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, July 08, 2006

NAMES OF WAR DEAD CONTINUE TO GROW

 Yesterday, for eight full hours, members of Maine Veterans for Peace and Peace Action Maine read the names of dead American GI's and innocent Iraqi civilians at a downtown park in Portland.

When we first began reading these names inside Congressional offices 1 1/2 years ago, it took four hours to finish. Now 2,539 American soldiers have died in Iraq and 18,786 have suffered serious injury. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Iraqi people have died since the U.S. illegal war began in 2003.

Throughout this reading time our volunteers handed out over 800 leaflets explaining our action to the public. Many people would sit on nearby park benches and listen for a time as we read an American name and then an Iraqi name. A bell was rung after each name and an X was marked on the "Chaos cloth" that was widely spread out.

In spite of the fact that many were positively impacted by our action, you could see a significant number of people who tried to act as though this was nothing to be concerned about. Many, many people went about their Friday afternoon and early evening getting their ice creams, watching the fire twirlers and rope walkers just across the way from us. Entertainment is always a good salve for the aching soul of a nation at endless war.

But not everyone was so mindless.

One black man on a bicycle, with his son riding by his side, pulled their bikes up close to us and I listened as he explained to his son what we were doing. He talked harshly about the "horrible president" that we have in the U.S. today and compared the Iraq occupation with the Vietnam war.

One older woman sat on a bench intensely watching us for almost an hour. You could see the expressions on her face change when we called about the names of children, age 2 or 6 months old who had been killed in Iraq. Another woman approached me and bent down as she wept about the sadness of the war.

Other moving moments were when Dexter Kamilewicz read the names of American GI's who had been stationed with his son Ben in Ramadi, Iraq. As a member of the Vermont National Guard, Ben escaped death several times. As Dexter read the names of Ben's fellow soldiers, one could hear the heartbreak in his voice as familiar names reminded him of the agonizing year he spent closely following every report of casualties from units in Ramadi.

We will continue to read the names. And the time it takes to finish them will continue to grow as the list of the war dead increases. The war will not end until Congress votes to cut off the funds for the war. So far our congressman and senators (Democrat and Republican) continue to vote in favor of war funding.

How long can the American people avoid dealing with the war? Now costing us $8.5 billion per month, how much longer can we afford to drain the national treasury and cut already meager programs for education, health care,infrastructure repair,and the like? Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

COORDINATOR TRIP REPORT - CANADA

  Posted by Picasa This trip report is for the period of June 21 - July 5, 2006 as I traveled to Vancouver, Canada to attend the World Peace Forum and ended with a short visit to New Hampshire over the July 4 holiday.

On June 21 I made my way to Boston in order to fly to Victoria, Canada. Like my last two trips to Canada, as I switched planes in Toronto, I was held for over an hour by Canadian immigration because of my past history of arrests for non-violent civil disobedience in the U.S. Each time I now enter Canada they run a computer printout of my arrest history and then claim they can't tell if I have any outstanding warrants for my arrests. They question me about why I was arrested in each case and what the outcome was. This time, while reading their computer printout up-side-down I noticed that they had me listed with an alias: Joe Nagasaki. In 1987 at a large protest in Florida at Cape Canaveral about 250 people were arrested for climbing over the base fence in protest of the first flight test of the Trident II nuclear missile. When we went to jail many of us refused to give our real names for several days. I said my name was Joe Nagasaki. The jail guards near the space center called me Joe Nag-ask-i as if I were of Polish origin. Eventually the Canadians let me pass into the country, but with only a nine-day pass. The message is clear - I am not welcome in Canada.

My first stop was to go to Victoria to speak at an event organized by the Victoria Peace Coalition just before the World Peace Forum began. I was joined in Victoria at the talk by Richard Sanders who heads the Ottawa-based group called Coalition Opposed to the Arms Trade. Richard has done extensive research on how Canadian aerospace corporations have long been involved in developing technology for the U.S. Star Wars program. In spite of Canada's very public claim last year that they "would not" get involved in Bush's "Missile Defense" program, they in fact have been, and still are, helping to build the program to move the arms race into space. One bit of information Richard pointed out was how the Canadian Pension Plan formerly invested heavily in national infrastructure development, but now increasingly invests in military production and Star Wars research and development. In recent times the Canadian government has cut $5 billion from its budget for global warming research; it plans to increase military spending by $15 billion. Social services, including national health care, are being cut as Canada follows the U.S. into global militarism.

My trip to Victoria was coordinated by Susan Clarke. Following my talk in Victoria we took the beautiful ferry ride to Vancouver. I did two interviews with Victoria radio stations while on this leg of the trip.

The World Peace Forum (WPF) in Vancouver drew over 4,500 people from about 100 countries to the campus of the University of British Columbia. The Global Network (GN) was asked by the WPF to coordinate the "track" of five space issue workshops and panels during the event. We were able to bring 15 of our key GN leaders to the event from around the world thanks to a generous travel grant by the Secure World Foundation. In addition, many other GN members came to participate in the Vancouver events. (We videotaped the various space events and GN member/filmmaker Eric Herter will be developing a one-hour documentary video that should be available for sale in a month or so.)

Things began at the WPF on June 24 with a large peace march through downtown Vancouver at mid-day followed by a festival at a park by the harbor. During the march, Canadian peace activists were visibly outraged at their government's participation in the war in Afghanistan through Canada's membership in NATO. While at the WPF, we heard the news that six Canadian soldiers were wounded in Afghanistan.

I was told that the Vancouver Sun newspaper ran a critical editorial days before the WPF began saying, "Let the hate fest begin."

That first evening in Vancouver several of us from the GN went to a local community center to hear one of our friends, Holly Gwinn Graham, perform as part of a musical show. In her part of the evening, Holly entertained her audience with a couple of songs related to space issues and had an overhead slideshow running with many photos of past GN activities.

We held our first GN space event at the WPF on June 25. At our first panel discussion, well-respected Canadian author/activist Mel Hurtig spoke about U.S. plans for control and domination of space. Also speaking were Dr. Rebecca Johnson (Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, UK), and Dr. Jurgen Scheffran (Int’l Network of Engineers & Scientists Against Proliferation, Germany). Despite a tremendous amount of competition at the WPF with legions of events concurrently scheduled, we had good turnouts for each event we organized. Following our first panel discussion on June 25, we held our GN annual business meeting at which we presented our annual Peace in Space Award to GN co-founders Bill Sulzman (Citizens for Peace in Space, Colorado) and Karl Grossman (Journalism professor, New York).

On June 26 and 27 we held other space events at the WPF, including an excellent panel called "Star Wars Organizing: Activists Reports from around the World." GN board member Loring Wirble (Citizens for Peace in Space, Colorado) did an excellent presentation showing how satellite technology is used by the Pentagon to direct all warfare on Earth. Thus, he said, we need to talk about how space satellites promote the "militarization of space" and have in a way become weapons systems themselves as they direct "conventional" weapons to their targets on Earth. It is hard, Loring reminded us, to say that military satellites are benign these days.

During the WPF I ran into old friend Al Marder from New Haven, CT. Al was in Vancouver representing the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities and we had a good talk about the increasingly difficult political conditions in the U.S. I asked Al, given the fact that polls reveal most Americans are against the war in Iraq, why do we not see more vocal opposition to the war? Al's response was instructive. "We in the U.S. are paying for our historic inability to develop independent political voices to speak for us," he said, obviously referring to the lack of commitment to peace from the two corporate dominated political parties in the U.S. today. We must begin to link our disarmament and anti-war work to social progress here at home and development issues in the Third World, he reminded me. Al has been organizing for a long time, he is a wise elder, and I listened closely to his good advice. "We must develop public outrage everywhere," he concluded.

During the WPF, in between our space events, I went to hear a panel of international activists talking about U.S. bases in their countries. I heard activists from Canada, Turkey, Cuba, England, Korea, Puerto Rico, Okinawa, Japan, Greece and Ecuador. They described in detail the environmental contamination resulting from U.S. military installations, the anger of their citizenry, and showed photos of protests against the bases. (It is estimated that there are more than 750 U.S. military bases around the world today as part of the U.S. empire.) One Japanese activist told the audience that, "If we keep silent now we will be silent forever." I turned to GN board convener Dave Webb (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in England) and said, "The U.S. is catching hell everywhere these days."

I left Canada on June 28 and it took me 28 long hours to make it back home to Maine due to cancelled and delayed airline flights caused by bad weather along the way. When I got home I had one day to rest before we held an important Iraq war organizing meeting in Portland to continue to develop our statewide campaign against endless war. Maine State Senator Ethan Strimling (D-Portland) showed up and asked our meeting to support his efforts to build a coalition of state legislators in Maine who are beginning to speak out against the war. So far Strimling has organized 26 of his fellow "Legislators for ending the war" and they are focusing on the cost of the war to taxpayers in our state and the loss of federal revenue due to war spending. (See http://www.nationalpriorities.org/ for details of how much the war has cost your local community.)

On July 2 Mary Beth Sullivan and I attended a funeral in Boston for a relative of hers that unexpectedly died. We then drove north again to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where I spoke on July 4 at the World Fellowship Center on the topic of "Rockets Red Glare: Militarism & Citizenship." (http://www.worldfellowship.org/) The center is directed by Andy Davis and Andrea Walsh. They do a great job of running this educational/vacation center that offers a beautiful rustic environment to renew body, mind and spirit.

On July 5 we made it home and I am ready for a rest before hitting the road again on July 9 to speak at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.

A belated happy Inter-dependence day to everyone.