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, ME, United States

The collapsing US military & economic empire is making Washington & NATO even more dangerous. US could not beat the Taliban but thinks it can take on China-Russia-Iran...a sign of psychopathology for sure. We must all do more to help stop this western corporate arrogance that puts the future generations lives in despair. @BruceKGagnon

Thursday, September 29, 2005


I leave on Sept 30 for a speaking trip to the United Kingdom during Keep Space for Peace Week. I will be gone until Oct 11 and the trip will take me all over England and to Scotland and Wales. While there I will meet with members of parliament in London and with members of the Welsh assembly in Cardiff. The tour is being organized by the UK's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). CND has made Star Wars one of their top issue priorities and former CND chair (and current Global Network advisory committee chair) Dave Knight will accompany me on the trip. While in Yorkshire we will attend demonstrations at two key U.S. Star Wars bases - the top-secret spy satellite base at Menwith Hill that intercepts all phone, fax, and e-mail communication from throughout Europe and the Fylingdales radar facility that sits on the moors. Both bases are now being upgraded for participation in Star Wars. While on the trip I might not get to make many posts on the blog but will do what I can.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


The Speech Everyone Is Talking About: Etan Thomas
Etan Thomas Electrifies Anti-War Washington

by Dave Zirin

Every generation the wide world of corporate sports produces an athlete with the iron resolve and moral urgency to step off their pedestal and join the fight for social justice. A century ago, it was boxer Jack Johnson, flaunting, as WEB DuBois put it, "his unforgivable blackness." In the 1930s, "the Brown Bomber" Joe Louis and track star Jesse Owens took turns spitting in Hitler's eyes, and Mildred Babe Didrikson continued to show that a woman could be the equal - if not superior - of any man. In the 1940s and 50s, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and the Brooklyn Dodgers advanced the cause of civil rights through the transgressive act of the multi-racial double play. In the 1960s, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, David Meggyesy, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos showed how mass struggle could ricochet into the world of sports with electric results. In the 1970s, Billie Jean King used a wicked forehand, and took to the streets, to demand equal rights for women, and Curt Flood showed the labor movement - and the bosses - how to go from crumbs to a bigger piece of the pie. In the 1980's Martina Navratilova came out of the closet and onto center court, with her girlfriend on her sinewy arm in plain view of all.

Today we may just have a figure to join their ranks in the NBA's Etan Thomas. Regular readers of this column will know that I have interviewed the Washington Wizards' Power Forward on numerous occasions and highlighted his views on everything from the death penalty to the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. He is also the author of a book of poems called More Than An Athlete.

But this past weekend, Etan made a play for pantheon status. Etan took it to that Ali level, by delivering a blistering poetical speech as part of the weekend's antiwar demonstrations in Washington DC. His contribution, which was played in its entirety on Democracy Now!, is being hailed as "the best of the day" in various nooks and crannies of the blogosphere.

Here is the transcript. Read and pass it along - it has the power to topple tyrants.

"Giving all honor, thanks and praises to God for courage and wisdom, this is a very important rally. I'd like to thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts, feelings and concerns regarding a tremendous problem that we are currently facing. This problem is universal, transcending race, economic background, religion, and culture, and this problem is none other than the current administration which has set up shop in the White House.

In fact, I'd like to take some of these cats on a field trip. I want to get big yellow buses with no air conditioner and no seatbelts and round up Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Trent Lott, Sean Hannity, Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Bush Jr. and Bush Sr., John Ashcroft, Giuliani, Ed Gillespie, Katherine Harris, that little bow-tied Tucker Carlson and any other right-wing conservative Republicans I can think of, and take them all on a trip to the 'hood. Not to do no 30-minute documentary. I mean, I want to drop them off and leave them there, let them become one with the other side of the tracks, get them four mouths to feed and no welfare, have scare tactics run through them like a laxative, criticizing them for needing assistance.

I'd show them working families that make too much to receive welfare but not enough to make ends meet. I'd employ them with jobs with little security, let them know how it feels to be an employee at will, able to be fired at the drop of a hat. I'd take away their opportunities, then try their children as adults, sending their 13-year-old babies to life in prison. I'd sell them dreams of hopelessness while spoon-feeding their young with a daily dose of inferior education. I'd tell them no child shall be left behind, then take more money out of their schools, tell them to show and prove themselves on standardized exams testing their knowledge on things that they haven't been taught, and then I'd call them inferior.

I'd soak into their interior notions of endless possibilities. I'd paint pictures of assisted productivity if they only agreed to be all they can be, dress them up with fatigues and boots with promises of pots of gold at the end of rainbows, free education to waste terrain on those who finish their bid. Then I'd close the lid on that barrel of fool's gold by starting a war, sending their children into the midst of a hostile situation, and while they're worried about their babies being murdered and slain in foreign lands, I'd grace them with the pain of being sick and unable to get medicine.

Give them health benefits that barely cover the common cold. John Q. would become their reality as HMOs introduce them to the world of inferior care, filling their lungs with inadequate air, penny pinching at the expense of patients, doctors practicing medicine in an intricate web of rationing and regulations. Patients wander the maze of managed bureaucracy, costs rise and quality quickly deteriorates, but they say that managed care is cheaper. They'll say that free choice in medicine will defeat the overall productivity, and as co-payments are steadily rising, I'll make their grandparents have to choose between buying their medicine and paying their rent.

Then I'd feed them hypocritical lines of being pro-life as the only Christian way to be. Then very contradictingly, I'd fight for the spread of the death penalty, as if thou shall not kill applies to babies but not to criminals.

Then I'd introduce them to those sworn to protect and serve, creating a curb in their trust in the law. I'd show them the nightsticks and plungers, the pepper spray and stun guns, the mace and magnums that they'd soon become acquainted with, the shakedowns and illegal search and seizures, the planted evidence, being stopped for no reason. Harassment ain't even the half of it. Forty-one shots to two raised hands, cell phones and wallets that are confused with illegal contrabands. I'd introduce them to pigs who love making their guns click like wine glasses. Everlasting targets surrounded by bullets, making them a walking bull's eye, a living piñata, held at the mercy of police brutality, and then we'll see if they finally weren't aware of the truth, if their eyes weren't finally open like a box of Pandora.

I'd show them how the other side of the tracks carries the weight of the world on our shoulders and how society seems to be holding us down with the force of a boulder. The bird of democracy flew the coop back in Florida. See, for some, and justice comes in packs like wolves in sheep's clothing. T.K.O.'d by the right hooks of life, many are left staggering under the weight of the day, leaning against the ropes of hope. When your dreams have fallen on barren ground, it becomes difficult to keep pushing yourself forward like a train, administering pain like a doctor with a needle, their sequels continue more lethal than injections.

They keep telling us all is equal. I'd tell them that instead of giving tax breaks to the rich, financing corporate mergers and leading us into unnecessary wars and under-table dealings with Enron and Halliburton, maybe they can work on making society more peaceful. Instead, they take more and more money out of inner city schools, give up on the idea of rehabilitation and build more prisons for poor people. With unemployment continuing to rise like a deficit, it's no wonder why so many think that crime pays.

Maybe this trip will make them see the error of their ways. Or maybe next time, we'll just all get out and vote. And as far as their stay in the White House, tell them that numbered are their days."

Monday, September 26, 2005


George W. Bush hid out in Colorado this past weekend from another hurricane and from a huge anti-war protest in Washington DC. He tried to look engaged, on top of things this time. The nation though is crumbling at the edges as Rome burns. The political-class in DC, both Republicans and Democrats, avoid the people these days. Only two Democratic elected officials (Rep. Cynthia McKinney from Georgia and Rep. John Conyers from Michigan) appeared at the protest in DC. Both parties are complicit in the war and the on-going draining of the federal budget by the military industrial complex. Sure Bush and the neo-cons are leading the pack. But the truth is that both corporate-controlled parties believe in Pax Americana. Both parties believe in American primacy in the world. Both parties support the U.S. military and economic empire. The peace movement must be cautious. It must stay at arms length from the Democratic party because the Democrats, as the momentum for peace grows in the U.S., will try to smother the peace movement and capture the energy from an angry population to benefit them in the next election. Even if the Democrats took power after the next election they would still say "We can't cut and run from Iraq." Even though Hillary Clinton met with anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan last week, Hillary still maintains that the American people have to be patient in Iraq. Hillary maintains that we must remain in Iraq until the job is done. So imagine a herd of horse riders just behind Bush and company in this picture. See the leaders of the Democratic party right behind Bush and his war making team. The time has come for the peace movement to get independent in American politics. Put pressure on all the politicians...they are in this war together!

Friday, September 23, 2005


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


This report covers the period of September 11-18 as I traveled to Missouri and Kansas for a speaking tour.

My first stop was in St. Louis, MO where I was hosted by the Peace Economy Project, a long-time Global Network (GN) affiliate. Catherine Marquis-Homeyer took me straight from the airport to a 9/11 River Cruise for Peace down the Mississippi River. As I arrived about 150 folks were boarding the riverboat having just finished a peace walk, from the local courthouse, where the famous Dred Scott slavery case was first heard, to the Mississippi River. (In 1846, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed suit for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. This suit began an eleven-year legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision declaring that the Scott's remain slaves. This decision contributed to rising tensions between the free and slave states just before the American Civil War.)

During the cruise I was among a couple of people who spoke to those on the boat. A violin quartet performed alongside a theatrical performance of Mark Twain's famous "War Prayer," that was a scathing indictment of the Spanish-American war. A black man, columnist from the local newspaper, spoke about the immediate despair resulting from the St. Louis Circuit Court decision to reject the Dred and Harriet Scott case, but then reminded us that history reveals ultimate victory to those who remain steadfast in their determination for justice. A good lesson at this moment as the peace movement sees only darkness coming from the illegal and immoral war in Iraq.

Following the riverboat cruise the participants were invited to a wonderful dinner at a local venue. I was able to do a full speech to them afterward. My topic throughout this trip was the "Battle for America's Soul" where I laid out some of the history of military-industrial complex corruption, the use of space technology in current plans for military transformation, and the need to admit our national addiction to militarism and war. The way out, I suggested, was a national campaign calling for conversion of the war industry to alternative sustainable technology development (wind, solar, rail).

While in St. Louis I did two radio interviews. One was an hour-long spot on the regional National Public Radio (NPR) station. The next morning following I received an e-mail from a man who was driving past St. Louis on the interstate highway and heard the interview on the radio. He asked to be added to the GN e-mail list. The second interview, with a popular local talk show host, was very special for me. The host, a fiery black woman, had been doing a series of interviews with poor black folks who had fled New Orleans just before hurricane Katrina. One large family of 40 had come to St. Louis and were all staying in the home of a relative. They had no money, no jobs, and had not yet been offered any assistance by the government. As I sat in the radio station waiting room I could see the weariness on the faces of the family members and the sadness as they faced an unknown future. The talk show host and I explored the connections between Star Wars, the war in Iraq, and the impending cost of hurricane relief. How could our government afford to help the people of New Orleans when they were spending nearly $6 billion a month in Iraq and $10 billion a year on Star Wars research and development? The callers that phoned into the station easily got the connections and I was filled with hope as I heard people make the right analysis of our current situation.

My next visit was to Columbia, MO where I was hosted by retired peace studies professor Bill Wickersham. Bill did an incredible job of arranging four presentations for me at the University of Missouri, a progressive oasis in the middle of a conservative "red" state. My first talk was before 50 graduate students at the Nuclear Science & Engineering Institute. I rarely get the opportunity to speak to nuclear engineering students and it went over better than I had expected. During the course of two days at the university I spoke to over 300 students. In addition, Bill arranged for me to do a one-hour radio interview on the local progressive radio station. I was interviewed by Mark Haim, the director of the Mid-Missouri Peace Works group. A pot luck with local activists and a dinner with virtually the entire sociology department at the university topped off one of the best organized visits to any university that I have ever had.

From Missouri I went to another "red" state - Kansas. Here I was hosted by Dr. Manfred Menking, from Physicians for Social Responsibility, in Wichita. Manfred, originally from Germany, is suffering today as he watches the United States do preemptive military attacks on other countries and restrict civil liberties at home - things that frightfully remind him of Nazi Germany. Manfred arranged for me to speak to 80 students at nearby Friends University in Wichita, and then the next day to a good crowd of local peace and justice activists. He also scheduled me to do a cable TV interview with Horace Santry, director of the Peace & Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas. Manfred also was able to get an op-ed I wrote about Bush's plans for offensive space weapons into his local newspaper, The Wichita Eagle, while I was there. Wichita is loaded with aerospace industry facilities, including Boeing's work on the Airborne Laser for Theatre Missile Defense (TMD).

My last stop was due north to Salina, Kansas where I was hosted by 91-year-old Veterans for Peace activist Vernon Stevens. Vernon, still very active and looking much younger than his age, had recently been featured with a big story and photo in the Salina Journal after local activists held a solidarity vigil in mid-August on behalf of Cindy Sheehan. Vernon had me come to a morning planning meeting of their local peace group, where we had a good organizing strategy discussion. Later that evening I spoke to a larger group at the local college. Musicians Marty Bates and Janie Stein (Janie's mom had come to Florida in 1987 and was arrested for doing civil disobedience at a protest I organized at Cape Canaveral) sang before I spoke and I stayed at their home later that evening. Once back at their house Marty and I played guitar together, doing an old blues tune, and Janie sang along.

I was impressed by the local activists I met in Missouri and Kansas. Many people wonder what has happened to folks living in the "red" states in America today. What are they thinking? How can they keep voting Republican? Is anyone organizing there these days? I can assure you that there are some very fine folks working extra hard in these two red states today. They are doing all they can to keep things stirred up and get people talking. We must all do what we can to reach out to our friends in the rural and conservative communities across the nation and support their efforts. I was honored to visit with them and contribute a tiny bit to their local peace work.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Just got back from Kansas last night after talking in Wichita and Salina. Whole trip went well. While there I learned that Kansas is called the "Saudia Arabia of wind." Folks say the state has huge wind capacity and the funny thing is that it is other countries that are making the big moves to put up wind generators in Kansas. While there I read about a corporation from Spain applying to put up a wind farm in an area just north of Wichita. It's amazing that while the U.S. is off fighting endless war and building Star Wars, it is Japan and Germany that are leading the world in solar. Several European countries (with Denmark in the lead) are showing the way with wind power. Just makes no sense. Why is the U.S. not investing in wind generation in our own country? Why aren't we investing our tax dollars in solar development? Why aren't we building public mass transit that would rival any system in the world?

Friday, September 16, 2005


Military operations through the streets of New Orleans look like a war zone. George W. Bush is now saying he feels the pain of the poor and dislocated in the city. He says he will rebuild. But I can't help but wonder - how in the world is Bush going to pay to rebuild New Orleans? Last I heard the U.S. federal budget was in massive debt. We are spending nearly $6 billion a month on the war in Iraq. Halliburton and Bechtel are getting rich off the Iraq war. Now Bush says he wants Halliburton to rebuild New Orleans. Where will the money come from? Does this mean, as my mother always used to say, we are going to rob Peter to pay Paul? Will we cut Medicare and Medicaid, cut education funding, finish off the welfare programs, cut food stamps, and the like? At the same time Bush is talking about totally killing the estate tax on the rich and making the previous tax cuts, that largely benefited the rich, permanent. How can Bush do that and rebuild New Orleans at the same time? Something has to give. Someone has to give. Is Bush going to raise taxes on the rich or bring the troops home from Iraq? Is all this talk about rebuilding New Orleans just more political posturing?

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Environmentalists in Maine today are releasing a new report that tells the public not to eat several types of fish because of increasing levels of mercury contamination. In their report they say, "Because of mercury contamination, the State of Maine, advises women of childbearing age and young children to avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, and limit consumption of canned tuna to one 6 oz. can of “white” tuna or two 6 oz. cans of “light” tuna per week. FDA and EPA have similar warnings. The FDA has found that 30-50% of women of child bearing age are not aware of mercury exposure risks."

"Mercury attacks the developing brain of children. It is a dangerous neurotoxin that has been linked to learning disabilities and developmental delays in children, as well as damage to the heart, nervous system and kidneys in adults. Mercury enters the environment from pollution from coal-fired power plants, chlorine production facilities, waste disposal and other sources."

The swordfish and tuna steaks from Maine supermarkets contained the most mercury contamination of similar fish tested in 22 states.

The mercury is coming from oil spewing power generation plants in the mid-west that is carried by winds east to Maine. Add to that the pollution from cars and we find a toxic soup swirling over the nation.

The answer is to move quickly to new sustainable technologies development. Solar, wind power and mass public transit are keys to developing a sustainable future. When we can't eat the fish we should take notice. Time to wake up people...time to come alive....what legacy are we leaving our children?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005


It's interesting to hear that George W. has admitted some kind of responsibility for the chaos in New Orleans. One must wonder if the man will ever take responsibility for his declaration of war in Iraq under false pretenses. Some people say Bush is not really in charge. Some say he is just a figurehead president that is handed a script and performs like an actor. They claim that, as Ralph Nadar often said, that those in power today are multi-national corporations posing as politicians and political parties. I agree with this assesment. Nothing happens in America anymore that is not by and for the corporate elites. What is good for the American people does not matter anymore. It's all about corporate power. Bush is posing as a president when in fact he is a corporate entity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I began the day in St. Louis doing a wonderful radio talk show interview with a dynamic black woman who is known as a real voice of the community. We tied the hurricane relief fiasco and the growing cost of Star Wars together, showing how wasteful military spending was bleeding our hopes for social progress in the U.S. Yesterday I taped a one-hour radio spot on the NPR station in St Louis. This morning I got a nice e-mail from a man who heard the show while driving to Hannibal, Missouri. It's nice to see such fast results from a radio show. I am now in Columbia, Missouri and was the speaker at a nuclear engineering seminar today at the University of Missouri and followed that with another one-hour radio interview on a community radio station. In the morning I do two classes at the university (political science and peace studies) and then speak at a community event in the evening. The peace community here in Columbia appears to be quite large and active and folks held a pot luck supper in my honor this evening. At the end of the dinner they sang some songs and then my host, peace studies professor Bill Wickersham, made a pitch for folks to buy my book and I sold quite a few of them. All in all a wonderful day.

Monday, September 12, 2005


I arrived in St Louis Sunday after an early flight out from Portland. After organizing the demonstration Sat. in Brunswick, which was a smashing success with over 300 folks in attendance, I had to get to bed early Sat. night to rest up for this trip. I am doing a week-long speaking tour that began in St Louis on the Mississippi River with a 9/11 Cruise for Peace. We took a riverboat trip two hours long up and down the river. I kept thinking about the folks at the southern tip of the river in New Orleans and how they are suffering these days. I was one of a couple folks who spoke to the large group on the triple-decker riverboat. Then this evening people moved back into the city for a nice dinner together and after that I spoke to them in more detail. I told folks about our protest Sat. in Brunswick and how we had challenged the notion that the Hell's Angels flight team was "family entertainment." I told them about Dexter Kamilewicz who spoke at the rally about his son who has been in Iraq for just two months and has already narrowly missed being killed. Dexter told us, his son Ben, is describing the conditions of the Iraq people as being similar to conditions in New Orleans. Little water, sewage in the streets, little electricity, and growing hatred for the American occupation of their land. Ben tells his parents to keep protesting and bring the troops home. After St. Louis I head on to Columbia and Kansas City, Missouri and then on to Wichita and Salina in Kansas. Will try to send some updates as I move along. Best wishes to all.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


The Hell's Angels are flying over our heads right now, getting ready for this weekend's "show" here in Brunswick. Our protest plans have been front page in the local papers several times during the past week. The Maine Veterans for Peace protest claims that the airshow is not "clean family entertainment" as it is sold to the public. Instead we claim it is a recruiting gimmick to attract young people into the military at a time they are having more difficulty with enlistment levels. Even the local paper here in Brunswick acknowledged this yesterday when they printed that the Navy flight team was created in 1946 by Adm. Chester Nimitz, then chief of Naval Operations, as a "flashy recruiting tool, particularly in the nation's heartland." Many people are wondering about the massive waste of fuel at the air show, just following the pronouncement by G.W. Bush that we should not "fill our tanks unless we really have to." At this time of imposed austerity, following the tragic hurricane, shouldn't the "Great State of Maine Airshow" be cancelled? The Hell's Angels should be grounded. The Sept 10 protest begins at 9:00 am with a march from the downtown Brunswick gazebo out to the Navy base main gate where a rally will follow.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Experts predict more and harsher natural disasters in coming years - in part because of global warming. Instead of spending over $500 billion a year on endless war to benefit corporate globalization, wouldn't it make more sense to transform our offensive military into "The Natural Guard"? Their job would be to intervene quickly in natural disasters, helping to save folks from calamities like the New Orleans hurricane. Don't you think the troops would feel better about that mission, rather than killing innocent civilians in Iraq on behalf of Haliburton and the oil corporations? As the nation begins to debate "what went wrong" in New Orleans, maybe we should also introduce the notion of The Natural Guard.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


NASA and the Department of Energy (DoE) are moving forward with plans to develop the nuclear rocket (Project Prometheus). DoE has three sites in mind to field test the nuclear engines - White Sands Missile Base, N.M.; the Nevada Test Site, and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. The obvious problem is that radioactive exhaust could be released into the atmosphere after testing. The whole plutonium production process at DoE labs is also problematic. DoE has a horrible track record in this regard. Then finally there is the possibility of a launch failure that could see the nuclear rocket falling back to Earth similar to the Russian Mars '96 mission that never achieved proper orbit and fell back to Earth burning up on reentry. The spacecraft spread deadly plutonium over the mountains of Chile and Bolivia at the time. We say NO to the nuclear rocket!

Monday, September 05, 2005


The three thieves at work - what does Bill Clinton get in return for his endorsement of the Bush hurricane follies?........ It has come to the public's attention, via NBC news last night, that FEMA director Mr. Brown's previous employment was as director of the Arabian horse association. He was quoted on the evening news a couple of days ago saying he knew nothing about the thousands stranded at the New Orleans convention center. No wonder Bush picked him to run the nation's emergency management agency. He's comfortable with a horse's ass.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


By Jordan Flaherty

Friday, September 2, 2005

I just left New Orleans a couple hours ago. I traveled from the apartment
I was staying in by boat to a helicopter to a refugee camp. If anyone
wants to examine the attitude of federal and state officials towards the victims
of hurricane Katrina, I advise you to visit one of the refugee camps.

In the refugee camp I just left, on the I-10 freeway near Causeway,
thousands of people (at least 90% black and poor) stood and squatted in
mud and trash behind metal barricades, under an unforgiving sun, with heavily
armed soldiers standing guard over them. When a bus would come through,
it would stop at a random spot, state police would open a gap in one of the
barricades, and people would rush for the bus, with no information given
about where the bus was going. Once inside (we were told) evacuees would
be told where the bus was taking them - Baton Rouge, Houston, Arkansas,
Dallas, or other locations. I was told that if you boarded a bus bound
for Arkansas (for example), even people with family and a place to stay in
Baton Rouge would not be allowed to get out of the bus as it passed
through Baton Rouge. You had no choice but to go to the shelter in Arkansas. If
you had people willing to come to New Orleans to pick you up, they could
not come within 17 miles of the camp.

I traveled throughout the camp and spoke to Red Cross workers, Salvation
Army workers, National Guard, and state police, and although they were
friendly, no one could give me any details on when buses would arrive, how
many, where they would go to, or any other information. I spoke to the
several teams of journalists nearby, and asked if any of them had been
able to get any information from any federal or state officials on any of these
questions, and all of them, from Australian tv to local Fox affiliates
complained of an unorganized, non-communicative, mess. One cameraman told
me "as someone who's been here in this camp for two days, the only
information I can give you is this: get out by nightfall. You don't want
to be here at night."

There was also no visible attempt by any of those running the camp to set
up any sort of transparent and consistent system, for instance a line to
get on buses, a way to register contact information or find family
members, special needs services for children and infirm, phone services, treatment
for possible disease exposure, nor even a single trash can.

To understand the dimensions of this tragedy, its important to look at New
Orleans itself.

For those who have not lived in New Orleans, you have missed a incredible,
glorious, vital, city. A place with a culture and energy unlike anywhere
else in the world. A 70% African-American city where resistance to white
supremacy has supported a generous, subversive and unique culture of vivid
beauty. From jazz, blues and hiphop, to secondlines, Mardi Gras Indians,
Parades, Beads, Jazz Funerals, and red beans and rice on Monday nights,
New Orleans is a place of art and music and dance and sexuality and liberation
unlike anywhere else in the world.

It is a city of kindness and hospitality, where walking down the block can
take two hours because you stop and talk to someone on every porch, and
where a community pulls together when someone is in need. It is a city of
extended families and social networks filling the gaps left by city, state
and federal governments that have abdicated their responsibility for the
public welfare. It is a city where someone you walk past on the street not
only asks how you are, they wait for an answer.

It is also a city of exploitation and segregation and fear. The city of
New Orleans has a population of just over 500,000 and was expecting 300
murders this year, most of them centered on just a few, overwhelmingly
black, neighborhoods. Police have been quoted as saying that they don't
need to search out the perpetrators, because usually a few days after as shooting, the attacker is shot in revenge.

There is an atmosphere of intense hostility and distrust between much of
Black New Orleans and the N.O. Police Department. In recent months,
officers have been accused of everything from drug running to corruption
to theft. In separate incidents, two New Orleans police officers were
recently charged with rape (while in uniform), and there have been several
high profile police killings of unarmed youth, including the murder of
Jenard Thomas, which has inspired ongoing weekly protests for several

The city has a 40% illiteracy rate, and over 50% of black ninth graders
will not graduate in four years. Louisiana spends on average $4,724 per
child's education and ranks 48th in the country for lowest teacher
salaries. The equivalent of more than two classrooms of young people drop
out of Louisiana schools every day and about 50,000 students are absent
from school on any given day. Far too many young black men from New
Orleans end up enslaved in Angola Prison, a former slave plantation where
inmates still do manual farm labor, and over 90% of inmates eventually die
in the prison. It is a city where industry has left, and most remaining
jobs are are low-paying, transient, insecure jobs in the service economy.

Race has always been the undercurrent of Louisiana politics. This
disaster is one that was constructed out of racism, neglect and
incompetence. Hurricane Katrina was the inevitable spark igniting the
gasoline of cruelty and corruption. From the neighborhoods left most at
risk, to the treatment of the refugees to the the media portrayal of the
victims, this disaster is shaped by race.

Louisiana politics is famously corrupt, but with the tragedies of this
week our political leaders have defined a new level of incompetence. As
hurricane Katrina approached, our Governor urged us to "Pray the hurricane
down" to a level two. Trapped in a building two days after the hurricane,
we tuned our battery-operated radio into local radio and tv stations,
hoping for vital news, and were told that our governor had called for a
day of prayer. As rumors and panic began to rule, they was no source of solid
dependable information. Tuesday night, politicians and reporters said the
water level would rise another 12 feet - instead it stabilized. Rumors
spread like wildfire, and the politicians and media only made it worse.

While the rich escaped New Orleans, those with nowhere to go and no way to
get there were left behind. Adding salt to the wound, the local and
national media have spent the last week demonizing those left behind. As
someone that loves New Orleans and the people in it, this is the part of
this tragedy that hurts me the most, and it hurts me deeply.

No sane person should classify someone who takes food from indefinitely
closed stores in a desperate, starving city as a "looter," but that's just
what the media did over and over again. Sheriffs and politicians talked
of having troops protect stores instead of perform rescue operations.

Images of New Orleans' hurricane-ravaged population were transformed into
black, out-of-control, criminals. As if taking a stereo from a store that
will clearly be insured against loss is a greater crime than the
governmental neglect and incompetence that did billions of dollars of
damage and destroyed a city. This media focus is a tactic, just as the
eighties focus on "welfare queens" and "super-predators" obscured the
simultaneous and much larger crimes of the Savings and Loan scams and mass
layoffs, the hyper-exploited people of New Orleans are being used as a
scapegoat to cover up much larger crimes.

City, state and national politicians are the real criminals here. Since
at least the mid-1800s, its been widely known the danger faced by flooding to
New Orleans. The flood of 1927, which, like this week's events, was more
about politics and racism than any kind of natural disaster, illustrated
exactly the danger faced. Yet government officials have consistently
refused to spend the money to protect this poor, overwhelmingly black,
city. While FEMA and others warned of the urgent impending danger to New
Orleans and put forward proposals for funding to reinforce and protect the
city, the Bush administration, in every year since 2001, has cut or
refused to fund New Orleans flood control, and ignored scientists warnings of
increased hurricanes as a result of global warming. And, as the dangers
rose with the floodlines, the lack of coordinated response dramatized
vividly the callous disregard of our elected leaders.

The aftermath from the 1927 flood helped shape the elections of both a US
President and a Governor, and ushered in the southern populist politics of
Huey Long.

In the coming months, billions of dollars will likely flood into New
Orleans. This money can either be spent to usher in a "New Deal" for the
city, with public investment, creation of stable union jobs, new schools,
cultural programs and housing restoration, or the city can be "rebuilt and
revitalized" to a shell of its former self, with newer hotels, more
casinos, and with chain stores and theme parks replacing the former
neighborhoods, cultural centers and corner jazz clubs.

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was hit by a hurricane of poverty,
racism, disinvestment, deindustrialization and corruption. Simply the damage from
this pre-Katrina hurricane will take billions to repair.

Now that the money is flowing in, and the world's eyes are focused on
Katrina, its vital that progressive-minded people take this opportunity to
fight for a rebuilding with justice. New Orleans is a special place, and
we need to fight for its rebirth.

Jordan Flaherty is a union organizer and an editor of Left Turn Magazine
( He is not planning on moving out of New Orleans.

Friday, September 02, 2005


The U.S. Senate is now poised to vote on the repeal of the estate tax. At a time when our nation is hemorrhaging, our wise "leaders" want to give more tax cuts to the rich. Can you believe it?

I heard people in New Orleans, in the last 24 hours, tell how rich folks in fancy hotels were taken out of the city in SUV's while working class people, holed up in the same hotels, were not allowed to escape in those same SUV's. They were told there was no room for them as the rich folks filled the vehicles with their luggage and expensive possessions.

Another story is about two hospitals in New Orleans. One is at the private Tulane University and the other, just across the street is called Charity Hospital. Tulane University Medical Center has a helicopter pad on the roof. They had 1,000 of their patients evacuated soon after the hurricane. The patients in Charity Hospital, poor people, are still sitting in their squalid conditions. Someone at Charity got the good idea to move their most dire cases across the flooded road on canoes to Tulane Med Center. Then up eight flights of stairs they carried the critical patients to the helicopter pad. They had finally made some arrangements to get a chopper to pick up these folks. The helicopter took the patients to the New Orleans international airport which has, in part, been turned into an emergency medical evacuation center. When the helicopter put down they were turned away. No word yet what happened to the Charity Hospital patients on the chopper. Many more of the suffering poor still sit inside of Charity Hospital waiting for help.

I heard the FEMA director say last night on TV that his office has "just heard" about the thousands of people stranded at the Convention Center in the city. Eyewitnesses told the media that 10 people had already died there and the people there are without food and water now for the 5th day. Now I had known about the people at the Convention Center for the past couple of days. It has been all over the news....but somehow the head of FEMA (the emergency management agency for the federal government) had just heard of this situation. Can this be believed?

The news has reported that 30% of the population of New Orleans had incomes below the national poverty guidelines. It was a city of workers who served the tourist industry - hotel workers, cooks, dishwashers, and the like. The federal government does not give a damn about the poor in this country, we all know that, and we are now seeing the results of this attitude.

It ought to make all of us come to our senses. This country is run by the rich, for the rich and the rest of us are on our own when the shit hits the fan. And on top of all that, the rich want even more tax cuts by repealing the estate tax. By repealing that tax the rich will ensure that they can pass on even more wealth to their children. So for the next generation the divide between the rich and the poor will grow even wider.

The tragedy in New Orleans is a warning sign. Put your ear to the railroad tracks and hear the train coming. See how the working class and the poor will be treated as our economy begins its collapse. Jobs are moving out of America. Scientists are now saying, that because of global warming, the hurricanes in the future will be more severe because the oceans are becoming warmer and this causes hurricanes to increase in ferocity. So there will be more devastations like New Orlenas in the future. Open you eyes and see what is going on. You might be next.

In the meantime we are blowing YOUR TAX DOLLAR$ on a war for oil in Iraq. Star Wars research and development is eating up tens of billions of YOUR TAX DOLLAR$ every year. It's your future we are talking about here.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


This picture speaks for itself...the oil corporations will make out like bandits from this human and ecological disaster. Isn't it time to nationalize the oil corporations?