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, August 15, 2009

AMERICA'S RACE TO THE BOTTOM



These "health care fairs" are popping up all over the country as currently almost 50 million Americans have no real health care. Is this the kind of reform the health insurance corporations suggest we have?

Last night at the cultural rally in Seoul one of the songs had a chorus line that went: "Say good-bye to the world you thought you lived in"......a fitting way to describe America's race to the bottom of the barrel.

Isn't it past time that we began to demand more and to fight for it?

We have become a colonized people in the US by the corporate powers but we still seem to suffer from the illusion that we are a democracy and that the people are in charge. The sooner we wake up from this misbegotten dream the better for us all.

KOREANS USE CULTURE TO BUILD MOVEMENT

The big finish, it was hot standing by the flame
The MB behind me refers to president Lee Myung Bak "out". The flag I am holding is of a reunited Korea with no US created lines of division.

A wonderful performance by a workers dance troupe about their struggle for justice


Last night's Peace Unification cultural event in Seoul had to be the best political rally I've ever seen. It was part variety show and rally at the same time. It had everything - dance, songs, flashing lights, old people, college students, children, loud music, and effectively used traditional Korean culture as well as contemporary culture to unleash a blistering condemnation of South Korea's right-wing president Lee Myung Bak (MB).

The past government had negotiated agreements for a positive path toward reunification with North Korea but the MB government has ignored these important milestones and is heating things up on the Korean peninsula. In addition, the MB government has unleashed the police (see yesterday's blog) in attacks against unions and progressive organizing that is reminiscent of past South Korean right-wing dictatorships.

Mr. Oh Jong Ryol, the honorary president of the event committee, told the 10,000 people who were at the rally, “ 64 years ago, the country was divided on the liberation day by the United States. Unless we peacefully recover it, we will fall in the pot of fire. To live, we must achieve the unification."

I was invited to speak to the crowd in the early part of the rally. Here is what I said:

The US challenges and criticizes North Korea for testing nuclear weapons and missiles while the US hypocritically has more nuclear weapons than any other country. At the same time the US and South Korean military continue their aggressive military war games. The US is also now expanding its deployments of "missile defense" systems in South Korea and Japan which will create a new arms race.

The US is moving the arms race into space saying that which ever country controls space will control the Earth. My organization is working internationally to build a movement to prevent this new arms race in space.

We must abolish the South Korea-US-Japan nuclear military alliance.

We must end the colonial occupation of Korea by the US military empire.

I hope we live to celebrate the reunification of Korea.

It seemed that I got a nice response. Sung-Hee Choi was very pleased and that is good. She has been working so hard on this tour for me I was happy for her as much as anything.

Earlier in the day a protest rally was held in another part of the city. The government had refused to give the coalition of groups holding the rally a permit and the police tried to prevent the event from happening. Fifty students were arrested, the most arrests in South Korea since June 15, 2000.

One young college-age woman at the cultural rally spoke about her sadness that even though North Korea is so close to Seoul, the people can't see each other. Several songs noted this theme, the lyrics to one song mentioned that cab fare to the north was cheaper than cab fare to some other cities in the south. The power of emotion was evident throughout the event which reflects the intense longing to see the nation reunited. One out of every four South Koreans has relatives in the North.

The visceral disgust with the new president MB, who is completely under the control of major corporations and the US government, was displayed in both song and imagery. People describe him as looking and acting like a "rat" and at the end of the rally the flame was taken from the stage and used to light on fire a huge hanging banner near the stage that had MB portrayed as the rat lording over the nation and his injustice to the workers, the poor, and the peace and reunification movements. After the banner burned away and fell to the ground you could see the words "The people" emerge. Very dramatic.

Just after WW II the US occupying Army gave the task to a couple military officers (including Col. Dean Rusk who became Secretary of State under JFK) to come up with a "dividing line" in Korea. This artificial boundary has separated the Korean people ever since. Korea had been occupied by the imperial Japanese and once the war ended, and Japanese occupation ended, the US put right-wing Koreans into power who had been collaborators with the Japanese. To this day these wealthy elite right-wingers still largely control South Korea. It was North Korean leadership that essentially fought against the Japanese occupation and were made to suffer by the US that fought them in the Korean war which was an attempt by the US to hand full control of the nation to the rich right-wing collaborators.

Even though the Korean war cease-fire was declared on July 27, 1953 the war has officially never ended. No peace treaty has ever been signed and the US and South Korean military at this very moment are doing war games to practice an invasion of the north. Thus to the majority of Koreans, there will never be peace on the Korean peninsula until the present colonial occupier, the United States, closes its military bases and withdraws the nearly 40,000 troops stationed here.

But the US is not wanting to do so anytime soon. The bases here are hugging the borders of China and Russia that the US is working overtime to militarily surround today. It's all part of the US empire building "great game of chess" and sadly the Korean people are made to suffer as their nation serves as a key pawn.

The peace movement in the US could learn much from the movements here. They use culture to educate and involve legions of people in their struggles. It is also time for the peace movement in the US to learn more about the Korean reunification struggle and to more actively give support to it.

AMAZING DAY IN KOREA

Outside the "media center" in Yongsan
Eating along the busy Seoul sidewalk with Father Mun (with beard) and other activists just outside protest "headquarters" where five men were killed by police for trying to save their building.

The wife of a killed man, me, and Kim the union organizer


Wow, what a day I had yesterday.

It began with a news conference at a church center where reporters from three religious and progressive newspapers interviewed me for about an hour.

Then Sung-Hee Choi introduced me to Kim, Seong-Whan, the General Union Chief of the Samsung workers. Kim has been organizing the workers for 10 years; the company has a no-union policy. Kim was jailed for two years after he revealed that Samsung was spying on the workers electronically….he was charged with "dishonoring" the corporation and "disrupting" their operations. While in prison he held many hunger strikes and his case was taken up by Amnesty International and by a famous Korean progressive Congressman who held a one-man protest on Kim's behalf in front of the president of Korea's "Blue House" – the equivalent of our White House.

The Samsung Corporation is also an investor in an effort to destroy a large downtown Seoul neighborhood called Yongsan that they want to "redevelop" for towering high-rise buildings. But the people in the neighborhood have fought back hard against this plan and about seven months ago five men were killed by the police when they refused to leave one of the buildings. The police raided it in the dark of night, a fire started, and the men were hacked to death by the raiding cops.

Kim took us to meet those now involved in this fight, including one of the wives of the dead men. Currently the gutted building where the men were killed, four-stories tall, remains as headquarters for the movement to demand an apology from the government and payment for the financial losses of the families. A nationally famous activist Catholic priest (Father Mun) has joined the permanent vigil at the now legendary spot and he has succeeded in getting the Catholic Priest Association for Justice to send priests from all over Korea to take part in the daily vigil. While I was there I saw at least a half-dozen priests sitting under a tent, right along the busy sidewalk, in the heart of a bustling Seoul.

Organizers took me for a walk in the neighborhood, much of which is now abandoned but adorned with protest banners, paintings, cartoons, and messages of solidarity. One now empty building has become a media center; local artists are turning another into a library and prayer hall. Police were all around the area watching our every step. But activists say that since the Catholic priests began their vigil the frequent brutal attacks by the police have stopped.

I had a great conversation with Father Mun who was very interested in hearing more about the work of the Global Network on the space issue. He heard that I will be coming back to Korea in October during our annual Keep Space for Peace Week (October 3-10) and hoped I could visit his home city where a US military base is located.

After we left this intensely heart grabbing place the labor organizer Kim guided us to a retreat center about an hour west of Seoul, out in farm country surrounded by mountains. There we joined a weekend retreat of a group called "Workers Institute of Social Science" which is a socialist organization that was going to be discussing the recent seventy-seven day occupation of the Ssangyong Motor factory by more than 600 workers who faced lay-offs. The company said it was going to lay-off the workers because their profits were down so the workers began their occupation. The government threatened the workers and the company sent in hired thugs to try to chase the workers from the factory. Eventually the police did a major raid to attack the workers, who had by then been labeled as "terrorists", but they held on. Ultimately the workers settled the strike but people say that a boycott of Ssangyong products has now begun and the strike has helped to contribute to a further weakening of the right-wing government's image in the eyes of the public.

The 20 people gathered at the retreat center invited me to speak about space issues and ended up changing their program to give me more than an hour to talk. We spent the night at this place before heading back to Seoul this morning.

One of the women in the meeting last night, after my talk, said, "The power of the US is decreasing." After answering their many questions I wanted to ask them a few. To my question, "What do you expect to see from Obama?", several of them quickly replied in broken English, "Nothing!"

Tonight I am to have a few moments to speak at a cultural event here in Seoul that will celebrate the 64th anniversary of Korea's August 15, 1945 liberation from Japanese colonialism. The rally will also denounce the right-wing South Korean regime of Lee Myung-Bak who comes out of the corporate world and is seen an as agent of the US.

UPDATE: I just got in my emails today a link to an interview I did while in Japan for a TV program. It is in English with Japanese sub-titles. You can see it here

Thursday, August 13, 2009

IN A TRADITIONAL WAY

I arrived late tonight into downtown Seoul, South Korea after being met at the airport by Global Network board member Sung-Hee Choi. We took a long bus ride into the city and she brought me to a traditional Korean boarding house that looks much like the photo above. My simple room is just beautiful and lucky for me it has Internet connection.

Yesterday I had a day off as a wonderful man named Kouichi Toyoshima, who teaches physics at a nearby university, took me for a swim in the ocean and then to a spa hotel. Koichi came to our Global Network conference last April in South Korea and was instrumental in helping to set up some of my talks in Hiroshima with different groups.

The natural spa was just beyond my wildest dreams as we sat in a couple different outdoor baths as they are called and then went inside two different steam rooms. By the time we were done we both spread out on a mat looking up into a full tree canopy above us. I found that after three weeks on being "on" near full-time, and delivering a dozen speeches (of varying lengths) and numerous media interviews, my body was on over-drive. The spa bath just took all the road weariness right out of me and I found that I was so relaxed that I could not get up when it was time for us to leave. I had trouble walking back into the locker room at the spa.

After the spa was over Kouichi left and said he'd be back today to pick me up. This morning I did the spa bath-steam room again before going to breakfast. Kouichi arrived about 10am and drove me to visit a Buddhist temple and then a Shinto shrine where we had lunch before he took me to the airport in Fukuoka for my flight to Korea.

Sung-Hee has organized a full schedule for me over the next week here where I will be meeting with leaders from different unions, peace groups, and reunification organizations. In the morning I start with a media interview and then will be heading out of town for an overnight visit with folks in another location....don't remember all the exact details. I'll do two formal talks before leaving South Korea on August 21 to return to Japan for two more days and then back home.

Needless to say I will be well taken care of while I am here as my "agent" Sung-Hee will ensure that my old bones move from one place to the other on time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'LL NEVER LOSE MY WILL

Last night I spoke to 70 people in Fukuoka. The people came from several different local groups including those who are working to oppose the US-Japan deployments of PAC-3 missile defense systems; working to stop the US Iraq-Afghanistan war; and organizing to stop another nuclear power plant in the region. After I spoke each of the groups was asked to make some comments about their issues and afterward we had an open question and answer session.

I was particularly moved by the comments of a woman who is organizing to stop the PAC-3 deployments which are justified as defense against North Korea but most peace activists in Japan and South Korea believe they are really being deployed against China.

By Hiroko Watanabe


I am Hiroko Watanabe of Tsuiki, where we have the Tsuiki ASDF Base. We locals founded a small grup named 'Circle watching for Peace and all lives' in 1987, opposing the joint exercise by the US force and Japan's ASDF at Tsuiki Base. On April 2, 1989 we made a demonstration of surrounding Tsuiki Base with 2,500 people, in opposition of F-15 deployment there. In order not to forget the feel of the firm grips on that occasion of 'human chain,' and also so as to aim at 'continuation of the struggle,' we have conducted, for these 20 years, monthly 'anti-base sitting-in' at the front gate of the base. This August 2 saw our 243rd return, and 40 people participated in the sitting-in.

However, as for the PAC-3, which is soon to be deployed at this base in my hometown in this fall, local people have no, absolutely no, interest in it.

It is every body's knowledge that PAC-2 is already here in this base, having deployed in May, 1994. At the time of its deployment, we locals voiced our opposition and also acted against it, with the local government and assembly and the labor union together with us. We conducted the same kind of human-chain demonstration of surrounding the base where they had the air defense artillery's. Even those who were non-committed to these opposition movements must have paid heed to what was going on at that time.

So, what a contrast between then and now! There are no public concerns nor oppositions. For us locals around Tsuiki Base, the problem of Patriot missiles are all over as a result of our loss in the struggle against PAC-2 deployment. The imminent deployment of PAC-3 is only the matter of a new type of missiles taking over the current one.

I myself is at a loss what to do with that. I assume you all here tonight know what has become of the labor union, which was our strong ally in the past two opposition movements including the human-chain. The labor union has stopped its systematic participation in our continued monthly sitting-ins named 'Every 2nd day Action.' So, we locals are now the only player in the town of Tsuiki in dealing with almost all the social issues deriving from the ASDF base. I know this sounds defensive, but we cannot handle such problems by ourselves while being engaged in our daily work, as there are too many.

However, I am not in despair. One example of good signs: Although Japan's Ministry of Defence and the SDF had been proceeding their 'Expansion Plan of Tsuiki Base' in order to reinforce the functions of the base according to the global transformation of the US forces, the association of local residents living next to the area planned for the expansion had strongly been opposed against this plan, finally forcing the Ministry of Defence recently to withdraw the current expansion plan. This is a remarkable victory by local citizens.

Local residents, who had been in the opinion of 'co-prosperity with the base,' never saying NO to the base, seem to be changing. I think we, local activists, can self-praise ourselves for our 22-year-long struggle, as it may have raised the consciousness in such people.

I know our power is limited and we cannot stage a big opposition action in Tsuiki, regarding the forth-coming PAC-3 deployment, but I want to carry on what I and we, as a group, can do in our daily life, never giving it up.

Now I believe it most important for us to have a strong will in ourselves: such will as 'I shall not to retreat,' 'I shall never give up,' 'I shall not to obey.' Only from such wills can we derive solidarity with comrades and true social reforms for the sake of citizens. This is my conviction obtained through my struggle during these 22 years. Thank you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

HELLO, HELLO.......



Three weeks into a month long trip, bound to get a bit homesick. Times like this I turn to The Kinks......Long Distance, such a long way from home. In my case it is the emails.....are they getting through?

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.

HIBAKUSHA SPEAKS ABOUT US BOMBING


This is the powerful message of a hibakusha (survivor of the US atomic bombing in Nagasaki), Ms. Shimohira.

I am now in Fukuoka and will write more in the morning about the last day at the Mayors for Peace conference. Right now I need to go through my many emails and then get some rest. I am a bit worn out today.

I am hearing that many of my emails to friends and family back in the US are not getting through to them. I recommend looking in your spam filter box. If not there they must be lost in space.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

MORE ON FAKE HEALTH CARE RIOTERS

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy


At the tail end of this fake health care story is a short bit about Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) abruptly resigning from the US Senate. Mel and I go back to early 90's in Orlando, Florida where we coached our sons Little League baseball team together. We used to debate Cuba policy while throwing batting practice to the kids. He was a nice guy but had a huge desire to climb the political ladder and sadly was willing to do and say most anything to get to the top of the heap.

Maybe his leaving early indicates he discovered that life on top isn't so great after all. I actually think the reason he is quiting is because with the Democrats in control of Congress now he has no power. He will likely return home and cash in on his name and become a multi-millionaire and return to his real love - the baseball field where he can coach his youngest kid.

My advice to Mel, don't be afraid to have the kids bunt now and then.

THE FAMILY - MISSIONARIES FOR THE POWERFUL


A fascinating interview about the Christian fundamentalist group in Washington where many members of Congress rent a room and belong to "prayer cells". Maine's current Gov. John Baldacci (Democrat) lived there while serving in the House of Representatives years ago.

TAKE BACK THE INITIATIVE

At 11:02 am today the whole city of Nagasaki stopped for a moment of silence to observe the exact time the US dropped the bomb 64 years ago.

I returned to the second day of the Mayors for Peace conference. I attended a three-hour workshop that reviewed the campaign strategy for the organization. Then they opened the floor for more mayors to speak. It was interesting to learn that 57% of the cities in Belgium (323 of them) now belong to Mayors for Peace.

There are 13 mayors here from Bangladesh and they have committed to return home and organize 100 cities to join the organization during the next four months.

The US is lagging way behind as only 155 mayors have joined the organization and it appears that getting them to take an active role is quite a challenge.

I was approached by the mayor and a councilman from Freetown, Sierra Leone, which is the capital and largest city in that African country. He too asked for a copy of the speech I made yesterday and asked about affiliation in the Global Network. I was really impressed with his sincere interest in the space issue and promised that I'd be in touch with him immediately.

I was also impressed today with Syria's representative who talked about the obvious fear that the Middle East could soon see a regional nuclear arms race. Syria has proposed a resolution at the United Nations to create a Nuclear-Free Zone in the region but Israel has been blocking it. Israel, the only current nuclear power in the Middle East, refuses to acknowledge that they have a couple hundred nuclear weapons and is adamant that no other Middle East country (Iran) should be allowed to have nukes.

A couple of days ago I was on the speaking platform with old friend Joseph Gerson who works for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in New England. I first met Joseph in Tokyo in 1984 when we both attended the World Conference against A & H Bombs. During his presentation in Hiroshima the other day he quoted Gen. Maxwell Taylor (from the Vietnam war era) talking about control of oil in the Middle East. Gerson said Gen. Taylor called the region the "jugular vein of western capitalism." That tells the whole story.

I head for the city of Fukuoka late tomorrow afternoon after the final sessions of Mayors for Peace conference conclude. I will speak in Fukuoka on Tuesday night. Wednesday I get a day off before flying to Seoul, South Korea on Thursday where I will spend my final week of this trip meeting with many different Korean organizations and doing two formal talks - all of which have been organized by Global Network board member Sung-Hee Choi.

One final observation here. After listening to people from virtually every continent over the past two weeks I see a trend underway. The public around the planet generally feel powerless as most governments are ignoring the people. The strategy of most peace groups has been one of playing "inside the box". I mean no offense to anyone but too often our organizations end up acting like "junior negotiators" with the politicians and political systems. When we play by the rules of the status quo nuclear powers we get submerged inside their box. They are pros at controlling the game and the agenda.

The way out I believe, the way we make real progress, is to get out of the box and get with the people. We must "up the ante" and ask for more. We should stop begging for "arms control negotiations" which are bearing no real fruit. Instead we should be creating a global coalition of peace groups, unions, cities, social justice groups, womens organizations, environmental organizations and together we need to be call for full and complete global disarmament and conversion of the military industrial complex.

We have to take back the initiative and advance a positive alternative transformative vision of the future that solves for poverty, climate change, human needs, peace and justice.

The global movement is out there but fragmented. We need to "globalize" our message and unify our movement. When we do that we can put the corporate forces of globalization on the defensive and we can make progress. All of us need to begin talking about this in our local meetings and at every other opportunity we get.

UPDATE: My speech that I gave in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is now up on the Global Network web site. You can see it here

REALITY AND HOPE





Chris Hedges gets interviewed by Laura Flanders.

He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. Hedges, who has reported from more than 50 countries, worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years.

Hedges was part of the New York Times team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.

He is the author of the best selling “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” which draws on his experiences in various conflicts to describe the patterns and behavior of nations and individuals in wartime. The book, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, was described by Abraham Verghese, who reviewed the book for The New York Times, as “...a brilliant, thoughtful, timely and unsettling book whose greatest merit is that it will rattle jingoists, pacifists, moralists, nihilists, politicians and professional soldiers equally.”