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 grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Monday, August 10, 2009

WE ARE WEAK BUT WE ARE NOT HELPLESS

Mayors for Peace wrapped up their conference yesterday. Early in the day I was approached by the Eritrea Ambassador to Japan who asked me to send him my speech. He said my coverage of the big picture, the wide angle look at US military strategy, was most helpful to him in understanding the direction things are going. He acknowledged that much of US policy toward Africa today was motivated by desire for oil and resource extraction.

He said that most African nations were concerned about the new Pentagon Africa Command (AfriCom) and I shared with him a story of seeing the head of the US National Guard on C-SPAN a couple years ago with a huge map of the African continent behind him. The commander of the US Guard was telling the right-wing Heritage Foundation that the military was now assigning all 50 state National Guard units to establish a relationship with one of the 54 African nations on the continent. Each state Guard, the commander said, would build a lily-pad base in their assigned host African country to be used for quick strike intervention in the event of any "out of the box" behavior.

One of my favorite speakers at the mayors conference was the representative from the Republic of Burundi. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Cobalt and copper are among Burundi's natural resources. He said, "If everyone does his or her bit then we can all live in harmony with our Mother Earth, everyone of us share the responsibility to ensure the well-being of all life."

I had really nice contacts with Africans from Ethiopia, Senegal, Eritrea, South Africa, and Sierra Leone.

I also had wonderful connection with with the group of mayors from Bangladesh and they gave me a copy of their constitution and several of them had their photo taken with me. A wonderful mayor from Sri Lanka gave me a gift of ginger tea from his country and also lined up several fellow mayors from his country for pictures with me. Their sincere and open-hearted offerings of friendship were more than humbling.

One of the best moments of the final day was a speech by two school girls (probably about 12 years old) who spoke from the floor of the meeting hall describing their efforts to gather 500,000 petition signatures to end the nuclear arms race. One of them concluded her remarks by saying, "We are weak but we are not helpless." That is wisdom beyond their years. We should all take that to heart.

Today I will tour around Fukuoka a bit and then do my last Japan talk this evening. In 1984, when I made my first trip to Japan, it was in Fukuoka that I had my first speech in this country. Even though I had attended meetings in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki I was not invited to speak in any of those places. I was a relatively unknown at the time. But after the Nagasaki events I was asked if I would return to Fukuoka with the local peace group and of course I said yes.

Once in Fukuoka they invited me to lunch with the matriarch of their group, a woman who had been a peace activist since Japan's occupation of Manchuria. They took me to visit a local worker supported hospital and had a good-bye dinner for me the night before I returned home. At the dinner they asked me to sing peace songs and when I returned to the US I got a call from the New York City office of national Mobilization for Survival, the group that I had represented in Japan, and they told me that I had gotten rave reviews for my singing in Fukuoka. So I just might be inspired to sing again tonight.

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