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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The wonders of Rangeley Lake in Maine


MB and I took our long-time friend Leanne over the weekend to Rangeley Lake up in west-central Maine.  She brought along a friend.

We first came to Rangeley in August of 2014 to prepare for a Maine Peace Walk that we did five times - walking thru various parts of the state.  It's a great way to get to know Maine. Worn knees, busy schedules, and other priorities have put the walks on hold for now.  I hope some day we can do another walk again.

Our reason for going to Rangeley was that the Pentagon had declared it as one possible site for the 'Missile Defense Agency' (MDA) deployment of a launch facility for the Ground-Based Mid-Course interceptor system.  Jason Rawn and I went there to find a church that would take us in for the night before the walk began.  We found one and as it turned we'd be there for their big annual Turkey Dinner fundraiser feast in October 2014.  So they invited us in - I suggested to our dozen walkers that we sit at different tables and meet more local people.  A great opportunity to share what we each new about the missile deployment plan.

Not much information from the military was available.  Our first visit to the town (August 2014) was timed so we could attend a public information meeting in a Rangeley gymnasium by the MDA. Jason and I went inside and handed out flyers to folks about our coming peace walk and our opposition to the MDA's missile base plan.

In order to avoid having a real public hearing, where citizens can listen and learn from one another, the MDA plan was to have display boards on easels throughout the Rangeley regional school gym. This set up allowed for the atomization of the public voice as folks were forced to go from easel to easel and be literally surrounded by 2-3 MDA types who would immediately ask, "Do you have a question?"

The truth is that most of the 50-some public citizens we saw during our two-hours there in 2014 were stunned. They had no clue what "missile defense" (offense) really is and they had no idea what it means to have a new base plunked down inside Maine's environmentally sensitive western mountains. Sixty interceptor missiles were envisioned at the base as a result of the Congressional mandate and public hearings were ordered in Michigan, Ohio, New York and Maine to decide which state got the 'lucky prize' if Congress ultimately decided to further fund this expensive and destabilizing program.

One local environmentalist was "shocked at the scale of the project" that would bring anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 people into Rangeley to build the base and/or staff the missile installation. Current year round population of Rangeley is about 1,100 and the kindergarten to high school student population is around 260 kids. A dramatic change in local culture was in store for the community if this site was picked. The sleepy summer lake and winter mountain ski culture would be infused with bars, pawn shops, prostitution, and other signs of military "outside the gate" culture so familiar around the country and world where US bases are located.

Environmentalists were alarmed about the resulting road widening, toxic contamination from rocket fuel and massive impact on the local tourist economy that thrives on the image of 'beautiful and clean environment'. 

So our ten-day peace walk opposing this potential base took off from there and meandered through the state (ending in North Berwick) giving us a chance to catch the eyes (and maybe hearts) of those who zoomed by in their chariots.  We talked to alot of people and handed out about 1,000 flyers on the subject of the MDA plan and the idea of conversion of the Bath Iron Works Navy shipyard run by General Dynamics.

In early 2016 the Missile Defense Agency determined, due to environmental and cost concerns, to take Rangeley, Maine off its list of possible future East Coast missile base sites. We like to think that our ability to stir things up across the state against the deployment worked in our favor as well.  Peaceniks also turned out during the one other  'public hearing' in Farmington in 2014 and gave the MDA a hard time there as well.

Our friend Ridgeley Fuller attended the 'public hearing' by the MDA in Farmington, Maine and handed the military man our peace walk flyer that featured opposition to their proposed missile launch base.

As of the end of 2018, the total cost of the GMD system was estimated to be over $67 billion.

On that journey to stop the missile launch base I fell in love with the lake and the beauty of the whole area.  So MB and I took our friend Leanne there in 2017.  Last month Leanne said, "Hey, let's go back to Rangeley."  We said OK and made the beautiful drive there.

It's also special for me because my step-father (who married my mother when I was three years old; he was in the Air Force and thus began our moves around the world) Wesley was from Rumford, Maine very near Rangeley Lake.  So the place has deeper meaning for me. 


While doing peace walk preparation in 2014 I met Vietnam war veteran Tom Ryan who was in the Navy.  He retired with his sheep herding dogs in Oquossoc by Rangeley Lake.  Tom had flocks of chickens, turkeys, ducks and goats he raised.  He gave away eggs by the legion to local people in need.  He gave away turkeys and more.  Tom lived to give back - as if he was carrying a load in need of redemption.

Our our 2017 visit to Rangeley, MB, Leanne and I visited Tom's working farm in the woods.  His dogs demonstrated their skill in rounding up ducks for us.  We had dinner with Tom - sharing stories about politics in America and the deep challenges that come with it all.

So this weekend we met Tom again when we went to the lake.  We had dinner together and heard about his having to get rid of his animals (he gave his goat herd to a young couple trying to establish a farm) because he was going to have knee replacement surgery.  He was happy to share that his knee surgeon is the Boston Celtics (pro basketball team) primary knee doctor.  So Tom figured he got a good fix.

We went for a 6-mile hike with Tom and one of his dogs on an old logging road that was being taken over by nature again.  The chest high grasses, beautiful yellow and purple flowers, and moose tracks in the mud were all wonders as we walked along the boulder-filled creek that is the route for melting snow coming off the mountains into the lake.

While we were walking we learned more about Tom's book called Screw: a guard's view of Bridgewater State Hospital' in Massachusetts.   In the early 1970's Tom took a job at the Bridgewater State Hospital - a place with a terrible reputation of brutality against patients and inmates.  He took the job wanting to collect information to help get the ugly warehouse of repression shut down.  In the book he recounts, from his notes while on the job as a CO (Corrections Officer), the horrid savagery he witnessed and was encouraged to participate in.  After nearly two years he had to leave and began to tell the story.

A major reform initiative by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in 2016 replaced management of the hospital and much of the staff, granted a significant amount of turnaround funding, removed uniformed guards, and closed the "intensive treatment" unit where forced restraints and solitary confinement were used.

It's an amazing book of Tom's own courage to be one of the few kind human beings inside the hell hole at Bridgewater.  The popular notion was that it was an institution for the criminally insane thus most in the public figured that inmates got what rough treatment they deserved - after all they were the dregs of society.

Tom found that many of the men inside the lockup were sweet, sensitive and suffering at the hands of guards (ex-Marines and members of the local right-wing militia that was preparing to 'kill Commies when they try to take over the country').  These brutes are the shock troops of the corporate oligarchy and when Mr. Big needs to tame the masses they trot these psychopaths out to bang heads and break knees.  Tom gives you the inside look at these cats.

I finished the book in one evening - first sitting in a chair staring at the lake and then later in our motel room as it began to get too cold.  It is a lovely spot.


A documentary about Bridgewater was made in 1967.  You can get a glimpse of it here.

My take on Bridgewater - it was all about race, class and social control.  The message to the public?  If you don't keep your nose to the grindstone and remain 'productive' then you might end up in a joint like this.

Bruce

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