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

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The leaflet above (click on it for a better view) was advertising a protest I organized at the space center in Florida in 1989. This was during the period from 1987-1997 were we held one large protest after the other against the nuclearization and weaponization of space. Sometimes there were 500 people there, frequently about 1,000 came, and our biggest ever was more than 5,000.

Just today my son Julian, who grew up attending these events during his childhood, sent me an email with a link to a book written by Suelette Dreyfus with Research by Julian Assange that was published in 1997. The book was called Underground: Front Page. You can find the book here

Julian told me, "One of the debate topics for the Harvard tournament is about WikiLeaks and I've been doing a lot of research on Julian Assange. Here's a link to a book he worked the first chapter!!!"

So I dutifully clicked on the link.

Much to my surprise I found that the authors began their book with an account of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice's 1989 campaign to oppose NASA's launch of the Galileo plutonium-238 space probe that garnered international media coverage. This was the first of three major nukes in space campaigns that I led (the others Ulysses in 1990 and Cassini in 1997).

The authors wrote:

For weeks, the protesters had been out in force, demonstrating and seizing media attention. Things had become very heated. On Saturday, 7 October, sign-wielding activists fitted themselves out with gas masks and walked around on street corners in nearby Cape Canaveral in protest. At 8 a.m. on Monday, 9 October, NASA started the countdown for the Thursday blast-off. But as Atlantis's clock began ticking toward take-off, activists from the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice demonstrated at the centre's tourist complex.

That these protests had already taken some of the shine off NASA's bold space mission was the least of the agency's worries. The real headache was that the Florida Coalition told the media it would `put people on the launchpad in a non-violent protest'. The coalition's director, Bruce Gagnon, put the threat in folksy terms, portraying the protesters as the little people rebelling against a big bad government agency. President Jeremy Rivkin of the Foundation on Economic Trends, another protest group, also drove a wedge between `the people' and `NASA's people'. He told UPI, `The astronauts volunteered for this mission. Those around the world who may be the victims of radiation contamination have not volunteered.'

I'll always remember the 1989 launch of Galileo because it was delayed over and over again for about a week. The international media was gathered at the Kennedy Space Center tourist area with nothing much to do so each day during that week we'd assemble as many activists as we could get and hold another vigil and news conference which helped us tremendously to get the word out around the world about the deadly plutonium space launch.

In chapter 1 of this book is a whole section about a computer worm that got planted inside of NASA's computers during this very time. Was the Galileo delay due to a hacker trying to help us stop that launch? Was a hacker also trying to symbolically "sit on the launch pad"? We've got to learn more about this story. I've already pointed it out to journalist Karl Grossman who helped us break the Galileo story open in 1989.

The authors wrote about NASA beginning to suspect that the worm inside their computers was put there by protesters. (In fact at the time I don't think I even had a computer or knew how to send email.)

NASA was working in an information void when it came to WANK [worm planted by hackers]. Some staff knew of the protesters' action down at the Space Center, but nothing could have prepared them for this. NASA officials were confident enough about a link between the protests against Galileo and the attack on NASA's computers to speculate publicly that the two were related. It seemed a reasonable likelihood, but there were still plenty of unanswered questions.

It just goes to show that you never know who is paying attention to your efforts. Who could have known that Julian Assange, who has become such a big name due to his courageous work with Wiki Leaks, would be moved enough by our campaign to feature it in the first chapter of his book? Maybe it was because it was a classic story about out-of-control technology and the "little peoples" reaction. Any way you cut it one has to acknowledge that it has a nice twist.

One side story should be told here as well. My son Julian was nine years old in 1989 and one day I came home and he had my gas mask on. In his most serious voice he told me, "Don't worry Dad, if Galileo blows up I could wear this gas mask for the rest of my life." He was trying to make me feel better. His words cut right to my heart and my soul and virtually every day since that time I have stayed true to the cause because I believe that no child, my own or anyone else's, should ever have to think of living in a radioactive wasteland wearing a gas mask for their whole life.


Anonymous Brother Jonah said...

Now, we have to worry about Plutoniums ugly stepsister (stepmother actually) Uranium. Depleted Uranium.

Before I moved up here, I googled a few random keywords attached to Colorado Springs and pollution. Lead. Mercury.
My cousin was coming close to death from Army-induced uranium poisoning, he stands 6 ft 5 in and weighed about 98 pounds. For people with real measurement standards, that's 2 meters and less than 45 kilos.
The VA saved his life through the use of the same techniques used to purge other heavy metals. Blood and other tissues being cleansed, basically using the blood itself as the medium for carrying the toxins out of the body.
Had they NOT done it, he would be dead.

That wasn't my motive for looking up poisons in the water supply.

Other forms of ammunition come to my mind, lead of course, copper sulfate and the nitrogen salts of lead and copper... and mercury fulminate, nitrated mercury. Water soluble all.
There's a large shooting range up on the Rampart Range road in the margins between several private properties,
the National Forest, and Garden of the Gods. Open to the public.
And of course the training ranges of every military base.

One stood out. Ft Carson.
Activists up here were demanding the closure and cleansing of their firing ranges. And filing FOIA requests about the lead and mercury content. Army refused on the FOIA citing National Security, and on the closing or stopping of using the deadly polluting ammunition... They said that the soldiers need to use the same ammunition configurations in practice that they would use in "combating terror".
Like the DU armor-piercing rounds. Which are remarkably similar in structure to the Russian rounds that were the favorite source of Improvised Explosive Devices.

The Army then faced a little bit of heat about increased levels of Uranium in the runoff water.

2/12/11, 11:12 PM  
Anonymous Brother Jonah said...

Army said and still maintains that the uranium in the shells is cased in steel. Thus not getting into the water supply.
What they don't say is that the steel casing on the shells is about a quarter to a third of an inch thick. The steel casing on a tank is many inches thick. And much more massive. And that the shells travel at an undisclosed multiple of the speed of sound

Shells break on that kind of impact, or impact with the Much More Massive ground. Big planet you know. That's "impacting" the debate on DU and the citizens of Kuwait and Iraq. And American GIs.
About the third week I was up here a GI told me they were urine testing weekly for DU. And they weren't supposed to talk about it.

The VA treatment would be radical in any context, how much more so if you believe the Army line that there was no problem and all the GIs who were suffering from Gulf War Syndrome were simply malingering.
Pretty expensive fix for a problem that "doesn't exist".

This doesn't get nearly the media coverage it should. Downhill from Ft Carson and thus, downstream, are two of the main watersheds that flow eastward from the Rockies. The Platte flows into the Missouri and then to the Mississippi. The Arkansas flows to the Red River and the Sabine River,

There are other bases which are uphill from the Rio Grande, the headwaters are at Wolf Creek Pass CO.
Also flowing into the Rio Grande are training and research bases at El Paso Texas, Southern New Mexico and Laredo Texas.
That's an international incident in the makings.

2/12/11, 11:29 PM  

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