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

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Our Night with Bernie

I spent two hours yesterday holding a banner (joined by eight others with signs and a 2nd banner) outside the Bernie Sanders for President rally in Portland, Maine that reportedly drew about 9,000 people.  It was an impressive crowd for someone who once claimed he was a 'socialist'.

People began lining up before 5:00 pm for the 7:00 event and during those two hours I kept a steady stream of requests going to folks as they entered the Portland Civic Center.  I suggested to eager Sanders supporters, "Please ask Bernie his position on the $1.2 trillion F-35 fighter plane project.  Ask him if it is true that he has lobbied to bring the plane to Vermont?"

I suggested to the excited crowd, with many young people in line, that they might ask Sanders, "His position on NATO expansion up to Russia's border - can we really afford war with Russia?"

"Informed citizens need to know the answers to Bernie's foreign policy - he's not talking about these issues," I said.

Once the line had ended I folded up my banner and made a dash inside just as the rally was starting.  All seats in the arena were taken and the entry onto the floor was blocked but I wedged my way down onto the hockey stadium floor within 25 feet of the stage that Sanders was speaking from.  The candidate was getting huge applause as he took on Wall St, the Koch brothers, income inequality and the like.  He touched on all the traditional progressive buttons just like I'd heard Jesse Jackson, Ralph Nader, and Dennis Kucinich do in the past. Women's issues, single-payer health care, student loans hitting young people, and more were addressed.  Sanders called for free college tuition for all.  He wants to create millions of new jobs.  He talked about fixing our neglected and broken infrastructure.  He hit hard on climate change calling for a sustainable society.

It was when he mentioned climate change that I figured he had to talk about the military industrial complex, because after all that is the pot of gold that has to be tapped in order to pay for building the new vision of America that Bernie so eloquently laid out.  But nothing was said about the metastasizing Pentagon budget nor a mumbling word was spoken about foreign policy.  Nothing about Russia (Sanders does support sanctions on Moscow), nothing about NATO expansion, nothing about Israel's brutal attacks on Gaza (Sanders has publicly supported Tel Aviv's attacks on Palestinians), nothing about negotiations with Iran, nothing about waste, fraud, abuse at the Pentagon, nothing about our endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, etc, and nothing about conversion of the military industrial complex to peaceful production.

After making many social program promises the only thing Bernie mentioned as a way to pay for all of this was a tax on "Wall Street speculation" which of course got a big cheer.

I really didn't disagree with anything in Bernie's speech last night.  He is adept at pulling all the right strings and it is more than evident that the public is hungry for some real push back against the power of the corporate oligarchy (he even used the word oligarchy) that runs Washington.

I left wondering how many people noticed that he never once mentioned military and foreign policy?  It's rather hard to imagine making a speech to 9,000 people and asking them to vote for you to be president but avoiding the elephant in the middle of the room.  The Pentagon now rakes in 55% of every discretionary tax dollar so you'd think that would be on the table as a campaign issue.  But it is not which makes me more than alarmed.

My bullshit meter went off the charts last night. I've seen this song and dance before.  But it doesn't really matter what I think because those 9,000 mostly liberal democrats left the Civic Center last night thinking they have found another shining knight on a white horse to lead them to victory.  But victory won't be within their grasp unless we can talk about the US imperial war project that is draining our nation, killing people all over the world, and helping to increase climate change as the Pentagon has the largest carbon bootprint on the planet.  Sure taxes on Wall Street speculation will help some but until we get our hands on the Pentagon's pot of gold nothing really changes around here.....just saying.


Blogger Zinn Reader said...

Bruce, thanks immensely for your incisive report. I, too, agree with you that until and unless Bernie starts including comments and criticisms of our Military-Indistrial-Congressional-Media Complex, he will not get my vote. He needs to speak out on Israel 's daily violation of human rights and the illegal settlements and the ugly and brutal occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank. And, let's not forget, he has already pledged to support the Democratic Party nominee - no doubt the Hillary. Today, she issued a letter wherein she asked rich American Jews to help fight the growing BDS movement. Despicable person.

7/7/15, 11:11 AM  
Anonymous Michael Anthony said...

Thanks for your analysis of the situation Bruce, I don't have your experienced understanding from past progressive campaigns, but as someone who identifies as a socialist, I do not see where sanders gets off promoting social welfare, without challenging the military industrial complex, and western imperialism that are the source of so much global unrest, poverty, death, inequality and corruption.

I do not understand how someone can call themselves a socialist, but sell out palestinian working class, the russian working class, the working classes of every nation we are currently occupying, and the ongoing counter-intelligence in socialist countries being done in the name of national security.

He has no accountability to the broader socialist movement, and his refusal to engage in any meaningful dialogue about his decision to run as a democrat instead of an independent, a green, or a socialist that he claims to be, is testiment to that. He can pay lip service to social welfare all he wants, but an injury to one is an injury to all, the workers of america cannot realize progress at the cost of workers of other countries, and call that true progress.

Thats just business as usuall.

I will probably vote for sanders in the primaries, but will be voting for Jill Stein, in the general election.

7/7/15, 11:17 AM  
Blogger Sally Breen said...

Thank you Bruce for your great knowledge on the real issues facing not just the United States, but the world. Did anyone have a chance to ask questions during the rally? I will copy your blog and send it to Lynn Kahn, the woman who is running as an independant candidate for US president. She understands that most, if not all, of my friends will be voting for Jill Stein.

7/7/15, 12:09 PM  
Blogger Energy Flow said...


7/7/15, 1:58 PM  
Blogger Energy Flow said...

Me too, RESIST!

7/7/15, 1:59 PM  
Blogger Energy Flow said...

Help gaza ! RESIST! !

7/7/15, 2:00 PM  
Blogger Energy Flow said...

Right on MOTH--- ---KER!!!!

7/7/15, 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Liberman said...

Right on Bruce!

7/7/15, 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too was at the Civic Ctr last night, and I swear I heard Sanders mention the Military Industrial Complex a number of times...was I hallucinating?

7/7/15, 3:02 PM  
Blogger Bruce K. Gagnon said...

Yes you were or wishing it were true.....

7/7/15, 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One point and a serious point.

The president of the United States is not elected by the people. He/She is elected by the electoral college which is made up of almost entirely of Republicans and Democrats. Thus only a Republican or Democrat will ever be the president. Third party candidates or even other party candidates will NEVER be able to claim the office regardless of the popular vote outcome.

The best chance for meaningful change resides with a socialist leaning Democrat winning the nomination and other Democrats winning the house and senate at the majority level.

7/7/15, 3:46 PM  
Anonymous Kelly Gerling said...

To the excellent analysis you've written Bruce, I'd add the following glaring contradiction. You rightly point out that the domestic policies he advocates are not possible with the foreign policies he fails to confront.

To that insight I'd add this:

Sanders advocates the domestic policies of the Scandinavian nations, but fails the mention the electoral policies that generate them, as reflections of the will of the people. These electoral policies include hard-won system features such as proportional representation and the right of referendum, along with great restrictions of private and corporate money during election cycles and public financing of candidates and issues. The question Bernie Sanders never addresses is this:

"How can you advocate the domestic policies of Scandinavian nations and ignore the electoral policies that produced them such as proportional representation and the right of referendum by the people?"

7/7/15, 3:53 PM  
Anonymous Z54 said...

Another part of the government that Mr. Sanders nor any other presidential candidate will willingly talk about is the Department of Homeland Insecurity. The budget for the DHIS was roughly $44.6 billion in 2014. The problem is that amount was the funding for the Department of Homeland Insecurity. The DHIS though incorporates 22 departments and agencies which still receive money from the congress by many overt/covert means. So between the Department of War and it's cohort the Department of Homeland Insecurity, a wild questimate would be that between the two money vacuums, they account for between 60 and 65% of all of the governments discretionary spending. Now that is an amount that could stand to be cut by 50 to 60% as far as the military is concerned, and as far as the Department of Homeland Insecurity is concerned, a 100% cut in their overall budget would be a good idea! It's bad enough that we have a Department of Endless War, we certainly don't need a Department of Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid! One that supplies weapons of war to our State and local Police Forces!

7/7/15, 7:20 PM  
Anonymous Barbara West said...

All good comments, Bruce. It seems clear to me that Sanders is angling for more influence in the Democratic Party. After all, he is running in their primary to be their candidate, not posing a real alternative. His main job, as I see it, is drawing more of the people who are finally seeing that real change will not come from that party BACK to believing that it can be made into an instrument of change. At this moment when their failure to provide a different strategy for change is becoming most obvious, he is modeling that people who were applauding his populist messages should go backward to the Dems. Pathetic.

7/7/15, 8:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay Moore said...

I was one of the people from Occupy and Code Pink who confronted Bernie at a Town Meeting in Cabot, Vermont last year over his failure to oppose Israel's vicious assault on the poor Palestinians in Gaza. (He called the state police on us.) I'm so glad, Bruce, to hear that you Maine peace folks raised these issues at his appearance in Portland. Let the word go out: Bernie ought to be confronted everywhere he goes on the campaign trail about his cowardice or political opportunism on international issues. A true socialist should be in the forefront of supporting oppressed and working class people in other countries, especially when one's own country is heavily culpable as in the case of Israel.

Jay Moore
Marshfield, Vermont

7/7/15, 9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll add another reason why I think the Sanders campaign is BS. He chose to run as a Democrat. That means he's competing in a rigged game that he can't possibly win. While at the same time telling everyone to accept the eventual Democrat nominee no matter how bad she is.

The Democrats have changed their rules since the victories of McGovern and Carter. First, there's the superdelegates. 20% of the delegates at the convention are not elected by the primaries and caucuses. These are the party bosses who are there to keep control and prevent another McGovern. It means that an outsider candidate like Sen. Sanders has to win the primaries 60-40 to defeat Hillary and these anti-democratic superdelegates.

Plus the schedule now is very different. It used to be a longer, slower process that went all the way to a big California primary in June. Now, its highly compressed with all the big states in early Feb. This of course favors the Big Money campaigns. With lots of money, its easy to buy TV ads in all those states at once. For a grassroots campaign, its the far more difficult task of organizing grassroots campaigns all timed to peak in Feb 2016. The old school Carter style campaigns that succeed in Iowa or New Hampshire and then build on momentum from that can no longer occur. Now, an early victory has to immediately shift to 20 or so big states where Big Money has all the advantages.

So, to me, ever since he announced as a Democrat, I don't take him seriously. He's running a race he can't possibly win, and meanwhile telling everyone to eventually vote for an evil that I'm seriously doubting is really a lessor one. It would be far better to start organizing now behind a candidate in the general election and not to waste all this energy, time and money.

7/8/15, 3:58 AM  
Blogger Lisa Savage said...

Great comments thread for a uniquely useful blog post, Bruce. Sorry I was not able to be there but will continue to help you call b.s. on Bernie's faux socialism.

7/8/15, 6:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't listen to Sanders. It appears he is using many things that fellow Vermonter, Thomas Naylor has said, until his death a few years back.

Naylor didn't like Sanders and exposed many of his inconsistencies as Bruce mentioned, and felt Sanders was simply another politician/liar.

And is anyone surprised...240 years of Fraud!

7/8/15, 3:02 PM  
Blogger Bruce K. Gagnon said...

See this one on weapons to Ukraine vote - unanimous in favor in the Senate....

7/8/15, 3:36 PM  
Blogger Zachery d Taylor said...

Bernie sounds like the best candidate the traditional media has covered in a long time. They've been rigging elections for so long that I would love to see them provide coverage for a real grass roots candidate.

Even though he still has problems he is far better than Hillary Clinton who is more extreme than typical Republicans from the 1990s. Regrettably I have noticed that he still has his share of problems. From a practical and political point of view many might look the other way for this reason.

One thing that I suspect might happen is that Hillary might resort to dirty tricks to beat him. If this happens he could still serve a good purpose by exposing them. Then people might recognize it and support someone like Jill Stein.

It is frustrating as hell but until the heads in the sands crowd can be woken up the establishment will rig elections and their destruction will only get worse.

Regardless of who wins more efforts will be necessary to educate the public, get Instant Run-Off elections, Proportionate Representation and more access to alternative media outlets that actually try to do a good job.

7/9/15, 12:30 PM  
Anonymous Lynn Ellis said...

I went Monday night to hear what Bernie had to say. I liked everything he said BUT I did not hear him say one word about foreign policy or the military industrial complex. If what you are saying is accurate Bruce, and I have no doubt that it is, how could I support him? As in the last presidential election Jill Stein will get my vote. How can we elevate her to be a part of the debates and taken seriously as a candidate?

7/9/15, 5:39 PM  
Blogger Zachery d Taylor said...

Lynn one thing people can do is speak out about opening the debates before the last minute. Much more will be required of course but little things add up. I also have reservations about Bernie, but must admit he is better than anyone the media will cover, and don't want to take abandon all hope all ye who enter approach.

Even if we get Jill Stein in we also need to hold her accountable and support media reform and more direct democracy initiatives like ballots voting etc.

Holding Bernie or Jill accountable seems much better than holding the most blatant corporate puppets accountable.

7/10/15, 8:55 AM  
Blogger Zachery d Taylor said...

Here's another issue, "Bernie Sanders spars with gun-control activist"

7/10/15, 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the comment above in support for Jill Stein and the Green Party: It's important to understand that the GP supports capitalism as well as the right wing, and as such can and does ignore its own platforms. Since it refuses to take a firm stand, it stands for nothing much at all as it tries to join the left and the right in ecological pursuits. This producing a confused and divisive party that tries to inhabit an imaginary space between those two opposite directions. It will remain a failed party unless it comes to realize this as both impossible and a great waste of time and resources.

7/19/15, 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting and just what I thought. He is not an answer to American Jews like myself and the other three who are sick and tired of all this. And Hilary is a nightmare. So no what do we do? Is this like the grateful dead without Jerry?

I suppose Jeb! will be entertaining.

Oh well.

8/6/15, 12:35 AM  

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