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

Thursday, May 26, 2011

FEELING THE GOOD HEARTS

Artists rendering of the planned Navy base on Jeju Island
Photo taken on my first trip to Gangjeong village


I had a bit more luck yesterday at Bath Iron Works (BIW) as I was able to hand out 12 leaflets during my hour-long vigil. The first guy to take one came out of the union hall just across the street and asked for a couple copies. He said they wanted to see what I was doing. I was able to explain why I was out there to him. He listened respectfully.

(In fact it was William Winpisinger, former President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers from 1977 until his retirement in 1989, who was a key leader of the economic conversion movement in the 1980's. Winpisinger worked directly with the peace movement to promote the idea of converting military production facilities toward building rail systems and the like. He understood that the unions and the peace movement were natural allies in this process. His successor actually came to a conversion conference I organized in Miami, Florida to speak soon after he took over for Winpisinger.)

Bath Iron Works is owned by General Dynamics. (Interestingly the Crown family dynasty of Chicago are major stockholders in General Dynamics and they were early promoters of Obama for president. They raised money for him and opened the door for him to the lucrative and politically powerful national Jewish community.)

All they build at BIW are warships - Aegis destroyers and cruisers that fired the first cruise missile attacks on Iraq in 2003, fired cruise missiles recently in the early attacks on Libya, and are being equipped with missile offense systems that have proven capable of knocking satellites out of the sky thus potentially serving as anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.

A new upscale version of these ships is now being produced called the DDG-1000. They will cost $3.3 billion each. The present version of the ship produced at BIW, the DDG-51, cost about $1.5 billion each. Partnering with General Dynamics on the DDG-1000 is Northrup Grumman. So some of the workers at BIW work for Northrup.

Little did we know on Monday (May 23) when Karen Wainberg and I first went out to BIW at shift change to leaflet the workers that a big yellow bus with open doors was a Northrup Grumman bus to pick up their workers. Karen went on-board the unattended bus and put some leaflets on the seats. When the driver got back in the bus he found the papers but didn't say anything about it. Yesterday, soon after I arrived at BIW, a Bath police car drove up and one of the cops in it got out carrying two pieces of paper. One of them was a copy of our leaflet and the other was a copy of a Northrup Grumman business card. He told me that a complaint had been filed against us for putting the leaflets on the bus and if we did it again we'd be arrested. No problem I told him.

The interesting thing for me is knowing that the leaflet had been copied and likely had been passed around to key corporate executives at both Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics in Bath. In addition, officials at the Bath police department had seen it as well. So I am glad that the leaflet is making it's way around the community in greater numbers than I had previously thought.

When the crowd of workers came out of the shipyard yesterday I greeted them again in a friendly way and this time tried to use my voice to describe to them the contents of the leaflet since few of them will take one. One worker came up close to me and gave me a good shove with his forearm trying to knock me over. I was surprised but just laughed and kept on with my business.

I had two workers getting into 15-passenger vans take leaflets which was nice. One of them talked to me for the second day in a row. He told me that most of the guys thought I was protesting against them. I told him that was not the case and reminded him that if he'd take my leaflet he could read it and see that I was there to pass on information about the villagers in Gangjeong trying to save their way of life. We had a good talk about the best way to create the most jobs and I told him about the UMASS-Amherst Economics Department study that shows military spending creates fewer jobs than any other kind of investment. See the study here

So if we really want jobs, I said to him, we should be building rail systems which would more than double the amount of jobs we get per billion dollars of federal spending.

I am feeling good about my vigils at BIW and I intend to stay at it. I have a feeling that I am going to make a friend or two in the process. My hope is that the workers will see my humanity, see that I am not a threat, and begin to understand that I am in fact just trying to help create a stable and sustainable product at BIW.

I am not really any different from these guys, I am a working class kid whose step-dad grew up logging and worked in the paper mills in Rumford, Maine before joining the Air Force as an enlisted man. Our family never had a pot to piss in and I still don't.

It was being in a military family, and moving to Germany and England when I was nine years old, that taught me that people were the same everywhere you go. They all love their families, they love food, they love to laugh. It is this truth that I found when I visited Gangjeong village and met the people there. I felt their good hearts. I am just trying to bring a bit of that reality to BIW.

In my leaflet I say, "Simple farmers and fishermen just trying to protect their way of life. Not such a strange concept....I will come to BIW each weekday to stand here so that maybe someone in our local community will reflect on what is happening."

Yang Yoon-Mo is now on his 52nd day of hunger striking. Sung-Hee Choi is on her 8th day. Today is my 4th day of solidarity fast.

People all over the world are now making phone calls in support of the villagers and hunger strikers. In the U.S. please now call the South Korean office at the United Nations - 212-439-4000.

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