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: Brunswick, Maine, United States

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Friday, January 04, 2019

More from the streets of Asheville

 Yemen’s Ministry of Education, based in Sanaa, estimates that the Saudi-led coalition (which includes the U.S.) has destroyed  at  least 3,000 schools and partially damaged 1,300 others. Yemen once boasted 9,517 primary schools and 2,811 high schools.  Today, the  inability to pay teachers and staff combined with the systematic destruction of  Yemen’s civilian infrastructure may lead to the shutdown of the country’s remaining schools.


My friend Ken Jones again reporting during his two-week fast and vigil on the streets of Asheville trying to expand consciousness and concern about the war in Yemen.

I am standing on the corner with my sign and up comes a beautiful young man with sparkling eyes and a bright smile. He is holding pamphlets about Lord Krishna and is working the downtown area to pass the peace to the crowds of tourists.

“So what is going on with Yemen?” he asks. I don’t know a thing about it.”
I start with my usual spiel, citing the genocide facts: 57,000 killed so far from the war, 85,000 children under five years of age starved to death, 14 million at risk of famine (in a country of 28 million, that’s half the population), the largest cholera epidemic in the world. Especially horrific was the bombing of a school bus that killed 40 kids. The UN calls it the worst humanitarian crisis on earth.
“But why is all this happening?” he asks, showing real concern. This is the first time in my vigil that someone has truly wanted to learn about all this and I pause in gratitude.

I try to keep it simple. I say there is a kind of complicated civil war going on between tribal rebels and an illegitimate government and that the “internationally recognized” government is basically a puppet of Saudi Arabia. There is a colonial relationship between rich Saudi Arabia and poor Yemen that goes back to the time of the Ottoman Empire. There is also oil and a pipeline at stake, religious differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims are exploited, and the manufactured pretext of an evil and and expansionist Iran is given as a public rationale.

I say that the U.S. is the force behind the Saudi bombings, supplying weapons, logistical support and intelligence. That this is our war, we keep it going, and we urgently need to end it.

All the while, my friend in Krishna is nodding his head and making the kindest eye contact. He quietly comments, “The world is a place of suffering and we have to seek a spiritual solution. Mine is the love of Krishna.” He tells me it makes him happy that I am here with my message and that my presence exudes light in more ways than one. He thanks me for my explanation. Then off he goes, with no proselytizing, just a loving smile. I feel blessed.

As he continued with his calling, I thought about the healing power of spiritual consciousness. I understand the importance of finding the Great Spirit within ourselves and in the world at large. And also living a life of love and compassion for others. But I also believe that we all need to move beyond our own personal salvation to work on healing the world. We can’t be satisfied with just being happy, we have to care enough for others to work for their happiness as well.

For me, that means political action, in the streets, on the side of the oppressed and the victims of racism, capitalism, militarism, and environmental destruction. Yes, it’s hard to keep a balance between the pain that comes from knowing and caring about all the world’s injustices and my own emotional well-being. But I can’t not look and I can’t not care. Can’t be silent or just go about my own privileged business.

Someone passing by last night asked me, “Why Yemen? Why not all the wars?”

“Right on,” I said. “Yemen is just one among many. But such a terrible one. And so ignored.”
And I thought of the story about the child tossing a beached starfish back into the ocean. An adult comes by and says, “Why are you wasting your energy on that? You can’t save all the starfish in the world.”And the child says, “Yes, but I saved that one.”

Jesus said we have to be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

~ Ken Jones
Asheville, North Carolina

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