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 22, 2007

THE RULING CLASS


We often hear people talk about our Founding Fathers. Many say things like, "If our Founding Fathers could see the way things are today, they'd roll over in their graves."

Really?

Gore Vidal wrote in his book Inventing A Nation, that at the time of the revolutionary war with England that George Washington's "wartime temper was an awesome volcanic affair in serial eruption when dealing with a crooked Congress that was allowing food and supplies to be sold to the British army while embezzling for themselves money appropriated for the 'naked and distressed soldiers,' as Washington referred to his troops."

After the Revolutionary war was over New England merchants were eager to reestablish trade with Great Britain. By importing large amounts of goods into postwar New England, merchants glutted the market. Export markets had yet to be fully developed thus a trade imbalance existed that led to a nationwide debt crisis and a chain of debt collections. [Sounds just a bit like the U.S. today with our enormous trade/debt problems.]

David Szatmary writes in Shay's Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection, that "To satisfy British creditors, New England wholesalers tried to collect their outstanding loans" from their customers who tended to be inland shop keepers and small farmers. "Having difficulty with debt collections, merchants increasingly chose legal action that contributed to a great increase in debt suits," Szatmary concludes.

Soon the local shopkeepers and farmers faced creditors who took their land and state governments helped in the confiscation process as the local working class could not afford to pay their property taxes. Many found themselves in prison because of their debts. Szatmary writes that, "Yeomen, husbandmen, day laborers, and rural craftsmen comprised 91% of these debtors while no prominent retailer were behind bars [in one Worcester County, MA. jail]."

It soon came down to the coastal traders, in the big cities like Boston, were of one class and the inland workers another. A rebellion, ultimately to be called Shays' Rebellion, ensued as those who were oppressed went to their town meetings and county conventions seeking legal remedy to their plight. The working class began to elect their own representatives who tried to reform the harsh laws through nonviolent means. According to one leader of the revolt they "advocated reforms that would ease the payment of debts, reduce taxes, publicize the expenditure of state funds, and pare down the powers of the court of common pleas."

During this time poor economic conditions even forced revolutionary war veterans to sell their Continental and state certificates. Large speculators, many of them coastal merchants, bought this paper for a fraction of its stated value. Szatmary quotes one farmer, "A very few men in each state have monopolized these obligations to such an immense amount, and originally on so easy terms, that there are now some fortunes among us which would tolerably well support the expenses of an Earldom."

The divide between rich and poor was established early on in the new America. Remember too, that under the new Constitution only white men who held land could vote. Thus legions of small farmers and land owners who lost all they had no longer were able to participate in the new "revolutionary" government. Their attempts to use existing government reform measures to hang onto what little they had largely failed.

In 1786 New England small farmers gave up on peaceful protest and took up arms. A rebellion leader urged others to join the fight against "all the machinations of those who are aiming to enslave and oppress us" and to strike down "that aristocratical principle too generally prevalent among the wealthy men of the state." Szatmary reports that "By the end of the year, an uprising that involved almost 9,000 militants or about one-quarter of the 'fighting men' in rural areas had surfaced in every New England state except Rhode Island."

Rich merchants and the "professional class" feared the insurgency, if successful, would spread and redistribute property throughout the nation. Thus the new Colonial government turned to George Washington to form the first national army to suppress the rebellion. But first they made sure that the new Constitution gave the federal government the powers to control the "internal insurrection."

According to one man of property, "the new Constitution is received with great joy by all the commercial part of the community. The people of Boston are in raptures with it as it is...and all men of considerable property, the clergy, the lawyers, including the judges of the court, and all the officers of the late army advocated the most vigorous government."

The reaction of the "insurgents" naturally was quite different to the news that a national army was being created to put down the unrest. One farmer argued that "With national military power lawyers and men of learning, and monied men expected to get all the power and all the money into their own hands, and then they will swallow up all us little folks, like the great Leviathan" turning independent farmers into tenants or wage laborers.

In his book The Creation of America: Through Revolution to Empire author Francis Jennings states, "The farmers of Shay's rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion were not so much intent on tearing down as simply bettering their own conditions. Resentment against the perceived ruling class deflected into aggression against Indians. Instead of conflict with the ruling class, seizure of Indian lands could be effected with its complicity. Thus perpetual conquest diverted rebellious sentiment into the satisfaction of demands for personal advancement at the expense of Indians instead of the wealthy. "

Empire was born. And today it remains as we see those in Washington continually making decisions that perpetuate the privilege of wealth and power. Words like freedom, patriotism and liberty have become the tools of the elite to control the rest of us and to spread empire.

Frances Moore Lappe writes in Time for Progressives to Grow Up that "We've lived so long under the spell of hierarchy..... that only recently have we awakened to see not only that 'regular' citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crisis cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

WHICH CANDIDATE DO YOU SUPPORT?

Lately I have been getting quite a few emails asking me who I think should be president. "Which of the Democrats do I support?" people ask.

My answer is quite simple. Listen closely to them and tell me which of them are talking about the permanent war economy.

No, I'm not saying which of them want to bring the troops home from Iraq. I'm saying which of them are mentioning that we've been taken over by the military industrial complex.

Which of the Democratic Party presidential candidates are calling for substantial cuts in military spending (say maybe 50%)? Which of them is offering a plan for the conversion of the military industrial complex to environmentally sustainable production?

Which of the candidates is putting the pieces together and telling the public about Pentagon plans to permanently occupy the Middle East, invade Iran, fight in Africa to control their oil, and militarily surround China?

Which of the candidates is laying out the weapons industry's plan to move the arms race into space - what the Pentagon says will be the largest industrial project in the history of the planet Earth? Which of the candidates for president has been critical of Bush's deployments of "missile defense" systems in Poland and the Czech Republic that will be used to help create a U.S. encirclement of Russia and will likely lead to a new arms race?

Which of the candidates is mentioning that military satellites in space are used to spy on the people of the U.S. and around the world?

Which of the candidates for president has said anything critical about the Navy's new plan to convert their ships to nuclear propulsion due to the rising cost and increasing scarcity of fossil fuels? Which of the candidates is telling us that this plan will cost more than $800 million to convert one ship to nuclear power?

Which of the candidates is talking about the fact that the U.S. military is the biggest polluter in the world?

Michael Klare, professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, recently wrote, "The American military has been transformed into a “global oil-protection service” for the benefit of U.S. corporations and consumers, fighting overseas battles and establishing its bases to ensure that we get our daily fuel fix."

Which of the candidates is talking about that?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

WHAT IS THE ACHILLES HEEL?

It's been awhile since I had to write anything for the blog. I have never had such a response to anything I've written before as I got to the last piece, So What Do We Do Now? It is obvious that it touched a strong chord in people. I didn't post all the comments I got but tried to put up most of the ones that offered ideas, critiques, etc.

My own observation of what I learned from the whole thing is that people are extremely frustrated, and in spite of the fact that most activists are still working hard, many of them have a sense of loss as it feels like the country is slipping from between our fingers.

Bush is likely to attack Iran and the Democrats aimlessly talk but do little to challenge him on anything. Once again in my local paper yesterday is another article quoting another U.S. general in Iraq saying we will need to be there for 10 years.

Also is my local paper yesterday is a big photo of high school students protesting in a nearby small town that just voted at annual town meeting to cut the school budget by $400,000. This will likely mean teacher lay-offs. Sadly the town, and the students, are not connecting this to the occupation of Iraq which is now costing U.S. taxpayers $8.5 billion a month. Maine's share of this war cost is now over $1.2 billion. According to the National Priorities Project we could pay 21,676 music and art teachers in Maine with our share of the Iraq war cost. (Music and art programs are the most likely candidates to be cut by the local schools.)

I am convinced that the cost of the Iraq occupation is the Achilles heel of the whole war/empire issue. Activists need to be talking more about that.

One small town in Maine, Arrowsic, just did and voted 71-17 at their annual town meeting last week on a resolution calling on Bush and Congress to "act swiftly and decisively to immediately stop all funding for the war in Iraq, end the occupation of Iraq, and bring all U.S. troops safely home." They got quite a bit of media coverage across the state.

Another big story in my local paper last week is that the Navy wants to turn to nuclear power propulsion for its entire ship fleet due to the fact that oil is becoming scarce and expensive. That means that the "Aegis destroyers," made here where I live in Bath, could cost up to $800 million more each. You think the military budget is high now? You think cutbacks in social programs are bad now? Just wait til the Navy wants all our money so they can convert their ships to nuclear.

See what I mean by Achilles heel?

This whole Pentagon budget crisis will be coming to a head soon. It is an organizers dream. The contradictions are perfect. The trade-offs are so obvious. Let's see here - should we have health care, food, jobs, public transit, housing and education for the people? Or should they live in the streets while we project power around the world with our newly revamped nuclear Navy? Which would you pick? Hummm.......

Why aren't the Democrats talking about this? It's because they are in the bag of the bankers, the oil corporations, and the weapons corporations that are making big money off this endless war cycle.

Wake up America and smell the coffee......not that you will long be able to afford to buy a cup!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

HONOR THE VOICES

Folks,
Still people are sending in responses and as promised I will keep sharing them. There is much wisdom out there if we just stop for a moment and really listen to each other. For just a moment, set aside our own agendas, and really hear one another. I am grateful to all who are sending their comments and also to you who are reading them.

Bruce


  • Thank you. I am not US citizen but I love America. We have suffered a lot from the way successive US administrations have been doing to us and to our children many of whom have been maimed or orphaned by US soldiers. By we, I mean we Muslims and Arabs who suffer from USA crimes and occupation of our countries . But we will still love America. We still believe in the nice American.

    (Mr) Zuhair Mustafa, Khartoum, Sudan

  • I just wanted to say how much I liked your 10-step plan article. I agree with all you say and wish you the very best in your anti-war work in the US and with the GN. I am a PhD student based in Bellingen, NSW, Australia; my thesis concerns the impact on the linked processes of the War on Terror and economic globalisation on the defence and promotion of human rights.
    I am a firm believer that spiritual principles of transcendence can offer resources to help us overcome our current predicament. Given that the US is the key country where mass attitude shifts have to take place, and bearing in mind its religiosity, it seems to me that progressive Christian responses and alternatives should be supported as much as possible.

Nick Rose, Bellingen, Australia

  • It's time for those who want the war to end to stop fueling the war. It would be nice to see some bumper stickers impressing that. It's not my forte, but to give you an idea:
    "First one to the red light claims the next troops death", "Fuel the war, break the speed limit", "My car is fueled by Troops blood".
    Oh I pull over and watch the "Impeach Bush" and "Support the troops" bumper stickers fly past like bats out of hell.
    In addition, my car, I've only owned one in my whole life and it's in very good condition being over 20 years old (I didn't drive until I was 30), is getting 30 mpg and I'm getting an additional 90 miles per tank of gas. My stress level while driving has reduced considerably.
    I think it would be wonderful if all those folks who claim to be antiwar and peace activists simply drove the speed limit.

Jeanette Doney, Ft Bragg, CA

  • Well written, I'll send it out.
    I think there are more things we can do:
    1. Get involved at a local level in government (perhaps run for office too)
    2. Take your money out of the multi national banks and put it in local banks or credit unions.
    3. Don't shop franchises, most of that money leaves your neighborhood and the country
    (the major vote we have is with our MONEY)
    4. Downsize
    5. Buy less, only necessities
    6. Plant a garden, grow some of your own food. If apartment dweller, get together with your neighbors and do a community garden on open space.
    7. Buy local and organic
    8. Drive less, boycott the big boys gas stations
    9. Get involved in a movement or cause of some kind, it gives you peace of mind, and your power back.
    10. Turn off the tv for good
    11. Cancel your subscriptions to the media - newspapers, cable tv,, etc -why support those who are part of the cover up of the truth?
    12. Support groups that are doing the right thing either with action or money
    13. Listen to my show of course for real news http://www.meria.net/

Meria Heller, Arizona

  • Great piece on what has to be done to save us from Oligarchy. My only criticism is that you blame corporations. To me the blame is better focused on the stockholders that own these companies. The employees - the CEO's on down - are only carrying out the wishes of the millions with Mutual Funds, 401k's and all the rest of the vehicles by which the money flows to them. Translation: not corporations to blame but US - the oblivious consumer who is ultimately funding his own demise - even if he protests the problems with "corporate America" with all his might. I have a relative, a tenured professor at USC, who talks incessantly about all the problems we face. But divest his pension from USC- most of which is aimed at profit-making, short-sighted conglomerates you allude to? Forget it! Conclusion: all his talk and speeches at the dinner table add up to ZERO. He, and thousands of other's will not or cannot make the connection with money and their politics. Until that's done, forget the rest. Your thoughts?

Mark Gery, Santa Ana, Ca.

  • Thank you so much for this 10 step plan. I have recently come to the same conclusions on most everything you say.
    I will forward this to many of my peace friends.

Donna Mummery, Rochester, NY

  • I don't mean to sound sarcastic, but there are lots of us who would love to work for peace and justice full time, but there is no money to be had. So those who are retired, those who have spouses to support them, can do just that. The rest of us (which is most) must work. We have jobs such as in the schools, the government, some in corporate jobs. It is easy to tell people what they should do without knowing their circumstances - families to feed, etc.
    I do agree we could all do with a lot less things....we are a consumer and image driven society, thanks to rugged individualism (which you mentioned) and the media, which tells us the lifestyle and the clothes and the vacations we must have. It mentions nothing about cooperation, peace, coexistence, etc. Personally, I would love to be in the streets all the time, or doing something active to end the war. So would many others I know. We need our health insurance (no comments on the awful health care system we have here), and I as I said, we need to pay the rent/mortgage, provide for our families, etc. If you know of a way around this, let us know! It is not simply materialism that prevents people from being full time activists.
    Also, it's more than the fact that people are tied to money and jobs....it's that people don't really feel affected by the war.
    The Vietnam war lead to people in the streets every day...millions of people (like me) on college campuses who were directly affected by the draft and/or had family and friends affected by the draft. Students had time. They could cut classes (At UW they even closed down the school so we could protest and gave pass fails for one semester due to all the protests!)
    College students are not feeling any direct affect, just like most of the rest of Americans, accept for those of us with families/friends in the military. Everyone is OK with sitting back and waiting for Congress to resume debates in September. Yes, Sen. Reid says some proposals will be made this summer, while admitting at the same they have no chance at succeeding but are just being made to appease liberal Democrats who were elected to bring about a change in our policy (but who have failed cause the rest of Congress has no guts).
    I think the idea that we must change the way we as a country think...our values....about war, peace, global cooperation....is absolutely correct if we are not going to continue the cycles we have been in for a few hundred years. But meanwhile, personally, I want a way to let Congress know they can't just sit back and do nothing. And until people pick up the phone, write letters, take a few hours a week to protest and to encourage their friends to do the same, our elected leaders will do nothing. Until it's their re-election that is at stake. That is too personal for them not to take seriously.
    I would love to see a project where a new media could be created that would have a different emphasis. If someone has funds to support this, wow, that would be incredible!

Lisa, Reno, NV

  • WOW!
    A really nice job Bruce!
    I will post this to http://www.activistmagazine.com/ shortly. I have been thinking much of the same as you, so it is nice to see others on the same path. I have a couple of quick comments, but if I find the time, I will write something to help further this.
    RE: "Read more history. All the answers and lessons can be found there." -- This is good advice, but I am highly skeptical about the "all" part. We can see where we've gone wrong, but we won't necessarily find the answers.
    Which brings me to my second point, which is that much of the problems we face now relate to the unworkable superstructure that all this madness of empire has created. It's not something that can be merely undone by engineers, and thinkers with the right political will. What I fear now is that technocracy will eventually replace democracy, with technology as the saviour to most of our problems. I believe this will happen even as people become reluctant and critical of technological solutions, because of the intensity of the mounting crisis.
    That's a big pickle that we may never get out of the jar, but your 10 points are a very good start. Nicely done!

Chris Davenport, Toronto, Canada

  • Fantastic summary for action in So What Do We Do Now? I think you might just want to add a point about preventing burnout from frustration, despair and hopelessness--take time for renewal and affirming positive gains.....

Starr Gilmartin, Trenton, ME

  • Thank you for your clarity, your commitment and your outline. I have just had 7 garage sales over the last few months. I am lightening my load. I have not watched TV since 1989 much. Never wanted to pay the cost of cable when clearly it was ALL ads for prescription medication, food, glamour, anorexia inducing images. I am house sitting this summer and they have cable. I have to mute it for most of a program's ads IF I can find anything worth watching. Anyway. Where do you live? I am thinking about moving out of the country. What part of the world has the US empire not been able to touch? That's where I want to move.

Logynn Berley

  • Good morning Bruce 10 very good points. I will send it our to our progressive list. Now the next 10 points.
    Understanding AIPAC and its role in ............ Iraq Iran etc
    ONLY Public money for campaigns. Campaign "finance reform" will get us more of the same. Getting candidates who will pledge to small sums from ONLY their constituents Showing how AIPAC and MIC, Military Industrial Complex, etal control our reality.
    Understanding 9-11 is key for a number of reasons. First it is TREASON and most people know or suspect the truth but are in DENIAL. Exposing the treason brings it all down and allows us to get Public money for campaigns.... etc etc etc.
    Will gladly discuss 9-11 and the rest of this 414-403-1341.

Tom Spellman, Lake Geneva, WI

  • You really nailed it. Your article hits the clear observations, the values and the actions we must hold and implement to reclaim our world: our nation, and Mother Earth. You lay out how we are all in this together, and we can only get out together. We can only extract ourselves by working together, supporting each other to be come more alive to what is really precious within us and outside us. Thank you for this rallying cry. I will share it with my Circles - the ancient form of community, of collaborative decision-making, of mutual support, and of honoring the sacred mystery - that I am working to promote. I personally need my circle: my friends to keep me honest; to build the trust and new ways to work together; to co-create the new solutions and the resources to act local while we think global; to share out loud the acknowledgement and praise we have for one another; to support each other to leave our addictions behind; to encourage each other to find our true worth and our true work. The energy of the Circle grows exponentially and overflows, spilling more wisdom and compassion into our communities, like a gorgeous waterfall. Taking your thoughtful, heartfelt words in deep, and wishing you a joyful circle.

Lauren Oliver

  • I saw your article at Counterpunch. I agree with your points. I would have added two more. You made no mention of holding our leaders accountable. (Or did I miss something?) In a week or so I will post a detailed article "America's Use of Radiological Weapons" in which I will argue for an International War Crimes Tribunal -- since the Democratic majority in Congress seems incapable of getting it done. I hope you'll keep an eye peeled for it. Finally, you made no mention of 9-11. Of course, if you had done so the purblind editors of Counterpunch would have scotched your piece. Please check out the article below, which very soon will be posted at the Scholars for 9-11 Truth On Line Journal. Keep up the good work! http://www.rense.com/general76/missing.htm

Mark H. Gaffney

  • Economic reform will disempower the New World Order (nwo) scourge because economics drives the nwo. www.planetization.org/soulutions.htm contains the economic reform that will change the world for the better while creating more freedom, prosperity, opportunity, respect and peace for the good of all our relations while all but eliminating war, crime, disease, injustice and poverty. If you would I would appreciate you forwarding planetization/solutions far and wide to your contacts and readership. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our individual/collective well-being is to boycott our capitalist economic system that considers us as mere commodities and slaves to be bought and sold in the so-called global free markets that carry only the illusion of freedom. In prayer for a better world based on peace and freedom for the good of all.

David Roblee

  • Just got your 10 things to do message. you are, as always, right on about everything. i just have one suggestion (and i have been saying this to the occupation project folks for a while now, altho i am not a member): occupying congressional offices is one thing, but it no longer garners the attention you would like, so i suggest the occupation of recruiting offices and other input centers for the military machine. specifically i think an occupation of the jrotc office at bangor high school [Maine] would get alot of attention. this could be done at schools across the state. i just think of bangor high as particularly egregious example because it takes up so much room and is so ostentatious. any how just an idea. one that i would be willing to get arrested for.

Betsy Garrold, Maine

  • I am a painter. I have given away over 41,000 of my paintings to hundreds of people in the US and fifty people around the World. It has been my contribution to discussion of our recent political history. If you have a moment, please take a look at the five paintings. http://draloo.com/PalmBeachBlues.htm If you like, I would be pleased to send you some at no cost. No tricks, no strings attached.

Mike Woolard