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 24, 2006

CAN'T TURN YOUR BACK ON THE WAR


Yesterday I went north to the University of Maine - Orono to be part of a peace witness during a speech by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). The senator was invited to talk about “The Ethics of Conscience: Continuing the Legacy of Margaret Chase Smith” by the school and 60 peace activists, dressed in black, sat in the auditorium wearing the number 2,319 on their backs - the numbers of dead GI's killed in Iraq so far. The auditorium seats 515 and was nearly full.

The senator made a mundane speech talking about her support for lobbyist reform, her dissatisfaction with former FEMA director Michael Brown and his poor handling of the Katrina hurricane and her great respect for Margaret Chase Smith, the much acclaimed former senator from Maine during the 1950's who publicly challenged the red-baiting tactics of then right-wing Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Sen. Collins is considered a moderate but keeps voting with the Bush administration on all the big issues. The question and answer period was highly regulated with the university staff taking written questions before the event began. A graduate student then read about 4-5 of them to Sen. Collins. The first one was "When can we leave Iraq?" Sen. Collins responded that we don't want to stay any longer than necessary, it will all depend on how quickly the U.S. can train a new Iraqi police force. The basic Bush line if you will.

When it was announced that there would only be one more question the 60 peace people in the audience, spread out throughout the hall, stood up and Robert Shetterly began to raise a question to the senator. Someone yelled out "Sit down" then someone else quickly yelled out, "No...let him speak". There was a pregnant pause and Robert kept going by asking Sen. Collins how she could support this Bush war policy. I could not hear it all from where I was sitting but the scene was more important than the question anyway. As he concluded his question, an applause broke out in the hall, not just coming from the people dressed in black. People whistled as well and the applause was a long one... the senator stood there glaring at Robert but she said nothing.

Finally, after what seemed like a longer applause than she got when she was introduced, Sen. Collins said to the university student handling the questions, "Next question." And before we knew it the whole thing was finished. Our 60 folks in black quickly made their way out into the lobby and opened banners that said things like "What are the ethics of Guantanamo?" and "What are the ethics of tax cuts for the rich?" and so on. The media came out and interviewed some of the protest leaders and one alternative radio station, WERU, did live interviews with several folks over the phone.

Sen. Collins has been refusing to hold a town hall meeting on Iraq for the past year. A town hall meeting on the war has now been set for Friday, April 21 at USM in Portland and we are inviting the entire Maine Congressional delegation to come and listen to the people about the war.

The senator was not going to talk about Iraq yesterday. The war, now shown in the polls as the number one concern of the American people, was going to be ignored by the senator. But as much as they would like to ignore the topic the peace movement in Maine is forcing the political elite to have to respond to it.

After the event the senator told the Bangor Daily News that she meets with peace groups all the time. That is a lie and especially troubling from one who claims the mantle of ethics and the legacy of Margaret Chase Smith.

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