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, March 25, 2005

PRESSURE BUILDING ON TOM ALLEN

I was talking with a man today who has a son on his way to Iraq. The father and mother have become very active in the peace movement in recent months and have become quite out spoken in their opposition to the war.

They are very middle-of-the-road people, not your regular activist type. I don't mean it as a criticism. Actually it is nice to have some folks like that showing up at our Friday afternoon vigil in Brunswick, dressed in a business suit. We are glad to have their company.

The father went to high school with our local congressman Tom Allen in Portland. Rep. Allen is the guy whose office we occupied last week, where we left the X's on the wall. The father told me that he paid a visit to the congressman's office this week and noticed the wall had been repainted. The wrong paint was used and the X's are still visible through the new paint.

But the most important thing the father told me was that he informed Rep. Allen's chief aide that he could not support the congressman any longer because of the congressman's weak position on the war. The father, you see, had supported the congressman in his last three elections. But now this war has become personal and the father has higher expectations of the congressman than he previously did. And his old friend, the congressman, is now a severe disappointment to him.

It is well known that the congressman has ambitions to run for the U.S. Senate. It would appear to me that Rep. Allen, who everyone says is a nice guy, is now trying to position himself on the war. He wants to try to please those who oppose the war and those who support the war. That kind of hanging out in no-mans land is how you get elected to higher office in America today.

But I think the congressman will find this a tough sell. I think he is going to find that if he continues to support more money for the war in Iraq, as he now does, that his base will begin to abandon him. And unless he plans on becoming a Republican, he won't be able to win an election without his base strongly behind him. If he doubts this, he should just talk to Sen. John Kerry. You remember him?

In the end people around the state are calling on Rep. Allen, and the other members of the Maine congressional delegation, to hold a statewide town hall meeting so the public can talk with them about the war in Iraq. The politicians are not interested in such an event because they don't want the public exposure. They might meet with a couple of peaceniks here and a couple more there. Let the steam out of the valve a bit, but avoid the big event. It's pretty sad in a so-called Democracy that we have to literally pull teeth to get a public audience with our "elected" officials. But after all this is America.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

FOOLS NO MORE

I am helping to organize a parade in Portland on April 1 that will be called Fools No More. It is a parade about conversion and transformation of the military industrial complex to peaceful production. The parade is the official kick-off of Peace Action Maine's new sustainable Maine economy campaign that will be a multi-year effort to bring the idea of economic conversion to the people of the state.

The parade will march through the heart of downtown Portland at 5:30 pm on Friday, April 1 and it is looking like it is going to be a good one. Activists, artists, church people, mothers, educators, children are all getting involved. At our planning committee meeting tonight we had people come from towns north and south of Portland to help with planning. We've put out a call for people to create images of what the conversion process would look like. One church group is organizing kids to wear flowers all over their bodies and they intend to carry images of what conversion could bring us. Show us what it would look like to turn swords into ploughshares! Show us the health care images, the images of education, housing, food, windmills, trains, and solar systems. The premise behind the parade is that we have to begin to show the public the transformative images of the conversion process so that they begin to internalize the issue.

Without economic conversion of the military industrial complex I don't think we will ever be able to stop war. We'll hop from this present war in Iraq to another one soon after. When your number one industrial export is weapons, as it is today in the U.S., you must have one war after the other to keep the production lines moving.

It's really all about jobs. The peace movement must become deeply involved in the jobs debate. And when we call for conversion of the military industrial complex we are indeed talking about jobs. The money now wasted on Pentagon spending could be used to fix roads and bridges, build schools and hospitals, hire teachers and nurses, and provide health care for all Americans. Research has long shown that we will get more jobs with our tax dollars when we create these alternative jobs in our societies that we do when we spend our hard earned money on war.

So then how does the peace movement take this issue about conversion to the public? It can't be done effectively if it is a bunch of university professors talking about economic models and activists sitting around with executives from the weapons corporations pleading with them to diversify.

What we must do is take the issue out to the public and create ways for them to actually "see" what conversion looks like, what it feels like, and how it would relate to their lives. When we do that the public becomes invested in the issue and the conversion idea becomes part of the culture. When that happens the possibility to divert the money from weapons to alternative job creation becomes a real possibility because you have created a base of support for the issue. And when you create a base of support you begin to make change. So in Maine we will be using parades, art showings in schools and libraries across the state, and community meetings to discuss the idea. Op-eds and articles are now being written to introduce the concept. A full grassroots campaign.

Come join our Fools No More parade in Portland on April 1 (Congress & High Streets.) And if you can't come help us create this conversion movement by raising the issue in your community. Military spending is a global issue and requires a global response from a hungry public.

Monday, March 21, 2005

THE VIEW FROM NEW YORK

I am in New York city doing advance work for our Global Network international space organizing conference that will be held here on April 29-30. The event will be called "Full Spectrum Resistance."

This will be our 13th anniversary of the Global Network and members will be coming to NYC from across the U.S. and around the world. Many key activists will also be coming to NYC for the May 1 international disarmament march in Central Park that will kick off the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. So it should be a really exciting weekend. Dr. Michio Kaku, one of our founding members and a professor of Physics at CUNY, will be one of our keynote speakers. Michio is one of my top 3 favorite speakers in the world. He is always inspiring and I always learn much from him.

Today I spent doing logistical work like making final arrangements at our two meetings sites (April 29 at the Church Center, 777 U.N. Plaza for our annual business meeting) and then (April 30 at the Musicians Union Hall, 322 W. 48th St where we will hold our annual educational conference.) I also worked on getting our caterers lined up for the meals that will be served at each meeting. Everything is coming together nicely. Tomorrow night I meet with some local activists in the city to enlist their help in the grassroots promotion work for the conference. We'd like to get a good turnout from people in the region and in NYC as well. I then fly back to Maine following that meeting.

I walked over 40 blocks today returning to the home of Alice Slater. It took me several hours and it was a nice way to see the streets of the city and all the activity going on. Lots of students down near Times Square looking admiringly at the high-tech consumerist advertising. The other thing that really stood out was the vast numbers of SUV's. On the side streets the big SUV's create real space problems as they obstruct vision and just make their out-of-scale presence well known. Another interesting thing was the vast number of languages I heard spoken on the street. NYC is truly a place that represents the world. The United Nations is more than a building. It is the reality of the streets.

From the 11th floor of Alice's apartment I look out the window and see a vast city with legions of people. When I come to any big city I am always humbled by the enormity of the population and the great task we have to reach them with our message to keep space for peace, to end the war, and to have a just and sharing society. How can we reach all these people I find myself saying?

Alice and I spent several hours this evening talking politics and strategy. We talked about our lives, our youth, our parents, essentially what made us tick as humans and political activists.

We both agreed that a key issue for everyone everywhere was the disintegration of the U.S. economy and, in general, life in the U.S. The quality of life is declining and families are having a harder time staying woven together. Out of this disruption of life comes a breakdown in community. When you lose community you lose political power. When you lose political power your economic well being begins to disintegrate. This is America today.