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.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Comedy break: Asians needed


Friday, June 28, 2019

Grossman & Gagnon on their weekly show....

Listen to "Militarization in Space" on Spreaker.

A regular Thursday segment deals with the ongoing militarization of space. As the US continues to withdraw from international arms treaties, will the weaponization and militarization of space bring the world closer to catastrophe?

Brian and John speak with Prof. Karl Grossman, a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury and the host of a nationally aired television program focused on environmental, energy, and space issues, and with Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. 

Amazing - must watch




Thursday, June 27, 2019

They finally got me.....


This financial business (above) in Orlando, Florida put the sign up in the early 1990's.  The interesting thing about it was that the building was right on the downtown entrance to the interstate highway (I-4) that was flooded with cars at the end of each workday.

A friend saw it and took the photo.  That particular message stayed up there for some time.  They were complaining about all my organizing in the Orlando-area and also the protests I was then regularly organizing at the Kennedy Space Center around the Star Wars program.

I've spent a few days in jail here and there over the years.  Once after a Cape Canaveral protest I did five nights in the lock up.  But I've never been too eager to spend time in jail.  I'm an organizer and figure my place is out on the street stirring the pot.

The owner of this business would be happy though to hear about my couple of days in jail over the past weekend. I wanted write a bit about the experience - one that I can say was quite remarkable.

But first a qualifier.  The jailers and police in Maine are generally a bit different from other places where I have been 'apprehended' while doing protests across this land.  They tend to be much less anxious in Maine to bust heads and inside the jail they were more at ease.

With that said, all things were not Shangri-la at the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, Maine. The jail was the project of Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties and holds minimum, medium and maximum-security inmates.  I am told it is a privatized jail but could not find any information on the Internet about who owns it.  The terrible food served there is produced by the Aramark Corporation.

Here are some general observations about the jail:

  • Inmates report that they have barely edible oatmeal virtually every morning.  We also had cardboard-like potatoes and watered down apple juice during our time there in addition to the oatmeal.  
  • In an advert online for jobs at Two Bridges jail one person wrote:  "Pros - free lunch, always off 2 or 3 days off in a row every other weekend off. Cons - understaffed, high turnover rate, staff morale low due to nature of the job." [Might be wise to add under the Cons - the food.]
  • If you want extras like coffee, tea, salt, pepper, mayo, shampoo and the like you have to purchase it from the jail 'commissary' - one more way to turn a profit for the private corporation that owns the joint.  Many inmates purchase packages of Ramen noodles to eat in their cells since they are always hungry.  Our group of five men protesters gave some of our food away to other inmates which they gladly accepted.
  • We repeatedly heard that it costs the two counties 'utilizing' the jail $150 a day to house the prisoners.  We also heard that .22 cents a day is spent feeding the inmates.  Could have been a rumor but the same information came from both men and women pods.  The whole private prison industry needs to be investigated.  The taxpayers and the inmates are being ripped off.  Sadly few media do investigative journalism any more.
  • At one point I had a splitting headache and asked the jail guard for two aspirin.  He blew me off.  An inmate heard me and went into his cell and returned with a small packet containing two aspirin which he had purchased.  I gave him my apple and told him 'good trade'.
  • Our men's cell block had an upstairs and a downstairs.  Each cell had two steel bunk beds, one toilet, one sink, one chair, and one tiny table.  The light was always on.  When the downstairs cell mates were allowed out to eat, shoot hoops, watch TV, play games or walk around the 'pod', the cells upstairs were locked down.  Then they switched and the upstairs inmates were sent downstairs and the lower cells were locked down.
  • Everyone was issued a plastic cup and a plastic 'spork'.  Food was served on ugly brown thick plastic trays.
  • We all were also given blue jail clothes, two thin sheets, a blanket, extra underpants, pants, towels, socks - many of which were tattered.
  • It was so cold in the lock up that I was shivering at times and came home with a severe sore throat.
  • The blue plastic mattress was about two inches thick which made sleeping very hard to do on top of the steel frame bed.  It didn't help that on Sunday night they ran a very loud floor cleaning machine downstairs until 12:30 am.
  • We had one rectangular window in our cell (my cell mate was fellow protester Ken Jones from North Carolina).  We could see a wild patch of yellow buttercups and robins bounding around but were not allowed to go outside.
  • The official jail handbook was 41 pages long and it was all we had to read for our first 24 hours until we learned about a well hidden drawer downstairs where a few books were available.  Each day one copy of the Portland Press Herald newspaper was available for the 70-some inmates.  Most of them checked it out when they could find it. 
  • The handbook has a lengthy dress code for those who visit inmates.
  • Our cell was 12 ft by 7 ft.
  • When we arrived at the jail we learned that word had already spread about our protest and our arrests.  Many of the inmates thanked us for our protest at BIW and urged us to 'keep it up' when we left.  That included one very intimidating inmate with ripplin muscles who told one of our guys that he has family that works at the shipyard.

It was no fun to be in jail but I'm glad we refused to pay the $60 bail commissioner fee which landed us in the joint.  Other inmates couldn't believe we refused to pay such a small fee - one guy we met has a $15,000 bail and has been in jail for quite some time because he couldn't pay it. (This particular guy was the most welcoming to us and helped us navigate our way during our time.) Many have to stay locked up for months until their trails are held.  The entire bail system is unjust and should be ended.  The bail commissioners make big money off the system.

One of my best moments was while I was walking in circles around the lower pod to get some exercise.  A young black man locked inside his cell tapped on the window and held up the newspaper story about our arrests.  He fist bumped me on the small cell window.

The four women protesters inside the jail told similar stories about their experiences and they made some deep connections with other women inmates.

In the end these inmates are predominately working class who are mostly good people who have made some mistakes.  The American 'corrections' system is not about helping people become better citizens - in fact it is a profit driven clamp down program directed at poor and working class people who have become superfluous populations.  Due to mechanization, robotics, computerization and off-shoring of jobs tens of millions of people in this country are no longer 'needed' by the capitalist system.  So instead of educating them, these unwanted people are locked into cold steel dungeons and little to no effort is made to 'rehabilitate' them.

Other countries, Norway comes to mind, have a very humane way of handling people who have broken the law.  But America isn't into being human - it's all about making money and punishing the men and women of our society who have no place in this dog-eat-dog culture.

I befriended one young man during my time in Two Bridges jail.  He has cerebral palsy, walks with a limp, and has had problems with depression and alcohol.  He's in jail for a month.  A sweeter guy you'd never find anywhere.  We are going to get together once he gets out.  I want to help him in any way I can.  Meeting him was worth my two nights in a lousy bed - with little sleep and an aching back.

Bruce

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

More BIW protest photos

We blocked buses and cars going into the June 22 'christening' of a destroyer at Bath Iron Works from three locations.  This particular one is near the North Gate.  Buses from 'Park & Ride' spots shuttled people wanting to attend the event into the shipyard. These photos are not in much of any order but you will get the drift.  (Photos taken by Mary Donnelly, Regis Tremblay and Roger Leisner.  Click on them for a better view.)

Sam and Akemi are supportive partners of two of our folks who were arrested.  They come from farther north in Maine.

People lined up across from BIW near the North gate

In the closing circle after those arrested had been taken away by police.

A new banner made by a local artist collective

Those joining the closing circle - something that is done at each BIW protest.

The iconic crane at BIW that is no longer used for anything except to hold a tree at Christmas time.

Some of our most dedicated long-time local peaceniks.

Standing near the North Gate. Dan (left) and Dixie were both arrested.

A local mother and her son who is now a veteran of these protests.  He helps reduce our average age quite a bit. We are doing these protests so that the future generations (human, plant and animal) may have life on Mother Earth.

Folks near the North Gate blocking a bus that came off the bridge.  Instead of driving to BIW's gates on their normal routes they went way out of the way in order to escape our protest.  But we had people at all the gates and were successful in blocking several buses, vans and cars.

One of our key organizers Lisa Savage from Solon, Maine.  She is a school teacher and often speaks about how schools in our state are being defunded while the Pentagon budget grows like a cancer.  Lisa organized our news conference last Friday in Portland as well. She coordinates the group called Maine Natural Guard.

A committee of our friends (mostly from the Blue Hill peninsula) recently created a brochure that carries this graphic for statewide distribution.  We ran out of our first order and made a 2nd printing request.  Hancock artist Russell Wray designed the banner.

This is an entrance to the North Gate where several of us were arrested for blocking cars wanting to enter the parking lot.  We had just been arrested when this picture was taken.

I began the day telling about a June 20 protest at the Hancock drone base near Syracuse, New York where eight activists were arrested for blocking the air base main gate.  The base is where Air Force personnel remotely pilot missile-firing robotic Reaper drones over Afghanistan (and probably elsewhere). These classified operations result in the terrorizing, maiming and killing of uncountable numbers of unarmed and undefended innocent families.  There have regularly been many protests at this base with a huge number of arrests.  They are a real inspiration to us in Maine.

More of those in the closing circle after those arrested had been taken to the county courthouse for processing.

Artists Rob Shetterly and Natasha Mayers helping to block the back of the bus near the North Gate.

A group near the North Gate.

Local environmental activist who has long been working on climate change.

Mark Roman (left) getting cuffed near the North Gate.

Jason Rawn & Rosie Paul singing near the North Gate.  Rosie keep folks talking and singing throughout the action.

Sadie from California sharing some words of solidarity.

George & Maureen Kehoe Ostenson (Smilin' Trees Disarmament Farm in Hope, Maine) have been organizing protests at BIW longer than anyone else I know.  All during Lent and Advent and at other times of year they gather us to bear witness to the U.S.'s misplaced priorities.

Russell with the banner in front of a bus early on at the South Gate


Ken (from North Carolina) and Mary Beth having helped block a bus at the South Gate.

Russell and Connie at the South Gate before a bus arrived.  They both were arrested for helping to stop a bus.

On the way to jail on Saturday



Some of us taken from the courthouse in Bath to the jail on Saturday are in this video above.

When we arrived at the jail everyone (inmates and staff) knew we were coming.  The word spread quickly throughout the jail.  Then on Sunday the Portland Press Herald ran an article about the protest and arrests and the inmates were passing the newspaper around.  We got major league support from the men inside our jail 'pod'.  When we were released yesterday we heard lots of 'thank you' and 'keep doing it' from the inmates.

Five of us in jail were men and four women. The women reported the same story from their 'pod'.  Big time support.

While MB and I were waiting at the county courthouse in Bath on Saturday to be taken to the jail we were talking to one cop about why we protest - climate change - cost of warships, etc.  The officer asked me what our number was for the cost of the Zumwalt 'stealth' destroyer.  I told him $7 billion.  He said, "I know alot of people around here and they tell me the cost really is $13 billion."  He also told us that he recently had discovered what 'plutocracy' (a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income) meant.  He looked up the meaning and told us, "That is what we have today!"

It is more than clear to me that when we do these protests, get arrested and go to jail, we widen and deepen the consciousness and support among the public.  That cannot be underestimated.

After we were released from the Two Bridges jail yesterday one of the guards came out and thanked me for my service in the military.  (I had on my VFP sweatshirt.)  I told him that we vets are not so proud of our time in the military but are actually more proud of our current work for peace and environmental sustainability.  We had a long talk and as he was going back into the jail he shook my hand and thanked me again.

I've always believed the best way to change people's thinking and hearts is through personal experience.  Whether it is going on a trip to a foreign land and seeing for ourselves what is really happening, or taking the issue to people at a place like a jail and courtroom, this personal witness does more to help make changes than most anything else.


This morning we found these two photos posted on Fazebook from our dear friends on Jeju Island, South Korea.  For more than 10 years they have been protesting a Navy base forced upon their 500 year old fishing and farming village by the US.  Warships built in Bath, Maine are sent there to help encircle Russia and China with so-called 'missile defense' interceptor missiles.  Their village has now become a target.

Three of us arrested in Bath on Saturday were also arrested in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island in 2012 when the leaders of the village invited the Global Network to hold our annual conference there.  Mary Beth Sullivan, Natasha Mayers and myself from Maine were arrested (along with other GN members) when we crawled under the razor wire along their sacred rocky coastline where they worshiped their relatives who had passed away over the past 500 years.  This rocky coastline was blasted and covered in cement for the piers of the Navy base.


We've been connected to these good folks on Jeju Island ever since and have returned there when possible to stand with them.  People from Jeju have also come here to join our protests in Bath several times as well.  That is what solidarity looks like. (Gangjeong village is famous for their excellent citrus.)

It's been an amazing last couple of days.  It feels like our message of conversion of the military industrial complex to deal with climate catastrophe is cracking into the mainstream consciousness.

Let's keep working and staying strong.  Support one another and keep connecting these dots. Persistence pays off. Thanks to all who helped us take this message to Bath Iron Works this past weekend.

To see the latest coverage in our local paper click here

Bruce

Monday, June 24, 2019

Just out of jail


Nine who refused to pay the $60 bail bond after the arrest of 22 of us at Bath Iron Works on Saturday were released from the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, Maine today around 4:00 pm.

I'll write more tomorrow as right now I need a shower and some rest.  The group of 22 were incredible folks. Those who went to jail were wonderful to be with, and when we came out today a group of supporters met us outside the jail house doors with food, drink and loving hugs.

In the meantime you can read some coverage of our protest in Maine media here.  Additional story here.

More later.

Bruce
Photo above by Lisa Savage and video below by Martha Spiess