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

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Vets for Peace President Doug Rawlings tells the story about the congressional office occupation in Rep Tom Allen's office and shows the banner with X's that depicts those killed in Iraq. This protest was at the capitol in Augusta, Maine on March 19.

Friday, March 18, 2005

MARKS ON CONGRESSMAN'S WALL REPRESENT DEAD IN IRAQ

Thirty-five people occupied the office today of our Congressman Tom Allen (D-ME) in Portland. We entered the office at 11:30am and Karen Wainberg, the president of Peace Action Maine, read a statement that we had prepared for him. The statement read in part, "Your recent vote in favor of $81.4 billion more for the war was a heart breaking thing for us to witness...We have come to your office to strongly urge your sponsorship of the Woolsey resolution that demands the Bush administration develop an exit strategy immediately....We want to see leadership from you Rep. Allen on this war issue. It is not acceptable for you to just sit back watching to see which way the wind blows.....We strongly request that you hold a public town hall meeting on the war so that people in your district can give you their feedback on your current position."

As we entered the office, a camera from one local TV station was there waiting for us as well as a reporter from the Portland Press Herald newspaper. Doug Rawlings, president of Maine Veterans for Peace, did interviews with the media telling them why we had come. The Brunswick Times Record also had a front page story about the occupation today, having done the interview yesterday in advance of the action.

As we previously did when we organized similar occupations in the offices of Republican Maine Senators Snowe and Collins, we began reading over 1,500 names of American soldiers killed in Iraq and an equal number of names of innocent Iraqi civilians. One thing we immediately noticed as the names were read is the high number of children killed in Iraq from cluster bombs and other U.S. bombing raids.

Each person read two pages of names, and then passed the list on to the next person, as we sat in the foyer and inner hallways of the congressman's office. His staff was forced to step around us to get to the fax and copy machine and our voices, as we read, were surely a hindrance as they tried to talk on the phone. From time to time one office worker would just stop typing at her computer and listen deeply to the names. Hour after hour the names were read...a seemingly endless string of death. Business as usual was interrupted today.

Artist Pat Wheeler brought along a large banner she had made with the words "Iraqi war dead" written in the upper left hand corner. The rest of the banner was empty. As each name was read an X was made in either red or black chalk on the banner. By 2:00 the entire banner was full of the marks. Then folks began to put X's in between the existing X's. We took turns holding the banner up against the wall so that those marking the X could use the wall as a backboard.

It was discovered that the chalk was bleeding through the banner and the freshly painted white walls (the congressman just moved into this new office) was now full of dark chalk marks. By the end of the day virtually the entire wall was covered with the X's.

By 4:00 pm we finished with the last names. We gathered in a large circle in the front room of the office and stretched the banner out so everyone could see it. The entire banner was covered with over 3,000 X's. We invited the Congressman's four staff persons to join our circle, and they did. I began by saying that we had not come to criticize them, we knew they were just doing their jobs. I said that we had come out of deep heart break over the Congressman's vote on the 2006 Iraq war appropriation and that we were now more determined than ever to keep coming back to the offices of Maine's congressional delegation until the war was brought to an end. Pointing to the banner I remarked at how chaotic it looked with all the X's. And I said the Congressman had just voted to give even more money to make Iraq even more violent and chaotic. I told the staff to tell Rep. Allen that in a true democratic society his job is to serve the people. In a true democratic society, I said, he would care what the people had to say. In that regard I reiterated our demand for a public town hall meeting on the subject.

As we were preparing to leave one of the staff women said her husband was a Vietnam veteran and had died in the last year. She told us that if he were alive he would be with us today.

After word got out about our previous occupations we heard from a peace group in western Pennsylvannia. They wanted to organize an occupation at their congressman's office as well. So today as we did our event in Portland, there was one being held simultaneously at the office of a Republican congressman in Pennsylvannia. We have not yet heard what happened there. The organizer called me a couple days ago saying that their congressman had heard about the action and was planning to lock his office down. So in the end, if this did happen, they were determined to stand outside and read the names in the cold.

One reporter asked me yesterday what we expected to accomplish from the occupation today. I told him "we have no rosy expectations. We understand what's at stake, that we've had a takeover of our government by big money. But we must do something."

Today we did something. It was something good. Even the congressman's staff, in their hearts, agree.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


The seasons turn reminding me that change will come again.

STRONG ROOTS IN NATURE

Three peace activists I spoke with today were depressed. Seriously depressed. Bush victories on virtually every front are wearing people down. Black activist and author Cornell West talks about it in his recent book, Democracy Matters, and suggests that white folks are going to have to learn to deal with the blues. Blacks have been dealing with the disappointment and betrayal of a rotten system for hundreds of years. Black folks know disillusionment. That's why they sing the blues. Sing 'em and keep on pushing. In the book West talks about the shallow materialism at home and racist militarism abroad but still finds hope in all the activity that is happening around the country to resist these sad realities.

I went snow shoeing today in the woods behind my house with my co-worker Jessica Eller. It was a cool sunny day and the snow is so clean and wonderful. Without snow shoes yesterday, when I tried to take the dogs for a walk, I was up to my knees in the snow and could not keep going. I borrowed the snow shoes from a neighbor today so we could go enjoy the power and beauty of the woods.

In my moments of despair I find relief in nature. It is my church. The old trees know the stories of harsh winter and bending winds. They have learned to find the light in a crowded woods which chokes out the saplings that can not find the sun. Nearby at the ocean I know the tide will go out but nature tells me it will also come back in again.

The news is mostly bad these days. The winter is harsh and the tide is out. It feels like the world will never change, there is little hope. But when I really quiet myself down I can see the signs of spring coming. Slowly the snow is melting and the tide will come thundering in again.
If I just remember that, I can do my work and not let the bad news take me down. I can't let myself go down now. I need to be standing at this important time. My deep roots must cling to the Earth to ensure survival for another season of living.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

DEMOCRATS TAKE ANOTHER DIVE

We are preparing to occupy our Democratic congressman Tom Allen's office in Portland on Friday to read the names of American soldiers killed in Iraq. We will also read the names of an equal number of Iraqi civilians, many of them children, who have also been killed since Bush's illegal invasion/occupation began. Rep. Allen just today voted in favor of the $81.4 billion more for the war that Bush requested. And Allen is supposed to be a liberal. The truth is Allen, like so many Democrats these days, has no backbone. Who is he really working for? That is what is really driving me. Who does Tom Allen figure he is really working for in Washington?

The state of Maine is in fiscal crisis. We've had over 100 inches of snow this winter and local town budgets are bursting from the expenses of snow removal. The state has a health care crisis and we are facing cutbacks in virtually every social service system run by local and state governments. The roads in Maine are in a shambles. But our congressman voted to give Haliburton and Bechtel another $81.4 billion that they will conveniently not be able to account for a year from now. What in holy hell is going on here folks?

Bush wins on oil drilling in Alaska as three Democrats in the Senate vote with the Republicans. In a 51-49 vote those three Democratic votes were the margin of victory. Should I go on?

The Democrats in Congress have taken so many dives lately on key issues that I expect them to be soon showing up for work with scuba gear on. They might as well. Why don't they just admit it and officially merge the two parties into one big corporate entity and get it over with.

While they are at it they can also just pass a law that lets Wal-Mart run all the retail business in the country. It would make things a lot easier for us when we want to go protest. We'd only have one place to go. "Oh you want to protest X,Y, or Z? Just go over to Wal-Mart, they are in charge now. In fact the Democrats are the new cashiers in the store." Call it one stop protesting.

Maybe I've been fooling myself. When you form a political party you have a platform. "Our platform says we are not in favor of illegal and immoral wars, we want to protect the environment, we think people should have health care, education, and social services." Then the party goes out and fights like crazy for those things. What is it that the Democrats really stand for again? I've lost track.

Monday, March 14, 2005

WHICH PILL WILL YOU TAKE?

The news these days is all about oil. We are running out of it. Experts estimate that we are now on the downward spiral in terms of oil availability. With the emerging economic development of China and India the global supply will decline very rapidly.

Imagine the consequences to life as we know it today in the U.S. How much will gas cost per gallon? Maybe $5 or $15 or $20 a gallon. Maybe more. How much will electricity and heating oil cost for our homes? Think of agricultural production with the heavy farm machinary and then delivery of food to the grocery stores. All done with oil based equipment. Only the rich will be able to afford to eat.

The U.S. answer to all of this is to begin planning for war in Africa. The Pentagon is now setting up basing relationships throughout Africa in anticipation of making a move on their oil in the near future. Arms sales are up to African countries. This will create more internal conflict which the U.S. will use as justification to intervene. (Click on this link for more on this subject: http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/AfricaMarch2005.html)

Once more, as we look at what is being prepared in Africa today, we see the U.S. willing to destablize another region in order to keep our heavy oil consumption going back here at home. We did the same thing in the Middle East. For years the U.S. destabilized that region with arms sales making it a mess. Then in order to save the people of Iraq, George W. Bush had to invade. Permanent U.S. bases are now being set up there because we can't "cut and run." But the war in Iraq was "set up" long before it happened. We have to learn to watch the left hand as well as the right hand. The shell game is now being run in Africa....watch Venezuela...watch Mexico...watch Columbia.....watch the Caspian sea region....even watch Canada that sells a lot of oil to the U.S.

The solution to all of this is the development of new and sustainable technologies in the U.S. Things like solar, wind power, and public mass transit (Bush is cutting back on Amtrak as you read this), are alternatives that we must advocate for loudly while there is still a chance. This will take federal investment. The oil/weapons mafia that runs our government wants to drain the oil fields and get every last dime they can as prices inevitably rise. The American people had better wake up to the game very quickly.

Life is not a pretty picture these days. We have two choices. We can close our eyes, hoping it will go away, and leave it to our kids to sort out. Or we can get engaged. The red pill or the blue pill. Which will you take?