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, April 06, 2007

SUBMERGED DEMOCRACY

The theme for today is submerged democracy.

What this means is that despite the raging opposition to Bush and his illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq the Democrats keep enabling the mess to continue.

For example, Nancy Pelosi says that impeachment is off the table. In response (see the photo above) citizens turned out by the thousands in her district on a San Francisco beach to call for impeachment hearings.

Pelosi, supposedly the liberal who was going to change things once the Dems took power, had this to say yesterday in the New York Times: "There is no division in policy between us and President Bush -- be it on Israel, Palestine or Syria," Pelosi told reporters at the Damascus Airport after concluding her meetings with Syria's president.

One can only assume she refers to Iraq too as we watched her recently lead the $124 billion war supplemental through the House. Many arms were twisted to make sure that funding for Bush's war continues. (Fortunately for us in Maine Rep. Mike Michaud from the 2nd district was one of the few with enough courage to vote against the war funding bill.)

Here in Maine, in today's Portland Press Herald, we see the leader of a liberal social justice group criticizing Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) for voting against the Democratic party war funding bill in the Senate.

Jessie Graham, executive director of the Maine People's Alliance, was unhappy with the senator's vote.

"We were disappointed last week that Senator Collins, when given the opportunity to vote for legislation that provided funding for the troops in Iraq as well as a plan for withdrawal, voted nay," Graham said.

The Maine People's Alliance (MPA) has not been involved in anti-war work in Maine during the past four years that I have been here. But just recently the group has been holding news conferences around the state to support the Democratic Party position on the supplemental bill that just passed. They've taken out TV ads to blast Sen. Collins (who is a total war supporter) for not voting with the Dems.

But the truth is that the MPA's champion, Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME) who is planning to announce next month that he will be running against Collins for her senate seat, has his hands deep in the pasta.

Rep. Allen just voted to fund the $124 billion Iraq occupation supplemental. In fact he's voted eight straight times to fund Bush's war. So he is doing the very same thing that he, and the Democratic Party controlled MPA, criticize Sen. Collins for doing - supporting the war. The truth is that both Collins and Allen are wrong!

This is how the public has become so cynical. Real discussion, real debate, real democracy, real differences have been submerged. Political integrity has been drowned. You have organizations like MPA that say they are against the war now undercutting the peace movement in Maine by going out and supporting politicians who keep voting to fund the war. And they do it because they want the Dems to take power. That's all that matters.

So the truth gets submerged. It gets destroyed in the process. And groups like MPA become agents of politicians and give up their roles as representatives of the people. Maybe they do it because they get extra funding to support the Dems. Maybe they do it because they think they will have a "special relationship" with the Dems.

Either way, in the end, what happens is that the movements to end war become fragmented and the public becomes very confused about what is going on. And few want to publicly speak about the confusion for fear they will be accused of being disloyal to the Democrats.

Howard Zinn said it very well last week after MoveOn sold out the peace movement by coming to the aid of the Democrats just before the vote on the $124 billion supplemental. Zinn wrote, "When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them. We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress. Timetables for withdrawal are not only morally reprehensible in the case of a brutal occupation (would you give a thug who invaded your house, smashed everything in sight, and terrorized your children a timetable for withdrawal?) but logically nonsensical. If our troops are preventing civil war, helping people, controlling violence, then why withdraw at all? If they are in fact doing the opposite—provoking civil war, hurting people, perpetuating violence—they should withdraw as quickly as ships and planes can carry them home."

The Democrats, MoveOn, and MPA say withdraw sometime in late 2008. But in fact, at this very moment, the Democrats in Congress are working on the fiscal year 2008 supplemental for Iraq and they want to provide Bush with $145 billion.

The occupation of Iraq will not end until the truth can surface in Maine and around the nation. A submerged democracy is a dead democracy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

EUCOM AND AFRICOM

During my recent trip to Germany for the Global Network conference I arrived early and went for a quick visit to meet with activists in Southern Germany who have for years protested at the headquarters of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) in Stuttgart. Global Network leaders Bill Sulzman and Loring Wirbel (in photo above) also went along for this visit.

After a meeting with the Deputy Mayor of Stuttgart (who is a Green Party member) the German activists took us out to EUCOM for a walk around the perimeter of the base to show us the new security measures that have been taken. For years the activists have cut holes in the fence and walked onto the base to protest EUCOM's role as coordinator of all U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe.

EUCOM has also recently been involved in creating the new U.S. Africa Command, AFRICOM, which will be in charge of organizing U.S. plans to start a war there during the next 20 years so the U.S. can control the oil in Nigeria and other vital resources on the continent. (See the article from the EUCOM website linked in the headline above that announces the AFRICOM mission.)

While we were walking around the EUCOM base I had the idea that the three of us American activists should approach the front-gate and make a statement. So Bill, Loring, and I walked up to the gate and the only American we could find was the woman dressed in combat fatigues you see in the photo. All the rest of the gate guards were Germans from a private security corporation. The woman told us she was in the Ohio National Guard and her whole unit was in charge of doing security on the base because all U.S. military police from this base had been sent to Iraq. She too, once finished at this base, would be going to Iraq next she said. We gave her a leaflet prepared by the German activists which calls for all American soldiers to honor Nuremberg Principles that maintains it is the duty of soldiers to resist illegal and immoral orders. She read the whole leaflet right in front of us.

We also told her that we wanted to make a statement to her superiors so she got on the phone and the base Provost Marshall came out and we told him we were American activists and had come to support our German friends who wanted this base shut down. We said that the presence of U.S. weapons of mass destruction in Europe violated international law, as determined by a ruling of the World Court, and needed to be removed pronto. We also said that the U.S. occupation of Iraq was illegal and immoral and U.S. troops must be returned home. We ended by saying that we knew AFRICOM had just been created out of Stuttgart and was intended to direct endless war on the African continent.

The Provost, the man in the photo dressed in black, at first was quite hostile when I began making our statement. He tried to interrupt me but I told him to relax and to give me a chance to speak. As I went along he became more docile as he listened to the strong indictment of U.S. policy. In the end he took the leaflet we had given to the woman soldier and said he'd pass on our statement to his commander. The woman had folded the leaflet up and appeared reluctant to give it to the Provost. We were glad she had read it before he arrived.

In the end we shook their hands and left. I felt the young woman was quite impressed by the whole episode and I think she will long remember the day the three American activists approached the gate and told the U.S. military to close the base down.

I was glad I was wearing my Veterans for Peace button at the time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

SOLDIERS WANT TO COME HOME

Click on the cartoon to get a larger version that you can read.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

SUMMER FUN STARTS TODAY

Ok I admit it. I have a diversion from the madness of the world. Baseball season begins today and my Baltimore Orioles, that I have followed all my life, will now commence to put me through another season of pain and agony.

The O's, once a great team, have had losing seasons nine years in a row and this year is expected to be the tenth. But a loyal fan sticks with the O's - through thick and thin. Mostly thin.

I have extravagantly ordered the Major League Baseball web-TV package for $80 and I can watch all the games live via the Internet. So on many evenings this summer I will be found sitting at my desk agonizing as the O's drop another game. Mary Beth will come into my study and ask, "How are the boys doing?" though we both know that in truth she doesn't really care. What she really wants to know is "what kind of mood are you going to be in when this game is over?" Sadly to say, the mood is often sour.

I don't yell as much as I used to. I've grown used to the team taking it on the chin. Now I just moan, groan, and grouse a lot.

I also spend time on the Baltimore Sun fan chat room reading the posts of other long-suffering fans. Two years ago I got tired of the complaining and began sending posts suggesting the fans organize and complain that the owner was not spending enough of the millions in profit the team was accruing from it's loyal fan base. Much to my delight, at the beginning of the 2006 season, the fans did get organized and purchased a large billboard calling for the owner to sell the team. I donated to that cause. The Baltimore Sun ended up giving the billboard campaign front-page coverage on the first day of the season last year.

Later in the season, again much to my delight, a local radio sports talk show host got the fans to do a march to the stadium dressed in black. Hundreds joined the march, bought tickets and went inside and sat in the same section. The cheered wildly for the team, and then at the appointed moment filed out of the stadium in single file in protest of the rich owner who has destroyed the beloved Orioles.

This past winter, after many years of empty promises, the owner did make some worthwhile moves to improve the team. The lessons for the fans, and for the Baltimore community, is that organizing and making demands can have an impact.

I know some would say what a waste it is for fans of a sports team to spend time organizing. But I come from the old school that says go to the people where they are and get them working together. Let them learn to organize collectively, to have some success, and to feel proud in that effort. The truth is that baseball fans have to spend a lot of money these days to take their families to the games. Let the rich owners feel some heat from the fans who want a return on their dollar. I am in favor of class struggle, even if it manifests itself in baseball.

And for this fan, maybe the O's might win a couple more games this year. I know Mary Beth will like me better if the boys pick up a few more in 2007.

Go O's.