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, June 08, 2007


A heated battle is underway between local citizens and the U.S. Army. The Army wants more land for military maneuvers. In fact they want a half-million acres. The citizens don't want to give up their land. Some are even saying they might defend their rights to their land with guns.

Is this Iraq you ask? Italy, Guam, Australia, Okinawa, South Korea, Africa, England, Czech Republic, Latin America? No, this battle is happening right here in the good ole USA. Colorado in fact.

The Army base at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs is a big base. But the Army maintains they need to dramatically expand their training operation - nearly tripling the size of the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, and have said they might have to take private ranch land by forced condemnation - a process called eminent domain. The Army says that 10,000 more troops are expected by the end of the decade and that it needs more land to simulate the modern high-tech battlefield conditions of future combat zones.

The cattle ranchers, most of whom are conservative and pro-military, are furious. Yesterday at a public meeting in Trinidad, Colorado more than 500 ranchers turned out for another meeting to confront the Army.

"When are you going to get it through your head that we don't want you here!" one rancher yelled at the Army representatives. The debate was often filled with screaming and profanity.

What we are seeing is that as U.S. militarism grows the appetite for land also multiplies like a cancer. People around the world have been experiencing this phenomena for years but now the chickens are coming home to roost in a big way.

Not long ago, citizens in the panhandle of Florida had to fight to keep the Air Force from taking over huge tracks of land near the conservative rural town of Perry for a bombing range. Leaders of this effort invited me to come down and speak with them about the consequences of depleted uranium (DU) contamination that would result from the military operations. Studies have shown that at a similar bombing range at Eglin AFB in northwest Florida the military had used over 220,000 pounds of DU munitions. After a so-called "clean-up" effort by the military, a public health assessment at Eglin estimates that 90-95% of the DU remains in the soil.

The Florida folks forced a local referendum and won the vote by a margin of 75-25% opposing the range. For now they are happy with the results but fully understand they must remain on guard as these things tend to pop up again.

This Colorado fight is a classic battle between Mr. Big and the people. Our friend Bill Sulzman in Colorado Springs, one of the co-founders of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, has been working to support the ranchers. It's an example how local peace activists can come to the aid of those who are feeling the boot, here at home, of the ever expanding military industrial complex.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Last Sunday, in Trento, Italy, Prime Minister Romano Prodi was speaking at an economics conference when protesters began demonstrating outside and inside the event. They were protesting plans to dramatically expand the U.S. military base attached to their local airport called Dal Molin in the city of Vicenza.

Prodi, who led a center-left coalition to take power, sat silently as one woman protest leader was given the microphone to address the audience.

"We voted for you on the basis of a manifesto which spoke of less servitude towards the military and of participatory democracy. Where are those words?" she asked.

Prodi did not address the issue in his speech but told the media afterwards, "On the U.S. base at Vicenza, the government has made its decision, a decision we are sticking to."

The several hundred protesters outside had to be carried away before Prodi could leave.

The demands of the Italians include:




Bush will be in Rome on June 9 and a national demonstration is planned to oppose his visit and the U.S. military empire.

The "missile defense system" issue is becoming quite big throughout Europe as Bush rushes forward with deployment plans of interceptors in Poland and a Star Wars radar facility in the Czech Republic. On May 26 thousands protested against U.S. plans for the radar facility in the Czech Republic. The public in both Poland and the Czech Republic are strongly opposed to these new U.S. bases but their governments are giving in to Bush's pressure.

In Australia the government is joining the U.S. for military war games called Talisman Sabre 2007. The maneuvers will bind Australia with the U.S. military expansion currently sweeping across the north-west Pacific Ocean. This increasing militarization is anchored on the small island of Guam which the U.S. now occupies.

The majority of the 20,000 U.S. troops, planes, ships and submarines which engage in military exercises such as Talisman Sabre in Australia are either home based in Guam, are rotated to Guam, or transit through Guam from bases in Hawaii and the U.S. continent. Activists on Guam have been calling on the U.S. for many years to give the island back to the people.

Australian activists are now organizing to hold protests nationwide opposing Talisman Sabre.

For two weeks, beginning mid-June, 12,400 Australian troops will participate in live aerial, ship to shore and land based artillery bombardments with the U.S. troops. Of particular concern is that the war games will be held in some of Australia’s most precious environments. Shoalwater Bay Training Area, which is partly within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, has seen a massive government injection of public funding to upgrade and expand facilities in preparation for these and future war games.

One Australian activist put it this way: "Don't worry that the world is melting down from climate change and the oceans of aviation fuel and heavy crude oil their ships will guzzle up to come here from the other side of the world. Don't worry about the carcinogenic nature of all these heavy metal bombs (even if we can`trust' them on their word not to use depleted uranium bombs) they will explode and will drift on the wind over Australia for up to one thousand kilometres from the drop site. .... We have a moral obligation to object to our sacred soil being used to train soldiers for pre-emptive wars that are launched to steal natural resources from people who are no threat to us, who are always the main casualties in these adventurist wars to grab their natural resources so we can indulge our own first world lifestyles."

In addition, some 230 miles north of Perth, at Geraldton on Australia's west coast, the Bush administration is building a new base. When completed, it will control two geostationary satellites that feed intelligence to U.S. military forces in Asia and the Middle East. Most Americans know nothing about Geraldton, just as they know nothing about other Australian sites such as the U.S. submarine communications base at North Cape or the U.S. missile-tracking center at Pine Gap. But there is growing concern Down Under that Prime Minster John Howard's conservative government is weaving a network of alliances and U.S. bases that puts Australia under full control of the U.S. military machine.

Just like in Italy, the public in Australia is not behind their nation's subservience to the U.S. All over the world people are learning that their governments, as corporate globalization takes hold, have become slaves to the interests of corporate profit and militarism.

As we see the activists in Italy, Czech Republic, Guam, and Australia work hard to resist U.S. militarism, we in the U.S. must step up and stand in solidarity with those on the receiving end of the mighty U.S. military boot that is coming down hard on their necks.

A global peace movement is in motion.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


While driving to Nevada I found it extremely difficult to find places to stop and eat/sleep that were not corporate entities. It is amazing how much Subway, McDonald's, KFC, Holiday Inn, Motel 6, and others dominate the highways and byways of the country.

A friend recently sent me this flag graphic and said when she looked at it she realized just how many of these corporate brands she could identify. She was shocked at this revelation. Even when we try hard to resist it our minds do get stamped by these corporations.

An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post this morning called Discontent Over Iraq Increasing, Poll Finds

The article talks about the growing disapproval in the nation of both Bush and the Congress and much of the reason for these sinking poll numbers has to do with Iraq. People do understand that we've been betrayed by the Democrats on Iraq. This reality gives me some hope as it is clear that people are seeing the true power dynamic. The public is really understanding that someone other than "the people" control our government. That someone is the corporate "pay masters" as Ralph Nader always says.

One issue that exposes this corporate domination is health care. Virtually everyone in the country is intimately touched by the rising cost of health care or lack of health care coverage at all. Michael Moore's new move, Sicko, takes on this corporate control of our nation's health care system. (The movie trailer can be found at the link in the headline above.)

I am convinced, more than ever, that the Achilles heel of the power elite in America is corporate domination. I'll never forget once sitting with Mary Beth in a little breakfast joint called The Sugar Shack in the middle of the Black Hills in South Dakota one October morning right before the 2000 elections. The place was empty except for one other table next to us where four elderly people were sitting. I heard one ask the others, "Who are you going to vote for in the presidential election?" Another responded, "It doesn't really matter because they are all controlled by the corporations." I turned to Mary Beth and said "We've won!" Won what, Mary Beth wondered? When the American people internalize the reality that the corporations control the government it's only a matter of time I suggested. Now we've just got to get folks to act to take the power back.

Surely that will be no easy task. But the fact is that Michael Moore is doing us a great service
by clearly naming the problem and giving people a sense of hope that something can be done in taking on the giant corporate powers. And seeing already how the health insurance corporations are scrambling to denounce Sicko indicates how precarious these corporate entities feel.

So we need to continue to tie these corporate rulers together in one bundle and keep talking about how they have taken total control of our economic system and our democracy. The bankers, the weapons corporations, insurance companies, pharmaceutical corporations, agribusiness, oil companies, and the like are ultimately one power elite. Each time we take on one of them we need to talk about how they are only one part of the larger machine with tentacles that own our government. So we don't have to work on all the issues at once. We can pick 1-2 issues to focus on but we must always articulate the links between the corporate powers.

We need to insist that corporations be broken apart, that we be allowed as citizens to be free of corporate domination because it is a new form of slavery. Just as we would resist any totalitarian fascist dictatorship, we must declare that corporate domination is inherently anti-democratic and anti-freedom and anti-liberty. We cannot have democracy coexist with corporate control of our government.

Monday, June 04, 2007


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.