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, February 25, 2012

THE BEST TIME, THE WORST TIME

The Navy is expanding its effort to put razor wire all along the rocky coastline so the villagers cannot any longer stand on their sacred ground. But the people keep coming by swimming or on kayaks. They are determined. They continue to be arrested. As I write this a group will find their way there for the Sunday morning Catholic mass.

Yesterday we had a joint meeting between the villagers and our international guests. Our folks shared stories about U.S. and NATO space technology expansion into Sweden and Norway, the effort by the U.S. to get India to create their own aggressive Space Command to help "contain" China, and the Vandenberg AFB in California space missile launching center.

One elderly man from Gangjeong village told us he can't sleep at night, suffers from depression, and sees that the community has been physically and spiritually torn apart by the base construction. He asked what they could do?

In the afternoon we took a walking tour all around the imposing barbed wire-topped fences that have been erected around the base site. We could hear the heavy equipment from inside the destruction zone and the police practicing their harsh anti-protest tactics.

We planted seeds, placed rocks and poured water from our hometowns in the new garden at the peace park that is being created just outside the fence line that guards one end of the base. Even in the midst of the ugliness and barbarity of the base the people are planting the seeds of life and hope. They still laugh and smile and share food. They love their land and the sea in spite of the Navy and construction corporations who have nothing but disdain for democracy, for the villagers 450-year old history, and for their close relationship to nature. It is good and evil in an epic struggle. Good and bad playing out right before our eyes.

After supper together in the village community center we were treated to the most inspiring and joyful experience of the nightly candlelight vigil. Vigil is the wrong word - it should rather be described as rally-dance-music festival-party. A totally amazing experience.

Speeches (Mary Beth's was a huge hit as she told her story of daily watching the videos from the village) were followed by traditional Korean drumming and singing; songs by villagers (including the mayor who has a great voice and many say looks like the actor Robert Mitchum; peace in space awards presentations by the Global Network to the village and to South Korean activist and GN board member Wooksik Cheong who was instrumental in organizing the programs; speech by the former governor of Jeju Island who ended by singing Amazing Grace; lots of dancing (including 75 year olds Agneta Norberg from Sweden and J. Narayana Rao from India); and the big finale that turned out to be a choreographed three-song set with spiral dancing and virtually everyone there including the old village women whose backs are bent from years of hard work on their farms. One village woman sang two songs that sounded very similar to Native American cultures that I have witnessed. This all lasted until midnight and they ended by saying, "We'll see you tomorrow night for more. We do this every night!"

Near the end of the evening village Mayor Kang called me up and handed me bags of gifts for each of the 3o-some international guests. As we were leaving he came running up to thank me again for helping to bring these wonderful activists from around the world to their struggling community.

Before I left home Maine friend and filmmaker Eric Herter loaned me a video camera and begged me to take as much footage as possible. I've never been much good with a camera but since Eric, who wanted badly to be with us but could not come, insisted I took on the task. I've been faithfully talking bits of video and interviewing people as we go along. I don't know if I got the light right at times, or the picture framed properly, but I am trying. Eric promised to do the editing and will make a mini-documentary out of it (if the footage is usable).

I thought to myself last night what a great gift we have all been given to be able to witness, and participate in, this absolutely remarkable experience. We are witnessing the best and worst times in the life of Gangjeong village. They are experiencing absolute horror but they are taking the moment and creating pure joy as well.

I feel like I am rambling on here but there is so much I want to share but feel incapable of doing so in the way I'd like to. I just wish everyone could come here to see for themselves this moment - you'd be changed, inspired, outraged, heart broken, and more.

We live our lives in boxes of comfort and conformity. All those boxes are being broken and cast aside here in Gangjeong.

Friday, February 24, 2012

DAY ONE IN GANGJEONG


There is so much to write about and so little time. Yesterday we began our time here on Jeju Island with a conference at the museum where the story of the April 3, 1948 massacre of tens of thousands of Jeju residents is told. Following the end of WW II the U.S. took control of Korea and put the former Koreans who collaborated with fascist Japan in charge of the country. The U.S. began the process of dividing Korea and the people of Jeju were accused of being communists because they were independent minded and did not want to follow the corrupt leaders appointed by the U.S. military.

The people rebelled and the U.S. military directed the new Korean government to aggressively put down the rebellion. The museum does a fine, and heart breaking job, of telling this sad but virtually unknown story.

The people of Gangjeong village feel that the April 3 tragedy is being played out again by the construction of the Navy base in their village. About 150 gathered in the museum auditorium for speeches yesterday by South Korean and international activists. Folks have come here from at least a dozen countries to show their support for the struggling villagers. Many Catholic priests and nuns were in the audience to hear their Bishop welcome us. A delegation of Buddhist monks held a news conference to announce their support for the struggle.

I am told that the conference yesterday drew more media coverage than people had seen in a long time which makes everyone here very pleased. Today we spend our time meeting with villagers to talk and share food.

As we arrived in South Korea we were greeted by headlines in the newspapers about right-wing President Lee having just held a news conference to announce that he intends to speed up the Navy base construction project and push through the controversial Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. Many feel that his days are numbered as the coming spring election will bring an end to his mean-spirited and divisive reign of power. But for the people in Gangjeong village there is little relief as they daily see the Samsung Corporation (lead base contractor) make further moves toward the blasting of their sacred rocky coast.

The approximately 30 international activists are all mindful that our time here is short. We had a meeting late last evening to discuss ways our energies could be best put to use. We will have a formal strategy meeting with village leaders tomorrow but for the moment we must continue to appeal to the hearts of our friends around the world to keep Gangjeong in your prayers and hope that you will take steps to rally people where you live to devise ways to show public support for the noble people here who clearly understand that this Navy base will be a trigger for a wider arms race in the region that will over time hurt all of us, no matter where we live.

LIFE AND DEATH



It’s day 18 of Yang Yoon-Mo's hunger strike while in the Jeju Island jail house (Prison #220). Professor Yang endured more than 70 days of hunger strike last summer. He vows that he will not eat again unless and until the Navy halts construction of the base.

Many fear he will die in jail and he is deeply in the hearts and minds of everyone here. Last night at the end of the day long conference Father Moon made an emotionally charged speech where he challenged everyone to do more to stop this insanity.

We each must find something we can do each day to save Yang's life and the life of the nature and Gangjeong community.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

GREAT TURNOUT ON KAUAI


The Kauai Alliance for Peace & Social Justice organized a great turnout last night of over 100 folks who came to hear talks by Koohan Paik, Dave Webb, Lynda Williams and myself. The two hours of presentations were patiently listened to by virtually everyone. It was a big step forward for their group and their island.

The Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) is one of those isolated and not frequently challenged manifestations of the military industrial complex. It sits along the coast of Kauai and takes a long time to drive to. Few ever go there and many have been intimidated over the years into grudgingly accepting its presence because of the "jobs" issue. Even many of those who are inclined to oppose PMRF have learned to live with it and this unpleasant acceptance has largely become the norm. (I heard that next month PMRF is sponsoring a health care weekend where they will offer to provide check-ups for those without insurance. Isn't that sweet? The military, who has socialized medicine, is going to offer to give the poor folks a bit of a taste of the good life. All of course intended as public relations.)

Koohan Paik, one of the leaders of the Kauai peace group, led things off with a blistering denunciation of PMRF and its mission to test the Aegis "missile defense" (MD) interceptor system. Obama has decided to additionally create the "Aegis Ashore" program where they will put the usually ship-based MD systems on land. After testing at PMRF these Aegis Ashore interceptors will be deployed in Romania and other locations in the growing encirclement of Russia and China. Koohan also did a powerful slide show of the struggle on Jeju Island and won over the hearts of those in the audience for the struggling Gangjeong villagers.

Dave Webb did a slide show that showed how the Space Command has set up the global system of satellites, radar stations, MD bases, and more that now weave the full spectrum dominance plan into place. He showed how PMRF fits into the larger Pentagon's grand scheme of things and was able to put to rest the myth that the Navy testing missile installation on Kauai had anything at all to do with defense.

Lynda Williams, physics teacher from California and long-time Global Network board member, is also an entertainer. She writes songs about space and science as a way to help her students and the public understand these issues. Her song "War in Heaven" was my favorite of the four numbers she performed to her adoring audience last night. I woke up at 4:00 am singing it........

I wrapped up the event by telling a number of stories that illustrated the mission and dangers of PMRF, the agenda behind the current U.S. "pivot" into the Asia-Pacific to surround China, and more. I concluded by taking on the jobs issue by reminding people that military production is in fact the worst way to create jobs with our tax dollars.

After the event was over I was surprised to be approached by a woman who said she grew up visiting a lake in Maine. Then she said she wrote the famous Vietnam-era anti-war song Universal Soldier. It was none other than Buffy Sainte-Marie. She was very kind and humble.

Earlier in the day we had a swim at one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been to. Kauai is a wondrous mix of mountains and breath taking beaches. One of my favorite things was the abundance of wild chickens roaming around the island - the true free-range chicken. It appears that a hurricane in 1992 had smashed all the chicken houses on the island and they've been "liberated" ever since.

I'm at the Honolulu airport waiting on my flight to South Korea. Dave Webb is also on a flight to South Korea but left two hours earlier than me. It's a 10-hour journey to Seoul and then we must transfer to a domestic airline for the trip to Jeju Island. MB and Natasha Mayers are coming from Maine and will meet us on Jeju Island along with a bunch of other Global Network leaders.

Our Hawaii visit was a huge success and I must thank Lynda Williams who got the whole idea brewing for the Global Network. I think our activist friends in Hawaii, who often feel so isolated, very much appreciated our visit and our solidarity. I think that we will see more collaboration in the future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ILLEGAL PRAYER



These folks were arrested for their prayers.

A report from Gangjeong village:

Yesterday night, in the regular candlelight cultural night in Gangjeong village, one naval base construction worker visited alone. It was a very brave action. He came to say sorry about what he has done for this naval base construction, and he shared that he came from a small village where the naval base also invaded in. He cried and said to the villagers that if you want to remain your simple life in your village then you must block the naval base till the end. ...

LEARNING MORE ABOUT MILITARIZATION OF HAWAII

Global Network leader Dave Webb from the UK yesterday at Naval Communications Center in the middle of Oahu during our de-tour of military sites. You can see three white satellite communications devices in the background.


We had a great meeting today at the Quaker Meeting House in Honolulu. We heard from activists from Oahu, Kauai, and the big island who are working against the expanding military bases on each of their islands. Alot of the expansion is gobbling up large areas for military training. On the big island the military wants seven times what they now have for war training. The Army has ignored a county council resolution that called for a halt at the Pohakuloa bombing range.

One of the activists from Kauai told a story about his recent leafletting about our talk that is scheduled there for tomorrow. He handed a flyer to a woman who said to him, "My husband works at the base [Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility where Aegis destroyers test their interceptor missiles]. He has cancer. Everybody in his shop has cancer."

On Oahu the military machine is paying a native Hawaiian Democrat $750,000 to counter organize against local peace group opposition to Army expansion. On Oahu 17% of the total population is military connected while 20% of island residents are native Hawaiian.

We concluded the meeting by going around and asking each person to share three strategy ideas. Amongst the top choices of the group were:

  • Keep building the Occupy movement across the country and inside Washington DC
  • Work more with young people and develop peace education curriculum for schools
  • Keep connecting the dots between key military installations and issues
  • Use the UMASS-Amherst Economics Department jobs study to drive home the fact that military spending is the least effective way to create jobs
  • Expand our use of culture and alternative media to reach out to the public
  • Take on the China threat myth
  • A day or weekend of coordinated actions across the Pacific should be organized
  • Keep a public presence at the military bases/training areas/production sites
  • Come to the protest of the NATO/G8 summit in Chicago next May
  • Organize a local action during Keep Space for Peace Week during October 6-13

We are getting up at 5:00 am for an early flight to Kauai. We will visit the Pacific Missile Range Facility, have a swim, and do a live radio interview before our talk at the library.

On Wednesday Dave and I head to Jeju Island. Lynda will head back to California.


WHO PROVOKES WHO?



Despite a lack of concrete evidence, the Western powers and their allies have continued to accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons. A series of events including the bombing of Israeli embassies, threatening to cut oil exports to the UK and loading fuel rods in a research reactor have many feeling Iran is provoking a war. So is Iran really a threat or is the mainstream media promoting America's next war? David Swanson, author of War is a Lie, joins RT to discuss the complicated situation with Iran.

Monday, February 20, 2012

BUILDING OUR GLOBAL SOLIDARITY


We had a 10-hour tour (de-tour) today of the militarization on Oahu in Hawaii. Kyle Kajihiro, former director of the AFSC peace program until the national office did a massive cutting back and closed their local office, is a long-time and dedicated peace worker who knows just about everything that is happening on this island.

More than 20% of Oahu is militarized and that number is growing by the day. Obama's "pivot" toward the Asia-Pacific means that the Pacific Command (PACOM) headquarters here will grow and its "area of responsibility" will become much more important and its mission much more aggressive. Bad news for Hawaii and for the people of the Pacific.

We were joined today by two activists from Kauai who will be hosting us when we go there on Tuesday. On Monday we will have a mini-conference here with about 20 key people from at least three of Hawaiian islands. It will be a chance for us to learn more about their work and share with them the stories from the Global Network.

We are staying in the guest rooms of the Friends Meeting House (Quakers) here in Honolulu. It's very comfortable and much cheaper than anything else we could have found in this expensive city. It's late and I'll write more tomorrow. I've got a ton of emails to get caught up with.

Spring training started today for my Baltimore Orioles baseball team. They've signed two pitchers from Japan and Taiwan. The Pacific region now touches my baseball life too. Should be an interesting year.