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, November 07, 2008

A LETTER TO OBAMA

President-elect Obama is asking for the public to send him their comments on how he should proceed in the coming weeks.

You can send these comments via this new web site his transition team has just put up. Click here: http://www.change.gov/page/s/contact

I was contacted yesterday by a church group in Arizona asking for a sample letter they could use to encourage people to send Obama. I put it below for your consideration. It would not hurt for all of us to write Obama and express our concerns and give our ideas. You know the "other side" is doing it.


Dear President-elect Obama:

I am writing to urge you to dramatically cut military spending which has doubled during the last eight years under the Bush administration.

It will be impossible for our nation to achieve economic stability, social justice, a new energy policy, and peace as long as making weapons and war are our nation's priority.

We must quickly move to convert our wasteful military industrial complex in order to make funds available to create the green jobs doing sustainable production that you promised during your campaign.

If, instead of building weapons for war, we were to build public transit systems, solar power, and wind power we could significantly reduce our need for fossil fuels and thus reduce the pressure to control oil in the Middle East and Central Asia. Thus peace becomes a tangible benefit of creating a new green economy here at home.

It is our hope that you will focus our national attention on changing the way we interact with the world by creating an Earth friendly economy at home. This way we deal with the harsh coming reality of climate change and offer the world a new and friendlier side of America.

We wish you the best and pledge to do our part to help move our nation in this positive direction.

In peace,

xxxxxxx

Thursday, November 06, 2008

READING THE TEA LEAVES

Obama has indeed chosen Chicago Rep. Rahm Emanuel as his White House Chief of Staff.

Emanuel is a Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) kind of Democrat. In his role as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006 he worked hard to keep progressive Democrats from running for Congress and instead only gave party funds to those who took a more moderate position on the Iraq occupation issue. Thus he was instrumental in slowing down congressional momentum to force an end to Iraq war funding that now costs us $12 billion per month.

According to Democratic candidates who ran for House of Representative seats in 2006, Emanuel took sides during the Democratic primary elections, favoring conservative candidates, including former Republicans, and sidelining candidates who were running in favor of withdrawal from Iraq.

One Emanuel critic reported, "Many of the candidates that Emanuel helped elect have joined with a group of self-styled conservative Blue Dog Democrats and have cast key votes with Republicans and stymied Democratic efforts to end the occupation of Iraq and the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program."

So it is instructive to see that a key corporate Democratic party operative has now been placed in probably the most powerful position inside the Obama administration. As we begin to read the tea leaves this is one important sign of what is yet to come.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

VICTORY BUT BIG CHALLENGES AHEAD

Black people in America deserve this one. They labored in America's fields and struggled for justice long enough. I just can't imagine the depth of joy, pride, and self respect they must feel. We will be a better country with this unleashing of centuries of pain and doubt. Racism in America is far from over but a change is indeed underway.

This was the most expensive election in U.S. history, costing more than $5.3 billion. Alot of the money came from small donors but the big bankers, hedge funds, insurance companies, weapons corporations and the like kicked big bucks into both campaigns, particularly Obama's. You know the wolves will now come knocking at the White House door.

At this point it is clear that the Democrats have expanded their majority in the Senate and House of Representatives. I was closely watching a couple key races. In the House two ultra-conservative Republican Central Florida Congressmen, Tom Feeney and Ric Keller, were both defeated. I lived in Orlando, Florida for 20 years and rarely saw a Democrat elected to Congress in that region.

Cindy Sheehan, running against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, got 17% of the vote. In a letter on the Internet yesterday Cindy expressed disappointment that the peace movement in her city was not much help with her campaign. The Democrats used Cindy in 2006 during the mid-term congressional elections to run against the war. She helped deliver the House to the Democrats but when she wanted to hold Pelosi's feet to the fire on the occupation of Iraq and impeachment, many local peace folks (who are captives of the Dems) abandoned her.

I was watching the Minnesota Senate race closely where Al Franken (a left of center Democrat) was running against incumbent Norm Coleman (a slimy character who took Paul Wellstone's seat). As of this morning they are in a virtual tie and there will be a recount.

I've not yet seen how Maine U.S. Senate write-in candidate Herb Hoffman did. I wonder if his votes will even be counted.

In a local race one of our PeaceWorks members in nearby Brunswick, Debbie Atwood, was elected to the town council. Congrats to Debbie.

Green Party leader Cynthia McKinney appears to have done poorly nationally and Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader didn't do much better. It was not a good year for people thinking outside the two-party box.

The talk is that Obama will keep Bush's Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in that job. Gates served for 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under President George H. W. Bush as Director of the CIA. To me that is not change.

Former Bill Clinton staffer, and now Congressman Rahm Emanuel from Chicago, is rumored to be in the running to be Obama's Chief of Staff. Emanuel is a corporate mainstream Democrat and his selection will indicate to me the real direction of an Obama administration.

Obama has a tightrope act to walk. He owes blacks, Hispanics, and young people his election. These folks are worried about jobs, health care, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, energy policy, and climate change. That is a huge undertaking. In his speech last night Obama began tamping down expectations saying "We might not get there even in my first term, but we will get there." Suddenly the "yes we can" change will become tempered.

People ought to celebrate the defeat of the right-wing Republican control of our government. That is a wonderful change for sure. But I remember the Clinton years very well. A centrist Democrat took over after the first president George Bush and gave the power structure NAFTA and paved the way for war in Iraq with his long and deadly sanctions and "no fly zones". He never did anything to speak of on health care and led the destruction of welfare while helping to begin the deregulation of Wall Street which ushered in massive welfare for the rich.

I've been around long enough not to fall for the big rhetoric from politicians. I try not to be jaded and overly cynical. I try to see things as they are.

I hope Obama delivers the changes he has promised. I hope the public understands that their role in bringing real change has just begun. I hope that Obama supporters are in this one for the long haul.

Monday, November 03, 2008

SLOW BUT STEADY

I'm stacking firewood in the backyard today and I must admit my pile is not nearly as neat as the photo above depicts. I just grabbed this picture off the Internet to try to illustrate the task at hand.

We have a huge pile of wood (two cords) that was dumped in the yard when we ordered if from a local wood cutter. Then I've been chopping up a tree given to us by a friend and our next door neighbor recently cut down a small birch tree adjoining our property line that was shading our garden which he gave to us. So the pile has grown even more.

With the snows likely coming our way by the end of November I figured I'd better get to work on stacking it so it can dry out and we won't have it buried in a pile of snow when we need it.

There are lots of methods for stacking wood. I watched an old Mainer on cable TV recently show his method. I don't have a method.....mine is kind of anarchy wood stacking. I did not do puzzles well when I was a kid either.

I am stacking the wood on four pallets that we have to keep it off the ground. My goal is to make each stack as tall as possible without having the wood fall over.

Our wood pile from last fall has held up well. That green wood has now weathered and we have just begun to burn it. A good friend helped me stack that bunch and he was about four times faster than I was. He is a real Mainer who does it without thinking. I have to pick up a piece of wood, give it a good look, and then look around for where it will go. Then I have to move it a time or two, trying for just the right fit, and then step back a few feet to make sure it works. In the meantime the world has turned a few times and my beard has grown full. At the rate I'm going I will have it done by next summer.

I just came in for lunch. All the bending and lifting has worn me out. I needed to catch my breath. I want to eat some more so I can stall a bit, my arms and back are aching.

But I will get back to it soon. I've got to put a dent in that wood pile and just hope the wind does not blow my new stack over.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

DEALING WITH THE PANIC AND THE PAIN

Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion in Portland about the economic crisis. The panel consisted of two economics professors, a historian, a labor organizer, an immigration lawyer, and myself. It was quite an interesting two hours.

The historian began the event with a review of past "panics" in American economic history. She suggested we should call recessions and/or depressions panics again as the word better described what was going on for the public.

The best part of the event was hearing from the 50 people in the audience. Several talked about the need for groups to begin organizing to resist home foreclosures by getting the community to stop people from being thrown out of their homes. Others talked about the need to link arms with one another when the state soon moves to cut $50 million in human needs programs. Usually social service groups are pitted against one another to fight over a few crumbs. We must not let that continue to happen. One example was given how anticipated cuts at the state university system will turn education workers against social program activists.

Several of us talked about the military budget and the need to demand major cuts in military spending as a way to prevent the dissolution of social progress. Unless we are willing to call for cuts in military production in our own states then we will never succeed in creating the national momentum for Pentagon budget cuts. (We must remind the public at every opportunity that Bush doubled military spending during the last eight years and that moving war spending to civilian "green" production and social program funding will in fact create more jobs.)

We were reminded by some in the audience that "liberalism" is dead. The notion that we can "grow" our way out of this current economic crisis ignores the reality that fossil fuels are a declining resource. An entire new way of life is coming our way and we have to begin to rethink, relearn, and articulate a new vision of a livable and sustainable life style.

In my closing words I said that we have to think like organizers at this time. We must create opportunities for "popular public education" by putting together town hall meetings that will serve multiple functions. They will give us the chance to work with other organizations and interest groups to pull together mass events. The events will allow folks to share with each other their emotion, their questions, their ideas, and to create hope and energy. These public meetings will also serve to put the political class on notice that people are making specific demands like single-payer health care, cuts in military spending, an end to casino capitalism and more. If properly organized the events will also serve to alert a disempowered public that people are moving and engaged and force them to at least reflect on these serious questions and political demands.

It is true that the Obama campaign has created alot of "energy" amongst many sectors of the society. One key question is where will that energy go after November 4? We must challenge Obama supporters to now move their passion into helping take the political debate to the next level.