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: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I'll be taking an 'unpaid leave of absence' from my job at the Global Network from December 15-March 15, 2020 in order to help my friend Lisa Savage on her campaign for the US Senate in Maine. She's running as a Maine Green Independent Party member and needs to gather 2,000 petition signatures of registered Greens during that period. I'll be back to GN after March 15.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

REMEMBERING NAT KAPLAN

I began my speech to the Delray Citizens for Social Responsibility yesterday by saying that I had spoken to their organization more times (probably 15 or so) in my activist career than any other group. My first talk to them was likely in 1985 or 1986 and in 1987 they sent a bus load of their members north to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for the historic march on the space center that I organized while working for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice. Over 5,000 people came to the event and Dr. Benjamin Spock was a speaker, along with Odetta who recently passed away. Following the rally we marched to the front gate of the base and 200 of us were arrested for trying to climb over the fence in a symbolic attempt to stop the first flight test of the Trident II nuclear missile. Dr. Spock was the first one over the fence.

Virtually everytime I have spoken to the Delray Citizens in recent years someone would tell me before the meeting not to mention Israel in my talk because it would start a fight. The group is made up of Jewish people, primarily from New York City, who retired in Florida. Almost all of them have had tremendously vibrant histories as anti-war, labor, and/or Communist party activists. These days, every time I return to speak, I learn that another one of my old friends has passed away.

So it was on Monday night when I arrived in Delray Beach. I was once again asked not to mention Israel and I replied that in their invitation they had asked me to speak about US bases overseas which is a timely and important topic. So I told them I always honor a group's request on what they want me to speak about but I insisted that during the question period if anyone asked me about Israel then I would have to give an honest answer. OK, they said that would be fine.

I knew this was the dance from years past. In the audience, after my talks, someone always would ask for my views on Israel and the internal-eternal debate would begin amongst the assembled. Usually it was one of my dear friends Nat Kaplan or Abe Feldman who would ask the question if no one else did. But Nat died a couple years ago and when I arrived on Monday I learned that Abe and his wife Rose are now in an assisted living facility and no longer attending meetings. So yesterday, much to my utter surprise, no one questioned me about Israel.

I once asked Nat how it was that he had developed so much sympathy for the Palestinian people and why he put himself in the position to receive so much rage from some members of his community when he spoke against Israel's policies.

Nat told me that many years before he had gone to Israel to visit an uncle who had a large holding of land. His uncle had several Palestinian servants and one day the uncle pointed out a young attractive Palestinian woman. The uncle told Nat, "I f _ _ k her anytime I want to." Nat told me he was shocked by the arrogant and racist statement and immediately began rethinking the entire Israel-Palestinian dynamic.

Nat had been a young labor activist in the 1930's and was involved in the creation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 required union leaders to swear that they were not Communists. Many CIO leaders refused to obey that requirement, which was later found to be unconstitutional. The CIO merged with the AFL in 1955.

Years ago, when I first began speaking to the Delray Citizens, they would draw 4oo people to a monthly meeting. Yesterday they had 50 in the audience. Each time I say goodbye I wonder who I will not see again.

But the person I miss the most is Nat Kaplan. He was a man of great warmth, humor, creativity, and compassion. We need more people like him in this world.

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