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....

My Photo
Name:
Location: Bath, Maine, United States

Saturday, March 28, 2009

ANTI-NATO PROTEST INSIDE GERMAN PARLIAMENT

On March 26 members of a German left-wing political party protested in their parliament about NATO's anti-democratic clamp-down of the public in Strausbourg, France where the NATO 6oth Anniversary celebrations will be held in early April.

Police in Strasbourg have already forced local people to take down rainbow peace flags emblazoned with the slogan "No to NATO" which they had hung from their balconies. NATO's insistence that protests be banned during the "celebration" have led police to deny all permits for public demonstrations in the city. Residents are even being told they must stay off the streets while NATO is in the city.

Major protests are planned in Strausbourg by European activists on April 3-5. Last week over 400 peace activists were arrested in Brussels, Belgium when they tried to non-violently occupy and shut down NATO headquarters which are based there.

Sadly few activists in the US are even aware of the growing anti-NATO movement sweeping Europe. Since the US drew NATO into Afghanistan, and is now using the "alliance" to surround Russia, activists in Europe understand that the once "defensive" NATO is now an integral component of aggressive US empire building plans.

KOREA IN SOME CONTEXT

In preparation for my upcoming trip to South Korea for the Global Network’s annual space organizing conference I’ve been reading some about the post-WW II history of the country.

Keeping in mind that today the US and Japan are working overtime to create further tensions with North Korea, threatening to attack any satellite launch they might do in coming days, it is important to put present events in the larger historical context of the region.

Often in the US we just blindly follow our governments foreign policy pronouncements as gospel because we are simply ignorant about history.

So with that in mind I thought I’d share a few items that seemed particularly relevant to me.

Japan’s long brutal occupation of Korea was supported by the often-held notion of all colonizers - manifest destiny. In a memorandum, kept secret until 1924, Washington recognized Korea as a Japanese protectorate and Tokyo recognized US sovereignty in the Philippines.

After Japan was defeated in WW II, the US appointed pro-Japanese collaborators in Korea as the core of the new governing power structure between 1945-48.

A reporter for the Chicago Sun wrote in 1946 that the US military set up in Korea, “a government by [pro-Japanese] collaborators representing a conspiracy of insufferable corruption,” and “a police state so savage in its suppression of man’s elementary liberties that it was difficult to find a parallel for it.”

When the Republic of Korea was established in 1948, this right-wing state apparatus was handed by the US to Syngman Rhee.

According to Kyungmo Chung, “Syngman Rhee’s government was incapable of redressing popular grievances. Yet he pushed through one illegal constitutional amendment after another in order to perpetuate his corrupt power. The abuse of his presidential power reached its zenith when he ran for a fourth term at the age of 85 in 1960 and rigged the election to a degree unprecedented in Korea. The accumulated haan (hard knot formed from accumulated frustration and resentment due to grievous wrongs done) developed into the April 1960 Student Revolution that toppled Rhee’s regime and led to a new government…but it was short lived as Park Chung Hee seized power at gunpoint in 1961 and ruled brutally.”

Bruce Cumings, author of Origins of the Korean War, wrote, “The division of Korea [into North and South] occurred in the last five months of 1945. The first occurred during a nightlong session of the State-War-Navy Coordinating Committee in Washington, DC, August 10-11, 1945. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, a figure of maximal importance in postwar US diplomacy, later to be designated by New Yorker political correspondent Richard Rovere as the ‘chairman’ of the eastern establishment, asked two colonels, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, to withdraw to an adjoining room and find a place to draw a line across Korea; they were given thirty minutes. Rusk, of course, went on to become a key figure in US Asian diplomacy in the 1950s and later Secretary of State during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Bonesteel later commanded US forces in Korea.

“The decision on the 38th parallel, although made in thirty minutes, was based on years of planning, as were other decisions at the time. Within a year of Pearl Harbor, planners in the State Department had begun to worry about Soviet involvement in or control of Korea, viewing this as a threat to Pacific security. They thus began the decisive reversal of the traditional US policy toward Korea, one of non-involvement and acquiescence in or support for Japanese designs on the peninsula.”

During the Korean War (1950-1953) the US bombed 99% of all above-ground structures in North Korea. Even though a ceasefire was agreed to on July 27, 1953 the Korean War is not officially over.

In 1952 Robert Oliver, a US political adviser to Syngman Rhee, said, “Its [Korea's] primary role has been that of a buffer state. Never strong militarily and never ambitious for expansion, Korea has not in itself been a threat to anyone. Its significance lies now (as it has in the past) in the fact that it occupies the strategic heartland of north Asia, surrounded by China, Japan and Siberian Russia.”

Russians have long maintained that the US-South Korea-Japan military alliance would inevitably perpetuate military tensions in the region rather than promote peace on the Korean peninsula. They were right. Today the US uses the “threat” of North Korea to set up a massive offensive military machine in the region that is really being used to help surround Russia and China.

The Korean people in North and South do not want another war or a permanent division of their country. They aspire to peaceful reunification without negative interference by foreign powers.

North Korea is not a significant threat to anyone. They can't even properly feed their own people. They are not going to fire a missile unprovoked at Japan or the US. The US is once again playing mind games.

Friday, March 27, 2009

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BROTHER DAVE

Dave Webb is my brother - blood brother, brother in peaceful arms, good friend, and co-worker. He is having his 60th birthday bash this weekend and I was invited. The only problem is that he lives in Leeds, England and I can't be there for the party. So here is the next best thing. Here's a toast to you Dave.....

To one of the great spirits - you are without any doubt one of the damn nicest and most dedicated guys I've ever met. You are giving of your time, your energy, your heart, and your soul. You keep your ego in check. You are one hell of a person, one hell of a friend.

Dr. Dave Webb teaches engineering at Leeds University and also teaches Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies. He is national vice-chair of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and he is the chairperson of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.

Dave is loved and respected by all. He's been the web master for the Global Network for years and in addition to all that he does, he also runs about 4,000 other web sites for causes he cares about. His dear wife Leslie says he never sleeps and I believe it. She has to take his laptop away from him when they go on holiday. Good luck Leslie.

Leslie was organizing a surprise party for Dave this weekend and invited MB and I to come along. Sadly it was not in the cards. But it would have been great to be there. (The party is no longer a surprise as Leslie had to tell him about it because Dave hates surprises.)

On top of all the wonderful things you can say about Dave, there is one more big one. Dave is also a fan of The Kinks. On one of my previous trips to England he got tickets for a group of us to go see Ray Davies (singer/songwriter from The Kinks) in concert.

Luckily we'll be seeing Dave soon in Korea for the Global Network annual space organizing conference. So we can tip a beer with him then and wish him a belated happy birthday.

Many more to you Dave - and in good health. No one deserves it more than you.

I love you.

Here's one that describes you well brother.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MIXED BAG FOR SPACE TECHNOLOGY

Navy Aegis destroyers are outfitted with "missile defense" systems and are built in Bath, Maine

I've had quite a lot of emails today in response to sending out the Jan Tamas announcement last night that the Czech Republic government had fallen. People know that this was an issue high on the priority list of the Global Network and I've tried to keep it fresh in the minds of those who follow our work. Without a doubt this is a great achievement for those in the Czech Republic but it also gives all of us heart. It's not often our side sees a victory like this.

Another interesting article that landed in my email box last night was from DoD Buzz which describes itself as an "Online Defense and Acquisition Journal." The publication reported on the just finished Pentagon Missile Defense Agency (MDA) conference in Washington where they acknowledged that the testing program for the Ground-based Midcourse Missile Defense program – or GMD – was not going well. In addition the MDA admitted that the Airborne Laser program was four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. These two programs, and others facing similar problems, are likely to see some level of cutbacks in funding.

In a speech at the MDA conference Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) stated, “Missile defense is an important element of our nation’s defense. For example, it is a high priority to field effective defenses for our forward-deployed forces against the many hundreds of existing short- and medium-range missiles. Patriot and the Aegis BMD system are already providing such protection, and THAAD is expected to begin fielding soon. We will need more of these capabilities.”

Sen. Levin was acknowledging that these programs are having much greater success in their testing phase and thus will continue to receive funding and priority deployment consideration.

I think the key point here is that there are going to be some changes in the Star Wars and "missile defense" programs in the coming months. Largely because of the economic crisis here in the US the Pentagon has to start justifying some of their programs that just flat out are not working well. Some of them will be cut and others pushed back onto slower production and testing schedules.

But other programs (like the Navy's Aegis missile defense system pictured above) are having success in their testing phase and will continue to be "forward deployed" in the Asian-Pacific, Middle East, and other "hot spots" where the US wishes to show the flag.

So while we are excited that the Czech Star Wars radar deployment is now in doubt, and that the GMD program could be cut back, we've got to keep our eyes on these other "more successful" programs that will not only continue but will also likely be expanded.

So it's a mixed bag - we've got to stay on top of the details if we hope to understand what is coming down in the near future on these space technology issues.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NO LONGER INVISIBLE

The government in the Czech Republic has fallen.

The Associated Press reports, "The lower house of Parliament voted 101-96 to declare no confidence in the three-party coalition government, after four lawmakers broke rank with their parties and voted with the opposition.

"The government has struggled to resolve deep divisions within Parliament over whether to allow components of a U.S. missile defense shield on Czech territory, and whether to adopt the EU reform treaty to streamline decision-making in the bloc."

In an email from Prague activist Jan Tamas he says, "For us it is a great victory: we knew that the only way to stop the installation of the US radar base was the fall of the government and we worked for more than 2 years in this direction with permanence and coherence. A government that represented the interests of the US military industry has fallen.

"Our work has been fundamental in encouraging the members of the Parliament who already were against the radar and to spread doubts in the ones who were in favor. And it was just the change of mind of some deputies that made the fall of the government possible. On the other hand, pressed by the hunger strike, the Social-Democratic Party had to take a clear position supporting us and this will make it more difficult for them in the future to change their opinion about the radar. The collaboration with the Communist Party, that has always supported our initiatives, has been decisive as well. Thanks to all of you for the support you gave us in many activities, support that was critical."

This is indeed a wonderful moment for the folks in the Czech Republic who have worked so hard to defeat the deployment of the US Star Wars radar. They should feel proud and it should be an example to all of us that determined activism, seemingly against all odds, can bear fruit.

Our best regards to our friends in the Czech Republic.

Monday, March 23, 2009

TRIP REPORT - SWORD & THE CROSS



This trip report covers the period of March 12-20 as I traveled to Florida and Portugal.

I must first acknowledge that, initially, my reasons for going to Florida were quite selfish. I had a free ticket on AirTran and was going to use it to attend three spring training baseball games in Ft Lauderdale where my favorite team, the Baltimore Orioles, play. But right after making all the arrangements, I received an invitation to go to Portugal to speak at their Green Party National Congress so my baseball plans were cut short.

I still went to Florida, where I saw one baseball game on March 11, and then spoke at an event sponsored by Pax Christi in Ft Lauderdale at a local Catholic church. While there, I stayed at the home of Linda Raymer who was one of our most loyal participants years ago when I frequently organized peace walks up and down the state of Florida while working at the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice. Linda's son Gareth picked me up when I arrived at the airport. Years ago a shy, skinny Gareth regularly attended the Youth Peace Camps that I would organize each summer for young people from throughout the state. Jeffrey Keating filmed my talk at the church that night and intends to send it to Free Speech TV for airing.

On March 12, I boarded a plane in the early evening for the overnight flight to Lisbon, Portugal. I arrived in Portugal on a sunny and cool spring morning about 8:00 am. After standing in line a long time to get through passport control, I took a cab to the hotel where folks attending the Green Party Congress were staying. I was invited because two leaders of the group, Manuela Cunha and Victor Cavaco, had heard me speak at the Global Greens conference last year in Brazil. I later learned that when they returned to Portugal they began making plans to invite me to speak. They wanted me to make the connections between climate change and global militarism and to offer some thoughts on what the world could expect to see from the newly elected Obama administration.

After trying to catch up on my sleep, I arrived at the Green Congress on March 13 soon after that day's session began. The hall that the event was held in is owned by a community of artists who also provide on-site housing for low-income retired artists. The logo for the conference, a sunflower with the green Earth in the middle of the flower, was displayed on a huge banner on the stage. The hall was filled with several hundred people and I was immediately impressed with the cooperative and patient spirit of everyone involved in the event.

The Greens in Portugal have two members of Parliament (MP's) as they share a coalition with the Communist Party in their country. They also have many local elected officials across their small nation.

As I sat listening to speakers at the Congress, Victor Cavaco translated the key points of the speeches that were underway. Delegates to the Congress were speaking against nuclear power, against privatization of hospitals, water, education, and the railroads. The current Socialist government in Portugal is cutting social services and government jobs. (Just the day before I learned that the public sector unions had organized a protest of over 200,000 people in response to the cuts.) The Socialists promised that, if elected, they would allow a referendum on the European Union (EU) constitution but broke their promise.

I was told by Francisco Madeira Lopes (one of the MP's) that Portugal is the least energy efficient country in Europe but the government continues with corporate dominated energy policies. (Like in the US the car culture is strong in Portugal.) The energy industries are now making big profits on what were once public sector entities before privatization. Victor told me that "The public is losing faith in politicians - they say one thing and do another."

While at the Global Greens conference in Brazil last year, I witnessed that not all Greens in Europe were the same. Some that get into power begin to shave the edges on issues in order to stay in power. It was very clear to me that the Portuguese Greens do not suffer from that malady - they are the real deal. In a country of 10 million people the Greens in Portugal are fighting alongside the people on issues that matter to them in their daily lives.

Victor, who is a paid staff person for the party, arranged a four-day program to have me visit four cities north and south of Lisbon while I was there. On March 15 I took a train north three hours to Porto where I was met by Maria Joao and her husband Pedro. They showed me some of the sights in the beautifully lit city as we headed down to the river. There one finds many of the port wine companies that the city is famous for and we crossed the river on a bridge built by the famous Gustave Eiffel, who also built the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The bridge was constructed using much of the same technology so the similarities were obvious. We had dinner at a beautiful restaurant along the river and had a wonderful political discussion. Maria was very interested in the recent AIG bailout controversy. Maria's conclusion was, "The public is frustrated. We must change the system. Just bailing out the rich greedy bankers and leaving them in place would not make much difference," she concluded.

On March 16, I was picked up by Celso Ferreira who drove me from Porto to Braga which is about two hours further north. There I did two newspaper interviews and was given a tour of the ancient city which is an archaeological treasure. Churches, Roman ruins, narrow ancient cobblestone streets with famous Portuguese tiles on walls telling stories about the history of the city, were abundant. Two of Celso's friends, one of them a Green city councilman, took me around after we all had shared a wonderful lunch at a favorite restaurant.

On March 17, I took the train again south to the city of Santarem where Manuela Cunha and a friend picked me up at the station. Both women serve on their local city council as Green Party officials. The city was described in tourist literature this way: "The foundation of Santarem takes you back to Greek-Roman and Christian mythology, recognizing the mythic origins of the names Habis and Irene. The first documented signs of human occupation date back to the 8th century B.C. The population of the village had collaborated with Roman colonizers when they arrived in 138 B.C." Needless to say it was an impressive tour they gave me of this ancient place. Manuela made arrangements for me to do a TV interview with a regional station and then treated me to one of Portugal's most famous meals, stone soup, which I loved. Every meal begins with olives, bread and wine and ends with espresso coffee - Italian style. I skipped the coffee but loved the wine. Victor later told me the former fascist dictator had a saying that drinking wine was a patriotic duty as it "employed a million people" across the country. So I did my bit to help create jobs.

Portugal had a military coup in 1926 which installed a dictatorship that remained until another coup in 1974. The military gave way to democracy and granted independence to all of Portugal's African colonies in 1975. During the years of the military dictatorship many Portuguese democracy fighters were forced to leave the county. Victor's family moved to France (where he was born) and Manuela's family escaped to France as well. They had to go to France because nearby Spain was also living under Franco fascist rule. They didn't return from France until after the 1974 revolution.

Before leaving that night, on the train to head back to Lisbon, Manuela told me that "It's not the politicians who change things, it's the pressure from the people on the powerful who makes the change.....it's the same with all the governments." I was very impressed with Manuela. As we toured the city it seemed like she knew everyone we ran into on the streets. You could tell she was a respected political leader.

My last day in Portugal was March 18 and Victor picked me up in Lisbon at the hotel and we walked to the local subway line. From there we crossed the city to the port area and walked about a half-mile to the ferry that would take us across the river. Then we took a tram and a train to Setubal (40 km south of Lisbon). We were met by another Green Party worker who took us in his car to the natural park of Arrabida. After another fabulous meal with olives and wine, of course, we went for a ride in the hills overlooking the ocean and for a walk on the beach.

Later that evening, after another great meal, we went to a local bar in Setubal where I was to speak alongside of Heloisa Apolonia (the second Green Party MP). Things don't seem to get started until about 10:00 pm in Portugal so our talks began then and most of the questions from those attending the event were about Obama. I told the people that the person to watch in the Obama administration was Gen. James Jones who Obama appointed as National Security Adviser. In recent weeks the Washington Post has run two important articles about Obama giving Gen. Jones expanded powers in his role as head of the National Security Council. He will not only be in charge of foreign policy, overseeing the 16 intelligence agencies, but also homeland security and the US economy. When the Post's reporter asked Jones why the job of overseeing the economy, Jones replied that the US economy was now "a national security" issue.

I got up very early on March 19 to head to the Lisbon airport so I could return home. It was a remarkable trip for me to see this small country that once was a great colonial power. The Portuguese people still talk about the "discovery period" when their ships would sail the world's seas looking for the new world and for new colonies to conquer. At several of the ancient churches I visited in the country I saw statues of soldiers in armor holding a sword and a cross. The colonial mission was a divine one - blessed by the church and God. I wondered how much different it is today as the US fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - to bring "peace and democracy" to these lands - the noble mission blessed by "American exceptionalism". There is always a blessing and a rational for control and domination.

I thank my new friends in Portugal for this great experience. Most of all I take home with me their spirit of dedication to serving the public. They showed me that it is possible to build an alternative political party, to make a difference in people's lives, and maintain your dignity and sense of purpose. For that I thank them very much.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TURNING TO KOREA

Yesterday Mary Beth and I went north to Bangor for a mini-conference put on by the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine. The topic was "Organizing in the Obama Era". They had a good turnout and MB did an excellent job on a plenary panel where she spoke about conversion. I shared a Foreign Policy workshop with Maine Veterans for Peace leader Dud Hendrick. We had a spirited discussion in the session. Folks are starting to come around to the conversion idea.

My mind now turns to Korea. Our Global Network annual space organizing conference will be held there on April 16-18. The US and South Korean military forces are now engaged in war games to practice attacks on North Korea. This is a key reason why the North Koreans are so intent on launching a missile in the coming days - to show they can defend themselves.

The US is threatening to shoot the North Korean missile out of the sky and would likely use an Aegis destroyer (made right here in Bath, Maine) to do that job. These ships are outfitted with "missile defense" systems - they should be called missile offense systems.

We are going to have very good attendance at the GN confab in Seoul. From the US we will have activists coming from Maine, Colorado, Nebraska, Hawaii, Florida, and New York. Other key peace movement leaders and GN friends will come from England, Sweden, India, Japan, Australia, Philippines, Italy, and of course from South Korea. I'll post the full conference schedule in the coming days once it is finally complete.

I've got to get my speech written soon for the conference so they can get it translated in time. I am a bit behind in my work and need to get caught up. My Portugal trip report comes first and then I can fully turn my attention to Korea.