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, January 03, 2009

GOD HELP THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE - THE AMERICANS WON'T

Israeli peace protesters opposing their country's Gaza attack


There is more debate inside Israel about their nation's illegal and immoral attack on the defenseless people of Gaza than here in the US. In America we witness a non-stop display of Israeli government spokespersons on TV justifying their murderous assault on the Palestinian people. I've seen nothing on TV or in the newspaper about protests in our country.


Tonight I even heard Israeli government representatives on CNN and MSNBC denying that more than 400 Palestinian people had been killed in recent days by Israel's incessant bombing. These bold faced liars accused the Palestinians of making up the numbers of dead in order to sway public opinion. How despicably low can Israel stoop? And how low can the American media stoop in their servitude and complicity?


It is a virtual turkey shoot, like shooting fish in a barrel, happening right now in Gaza. The corrupt American media asks few tough questions as the Israeli government keeps the world media from filming their military rampage.


On the topic of Israel's current attack on Gaza, South African Archibishop Desmond Tutu said on Sunday: "In the context of total aerial supremacy, in which one side in a conflict deploys lethal aircraft against opponents with no means of defending themselves, the bombardment bears all the hallmarks of war crimes."


I read a report tonight from a friend that Cynthia McKinney is now back in the US and that Israel today bombed and destroyed the port that Cynthia and a European medical team tried to sail into earlier this week with medical supplies. All of the fishing boats have also been blown up in the port making it virtually impossible for them to transport food into Gaza.


Still we hear nothing from Obama. We expect nothing from Bush but we must insist that Obama stand up and call for an end to this systematic slaughter of a people who have no Army, Navy, or Air Force. The excuse that Hamas is launching some ineffective rockets to justify this genocidal policy is deceptive and sickening. We Americans are allowing this madness to continue and we are paying for it with our tax dollars!


Yesterday I joined an hour long protest in Portland at noon and two TV stations came to cover the event. But they spent at least 20 minutes interviewing the one Jewish man in a suit that crashed the protest, began yelling in some of our faces, and then went over to the media who eagerly put him on camera. Our very diverse group of at least 75 people, standing in the freezing cold, was not reported on by the local newspaper.


The media are captives of this war machine that is now churning death full bore in Gaza.

God help us all and most importantly, god help the Palestinian people. Not enough of us seem to care. Our hearts have turned cold.

SPREADING LIKE A BAD COLD

Last Sunday I attended a public forum on health care at the library in Brunswick. The event was led by Bill Clark, a retired doctor, who I have interviewed a couple of times on my public access TV show called This Issue. The meeting was organized in response to Obama's request for feedback on his health care plans.

The Obama team gave a list of seven questions they wanted discussed. The questions were policy wonk oriented, things like "How can public policy promote healthier lifestyles?"

There were 60 people present and early on the group made it clear that they didn't want to talk about the seven questions from Obama. Instead they over and again spoke about their belief that health care was a human right, that the profit motive should be taken out of health care, and in the end the people pretty much unanimously requested that Dr. Clark inform the Obama team that those assembled supported a single-payer health care program, or "Medicare (the program that covers people over 65) for all" as it is often called.

Richard Rhames from Biddeford, who was there filming the meeting for public access TV, reminded us that while a state senator in Illinois Obama had helped defeat a single-payer health care program that was brought to his state legislature. During the recent Democratic primaries it was Rep. Dennis Kucinich who was the leading advocate for government run single-payer system while Obama and Hillary Clinton championed "national health insurance for all" which means having the government further subsidize the insurance companies to broaden their coverage to include more of the 48 million across the nation who have no coverage.

Health insurance corporations premiums have doubled in the past eight years and medical bills now contribute to 50% of the bankruptcies and home foreclosures experienced by the public.

Advocates of single-payer have made a strong case that expanding private health insurance may not mean a better delivery system as we know that the "market driven" insurance companies are less efficient. The government run Veterans Administration (VA) health program has the best quality scores (for diabetes, blood pressure control, and the like) of any system in the US.

With millions of people now losing their jobs many more will join the ranks of the uninsured. For each 1% increase in unemployment, over one million more folks join those without coverage.

On New Years Day MB and I went to a party held in South Paris, Maine at the home of retired doctor and Cuba solidarity activist Tom Whitney. Tom told me that just days ago a similar health care forum had been held in Augusta that he attended along with 75 others. He said that similar to the one I had gone to, the people in Augusta also resisted the programed questions from Obama and instead spoke out for single-payer health care.

This seems to be contagious. It's spreading like a bad cold. The people are tired of watching the health insurance company executives walk away with $42 million annual bonuses while more go without the ability to see a doctor when sick. There is only one real prescription for this malady and it is free health care for all. Let the "market commodity" system of health care delivery die and instead resuscitate Medicare for everyone across the nation.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

THE YEAR AHEAD - WISHING YOU BETTER THINGS

On Christmas day our Addams-Melman housemates gathered to paint self-portraits. This is what I came up with.

In the spirit of self examination I will share my New Years Resolutions.

  • I will continue to criticize politicians who belong to both corporate parties. I won't show any favor to either mainstream party.
  • I won't believe hardly anything I read in the mainstream press.
  • I won't claim to have been influenced by Abe Lincoln, it's becoming over used lately.
  • No more eating between meals...OK, not as much eating between meals. (I am still down 10 pounds from my hunger strike last summer.)
  • I will only buy foam board to make anti-war signs from now on because it lasts longer.
  • I won't begin the baseball season expecting my beloved (#&*@!) Orioles to win any games.
  • I'll try to not say the words "conversion of the military industrial complex" in every conversation I have.
  • I will go cross country skiing as often as my sore legs will allow me.
  • I won't shop at corporate chain stores/restaurants unless I am drugged, dragged, or forced at gun point except on those occasions where I don't have any other options available to me......
  • I won't make excuses for weak or bad behavior.
  • I won't buy the new line of kids Army clothes at Sears stores. I will not be a slave to fashion.
  • I'll listen to music other than The Kinks - sometimes.
  • I won't ever long for Bush-Cheney to kick around anymore.
  • I won't use the word Iraq without adding Afghanistan.
  • If I have to sit-in a Congressional office and be arrested I won't bail out of jail.
  • After I have genuinely reflected on the boundaries of my "personal box" I will summon up the courage to step outside as often as possible.
  • I will walk more often.
  • I promise not to invite Nancy Pelosi to write a fundraising letter on behalf of the Global Network.
  • I will stop expecting the oligarchy to develop a conscience.
  • I won't invest the coins in my penny bottle in any hedge funds or ponzi schemes.
  • I will continue to refuse to pay thousands of $$$ each year for a $15,000 deductible health insurance policy that does me absolutely no good even if it means I remain one of the 48 million without health care.
  • I will (try) to spend less time on the computer and more time reading the old fashioned way.
  • I won't criticize any politician on this blog unless they deserve it.
  • I will call the New York Yankees the "evil empire" every time I look at the major league baseball standings and see them in first place after spending zillions of dollars buying up the best free agent players this winter.
  • I will wean myself from corporate dominated sports, even if it hurts.
  • I will ride my bicycle more.
  • I will everyday remember that the CIA-Mafia runs the world and that we must have a non-violent revolution.
  • I will never, ever expect a savior to get us out from behind the eight-ball.
  • I will trust working in collaboration with others is better than powerless isolation.
  • I will do as my dentist says and floss more often.
  • I will continue to explore and awaken the sleeping artist inside of me, even if it takes forever.
  • I won't step on anyone else's spiritual practice.
  • I will eat more green veggies and fruit.
  • I will not look the other way when I see suffering people in Africa, Palestine, or any where else. Or suffering animals or plants or water or air.
  • I will continue to enlarge my sharing heart.
  • I will attempt to live one precious moment at a time.

That should be enough for one year's work. Wish me luck please.

And best wishes to you in 2009.

Please enjoy The Kinks singing Better Things.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

CHU - A MIXED BAG

Obama's choice of Steven Chu as Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) looks to be a mixed blessing.

Nuclear Watch of New Mexico reports that "Chu comes to the cabinet from the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in California [a major nuclear weapons development site], where much of his research was on renewable energy. His selection could signal big changes in how the US uses science to tackle the challenge of national energy independence. DOE spends around $6.6 billion a year on nuclear weapons research and production -- compared to about $4.6 billion on applied energy research and $4.7 billion on basic science. With tight budgets and new priorities, science could now finally be favored over weapons."

Emphasis, I'd suggest, on the word "could".

Journalism professor Karl Grossman was a co-founder of the Global Network in 1992. His expertise has always been in the field of nuclear energy and recently Karl wrote an extensive piece on the Chu appointment.

In the article Karl writes, "Although he has a keen interest in energy efficiency and solar power and other clean forms of renewable energy, Chu is a staunch advocate of nuclear power."

“Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio,” declared Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, at an economic gathering last March in Palo Alto, California organized by Stanford University.”

Grossman then calls on two leading anti-nuclear power activists for their views on the Chu appointment.

Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project of Beyond Nuclear, asks whether Chu “can afford to squander his commitment to renewables by pouring all these resources down the nuclear rat hole. You can’t have both worlds—particularly in the economic depression we’re sliding into. We’re at a crossroads and we have to make definitive choices.” Gunter says it’s “time to leave 20th century mistakes” such as nuclear power “behind and commit to renewables.”

“He’s really big on efficiency and renewables,” says Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, of Chu. But he is “looking at nuclear as well. He and President-elect Obama are not anti-nuclear, and not perhaps as versed on it as they should be.” Mariotte has a major concern that “they will accede to demands to fund nuclear power made by Congress”—awash in contributions from the nuclear power industry and with many members loyal to the national nuclear laboratories in their districts.

These will be tough questions for Obama, Chu, and the Congress to answer. Invest diminishing national resources in "green technology" job creation or waste mountains of cash on the nuclear mess? This will be another area where splitting the baby in half, a prime Obama tendency, will be a fatal mistake.

And still the problem remains, what does the nation do with nuclear waste? Would you like it stored in your backyard?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

SOME WOULD CALL IT GENOCIDE

The Israeli attack on Gaza is getting personal for me.

In 1966 while visiting my mothers family in Connecticut my Italian grandfather took me into the dining room and opened a chest of drawers. He took a bag from the chest and handed it to me and said, "These have been in the family for generations. I want you to have them." Inside the bag were a bunch of old hand-knitted yarmulkes. It was then that I learned that his family, back in Italy, had been Jewish. At some point the family had hidden this fact and become "Northern Baptists" as a way to fit into American culture.

You can imagine my surprise at 14 years-old to learn this story. No one had ever spoken a word about this to me or anyone else. My grandfather said nothing else about the subject. My mother would not even comment on the matter until she was near death just this past year when she finally admitted the truth. Somewhere along the way she had taken the bag of yarmulkes and hidden or destroyed them. I've never seen them since about 1970.

When the 1967 Arab-Israeli six-day war began I wanted to go fight for Israel. I began to read everything I could about the history of the Jewish people. I wanted to make up for lost time.

While going to school at the University of Florida some years later I got a part-time job working for a disabled woman. She was writing a book on the many forms of genocide and one day she had me go to the library and copy a page from a book. This particular page was a table called "The Caloric Reduction Intake Schedule," one of Hitler's occupation Army documents from the Warsaw, Poland Jewish ghetto. Hitler had a plan to reduce the amount of food that the Jews inside the ghetto would eat over a period of time knowing it would cause their premature death. Another form of genocide. I was stunned as I copied the page. Pure evil it was.

In the 1990's, while coordinating the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice, at that time based in Orlando, I got a phone call from the Jewish Federation Board of Directors asking me to come to their next meeting. I had no clue what they wanted. When I arrived they had me stand at a podium in front of about a dozen board members sitting behind the dais. The chairman began to yell at me telling me that the federation would never donate to the Florida Coalition again because I ran an article in the last edition of our newsletter, Just Peace, that was sympathetic to the cause of the Palestinian people. I let him rave on and didn't say a word until he was finished. Then I calmly told him that in fact the Jewish Federation had never given the Florida Coalition a single penny and that we had always furnished the newsletter to them as a courtesy. I also told him that many of our members across the state wanted peace in the Middle East and were committed to fair treatment and justice for the Palestinian people and that position was not going to change. At that point I was escorted out of the room to shouts from the chair.

As I look at the news I see that 370 Palestinians have been killed during the last few days of Israeli bombing, unknown hundreds have been wounded. I also heard that six Israeli citizens have been killed by rockets fired by Palestinians.

I also see that recent Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney is aboard the 60-foot, pleasure boat called Dignity that was rammed earlier today by Israeli naval vessels. The Dignity was attempting to bring medical volunteers and supplies to Gaza. Those on the boat included the crew and 16 passengers -- physicians from Britain, Germany and Cyprus and human rights activists. The Dignity was severely damaged in the attack.

"I would call it ramming. Let's just call it as it is," McKinney told CNN. "Our boat was rammed three times, twice in the front and one on the side. Our mission was a peaceful mission to deliver medical supplies and our mission was thwarted by the Israelis -- the aggressiveness of the Israeli military," she said.

Throughout my years as a peace activist there has always been pressure excerpted on our movement to stay away from the Palestinian issue. While many Jewish Americans in the peace movement show great courage and work to oppose Israel's heavy-hand against the Palestinians, many influential Jewish citizens make it their job to block any real organizing to criticize Israel and to stop efforts by the peace movement to show any solidarity with the Palestinian people or to cut U.S. military aid to Israel.

I have come to believe that Israel's Palestinian policy is genocidal. When we see Israel blocking food and medical shipments into Gaza it is clear that they know this will lead to the premature deaths of many people who live there. The constant state of war on the Palestinian people is an attempt to destroy their culture and shorten the life spans of the people. When I see the pain and suffering in the eyes of the Palestinian people I see the American Indians. Gaza is an Indian reservation. The Indians had bows and arrows to stand up against the U.S. cavalry's cannons and repeating rifles. The people in Gaza fire wayward rockets and Israel uses state-of-the-art U.S. military high-tech weapons systems. It's David vs Goliath.

The Israeli military has created a two-mile war cordon along the Gaza border and their commanders say that a ground force invasion is now a distinct possibility. The international media reports their access to Gaza is being closed off.

We know Bush will remain silent. In her CNN interview Cynthia McKinney calls on Obama to make a statement. But he is playing golf and body surfing in Hawaii and will likely also remain silent. Most American people remain silent as well because they know that to speak out on behalf of the Palestinian people means they will often be accused of being anti-Semitic.

But it is not anti-Semitic to say Israel has lost its soul. It is not wrong to stand up and say stop the genocide of the Palestinian people.

Monday, December 29, 2008

GREEK SOLDIERS REFUSE TO SUPPRESS PROTESTS

Rioting and unrest hit Greece after the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy in Athens on December 6. Most of the clashes have occurred in university cities and have involved students. By December 11 thousands of students were joined by striking workers. The uprising mirrors growing discontent among youths in many European countries over outdated education systems, lack of jobs, increased militarization, and a general apprehension about the future.

Many of the student protests were non-violent but then began turning to violence when it appeared that youths not associated with the students became involved. One protest leader, Zoé Kazakis an economics student in Athens, told the media, "We're overwhelmed by weirdos, guys who are not students and who act violently during our protests. They're the ones who throw marble blocks on the police and firemen. This morning, I went to the Polytechnic school, where the protests started. There were no more students there, but weird guys setting fire to things. When I asked them who they were, they told me to get lost. I wonder who those rioters are. I even wonder whether they haven't been paid by the government to make the protests get out of hand. We students are non-violent, we marched alongside our teachers; my parents and grandparents will join us tomorrow in the street during the nationwide general strike."

We've been hearing this story many times in recent years. Well intentioned non-violent protests suddenly are turned into violent events by unknown participants. I personally witnessed this in Minneapolis at the Republican National Convention late last summer. Often, long after the events are over, we learn that police agents had indeed been used to help provoke violence in order to publicly discredit the message of those protesting. The "violence" then gives the power structure the excuse to crack down hard on future protests.

In Greece something else quite wonderful has come out of these protests. Hundreds of Greek soldiers from 42 Army camps have issued a statement called: We Refuse to Become a Force of Terror & Repression Against the Mobilization; We Support the Struggle of School/University Students & the Workers.

The soldiers statement continues: "We hear that Athens, Thessaloniki & an ever-increasing number of cities in Greece become fields of social unrest, fields where the outrage of thousands of youths, workers & unemployed is played out.

"We hear whispers & insinuations from the army officials, we heard the government's threat, made public, about the imposition of an 'alarm state.' We know very well what this means. We live it through intensification [of work], increased [army] duties, extreme conditions with one finger on the trigger.

"The political & military leadership forgets that we're part of that same youth.

"WE'RE UNIFORMED CIVILIANS.

"We won't accept becoming complimentary tools of fear which some attempt to instill over society as a scarecrow. We won't accept becoming a force of repression & terror. We won't stand against people whom we share that same fears, needs & desires/common future, perils & hopes with.

"WE REFUSE TO TAKE TO THE STREETS ON BEHALF OF ANY STATE OF ALERT AGAINST OUR BROTHERS & SISTERS.

"As a youth in uniform, we express our solidarity with the people who're fighting & we scream that we won't become pawns of the police-state & of state repression. We'll never stand against our own people. We won't allow the imposition of a situation in the army corps that will be bringing to mind 'days of 1967' [when the Greek army had his last coup d' etat]."

Such words of solidarity from soldiers can only happen when you have a generation of young people (they still have a draft in Greece) who know their history and have a political consciousness.

Their example both inspires and gives hope that in some places around the world there is a rising against this ever growing militarism that wishes to subjugate the people under authoritarian rule.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

NOT ACCEPTABLE





This message came in last night from the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom, "Just before we send this out we participated in a near spontaneous protest against the bloodbath on Gaza. At least a thousand activists got together after frantic use of email, phone and sms and held a march through the streets of Tel Aviv, harassed by mounted police (5 young activists got arrested), culminating in a rally outside the Defence Ministry gates. Olmert was holding there his warlike press conference."

In a similar solidarity message from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation they report, "While the scope of civilian casualties in today's attacks [Dec 27] is not yet clear, it is unmistakable that Israel carried out these attacks with F-16 fighter jets and missiles provided by the taxpayers of this country. From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16's. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and 'bunker buster' missiles."

One could say it's not even a fair fight. It comes as no surprise that Hamas, elected by the Palestinian people and never "accepted" by Israel or the US, feels they must defend their people as they are essentially being starved to death and their culture driven into the dust. Again the US Campaign describes it well when they say, "These Israeli attacks come on top of a brutal siege of the Gaza Strip, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe of dire proportions for Gaza's 1.5 million Palestinian residents by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and other necessities of life."

The Bush response is to tell Israel not to attack civilians but this is totally disingenuous. The US cares nothing about the Palestinian people and never has.

We are told that the in-coming Obama administration can't comment because "we only have one president at a time" but the Washington Post reports this morning that the president-elect has voiced sympathy for Israel's "predicament". During his visit to Israel last summer, he held a news conference in Sderot, the southern town that has borne the brunt of the Gaza rocket attacks, saying he does not "think any country would find it acceptable to have missiles raining down on the heads of their citizens."

Should the Palestinians find it acceptable to have their land stolen, a huge wall built, with US financial support, separating their remaining broken bits of lands and olive groves, and live under a constant state of siege from a militaristic state fully backed by the US military industrial complex?

I cannot imagine Obama having any chance of changing the Palestinian-Israeli dynamic as long as he remains a captive of AIPAC and the US weapons industry.