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, January 11, 2008

FLORIDA TRIP REPORT

This report covers the period of Dec 29 - Jan 7 as I traveled to Florida for a six city speaking tour.

On Sunday, December 30 I delivered a talk entitled "Keep Space for Peace" at the Manatee Unitarian Fellowship in Bradenton. Friends from my Florida Coalition days, Don and Jane Thompson made the arrangements. The response from the congregation was quite wonderful.

On December 31 I did an early morning radio interview with a station in the Tampa-bay area promoting my appearance at a planned "Peace Day" event on January 1 on Siesta Key.

The January 1 "Peace Day" event has been held for the past 18 years as a way to bring together people from many different faiths. Again, Don Thompson arranged for me to speak at the event that was held this year at the St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key (Sarasota). The event was attended by about 150 people and I gave a brief introductory talk in the morning and then after lunch I was given a two-hour block to speak and answer questions from the diverse audience. It was a very exciting day for me.

Following this event I drove east across the state to the home of Peg McIntire in St. Augustine. Peg, now 97, still remains very active in peace movement activities and was organizing a talk by me on January 3. For many years Peg served as the Treasurer of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice and was recognized by most peace activists in the state as the heart of the movement. To this day she still receives invitations to speak around the northern part of the state.

On January 2 Peg and I drove north to Jacksonville where I spoke to the group called Wage Peace. My talk was entitled "A Positive Vision for the Future" and in it I strongly emphasized the need for the peace movement to promote conversion of the military industrial complex if we ever hoped to end war. Old friends Mary Claire Van der Horst and Al and his daughter Wendy Geiger were there. Mary Claire served as Secretary of the Florida Coalition for a long time and Al donated land in the middle of his tree farm north of Gainesville to the organization so we could build a kids peace camp. A subsequent donation made it possible to build a dining hall/meeting room on the land and peace camps are still held at the location.

At midnight on January 2 I did a second radio interview from the Tampa-Bay area.

On January 3 Peg's Unitarian Church in St. Augustine hosted my talk. I was introduced by a local radio talk show host by the name of Andy Johnson who lives in Jacksonville and had come to hear me the night before as well. Andy interviewed me on his show several times over the years. His show, a rarity in conservative and militarized northeast Florida, was broadcast from a Christian radio station where he had been purchasing time for many years to do his own progressive show. But the show was only three-hours while the rest of the station's time was spent on right-wing fundamentalist talk.

Andy, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, has just taken over that station in Jacksonville (AM 1460 WZNZ). Beginning Monday, January 14, he will turn it into the only progressive talk station in North Florida. People anywhere can tune in on the station's http://www.1460.us/ website.

Andy is a cousin of Al Geiger, their families having been in the Jacksonville area for multiple generations. Andy's grandfather had owned the local dairy and was a member of the NAACP during the height of segregation. The KKK and local White Citizen's Council started a boycott of the dairy trying to force Andy's granddad to resign from the NAACP, but he refused.

At the January 3 talk, Peg asked Andy to not only introduce me but to also ask the audience, just after my speech, to make a donation to the Global Network. In classic southern Baptist preacher style, Andy joked about making people line up and file past him, repeatedly, if their donations were not large enough. Everyone had a great laugh and the crowd of 36 people produced the largest collective donation of the trip. Peg was thrilled. Andy also announced that he would be donating $3,500 worth of free advertising time to the Global Network on his station.

At mid-day on January 3, I did a full hour radio interview on the Tampa progressive station WMNF. News Director Rob Lorei, who over the years has extensively covered our space organizing, once again gave me a chance to speak with his large Gulf Coast listening audience. The primary purpose of the interview was to give advance notice about my upcoming talk in Clearwater.

On January 4, I spoke to more than 80 people in Clearwater at an event organized by Samm Simpson who ran for Congress in the last congressional election. She is planning to run again next November against the Republican arch-conservative militarist, Rep. Bill Young, who has been in office for 19 terms. Samm asked me to talk about "Swords into Plowshares: Transforming the Military Industrial Complex." This was a very remarkable event because of the diversity of the people who attended. There were blacks, Hispanics, old and young. There were Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich supporters, as well as Green Party activists who are supporting Cynthia McKinney for president. And afterward, at least half the audience stayed around for one full hour, talking with me and each other in one of the most lively events I had ever experienced. It was clear to me that Samm Simpson was a key spark plug in this part of Florida and the people there are lucky to have her as their candidate and fellow activist.

I had the day off on January 5 but put it to good use. In the morning I met old friend Greg Musselman for breakfast in Dunedin. Then for lunch I met friends John and Sheila Stewart in St. Pete at a wonderful Cuban restaurant overlooking the bay. Karl Grossman, and his wife Janet, joined us as they were staying with the Stewart's while on vacation in the area. Then for dinner I headed farther south to Naples to meet my hosts for my last talk.

On January 6 I spoke at the Naples Unitarian Church forum before the service began. About 75 people attended and I am grateful to Maureen Armour and Flo Beckler who arranged my talk and provided warm hospitality. I can't remember ever having spoken in Naples before, so it was a nice ending to a good trip.

Florida is a huge state and I saw a good portion of it during this week. While I did see many old friends, I also saw that the peace movement in Florida has been growing in recent years. It is now 10 years ago that I left the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice so that I could work full-time on space issues for the Global Network. In city after city there is new leadership within the peace community at a time when we need to be reaching beyond our previously existing circles.

My next trip takes me to New Mexico from February 6-17 where Bob Anderson has arranged a seven-city speaking tour. Included will be our protest at the annual space nuclear power symposium in Albuquerque where NASA, Department of Energy, and aerospace corporations meet to plan the full nuclearization of space.

Best wishes to all for a better year in 2008. Good luck and keep organizing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A GOOD MAN PASSES

Philip Agee died yesterday in Havana at the age of 72. He is best known for having quit the CIA in 1968 and publishing a book called Inside the Company: CIA Diary. This act, breaking the code of silence within the CIA by revealing the names of agents in a 22-page list, made Agee a marked man for the rest of his life.

In 1978 Agee and his partner settled into Cambridge, England but was deported soon thereafter when Henry Kissinger urged then British prime minister Jim Callaghan to throw him out of the country. This act began an odyssey by Agee as he was forced to move from one country after the other as the U.S. used its vindictive powers to make an example of him. In his remarkable book in 1987, called On The Run, Agee offers us a rare insight into the life of a stateless man. He was ultimately expelled from five NATO countries.

Agee grew up in Tampa, Florida and came from a patriotic and devout Catholic family. He studied at the University of Notre Dame, became a CIA operations officer in 1957 and was posted in South America and Mexico.

I first met Agee in the early 1990's after receiving a call from his sister in Orlando, Florida while working for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice. Philip had suggested she give us a call and inquire about volunteering. She became one of our regular mailing party letter stuffers and once organized a wonderful benefit concert for us at her home where she played the piano and had a violinist accompany her.

In 1995 I did a speaking tour of Germany and Phil's sister arranged for me to visit him and his wife, Giselle Roberge, in Hamburg. I stayed at their home for two nights and Phil gave me a walking tour of the city. I helped them move some furniture from a rental property they were cleaning out and they took me to dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant where the sauce was as good as any I've ever had.

Phil was a very humble and regular guy. There was no pretense about him and when I left Hamburg he gave me a signed copy of his gripping book On The Run.

In the 1990's Phil was allowed to visit the U.S. and returned to Florida to see his father who was near death. Once again his sister swung into action and arranged for Phil to speak at an event I organized for him at a church in Orlando. People came from all over the state to hear him speak and his talk was much about the broad direction of U.S. foreign and military policy.

When I think back it is clear that he had tremendous influence on how I do my talks today, emphasizing the general outlines of U.S. strategic policy so we are not just jumping from one crisis to another. It is best if the progressive movement has a wider view of where things are going so we can articulate these directions more effectively and organize around them more directly.

In Phil's later years he moved to Cuba and set up a progressive travel agency to help facilitate folks visiting Cuba. Writing in the UK Guardian last year about Cuba, he said: "All of Cuba's achievements have been in defiance of U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba. Every dirty method has been used, including infiltration, sabotage, terrorism, assassination, economic and biological warfare and incessant lies in the media of many countries."

Philip Agee was a courageous man. He was a patriot who wanted to return America to what it was supposed to be - a real democracy run by the people, not the greedy corporate militarists that have taken over the nation. He was willing to give up literally everything just in order to tell the truth. He had to be able to live with himself.

The powers that be in the U.S., led by George H. W. Bush, set out to destroy Phil. They had to make an example of him for fear that others might follow his lead and live by their conscience. Phil just tried to honor the moral truths he had been taught in church and in college. It was a shame that he suffered, often alone, for doing so.

Philip Agee is a man to be remembered. He was a real American hero.

Click on this link for a 2003 interview with Philip Agee by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now: http://www.democracynow.org/2003/10/2/former_cia_agent_phillip_agee_on

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

PEOPLE OR SHEEPLE?

The people vote today in New Hampshire presidential primary.

The media is pushing Barack Obama for president. They are saying Dennis Kucinich, Mike Gravel, and Ron Paul basically do not exist, obviously because they are the most vocal about ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Now that John Edwards has begun talking strongly about poverty and corporate domination of our government the media says he is "too angry". The message to the voter - stay away from him.

I saw an article in the Washington Post two weeks ago about how Edwards is always late for each campaign event. They trashed him. Yesterday I heard that Obama had shown up two hours late for a campaign event, but it was framed as an example of how busy he is being the "front runner." All the candidates are likely late for these events. The Post story on Edwards though was to create more negatives on him. This is how the media does it.....drip, drip, drip.

Another example, I just heard a BBC report on National Public Radio from New Hampshire. They were interviewing Granny D, the elderly activist who walked all the way across the country advocating campaign finance reform a few years back. Granny D has endorsed John Edwards but all the reporter wanted to talk about was what did Granny think about Obama. Granny D fell right for the trick and went on about how "cute" he is and how all the women love him. Granny said Obama reminded her of JFK. But never did the reporter ask her why she was supporting Edwards - that was not the reason for the story. It's shameless.

It is quite amazing how people are led by the corporate dominated media. Obama is the latest version of the "unifier". But in truth he voted for the Patriot Act, has voted in favor of all the funding for the Iraq occupation, and supports many of the legislative requests of the insurance companies and banks. Thus he becomes acceptable to the big media boys.

When right-wing columnist George Will starts leading the charge for Obama then you know something smells fishy.

Respected black journalist Glen Ford has the following to say about Obama: "A Black presidential candidate who spends much of his time denying the significance of race in U.S. society, cozying up to Big Business, and assuring imperial interests that he will expand U.S. military capabilities, captured the often diametrically opposed imaginations of millions of Blacks and whites."

The people have to stop being led to the slaughter.....will they ever?

(Question on Wednesday morning after the "surprise comeback" by Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. On Tuesday the N.H. polls were showing Obama with a significant lead and Edwards with 17%, Richardson 5%, and Kucinich 2%. Then the vote happens and in one day's time Hillary wins and Edwards still comes up with 17%, Richardson 5%, and Kucinich 2%. So with all that volatility it is hard to imagine that only the top two candidates, Hillary and Obama, see any change from the poll predictions the day before. The presence of controversial Diebold voting machines makes alarm bells go off in my already cynical mind. It appears that others have had the same reaction and the group called Citizens for Legitimate Government have already done some research on this and published their findings.)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

STUCK IN TAMPA

I spoke this morning in Naples at the Unitarian Church issues forum before the service. There were about 75 people present. My talk went over well and after lunch with my hosts I headed for the Tampa airport (a three-hour drive).

I was flying on Air Tran and was to head to Baltimore to connect to Portland. The problem was that my layover in Baltimore was only 20 minutes, not much time for delays. As it turned out the plane from Tampa was going to leave 30 minutes late and I knew I'd be spending the night in Baltimore because there were no more flights to Maine tonight. Then Air Tran announced that the flight was overbooked and they offered one free roundtrip ticket to anyone willing to give up their seat. No one took the deal. So they sweetened the offer to include two roundtrip airline tickets so I took the bait.

I pressed Air Tran to provide me with a hotel for the night here in Tampa (which they eventually agreed to do) so I am scheduled to return home in the early afternoon on Monday.

While standing in line at Air Tran, waiting to get all this straightened out, I could see the poor airline employees pulling their hair out of their heads. They were clearly short handed, dealing with loads of frustrated people, and one of the supervisers acknowledged to me that the problems of delays has been mounting in recent times.

The reason my plane was late leaving Tampa is that when it was pulling into the gate to unload, before we were to board, there were no Air Tran workers on the tarmac to guide the plane to the gate. So it sat less than 100 yards from the gate for well over 1/2 hour.

Like so many other corporations the airlines are cutting back on employees and making current workers carry out the jobs of 2-3 others. All of this means service is hurting and the consumer is left holding the bag. Profits come before service. Public relations experts are left to formulate media campaigns to repair the damage.

Expect more of these cutbacks in service as the price of oil impacts virtually every aspect of our lives.

Let's hope I make in home tomorrow without further delay. I need a rest.