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, September 14, 2007

FULL TRIP REPORT FROM BRITAIN

This report covers the period of August 28 - September 10 as I traveled to England, Wales, and Scotland for a speaking tour.

I was picked up in the Manchester, England airport by Dave Webb who serves as the chairperson of the Global Network and also for the Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Dave is a professor of Engineering at Leeds Metropolitan University and is now, to his great delight, teaching a peace studies class at the school. It was Dave who initiated and coordinated my speaking tour. In addition to all the rest he is doing in his busy life, Dave also serves as the web master for the Global Network's website.

My first talk was in Hebden Bridge, a beautiful hilly town in Yorkshire, that was once a major textile manufacturing site. Before the talk Dave and I walked along the canals that run through the community and he showed me the ancient locks that are still used to raise and lower boats. Helen John and Sylvia Boyes came to hear me speak. They both go on trial soon for walking onto the U.S. spy base at Menwith Hill (in Yorkshire) in violation of the new "anti-terrorism" law. They face one year in jail.

On August 31 Dave and I took the train to London and stayed the night in the home of Bruce Kent and his wife Valerie. Bruce is a renowned peace campaigner in Britain and former clergyman. The next day we attended a day long conference hosted by national CND entitled "Missile Defense: U.S. Plans to Divide Europe and Surround Russia". The event was attended by key activists from throughout Europe including key leaders from the movements in Poland and the Czech Republic that are organizing to oppose the Bush administrations plan to deploy "missile defense" interceptors and radar facilities in their countries. The mayor of the small village of Brdy in the Czech Republic, the place where the Pentagon wants to deploy the Star Wars radar, reported that everyone except one person in his community had voted against the radar in a recent referendum. He has now formed a "league of mayors" in his region and already 85 have signed up. I addressed the conference on the current U.S. military strategy of "preemptive attack" and "space control and domination" and then also facilitated a workshop, along with Menwith Hill peace campaigner Lindis Percy. You can read the conference statement at this link: http://www.cnduk.org/pages/1septst.pdf

That evening I was escorted on the train to Oxford by Gawain Little and the next day spoke at an event in the Oxford City Hall. The Lord Mayor of Oxford showed up during the question and answer period of my talk and afterward he and I were taken 30 miles from Oxford to a U.S. high-tech space military communications relay base called RAF Croughton. There the Lord Mayor and I planted a tree in preparation for Keep Space for Peace Week that this year will run from October 4-13. Local organizers wanted to use the tree planting as a news story to promote awareness about the space week protest planned at Croughton.

Next I took the train to Cardiff in Wales and spoke that evening at the Temple of Peace which is used by many non-governmental organizations as offices and meeting space. Stephen Thomas, the director of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs which is housed inside the Temple of Peace, took me to dinner at a wonderful Turkish restaurant before my talk. Stephen was a delightful and thoughtful man and his quiet humor easily won me over.

My next day was spent in the hands of a kind Quaker couple in Bridgend, Wales. Pete Thompson and his wife Ann took me for a picnic lunch at the seaside and then a wonderful walk along the towering cliffs overlooking the water. That evening I spoke at the Quaker Meeting House in their community.

The next leg of the trip was to Aberystwyth, Wales which sits right along the Cardigan Bay. I was driven to Aberystwyth by CND Cymru (Wales) worker Jill Gough who clearly explained to me the fierce Wales independent streak and corrected my use of the words "United Kingdom" and "Great Britain." We are not "united" she said and we don't think Britain is "great." If you are referring to England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland then call it "Britain" she instructed me. Jill also delighted in sharing wonderful stories about the amazing Welsh country side - pointing out the working class mining communities and the magical mountains and rivers
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When we arrived in Aberystwyth Jill took me to the home of Lotte Reimer and her husband Kelvin Mason. They live in a beautiful stone farm house by the incredible cliffs overlooking the water. Lotte took us for a walk through the rolling hills, watching our step as we went to avoid the sheep droppings that were as plentiful as the wooly creatures. That evening my talked was welcomed by a political community choir called Coe Gobaith that was singing as people entered the hall where I was to speak. Their rendition of Finlandia brought tears to my eyes as they sung the words:

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

I knew this group in Aberystwyth was a special bunch because afterwards about 30 of the nearly 100 who had attended my talk went to a near-by pub for a beer and more discussion. Beautiful Welsh folk music could be heard from a corner of the pub. Lotte and Kelvin are leading activists in the peace and environmental movement. They had recently helped to organize "Climate Camp" near Heathrow airport in London where 1,500 activists gathered for training and a series of non-violent actions at various key targets. They used "clowning" as a way to bring a lighter side to the protests and publish a local newsletter called the Cambrian Snooze.

Next I spoke in Oswestry, which sits right on the border of Wales and England and from there was taken back to Leeds by my old friend Jo Berry from Liverpool and her husband Bill. Jo, on a previous visit to Liverpool, had made sure that I went on the Magical Mystery Tour that retraces the roots of The Beatles.

On September 7 Dave Webb took me to RAF Fylingdales in the North York Moor national park. We were joined by local activist Jackie Fearnley and the three of us went for a pre-arranged meeting with the commander of Fylingdales. Fylingdales has been the site of a U.S. early warning radar for the past 44 years and is now being upgraded for Star Wars. Commander Nick Loveday gave us a tour of the facility as well as a 40-minute PowerPoint briefing on the history and current role of the facility. Similar U.S. radar bases are also located at Beale AFB, California, Clear AFS, Alaska, Cape Cod AFS, Massachusetts, and Thule Air Base, Greenland. All of them are being upgraded for a role in Star Wars. Other U.S. and NATO radars are also to be brought on-line for the space weapons warfare program.

Our meeting with the commander was quite cordial and I was surprised to learn that she was going to come to listen to my talk later that evening in the nearby seaside town of Whitby. So indeed later that night the commander did show up and took notes while I spoke. After my talk she was asked by one man in the audience for her reaction to what I had to say. Her answer was, "I did not hear anything I disagree with, but I did not agree with everything he said." I think that meant that she had no disagreement factually with anything I said but then did not necessarily agree with my political analysis of what is going on. Fair enough.

My last stop was Scotland - the British Faslane Trident nuclear submarine base. Dave drove us the five hours north to the base, just west of Glasgow. For the past year there has been a campaign underway at the base called Faslane 365. The goal has been to have daily protests and non-violent civil disobedience actions to highlight the current plans of the British government to upgrade the Trident nuclear missile. So far 950 people have been arrested. Dave and I had been invited to come and do a Global Network day at the base to highlight the connection to U.S. plans to move the arms race into space. After speaking to assembled supporters we both took our Global Network banner that said Keep Space for Peace on it and we blocked the entrance to the base briefly halting traffic. We were quickly handcuffed and removed from the area and taken to the jail in Clydebank some 30 minutes away. This being a Saturday we were told we'd be in jail until Monday which created a problem for me as I was to fly home early Monday morning from Manchester, some seven hours away. I told the jailers of my dilemma and as a result we only spent one night in jail as we were released before noon on Sunday.

After a quick meal prepared by Faslane 365 organizers Dave and I were off in his car back to Leeds. We hoped to make it back in time to hear Cynthia McKinney speak at Leeds Metropolitan University that evening. We made it and Cynthia was surprised to hear me call her name when she entered the hall as we had just had a series of email exchanges the week before and neither of us knew that we'd run into each other in Leeds. At that time Cynthia was considering seeking the Green Party presidential nomination in 2008 but just days ago she decided not to run. A severe disappointment for me.

This was an exciting, whirlwind trip and one that I will long remember for its wonderful walks, beautiful sites, and making contact with dedicated activists. I am grateful to Dave and CND for having me come to Britain and to all who hosted me.

One last thought. After each of my talks people would ask me what the peace movement was doing in the U.S. to oppose the occupation of Iraq and the likely attack on Iran. They said they did not get any real information about our movement, just as we in the U.S. don't hear much about the movements in Britain. I told them to regularly check the web site called AfterDowningStreet.Org This site has become one of my favorite sources to monitor the grassroots movement in the U.S. around Iraq and impeachment of Bush-Cheney. I check it several times a day. Please do the same.

My next trip will be during Keep Space for Peace Week as I go to Omaha, Nebraska from October 4-12 to participate in protests around StratCom. The Global Network affiliate group Nebraskans for Peace is organizing a series of events during that week that will include their annual conference, lectures, and protests.

Please consider organizing a local event in your community during our space week of events next month.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

BLUE ANGELS NOW OVERHEAD - STIRRING HEARTS

The Navy's Blue Angels just flew very low and loudly over our neighborhood in Bath. We are told they are doing practice runs but in fact they are really promoting the coming air show. They are trying to stir the community to come see the show.

My first thought was of the many innocent people in Iraq who have grown to fear those sounds daily since the U.S. "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq. To them they are not the sounds of "freedom" but are instead the horrifying sounds of bombs falling and more deaths in their already chaotic neighborhoods.

The coming Veterans for Peace demonstration in Brunswick this Saturday has already begun to create debate in the community as letters to the editor and op-eds have been flying back and forth for weeks in the local Times Record. Karen Wainberg told us just minutes ago about a man she was speaking with on the phone who reported that while at a meeting in his office today the planes had flown overhead and there was a positive reaction by one person but he did not seem to share the joy of the "Angels."

I went for a haircut today from my dear friend Maria Holt in Bath who has been fighting cancer for the past year or so and is fighting depression. She won't be able to come to the demonstration on Saturday but asked me to take a painting of a real angel, dressed in blue, to the event on her behalf. She said the painting that she did was copied from a famous painting. The coming demonstration is already stirring hearts.

One woman called today to find out how much the Blue Angels air show will cost the taxpayers. She was concerned about the waste of national resources. Her heart was stirring.

It is my hope that people who want to end this military madness will have the courage to come and march with Veterans for Peace on Saturday. We will gather on the Brunswick Mall, near the gazebo, and begin the march at 9:00 am. At noon we will hold a rally at the front gate of the Brunswick Naval Air Station and hear from two women whose hearts are daily in pain as their sons now serve in Iraq. We will hear from the incomparable Betty Burkes who has served as the national president of Women's International League for Peace & Freedom. We will hear Maine VfP member Dud Hendrick talk about the U.S. military empire and from Vietnam veteran and poet Doug Rawlings. They will all stir our hearts.

While on my recent trip to England, Wales, and Scotland each of my talks ended with someone in the audience asking me the same questions. "What are people in the U.S. doing to end the occupation of Iraq? Are you people going to invade Iran as well?"

It is true that the whole world is watching us. They are wondering when the American people will begin stirring and move to stop the insanity of endless war.

The protest in Brunswick on September 15 would be a good opportunity for us to show that we do care. It would be a good chance for us to show that our hearts are stirred by the enormous suffering of the people in Iraq.

What a safe place we live in. We can march to the Navy base gates while the "Gods of Metal" fly overhead. We are lucky that they won't drop bombs on us. Others in the world are not so lucky.

Real angels don't drop bombs!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

BACK HOME AND CATCHING UP

Just got home yesterday from the Britain trip and have to admit I am just a bit worn out. Had my plane cancelled in Toronto that was to get me back to Boston so by the time I got there it was too late to catch the bus back to Maine. I had to spend the night in Boston and got back home near noon yesterday. Have been unpacking today and going through hundreds of emails as you can imagine.

The photo above is our meeting with British Commander Nick Loveday at the U.S.-RAF Fylingdales space radar facility in the Moors national park in northern England. Alongside me is Dave Webb (GN Chairperson) and Jackie Fearnley (an activist who lives in the village nearest the base). Cmdr. Loveday gave us a tour of the facility and did a 40-minute presentation on the role of the facility. It's been open for 44 years and was initially a early warning radar base to pick up any Soviet nuclear missiles. Now it is being upgraded for participation in the U.S. "missile defense" scheme. Similar U.S. radar bases like this are also located at Beale AFB, California, Clear AFS, Alaska, Cape Cod AFS, Massachusetts, and Thule Air Base, Greenland. All of them are being upgraded for a role in Star Wars. Other U.S. and NATO radars are also to be brought on-line for space weapons warfare program.

Our meeting with the commander was quite cordial and I was surprised to learn that she was going to come to listen to my talk later that evening (September 7) in the nearby seaside town of Whitby. So indeed later that night the commander did show up and took notes while I spoke. After my talk she was asked by one man in the audience for her reaction to what I had to say. Her answer was, "I did not hear anything I disagree with, but I did not agree with everything he said." I think that meant that she had no disagreement factually with anything I said but then did not necessarily agree with my political analysis of what is going on. Fair enough.

Actually it was good to have the honest and fair dialogue with the commander. She is in a way just doing her job and we commend her for seeing us as equals and not some wild crazy protesters who are the "enemy." That is progress.

Our real disagreement is with the politicians and the aerospace industry who are making the decisions to move the arms race into space. Maybe some people in the military are also concerned about this coming arms race? It would be nice to have them become more vocal about their concerns. After all, when you join the military you really do so because you want to protect your country and the people of your country. At some point, if you see that the leaders of your nation (like George W. Bush and former Prime Minister Tony Blair) are leading you to ruin it is your duty to speak out.

Coming out of WW II it was called Nuremberg Law. It is the duty of a soldier to speak out when they recognize their country is on the wrong course. It is wrong to follow orders that run against maintaining global peace.

(Click on the photo above for a better view of the radar.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

STATEMENT OF THE LONDON CONFERENCE

Building united opposition to US Missile Defence

Saturday 1st September 2007

United in our commitment to a peaceful future, we recognise that the United States Missile Defence programme is a significant threat to global security and stability. We reject the US Government’s argument that the system is defensive. On the contrary, this system will allow the US to attack another state without fear of retaliation, and is already leading to a new nuclear arms race. The system will undermine international commitments and treaties on nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and space security. It is already provoking a new Cold War, and will jeopardise the security of people in Europe and across the world.

All Governments supporting US Missile Defence, by hosting radar, missile and intelligence bases on their soil, are putting their populations on the front line of attack in future US wars.

We the participants in the London Conference:

• Call on all Governments to reject the system and its facilities, and for the peoples of all countries to lobby their Governments to withdraw support.
• Call for increased campaigning at bases and facilities linked to Missile Defence, and for support to be given to campaigners resisting the development of Missile Defence sites in their countries.
• Commit ourselves to exposing US Missile Defence as a destabilising provocation, contributing to the danger of war and nuclear weapons use, and to raising public awareness of this major threat to our security.

We will work together, building a global, united campaign, to prevent this threat to world peace.

Conference signatories:

Kate Hudson, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, UK
Ivona Novomestska, Ne Zekladnam (No to Bases), Czech Republic
Filip Ilkowski, Stop Wojnie, (Stop War), Poland
Yves-Jean Gallas, Le Mouvement de la paix, France
Peter Richter, German Peace Council
Bruce Gagnon, Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, US
Pol d’Huyvetter, Mayors for Peace
Helen John, Menwith Hill Women’s Peace Camp(aign)
Lindis Percy, Campaign for the Accountability of US Bases, UK
Andrew Murray, Stop the War Coalition, UK
George Woods, NEC, National Union for Students, UK
Professor Dave Webb
Dr Ian Davis
Dr Elaheh Rostami-Povey

Sunday, September 09, 2007

ARRESTED IN SCOTLAND

Dave Webb (Chair of the Global Network) and I were arrested yesterday for blocking the entrance to the British Faslane Trident nuclear base in Scotland as part of the year-long Faslane 365 campaign against the government's decision to build a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Dave drove us to Scotland, a five-hour ride, from Leeds early Saturday morning. After speaking to those assembled at the gate we held our banner directly in front of the gate blocking traffice from coming or going into the base. We were taken to a nearby jail in Clydebank and held over night and released at 10am this morning. Normally if people are arrested on the weekends they are detained until Monday but we told the police I was set to fly back to Maine on Monday morning from Manchester so they let us out early.

We drove back Leeds just in time to go and listen to a talk by former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney who just happened to be speaking in Leeds this evening. Cynthia and I had just exchanged emails a few days ago so she was quite surprised to see me in the audience.

Below is the news release issued about the arrests:

GLOBAL NETWORK LEADERS ARRESTED AT FASLANE NUCLEAR BASE

Contact: Brian Larkin 07760 401267
Dave Webb 07717 606189

U.S. peace activist Bruce Gagnon and British activist Dave Webb were arrested today blockading the entrance to the Faslane Trident nuclear submarine base in Scotland. Gagnon is the Coordinator of the Global Network against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space and lives in Maine in the U.S. Dave Webb is the chairperson of Yorkshire CND and also chairs the Global Network.

Gagnon has been on a speaking tour in England, Wales, and Scotland for the last 10 days talking about the nuclear hypocrisy of the U.S. as it lectures the restof the world about the evils of WMD while at the same time building new generations of nukes and now planning to move the arms race into space.

“It’s clear to me that the U.S. and Britain should be held to the same standard they are claiming that Iran should be held to. If Iran should not have nuclearweapons then why should the U.S. and Britain be jointly building new generationsof nuclear warheads,” Gagnon said.

Dave Webb said, “It’s time for people to make a stand and show where their priorities lie. Do we really need nuclear weapons when there are so many other real problemswe need to solve together?”

The protest is part of the ongoing yearlong Faslane365 blockade and brings the total number of arrests at Faslane since October 2006 to 944. People from at least twelve countries including Japan, Australia and the United States as well as several European countries have travelled to Faslane to participate in the protests.

There will be a Big Blockade of the Faslane base on 1st of October with more thana thousand expected to attend.

For further information on Global Network see http://www.space4peace.org/ For further information on Faslane 365 see www.faslane365.org