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, August 17, 2013

MOVING EVENING AT THE PEACE PAGODA

Vanessa has become one heck of an activist

I am sitting in a bakery in Bennington, Vermont due to the fact that Highway 9 is closed because of a major accident.  Police said the road would be closed for at least 90 minutes as they clear the two-lane country highway that runs east-west.  I am heading east.  Or I was heading east.

Early yesterday I took my scooter from Bath to nearby Brunswick and rented a car to make the six-hour drive to Grafton, New York for the 20th anniversary Hiroshima observance at the Nipponzan Myohoji Peace Pagoda.  I arrived early enough to be greeted by Buddhist nun Jun-san who set me up to take a very hot soak in their wood-fired hot tub.  I'm talking hot.....so hot I had to jump out and add a bunch of cold war.  Even then when I finally got out my body had turned rosy red.

But the hot soak relieved the road tension from my body and I took a short nap before about 30 people loaded up and made the 4.5 mile drive into the center of Grafton.  From there we walked back behind the chanting and drumming monk and nun to the Peace Pagoda which is set in the countryside of rolling hills that borders New York and Vermont.  When the walk arrived back at the Pagoda it was just turning dark and we were greeted by about 40 more people who had come for the ceremony.  As we walked up the rocky driveway thru the woods to the Pagoda a line of white paper bags with a candle inside had been placed along the path to light our way.

The first thing we did was enter the temple and Hattie Nestle, long time anti-nuclear campaigner from Western Massachusetts, did a moving and troubling slide show about Fukushima and the condition of the nuclear power plan now running in Vermont.  Hattie and others have been organizing monthly protests and civil resistance actions at the troubled nuclear power plant.

Following that we went outside and were each given a white paper bag with a candle which we took up to the Pagoda and they were placed all the way around the peaceful monument which was quite a site to behold.  Then we all gathered on wooden benches near the front of the Pagoda and a series of spiritual leaders made prayers for peace.  One Mohawk first nations man from Canada told the moving story of how his people this very weekend are meeting to remember the story about how they had long ago buried their weapons in an effort to move from constant wars to a more peaceful way of life.  They wanted to bury their dark side.

One of the people who was at the gathering is dear friend Vanessa Whitney Zorlu who I've met on several Nipponzan Myohoji peace walks over the years.  This young woman has become a remarkable activist and last year spent three-months walking across Western Australia to bring attention to uranium mining on indigenous lands.  Vanessa hopes to come to Maine to join our Oct 10-19 drone peace walk.

I was asked to speak about nuclear power in space to the gathering last evening and I told the story about many years of opposition to the launching of plutonium into space by the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice and the Global Network.  I invited the assembled to join us for the October walk in Maine.

About 10:00 pm, after most people had left, the remaining couple dozen folks at the Pagoda came inside to share some hot miso soup and rice balls.  A young woman approached me and asked if I recognized her.  Sadly I told her I did not.  Then she introduced herself as Olga Ehrlich, daughter of long-time friends Tony and Beth Ehrlich from Florida.  A very young Olga was arrested at Cape Canaveral in 1987 at our largest ever protest at the space center when nearly 200 people tried to non-violently block the first test launch of the Trident II nuclear missile.  I told her she looked much different in those days - a bit wild and rebellious but it is clear that her parents raised a fine person.

Once the road opens I'll head east again for Maine.  I've got to get home because on Sunday there will be a showing of The Ghosts of Jeju in Bath at the local Episcopal Church and I don't want to miss that.

On the side of the Pagoda were the last words of Budda:  Life is a like a river flowing, don't hold onto the past, work hard.  Words to live by for sure.

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