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: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Monday, June 04, 2007

REFLECTIONS ON A DRIVE ACROSS THE COUNTRY

My 2,600-mile rental moving truck trip from Florida to Las Vegas gave me lots of time to reflect and to listen. I experienced the joys of AM radio and made note of curious things as I headed west.

My older sister Joan came from Iowa and helped get my mom’s things in order as we loaded the truck in Florida. My oldest sister Karen was on the receiving end in Las Vegas getting mom’s new apartment ready and helping me to unload the truck in the 100 degree heat.

Below is a series of memories from the trip that stood out for me:

- Sister Joan (a Republican who lives in conservative northwest Iowa) told me that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in her community recently on a campaign trip. Joan couldn’t go but Romney put out the word that if folks who couldn’t attend the event called him and left a question he’d call right back for a chat. So Joan called Romney and told him she was against weapons in space and wanted to hear his position. Joan told me Mitt never called her back. Joan also suggested that she felt neither political party would be likely to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Ba-boom!

- Hurricane season began the same day I set off from Florida. Radio news reported that state and local governments were cutting funds for programs to help people in the event of a hurricane disaster.

- Lake Okeechobee in South Florida is drying up. The lake is a key water source for the state and because of over development and drought a severe water shortage has developed.

- Another news item I heard was that food prices were going up as ethanol fuel production (using corn) was creating competition and driving up prices of corn. So the car becomes more important than feeding people.

- A coalition of gun companies are starting a program to “help the disabled veterans” who come back from Iraq. The “shooting industry,” as they call themselves, will assist any veteran who wishes to go hunting or shoot at a rifle range.

- Several AM radio stations outside of Dallas, Texas were simultaneously airing financial seminars on a Sunday. The shows offered the “Buy low, sell high strategies” in a religious worship format. Money is the god product.

- A passing freight train had many boxcars on-board with corporation names I was not always familiar with. I looked some of them up and found that much of the transport industry in the U.S. has also been outsourced. Some corporations included: Maersk Sealand (Denmark), Nedlloyd (British/Dutch), China Shipping, Hyundai (South Korea), and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (Japan).

- In a Wichita Falls, Texas hotel room I saw a TV campaign commercial by Mitt Romney. He said, “Now is the time to forge a coalition to rebuild our military might.” Rebuild?

- Also in Wichita Falls I went to a restaurant where virtually everyone there appeared to be severely sullen and depressed. I saw this quite often along my journey as working class people are showing the strains of life in America today.

- In North Texas I spotted a pasture full of camels.

- One right-wing talk show got a call from a man who told the host “Happy Memorial Day.” Happy?

- A farm talk radio show reported that there is a severe shortage of farm veterinarians across the U.S. these days. In the event of an outbreak of some farm animal virus the fear is that there would not be enough trained animal vets to diagnose an outbreak in time.

- In rural northwest Texas I spotted a very nice elaborate, but abandoned, facility. As I approached I wondered just what the complex might be. It turned out to be a closed hospital.

- Lots of lovely roadside wild flowers throughout Texas. I remembered that Lady Bird Johnson had campaigned, while Lyndon was in office, to plant wild flowers along the nation’s roads. I began to wonder how the country could afford to mow the many thousands of miles of roadway as gas prices now rise and budgets are slashed?

- After listening to the outright lies and fabrications of a slew of right-wing radio talk show hosts all along my journey I find it amazing that more than 70% of the American people want the occupation of Iraq to end. It is a real tribute to the fact that in spite of serious efforts to control the truth, the people are still able to separate wheat from chaff.

- On the western edge of Texas, near the New Mexico border, the land changes dramatically. The ground becomes dryer, the soil is red, and the rolling hills increase as you can see the road ahead for miles. A convoy of trucks was in front of me for as far as the eye could see. I imagined a wagon train heading west along this very route 200 years ago. Then I saw two military helicopters overhead heading west and my mind flashed to Iraq as I was listening to traditional Iraqi music on my headphones. I saw the similarities between the two images. Two hundred years ago the white man moving west with “hostile” Indians raiding the convoys and today in Iraq “hostile terrorists” are setting traps for U.S. troops along the highways. I remembered the words of an Indian, “Watch out, they are coming to steal your land.”

- On a distant bluff in New Mexico I saw more than 75 windmills slowly turning creating clean, cheap energy.

- Gas prices were all over the map. In Florida around $3.19 a gallon, Alabama $2.97, New Mexico $3.55, and Nevada $3.15.

- The Kirtland Air Force Base newspaper in Albuquerque, New Mexico reported that 38,000 Air Force personnel (mostly desk job types) have gone through a two-week combat training and are being deployed in Iraq.

- One major issue I heard frequently on right-wing talk radio was immigration. Conservatives are upset with George W. Bush, and many Republican politicians, for supporting the new immigration reform bill and are threatening to stay home in the 2008 election if not listened too. One person said, “Despite the anger of the populace I fear the elites are going to win again.” It reminded me how peace activists feel about the Democrats.

- As I approached Las Vegas the view of the Colorado River, winding its way through the rocky cliffs below, was a spectacular sight. I was stopped just before I reached the Hoover Dam by private security guards at a roadblock. They made me get out of the truck and open the back so they could inspect my cargo. The guard asked me if I had any explosives to blow up the dam on board. I told him no I did not. I was then waved on.

- Las Vegas, full of neon lights and congested traffic, is still undergoing an enormous construction boom as new hotels/casinos are being built. It is truly a culture of the worship of money and entertainment. A severe water shortage has hit Las Vegas as the population has outpaced the lands ability to sustain the growth.

- During much of my trip I thought about two things. One was my work as an organizer. How could I do a better job working to stop space weaponization and the war in Iraq? The second thing was my own personal life. How could I best continue to grow in my life journey? By the end of the trip I concluded that the answer was the same for both questions. I must be present in the moment. I must be there and involved in my political work and the answers to the questions will come as part of my community that I work in if I stay engaged. And in my personal life, I must really be present in all my relationships. By being present I will constantly be challenged and will continue to grow.

I am glad to be home again after this long trip west. I know my mother will be in the good hands of my sister as they start this new journey together.

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