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, April 16, 2005

TAX DAY PROTESTS

I was on the street for about 4 hours yesterday here in Brunswick. From 11:00-1:00 I went to the post office, where I was joined by six others, and we handed out leaflets and held signs with messages about how our hard-earned tax dollars are being wasted on war and military spending. Then I went back from 4:00-5:15, with one other person, to do some more. In all we passed out 400 leaflets and had many conversations.

Not everyone was thrilled to see us. There was some hostility. One old man screamed at the top of his lungs that we need to be in Iraq killing as many people as possible. When I told him Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11 he said 'They are all the same people." When I told him we've already killed 100,000 people there, mostly innocent civilians, he screamed "liar, liar." The old man was so upset afterward he could not find his car. Two post office workers were outside raking the leaves and one came over to see what all the fuss was. He took a leaflet and said he was against the war.

One thing I noticed is how depressed people are. Dr. Helen Caldicott says that over 40% of Americans are taking medication for depression these days. I can believe it. Many people would say, "I don't want to know about it" or "I'm not interested." Many of them were very grumpy and appeared depressed. One such person is my town councillor. He is a gruff person who does not try to hide his rude, angry demeanor. Not a good way to win votes!

There were 50% though that really appreciated the fact we were out there. They took the leaflets and expressed deep concern about the condition of the country. They showed real outrage about the war in Iraq, how our money is misspent on militarism, and the declining way of life here in the U.S. as social progress is defunded. It is these people that motivate me to go leafleting on tax day.

I think being there helps energize, and at least give some hope, to the people who agree with us but feel powerless to do anything about their concerns. By seeing others out on the street it just might inspire them to make copies of the leaflet and hand them out to friends and co-workers. Maybe they will read the leaflet and talk about our national spending priorities over dinner. They just might write a more informed letter to the editor. If anything good comes from it then it was a good use of my time.

At 5:30 pm last night I joined the weekly peace vigil at our town center. We had 20 folks turn out, which is almost double what we usually get. A half dozen were from nearby Bowdoin College. A group of students had, just earlier in the day, met with our Congressman Tom Allen and delivered 275 postcards signed by students against the war. They had a good conversation with him and urged him to become more out spoken against the war. Rep. Allen is under intense pressure these days after recently voting for the $81.4 billion Bush requested for the war. Rep. Michael Michaud, our other Maine Congressman, just signed on to the Woolsey amendment that calls on Bush to immediately create an exit strategy from Iraq. This will mean even more pressure on Allen, who is supposed to be the more progressive of our two Congressmen.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

BLOWING IN THE WIND

On my way to the post office this morning I noticed a neighbor woman using an electric blower to push the leaves in her yard out into the street. (I always think of oil power plants and nuclear power plants when I see these leaf blowers. What ever happened to the rake and the broom? No wonder Americans are fat and we are in a war for oil.) The wind is blowing hard today and in my rear-view mirror I saw the leaves in the street come flying back into the woman's yard. She'll be out there all day at this rate.....

I interview a father tonight on my cable TV show who has a son with the Vermont National Guard. The man's son was recruited to ski for the guard team. His son has a dream to make it to the Olympics and saw the national guard sponsorship as his ticket to the big time. Unfortunately, instead of going to the Olympics he is soon to be deployed to Iraq. Right now the young man is in Mississippi getting "trained" for the war. He reports to his father that their equipment is sub-standard and the training they are receiving is also below par. His father has been trying to get the politicians in Maine to help but even though they have recently voted for another $82 billion for the war - they are not very interested in the situation. We have a war to win for global democracy!!!!! Enough of that small stuff!!!!

My last bit is some good news. Last night was a sports lovers paradise for me. On one channel I watched my favorite basketball team, the Washington Wizards, clinch a play-off spot and then on another channel I was watching my favorite baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, win a game. I rarely get to see either team on TV at all, so last night was a double wonder. So there I was with my popcorn and beer......Should I feel guilty that I was having so much fun at a time like this? My one escape from the insanity of the world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

COMMENTS TO NASA ABOUT NUKES IN SPACE

Mr. Kurt Lindstrom
Mission and Systems Management Division
Science Mission Directorate
NASA HQ
Washington DC

April 11, 2005

Dear Mr. Lindstrom:

I write on behalf of our organization to offer comments about NASA's Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the New Horizons mission to Pluto. We, as we have been since the 1989 launch of Galileo, remain opposed to the launching of nuclear power in space for any purpose.

It is known that when NASA and the Department of Energy (DoE) identify a new mission they have a joint committee that sits down to decide on the kind of power source to be used. It is our understanding that the nuclear industry, who views space as a new market, have made sure to place their operatives right in the middle of this process. So at the very outset this is a rigged game.

It is also known to us that NASA and the DoE have been defunding the research and development of alternative space power concepts in recent years. It is abundantly clear that the nuclear industry intends to ensure that there are not other significant players in the game.

Our concern and opposition is of course centered around the fact that space technology can and does fail. We have seen rocket explosions on launch. We remember the 1996 Russian Mars mission carrying plutonium on-board that failed to achieve proper orbit and fell back to Earth burning up over the mountains of Chile and Bolivia spreading the plutonium over that region. At the time the Boston Globe reported that those governments requested assistance from the U.S. to send in radiological teams to help identify the plutonium contamination belt, but then President Bill Clinton refused to respond. Then we witnessed the Columbia shuttle disaster two years ago and I myself saw NASA operatives on TV dressed in haz-mat suits with Geiger counters taking readings of people in Texas and Louisiana who had come in contact with debris from that accident. Local police forces were heard on National Public Radio warning the public to stay away from Columbia debris and said they were told by NASA that "radioactive" sources were on-board that mission. Just what was the radioactive source on Columbia?

In addition to space accidents, we are also concerned about the entire nuclear production process and its contamination of workers and communities. You should understand that we have very little confidence in the DoE. Years of contamination at the nuclear labs across the country is a matter of public record. The New Mexican, in Santa Fe, reported in 1996 that "Mishaps in which workers and equipment have been contaminated with radioactive sources are on the rise at Los Alamos National Laboratory." The reason? "Lab officials say the rise in radiation exposure and radioactive mishaps since 1993 has one primary cause: the [NASA] Cassini project and an ongoing effort to build radioactive heat sources." So in fact, even if there is no launch problem the production process is already contaminating and likely killing people.

Now NASA and DoE are saying that they have so many plans for space nuclear power in the coming years that they must ramp up production of plutonium and it appears that DoE will center its operations for these missions at the Idaho National Laboratory. A $230 million proposed facility expansion is now underway. Citizens across Idaho are opposed to this expansion and they fear, with good reason, that they will not get the truth about contamination from the DoE. In a recent article in the Boise Weekly newspaper, Jeremy Maxand, director of the nuclear watchdog group The Snake River Alliance, says the following in regard to this issue: "The DoE is proposing a project that could leave Idahoans breathing plutonium for the next 80 years and they won't tell us what its for. Let's talk about something they can't hide from the public. Plutonium-238 is lethal and difficult to contain. Is this secrecy going to benefit Idahoans given the DoE's well-documented and abysmal track record for worker, community, and environmental safety?"

Maxand goes on to say, "It makes me highly suspicious that on one hand they sell this extremely hazardous process to Idahoans via sleek NASA space batteries, when in fact we've made them for decades using plutonium purchased from Russia's stockpile. Then in the next breath they'll say that the plutonium-238 produced in Idaho will be used for classified national security missions...."

Forgive us for not believing anything our government says. But you all have no credibility. One example is Kodiak island in Alaska. The U.S. government built a rocket launch facility there and promised the citizens of Alaska that it would only be used for civilian launches, never military. But in reality the only missions that have yet been launched have been Missile Defense Agency (MDA) tests. We are convinced that the expansion of nuclear power in space for missions like New Horizons are a Trojan Horse. We are convinced that NASA, DoE and the Pentagon are setting up the nuclear space infrastructure to eventually build nuclear reactors for warfare in the heavens. New Horizons is an ice breaker.

For all these reasons we must say that the New Horizons mission must be cancelled. NASA and DoE must develop new non-nuclear power sources for space exploration. We will work against the New Horizons mission in the same way we did for Galileo (1989), Ulysses (1990) and Cassini (1997). Project Prometheus, the nuclear rocket, will also be a target of our organization. NASA has been taken over by the military and the nuclear industry.

The time has come for the public to reject plans to move war and nuclear power into space. It is our money that is being wasted on these dangerous projects while schools and libraries close across the nation and people can't afford health care. Jobs are leaving the U.S. by the millions and we are told there is no money to help the people. The public is turning against NASA and their gee-whiz plans for nuclear launches because the public understands the dangers involved. NASA and DoE are out of control and must be restrained by the taxpayers of the nation and the citizens of the world.

In anticipation of a nuclear space accident the U.S. Congress has created the Price-Anderson Act that limits the liability of the U.S. for nuclear contamination clean-up. This law would not have been passed if NASA did not expect a space nuclear accident at some point in the future. We will not wait until the tragedy happens before we speak out. Cancel New Horizons and all other space nuclear missions today before it is too late.

In peace,

Bruce K. Gagnon
Coordinator
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space

Monday, April 11, 2005

I WORRY ABOUT THE COUNTRY

I drove south an hour this afternoon to Biddeford, Maine to appear on an hour long cable TV show called "Out in left field" that was hosted by three very nice local activists. The studio is in an old brick school building that has been converted into a community center. When I walked in the front door the place was packed with people waiting to get into a health clinic that a local doctor started during the Clinton years. The doctor supports national health care for all and was going to just have the clinic open until Clinton got health care for all running in America. Needless to say the clinic is still open and I was told local doctors and nurses volunteer their time to serve the growing legions of folks who can't afford to pay the expensive premiums charged by the health insurance corporations (thieves). My own policy is a $5,000 deductible so it is virtually useless to me unless I have a heart attack. The monthly cost is going up and I am beginning to wonder how much longer I can keep paying it.

This morning a person wrote a comment on the blog wondering how I get paid. I don't mind responding but I do think his tone was quite nasty and immature. If you don't like my politics, then ok no problem. But don't come onto the blog and start showing your backside.

I get paid by the non-profit group called the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space that I created in 1992 with the help of some other great activists. Regular concerned citizens all over the U.S. and around the world make meager membership donations to us and I earn the equivalent of $12,000 per year, plus health insurance. I have been an organizer in the peace and social justice movement since 1978 when I quit college to become an organizer for the United Farm Workers Union in Florida organizing fruit pickers. I've never made more than $15,000 a year in my whole organizing career. So clearly I am not getting rich doing this work....

I am motivated by the fact that I have a 24 year old son and I worry about the future of this country and the world. I worry that the water in many places is not fit to drink. Here in Maine we are told not to eat fresh water fish because of the high levels of mercury contamination. The air is increasing bad and asthma rates are dramatically increasing. The libraries are closing in Salinas, California because the local government can't afford to keep them open. Here in Maine the roads and bridges are falling apart and there is little money to repair them. Jobs are leaving the country by the millions. But there is money for war, there is money for weapons, there is money for Star Wars, and there is money for nuclear space missions to Pluto. There is money for tax cuts for the rich but the government is cutting social programs that help the elderly, the ill, the disabled and the like. I question the condition of the soul of America.

No matter whether you are a left winger or a right winger you should be worried about how the multi-national corporations are running our country into the ground. They don't care about "country" any more. The corporations are all about maximizing profits globally. The corporations say why pay someone $20 an hour in the U.S. to make TV's when you can move the operation overseas and pay someone 50 cents an hour....

So for those of you who wondered, this is what I am all about. I'm just an average guy who wanted to be a baseball coach but I couldn't turn away when I saw the corruption and lies coming out of our government. I learned all about it while in the Air Force during the Vietnam war, and well, now the rest is history.