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, May 01, 2010

IT'S ABOUT WHO MAKES IT AND WHO TAKES IT

The international peace conference is taking place inside this enormous Riverside Church, probably most famous for MLK's anti-Vietnam speech one year to the day before he was killed by the CIA.

Well over 800 people are here from all over the world. Things began last night with a series of good speeches and have continued today with workshops (including the one I led on missile defense along with Sarah Cartin from CND in the UK and J. Narayana Rao who is on our Global Network board from India).

My favorite talk so far was done by Zia Mian who last night blasted Obama's foreign policy. Zia directs the Project on Peace & Security at Princeton University in New Jersey.

Zia's opening words were, "We are at a moment of profound crisis." The old world order has unraveled and "existing structures can't sustain the status quo," he said. "The last thing they are willing to contemplate is easily letting go of their power."

The notion of Obama offering real change "has been shown to be without foundation."

"People wanted change and what they got was Obama," he joked.

Zia reminded the packed audience that "Obama is not the first American president who has promised this [nuclear disarmament]."

The recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) presented by Obama, and Bush's previous NPR, reveal an "amazing continuity," Zia reported. Obama is continuing the Bush program of "prompt global strike systems, missile defense, and modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex."

"The old order continues in fundamental ways," he suggested.

Fundamentally, Zia reminded us to work to "break this perception that getting rid of nuclear weapons will bring peace....they are only the tip of the spear.....if we only get rid of the nuclear weapons nothing will change....we have to change the structures that manage the global economy....64 million more people around the world will be pushed into poverty due to the global economic crisis....the system of a small global [corporate] political elite must be ended."

Zia concluded by saying that the new SALT Treaty between the U.S. and Russia is not what matters.

"The use of force and power and violence in the world, and who decides is what matters....it's about profit making - who makes it and who takes it - it's about the nation state, armies, and war."

The highlight of today for me was when the walkers from four different peace walks (each from a different part of the U.S.) came into the hall during a plenary session and were warmly greeted. It was a great joy to see many old friends from past walks in Florida, Washington state, and recently in Maine.

In many respects these tireless walkers are doing the basic grassroots outreach to the public that we must all do more of if we have any hope of building the real movement that is so urgently needed.

Just one historical footnote - this church was essentially built with the oil money from the Rockefeller family riches.

Friday, April 30, 2010

PROBLEMS IN NYC FOR KOREAN ACTIVISTS

Representatives of SPARK (Solidarity for Peace & Reunification of Korea)


It appears that one of the South Korean peace groups (SPARK, a Global Network affiliate) had trouble getting their delegates into the U.S. yesterday.

It seems that two women, Hye-Ran and Pyeon Yon-Sik, were retained in the JFK airport for three hours as soon as they arrived in New York City. They were eventually released.

According to the SPARK report, the South Korean right-wing Lee Myung-Bak government had requested the U.S. Homeland Security to send back them for the reasons of their protest career against the U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

As the security officers found out that all the entering procedures of the two have been properly done, they even mentioned that the South Korean government's behavior was out of order.

They also questioned why the Korean government even criminalized the peaceful press interview and protest of SPARK. The Lee government proved its poor policy even to the US homeland security officers...

Similar thing happened another time when the delegates of the Korean Progressive Alliance were restrained in the Switzerland airport on their way to join an international conference. The Lee Myung-Bak government had requested the Switzerland authority to send them back as well and the representatives, after all the horrible ordeal, had to eventually return back to Korea without being able to join any events there.

- Sent by Sung-Hee Choi (Inchon, South Korea)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

SOWING THE SEEDS OF VIOLENCE

I am on the train to NYC and the wireless connection seems to come and go on this "Downeaster".

I got an email this morning from a Tea Party list that somehow got my name. One line in particular that stands out is "Arizona is being targeted by millions of illegal aliens for race riots!"

A virtual call to arms is now being sounded by some Tea Party organizers. One of them says:

"How many more Citizens must die before Washington realizes America is under a full scale attack? TeaParty.org will NOT negotiate our values. We will NOT stand down and we will NOT go silently into the night. "
Stephen Eichler J.D. Executive Director - TeaParty.org

It is supremely obvious to me that the ruling elite in America recognize that people of color will be the majority population in the coming years and they don't like that fact one bit. Just like the apartheid regime in South Africa, during the early 1980's, they are embarking on a dangerous and divisive strategy to turn angry white voters (who see the nation slipping away) against blacks and Hispanics. The white working class conservatives refuse to see that it is the corporations who have moved their jobs overseas - not the Mexican immigrant who in fact has also seen their economy destabilized south of the border by the corporate NAFTA trade agreement that threw many of them off their small farms as agribusiness moved in and took over their lands.

Tons of corporate money is now being pumped into the Tea Party movement to make leaders out of marginal people who otherwise could not have dreamed of getting their hands on such a cash infusion and non-stop media coverage.

I worry that the next step will be a national call for the cowboys (with their loaded guns) to come to Arizona in order to "defend the state from the rising hoards of brown skin illegal aliens". That is when the shooting could start. It would be a deadly mix of guns, racism, religion, and misguided social policy that will help to redirect the growing anger away from the corporate oligarchy who are ultimately responsible for the mess we have today in America. As Chris Hedges has previously written, this is how Yugoslavia came apart at the seams.

The primary thing we can do is continually point out to the public that our economic collapse has not been caused by Mexicans. It is the direct result of corporate policies to move millions of jobs overseas for cheap labor and the inevitable huge costs of endless war.

The coming national debate over immigration must be viewed in the larger context of corporate policies. People of good will had better speak out soon, loudly, and often, if we hope to avert an ugly fall to violence.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PARTY OF THE PEOPLE

* I will be getting up very early in the morning in order to catch the 5:45 a.m. train from Portland to New York City. Once there I will meet one of our Global Network members from India who will be joining me at the International Conference for a Nuclear Free, Peaceful, Just, and Sustainable World that will be held at Riverside Church on April 30-May 1.

Several of our Global Network leaders will do a conference workshop called Missile Defense Deployments Impact Hopes for Nuclear Disarmament.

Then on May 2 there will be a rally and march which many thousands are expected to attend from all over the world.

After that I, and my friend from India, will return to Maine for several days before we head back to New York City for the May 9 Global Network annual space organizing conference. See details here

We are excited that the producer of the new documentary Pax Americana will join us on May 9 to show the film and talk more about it.

* Have been picking up on bits of interesting info coming out of Washington DC concerning a debate going on inside the peace movement about the best strategy to deal with the war in Afghanistan.

Some are suggesting that we should not focus on the $33 billion war supplemental which comes up for a vote in Congress very soon. Instead, they are pushing legislation that would "require the President to develop a flexible timetable to draw down U.S. troops from Afghanistan."

There has always been this kind of tension in the peace movement between the grassroots and those who are based in the DC area and work closely with the Democrats who run Congress. It is my take that the toothless "flexible timeline for withdrawal" puts less pressure on the Dems than trying to force them to vote now against more war funding. Thus the Dems, and those close to them inside the peace movement, promote the more timid approach.

Local activists have to be circumspect about who they decide to follow over the cliff. I've been experiencing this "re-direct the peace movement into safer strategies" by the Democrats, and their peace allies in DC, since the nuclear freeze campaign in the early 1980's.

* Went to a "debate" last night here in Bath where the four remaining Democratic party candidates for governor in Maine appeared. It wasn't much of a debate as they all basically agreed that the next governor must do a better job of relaxing business regulations, "grow the economy," and raise some kinds of "revenues" to deal with Maine's fiscal crisis. One key revenue they agreed is a replacement for the gas tax as people are driving less and seeking more fuel efficient vehicles. One idea trotted out, that most of the candidates agreed with, was to tax a driver's annual mileage. In a large rural state like Maine that won't be a popular idea. Another idea by one of the candidates was to expand the toll highways in Maine further north.

There was some talk about rail and public transportation but mostly the railway expansion was in reference to moving commercial products as a way to save corporations money.

Bottom line for me is that these four folks are essentially corporate candidates who will do little to dramatically change things in Maine as we hit economic collapse and peak oil. None of them, as would be expected, said a word about endless war spending. They only took written questions from the 75 people in attendance in order to screen out any "unpleasantries."

So much for the "party of the people."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BEHIND THE SCENES IN ARIZONA IMMIGRATION CONFLICT



Click here for Greg Palast article called Behind The Arizona Immigration Law: GOP Game to Swipe the November Election

PRAYING FOR PEACE IN GANGJEONG

Catholic priests and nuns led a prayer service for peace on April 26 in the Gangjeong village and against the Jeju Island Naval base plan. The Catholic community erected a large tent and held the service in the rain along the coastline where the base is planned. The priests and nuns plan to stay with the villagers as the Navy makes a move to hold an opening ceremony in the next few days for the construction of the base.

Lately several organizational delegations from various parts of South Korea have come to the village to show support for the people in their effort to stop the construction of the Navy base. Aegis destroyers, outfitted with "missile defense" systems, will be homeported at the base and used to surround China's coast.

In recent calls to the South Korea embassy several Global Network supporters were told that they should be calling the U.S. government since it is the one pushing the base. Those statements by S.K. embassy personnel were the first acknowledgement that the U.S. Navy is involved in the plan for the base.

U.S. Aegis destroyers are built at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

See more photos here
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
PLEASE HELP THE VILLAGE:
Call the South Korean Embassy at 202-939-5692 (Admiral Choi) or 202-939-5600 or email at consular_usa@mofat.go.kr

Tell the South Korean government that you oppose the U.S. and South Korean Navies building this base!

Monday, April 26, 2010

MILITARIZING THE CAMPUS


Our Congresswoman, Chellie Pingree (Democrat) in Maine's 1st District, has posted requests for federal funding on her web site.

Here is one of the requests, this one for $5,000,000 for a project called "Advanced Multifunctional Materials for Soldier Support and Protection" at the University of Maine-Orono.

The web site defines the project as: Current troop deployments require low cost, compact, rapidly deployable ballistic and blast protection to mitigate the threat of insurgents and their weapons.

What we are hearing across the nation is that as 45 state's fiscal crisis worsens they are cutting back funding for their state university systems - just like what is now happening in Maine.

As these cutbacks accelerate we find the politicians from both war parties then go to Washington and try to bring money home from the Pentagon and feed those funds into the state university systems to fill the budget gaps. Our public university systems are becoming research and development labs for the military industrial complex and they become more secretive as these dangerous trends continue.

A good friend of mine in Albuquerque, New Mexico reports that the University of New Mexico now has secret areas on the state university campus that are doing Star Wars research and development work. Students at the University of Hawaii a couple years ago occupied the campus administration building after their university signed a deal with the Navy to build a military research center on the campus.

Thus the taxpayer funded institutions begin to betray their original mission of public education for all in an open and democratic environment.

Physics, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and other departments are increasingly becoming dependent on war $$ and ruined as they are captured by the Pentagon agenda. The education community and the society at large become increasingly militarized as a result.

This is not just a coincidence that these trends are occurring. This is all part of the military industrial complex agenda to turn America's role in the global corporate economy to "security export."

If our elected officials representing us in Congress were worth their weight in salt they would instead be working feverishly to stop endless war funding and move those dollars back to our states and local communities for real investment in creating public transportation, open education, health care, building a solar society and more.

Sadly though Democrat and Republican politicians alike are on their bended knees begging the Pentagon for every dollar they can get their hands on and then loudly boasting how they are bringing home the bacon. The bacon though, in the case of military contracts for public educational institutions, comes with strings and helps to contribute to the further militarization of our killer culture.

TALKING WITH STUDENTS TODAY

Students at the University of Maine-Orono (near Bangor) protested on April 7 against $12 million in cutbacks on their campus. Over 200 students took part


Today I spoke to two Sociology classes at the University of Southern Maine (USM) in Portland. The two classes totaled about 80 students.

I began each class asking for a show of hands of those who have had to take out student loans to pay for school. Almost every hand went up in the air. Then I asked for a show of hands of those who feared that they would have difficulties finding jobs once they graduated. About half the hands went up. Then I asked both classes how many of them believed that we had a fair democracy in America today where working and middle class people could run for office and have their voices heard. Amazingly to me, in both classes, not one hand went into the air.

Next I gave them some statistics on income disparity. First the BBC has reported that "the top 200 wealthiest people in the world control more wealth than the bottom 4 billion." Then getting closer to home, I quoted the Wall Street Journal that reported, "the top .01 % or 14,000 American families hold 22.2 % of wealth and the bottom 90%, or over 133 million families, just 4% of the nation's wealth."

I handed out leaflets from our Bring Our War $$ Home campaign in Maine and talked about U.S. military spending and the upcoming vote in Congress for another $33 billion war supplemental. I talked about how the corporations have exported our jobs overseas by the tens of millions in recent years and how the Pentagon is now preparing our role of "security export" under corporate globalization of the world economy. (We won't have industrial jobs anymore, we will build weapons and wage war - largely to control declining supplies of fossil fuels and other rare resources.)

I suggested that with increasing military spending in the U.S., and declining social progress, that we are now headed for a 21st century variety of feudalism - except this time we get color TV and a car, assuming we can afford to put gas in the tank.

The professor, John Baugher, began the classes saying that the promised person from the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who was supposed to come to the class and debate me, had cancelled at the last minute.

After my talk Baugher asked each student to write down a comment and/or question for me and he ready them to me a few at a time. There were many excellent questions but the general theme was "What do we do?" and "How can we really bring out change?".

I told them my story of having grown up in a military family and that by the time I was their age my mind had been thoroughly colonized by our culture of militarism and consumerism. In the end I suggested that we must each start with ourselves by decolonizing our minds, throwing off the corporate consumerist ball-and-chain we drag around behind us, and then move into building non-violent movements for peace and social change. We have the oligarchy outnumbered, I told them, and we must begin to understand that we have the real power on our side - people power.

On the way out after the second class one young man ran me down and said he wanted to help. After listening to this bright student, I suggested he might want to explore organizing on campus around issues that were most relevant to his fellow students - such as declining funding for USM and increased tuition. Make the connections to war spending, I told him. I had earlier told the story about recent protests at UMO (above photo) and wondered if those students had thought to make the connection to military spending?

By the time I had arrived home there was an email sitting in my In-box from the young man. Here is part of his email to me:

"I am the student who stopped to speak with you after class today. First, I want to thank you for coming and speaking with us. I respect what you're doing and admire your courage in speaking on up on this topic. I also want to thank you for taking a minute to speak with me. I took your advice and have already contacted the girl responsible for the protest at University Maine-Orono. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind sending me some statistics (or links) regarding military spending in Maine. I would like see the arguments that you referenced today in your talk."

You can imagine my surprise and great joy to hear from this young man so quickly. It is clear that I had run into a real gem. He had asked me to let him know about upcoming meetings and I have invited him to our next planning meeting. In the end I promised to assist him in every way that I can.

Once again I am reminded that the public, and in this case university students, understand much more than we think they do about what is going on in our society. But the biggest obstacle to real change is the sense of despair and disempowerment people feel. I told the students today that our culture teaches us "political docility" and resignation.

We each have the task of moving from political resignation to action. And we must begin this journey by taking full control of our minds again - removing all vestiges of corporate consumerist-militarist occupation of our brains and our hearts.

Once we do that the sky is the limit on what can be accomplished.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

TEABAGGING WITH BILL MAHER

Maher takes on the U.S. military empire and challenges the tea party movement to do so as well if they hope to be taken seriously.

CHOMSKY IN PORTLAND

Yesterday I drove two hours north to the University of Maine-Orono where the annual Hope Festival was held. Fellow Bring Our War $$ Home organizer Lisa Savage (Code Pink Maine) and I worked our table handing out literature and asking people in Maine's 2nd congressional district to call Rep. Mike Michaud and urge him to vote against the upcoming $33 billion war supplemental for Afghanistan.

We had a good table location right by the stage so our big Bring Our War $$ Home banner was easily seen by most of those attending the event. We had to leave early in order to then drive 2 1/2 hours south to Portland in time for the Peace Action Maine annual dinner that featured Noam Chomsky as the speaker.

When we arrived at the church, where a bread and soup dinner was held, our Bring Our War $$ Home door-hangers had already been put by each of the 300 settings on the dinner tables. Following the dinner the people moved into the church sanctuary and were joined by an estimated 450 more who came to hear Chomsky speak.

There likely were many Obama supporters in the large crowd last night but they had to come away from Chomsky's talk reeling from the stories he told about Obama over and over again proving to be Bush-lite on foreign policy issues.

Chomsky began his talk by stating that "half of the budget deficit is the military budget....the cost of past wars, veterans benefits, and the interest on the military spending share of the debt."

"Any hope for a decent economic recovery is up in smoke because of these military spending policies," he said.

Chomsky next quickly reviewed some of the new high-technology weapons systems being "escalated under the current administration - such as drones, nano technology drones that will be able to fly into a room inside a house and kill someone, super weapons [prompt global strike] to hit anywhere in one hour, and bunker busters." He told the packed church that the bunker busters were accelerated "as soon as Obama came into office" after having "languished under Bush" and are "now being deployed on the U.S. base in Diego Garcia."

Chomsky spent alot of time talking about the Middle East and said that there are "only two countries threatening force in the Middle East - the U.S. and Israel."

"On one hand Obama is talking about we need to move to a nuclear free world but on the other hand the U.S. is helping Pakistan, India, and Israel expand their nuclear forces - none of whom have signed the U.N.'s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)," Chomsky remarked.

"The U.S. is consciously creating anger and hatred around the world," Chomsky reflected, as he gave a strong endorsement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel due to their policies against the Palestinians. "Right now Obama is about the same as Reagan was with South Africa - alot of rhetoric but no actions," he said.

The ruling corporate oligarchy "are concerned with their own interests, not the impact of their policies," Chomsky replied to one question from the audience.

In conclusion Chomsky declared, "Power systems do not respond to economic [or moral] arguments, they want to do what they are doing.....We must create enough popular pressure on them - that is how change has come about in the past."

As the huge crowd began to leave the church Mary Beth and I made our way outside and held our Bring Our War $$ Home banner and urged people to call 1st congressional district Rep. Chellie Pingree and urge her to vote against any more war funding.