd tell us that the Office of Secret Investigation (OSI) would be out there taking pictures and if any of us were caught attending the protest we'd be in big trouble. It made me wonder. The U.S. is in Vietnam for freedom and liberty but I can't go out to the front gate, off the base, and watch a protest. Those threats helped turn me toward the peace movement.

So it is the little things we do that change people I think. Some of those Navy guys driving by tonight, trying to act like they were not seeing us, will spend the evening talking with each other about the war and those damn peaceniks. One or two of them will express a shred of doubt about the war and a big debate will ensue. Some hearts will be changed. This is one way we turn America back toward sanity. It's the little things we do each day. We need to keep stretching ourselves a bit more in times like these. What else can we do to help create more public visability and debate?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

BUSH - A MAN OF THE PEOPLE?

On the way home from taping my cable TV show last night I was listening to the radio in the car. Right-wing shock-talk host Michael Savage was railing on about how the Yale intellectual, liberal elite crowd are running and ruining the nation. Of course my first thought was George W. Bush. Yes the same G.W.B. that graduated from Yale and who, while there, was a member of the super elite Skull & Bones Club, just like his father and his grandfather. (John Kerry is a member too by the way.)

But G.W. has recast himself, with the ample advice and support of Karl Rove I'm sure, as a pick-up truck driving, blue jeans wearin, wood chopin, dog by his side, man of the working people. A cowboy hat wearin RED stater for sure.

I interviewed a young woman activist named Jesse Leah Vear on my cable show, This Issue, last night. She is a leader in a poor people's advocacy group based in nearby Portland. She is very articulate, expecially when it comes to talking about housing, education, health care, and jobs as a human right. She also powerfully explained how the Prison Industrial Complex has become a growth industry in the U.S. As social spending is dumped on the already over burdened states, more cutbacks in the "social safety net" force more people into crime in order to survive. What do you tell your kids when you can't afford bread and milk? Some folks go steal it rather than see their kids go hungry. So the jails are filling up more than ever and the corporations are moving their industries into the prisons and paying the indentured servants 10-20 cents an hour. Is this not 21st century feudalism? I asked Jesse if this Prison Industrial Complex was the U.S. industrial response to China?

Jesse went on to explain how their local Portland based group, called P.O.W.E.R., is allied to poor peoples groups all over the nation and they are now moving to bring back the national poor peoples campaign from 1968 that Martin Luther King was initiating at the time he was killed. Folks representing these groups have been holding national planning meetings in recent weeks. We should all find a way to support these efforts.

Maybe G.W. Bush will want to join. I mean, after all, he is just a working class guy who loves to hang out with people with holes in their socks...right? At least Michael Savage would say so..........

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

THAT IS GOOD ORGANIZING!

Last night I attended a public meeting at town hall here in Brunswick concerning the possible closure of the Naval Air Station Brunswick (NASB). The Navy base is on the base closure list as the Pentagon tries to reign in its over extended and bloated budget which now consumes 50% of every federal tax dollar. The town has created a volunteer task force, made up mostly of retired Navy officers, to lobby the Pentagon to keep NASB open. The task force made its first public presentation last night, trying to offer its best justification for ensuring NASB's survival.

During the cold war NASB was a submarine detection base, using its reconnaissance and surveillance EP-3 planes to detect enemy subs trying to sneak attack the U.S. -- which of course never happened. (Lately they have been flying temporary duty missions over Iraq calling in airstrikes on Iraqi insurgents. But its a long way to fly from Maine to Iraq and costly to keep up over time.) Now the task force has come up with a new mission for the base. They stated that each year over 60 million shipping containers come into New England ports and one of them might have a weapon of mass destruction inside. NASB is the "only place that can get to them" the chair of the task force reported. During the question period I got up and said I was a bit confused. Are you saying that Navy personnel from NASB would inspect the cargo containers I asked? No, no the task force members replied. With our planes we can monitor the Atlantic ocean and ensure that if any ship approaching our ports stopped off shore and tried to pull a switch-er-oo, moving a WMD from one ship to another, NASB could catch them. There. That was it. Osama now must have a Navy. That is the justification for keeping this base open and everyone should now stand up and cheer. I didn't.

This is corruption. It is corruption of the truth and corruption of the public spirit. It is what glosses over, or hides, America's addiction to military spending. Our community leaders know better than to buy this line but they want to keep the dollars flowing into Maine -- like a junkies needle in the arm. Forget that the money could be used for other, better purposes like health care or education or creating new sustainable technology industries.

Another example of this corruption is the failure of this week's "missile defense" test, the second mishap in a row. Each test cost taxpayers $85 million - so that is $170 million just flushed down the sewer. Of course the big weapons corporations made money on the deal. But what did the tax payers get for THEIR $170 million? NOTHING.

Mary Beth, in responding to my first blog post, did a great job of answering yesterday's question - what are we to do? She went right out and stood up before 26 Maine state legislators, who are preparing to cut early childhood services due to FISCAL RESTRAINTS, and spoke the dirty truth. The meeting room at the capitol was packed with crying parents pleading not to defund their childrens services. Service providers made the case for the good their agencies do. Cut someone else but not us! Mary Beth told the politicians that there is lots of money out there but that the military has control of most of it. She mentioned Star Wars and cluster bombs. She told them that they needed to speak out against this militarization of our resources. $9 billion is missing in Iraq she said. What could we do with $9 billion? We don't need to pit one social service against the other. My god, they are turning us into a pack of wolves. Good on you Mary Beth. Someone needs to find the courage to stand up and point out the obvious. Now that is good organizing!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Thanks for reading Bruce's blog...let's hear from you

OPENING SHOT

http://www.space4peace.org

People often ask me if I get depressed seeing all that is going on in the world. Bush's endless war to control the resources of the world and the war at home against social progress.

Well the anser is yes. Of course I do. Who wouldn't? But how long can one wallow in our collective misery before you have to get moving again?

There is just so much that needs to be done. We need to get folks out of their misery and depression into some kind of action. Can we get them to write a letter to the editor? How about help organize a small delegation of friends and neighbors to our senator's office to speak out against the war in Iraq? Can we get them to contemplate doing civil disobedience and form an affinity group to begin discussing what they might do together?

And how about our economy? The U.S. is in such debt and Bush has now intentionally created the conditions where we have to cut the budget. Of course we can't cut military spending he says. Instead we have to go after things like home heating assitance for poor people in the north, social security, low income housing assistance...you all know the list.

I heard recently that the public libraries in Salinas, California had closed because the local community has no money. Outside one of the previously functioning libraries is a statue of the great author John Steinbeck, who often wrote about farmworkers, the same kind of people who live in Salinas today. These are the forgotten people. They are no longer needed in a society where computerization, mechanization, and robotics have taken over. They are superfluous populations. Defund their public education....defund their health care.....what happens to them next?

America is addicted to war and violence. America is addicted to mythology too. The mythology that at any moment you might strike it rich. So don't raise taxes on the rich, because it might come back to haunt you when you win the lottery next week! Yeah, right.

We have to pull the veil off America's mythology. We have to begin to share with our friends and neighbors the reality of what America is, and what America is not. We are not a sharing and caring society. Of course they are many Americans who do care and do share. But as an organized society we are a greedy, power hungry culture. There is a battle for America's soul underway now.

In fact that is the title of my current video, Battle for America's Soul. There I talk about how we've been like this from day one when the Native Americans were slaughtered so the new empire could be built in north America. From the first days of the American "revolution" at Valley Forge, the military contractors stole from the peasant army as they froze in the cold night. The food, blankets, weapons that were paid for by the Continental Congress were not delivered. During the Civil war in the U.S. the contractors delivered guns that did not work. And now in Iraq, the big boys like Haliburton and Bechtel steal from the taxpayers, steal from the troops, and fatten their already overstuffed pockets with profits. And now we have to close the libraries in Salinas.

What are we going to do about it? Let me hear from you. Thanks for reading.