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, October 20, 2006

INDIA TRIP REPORT

  Posted by PicasaThis report covers the period of Oct 1-14 as Mary Beth (MB) Sullivan and I traveled to India on behalf of the Global Network. Our five-city speaking tour was initiated and coordinated by J. Narayana Rao from Nagpur who is a leader of the group called All India Peace & Solidarity Organization.

After two very long flights, with a long lay over in London, we arrived in Chennai (formerly called Madras) along India’s southeastern coast. Our plane landed around 4:00 am and we took a cab to our hotel in downtown Chennai. Even at that time of day the traffic was quite intense and we quickly learned that driving in India went by very different rules than we were used to. Cars don’t stay in lanes and horns serve as turn signals to warn others on the road while they weave through traffic, barely avoiding trucks, buses, bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, people and animals.

Our host in Chennai was Global Network board member Sri Raman. Sri is a journalist and a leader in the Indian anti-nuclear movement, which has grown dramatically since India first exploded a nuclear weapon in 1974. (The nuclear test was called Smiling Buddha.)

October 2 was Gandhi’s birthday and we took the day to rest and adjust to the time change. We hired a motorized rickshaw and went to see the Bay of Bengal and a Hindu temple. The driver turned out to be a great guide and took good care to teach us as much as he could with his broken English. That evening back in the hotel, on Indian TV, I listened as two Texas fundamentalist preachers promised “super-natural blessings” to anyone who obediently followed Gold’s wishes and sent them $8,500 – whether they have it in the bank or not. God only responds to faith they told the listeners.

The next day we took a site seeing trip to one of the 16 World Heritage sites at Mahabalipuram to see the monuments and temples. The long cab ride along the beautiful Bay of Bengal took us past many signs of grinding poverty as we saw poor fishing villages made of palm fronds and tarps, people bathing with buckets of water along sidewalks, goats and cows everywhere and garbage piled along the way. In the afternoon, back in Chennai, we went to a public event commemorating Gandhi where Sri’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament & Peace had an anti-nuke display. There we met members of the peace group that included a doctor, union leader, several journalists, a physicist and others. They reported that initially the Indian people were proud that they had developed the nuclear bomb, seeing it as a symbol of a great nation, but that in recent times people were becoming more thoughtful about the dangers and ultimate cost of the nuclear arms race.

On October 4 Sri’s group organized a news conference for me to speak with the media. Thirteen different media outlets attended, including several TV stations. Two large papers, The Hindu and Indian Express were there as well. MB and I spent the afternoon searching for an Internet café hoping to check our emails and nearly got killed trying to cross a busy street. Once on-line we learned that another GN board member, Bob Anderson in New Mexico, had been arrested when he stood up at an event organized at the University of New Mexico promoting the development of nuclear weapons. Bob had dared to question why there was no one opposed to nukes on a five-person panel and when he said that nuclear weapons were genocidal he was attacked, handcuffed and hauled out by the police. As the U.S. lectures the rest of the world about the evils of nuclear weapons it is important to recognize the hypocrisy of America as it builds new generations of nukes.

Late that evening, after a wonderful dinner with several activists, Sri and another journalist took us to the train station at 11:00 pm. They waited for the train to arrive and carried our bags on-board for us as we learned is the custom in India. They sat in our sleeper coach and waited until it was time for the train to pull out before they left. I hardly slept at all through the night as the herky-jerky motion of the train, and the excitement about the coming trip, kept me from falling asleep. Starting about 6:00 am the train kitchen crew began walking the aisles selling chai coffee, chai tea and breakfast.

We arrived in Visakhapatnam on October 5 and were meet at the train by A. R. Subramaniam from the All India Peace & Solidarity Organization. After taken to a guesthouse to freshen up, our hosts immediately took us to a private school were we both spoke to an assembly of over 150 kids and teachers. The kids were 14-15 years old and the elaborate stage behind us had a huge poster of Gandhi with many of his core beliefs written on it. I went first and MB began folding origami paper cranes and she put them on a table in front of us on the stage. When it was her chance to speak she told the story of Sadako Sasaki from Japan. After the program MB gave the folded cranes to one of the woman teachers who was showing intense interest in them. The teacher was thrilled and immediately asked MB to teach her and the kids how to fold them. So they sat down on a doorstep, completely swarmed by a flock of girls, and began to fold. At the same moment I was approached by another flock of the school kids who wanted me to write something in their schoolbooks. I wrote about a different piece of my message in each of their notebooks in the hope they would further discuss the ideas in class.

Before leaving Visakhapatnam on the train that evening there was a small meeting arranged for us at our guesthouse. One man, a former government official and nuclear physicist, was particularly agitated about the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act that passed the House of Representatives on July 26, 2006. (See how your congressperson voted by clicking on the link in the headline above.)

Everywhere we went in India our peace activist hosts were talking about this nuclear deal that will help India build as many as 30-40 more nukes a year. They could not understand why the American peace movement was not more aware of the bill that will dramatically increase nuclear tensions in Southern Asia, already a flashpoint for nuclear war as Pakistan and China will be forced to respond to India’s nuclear expansion. It became clearer to me that the U.S. intends to use India as a “military outpost” in its aggressive attempt to surround and “manage” China in the years ahead. The U.S. weapons industry is arming Pakistan and India, playing divide and conquer in the region, and making enormous profits in the process from the resulting arms race.

While in Visakhapatnam we were introduced to the people who have created the non-profit Ashoka Eye Hospital to help the rural poor get treatment for cataracts, glaucoma and other eye ailments. They treat 15,000 patients each year. One of the leaders of the effort, J.V. Prabhakar, reminded me of Muhammad Ali. He looked very much like Ali and also had the deep integrity and fierce determination of the former boxer. As we were preparing to head to the train station for the next leg of our trip I began to think that when I returned home I wanted to try to raise some money to send back for the eye clinic as a way of saying thank you for the kind hospitality we had received in Visakhapatnam. Just after coming to that decision Prabhakar approached me and asked me if I could help by raising some funds for the hospital. It was as if he had read my mind and this only made me more certain that it was the right thing to do. (If any of you would like to contribute to this fund that I will raise for the clinic, please send a donation to the Global Network and mark it for the “eye clinic” and I will send all money collected to India.)

I learned that in India today more than 300 million people live below the poverty level. That is the same number of people that live in the entire U.S. today. It is an enormous number of poor people. And what makes me furious is that the U.S. is trying to drag India further into the global arms race. The U.S. is now attempting to get India to create a “space command” so that they can join in the effort to militarize space. Imagine how much poverty will grow in India as the U.S. drags them further into becoming a regional military outpost for the empire.

After another all night train ride, I slept better this time, we got off in Raipur. We were taken to a Catholic church where we could shower and rest for a bit. It was here that we first saw elephants on the street. What a wonderful surprise! In the course of the day I spoke at two colleges and then MB and I spoke at an evening program at the church before getting back on the train about midnight.

In Raipur we learned about the government repression of indigenous populations in Central India where 60,000 people have been forced out of the mineral rich region. Maoist parties are fighting on behalf of the people with the government calling them terrorists. India has created its own version of the Patriot Act, modeled on the U.S. version, and is being used to go after internal opposition. A pipeline has been built to move iron ore from this central region to the coast where it is then loaded onto ships and taken to Japan. Japan is somehow putting the ore into the ocean, storage for future use, probably to build more of the cars that we like to buy in the U.S. and around the world. http://www.pucl.org/

India is in the middle of 9% economic growth. Bankers are pushing loans onto the growing middle class and encouraging them to buy cars, cell phones, fancy clothes and other material goods. About 20% of India’s total population of 1.1 billion is now middle class. India “shining” it has been called by the right-wing BJP political party, which was recently voted out of power. The “liberal” Congress party now runs India, in coalition with several left parties, including the Communists that controls three state governments. But activists complain that the Congress party, very much like the Democratic party in the U.S., is controlled by the corporate globalization agenda.

On October 8 we arrived in Nagpur at 6:00 am. We had about two hours sleep on the train from Raipur. We barely got on the train, our hosts in Raipur had to plead with, and bribe, a train official to get us a 3rd class sleeper bed as I saw one of our friends offer a 500 rupee note in hopes of squeezing us onto the packed train.

J. Narayana Rao who had organized the entire trip for us met us at the Nagpur station. Rao has been a Global Network contact for many years though we had never before met. I had not known that three times in recent years he, at his own expense, had printed journals called Disarmament and Development and devoted them to covering the space work of the Global Network. He wanted to help us bring our message to India during Keep Space for Peace Week, thus the invitation to come in early October.

Rao is a retired railroad worker who now volunteers full-time in the peace movement. He lives on a very meager pension and, as we were to learn, is a top-notch organizer. Rao arranged for us to stay in a government guesthouse and after a quick shower he brought us to the center of town with many others to hang garlands of flowers on a Gandhi statue. (This is the same statue that appears on our 2006 Keep Space for Peace Week poster.) From there we spoke at a forum organized for the community that drew about 125 people and later in the day MB was invited to speak to the Nagpur Women’s Club about the impact of wars and terrorism on women and children.

Every time we spoke on this trip we were first presented with bouquets of flowers and often with beautiful shawls. Many times we were also given gifts and by the end of the trip we had to purchase another suitcase in order to carry the lovely presents home with us. One of my favorite gifts was a five-volume set of selected works of Gandhi, given to us by Rao.

During my first talk in Nagpur I held up a copy of the morning Indian English language paper that I had quickly read before breakfast. In the paper was an interview with the Indian Air Force Chief of Staff that mentioned that they were now planning to merge the Air Force and Indian nuclear forces under a new Space Command. Little did I know that the author of the article was sitting in the audience covering my talk and as it turned out we had articles about our speeches in several newspapers three out of the four days that we spent in Nagpur.

One very exciting thing happened while in Nagpur. We met a group of 11 medical students who had heard about our visit. They contacted Rao and said they’d like to come and took at 12-hour train ride, at their own expense, to spend two days in Nagpur attending our speaking events. They told Rao afterward that they’d like to be part of a national students organization he was trying to foster and he told us that the many meetings with students during our stay was going to be most helpful in his effort to activate young people.

On October 9 MB and I spoke to more than 125 students at the College of Commerce and later that day to 75 students and faculty in the Economics Department at another Nagpur college. Late that evening, around 10:00 pm, I also spoke to a Rotary Club made up of local businessmen.

On October 10 we were taken to nearby Sewagaram to see the Mahatma Gandhi ashram where he lived during many of his most active years. This simple but beautiful place, adorned with large trees planted by Gandhi and his followers, really brought home the reality about how Gandhi had made non-violence and Indian independence the central work of his life. Simple living, taking care of the land, spinning their own cloth, and active resistance to the British Empire all flowed from these small wooden huts with mud and stone floors. It was a very moving experience for us to touch this place.

During this busy day we were also taken to the nearby Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences to speak to over 100 medical students. I talked to them about the dangers of putting nuclear power into space and also the social costs, to a poor country like India, of participating in the U.S. Star Wars program. How can India take care of its poor people and create a space command I asked?

Gandhi had asked his private doctor to create a hospital for the poor. This huge facility, now teeming with patients, first began with two beds. It is a real testament to Gandhi, as we saw over and over again, just how much his prophetic vision had helped prepare India for independence and a decent future for its people.

During this same day Rao, as he did for every meal we ate, arranged for a different person to be in charge of hosting us. For lunch Dattaji Meghe, a member of the Indian Parliament and Chancellor of the Datta Meghe Institute of Medical Sciences, another teaching hospital that serves the poor, feed our small delegation at his office.

On October 11 Rao had three more talks for MB and I arranged in Nagpur including two wonderful events at the National College of Social Work and at the Women’s College. At each event more than 100 students heard us speak and they asked piercing questions about the U.S. role in the world and the lack of response by the American people to our corrupt government. In the afternoon we spoke at another medical school to 75 students.

It was hard to say good-bye to Rao and the many other good friends we made while in Nagpur. Being able to spend four days with them gave us a real chance to share the local life of the people as we were taken to home after home throughout the city.

On October 11 we took the train to New Delhi, our last stop on this long journey from south to north. We arrived in New Delhi on October 12 and local hosts organized a news conference for us attended by 10 different newsmen. New Delhi, an enormous modern city, has the world’s worst air pollution I read while there. Walking down the street one can breathe in the equivalent of 20 cigarettes. The next morning we boarded a plane to make the long flight home, again with a six-hour layover in London.

In the London airport we picked up a UK newspaper and I noticed a feature story about the U.S. population hitting 300 million. The story explained that the U.S. has 5% of the world’s population though we use 25% of the world’s energy. Thus the need to keep our military boot on the necks of the rest of the world so we can extract the “necessary” resources to maintain our standard of living. The article said that in the U.S. today five pounds of garbage are produced for each person while in developing countries, like India, they produce one pound of trash per day. In the U.S. each person uses 350 liters of water per day while in Sub-Saharan Africa the average person uses 10-20 liters of water each day.

Our experience in India was a dramatic reminder to MB and I about how we live here in the U.S. Scientists say that in order to continue life on Earth, the way we humans consume today, we will need six more planets in the coming years. The corporations, who are pushing global consumption today, tell us not to worry. They have six planets in mind they say and they are now preparing the technology to go mine the Moon, Mars and the asteroids for precious minerals. Just keep forking over our tax dollars they tell us so they can prepare to mine the sky.

We learned much about Mahatma Gandhi during this trip. His non-violent way of living on our Mother Earth is more relevant today than ever before. Gandhi calls on us to change the way we live and to give up our addictions to food, material things and gas guzzling cars. MB and I came back asking ourselves many important questions about how we should live.

We thank our dear friends in India for this wonderful experience. We thank you for giving us your time, your hearts, and your love. We are proud to work alongside you as we all try to live out the teachings of Gandhiji.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

PUBLIC COMMENTS DUE ON MARS NUCLEAR ROVERS

  Posted by PicasaPUBLIC COMMENT OPPORTUNITY


Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission


NASA is inviting public comments on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Mission, seeking input for plans for the robotic exploration of Mars.

NASA plans a sustained series of Mars missions every 26 months into the next decade. NASA proposes to use nuclear batteries to power land rovers to explore Mars and take soil and rock samples. They plan to establish mining colonies on Mars in years to come.

This is your chance to share you opinion with NASA. Comments must be sent to them by Monday, October 23. Comments may be sent via email to mep.nepa@hq.nasa.gov or by mail to:


Mark R. Dahl, Program Executive
Mars Exploration Program Office
Planetary Science Division
Mail Suite 3X63
NASA Headquarters
Washington, DC 20546-0001


Key Points:

- NASA and the Department of Energy have long records of accidents and toxic contamination, from radioactive spills at production facilities and from space launch explosions. Expanding space plutonium power systems will increase chances of environmental contamination from plutonium.

- Page 4-31 of the DEIS identifies Potential Land Decontamination Cost Factors. It examines the cost of decontaminating affected areas, including Mixed-Use Urban areas at $1.5 billion per mile. The “secondary societal costs” of an accident identified include relocation of residents; destruction or quarantine of agricultural products; land use restrictions; and restriction or bans on commercial fishing.

- Every expansion of the plutonium process, including research, development and transportation of this deadly material over thousands of miles, increases the risk of nuclear accidents or theft.

- Every effort made to improve the design of nuclear-powered batteries for use in space furthers the technological infrastructure for the development of nuclear powered space-based weapons.

- Plutonium production is expensive and diverts tax dollars from more important social concerns present in our society today.


The Draft Environmental Impact Statement is available in Acrobat format by clicking on the link in the headline above.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

BUSH SPACE POLICY CALLS FOR WAR FROM SPACE


The new U.S. National Space Policy from the Bush administration was released late last week, interestingly on the last day of our annual Keep Space for Peace Week. The new policy makes several policy departures from past space doctrines. They are:

* Calling for the deployment of offensive weapons systems in space to "deter" and "deny" others the "use of space". This is a very provocative notion and will give the Pentagon the green light to put anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons in space that would be able to knock other countries satellites out of orbit.

* Saying the U.S. will "oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space." This means that the U.S. is now on record as being totally opposed to the development of an international treaty at the U.N. that would ban all weapons in space. The treaty, annually promoted at the U.N. by Russia, China and Canada seeks to close the door to the barn before the horse gets out. The U.S. and Israel have been blocking such a treaty since during the Clinton administration.

A key reason for America's desire to kill such treaty negotiations is that the military industrial complex views space as a new market. The weapons corporations have been saying for years that Star Wars will be the largest industrial project in the history of the planet Earth. Both Democrats and Republicans get the message and understand that their corporate paymasters want them to leave the door open to a new costly and destabilizing arms race in space.

One last key element of the new Bush space policy is the expanded use of nuclear power systems to "enable or significantly enhance space exploration or operational capabilities." What this means in English is that the aerospace industry wants to establish mining colonies on the Moon, Mars and other planetary bodies and they want to power these bases with nuclear reactors. The military has also long been saying they need nuclear reactors in space to provide power for space weapons systems. So the nuclear industry also plans to get in on using space as a new market for increasing corporate profits.

I did a radio interview with a Florida talk show early this morning about Bush's new national space policy. There were quite a few callers and every one of them understood the dangers involved with this new space policy. So it is clear, once again to me, that the public does not support this idea of the nuclearization and weaponization of space.

The problem though is what to do about it. How can we change public policy when the Democrats and Republicans are holding the door to Congress open only for the weapons corporations who now control national policy?

My answer is the same as always. Talk about the money wasted on programs like these and you will find that the public increasingly will listen to us as they begin to see how their tax dollars are wasted on endless war. Cutbacks in education and health care are having an impact on their children's future.

We've also got to begin to run candidates for local office that will speak out directly on these issues and call for conversion of the military industrial complex. We are finding that here in Maine the conversion issue is resonating quite well and now have a Green candidate for Governor and an Independent Congressional House candidate speaking regularly about the idea. They are saying we could create good jobs in our employment strapped state by converting military production facilities into building rail systems, solar systems and windmills.

Monday, October 16, 2006

CATCHING UP

  Posted by PicasaSpent the day trying to get through two-weeks of mail from the post office. Quite a few orders for our new "War from Space? Voices of the Global Network" video that our friend Eric Herter filmed in Vancouver at the World Peace Forum last June. He edited it into a one-hour documentary which I think came out nicely. Eric lives here in Brunswick and was an Associated Press camera man stationed in Vietnam for many years. While there he somehow heard of the Global Network and when he moved here a couple years ago was very surprised to discover that we had moved here as well. He is a Vietnam war veteran and married a woman from Vietnam. They have a wonderfully bright kid named Samantha and her mother Hoa has taught her to call me uncle.

I heard from J. Narayana Rao today from Nagpur, India who organized our speaking tour there. He says about our visit that, "Both of you, with scholarly analysis of events which hitherto not heard at Nagpur, have won the hearts of various sections of people. I have called a meeting on the coming Wednesday to take stock of things and plan further dissemination of the information you have provided and also plan events. I will be extremely benefitted in my work with my association with you and the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space."

So it appears our tour is having an impact and that is good to hear. I am going to suggest to our board of directors that we invite Rao to be a board member. As the U.S. pulls India into Star Wars we will need a good organizer like him in India to help build resistance to those plans.

While away Bush released his new national space policy. I will address it in greater detail later on the blog but for now you can see it yourself by clicking on the link in the headline above.