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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

BEHOLDEN TO NO ONE



Last night nearly 30 peaceniks attended the joint meeting of the Brunswick Town Council and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA). The MRRA has been tasked by the state with the responsibility to plan for what will happen at the local Naval Air Station after it closes in 2011.

At the beginning of the meeting one town councillor said she had never seen so many people at one of their meetings since she began serving on the council. Most of those in the packed audience had come because of the flurry of news articles and letters to the editor in the local paper about using the base as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Flight Test Center.

One of the first things that was stated by the leadership of the MRRA was that the town council would have no authority over any decisions made by the redevelopment agency. The members of the MRRA are all appointed by the governor and as one member told the audience, "We are appointed for four-year terms and have no constituency."

Yeah, right.

Again the MRRA, sensing that there was deep concern in the audience about the drone issue, launched a preemptive strike when one member declared, "UAV's are consistent with our aviation feasibility study" that recommends "aviation and aerospace" as potential uses of the closing base.

In my words to the town council and MRRA I shared conclusions from a recent study by three UAV experts to the Welsh government where they suggest that drones testing is not safe.

I said: Airworthiness standards are insufficiently mature to allow their use over populated areas; the need for segregated airspace for drone testing will impact civilian air operations; they will invade our privacy because they are outfitted with surveillance cameras and there will be no real controls over who gets the information; they will pollute and make unwanted noise; AND PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANTLY because of intermittent communication and loss of contact arising from terrain shielding and the absence of on-board pilots to deal with emergency situations they will not be immune to crashes – it would be like your cell phone temporarily being out of reception range, drones fly by receiving radio signals from satellites; termination of flights will not be controllable.

In the last month two UAV's crashed in Iraq and one crashed in Wales.

Several other strong presentations were also made that appealed to these two government bodies to create a positive sustainable presence at the closing base. One speaker, reminding the MRRA that they had just said the redevelopment plans included a world-class resort hotel and two different college facilities, questioned the logic of having drones buzzing around these heavily populated institutions. That one drew a hearty laugh from the assembled.

After a while the council chair tired of hearing from the great unwashed in the audience and determined that no one else wanting to talk about drones (at this advertised public hearing) could speak. Only local residents with something else to say (and obviously more important) should address the be-knighted, she concluded. That didn't work out well as still a couple more anti-droners took to the podium.

We got a spirited lecture from John Richardson, former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives who now sits on the MRRA board. He was appointed by the governor as his Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development. Mr. Richardson did a long bloviation about how he opposed the war in Iraq and led the effort to have the Maine House pass a resolution against it. Very commendable.

But then Mr. Richardson, and MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque, launched their final strike against us by saying that at this time there was really no issue about drones. There was no need for concern, they warned. At this time there were "no proposals" to use the base as a drone flight test center.

Of course these guys think we just fell off the back of the pumpkin delivery truck. It was like listening to Bill Clinton give a definition of what "is" is.

My reaction to all this? Why, if there would ultimately be no plans for drone testing in Brunswick, did Mr. Richardson feel the slightest need to tell the local newspaper on September 1, "There are many adaptive uses of UAVs that could be very helpful to the nation and then the world. I wouldn't cast out of hand UAV research or testing, because of the potential benefits to the nation in the areas of search and rescue, air and water quality, homeland security and even forest fire prevention."

Some people will do and say anything to make a buck.

Tonight I drive south to Portland to attend a meeting of the Maine State Rail Plan Technical Advisory Committee. In my early years as an organizer I co-founded a group called the Peoples Transit Organization in Orlando, Florida that fought against more and wider road building and instead pushed for bus expansion and construction of light rail in the community. One of our first acts was to suggest to the City Council of Orlando that they put a free trolley line in the downtown area. They laughed us out the door. Last time I visited Orlando I saw a free trolley line carrying folks from one end of downtown to the other.

It would be great if tonight, instead of driving to Portland, I could take a light-rail line just like the one in the video above now being used in San Diego, California. It could be built at Bath Iron Works or at a new facility on the grounds of the closing Brunswick Naval Air Station. Research shows that more jobs would be created for local workers than we will get from testing drones or building Aegis destroyers in our community.

But sadly these ideas were not very welcome last night. The MRRA and their courtiers have their own plans afoot - and remember, they are beholden to no one.

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