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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

CREEPING AUTHORITARIANISM

GIL SCOTT-HERON DIES



A terrible loss......

Gil Scott-Heron, the US poet and songwriter, has died at age 62.

Scott-Heron died yesterday at a New York hospital. He fell ill after returning from a trip to Europe, news reports said.

Considered a voice of African-American activism, Scott-Heron was also a musical critic of apartheid, war and nuclear power.

BREAKING OUT OF MY BOX



I've had 70 people send me supportive emails in response to my blog yesterday about talking with Tom at BIW. When I went to BIW again on Friday, I was looking for Tom but did not see him. I was able to hand out 11 leaflets - not much to report except the folks in one car, waiting at the traffic light, said they had read my letter in the paper. Thumbs up.

The primary message I am getting from all the emails is support and appreciation for my solitary witness at BIW. People are touched by the human interaction I had with Tom and the hopeful possibilities that come from such engagement.

I've been thinking lately that my organizing style was off balance. I spend way too much time on the Internet. While there is no doubt that one can do alot of good work using the Internet, it has largely replaced human interaction and this makes me uncomfortable. So lately I've been pushing myself to come up with some way that I could do something where I was back out on the streets in a regular way.

Usually when I think about such organizing questions I think in the bigger picture - how can I organize a bunch of people to do something? In this case it became clear to me that I had to stop "Waiting for Godot" and get out and do something myself.

Years ago while working for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice we used to have weekend retreats each year for our members. One year we had the legendary Abbie Hoffman come spend two days with us to talk about organizing. I only knew of him as a political clown but that weekend I learned that he was the most brilliant political strategist that I've ever met.

I'll tell one story to illustrate his thinking and its impact on me. It was during the time he was on the run from the FBI (from 1974-1980). He moved around alot but ended up in northern New York state (upstate I think they call it) along the St. Lawrence River and had changed his name to Barry Freed and had a nose job to change his appearance. But he was an organizer and couldn't stay away from issues that mattered to him. He got involved in a group called 'Save the River' and did such a good job that he was given an award by then Gov. Mario Cuomo in Albany. Can you imagine that? On the run from the FBI but getting an award from the governor. Simply amazing.

Anyway, Abbie told us that when you organize you have to look for every opportunity to project your message into the public consciousness so that no matter where they turn people are always coming back to the issue. He gave us an illustration. He said one day there was a small plane crash into the river and he knew the media would be there. So he ran down to the river and got there before the media. He found a boy on his bicycle who was the only witness. He said to the boy, "You want to save the river, right?" Sure, said the boy. OK, Abbie said, then when the TV interviews you say, "And this plane crash will hurt our ability to clean up the river." The boy did his job. One more seed planted in people's heads about the river clean-up effort.

Abbie wanted us to be more creative in finding these small ways of integrating our message into the daily lives of people. So every time I find myself organizing anything I always come back to that question - what else can I do to bring this story to the public? How else can I weave this issue into the local fabric?

Today marks my 6th day of solidarity fast and it makes 54 days of hunger striking for Professor Yang and 10 days for Sung-Hee Choi. I've not been able to get any news the past couple days from Jeju Island - now that Sung-Hee is in jail the day-to-day reports are hard to find. My hope is that some of the South Koreans who read this will send me an update.

Friday, May 27, 2011

VIEW OF SOFT CORAL OFF JEJU ISLAND



When they dredge the seabed to make it possible to bring U.S. Aegis destroyers and aircraft carriers to dock at the Navy base at Gangjeong village they will destroy these endangered soft coral reefs and the fish that live amongst them.

If we don't fight for this aquatic life then who will?

MAKING FRIENDS AT BIW

Six seems to be my lucky number. I was able to hand out six leaflets at Bath Iron Works (BIW) yesterday. But I found a way around the road block though. I sent the leaflet language to the local newspaper as a Letter to the Editor and it was printed yesterday. You can read it here

At 3:30 pm, when the gates are opened and the workers come streaming out, one man ran ahead of the pack and held up a large piece of paper in front of me. It read "I've got a job! Where's yours? I'm working for my country. Your working against it!" As the big group of workers passed by the scene some cheered him on but not as many as you might have expected. One brave soul walked up to me, stuck out his hand, and said "I think I'm ready to take one of those now."

The man with the sign stood in front of me for one-half hour. His first words to me where "I bet you weren't in the military either?" I replied that in fact I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam war for 3 1/2 years. It got quiet for awhile after that initial exchange.

About 15 minutes into the stalemate I had the thought to tell him my name. He quickly replied "I'm Tom" and then began to tell me that we have to protect ourselves from the Muslims who want to kill all of us. He accused me of being disloyal to my country and other such things. I told him firmly that he should not judge me. Since he refused to take my leaflet, I told him that he knew nothing about me or why I was standing here. This exchange went on for a few minutes.

Then he softened just a bit and I told him the full story about the Gangjeong village on Jeju Island and about Yang Yoon-Mo who is now on his 53rd day of hunger strike. I told him about the other eight villagers in jail, including GN board member Sung-Hee Choi who is now on her 9th day of hunger striking. I told him that I was joining them in a solidarity fast and today marks my 5th day.

He listened.

Then I asked Tom if he knew of Pemaquid Point in Maine. Yes, of course, he replied. I told him that the coastline of Gangjeong village was very similar to Pemaquid. I explained how it would be covered with cement and the animal and plant life within the rocks would be buried alive.

He winced.

Then things started to turn. Tom suggested that I change a few of the words on my sign to better express the environmental concerns of the villagers. Then he told me I should call Kim Block at TV Channel 8 and have her come out to cover the story. I told Tom that they would never cover me protesting at BIW if I called them. But, I said, if you called them and told them you worked at BIW and thought they should cover this story they probably would.

By now the workers walking home were largely gone but cars were still stuck in traffic in the street. I asked Tom to imagine he lived in Gangjeong village and the Navy was going to destroy their fishing and farming way of life. What would you do Tom? He quickly replied, "I'd kick their ass." Exactly.

At this point I asked Tom if I could shake his hand. He easily extended his hand to me and I looked over at the workers in their cars stuck in traffic and saw some jaws drop.

Tom was really a sweet, kind-hearted man. Once we got past the formalities we had a real positive conversation. I thank Tom for that. He gave me a chance to tell him the story and that is all I really wanted. I look forward to seeing him again.

I walked toward home carrying my big sign and as I approached my house a neighbor who works at BIW called out to me, "You were pretty brave out there." I stopped and we had a good long talk about the whole situation and he took my leaflet. He promised to watch the video of Professor Yang. He expressed sadness about the direction our country is heading.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

GREENPEACE CHECKS FUKUSHIMA DAMAGE IN OCEAN

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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

JEWISH-AMERICAN ACTIVIST BEATEN BY AIPAC - THIS IS DEMOCRACY?


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was warmly received by Democrats and Republicans in Congress on Tuesday. According to ABC News, he received 29 standing ovations during his address—four more than President Obama received during his State of the Union address earlier in the year.

However, there was at least one dissenting voice inside the halls of Congress on Tuesday. Rae Abileah, a Jewish-American activist of Israeli descent with the peace group CodePink, disrupted Netanyahu’s speech. Standing in the congressional gallery, she yelled, “No more occupation! Stop Israel war crimes! Equal rights for Palestinians! Occupation is indefensible!” As she screamed, members in the audience tackled her to the ground, and undercover security forces later dragged her outside.

She was taken to George Washington University Hospital where she was treated for neck and shoulder injuries. At the hospital, police arrested Abileah and charged her with disorderly conduct for disrupting Congress. Her protest came as part a week-long series of actions organized by CodePink called Move Over AIPAC.

Democray Now speaks to Abileah about why she used nonviolent civil disobedience to disrupt Netanayahu’s speech.

A VIEW OF JEJU NON-VIOLENT RESISTANCE





Gangjeong Mayor Kang shows people where Navy base would be built.

STANDING AT BIW

Coastline of Gangjeong village on Jeju Island.....imagine these rocks covered with cement


At BIW yesterday as workers left the shipyard

I was able to hand out six leaflets yesterday as the hundreds of workers walked past me and hundreds more drove past my little spot on the corner in front of Bath Iron Works (BIW). I plan on going back again today, and every weekday, as long as I continue with this fast in support of the extraordinary people of Gangjeong village on Jeju Island.

I am grateful to Dennis Bernstein at KPFA in Berkeley who yesterday interviewed me about this story. I was touched by the sincerity of Dennis about Professor Yang Yoon-Mo who today is on his 51st day of hunger strike. You can hear the interview here

Global Network board member MacGregor Eddy (Salinas, California) is working non-stop to create Facebook support for Yang, Sung-Hee Choi (who is now on her 7th day of hunger striking while in jail), and the seven other villagers now in jail. It appears that the Navy has picked out the key leadership of the non-violent resistance to the base construction and put them in the slammer. So this is where we all come in - we have to internationalize this struggle in order to pick up the slack.

Last night I had an email from one of our supporters here in Maine. He told me he had called the South Korean embassy in Washington DC and they told him he had to call Boston to lodge his complaint against the treatment of the Gangjeong villagers. So when he called Boston the person there said they knew nothing about the Jeju story. It seems to me that the South Korean embassy in Washington must be getting tired of the phone calls and are trying to divert and frustrate those who are making the call. I take this as a good sign that they are trying to deflect the growing public support.

So my response is - step up the emails and phone calls! You can write to the South Korean Defense Attaché assigned to Washington DC. at this email and demand an end of the Navy base construction, defenattache@yahoo.com or you can call the South Korean Embassy in Washington at 202-939-5600 to show your solidarity with the Gangjeong villagers. Or call the South Korean embassy in your own country.

If you haven't yet watched the video interview with Professor Yang you must do so and help us get others to see it as well. More than 6,400 have seen it since it got posted on May 20. You can see it here

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LATEST FROM JEJU ISLAND


Chained to machine and sitting in road at Gangjeong village
Sung-Hee Choi in jail and also hunger striking


I got a report from South Korea this morning. Here is the text:

Taking Sung-Hee Choi to prison was illegal. There is no basis in the law for arresting her in her act. The protest was being done in a peaceful way. She did not do anything to obstruct their work. She has been fasting from 19 May. Today it is the 7th day of her fast in prison.


Here are her 3 requests:

1. Cancellation of the annulment of the absolute preservation area by the Jeju Providential Governor’s authority [This means the Island government withdrew the preservation law for the Gangjeong village/sea coast in order allow Navy base to be built]
2. Asking the Ministry of National Defense to stop the construction of
the naval base on Jeju.
3. Protest her illegal imprisonment and isolation. Asking the commissioner of the Seogwipo Police Agency for an apology and lay-off of the chief of the Seogwipo Police Station.

People say that all that Sung-Hee did was hold a banner that said “Do not touch any stone or any flower” at the protest. One of activists working with her said Sung-Hee loves Mother Nature very much, so that is why she is against the naval base construction.

She will be moved to Jeju prison soon from the detention cell at the police station. This is the second time she has been taken to prison. She will be sentenced this time. Sung-Hee has been taking a very important role to spread what is going on in Gangjeong village on Jeju through her blog and international network. Hopefully she can be released soon and not be sentenced.


Meanwhile the movie critic, Prof. Yang, has still been fasting [now on his 50th day]. A lot of people are worried about the condition of his body. Many people have tried to persuade him to change his mind and stop fasting. But his will to stop the naval base construction seems very strong and clear.
- JungJoo Park


People have begun to contact me to say they will fast for a meal, a day, or more in solidarity with those now in jail and hunger striking on Jeju Island. Folks are also spreading the information about Jeju far and wide. Here are the solidarity fasters so far.


    • Kathleen Russell (Spokane, Washington)

    • Lotus Lee Fong (San Francisco, California)

    • Mary Beth Sullivan (Bath, Maine)

    • Makiko Sato (Japan)

    • Boryana Tacconi (Andover, Massachusetts)

    • Carla Rael (New Mexico)

    • Leonard Eiger (Seattle, Washington)

    • Sally Breen (Windham, Maine)

    • Jill Gough (Wales)

    • Marjorie Swann Edwin (California - 90 years old)

    • Art Laffin (Washington DC)

    • Bob Lezer (Freeport, Maine)

    • Karen Wainberg (Bath, Maine)

Yesterday Karen Wainberg joined me in the cold rain in front of Bath Iron Works (BIW) for an hour as we held signs and handed out leaflets explaining the situation on Jeju Island. Five of the first six workers I saw took one but from then on it was more of a challenge. About 25 leaflets were taken as the hundreds streamed out of the shipyard. Karen had a long conversation with one young worker who said he was with us but asked what else could he do since he needs the job.


I will be back out at BIW today for another hour from 2:45-3:45 pm. Just had a call from Dennis Bernstein who wants to interview me tonight about Yang Yoon-Mo on his radio show at KPFA in Berkeley, California. That will be at 5:00 PST.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A MUST SEE FILM



Great movie, now playing at the Eveningstar Cinema in Brunswick....

ANOTHER WHISTLEBLOWER STORY



This one concerning a $1.2 billion NSA program.

MORE ABOUT YANG YOON-MO



Slide show made by MacGregor Eddy from Salinas, California. She is a Global Network board member.

See the good article on the conflict: One Island Village's Struggle for Land, Life,and Peace

If you'd like to help you can do any of the following:

1) You can write to the South Korean Defense Attaché assigned to Washington DC. at this email and demand an end of the Navy base construction, defenattache@yahoo.com or you can call the South Korean Embassy in Washington at 202-939-5600 to show your solidarity with the Gangjeong villagers on Jeju Island. Or call the South Korean embassy in your own country.

2) You can watch this video interview with Yang Yoon-Mo, who is now on his 49th day of hunger strike, and share it with others. We need more people to know about the situation on Jeju island. http://vimeo.com/24007992

3) You can join me in fasting and invite others to join as well. Fast for a day or several days. Be sure to let me know if you will be fasting and I will post your name on my blog.

MY SOLIDARITY FAST BEGINS TODAY

I have decided to begin an open-ended fast today in solidarity with Yang Yoon-Mo and the other eight leaders recently arrested for trying to stop the Navy base construction in the Gangjeong village on Jeju Island. By my calculations, professor Yang is now on his 49th day of his hunger strike.

Having twice visited this beautiful island village, and seeing first-hand how the Navy base construction was at that time already impacting this small farming and fishing community, I feel I must do more to help. In my visit there I was particularly touched by the sad thought of concrete being poured over the rocks to make the piers for the visiting U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers that are built here at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

All I could see in my mind's eye was the abundant sea and plant life, living amongst the rocks, being completely destroyed as the concrete was poured over them. How could I not feel the sadness of that action? How could I not see that the presence of these warships, outfitted with missile offense systems, was going to heat up tensions in the Asian-Pacific as the U.S. continues its military encirclement of China? It's all pure insanity as far as I am concerned.

In the photo above you see these man-made concrete things called "tetra-pods" being placed into the ocean alongside the rocks. It appears that they are being used to help create a larger space that would eventually also be covered with cement to widen the docks for the ships.

I plan to produce a leaflet today that explains the situation on Jeju Island and talks about Yang's hunger strike and the others now in jail. I will also make a large sign that reads "Where do these Aegis go?" and stand at the shipyard when workers come out of work. I plan to do this each weekday from 2:30-3:30 pm as long as Yang continues with his hunger strike or until he dies as he vows to do unless construction is halted.

I have to do something more. This is something I can do, I must do.

I hope others will join in fasting for a day or more if you are moved to do so. Let me know if you do fast so I can share your name on the blog. People need to know about this Navy base struggle on Jeju Island in South Korea.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NEW JEWISH VOICES CRITICAL OF ISRAELI POLICIES



The long-time AIPAC control of U.S.-Israel policy is wearing thin as a younger generation of Jewish voices emerge. In addition we are seeing more people everywhere supporting the rights of Palestinians as Israeli policy in recent years of building walls, expanding settlements, and horrific attacks on innocent civilians is changing hearts and minds.

SUNDAY SONG



THE WARS ARE GOING TO END!

Things went well yesterday on our trip to Boston. We took an early bus from Maine to the "big city" and then subway to the Boston Public Library. Thirty people gathered there to hear talks by Charlie Derber, professor of Sociology at Boston College, and myself. Then after dinner with MB's family we took the late bus back to Maine and got home about 11:00 pm.

I enjoyed listening to Derber speak and took extensive notes. He began by commenting on the whole "rapture" story that everyone was talking about yesterday. Apparently the fundamentalist preacher Harold Camping made $72 million by pumping up the fear of people around the world that sinners would be left behind on May 21. As it turns out we're all still here. We saw three trucks with big "rapture" signs posted on them driving around Copley Square yesterday in downtown Boston as they tried to warn the public about the impending doom. Their basic message was get on your knees and repent.

Derber told the folks at the meeting that the "fiscal crisis is a cover for adopting a new corporate globalization model where few people have jobs and a larger mass of people become redundant, surplus, not needed anymore."

The mainstream political parties are "incapable of resolving these three simultaneous crises - economic, environmental and war," Derber said.

He spoke glowingly about the Bring Our War $$ Home Campaign and felt it was best suited to respond to the present situation. Other key points made by Derber were:

* The Bring Our War $$ Home campaign can directly take on the idea of American global hegemony and the internal support for it.
* 58% of the American people say that the Pentagon budget should be reduced while only 18% believe that Social Security should be cut and only 20% support cuts in Medicare. This campaign supports public thinking on priorities.
* Calling for the government to cut war spending and convert the military industrial complex to sustainable production will create jobs while bailing out banks and hedge funds doesn't create them. Both parties have "failed to create jobs and their policies are in fact job genocide," Derber said.
* Real unemployment is around 20-25%
* Climate change is the most catastrophic symptom of the U.S. economic crisis and enables us to talk about "particular kinds of job creation" that would employ people for home weatherization, building wind turbines, solar, public transit and other green technologies. The kind of investment to truly make this happen though will not come from Wall Street and must be done by federal spending.

We also heard reports from organizers in Hartford, Connecticut where the city council has passed a Bring Our War $$ Home resolution; from Providence, Rhode Island where all the teachers have been fired and activists are calling for major cuts in military spending; from Boston where the "Fund Our Communities" coalition is calling for a 25% cut in military spending; and we heard from leaders of Military Families Speak Out and Gold Star Families who are now including the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign in their national work and in meetings they hold with members of Congress. It was also reported that the Massachusetts Democratic party convention in two weeks will be presented with a Bring Our War $$ Home resolution.

So it was exciting to hear of new energy emerging throughout New England around this campaign. Our message appears to be the right prescription for the current illness that afflicts the nation and the planet.

So instead of chanting "The world is going to end!" we need to just change two words and shout "The wars are going to end!" Our message has to be "get off your knees and rattle your chains."