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, May 05, 2007

VISIT TO NEW YORK CITY

Just back from my trip to New York City. I took the train from Portland to New York. The ride was relaxing and I got a lot of reading done. I'm currently reading a book called Hope Against Hope about Stalin's extermination of legions of Soviet citizens including the poet Osip Mandelstam. The story is written by Mandelstam's wife Nadezhda. One very important message I take from the book is the human ability to ignore reality - to turn away from the evil that is swirling all around us. To pretend that it does not exist. To refuse to take responsibility for the actions of one's government.

I did two talks on May 3 in New York City, the first was organized by Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) and was held just across the street from the U.N. The U.N. is now hosting a large gathering of NGO's to talk about environment and sustainable development. Edel Havin Beukes, a WILPF member from Norway, wanted to have the space issue considered as part of the environmental portion of the U.N. meeting so asked me to focus on that in my talk. She, and Carol Urner from Oregon and also a WILPF member, organized the meeting and got some of the delegates to the U.N. meeting to come hear my talk. Edel and Carol were both at our Global Network annual meeting in Germany in April and the idea for me to come to New York grew out of that event.

Following that meeting Edel took me across the street to the U.N. and had a BBC World Service reporter interview me. The reporter, from Ethiopia, was assigned to write for a publication called Outreach Issues that is being produced daily during the NGO meeting. It appears the publication was being funded in part by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and thus Edel was connected to it and could make the interview possible. Edel said the publication was being read by all the NGO delegates so our message of space and the environment was able to go out to a larger audience.

Global Network member Sung-Hee Choi from South Korea, who is an artist and teacher now living in New York City, also came to the meeting. [Sung-Hee took the photo above.] She has been coming to our annual GN meetings for the past few years and has been very helpful in getting our space issues translated into Korean and distributed in her country. Sung-Hee accompanied me to all of my talks while I was in New York and looked out for me as best she could, making sure I did not get lost.

My second talk that day was hosted by Code Pink New York at the offices of United for Peace & Justice. Anne Gibbons had become interested in the space issue after watching our video Arsenal of Hypocrisy and apparently is a regular reader of my blog. Anne decided to invite key leaders from her group and other peace groups to a dinner meeting so folks could meet me and hear an outline of our work on space. Her hope was that following that meeting there would then be the energy to create an opportunity for me to speak to a larger gathering of activists in New York. The meeting went really well and after my talk I had a wonderful exchange with the group. We talked about space, Iraq, the coming 2008 elections, political strategy and even organizing philosophy.

The folks had a wonderful spirit and I am hopeful that it will be arranged for me to return to New York with our Global Network message in the near future.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

WINNING AND LOSING

This picture above was painted by an Iraqi kid. It was one in a series of pieces of art I saw the other day about how kids are feeling in Iraq about the U.S. occupation. The sadness and feeling of despair rips at my heart. The piercing eye speaks directly to me about what is real and what is a lie about our heartless occupation. I have to use the word "our" because it is American tax dollars paying for the madness. What are we doing to end it? Talking about the "showdown" between a Congressional bill that funds the war with imaginary withdrawal time lines and Bush's threat to veto it? It's all a public relations spectacle. The image above is real.

Many people are buzzing about the recent Democratic Party debate in South Carolina. I missed the debate but last night Mary Beth and I watched a compilation of Sen. Mike Gravel's performance in the debate. (If you click on the link above you can watch it.)

Gravel was a two-term senator from Alaska who helped lead the fight to end the funding for the Vietnam war. He also was a key figure in helping Daniel Ellsberg leak The Pentagon Papers to the media back in the early 1970's.

Gravel was quite passionate in the debate and after it was over I read a Washington Post columnist, in a piece called Winners and Losers, say that Hillary and Obama had won the debate and that Gravel should not be allowed in any other debates after his striking performance in South Carolina. Since then Gravel was told he'd not be invited to speak in a coming New Hampshire debate but the fierce response from new Gravel supporters across the country seems to have blocked the attempt to censor him.

People are looking for honesty and passion and it looks like Gravel might have just upped the ante in the Democratic contest. It's good to see.

I will be leaving early in the morning on the train for New York City where I will be speaking on Thursday at an event being organized by WILPF and the Norwegian Forum for Environment & Development. It will be held just across the street from the U.N. at 777 UN Plaza from 1-3 pm. The event will be called "Weapons in Space or Life on Earth, The Choice is Ours." Other speakers will be Carol Urner from WILPF and Frida Berrigan from the World Policy Institute.

Following that event I've been invited to speak at an anti-war meeting hosted by Codepink New York City. Then Friday morning I jump on the train and head home again.

This weekend we will be working in the yard at our house to begin getting ready to plant our vegetable garden. The weather is finally turning to spring here so we need to get things going since our growing season is so short.

Hope you all have a good weekend.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

SENSE OF HISTORIC MOMENT CREATES PASSIONATE IMPEACHMENT EVENT

Last night about 200 folks came together in Portland for an impeachment event that featured David Swanson as speaker. Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org - one of the most influential impeachment action organizations in the U.S. - spoke about the status and prospects for impeachment. His powerful talk pointed directly at the need to put pressure on Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership.

The event was organized by MaineImpeach.org which is a group of folks around our state who have now gathered almost 10,000 signatures of Mainers calling on our state legislature to debate a resolution calling for impeachment of Bush and Cheney. [Remember we only have 1.3 million people living in Maine.]

The photo above (if you click on the picture you get a better view) is of people involved in this campaign who went to Kennebunkport earlier this week and had the picture taken right in front of the Bush family compound at Walker's Point. (I am involved now in the organizing of a major New England regional protest march planned for this very same spot on August 25 which is the time George W. is expected to vacation here with his family.)

During his talk last night Swanson told how activists around the country have been going to the offices of media outlets and doing sit-ins to protest the lack of coverage of the impeachment story. So following the talk last night more than 50 of us marched down the street to the offices of the Portland Press Herald which had, once again, chosen to ignore another one of our local events. When we arrived at the office we were chanting "Impeach Bush/Cheney, Report the News". By this time it was about 8:30 pm. A janitor came out and told us the night reporting crew was in another building a block away so we marched over there and saw the news team sitting at their computers in a first floor office setting with a window open. So we began chanting again and pounded on their windows. This went on for some time and finally one of their staff came out to tell us it was private property. We ignored him.

We noticed two cop cars in the parking lot but the police made no move to shove us off. So we kept chanting, put impeachment and anti-war stickers on the front door of the building. Once we dispersed many of us went to a local bar for a beer.

While at the bar one of the organizers got a phone call from the newspaper saying we had frightened them and that they wanted to know why we had come to their office. They ended up interviewing three of the key organizers over a cell phone but nothing appeared in the paper today. We'll see if Monday's paper carries a story.

Everyone felt that the meeting last night was a historic event. The church, founded around 1650, has a rich history of having hosted important political events.

The church was the site of two events of significance to the anti-slavery movement in Maine. The first was the speech made by William Lloyd Garrison at the conclusion of his eight-day tour of Maine in the fall of 1832.

The other event of importance is the 1842 riot outside the church by pro-slavery supporters who attempted to prevent the militant anti-slavery speakers Stephen Symonds Foster and John Murray Spear from speaking. Stephen Symonds Foster suffered twenty blows to the head and had his coat torn in half. Luckily, he escaped out a back window assisted by the women of the Portland Anti-Slavery Society. After the women led Foster safely away, minister John Murray Spear attempted to leave by the front door believing the mob was done. Unfortunately, the mob’s fury was not spent, and he was beaten almost to death on the steps of the church.

So it was this spirit of history, and our current struggle to end the occupation of Iraq and bring Bush/Cheney to justice for their crimes against humanity, that filled us with a strong passion last evening. We all came away from the meeting feeling strengthened that we must press forward more determined than ever to hold our government accountable for their misdeeds.