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, October 17, 2009

WORLD MARCH COMES TO KOREA

The Yongsan fight has now become a major national issue
Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening by joining up with the World March for Peace & Nonviolence that has just arrived in South Korea. I will stay with it for the next few days. This morning we head north to the DMZ where we will stay the night and then back to Seoul for more events following that. We spent the night sleeping at a Buddhist Temple outside of Seoul - the heated floors felt good but my back and hips are a bit sore this morning from the hard surface.

I arrived at the World March staging area just in time to join a spirited 5 kilometer bike ride through downtown Seoul that put us in the middle of the busy Saturday traffic and past the US Army base that occupies a large portion of the downtown area. Koreans are not big bicycle riders, they love their cars, so it was an unusual site I am sure to see about 50 bikes taking up a lane of traffic. The fleet of bikes was a revolutionary act.

Also last night we visited the Yongsan neighborhood in Seoul where a massive campaign of resistance is underway. Regular readers of the blog will likely remember my August 15 post that told the story about the five men that were killed by the police when they tried to protect the five story building where they had their small restaurants and other businesses. Since then their wives have maintained constant vigil at the site and people have come from all over the country to resist the destruction of the neighborhood from the huge corporations who want to "redevelop" the whole area and build mega-office buildings on the land.

As we arrived in Yongsan last night the place was jam packed with students, priests, nuns, and supporters from all walks of life. Each evening at 7:00 pm a mass is held and a different organization takes responsibility for the program afterward. Last night was coordinated by students. We plan to return on Monday for a longer visit.

BUSTED FOR REAL HEALTH CARE REFORM


New York police arrested several people during an insurance protest at the headquarters of United Health Group Thursday. Protestors carried signs and chanted "Patients, Not Profits, Medicare For All!

These civil disobedience actions in favor of real health care reform are springing up all over the country in recent days.

Friday, October 16, 2009

THE MAGICIAN

Inspired by the Korean proclivity to give their right-wing president multiple nicknames (2MB, the rat, the bulldozer) I have been describing Obama as the "magician" while on this trip.

I am of course always asked about Obama by people I am meeting with. What should we expect from him?

I tell them to watch his both of his hands. Magicians always use deception to make you think one thing is happening when actually something entirely different is going on.

The peace man? Presto, increased troop levels in Afghanistan. Getting rid of nukes? Presto, expansion of missile defense systems beyond what Bush was even talking about. Health care? Presto, forget about it!

SEEDING THE MOVEMENTS


Rev. Yoon, In-Jung spent 155 days living in the trees behind me. A platform was erected near the tops of the trees during the period of late 2006 and early 2007. He was protesting the plan to rip the mountain forest on the outskirts of Incheon into shreds so a golf course can be built by the Lotte corporation. Lotte is one of the biggest corporations in South Korea and right-wing president Lee, Myung-bak (2MB) is married into the corporate family. For this, and other disastrous mega-construction projects that will destroy the environment, 2MB has been given an additional nickname - the bulldozer.

Rev. Yoon is a Presbyterian minister who leads a faith community called Christian Solidarity for Life and Peace.

Before Rev. Yoong took his action living in the trees a local woman did the same thing for 56 days. He worked to support her and then picked up the baton after she finished.

I asked him how the 155 day vigil in the trees changed him. He replied, "I was changed alot. All the life is connected to one another. If the forest disappears the human beings will disappear too. The most important thing in life is breathing - the prayer and breathing is not different. The trees give us a lot of good things and human beings are trying to harm them and that is wrong."

He recommended that slow and persistent organizing is what is required to defeat the mega-destruction policies of the bulldozer. A rolling hunger strike is now underway where people go for a night to sleep in the forest without food. Sung-Hee volunteered to do a day soon after I return home on October 25 so I volunteered that I would join the hunger strike for that day in solidarity.

Following our trip to the woods Rev. Yoon took us to an organic restaurant in Incheon where the customer sets the price of the meal depending on what they can best afford to pay. I spoke to members of his faith community in the evening and found it easy to show the connections between ripping trees from forests and space domination. It all comes from a spiritual disconnection from the "right way to live" as the Native Americans would say.

I must say that the genius of this speaking tour, put together by Sung-Hee Choi and her advisers, is that they are introducing me to key leaders in the progressive movement throughout South Korea. I visit their community, learn about their local struggles, and then in the evening share food with them (yes, sometimes twice) and then speak to them about space issues. This organizing strategy is seeding the progressive movement throughout South Korea with the basic understanding of the work of the Global Network. In addition Sung-Hee is handing out copies of two GN videos that she has translated into Korean.

My visit to Rev. Yoon in Incheon was two days ago. Yesterday I was back in Seoul where I sat in the courtroom for two hours watching Global Network board member Wooksik Cheong give testimony on behalf of the three reunification activists who are now facing 3-5 years in jail for calling for the closure of US bases in South Korea and reunification of the nation. Wooksik made the case that the charges facing the three activists, under the extreme National Security Law, are nothing more than mainstream opinion throughout the peace movement in South Korea and beyond. In fact, while at the court I had my signature notarized on a letter I wrote in September at the request of the defendants lawyers saying much the same thing - that activists in the US also are calling for an end to US military deployments in South Korea.

Then last night I was invited to a meeting of the Life and Peace Fellowship, another faith-based peace community. In a delightful format I just answered questions from the assembled for 2 and 1/2 hours about non-violence and the work of the Global Network. Two reporters from major local newspapers covered the event.

The World March for Peace & Nonviolence, that runs from Oct 2-Jan 2, 2010, hits South Korea today for several days of activities. I will be joining this group as they hold events in Seoul and then travels to the DMZ in a call for reunification (something that is "illegal" under the 2MB definition of the National Security Law).

Let's see if they arrest us too.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SOME DELICIOUS MORSELS

Just a few morsels hanging on the edge of my plate.

* Sung-Hee, the organizer for my trip across South Korea, takes great delight in teaching me the primary foods of Korea. They are: (1) Kimchee (2) Bob (rice) (3) Bull (water) (4) k-ho-ge (dog meat).........(I can't vouch for the spellings of all these)........she enjoys getting me to preform like a circus monkey in front of others as she asks me to name each of these. I am now trained to do so on que and she has a great laugh at my expense, especially when I do the fourth item. I've eaten all of them except the dog meat but Sung-Hee can't help but make me suffer over the thought of it.

* South Korea's right-wing president is named Lee Myung-bak. He is often called a rat and he does indeed look like one and acts like one as well. Lately though I have been reading that he is also called 2MB and tonight I inquired what this means. It seems as though the computer age also has created nicknames for presidents. 2MB means that Mr. Lee is so stupid that his left brain is only 2 megabites in size. I love that one. You've got to keep a sense of humor.

* My last two nights speaking events were memorable from a food standpoint. I was fed a big dinner before the talk and then after each talk the entire group of people who attended went out together for another dinner. Two nights ago there was a talent show of sorts and I was asked to sing, which I did. Then they called for an encore and I did my second number. I also was a background singer for one Korean woman who did all the verses of John Denver's big hit "Country Road."

* At every meal I am handed a fork but I have yet to pick it up. I continue to insist on using chopsticks. And yes, folks watch very closely how I handle them.

* At every single meal, just as the food is put in front of me these words are always spoken to me, without fail: "It's good for your health."

* Tonight at my second dinner I was asked the difference between American and South Korean peace activists. Without hesitation I said, "South Korean peace activists are much stronger fighters for peace. There are of course some exceptions, but this is the truth."

* No one is surprised that I say Obama does not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize. They have a long history of presidents who were working for the colonial masters (first Japan and now the US). They can relate.

* Black Agenda Report has a new article on their website called: Top Ten Reasons President Obama Should Give Back the Nobel Peace Prize

More later.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

MASSACRE AT NO GUN-RI

Click to enlarge this depiction of the No Gun-ri massacre
Ninety-four year old Chung Eun Yong points out the bullet holes from US 7th Cavalry rifle fire

Yesterday I spent most of the day visiting the site of the US Army 7th Cavalry Regiment's massacre of more than 225 innocent Korean civilians on July 26, 1950 at No Gun-ri during the Korean War.

In the days before July 26, 1950 the North Korean army was pushing US military forces southward. The US Army ordered two villages of peasant farmers in the No Gun-ri area to evacuate. There were taken by the US military to a nearby railroad track and ordered to walk along it. At one point the 500-600 refugees were instructed to bunch up and sit on the tracks. Two US military aircraft then circled overhead and dropped 7-8 bombs on their heads.

This story was told to me yesterday by a 72 year-old woman, Yang Kae-suk, who was 13 years-old at the time of the attack. Her father was carrying her grandmother on his back. The body of her grandmother was never found as body parts flew in every direction.

Her other family members tried to hide near a tree and her mother was severely wounded. A bomb fragment hit Yang in the back of the head and her left eye ball blew out of the socket and she tossed it on the ground.

Soon 7th Cavalry soldiers began firing their rifles at the defenseless crowd and they hid for cover under a nearby train tunnel. For the next four days and three nights the people inside the tunnels were fired on from four different directions by the US soldiers who had them surrounded. US planes reappeared and strafed them with machine gun fire. More people, who were crammed inside the tunnels, were killed as they tried to sneak out for water or tried to escape. Some number did escape the madness that surrounded them.

Finally in the dark of night the Army's 7th Cavalry withdrew as the North Korean Army advanced. Then early on the fourth morning the North Koreans told the people they were free.

This was not the first time the 7th Cavalry had been associated with a mass slaughter of civilians. The Regiment perpetrated the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota on December 29, 1890, at the end of the Indian Wars.

Yang's mother was in terrible need of medical care but there was none available. Maggots had begun to appear inside her wounds. Her father made medicines from the rye seed and bandages from the persimmon tree that grows abundantly in the area. Her mother was to survive.

For many years the No Gun-ri massacre remained a US Army secret as the successive right-wing governments in South Korea, under the control of the US, kept a lid on the story. But then in 1999 the Associated Press broke the story and the BBC followed with a documentary (entitled "Kill 'em All") a few years later. This film reveals orders coming from the highest levels of the Army instructing the field commanders to kill all civilians who got in the way.

Over the years the survivors and their supporters had been trying to bring justice to those who were killed or wounded at No Gun-ri. They organized the "Committee for Unveiling Truth about the No Gun-ri Massacre" and finally helped force the creation of a joint South Korea-US investigation. (The US for a long time tried to down play the size of the killing field.) The final reported conservatively acknowledged the deaths of 228 people and the tunnel where people hid was surveyed and all bullet damage was marked to show the places where US troops had fired-on the tunnel. At both ends of the tunnel there are now triangles (showing where bullets still remain embedded in the concrete) and circles (where bullets created marks).

I asked Yang how she felt today about the US military. She said she could never go to school because of her missing eye. Today she grows grapes and persimmons in the small farming village where she lives. "War should not be," she told me.

To this day there has been no financial compensation to the victims or their families. About 50 survivors of the No Gun-ri massacre are still alive.

Chung Koo Do is the Director of the No Gun-Ri Institute for Peace Studies and is dedicated to ensuring that the memory of the massacre is not lost and that justice prevails. His mother was a survivor of the slaughter by the 7th Cavalry. He told me that there were over 500 incidents of killing of civilians during the war but No Gun-ri was the only case investigated by a joint South Korean-US government team. After the No Gun-ri investigation the US said it would not look into any other case.

2010 will be the 60th anniversary of No Gun-Ri. Chung told me his organization is planning to sponsor several important events to commemorate the massacre. He hopes that US soldiers who were involved in the Korean War will come for the events and he particularly hopes that Veterans for Peace in the US will send a delegation to Korea during this time. He asked me to help them make that possible and I told him I would do my best.

Chung pointed out with great pride the large area surrounding the No Gun-ri massacre site that will become a peace park. The South Korean government is now building a peace museum, educational facilities, and memorials. The survivors, and their descendants, are determined to keep the memory of No Gun-ri in the forefront of international peace movement efforts.

It is a sad moment in history that should be remembered by all of us.

HEALTH CARE DE-FORM

Monday, October 12, 2009

WHAT THEY DON'T TELL YOU


The Washington Post this morning ran a story entitled North Korea Fires Five Missiles in which they intentionally misled the public.

North Korea did indeed fire five short-range missiles, and they did indeed declare a navigation ban in waters off its eastern and western coasts, but the problem with the Post story is what it did not tell the reader. And this missing piece of information just so happens to explain why North Korea has taken the measures that it has taken.

What the Post "conveniently" left out of its story is that the US and South Korean military have just begun major war games (Oct 13-16) that will include the USS George Washington aircraft carrier battle group. The exercises will be held in the western (or Yellow Sea) that sits between Korea and China.

North Korea does not know if the US and South Korea (which is now building long-range missiles that could strike deep into North Korean territory) will launch a shock and awe attack on it this time. After all it has seen Iraq and Afghanistan attacked and heard the rattling of the US war sabers over Iran. So like so many people have told me this week, North Korea can't take a chance when these big military war exercises happen. They drop everything they are doing and stand ready to defend themselves. It's one reason their economy is such a mess.

And just for good measure they fired five short-range missiles harmlessly into the sea as a warning that they were on alert.

The Post wrote, "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, reacting to reports of the missile launches, said the United States and its allies are trying to demonstrate to North Korea that the international community will not accept its continuing nuclear program."

The US feigns surprise at such outlandish and unexpected behavior by the "unstable" North Korea, and uses the incident as a pretext to remind the world that the good Americans are working hard to stop North Korea's nuclear program. The US, in other words, is just an innocent bystander. The good uncle just shakes his head in dismay at those strange North Koreans.

So back in the US, and likely in most places around the world, the unaware public just hears one more example of how a "half-cocked and crazy" North Korea is once again firing missiles at phantom targets. But in this case, today, I had a kernel of unreported news at my disposal. I could see how the US, and the Washington Post, are misleading the public. Even most members of Congress probably won't know about the war exercises just off the North Korean and Chinese coast.

Peace groups in South Korea do know the full story though and they have held protests in the last two days and will continue to do so throughout the period of this war game. But those protests will largely go unreported in South Korea and will not be reported by the Washington Post.

This is one prime example of how North Korea has been demonized since the Korean War. The US has done it to Cuba for years, did it to Iraq, and is now doing it to Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It is the American modus operandi - method of operation.

I sent an email to the reporter of the Washington Post story just to let him know I was not fooled by the important "omission" in his story. I don't expect to get a response. If I do I will let you know what he says.

THE ARROGANT AND CORRUPT WAR

Click on cartoon to enlarge

MOON FOR SALE


BBC TV documentary called "Moon for Sale" about helium-3.

Now you can see why the US never agreed to sign the UN's Moon Treaty that says no country, no corporation, nor any individual can claim ownership of the moon.

The aerospace industry is itching to get their hands on the resources of the Moon. You, the taxpayers, will pay for the technology development to make all this possible. The corporations intend to grab the profits.

SPINNING THE WEB

On my trips to big cities like New York or Seoul I am always a bit overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people and motor vehicles moving around. Living as I do in a city with a population of about 10,000 (Bath), and a state with about 1.4 million (Maine), helps create this sense of awe.

When I am in the big cities I think about all the water that is used, and all the toilets that are flushed each day (where does all the waste go?), and all the gasoline that is used, and the pollution that is created.

I think about the 50 people in one place that I will speak with, or the hundred folks in another. Maybe a few thousand will read an article about my work in some publication. (In fact one activist in Seoul sent my current speech to an email list of 4,000 in recent days.) But these numbers are a drop in the bucket in a city of over 10 million people.

It's rather humbling to think about it. How does one go about really reaching the people I wonder? Corporate advertising and corporate media have this down to an art. They have the resources and the abilities to fix an entire city, an entire country, and an entire world on a particular subject in a moments notice if they wish. That is real power.

It's no wonder that you see so many people in big cities moving from one shop to another buying the expensive products that have been marketed to such an extent that their logos are branded in the brains of most people. At the Seoul train station there is a huge McDonald's hamburger joint and the place is packed to the gills. The younger generation has been brainwashed to believe that McDonald's is the happening place, just like I was at their age.

But there are still the fruit and veggie carts all along the streets here in Seoul too. They have the big fat sweet purple Korean grapes that are served with most meals I've had since arriving here. They have those over sized apples and melons that dwarf the ones we have at home. I wonder if they are so big because of some super-duper pesticide or are they natural? I'm afraid to ask.

In my talks I've found a way to weave in the issues of peak oil and climate change. I talk about US military policy now being all about control of global resource extraction. Control the distribution of fossil fuels and you control the keys to the global economic engine even if the American economy is collapsing at the same time.

I talk about how space technology now ties this whole US global military empire together, net-centric warfare they call it at the space command. I'm trying to help people put the pieces of the puzzle together so we all can share the full picture with the masses of people who are just rushing by in their daily grind of living life.

It's a bit-by-bit process for sure. The Internet helps us spread these messages a lot. But the people need to have a hunger for information, for truth, and for change and I don't see that right now.

I see a lot of resignation, fear, and conformity to the prevailing ethic of consumerism and upward mobility. Sure people would rather have a nice clean environment, more trees, clean air and water, but they don't necessarily want to have to fight for real democracy, peace, and social justice. It's easier to go along and get along. Demand real change so we can deal with global warming? Too big for most people to take on. Same goes for peace in space…..

The whole Obama Nobel Peace Prize thing is still stuck in my throat. I can't get over the picture of him gathering his Afghanistan war council together soon after hearing that he won the prize. Cognitive dissonance is defined as psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.

Still we press onward and I am so damn proud to be with those all over the world who keep faithful to the task.

I have been ending my talks here in Korea with these words. Thought I'd share them with my blog readers:

What does it mean to be a human being in the world? What is the most important job for those of us living on our Mother Earth today?

I think of the spider, spinning the web. The spider never grows weary, never gives up, no matter the difficulties. Even if the spider has to spend its whole life just making one web it will do so. The spider understands its role in nature.

I've come to see my role as a spinner of sorts as well. My job is to work with people all over the world, linking us to one another, sharing information with one another, encouraging one another, all moving together to bring peace and sanity to this beautiful but fragmented world. My job is to never give up, to always keep spinning, and to try to remember to love, even when my heart feels hard.

Love our enemies. Treat others, as we would like to be treated. Honor our elders and the children. Protect our Mother Earth from harm. Forgive those who have hurt us so that we too might be forgiven when we hurt others.

I keep praying to the Great Spirit, asking for the wisdom and the strength to keep doing my spinning work. I pray that I can touch some hearts, that I will be understood. I pray that others will find their paths and help us build the peace here on Earth.

I pray that someday the people of Korea will live in a unified nation, as one people again.

The Native American Indians said that the sacred hoop, the sacred circle, was broken. The time has come for us to heal the sacred hoop and our broken spirits.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

MORE FROM MIGUEL D'ESCOTO ON THE UN


"The question of Palestine remains the most serious political and human rights problem on the agenda of the United Nations since its creation," says outgoing General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto.

D'Escoto points to the UN's failure to lift the two-year-old blockade on Gaza being maintained by Israel and Egypt as a clear example of the organization's decadence. This despite the fact that all the organs of the UN have passed resolutions demanding the blockade be lifted, but none of the members with influence have done anything to force compliance, and according to d'Escoto, they are quite comfortable with this.

WARM MEETINGS IN SEOUL

Following late night meeting with Kim, Young-Je in Seoul
North Koreans fishing in the Daedong River, Pyeongyang

My last two days have been busy and exciting. Upon our return from Busan on Saturday Sung-Hee and I met Kim, Young-Je in Seoul for dinner. Kim is the national Director for the Reunification Unit of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCYU). He is in charge of organizing the trips of South Korean KCTU members to North Korea. I met him when I was here in August and we both agreed to meet again when I returned. Kim believes that it is crucial for US and international peace activists to go to North Korea to see for themselves what life is like there.

Having been to Cuba three times, while living in Florida I used to organize large groups of Floridians to take trips to Cuba, I know that seeing the reality of life is much different from what you read in the mainstream corporate media in the US.

Kim took us to a small local restaurant near the tall KCTU national headquarters building. This restaurant cooks shellfish on charcoal stoves built into each table. The enormous shellfish are split in half and placed on the coals. Some spices are added to the largest ones and the smaller ones are eaten as they are. Kim told us that these shellfish are very popular and are imported from North Korean waters. The shellfish can cross between borders, he said with an ironic smirk, but the people cannot do so.

Following dinner Kim took us back to the KCTU offices where we talked until late in the night. He said that recently the right-wing government in South Korea has thrown road blocks in the way of the KCTU organizing worker trips to the north. This would make it more difficult for the Global Network to make such a trip in the near future. He said he would still encourage North Korea to make it easier for groups like us to visit there.

Kim talked in a deep and heartfelt way about the "inhuman situation" for all the people on the Korean peninsula - from both north and south. Presently 10 million people, 25% of those living in the south, have family in the north. The US-South Korean military alliance has forced the south to subjugate itself to the US like a slave, he said. (In fact the Korean War is still not officially over as the US has never signed a peace treaty with North Korea. South Korea is not allowed by the US to sign a peace treaty with North Korea. So the US completely controls when and if there will ever be peace on the Korean peninsula.)

My interest in all of this is largely due to the fact that the US military in massively upgrading its military presence in Japan and South Korea, particularly with the addition of "missile defense" systems. This is all justified by the Pentagon as being "caused by the North Korea problem". But I strongly believe that the North Korea "problem" is used by the US as an excuse for a military buildup that is aimed at encircling China. Thus the US has no urgent desire to reach true peace with North Korea for fear they lose their justification to surround China. In the meantime the Korean people, used as pawns in the big power game, have to suffer the consequences. I don't like that.

The most touching comments from Kim were when he said, "The first thing the US needs to apologize about is how the US has divided Korea, changed the way the Korean people think about one another, and then boasted about their success in making it [the division] all happen."

Kim continued to outline why the US should apologize: "By never allowing North Korea to rest, to build their economy, always keeping North Korea on edge, [with non-stop military exercises like the one planned October 13-16 just off the coast of North Korea] fearing war, oppressing South Koreans through right-wing governments, dividing the people against each other."

Kim feels this is the great tragedy of Korean history.

The KCTU has officially adopted the program of self reliance and reunification. To North Korea self reliance means they will always refuse to be dominated by any foreign powers. To the KCTU it means the workers will always be independent from corporate capitalist powers.

Kim said it brings him great sadness to see some people in South Korea get used to the division of their nation and their people.

Kim told me that he shared his intimate feelings with me because he felt I was open. I told him I would do everything I could to help bring the issue of Korean reunification into my work.

On Sunday I spoke to 40 members of the Saegil Institute for Christianity and Culture following their religious service. This church was founded in 2000 by recognizing "the responsibility to spread the true spirit of Christ into the whole of society, beyond just the individual spiritual life." Most of these people were doctors, professors, ministers, and other professionals. They had many important questions for almost an hour following my talk. Then they took me to a nearby restaurant, where over coffee, I talked with a dozen of their leaders for another hour.

One of the men, Lee, Il-Young, lived in Boston in the US for many years. He is a retired medical doctor and pastor and has been to North Korea many times. This short and robust man, with a great smile and spirit, told me North Korea would never surrender and that reunification had to be accepted by the US. I invited him to come to Maine next time he is in the US so I could organize some talks for him to share the story about the Korean situation.

Sung-Hee likes to tell everyone that I was born on July 27, 1952 - exactly one year after the signing of the Korean War ceasefire. But the war is not over. My entire life has witnessed this constant state of semi-permanent preparation for war that has been draining all sides. The time has come for the war to end. I am a peace activist. I have to do what I can to help.