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 31, 2008

PLAYING SOLDIER

By Garrison Keillor

What's patriotism got to do with fat men with ponytails on Harleys?

May. 28, 2008 Three-hundred thousand bikers spent Memorial Day weekend roaring around Washington in tribute to our war dead, and I stood on Constitution Avenue Sunday afternoon watching a river of them go by, waiting for a gap in the procession so I could cross over to the Mall and look at pictures. The street had been closed off for them and they motored on by, some flying the Stars and Stripes and the black MIA-POW flag, honking, revving their engines, an endless celebration of internal combustion.

A patriotic bike rally is sort of like a patriotic toilet-papering or patriotic graffiti; the patriotism somehow gets lost in the sheer irritation of the thing. Somehow a person associates Memorial Day with long moments of silence when you summon up mental images of men huddled together on LSTs and pilots revving up B-24s and infantrymen crouched behind piles of rubble steeling themselves for the next push.

You don't quite see the connection between that and these fat men with ponytails on Harleys. After hearing a few thousand bikes go by, you think maybe we could airlift these gentlemen to Baghdad to show their support of the troops in a more tangible way. It took 20 minutes until a gap appeared and then a mob of us pedestrians flooded across the street and the parade of bikes had to stop for us, and on we went to show our patriotism by looking at exhibits at the Smithsonian or, in my case, hiking around the National Gallery, which, after you've watched a few thousand Harleys pass, seems like an outpost of civilization.

There stood Renoir's ballerina in pale blue chiffon and Monet's children in the garden of sunflowers. And Mary Cassatt's "The Boating Party," which I stood and stared at for a long time. A lady in a white bonnet sits in a green sailboat, holding a contented baby in pink, as a man rows the boat toward a distant shore. (Perhaps the boat is becalmed.) The man wears a navy blue shirt, he is preoccupied with his rowing, and the lady looks wan and mildly anxious, as well a mother should be. The baby is looking dreamily over the gunwales. Is the man a hired hand or is he the husband and father?

A work of art can lift you up from the mishmash of life, the weight of the unintelligible world, and vulgarity squats on you like an enormous toad and won't get off. You stroll down past the World War II Memorial, which looks like something ordered out of a catalog, a bland insult to the memory of all who served, and thousands of motorcycles roar by disturbing the Sabbath, and it depresses you for hours.

If anyone cared about the war dead, they could go read David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" or Stephen Ambrose's "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944, to May 7, 1945" or any of a hundred other books, and they would get a vision of what it was like to face death for your country, but the bikers riding in formation are more interested in being seen than in learning anything. They are grown men playing soldier, making a great hullaballoo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike.

No wonder the Current Occupant welcomed them with open arms at the White House, put on a black leather vest, and gave a manly speech about how he'd just "choppered in" and saw the horde "cranking up their machines" and he thanked them for being so patriotic. They are his kind of guys, full of bluster, giving off noxious fumes, and when they leave town, nobody misses them.

Meanwhile, the man pulls at the oars, the lady wonders if this trip was a good idea or if some disaster is at hand, and the child lolls on her lap, dazed by the sun. They started this trip in 1894 and haven't advanced an inch, meanwhile half the people who ever stood and watched them have reached that distant shore and the rest of us are getting closer every day.

I am the boatman and maybe you are, too -- it is quiet on the water, we lean on the oars, and we are suspended in time, united with every other man, woman and child who ever voyaged afar.

Friday, May 30, 2008

HUNGER STRIKE PHOTO-RAMA

Brunswick, Maine (6 folks with me today on the street on my 7th day of solidarity hunger strike)
United Nations Plaza in New York City

Milan

London

Prague (Where 70% of the people oppose the Star Wars radar and demand a national referendum)

Byron Bay, Australia

France

Berlin

Amsterdam

Will you please help us spread the word? Have you signed the on-line petition yet?


Peace in space and here at home on Mother Earth. Convert the global war machine now before it is too late.

GOOD BYE DEAR PEG

Our friend Peg McIntire died last night. Her devoted son, Jo, and daughter-in-law, Sali, were by her side. She will be missed by untold numbers of people whose life she lovingly touched.

I don't remember the exact year that I met Peg, it just seems like I've known her forever. For many years she served as the able Treasurer of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice where I worked. She was at every meeting, every protest, and went to jail several times for crossing the line at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida when we would protest against the nuclearization and weaponization of space. Once while in jail she was telling dirty jokes to the prostitutes who shared her cell.

Every summer for years I organized a Youth Peace Camp and Peg would work in the hot humid kitchen all week just as hard as the rest of us. She would lecture us about how we were cutting the celery or the carrots wrong but I just always loved her in those moments. She was always present.

One year when my son Julian was in middle school, and I didn't have enough income to give him a proper summer vacation, Peg invited us to her St. Augustine Beach condo for a week so we could relax, swim in the ocean, and visit Alligator Farm.

Peg lived for many years in Rome, Italy and loved Italian food and wine. She worked on the famous movie, Ben Hur, as the assistant to the producer and said she never liked Charlton Heston. She said he was arrogant.

Practically everyone I knew said the same thing about Peg - "When I grow up I want to be like Peg McIntire."

Visits with Peg at her home were always wonderful for me because she loved to cook pasta together and then eat out on her back patio. She was the slowest eater in the world and always complained that I didn't enjoy my food enough. When she came to Maine for a visit each summer she wanted a lobster and took her dear time eating every possible bit of meat on it.

In the end Peg was my friend, really more like a mother to me than even my own mother was. She supported me always, through my good times and bad. She saw the good in me even when I might wonder about it myself.

Peg touched lives in many corners as she was the most social person I've ever known. She had more friends in St. Augustine than probably any other person in that community. She was a treasure and the best ambassador the peace movement could ever hope for.

Peg lived to be an active 97, she was at a Memorial Day protest just last weekend, because she had a rich full life. She kept her mind focused and her body engaged with the living....she had no time to waste.

Peg will live forever on this Earth in the hearts of people all over the world. It was an honor to call her a friend.

You can see Peg's Obituary and personal blog at this link: http://pegmcintire.blogspot.com/

Thursday, May 29, 2008

STATEMENT ON HUNGER STRIKE BY CYNTHIA MCKINNEY

Dear Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar:

It is impossible for me to say strongly enough how important your efforts are in the Czech Republic to oppose deployment of U.S. so-called missile defense bases. Your leadership is being watched and is appreciated all over the world.

While in Congress I voted against every iteration of so-called missile defense--Star Wars--that was authorized or appropriated. I want you to know that I deeply understand the dangers that will come from a decision to accept the U.S. Star Wars radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. There is no doubt that a new cold war is underway here that could once again bring Europe back into the middle of another U.S.-Russia conflict.

Your hunger strike in Prague since May 13, and now joined by others including Bruce Gagnon in the U.S., is an important effort to bring this issue to the public consciousness. The American people have been deceived at every turn by this Bush Administration and have yet to learn of the dangers and enormous cost of this new arms race we are creating. Thank you to you and to Bruce for your courageous and determined stand.

Let me assure you that as a candidate for the U.S. Green party presidential nomination, and a former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, I very well understand the importance of your citizen action to demand a national referendum in your country on this deployment issue. I also understand your desire to prevent the U.S. from establishing military bases in your country after your long history of occupation by Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union. I am touched by your desire for real democracy in your country and agree that occupation and democracy are not compatible.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once remarked that the United States was the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet. Sadly, that has not changed. Please know that as I campaign, I will share your stories with those I meet as I cross our nation.

Thank you all again for your demand for peace and democracy.

Cynthia McKinney
Candidate for President of the United States
Green Party

CZECH HUNGER STRIKER TAKEN TO HOSPITAL

Jan Bednar (left) and Jan Tamas share a moment during hunger strike in Prague

Day 6 of my solidarity hunger strike

It is day 17 for Jan Bednar and Jan Tamas in their hunger strike. The latest report from the Czech Republic is that Jan Bednar's liver failure is critical. He was taken to the hospital today but will not end his hunger strike.

In a meeting today with Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg it became obvious, despite his cordiality with the two strikers, that the government will not accept any of the peace movement demands.

Jan Tamas urged him to suspend talks with the Bush administration, since their country is divided and the political atmosphere in the Czech Republic is poisoned. Jan told him that it is much more sensible to wait for the next U.S. administration and in the meantime begin a real and transparent debate on the issue, involving all social forces in the country.

Opposition Social Democratic Party Secretary Jiri Paroubek, the former Czech Prime Minister, visited the protesters today and made a heartfelt appeal that they stop the strike. He assured them that his party is committed in their opposition to the radar agreement with the U.S. and that they will do everything possible to stop it.

Crowds are swarming to the Prague hunger strike headquarters, people bringing flowers and fruit drinks.

At today's news conference in Prague a journalist started crying when Jan Bednar, now almost completely yellow, told them "the Prime Minister declared on television today that he has 30 days to answer us. This is the domineering attitude of our government which will impose it's will at any cost. I cannot stop, it is an issue of democracy."

Protests have now spread from Prague to over 30 cities around the world.

Today in Brunswick, Maine we had 10 people at my daily vigil on the street during the lunch hour. The local newspaper sent a reporter and photographer to interview me and earlier in the day I did a radio interview with the progressive station WERU in northern Maine.

More than a 100,000 people have now signed the http://www.nonviolence.cz/ online petition.

Unlimited hunger strike today: Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar in Prague since May 13, Dino Mancarella in Trieste since May 14, Federica Fratini and Eduardo Calizza in Rome since May 19, José Alvarez in Spain since May 22. Bruce Gagnon and Sung-Hee Choi in the USA, Gareth Smith in Australia, Joaquin Valenzuela in Bologna since May 24. Ivan Marchetti and Andrea Casa in Turin since May 26 and Dr. Hassan Nayeb Hashem in Austria since May 29

My heart is heavy tonight because at the same time we learned about Jan Bednar being taken to the hospital I also learned that our longtime dear friend Peg McIntire, who is 97 years old and lives in Florida, is nearing death. I've worked with Peg in the peace movement for well over 20 years and she has come to Maine to visit us each year since we moved here in 2003. Just weeks ago she was asking if she could come again this summer, even as her health was failing.

The loss of Peg is just too hard to imagine. In my heart though I know she would be proud that I am participating in this hunger strike and I know she would be cheering me on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

PROGRESS REPORTED FROM PRAGUE

Activists at Union Square in New York City on Monday

Day five of my solidarity hunger strike

We had nine on the street in downtown Brunswick today for the hour. Reception was better than yesterday but still people are unsure about this "hunger strike" about Star Wars bases in Central Europe - and just where is Central Europe?

We got the following message from Prague this morning:

"We have obtained the dialogue we were looking for!!! Tomorrow, Thursday May 29, there will be a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the one who will have to sign the agreement with Condoleezza Rice.

After the open letter of Dennis Kucinich, we have received also a letter from Luisa Morgantini, Vice-president of the European Parliament, who supports the protest against the space shield and commits herself to inform the Parliament about it.

There is also more space in the mass-media.

For all these reasons our friends in Prague think that it is not necessary now to send protest letters to Czech embassies and to the president Klaus. It seems that in these days hundreds of mails and fax have arrived to their embassies all over the world and perhaps this has contributed to this first opening."

I would venture to guess that the Czech government figures they must stem the tide now before this hunger strike, and growing support, becomes more of a political problem. While I'd like to hope that this means some level of negotiations and compromise by their government I would venture to guess it is more of a public relations move. They likely just want to appear in the Czech media to look like they are "listening" to the opposition rather than seriously changing policy.

But even with that said, this is a great step forward because at the very least this meeting will likely insure major media coverage for the hunger strikers. It really is a strong signal of recognition, always the first step that is required before negotiations can seriously take place.

So clearly the European and worldwide protests are having some effect on the government. My feeling is that now is the time to step up the pressure. Now is the time to sign the on-line petition at http://www.nonviolence.cz/ and it is also a good time to send a solidarity message from your local peace group to the hunger strikers in the Czech Republic.

As for me, I am doing fine today. Went for a short walk after the vigil today which felt nice. But now I am back on my bed with my laptop getting my work done. My energy level is low and I've lost 10 pounds already. Having a high metabolism like I do makes me burn the pounds away fast I guess.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

REPORT FROM BRUNSWICK, MAINE ON HUNGER STRIKE VIGIL

Day 4 of my solidarity hunger strike

We had seven folks on the windy street today in Brunswick, Maine holding signs and handing out flyers made just for the occasion. It was easy to tell that most people passing by knew nothing about U.S. deployments of Star Wars technology in Poland and the Czech Republic. They knew even less about a hunger strike that began in Prague on May 13 and has slowly grown to involve more people, including myself.

And that is just the reason why I joined the hunger strike on May 24. The time has come for the American people to hear about this new arms race that our government is creating in Europe. We are going to pay for it, in more ways than one. We ought to know something about it and should be talking about it in our communities.

In fact, even the peace movement in the U.S. knows little about Bush’s planned Star Wars deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic. Until we get the attention of hard working activists, who are understandably preoccupied with Iraq, then we will have little chance of reaching the public in general.

By the end of the hour on the street today, I was ready to sit down. But I will be back out again on the corner on Wednesday and every other weekday as long as this hunger strike goes on. I am committed to continuing my own participation in this hunger strike in solidarity with Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar in Prague as long as they continue with theirs.

It is my hope that people will begin to see the connection between the war for oil in Iraq and this new U.S. aggressive military move to essentially surround Russia -- which just happens to hold the world’s largest supply of natural gas and large deposits of oil. The U.S. is undertaking a global military strategy to wrest control of the planet’s remaining fossil fuels. This means massive military spending in the years to come and endless war, instability and occupation.

We have to begin to get the American people to see this larger strategic picture if we hope to stem this tide of growing militarism. It will take endless war with all nations that have fossil fuel resources in order to run our over-consuming lifestyle here in the U.S.

I am not interested in debating whether this hunger strike will stop the so-called “missile defense” interceptor and radar deployments by Bush in Central Europe or not. I am more determined than ever to make sure that people begin to know about them. As Noam Chomsky says, “The public can’t react to something that they don’t know about.”

The American people have been well trained to bury our political emotions behind alcohol, drugs, food, TV, shopping, sex, and sports. My task right now is, in my small way, to help bring these feelings back to the surface where we can scratch them a bit and trigger some kind of creeping consciousness.

I will be posting daily updates on my blog while I am on this hunger strike so please stay tuned.

If you haven’t already, please be sure to sign the Czech petition at http://www.nonviolence.cz/

Monday, May 26, 2008

WALKING IN MEMORIAL DAY PARADE

Day 3 of my solidarity hunger strike.

We went early this morning to join my fellow members of Maine Veterans for Peace (VfP) in the Brunswick Memorial Day parade. The local peace group PeaceWorks walked behind us and then the group Military Families Speak Out was behind them. There were about 65 folks all together dressed in black.

The parade is two-miles long, beginning in Topsham, then goes over the Androscoggin River bridge and into the heart of downtown Brunswick. The crowd watching was quite large when he arrived in Brunswick and we got a good applause all along the way.

The Hair & Nail Salon float and Modern Pest Control cars were right in front of us and several Army National Guard Humvees and trucks were behind us. Our members were passing out leaflets for Maine VfP's upcoming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) conference in Portland on June 7.

It's a real glimpse of America to watch these "patriotic" parades which are really little more than an excuse for the business community to flaunt their names, beauty queens to ride in fancy cars and wave, and high school bands to play military songs.

Our VfP group today had two signs in the front of our group listing the number of U.S. war dead and wounded in Iraq. We were the one dose of reality in the parade.

A couple of times we saw older guys turn their backs on us in disgust but that was not the norm.

By the end of the parade I was ready to sit down by a tree as I was feeling a bit weak. Once home I began working on signs for my one-hour vigil tomarrow in Brunswick. I will do the vigil each weekday as long as the hunger strike continues. Several friends today told me they would join me on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

LIVER FAILURE FOR CZECH HUNGER STRIKER - BUT HE VOWS TO PRESS ON

Jan Tamas (second from left) and Jan Bednar (far right) at a recent press conference in Prague.


Word came from the Czech Republic this morning that Jan Bednar, who together with Jan Tamas, is on his 12th day of hunger strike against deployment of a U.S. Star Wars radar base, is suffering from liver failure. His health conditions are worsening day after day and the medical team, as well as his friends and family, have urged him to interrupt the hunger strike. He has decided, however, to continue. "I have seen no sign that the Czech government is willing to open the dialogue on this issue and the European Parliament is silent," he stated.

Unlimited hunger strike: Jan Tamas and Jan Bednar in Prague since May 13, Dino Mancarella in Trieste since May 14, Federica Fratini, Isabel Torres, Eduardo Calizza in Rome since May 19, Josa Alvarez in Spain since May 22. They have been joined on May 24 by Bruce Gagnon, the Korean Sung-Hee Choi in New York, Gareth Smith in Australia and Joaquin Valenzuela in Bologna (Italy).

Solidarity messages pour in daily from hundreds of organizations and personalities such as: Noam Chomsky, Dario Fo and Franca Rame, Giorgio Schultze, Giulietto Chiesa (European Parliament member), Luisa Morgantini (Vice President of the European Parliament), Nichi Vendola, president of Puglia Region in Italy, French bishop Jacques Gaillot and Pulitzer prize winner Chris Hedges.

Protests against the military occupation of the Czech Republic by the U.S. and Europe's nuclear rearmament policies are continuing in Amsterdam, Berlin, Bologna, Budapest, Copenhagen, Florence, London, Malaga, Milan, Paris, Toulouse, Trieste e Turin. They are echoed in Australia, New York City, and Brunswick, Maine.