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

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

PROACTIVE ORGANIZING GETS BEST RESULTS

I had an email this morning from a very well intentioned activist in another part of the country urging people to turn out today for an "emergency" vigil to mark the death of the 1,000th U.S. GI killed in Afghanistan.

Without trying to put down this effort I must say I don't think it is the most effective way to organize to stop endless war. Why is it an emergency when the 1,000th soldier dies? What about the 500th GI or the 10,000th innocent civilian killed in that war torn country? And probably most importantly, in what way is the organizer of the "emergency" demo educating his fellow local citizens about the real impacts of these wars?

I'm not against demos, I love them and think they have their important role, I organize a weekly vigil in my town. But most peace vigils have not changed the message on their signs since the 2003 shock and awe began. By now the public has read the signs that read War is not the anwer, No blood for oil, or Bring Our Troops Home Now. OK, they get it. So let's adapt the message and advance the agenda to a new level.

We often in the peace movement are in a reactive mode. But in order to successfully achieve our goals of ending war we have to flip the switch and become more proactive and force those in power to be reacting to us. Unless we begin to have a strategic discussion within the peace community then this will not likely happen.

The Bring Our War $$ Home campaign is just one illustration of this proactive process. In the state legislature in Augusta, Maine there are now a couple of state representatives circulating a letter amongst their peers that calls on our Congressional representatives in Washington to vote against further war funding. We now have local peace groups all over the state urging their state senators and representatives to sign onto this letter. This is causing some intense reflection on the part of many of these folks as they are having to deal with two key issues. One is that local and state politicians like to maintain that foreign policy is not in their area of responsibility. The other is that some of them have a hard time asking a fellow Democrat to stand up and buck the president on war spending. So this puts all of these elected officials in a reactive posture.

Just today we heard that last night in Bangor, Maine an activist stood up during their town hall meeting and spoke about the Bring Our War $$ Home Campaign. About 20 others stood with him and his high school age daughter passed a petition through the crowd and had folks sign it. She and another high school friend have been widely circulating the petition which calls for funding things like public education and the girls intend to bring this to their congressman asking him to stop voting for war funding.

This is an example of bringing the war message right into the daily life of the public and connecting it directly to their concerns about declining local government services. These local organizers are connecting the war to the local "emergency" and people can begin to understand that link and they can react to it.

What is also happening is that our two Congresspersons from Maine that represent us in Washington are starting to feel the heat from this campaign and they are having to "react" outside of their usual boxes. So when we crawl outside our normal safe organizing boundaries, by creating a proactive anti-war campaign, it causes ripples that force everyone else down the line to readjust. That is what you would call a movement. It's physics really, every action out of the ordinary causes a reaction.

Yesterday fellow Veterans for Peace member Tom Sturtevant from Winthrop, Maine came by the house to borrow our Bring the War $$ Home campaign banner. He is introducing a resolution in his community and wants to hold the banner in front of the town hall for a week or so prior to bringing the resolution to the city. So he is ensuring that some new kind of debate is going to happen in Winthrop about the war - not just the old "bring our troops home" that by now is stale and lifeless. Instead its a new and vital message he is interjecting into the consciousness of his town - a message they are not used to seeing from the peace movement and they will now have to think about it.

This same kind of organizing is now happening in Portland, Brunswick, Bath, Windham, Augusta, Deer Isle, Solon, Showhegan, Freeport, Farmington, and many other communities across Maine. Letters are appearing in virtually all the newspapers across the state on this theme and people are being forced to think about the wars in a new way.

All of us, if we truly want to advance our peace movement, must reassess whether our local work is reactive or proactive. The sooner we begin to do that the less "emergency" demos we will have to organize when the numbers of dead U.S. GI's reach 1,500 or 2,000 or more.

1 Comments:

Blogger Ariel said...

All of us who took to the streets in massive peace rallies to stop the U.S. from launching the war in Iraq learned a hard lesson on how little what we wanted meant to the people in power. Martin Luther King knew that demonstrations had to be supported by economic boycotts; that got their attention and empowered people to make changes. Today we need to be creatively proactive in shifting the energy away from the military mindset, not just in the U.S., but all over the world. We must weave our efforts together with people from other countries and strategize actions that work. The older generations can leverage our efforts by supporting young people in taking the steps that will move us in a different direction. I know that these are abstractions, but I really believe that they are guiding principles in what needs to be done proactively.

There's so much to protest that people don't know where to start. And protesting doesn't work, just like voting doesn't work when politicians from both parties carry out the mandates of the wealthy warmongerers who profit from wars.

Being fixated on making democracy work and denouncing politicians who don't represent the people is keeping us all stuck in their game of manipulating the people. This is a mountain that we need to find a way to go around instead of over.

Thank you, Bruce, for challenging the status quo of activism. That said, any kind of resistance, any kind of activism is better than none at all. Bottom line, I believe in American grit. We're not doormats!

2/28/10, 9:00 AM  

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