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, January 07, 2006

SIR! NO SIR!


Mary Beth and I went to Waterville, Maine today to see the new film Sir! No Sir! which was being shown at the annual film festival there. It is a documentary telling the largely unknown story about the GI resistance movement against the Vietnam war from the mid-to-late 60's through the early 70's. Using interviews, archival footage, and news clips the film does a great job of showing just how big and powerful the movement of GI opposition to the war was.

One story was about the 1,000 person detention camp in Vietnam where largely black GI resisters were imprisoned due to their opposition to the war. The troops, severely mistreated in the jail, went on a rampage and burned the place down.

Sailors assigned to the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier in San Diego, soon to be shipped out to Vietnam, started a campaign to have their fellow sailors and citizens in the community at large publicly vote (outside shopping malls, movie theaters, bars, etc) on whether the Kitty Hawk should go back to the war or not. The vote was overwhelming NO and forced the Naval commander and politicians to hold news conferences saying the Kitty Hawk would sail back to the war. The debate the GI’s created was inspiring.

Untold stories like this run throughout the film and reveal just how powerful the GI resistance movement was. At my own base in California, Travis AFB, which was the key airlift base for the Vietnam war it was there that I was exposed to the GI resistance movement which helped turn me from a Young Republican for Nixon in 1968 to an anti-war activist by mid-1971. Regular protests outside the gates of Travis created a powerful dynamic inside the base that forced the 15,000 permanently stationed troops on our base to constantly debate the merits of the war. This is why today I am such a believer in protests at military bases and weapons production installations.

Another event the film features are the “Fuck the Army” tours that went to bases around the country and overseas featuring popular entertainers like Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland, and Country Joe and the Fish. Fonda is interviewed in Sir! NO Sir! and has pledged to help promote it as a tool to build opposition to the war in Iraq.

In a recent interview about the film, filmmaker David Zeiger said, “As you see in the film, there were CBS Nightly News stories about the GI Movement. There is a segment in the film of Walter Cronkite talking about the GI underground press. In the state of Texas, where there was a very large anti-war movement in Austin and Houston, and the center of the Texas movement for a time was at Fort Hood. The armed forces demonstrations were major events for the whole state. I think people knew generally that there was opposition in the military, but they didn’t know the details or how widespread it was. But it was certainly more prominent than people remember it. It has been thoroughly wiped out of any histories of the war.”

Do yourself a favor. Make arrangements to show this new documentary film in your community. Try to help spread the word around any military installations so that GI’s, now on their way to Iraq, get to see it as well.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

COAL MINERS NEED JUSTICE


I was drawn to the TV much of yesterday like a moth is drawn to a flame. I watched the broken hearted families of West Virginia coal miners react to the news that 12 of their loved ones had died deep in the Sago mine in Tallmansville, West Virginia. I was touched by the intense emotion recorded by the cameras as people learned of the deaths, three hours after they had been told that their prayers had been answered and a "miracle" had saved the trapped miners.

One woman screamed "they don't care about us," referring to the International Coal Group, Inc. who owns the mine. Another woman wailed that they had been abandoned by God.

I heard one man, whose father was killed in the mine, say that his dad did not like the working conditions but had to do the job so he could "put food on the table." Then just moments later, I saw one journalist say that the miners loved the work so much that "they'd work for half the pay" if they had to in order to stay in the mines. (Do they think we are that stupid - really!)

The Sago mine is a non-union operation that had 200 fines in 2005 for violations of the Mine Health and Safety Act. The Bush administration has cut 170 jobs from the mine safety program in recent years making enforcement of the act more difficult to administer. The man now in charge of the program is a former coal company manager who Bush appointed to monitor the very industry he worked for. The highest fine received in 2005 by the Sago mine was for $800, indicating that the mine safety program was quite lenient on their industry pals.

This was for me something personal. When I was a kid, living in England, we heated with coal. It was delivered to our home and we saw the blackened faced chimney sweeps go door to door in the neighborhood looking for work. It was my job to bring in the coal each day from the outdoor bin. I had tasted coal dust. For me the coal miners strike had some point of context. I've paid attention to the issue over the years.

In 1989 I went to Carbo, Virginia during the year-long Pittston coal strike by the United Mineworkers Union. Nestled in the mountain hollows (pronounced "hollars" by the locals), I sat on the picket line for two full days with the striking workers. At first they were a bit suspicious of me, but after I explained that I worked in the peace movement and had been an organizer for the United Farmworkers Union, they made me feel at home. The men displayed great dignity and fierce determination to protect what little gains they had made after many years of struggle. In that particular instance, they were striking because the Pittston coal company was planning to discontinue medical benefits for pensioners, widows and the disabled. Remembering that many miners suffer from black lung disease, the cut-off of medical benefits at the very time they most needed them would be devastating. I will never forget the sadness I felt when I left the picket line.

So America's eyes and many hearts turned to the coal miners in West Virginia the last couple of days. There are now calls for an investigation from the politicians in Washington. But until we deal with the fact that the coal corporations have unlimited power, and the workers have virtually none, then nothing much changes. Even with a mine safety program, as long as the industry runs the show the law is nothing but a cruel hoax.

Working people in America are being screwed left and right. The Sago coal tragedy is one more warning sign that we are returning to a feudal society. The haves are getting richer and the have-nots are getting poorer -- and dieing. We need more than prayers for the dead. We need to mourn for them, and in their memory, we need to organize like hell.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

TIME FOR IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS


George W. Bush now admits that he was spying on the American people. It has also become public that he was doing so, in some circumstances, without obtaining court authorization. This is a violation of the law. I'd say, and I am no constitutional scholar, that such a legal violation is bigger than lying about oral sex in the White House. This is a real challenge for the Republican Party. Can they honor the Constitution by seriously investigating this case? Why do I doubt it?

The Republicans hold all the cards today. They control Congress and are now ensuring that they will control the Supreme Court for years to come. The court will surely make decisions to restrict civil liberties even more as well as give big business greater power to exploit workers and to destroy the environment. Democracy will be redefined even further to basically mean "freedom for big business."

I saw Bush last Sunday doing his impromptu news conference from an Army medical center in Texas. He was very weak, appeared frightened, and had very little conviction in his voice. I would be willing to bet my life that this whole spying scandal is much bigger than has yet been revealed.

Once again though the problem is that the Democrats are not making much noise about this spy case. Sure they are calling for a Senate investigation, but there is no indignation there. It is a pretty bad situation when we have to rely on the Dems to defend our right to be left alone from Bush's "unreasonable searches and seizures."

The Washington DC newspaper, Capital Hill Blue, ran a story a week or two ago saying they had several witnesses that reported hearing Bush say the Constitution "was just a piece of paper." Now this is coming from the man who wants to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. Shouldn't we be just a little bit worried about our own fragile rights here in the good ole USA?

This whole story is just one more classic example of why it so important that we be out in the streets these days. Use it or lose it!