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, October 25, 2008

ONE OF THE GREAT ONES

Today at noon I joined my friend Peter Woodruff on his weekly radio show at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. We play political music and talk politics, it's really quite fun. In addition to music from various American artists, we played songs from Iraq, Sweden, and England. Today we spoke about conversion and the need to stay engaged after the elections. Who knows who just might be listening?

After the show Peter and I headed a couple miles south to Freeport to attend a house warming party for friends John Kaminski and Deborah Gordon who recently moved into a new place out in the country. They bought a nice 100 year old farmhouse that has been newly remodeled. Mary Beth later joined us there.

Also at the party was our dear friend Loukie Lofchie and her husband Stan. When Mary Beth and I first moved to Maine it was Loukie who found us our house and we were neighbors for several years before we moved to our current intentional community house in Bath.

Loukie is one of the grand dams of the peace community in the Midcoast - serving as one of the leaders of our local group PeaceWorks. It's been hard for us not to be living close to Loukie and Stan since moving to Bath. We miss their warm friendship and wonderful sense of humor very much.

Loukie is originally from Holland and suffered through the Nazi occupation during WW II. After the war she worked with refugee war orphans and became a social worker. She is a woman who loves life and has legions of friends who adore her as we have learned to do.

Loukie is one of the great peaceniks out there.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

PREPARE NOW FOR OUR POST-ELECTION STRATEGY

As we approach the November elections it has become difficult to separate large portions of the peace movement from the daily operations of the Democratic party. In many places across the nation regular peace vigils, in many cases held throughout the Iraq occupation, have become Obama for president rallies. Many activists use the "we" word when talking about the Democrats as if the party is an extension of the movement.

Don't we wish it could be so. Or maybe I should say, be careful what you wish for.

In a recent article entitled "The Idiots Who Rule America" Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges writes, "Our oligarchic class is incompetent at governing, managing the economy, coping with natural disasters, educating our young, handling foreign affairs, providing basic services like health care, and safeguarding individual rights. That it is still in power, and will remain in power after this election, is a testament to our inability to separate illusion from reality."

"The democratic system, they think, is a secondary product of the free market. And they slavishly serve the market."

"The working class, which has desperately borrowed money to stay afloat as real wages have dropped, now face years, maybe decades, of stagnant or declining incomes without access to new credit.....We, as individuals in this system, are irrelevant."

We are largely irrelevant because most of us are no longer needed. Due to computerization, mechanization, robotization, and outsourcing of our jobs, we have superfluous populations in the U.S. and around the world. The time has come to thin us out.

No matter who takes office in early 2009, they will face massive budget and trade deficits. The U.S., now a debtor nation, will be told by its creditors that it must do like all Third World nations have long been told to do - cut back on social spending in order to balance the budget.

The final stage in the Karl Rovian plan is in place. Once asked who his favorite president was Rove replied, "William McKinley." Not usually thought of as one of our greater presidents, Rove had to explain that McKinley ruled before we had social progress in America. McKinley was president before we had public education, public health, Social Security, unemployment insurance, the 40-hour workweek, child labor laws, and a whole lot more. Rove dreams of a return to feudalism - the 21st century corporate variety.

Despite public claims that they disagree on U.S. strategy in Iraq, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama would both keep some level of U.S. troops there on permanent bases and both want to send more American troops to Afghanistan. They both also support expanding the size of the military. They both agree that the Congress must "rebuild the military" after eight years of Bush-Cheney abuse. Where will the funds come from to do these things?

Pentagon spending has doubled during the past eight years. By 2010 military program managers are going to be scrambling to get their expensive high-tech programs funded. There is already intense competition between the services for new funding for their endless military appetites. This Pentagon dysfunction can already be witnessed by the recent public relations campaign called "Air Force Above All" that attempted to posture that branch of service as most deserving of high levels of funding as we hit the economic wall. Base commanders were sent out into their local communities to begin lobbying business leaders to support cuts in "entitlement programs" which translates to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and what remains of the severely diminished welfare program. The final shots of the war against social progress are now being fired.

So not only do we face the greed and excess of Wall Street, and are paying for their mistakes, but next we will be asked to continue to fund the crumbling military empire as it collapses around us with no regard for who suffers as it falls.

We will have one serious opportunity at hand to counter this spiraling downfall. No matter who you vote for in November, we must begin now to plan to utilize this potential opening because the elite will be working overtime to close the door as quickly as possible, not wanting to allow the slightest ray of light to pass through the crack. Already the talking heads on TV are telling the American people that if the Democrats win they must "moderate" their message.

As the new president attempts to formulate his budget plan during these trying times it would seem natural that in a real democracy there would be local public meetings so that the citizenry could give their best advice on how the nation should proceed. After all, following eight long hard years of endless war and cuts in social spending, the people will have their own thoughts on what direction the nation should go. This is even more true should Obama, as it now appears he will, win the election.

Local peace, social justice, environmental, women's, and labor organizations should form coalitions to host large public hearings to discuss the guns or butter issue. It is highly likely that the Democrats, who will fully control Congress, will tell us that we can still have both. We can continue some semblance of an occupation of Iraq, expand the war in Afghanistan, build Star Wars, surround Russia and China, and still have enough money to fund health care for all. They will urge us to just give them some time, say two years, to clean up the mess left by the Bush-Cheney cabal. If we listen to them, and step back even for a moment, we would be making a foolish mistake.

We must from the outset mount vigorous pressure on the new administration and the new Congress to overturn the anti-human budget cuts of the past eight years. We must demand major cuts in military spending and an end to corporate subsidies. We must articulate a vision that calls for the conversion of the military industrial complex in order that our tax dollars be used for peaceful and sustainable technology production - not the continued industrial production for war without end.

Only a narrow window of opportunity will await us. We must prepare now to stick our collective feet in the door to ensure that democracy and social progress are not destroyed as the oligarchy attempts to slam the door in our face.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

FRIENDS FROM NYC

Click on the cartoon for a larger view
This past weekend Anne Gibbons, a leader of CodePink New York City, came to Bath with her husband Ivan to speak at the protest I helped organize at the Iron Works. She spoke about the work they are doing in New York and their participation in organizing a protest during space week at L-3 Communications.

We got a really great news article in the local paper covering the demonstration. The story featured our conversion message and got it right.

Anne is a cartoonist and has a syndicated cartoon called Six Chicks that she does with five other women. She came to our Global Network space organizing conference last spring in Omaha and Anne also organized a speaking tour in the NYC area for Mary Beth during Hiroshima-Nagasaki remembrance days in August.

We took Anne and Ivan kayaking during the weekend and for a walk on the beach at Reed State Park. They are good folks and we enjoyed hosting them.

Monday, October 20, 2008

PROTESTING AEGIS IN MAINE AND SOUTH KOREA



Jeju Island is just off the southern tip of South Korea Our annual Keep Space for Peace Week was a resounding success this year. We had more than 90 events in 13 countries – the highest total in recent years. We are grateful to all who organized video showings, protest events, and street leafleting to help educate the public.

Here in Maine we held two vigils at Bath Iron Works where the Navy’s Aegis destroyer is built. The Aegis is outfitted with “missile defense” systems and is now being deployed just off the coast of China as part of a doubling of U.S. military presence in the Asian-Pacific region.

China imports the majority of its oil through the Taiwan Straits and the U.S. strategy is to put in place the ability to choke off this importation thus giving the U.S. the ability to control the keys to China’s and the world’s economic engine. This is creating a dangerous arms race in the region.

On Oct 18, the Navy “Christened” a new Aegis destroyer called the Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) at Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Maine. Rear Admiral Meyer is known as the “father” of the Aegis program. The Navy boasts that the Aegis phased array radar gives the ship the ability to “track, target and destroy aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles…to completely dominate a theater of operations.”

It was one of these Aegis destroyers that fired an interceptor missile in February 2008 that knocked out a wayward U.S. spy satellite that was falling back to Earth. At the time the public was told the satellite’s on-board hydrazine fuel would be a danger to the planet, but we have since learned that the fuel was largely gone at the time of the intercept. In the end the real reason for the shoot-down was to test the ability of the Aegis system to also function as an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon.

The October 18 “Christening” was met by a protest organized by Maine Veterans for Peace and the Global Network in an effort to express opposition to the deployment of another “offensive” Aegis ship but also to call for the conversion of the BIW. For the first time ever, a worker from BIW was a featured speaker at the rally held just outside the shipyard gate. Peter Woodruff has worked at BIW for 27 years and told the 75 people assembled that “With the development of the Aegis weapons systems on Navy ships (Aegis is the Greek word for shield) the Navy became more reliant on satellites to guide the so-called ‘smart bombs’ to their designated targets over the horizon and warfare from ships became more long-range, less risky, and less personal. What was sold to the American public as a defense system was actually a system for offensive warfare.”

Woodruff called for conversion of BIW saying, “I can envision building floating wind farms right here at BIW. This is not a revolutionary idea. Shipyards in Europe have been partially or wholly converted from military production to wind turbine production. If a project like this were subsidized by the federal government, like the Navy ships are now, we could create clean, inexpensive, and sustainable power for Maine and the rest of the Northeast. We could expand BIW’s workforce to as many as 12,000 employees and work our way out of this severe recession we are sliding into. If you want to bailout this economy create jobs. We are standing on the edge of a Green Revolution in this country and we must take the steps to realize it as if our lives depended on it.”

In my own speech at the BIW rally I talked about a small South Korean island called Jeju that sits just off the coast of China. Jeju has been designated as an ecological preservation site by UNESCO for its rare and beautiful species of coral (such as Alcyonium gracillimum) and shells (such as Charonia sauliae) which are in the brink of extinction).

In 2002 the South Korean government announced the intention to build a Naval base on Jeju Island and since that time people have been organizing to stop the construction of the base. According to one South Korean peace organization (Solidarity for Peace And Reunification of Korea), “Setting the Aegis [destroyer] in Jeju Island and operating the ships as an element of constructing an Asian missile defense system is part of the U.S. military program. From the geographical point of view, the naval base in Jeju Island cannot have been anything else but the U.S. missile defense base on the sea. Jeju Island is at the center of conflict structure of northeast Asia in reference to missile defense system. The island is located at the gateway of East Asia. Recently, the strengthening of the U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea military alliance led by the U.S. is an unstable fact. Under the circumstance, the naval base in Jeju Island would become a stepping-stone for the U.S. navy. It would also be inevitable that Jeju Island would turn to be a focal point of an arms race in Northeast Asia.”

Little did we know that as we were protesting against the “Christening” of the Aegis in Bath, Maine that activists from Jeju, on October 18, were holding an action to oppose the construction of the Navy base on Jeju Island. Six people from a local village on the island went underwater on October 18 and held banners amongst the colorful coral protesting the base and expressing their concern that the coral life would be destroyed by the Aegis.

Thanks to Global Network member Sung-Hee Choi, who lives in South Korea, we were able to learn about this protest under the waters of Jeju Island. This is just one example of how our international solidarity around weapons in space issues is growing. Next April 2-4 the Global Network will hold its annual space organizing conference in South Korea as we try to learn first-hand more about the dangers of U.S. “missile defense” deployments to surround and “contain” China.

The Jeju Island story completes the circle. It reveals how the weapons in space issue impacts even life under the seas. The people of Jeju Island are asking all of us to connect these dots and to help stop this deadly arms race from destroying their culture.

Peter Woodruff, working at BIW and courageously speaking out for conversion, shows us the way out. We don’t have to build weapons for endless war to provide jobs in our communities. We don’t have to waste our tax dollars on an arms race to control the world’s diminishing resources. We can build rail, solar, and wind power systems and protect our Mother Earth.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

WHY CAN'T WE HAVE IT?