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, June 23, 2011

SPACE ORGANIZING CONFERENCE REPORT

Agneta Norberg (Swedish Peace Council) received the Global Network's "Peace in Space Award" at our recent conference

Our 19th annual space organizing conference, entitled Raytheon, Missile Offense, & Endless War: Working Together to Demilitarize and Create a Sustainable Future, began on Friday, June 17 with a 1½ hour afternoon vigil outside the gates of Raytheon in Andover, Massachusetts. Over 65 people joined us at the gates as the workers poured out of Raytheon in their cars. Luckily the rain did not pour down upon us as we stood under threatening skies. It is known that 4,500 people work at the Andover facility where they build “missile defense” systems like the PAC-3 (ground-based launchers) and SM-3 (Aegis destroyer based) interceptor missiles that are now being deployed near the borders of Russia and China.

Arthur Brien from the Merrimack Valley People for Peace was glad to see so many people at the vigil. He has been holding a weekly vigil at Raytheon’s gates for 20 years – often alone.

A reporter from a local weekly newspaper came to the vigil to take photos and interview Global Network (GN) leaders from around the world that had come for the conference. The daily newspaper in Andover told us they’d likely not be able to give any coverage to the conference due to the fact that the Boston Bruins has just won the professional hockey championships. A convenient excuse indeed in this company town.

Following the vigil we had a supper at the Unitarian Church in Andover and heard speeches by John Schuchardt from the co-sponsoring North Shore Coalition for Peace & Justice. Art Brien also spoke and received a standing ovation from those in attendance. Local activist Mary Kate Small sang peace songs and then GN board member Loring Wirbel from Colorado Springs gave us more information about Raytheon’s key role in moving the arms race into space.

On June 18 we moved the conference to nearby Merrimack College where just over 100 people turned out. Two plenary sessions offered us a chance to share reports from GN leaders from six countries and across the U.S. We learned even more about Raytheon’s growing role in developing new technologies for crowd control, reconnaissance and surveillance, and for missile offense. New generations of robotic weapons, drones, and other nano-technology weapons are being created at academic institutions where “university-corporate partnerships” are increasingly being sold as a solution to fiscal problems at these schools. The lines between military and local law enforcement are being blurred as new “dual use” technologies are being created to spy on the public and suppress public dissent.

The issue of NATO expansion and the surrounding of Russia and China with “missile defense” systems, and the likelihood of a new arms race, were major themes of the conference. We heard from GN leaders in Canada, Sweden, England, Germany, Japan, and India – each one with a similar story about growing militarization of their societies and harsh cutbacks in social spending. Each of these nations, to some degree or the other, is being dragged into “partnerships” with the U.S. and the ever-expanding NATO as endless wars move from Iraq to Afghanistan to Yemen and now Libya.

The four workshops helped everyone dig deeper into the key themes of the conference. Topics discussed were cyber warfare (the U.S. now claims that an attack on its computers will be taken as an act of war), drones, missile offense expansion, the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign, and students speaking out on the domestic impacts of space militarization. As it turned out, the National Conference of Mayors was meeting the same weekend and on June 20 passed a Bring Our War $$ Home resolution that brought coverage of that issue to the front pages of the New York Times (June 22) and was the top story on the CBS evening news (June 20) as well as being reported in many other mainstream media outlets. The GN was instrumental in helping to initiate and spread the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign that was born in Maine.

On the evening of June 19 a second conference dinner was held at another Unitarian Church – this time in North Andover. War Resisters League/New England leaders Joanne Sheehan and Rick Gaumer cooked both of our dinners during the conference. It was wonderful having them with us and their good cooking was much appreciated by all. Two Peace in Space awards were presented after dinner to long-time GN board member Agneta Norberg (Sweden) and to the Merrimack Valley People for Peace. Art Brien accepted the award on his group’s behalf. GN chairperson Dave Webb (England) surprised all of us by presenting me with a Peace in Space award as well.

One dinner time highlight was the story telling by John Stewart (Florida) who did his comedic rendition of the time in 1997 when he and I and a few others from the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice led the CBS-TV 60 Minutes film crew and NASA security around the Kennedy Space Center tourist facility as we protested the deadly launch of 72 pounds of plutonium-238 on the Cassini space mission. People loved John’s bit.

Following the dinner we walked across the street to the Old Center Hall where we had a magnificent concert to cap off the evening. Boston-area Veterans for Peace leader Pat Scanlon and friends performed some of his rousing anti-war songs. Then we heard from a young man named Andrew McGarrah who sang a brilliant Sadako song in a tribute to the young girl who died trying to fold 1,000 paper cranes following the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our special guest, Japanese folksinger Tetsu Kitagawa, blew our hearts wide open with his wonderful songs – one of which is a tribute to the anti-militarist Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution that the U.S. is pressuring the Japanese government to dump so they can be dragged into the increasingly aggressive global NATO war making alliance. The wonderful thing about Kitagawa was that he spent the entire day with us at the conference. He spoke little English but sat through all the plenary sessions and workshops with his translator. Rarely do you see such a “star” do that. We must thank the AFSC’s Joseph Gerson for arranging to bring Kitagawa to the event.

On the final day, June 19, we held our annual membership business meeting. Finding a meeting place on a Sunday in Andover was not easy and we settled on a local Chinese restaurant, which had a large meeting room. Thirty of us met to review the past year and make plans for 2012.

One major item of discussion was our annual Keep Space for Peace Week (October 1-8), which this year is during the 10th “anniversary” of the war in Afghanistan. We decided to connect our poster theme and promotion of space week to the war and in particular to the fact that drones utilize military space satellites to carry out their deadly missions which often result in killing scores of innocent people. The week will again be co-sponsored by WILPF.

Three women from Sweden were at the meeting, one of whom (Ingela Martensson) was for a time a parliamentarian for the Liberal Party in the Swedish parliament. She volunteered to do all she could to bring the space weaponization issue to the EU body during Keep Space for Peace Week. Dave Webb, who also chairs CND in the UK, was extremely excited about this and wants to work with Ingela on that project.

We also discussed the need to undertake more work around the issue of the corporatization and militarization of academia and dreamed of the possibility of hiring, at the least, a part-time worker to help us do campus organizing around this growing problem. Regina Hagen (Germany) reported that students in her country have recently been organizing to oppose similar trends there. It would be good to connect students around the world on this issue.

As we met our GN board member Sung-Hee Choi (South Korea) remains in jail on Jeju Island for holding a banner that read “Touch not one stone, not one flower”. Another board member, MacGregor Eddy (California) was just preparing to return home after her 10-day solidarity visit to Jeju where she represented the GN. Due to the generosity of our members and supporters our recent travel fund appeal for MacGregor’s visit to Jeju had brought in enough money to send another person to the island. We decided to send Matt Hoey (Massachusetts) in late July and I have begun to talk with leaders of Korean-American organizations about sending representatives as well. A church group in Germany that I have been in contact with about Jeju will also send a person to be part of this international delegation.

Just prior to our conference we had received an email from GN board member Wooksik Cheong who lives in Seoul, South Korea. He said that leaders from the Gangjeong village on Jeju Island had requested that the GN consider holding our 2012 annual space conference there in solidarity with them. We discussed this amongst several other offers we have received from India, Sweden, Japan, and Hawaii to host future meetings.

We decided to send word to Jeju Island that we would like to meet there though because of the crucial situation we felt meeting earlier than normal in 2012 might be best. Jeju Island is one of those striking situations where the deployment of missile offense systems on Navy destroyers to surround China’s coastline converges with many other important issues. Coupled with the disastrous environmental consequences of building a Navy base on this pristine environmental treasure, is the need to support the beleaguered yet determined people in the Gangjeong farming and fishing village. This coming together of such a set of issues just cannot be ignored.

We also decided to tell organizers in Hawaii that several of our GN leaders could stop there on the way to Korea for a mini-conference. Hawaii has become a key “missile defense” testing ground and we feel it important to learn more about their local situation and strengthen our links with activists in that heavily militarized and isolated state.

We also decided to do our best to send as many of our GN leaders as possible to India in October 2012 for a space issues conference that will be organized by our board member J. Narayana Rao as his country barrels headfirst into Star Wars. And we gave our friends in Sweden the go-ahead to begin organizing for a 2013 space conference in their country as the development of a space launch, test range, and tracking facility in northern Sweden is expanding, largely due to its proximity to the Russian border.

There was a wonderful spirit at this conference and it was clear that the leadership of the GN understands the necessity to step-up our efforts around the globe if we hope to prevent the weaponization of space and stop endless war. When one person wondered if we could really afford to send GN representatives to all of the proposed events in 2012, Lotus Yee Fong (California) said, “With the U.S. surrounding Russia and China, how can we not do everything we possibly can to prevent war with them?”

Lotus is exactly right. We should not be limited by worries about funding at this time. The Global Network has always done a lot of work with a very meager budget. We must keep making the links between space technology and “conventional” war on the Earth below. We should continue to show solidarity with those working so hard to resist space militarization from Jeju Island to Hawaii to Sweden and to India. We need one another now more than ever.

I say build it and the support will come from our members to do this sacred work. Let our 20th year in the Global Network be our most active yet. Thanks to all.

1 Comments:

Blogger Lisa said...

Thank you for doing a lot of work with a very meager budget. I could not agree more with your approach to plan ahead with confidence that people will come forward to fund the work.

6/26/11, 1:13 PM  

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