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

Friday, March 21, 2014

GN ANNUAL CONFERENCE REPORT


Jo Yakgol from Jeju Island sings during protest at Vandenberg AFB

Dave Web from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK talks about "missile defense" deployments at Vandenberg

Alice Slater from New York speaks about the nuclear missile tests launched at Vandenberg during vigil
Dennis Apel arrested once again by military police at the base
On the final day of the GN weekend conference we met outside under the warm California sun


Our 22nd annual Global Network (GN) space organizing conference was hosted this year by Catholic Worker (CW) activist Dennis Apel from the Guadalupe Catholic Worker House near Vandenberg AFB in California.  Dennis and his wife Tensie Hernandez have run the CW House in the migrant farm worker community of Guadalupe for the past 18 years.  During that time they have regularly held peace vigils at Vandenberg.

Dennis currently serves on the GN’s board and was with us in 2012 when the organization held our 20th annual meeting on Jeju Island, South Korea.  We were then invited by Gangjeong villagers where the US is forcing a Navy base to be built that will port warships being moved into the Asia-Pacific as part of Obama’s military ‘pivot’ into the region.  On that occasion eight of us from the GN, including Dennis, were arrested for crawling under razor wire to get onto the sacred Gureombi coastline to express our outrage over the blasting and cementing of the rocks.

Prior to our March 14-16 GN conference planned for Santa Barbara, California Dennis invited me to come to Las Vegas, Nevada to speak at the Pacific Life Retreat held on March 7-9.  This gathering of CW activists from across the west coast drew about 60 people and early each morning vigils were held at Creech AFB (drone base), Nellis AFB (air operations training base) and the Nevada National Security Site (formerly called Nevada Nuclear Test Site). 

It was great to be with this group of dedicated activists who are known for feeding and housing the poor and for their long-time determined resistance to the military industrial complex.

Following the Las Vegas retreat I rode back to California with Dennis and stayed at his home while waiting for the GN conference to begin.  We had time to go over last minute conference details – Dennis had secured our meeting site at a Catholic retreat center in Santa Barbara and he was using his connections to gather the food for our GN event.

Dennis was also working his local media contacts to promote the coming GN conference that was to begin on March 14 with a protest at Vandenberg AFB.  He has been arrested for non-violent protest at Vandenberg many times and the base has banned him from the grounds for life.  He took this “ban and bar” order to court and won at the federal district court level.  The government then took the case to the US Supreme Court that decided 9-0 that the base has the right to enforce their ‘boundaries’ but the bigger issue of the rights of the public to freely protest was sent back to the federal district court for further review.

Just over 30 of us arrived at Vandenberg at 4:00 pm on March 14 to hold a protest in support of the dedicated local activists who have been protesting at the base for the past 30 years.  We held a brief news conference to begin our solidarity vigil and soon after we began a phalanx of military police marched into our group and handcuffed and removed Dennis.  Within minutes they came back and took another of our GN board members MacGregor Eddy (WILPF) who has also previously been banned from the protest area outside the base.

Our protest at the base received good coverage twice by the two largest newspapers in the region as well as a local radio station.  That’s not bad considering how hard it is these days to get any notice by the mainstream media.

Vandenberg is a key space operations center that launches military satellites, is a deployment site for ground-base missile defense interceptors, and tests Minuteman nuclear missiles by firing them from the sprawling base into Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. 

Following dinner that first evening back at the retreat center we watched The Ghosts of Jeju documentary about the Navy base struggle and the sordid history of US militarism on Jeju and throughout Korea.  Activist and musician Jo Yakgol came representing Gangjeong village on Jeju Island and sang throughout the weekend.

We continued the GN conference program on March 15 with a two-hour sharing of the 40 people attending the retreat.  We had people with us from India, Norway, England, Japan, Canada, Korea, and throughout the US. It was a moving experience to hear the words from those attending.  All of us acknowledged the difficulty organizing against multiple US military operations throughout the world and cutbacks on social progress at home.  We agreed that the peace movement currently faces two severe challenges:  Many liberals are reluctant to publicly question Obama’s foreign and domestic policy and our movement is aging.

Journalist Bard Wormdal, author of the book The Satellite War, gave a fine presentation about how US deployment of a radar in Vardo, Norway near the Russian border is a key element in US “missile defense” strategy.  He went on to detail the extensive Pentagon use of satellite ground relay stations near the north and south poles which violate existing treaties outlawing these locations being used for military (surveillance and targeting) purposes.

Another presentation was made by Masaki Toda from Kyoto, Japan who briefed us on the pending deployment of another US X-band “missile defense” radar near their community.  Local activists in the Kyoto prefecture have been building a campaign to oppose the radar deployment because of its destabilizing nature.  While it is said to be aimed at North Korea the true nature of the radar will be for US military “control” of China.

Canadian activist Tamara Lorincz also made an excellent presentation about the need for demilitarization and conversion of the military industrial complex.  She thoroughly reviewed the work of former Columbia University professor Seymour Melman, the father of economic conversion.  All of us should be paying attention to the growing conversion organizing now underway across the nation.

On the evening of March 15 we moved the conference participants to a local church in Santa Barbara where we had invited the general public to join us for a program that included speakers and more music.  About 75 people heard several talks that included a fantastic video presentation about the history and work of the Global Network prepared by our board convener Dave Webb who also chairs the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK.  (We hope to be able to share this via YouTube soon.) Music that evening was performed by Tom Neilson, JoYakgol and Holly Gwinn Graham.

The conference concluded with a final planning meeting on March 16.  We reviewed GN finances, made a few minor adjustments to our boards, came up with a theme for Keep Space for Peace Week, and accepted the proposal to hold our 2015 annual space conference in Kyoto, Japan (likely in mid-June).

Keep Space for Peace Week will be held on October 4-11 this year and the theme will be Full Spectrum Dominance – Full Spectrum Resistance.  The colossally expensive and intrusive military eye in the sky, that coordinates all warfare on Earth, works to benefit corporate globalization.  Back on Mother Earth international resistance to corporate militarism is daily growing. We are asking renowned Florida artist W. B. Park to design our poster and flyers for space week this year.

The GN will also hold an event during the UN’s NPT events in New York City in 2015.  Board member Alice Slater will take on responsibility for setting this up.

Our Peace in Space awards were presented this year to west coast activists Dennis Apel, Tensie Hernandez, Lynda Williams, Holly Gwinn Graham and MacGregor Eddy.  Plus a special lifetime award was given to WW II veteran Bud Boothe who has been protesting at Vandenberg AFB for the past 30 years.

It was suggested that the GN offer an internship this year so we will pursue that opportunity.  We also decided to organize a video contest for students from around the world by inviting them to submit a 3-5 minute video on Keep Space for Peace.  First prize will be an all expenses paid trip to Kyoto, Japan for our 2015 annual conference.  A committee was formed to work on this.

In the meantime our work will be to support the local peace efforts of our affiliate groups and individual members in the US and around the world.  We’ll use our web site, blog, newsletter, staff and board travel, and our on-going media work to shine a positive light on good local organizing.  Many times during our meeting we reminded each other that millions of people around the world are working hard each day on these important issues and we stand linked to them.

We thank all of you who donate to the work of the GN each year.  Without your steady support none of our efforts would be possible.  We pledge to you our on-going efforts to build for peace on Earth and in space and to continue working to convert the military machine to peaceful purposes.

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