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

Saturday, December 31, 2005


As we move into a new year my mind turns to bigger things. I remember that our lovely mother earth (aren't we lucky to live on such a beautiful spinning globe)deserves our adoration. Why don't we all reflect a bit more on how we could step more gently on her pregnant belly?

I am reminded by this lovely photo above, one positive thing we can thank NASA for, that there are no borders between countries on the earth. The artificial separation of people by languages and colors is something the global elite use to keep us at each other's throats while they steal us blind.

Let this new year be a time that we commit to working ever harder to bring justice and peace to our tiny orb. Let this be a time to remember that we are all brothers and sisters....we are all from the same cloth.

Best wishes to all out there in radio land....good luck in 2006 and get organized.


Thursday, December 29, 2005


The controversial January 11 launch of the New Horizons space probe, that will carry 24 pounds of plutonium, has been delayed until January 17. National media are now beginning to focus on the launch and are calling our office. A demonstration has been set for January 7 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. Members of the Global Network will be there as well as people from the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice.

There have been many demonstrations at the space center since the early 1980's when I began taking people there. Our first protest was around 1985 when seven of us went there to stand against the launch of a military spy satellite. Then in 1987 we had well over 5,000 people to protest the first flight test of the Trident II nuclear missile from the cape. About 285 were arrested in that action. Then in 1989, NASA launched the Galileo mission carrying radioactive plutonium onboard and we had about 1,000 people at that protest. The next year saw Ulysses go up, also carrying plutonium, and we held another large protest with about 500 people.

I worked for three years to build global opposition to the 1997 launch of Cassini that carried the most plutonium ever into the heavens - 72 pounds. The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported just prior to that launch that between 1994-1996, when the Department of Energy was fabricating the plutonium generators at Los Alamos Labs in New Mexico, over 244 cases of worker contamination were reported. It has always been our contention that these plutonium missions are harming people and communities even before they are launched. All anyone has to do is review the long and sad history of plutonium contamination at the DoE labs across the nation to understand our concern. And now, the DoE is doing a $300 million expansion of the Idaho laboratory to meet the "growing demand" for plutonium on future space missions. Nuclear powered bases on the moon and nuclear rockets are planned.

We had over 1,000 people at our Cassini protest at the space center just before it was launched. I'll never forget the Associated Press reporter said we had 400 people in her article. I heard another reporter ask her during our march to the base gates how many people she was going to report. "Four hundred," she replied. I heard him say to her, "There are at least 800 here!" It was the AP story that got picked up all over the world and it said a disappointing crowd of 400 was at the space center that day. The reporter was a "space booster" and did not appreciate our efforts to oppose the launching of plutonium. She was one of those reporters that would use expressions like "Our launch" or "we have a successful launch." She saw herself as part of the NASA team. Her job was to be a cheerleader.

As I have traveled and spoken out over the years against the nuclearization and weaponization of space, people tell me they don't want their tax dollars wasted on launching radioactive materials into space. They understand that space technology can, and does fail, and they also understand that a release of plutonium could have catastrophic consequences for Florida and beyond.

Years ago the U.S. Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act to protect the nuclear power industry from liability. The law places limits on how much the nuclear industry would be liable for after an accident. A few years back, Congress amended the law to include space nuclear accidents. So the limits have been set to protect NASA and the U.S. government from clean-up liability. Just who then would be responsible to clean-up a worst case space nuclear accident?

NASA and the DoE wish the Global Network and our supporters would go away. But we won't. We will continue to build national and international opposition to the launching of nuclear power into space. And with each new launch, more people learn about the dangers, and more people lose faith in NASA and their mission.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


These days I have been thinking alot about folks trying to return their lives back to normal after hurricane Katrina.

On the radio and on TV I've seen several interviews during the past week about people who have not been able to recover from the hurricane devastation. In their faces I see depression and in their voices I hear depression. Where are they to go now? How do they recover their lives - how do they recover their loss of community?

At the same time I've been focused on trying to get a handle on what happens next in Iraq. Now that Bush has had "his" election, how does it change the lives of the people in Iraq? So far the picture looks rather bleak. More violence and calls for another election because people felt this recent one was compromised by corruption.

My last two trips to the grocery store I ran into people I know from the peace movement. They are not in the first core of really active people. Instead they are the second or third layer of people. Good people but they both exhibited the same tendency. Depression and a sense that all is lost. They've given up hope and are not inclined to do much to help turn things around.

I get a bit angry with people like this. I don't express the anger to them, I am polite to them. I found myself telling them both the same thing. Yes, things are bad these days. No doubt we have many obstacles in front of us. But I am joining the non-violent resistance here in America, I told them. I have to act while we still can - before things get worse here at home. We need to step up the pressure.
Unfortunately, I don't think it had much impact on them.

These folks are generally comfortable in their lives and while they intellectually oppose what is going on they emotionally are unable to kick it in gear. They are my age and have made their place in the world. Getting more involved now would not hurt their careers. They use the excuse that "nothing will do any good anyway" to justify their doing virtually nothing to help us at this vital and historic moment.

When you allow others to control your destiny, because you think nothing can be done
to stop them, you are essentially signing the death warrant for democracy. You are basically voting by your own inaction for the worst case scenario to become a reality. Everyone wants someone else to come and rescue them from totalitarianism - but that is not how it works. We will get totalitarianism if those who know better do nothing....if people stand and watch the forces of darkness close in and they wait for someone else to save them, then we are all in trouble.

Abbie Hoffman once told me that there were just a couple thousand people at the protests in Chicago outside the 1968 Democratic convention. Abbie said though, that over the years he must have had 30,000 people tell him, "Hey Abbie, I was with you in Chicago in '68." This indicates to me that people would like to be in the middle of making history but social forces have taught them to stay away from the action. Don't go near efforts to save democracy from the war makers and war profiteers. So people do stay away and then create a fantasy world that they were somehow involved in the action.

The time is now to feel outrage, to let the passion burn in our hearts and souls, and allow that passion to get our asses moving. This is what will save us from fascism. We need everyone to become part of the non-violent resistance today. There is something that each of us can do. Do your bit now, before it is too late.

Friday, December 23, 2005


The news brought word today that Congress has just appropriated another $50 billion for the war in Iraq. We are now spending over $6 billion a month on the war. Last night the news reported that the new F-22 fighter plane was unveiled. They will cost over $300 million each and 150 or so of them will be ordered.

The local paper also brought word today that Congress refused yesterday to boost emergency heating-oil assistance by $2 billion, a severe blow for poor and working people in the north who are now having to choose between food and heat this winter.

Due to oil price increases, and downturn of the job market, the numbers of people in Maine applying for heating-oil assistance is up 25% this year.

We are also told today in the news that there are now more than 38.2 million Americans, including 13.8 million children, who live with "food insecurity," meaning they either go hungry or don't know how they will get their next meal. This is a 12% increase over last year. On top of that Congress, who has just given themselves another pay raise, has also just voted new restrictions on Medicaid and Medicare.

We've heard alot of grumbling in recent days about how hard Congress has been working of late, and how they are having to miss their normal holiday break from Washington. Yeah, like scrooge, Congress has been working overtime counting out more tax cuts for the rich and more tax give-a-ways to the big corporations. What do they have for the people - for the poor and those one pay check away from being poor? They have nothing. A sack of coal and a bag of sticks. Bah-humbug, Congress says. You are on your own. This is the era of responsibility. Every dog for themselves now buster!

Well, as we come upon the holiday season I beg to differ. I remember a story about the great Lakota leader Sitting Bull. After he had been brought onto the reservation he went for a trip to England. He was sitting on a door stoop one day in downtown London and poor children all gathered around him begging for some money or food. He went back to South Dakota and told his people that in the big cities the white man abandons his children. He said the Lakota people would never do that. The white man, Sitting Bull said, should not be trusted with our lives.

We now see the "Great White Father" in Washington not only abandoning his children but millions of people - children, elderly, working people. The government cares nothing about them. They are no longer needed. They will be set adrift to fend for themselves. This is the holiday reality in America today.

Those of you who have a heart also now have a responsibility. You must help fight for the "least of these." After all, you or your loved ones might be next to suffer.

Happy holidays to all of you. Best wishes for a much better year in 2006.


Thursday, December 22, 2005


The January 11 launch date for the News Horizons plutonium mission to the planet Pluto has been dropped back a week to January 17. The media has reported that NASA is having problems with the fuel tank on the Atlas rocket that would lift the probe into space. Just a small matter, you don't want the fuel tank blowing up with 24 pounds of deadly plutonium on board. Something about a possible "structural integrity problem." Oops!

The national media has begun checking in with us about the building opposition to the launch. Journalism professor Karl Grossman's op-eds, reporting on opposition to the mission, are now appearing in papers across the country. I've been hearing from people - Oregon to Florida - who have been writing letters to Congress, NASA, and their local papers expressing their outrage about the launching of nuclear power into space. NASA is losing the support of taxpayers nationwide as they push these toxic launches.

Plans are also underway in Florida for a demonstration at Cape Canveral Air Force Station on January 7.

Please do what you can to help us build pressure against the launch of New Horizons. Cancel the mission. The planets have been out there a long time and aren't going anywhere. Explore space sure, but don't risk the lives of people here on Earth. Develop alternative technologies for space exploration. No nuclear launches!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


George W. Bush and company hoped for a long spin cycle after the "elections" in Iraq. But they are being haunted by their own arrogance. Revelations about spying on the American people, infiltration of the vegan society, surveillance of Catholic worker communities who are described as "communistic", and now a federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program. Not a good week for a man wanting to show that things are improving in Iraq.

The Bush team is going full bore for power. They are overturning all the tables in America. They are out to destroy our democracy, what bit we had left, and they are out to destroy social progress in the U.S. Their goal is to turn us into a militarized nation, where weapons are the number one export product and we live in a state of endless war. We won't need education for our kids because they will be wearing uniforms and fighting for "our vital interests" overseas.

The problem though is that folks are beginning to figure the scam out. Folks are waking up to see that "our vital interests" does not mean you and me. It means the weapons corporations, the oil corporations, the drug corporations, agri-business, the banking industry, media corporations....this is who our children are fighting and dieing for overseas. And we won't even get health care at home in return for "our sacrifice."

I've always been fascinated how often Bush uses the word "sacrafice." It reminds me of some ancient religious ritual where virgin women were thrown into the fires. Then I think about the "tomb" at Yale University where the Skull & Bones Club that the Bush family (Prescott, George H.W., and George W.) have belonged. (And John Kerry too by the way.) Inside the tomb they have rituals where they go into a dark room and crawl into an open coffin and tell their deepest, darkest sex secrets to each other. These folks are sick and they are running our country into the ground and talking about the "sacrifices" we the people have to make to our rich overlords.

Time to wake up America......time to end feudalism in America.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Last Thursday I was arrested with 18 others in the Bangor office of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). In the photo above you can see me sitting in a chair and on the floor across from me is Pat Wheeler (Deer Isle). We were the only two of our group to actually get into the office. The others had to sit in the hall way outside the door.

We first had a rally outside the office where over 75 people listened to speakers. Near the end of the rally one of our folks read a letter to Snowe that called on her to publicly admit she had been lied to about the war; to stop the funding for the war; to bring the troops home now; and to declare that the war in Iraq is over. We also asked for a public town hall meeting to discuss the war. Over 450 people around the state had signed the letter.

A representative from the senators office was invited to respond and she began reading what turned out to be a November 22 letter from the senator that once again justified the Iraq war. (Our letter had been sent to the senator in advance so she could specifically comment on it. She did not address any of our concerns.)

As the senator's letter was being read I went up to the third floor office to check things out. I quickly discovered that the door had been locked and they did not intend on letting any of us into their office following the outside rally. Soon enough one of the senators staffers flew up the stairs, knocked on the door, and when his fellow staffers opened the door to let him in I stuck my foot in the door to keep it open. This move obviously was not greeted with great joy by the staffer and he told me that they'd let us into the office in a few minutes. I told him I was not born yesterday. I kept pressing my foot harder, pushing the door open bit by bit, and I was soon joined at the door by Pat Wheeler. We eased our way into the office and the staff quickly slammed the door shut and locked it. Soon about 50 of the folks from outside made their way up the stairs, followed by media people, and they began knocking on the door wanting in. The head of Snowe's office, Gail Kelly, kept yelling at us, "You are not going to take over my office" and then went to the door, opened it just a bit, and began yelling at the folks in the hallway that they had to leave. They did not leave and sat down and began singing.

Inside the office Pat and I took turns trying to communicate with the staff. It was not long before the police arrived to guard the door on the inside to make sure more of our group did not come into the office. Pat read a letter from a GI killed in Iraq, his last letter to his family. I read a speech by my hero Eugene Debs from June 16, 1918 when he spoke out against WW I. Debs was arrested and prosecuted under the Sedititon Act for interfering with the draft and got a 10-year prison sentence and loss of his U.S. citizenship. (He ended up serving 2 years and 8 months in jail.)

Pat and I also joined in singing with the group outside the door and watched through the glass as more police arrived and began arresting the folks in the hallway. By 4:00 pm Pat and I decided to go out into the hallway and join the last of the group being arrested and we too were handcuffed and taken to the Penobscott county jail. We had to pay a $40 bail bond and were all out by 7:00 pm. We have a January 20 arraignment in Bangor.

I went home with fellow jail-bird Dud Hendrick who lives on Deer Isle. I stayed with him and his wife Jean and then was joined by my partner Mary Beth on Saturday. Several others came as well and we had a wonderful gathering at the home of Pat Wheeler where she had us do an art project together and then we spent Sunday morning strategizing our next moves. We ended the meeting with a three-mile walk along the beautiful rocky coastline and then headed back home.

All in all it was an action-packed and moving few days. It was an honor to be in the midst of such great folks and I can say with confidence that we will not give up the important effort to end this illegal and immoral war in Iraq.

(The entire list of people arrested and charged with criminal trespass in Bangor on Dec. 15 - Judy Robbins of Sedgwick, Doug Rawlings of Chesterville, Steve West of Penobscot, Ron King of Penobscot, Jim Harney of Bangor, Sandy Yakovenko of Tenants Harbor, Maureen Block of Swanville, Debby Marshall of Deer Isle, Nancy Hill of Stonington, Peter Robbins of Sedgwick, Richard Stander of Stockton Springs, Carolyn Coe of Blue Hill, Elizabeth Adams of Ellsworth, Olenka Folda of Brooklin, Dud Hendrick of Deer Isle, Nancy Galland of Stockton Springs, Rob Shetterly of Brooksville, Bruce Gagnon of Brunswick and Pat Wheeler of Deer Isle.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A SOMBER OCCUPATION - Maine’s anti-war activists have come up with a plan to make our congressional delegates listen

Portland Phoenix
December 14, 2005

By Sara Donnelly

Last December, 13 anti-war activists gathered in Senator Susan Collins's office in Portland. They read the names of the American soldiers who had died to date in the Iraq War, as well as an equal number of Iraqi civilians who died. They occupied Collins's office for roughly four hours and, before they left, asked the senator to hold a "town meeting" to discuss the war with her constituents.

On February 4, 17 Maine peace activists gathered in the Portland offices of Senator Olympia Snowe. Again, they read the names of the American soldiers who had died in the Iraq War and an equal number of Iraqi names — over 2000 total by that date. This time, after someone read the name of each war-dead, they marked an X, in red or black marker, on a giant sheet of cloth to demonstrate the enormity of the loss. They then asked Snowe to meet with her constituents in a town meeting on the war.

On March 18, 35 people gathered in Representative Tom Allen's Portland office. They repeated the February action's format.

The names of the war dead were read, X marks were drawn on a white sheet, and, at the end, the request for a town meeting.

On June 23, 100 people gathered to protest the war in front of Collins's Bangor office.

About a month later, on August 26, another occupation occurred in Collins's Lewiston office. Someone brought a bell, which rang after each name was read.

Then again on October 14, at Snowe's office in Biddeford. The names, the sheet, the bell, the request for a town meeting.

All told, there have been six nearly identical occupations of Maine's congressional delegates' offices (as well as several informal meetings with US Representative Mike Michaud), each lasting between four and six hours, each designed to slowly and somberly disrupt business as usual. It's all part of a statewide, coordinated action called the "Frequent Visit Program," founded a year ago by some of the state's most fervent anti-war activists.

Since the start of this anti-war occupation effort, Allen and Michaud have agreed to the activists' request to hold a town meeting on the Iraq War. Maine's FVP activists are well aware the time is ripe to use congressional leaders to get the anti-war message to the Prez, thanks to plummeting public support for the war and anti-war lightning rods like Cindy Sheehan and US representative John Murtha. So FVP creators are marketing their model nationwide.

The ready-to-wear war-resistance model — an office occupation, a roll-call of the dead, a request for public dialogue — has already been used in a handful of other states thanks to FVP outreach through correspondence, training brochures, and a DVD. Forget moose and blueberries — Maine now has its own little peace action franchise.

Frequent Visit is founded on a premise so basic it seems like common sense: To get things done, you need to sway your local legislator. Visitors focus on national legislators exclusively and leave the vigils and massive marches for another day.

The plan is simple. First, Visitors call or visit the offices of Maine's congressional delegates in small groups of three or four. They request private meetings to discuss their concerns about the war. If they haven't gotten a meeting after several attempts, they stage a sit-in, referred to most often as an "occupation," in which they eulogize the Iraq War dead. They ask for a town meeting, open to the public, in which the congressional delegate can discuss his or her policies on the war with constituents. If they don't get a commitment, or a reasonable promise of one, they make phone calls, send letters, write e-mails, several times a month, over and over and over, asking for a town meeting. It's frequent, pointed pressure. Visitors are the guests who won't leave.

Now, within this model, there's room for variation. Since the activist movement in-state and beyond is chronically non-hierarchical and as dynamic as sand in a windstorm, Visit actions can vary. Sometimes they're outside the office. Sometimes, they're inside. The core group of organizers changes according to which peace group is based closest to the action. The next action, on December 15, the day of parliamentary elections in Iraq, at Senator Snowe's office in Bangor, will break with FVP tradition and include a press conference and forgo the reading of the names. FVP activists, also, for the first time in the program's history, plan to occupy the office that day until they receive a response from the senator to their concerns about the war. FVP co-founder and longtime activist Bruce Gagnon thinks it might be the first time he gets arrested on an FVP mission.

Despite the December variation, FVP's strength lies in its relative consistency.

Gagnon and the handful of Maine activists who created FVP watched Allen hold a town meeting on the war in Portland last July and this month received the promise of one in Bangor from Michaud. But the senators have been a tougher sell. Kevin Kelley, a press secretary for Senator Susan Collins, says the senator "welcomes the communications from constituents" but prefers to meet one-on-one rather than in large, town hall meetings.

Antonia Ferrier, press secretary for Senator Olympia Snowe, says the senator has not "ruled out" a town meeting but no plans have been made to hold one.

"[Senator Snowe] wants to be able to hear from [the Visitors] as well as any Mainer about how they feel on any issue," says Ferrier. "That helps her formulate her policy and explain to her colleagues in Washington what she’s hearing at home and what the political will is of her constituents."

Despite our reluctant senators, as Gagnon says, "two of the four pillars have fallen." The Visit program, only one year old, has fostered some real discussion on the war with the state's DC delegates.

"We've been getting more and more people coming out of the woodwork wanting to be a part of this," says Gagnon, of Brunswick (see "Becoming a Visitor"). "That really says something about the state of activism. People are desperate; they just want to become a part of something."

Gagnon based Visit on the 1930s General Motors plant sit-down strikes conducted by the United Auto Workers in Flint, Michigan. That movement is recognized in activist circles as one of the most important labor-rights strikes in American history. The FVP model has been used in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Some of the occupations have resulted in a town meeting on the war. Others have ended with activists spending a few days in jail, though the Maine Visitors have never been arrested during an occupation.

Maureen Block, an activist from Swanville, became hooked on the Visit program from the first meeting she attended in March. Block heard about plans for the March occupation of Allen's office from friends, the same way most Maine activists learn about demonstrations, and was struck by how organized the sit-in was.

"The Frequent Visit Program was the first thing that was presented to me that would produce tangible results," Block says. "It was direct action in the offices, making statements with a clear purpose. It was a way to really get directly involved in something that made sense to me."

Gagnon and others who founded the program — including Karen Wainberg of Peace Action Maine, Dud Hendrick of Maine Veterans for Peace, and Pat Wheeler, an artist and activist from Deer Isle — hope activists in other states will adopt the format to put pressure on their own congressional senators and representatives. Wheeler has filmed four of the six occupations to date and edited hours of footage into 20-minute montages set to folk music which she sends to activists in the state and around the country. At an anti-war demonstration in Washington DC last September, Visitors handed out hundreds of flyers on how to recreate the program. Wheeler and other Maine activists frequently send informal e-mails to their activist buddies in other states talking about FVP. They talk about it on activist listservs. They hype it to their friends over coffee. "The good, old-fashioned, grassroots word-of-mouth network is the best way," says Gagnon.

"We felt that we created a model which could be recreated across the country," says Wheeler of Visit. "We try to encourage [other states' activists] to organize a new group of people that haven't done this before to teach them to do an effective office visit. We wanted more people to repeatedly visit the offices [of congressional representatives] because we've sent countless petitions their way, we've made phone calls and sent e-mails and it seemed too easy to ignore. We thought visiting their office in person would make a difference."

Francis Crowe, an 86-year-old peace activist from Northampton, Massachusetts, received one of Wheeler's DVDs and an e-mail from Gagnon about Frequent Visit. She conducted an office occupation with her group, the Quaker organization the American Friends Service Committee, in May 2005. Crowe and eight others sat in the Springfield office of Democratic congressional representative Richard Neal and read the names of the American soldiers killed in Iraq and an equal number of Iraqis killed. For each name, one of the activists stamped a stick figure on a white sheet. Crowe says by the end of the meeting, Neal had personally committed to a town meeting with district constituents.

"[Neal] had been absolutely unreachable about the war in Iraq," says Crowe. "That day [his staff] said he wasn't reachable. But eventually, after the local newspaper called his office [about the demonstration], someone from the office came out to the reception room to say that Neal would be out to see us. In the dialogue with him we were able to get what we wanted which was for him to come to Northampton and hold a community meeting on the war and to spend an hour and a half answering questions and explaining his policy. But he hasn't signed on with [US representative] John Murtha or the [US representative James] McGovern bill, so I think we need to go back."

Pennsylvania Democratic congressman and notorious war hawk John Murtha sparked debate on Capitol Hill in November when he called for US withdrawal from Iraq in six months. Massachusetts Democratic congressman James McGovern's bill cuts off US money for the war.

On December 5, Anne Miller, director of New Hampshire Peace Action in Concord, was arrested along with eight other Peace Action activists while conducting a Frequent Visit-style occupation in the Concord office of Senator Judd Gregg. Miller, who did not know that the Maine program has a name, spoke with Gagnon in February and adopted most of the program's details for the occupation earlier this month.

"The call has come from all over the country for direct action," says Miller. "But I would say that Maine has provided a really wonderful model."

Bill Dobbs is the Media Coordinator for the United for Peace and Justice Coalition, based in New York City. Founded during the buildup to the Iraq War in 2002, the coalition is now the largest anti-war collective in the country, with some 1200 member groups in all 50 states and around the world. Member groups include small grassroots organizations with 10 or fewer activists to established anti-war groups like Peace Action and Veterans for Peace, each with thousands of members. Dobbs says this summer activists nationwide seemed to shift their focus to their congressional representatives. Dobbs believes the shift is the result of a number of factors, including the emergence of prominent anti-war voices in activist circles and in Congress.

"Congress is a great pressure point," says Dobbs. "There's a big gap between what the will of the American public wants and Congress and the Bush administration."

Dobbs says local work like FVP is as important to the anti-war movement as massive demonstrations in Washington DC and New York City. He believes local and national demonstrations fuel discussion on the war together — not only by showing growing numbers of voters oppose the war but by demonstrating the emotional toll on average Americans through vigils, word-of-mouth, and local actions like occupations.

"The national work and the local work are dove-tailing," says Dobbs. "There is a surge of interest in the last number of months in holding Congress accountable. Congress gave Bush the authority to wage this war and has continued to give him the money to wage it."

Gagnon, who worked as an activist in Florida before moving to Maine three years ago, says the number of activists here is unusually high, which helps regular actions like FVP. And, for an undefined war in which more than 2100 American soldiers have died and tens of thousands more Iraqis, Gagnon believes activists — or just concerned Americans — have to commit to more than the occasional demonstration or coffee-shop argument.

"Democracy is a participatory sport," he says. "If you don't exercise the muscles, they grow flaccid and weak."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


By Karl Grossman

NASA is again threatening the lives of people on Earth.

On January 11, the window opens for a launch from Cape Canaveral of a rocket lofting a space probe with 24 pounds of plutonium fuel on board. Plutonium is considered the most deadly radioactive substance.

Once it separates from the Atlas rocket, the probe, on what NASA calls its New Horizons mission, would move through space powered by conventional chemical fuel.

The plutonium is in a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) that is to provide on-board electricity for the probe’s instruments—a mere 180 watts when it gets to its destination of Pluto.

Until after the probe leaves the rocket and breaks from the Earth’s gravitational pull, the plutonium endangers life on Earth.

Because a fatal dose of plutonium is just a millionth of a gram, anyone breathing just the tiniest particle of plutonium dispersed in an accident could die.

NASA has divided the sequence into four phases before what it calls “escape” of the probe from the Earth’s gravity. It is most concerned about the launch phase.

NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the New Horizons Mission (EIS) says there is “about 6 percent probability” of an accident during launch.

If plutonium is released in a launch accident—and NASA says there is a 1-in-620 chance of that—it could spread far and wide. Some could drift up to 62 miles from the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, says the EIS. And “a portion” of the plutonium could go well beyond that, says NASA, and “two-thirds of the estimated radiological consequences would occur within the global population.”

That’s because “fine particles less than a micron in diameter” of the plutonium “could be transported beyond 62 miles and become well mixed in the troposphere, and have been assumed to potentially affect persons living within a latitude band from approximately 20-degrees North to 30-degrees North,” says NASA.

The troposphere is the atmosphere five to nine miles overhead. The 20- to 30-degree band goes through parts of the Caribbean, across North Africa and the Mideast and then India and China and Hawaii and other Pacific Islands and then Mexico and southern Texas.

But life elsewhere on Earth could be impacted if the plutonium-fueled probe falls back to Earth before its “escape” and flight on to Pluto.

NASA says the “probability of an accident” releasing plutonium “for the overall mission is estimated to be approximately 1 in 300.”

An “enormous disaster” could result with the spread of the plutonium, says Dr. Ernest Sternglass, professor emeritus of radiological physics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The issue is how much plutonium is released in respirable particles, he explains.

“The problem is it takes so little plutonium,” says Dr. Sternglass.

The NASA EIS acknowledges that in the event of plutonium release “costs may include: temporary or longer term relocation of residents; temporary or longer term loss of employment; destruction or quarantine of agricultural products…land use restrictions which could affect real estate values, tourism and recreational activities; restrictions or bans on commercial fishing; and public health effects and medical care.”

The EIS says the cost to decontaminate land on which the plutonium falls would range from “about $241 million to $1.3 billion per square mile.”

But, it notes, compensation would be subject to the Price-Anderson Act, a U.S. law first enacted in 1957. It sets a cap on how much people can collect for property damage, illnesses and death resulting from a “nuclear incident.” Under the Energy Bill passed this year, the cap in the United States was increased to $10 billion.

But the cap for damage from a “nuclear incident occurring outside the United States shall not exceed $100 million,” the law stipulates. This is the limit in the original Price-Anderson Act. It has never been raised.

And it is in violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the basic international law on space—which the U.S. has signed and was central in drafting—which declares that “states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects.”

Demanding that the New Horizons mission be cancelled is the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space ( Bruce Gagnon, its coordinator, says “one thing we know is that space technology can and does fail and when you mix deadly plutonium into the equation, you are asking for catastrophe.”

NASA, he charges, is “playing nuclear Russian roulette with the public.”

Indeed, NASA is planning a series of additional launches of plutonium-fueled space probes and other shots involving nuclear material. And under its $3 billion Project Prometheus program, the agency is working on nuclear reactors to be carried up by rockets for placement on the moon and the building and launching of actual atomic-propelled rockets.

Disaster may or may not strike on the New Horizons mission but if these nuclear missions are allowed to proceeded, some will inevitably result in accidents dispersing radioactive material.

Indeed, accidents have already happened in the U.S. space nuclear program. Of the 25 U.S. space missions using plutonium fuel, three have undergone accidents, admits the NASA EIS on New Horizons. That’s a 1-in-8 record. The worst occurred in 1964 and involved, notes the EIS, the SNAP-9A RTG with 2.1 pounds of plutonium fuel. It was to provide electricity to a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth. The RTG disintegrated in the fall, spreading plutonium widely. Release of that plutonium caused an increase in global lung cancer rates, says Dr. John Gofman, professor emeritus of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley.

After the SNAP-9A accident, NASA pioneered the development of solar energy in space. Now all satellites—and the International Space Station—are solar-powered.

But NASA keeps insisting on plutonium power for space probes—even as the Rosetta space probe, launched this year by NASA’s counterpart, the European Space Agency, with solar power providing all on-board electricity, now heads for a rendezvous with a comet near Jupiter.

Along with the U.S. military, which for decades has been planning for the deployment of nuclear-energized weapons in space, NASA seeks wider uses of atomic power above our heads.

In its New Horizons EIS, NASA maintains the risks to people from the mission are not so bad in view of a chart it presents titled “Calculated Individual Risk and Probability of Fatality by Various Causes in the United States.” The chart lists the probability of getting killed by lightning or in a flood or by a tornado as higher than someone dying of cancer because of plutonium dispersed in New Horizons.

Of course, we can’t control lightning or floods or tornadoes. These are involuntary assaults. NASA’s space nuclear gamble using tax dollars (the cost of New Horizons: $650 million) is being carried out by choice.

An additional wrinkle: the Boeing machinists who were to install the New Horizons probe on the Atlas rocket that is to carry it up are on strike—and warning that the company’s bringing in of replacement workers poses a safety risk. Because of the strike, other NASA missions at Cape Canaveral have been grounded. But NASA is continuing with the New Horizons launch. “If it’s not safe to work on all the other projects with replacement workers, it’s irresponsible to continue with New Horizons,” says Robert Wood, a spokesperson for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Gagnon says his organization is “building opposition to New Horizons and all missions that launch nuclear power in space. The public needs to know more about this issue and we need the grassroots to pressure Congress and NASA and others responsible. We say that NASA should be developing alternative, non-nuclear power sources for space travel.”

Paul Gunter of the Washington, D.C.-based Nuclear Information and Resource Services comments: “The fact that both the planet Pluto and the manmade isotope plutonium are named after the god of hell lends bizarre insight into NASA’s fascination with launching this hideous stuff into the heavens at the risk of fouling the very nest of all humankind.”

New Horizons and the rest of NASA’s deadly-dangerous nuclear space operations must be stopped.

If space is to be explored, let that be done safely. To destroy a portion of life on Earth to explore space makes no sense.

- Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, is the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet (Common Courage Press) and wrote and narrates the TV documentary Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (EnviroVideo,

Sunday, December 11, 2005


This is the now famous picture of Donald Rumsfeld, at that time a special envoy of Ronald Reagan, shaking the hand of Saddam Hussein on December 20, 1983. Rumsfeld was sent to deliver chemical weapons to Saddam for his war with Iran. Rumsfeld also delivered satellite reconnaissance information that would be valuable in the war with Iran. Saddam was our boy...all the way back to the 1950's when he first went to work for the CIA in an unsuccessful assassination plot against the Iraq president who dared nationalize the oil, taking control away from British and American oil corporations.

This is an important story for me because it underscores the true intentions of U.S. policy in Iraq. We've never cared about democracy there, never cared about freedom there, never cared that Saddam was a evil dictator because he was our boy. So who can believe that today the U.S. suddenly has had a change of heart? Who could ever swallow the pill that says we are in Iraq for democracy?

This morning 50 people lined up on the corner between the Catholic church and the Episcopal church here in Brunswick. We stood there with our anti-war signs as people flocked out of the churches. It was a beautiful sunny day, snow on the ground from the big Friday storm, and we got a very good response from the public. Gretchen and Dexter Kamilewicz organized the event as they work hard to expand local anti-war efforts in hopes of bringing their son Ben home alive from Iraq. He has been there now for about four months and has nearly been killed by IED explosions several times. Gretchen and Dexter have become real leaders during this past year and they have made the war real for many of us in the peace movement here in Maine.

I've been to protests three days in a row. On Friday was our regular evening vigil downtown in Brunswick, on Saturday there was the Advent vigil at Bath Iron Works and now today. Last night our Brunswick PeaceWorks group had a holiday pot luck party at the home of one of our members and the place was packed. Many new faces were there which indicates that people are looking for places to connect and want to get more involved. And we had a great time. After eating we went around and had everyone share some personal thoughts and then we sang songs for at least an hour. It really was wonderful and very moving. We were really a community. People want more community...they need more community...we have to become community and support one another.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Hillary Clinton wants to be president so badly that she is now wrapping herself in the flag. It was reported this week that she will now be co-sponsoring a bill in the Senate with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who is one of the very worst right-wing reactionary folks in Congress. The bill would make it a crime to desecrate the flag. Hillary is doing this to try to win conservative voters to her side. The move shows just how much contempt she has for people. Does Hillary think that conservatives are so stupid that they will rally to her side just because she makes this blatantly political move?

Hillary is also saying it would be "a big mistake" for the U.S. to end the occupation of Iraq. She has told the American people to relax and be patient, we will be in Iraq for a long time. We've been in Korea for 50 years she said last February on Faze the Nation....I heard her with my own ears.

So these are the Democrats....the opposition party......Joseph Biden, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman (who is now considering becoming Bush's next Secretary of War after Rumsfeld resigns after the first of the new year), and many "leading" Dems are saying they would do a better job of running the war in Iraq. And they want my vote? Forget it.

Hillary and the rest of the reactionary Dems think people like me are so desperate that we will settle for anything but Bush....but I don't see much difference. I've spent my entire adult life working to end war....what makes them think that I will just roll over and vote for another version of the same thing?

People in the progressive movement should not fall for this slight of hand by the Dems. We should have more self respect. We need to think long-term right now and demand real change in America. We need to withdraw our support from a political party that ignores the truth and is ultimately a partner in this whole deception.

We should put our energies behind local and statewide candidates that will tell the truth....whether they are good Dems, Greens or Independents. Don't worry if they win or lose. We win by going out and organizing people and showing that there are people out there who will speak the truth. That will give people hope. We need to rebuild this thing from the ground up and quit thinking that electing a compromised president will change things. We've got hard work ahead of us. There is no magic bullet or easy way out of this.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


We ain't coming home Bush says. We've got to build democracy throughout the Middle East he says.

The December 15 "elections" in Iraq will be a joke. The U.S. and England have a favorite candidate...Iyad Allawi, the secular Shiite who served until this spring as Iraq's interim Prime Minister. Tony Blair has a team of operatives now helping Allawi with his campaign. It will be a rigged deal.

The idea is that if Allawi wins, he'd then ask the U.S. to leave, making Bush the hero back home. But under the rug the U.S. would keep Space Forces operations going inside Iraq, stationed behind the walls of the permanent bases we are now building there. And the Air Force would increase the numbers of bombing runs that will end up killing more innocent civilians. That will help swell the ranks of the insurgency. In the end, the war goes on.

On December 15 I will head north to Bangor to join a rally outside the office of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) who supports the war and refuses to hold a town hall meeting in the state on the war issue. She fears hearing directly from the people she supposedly represents. Count Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in the same boat.

There is a very exciting growing movement across Maine that is calling on our senators to hold town hall meetings. It is coming up in letters to the editor, visits to their various offices across the state, on cable TV shows, and in other ways as well. This mounting pressure, especially in 2006 when Sen. Snowe must stand for reelection, should be interesting to follow. If you live in Maine give us a hand by calling on our senators to meet with the public. If you live outside of Maine, call on your own Congressional delegation to hold town hall meetings.

Call this toll-free number in Washington to reach your Congressional representatives: 1-888-355-3588

Monday, December 05, 2005


My friend Bob Anderson in New Mexico sent me this photo this morning. A new billboard, just put up in Farmington, N.M., carries the name of Bob's peace group in Albuquerque. STOP THE WAR MACHINE.

All over America there is growing resistance to endless war. There are new layers of people joining the peace movement. Folks who have never before been actively engaged in anti-war activity now are seeing their loved ones sent to Iraq, they are seeing the maddening amount of money being wasted on that could provide health care and education for their families back home. New middle class, professionals who have wanted to "keep their nose clean," are coming out of the woodwork because they can't stand the lies and deception any longer.

Last week our Maine chapter of Veterans for Peace (VfP) had our monthly meeting. We spent a lot of time discussing the war and the recent Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops into Kuwait. Rep. Murtha feels the troops are worn out and need to be removed from direct contact with the growing native insurgency in Iraq. Rep. Murtha's plan though would keep the U.S. heavily involved in the war by using more air power to bomb Iraqi targets and special opeations troops to run counter-insurgency missions. Our VfP chapter was clear that the peace movement needs to stay away from getting into the whole debate about a timed or phased withdrawal. Our members were strong in saying that we need to stick with the "bring them home now" message.

The U.S. military and economic empire is on a mission. That mission is about controlling the resources of the world (oil and water) and by doing that the U.S. empire will control (or manage) the development of countries like China. This means that the U.S. will never want to come home from Iraq or Afghanistan where new permanent bases are being built. Long-term control of the oil in the Middle East and Central Asia will mean a state of endless war for the American people. The Pentagon is even talking these days about fighting in Africa 20 years from now for their oil. Not a pretty picture for sure.

The number one industrial product of America today is weapons. When weapons are your #1 industrial export, what is your global marketing strategy? We here at home have to call for an end to the war machine.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


It is snowing outside. It's a steady, swirling small-flaked kind of snow. The ground is pretty well frozen after several days of real cold. This snow is likely to stick for awhile. We had snow on Thanksgiving weekend but it all melted within a couple days.

I love the snow in the trees and on rooftops. Life seems to slow down a bit when it snows. Years ago, while living in Florida, I met a guy from Maine who had moved to Miami. We were talking about the differences between the two states. I'll always remember how he described life in Maine. He said when it snows life slows down a bit. It becomes more human. People were not meant to go at full-speed 12 months out of the year, he said. In Florida, with air-conditioning, he felt life there was full-out warp speed year round. I think his observation was profound.

I know it happens to me. I get going at a certain pace and I go mindless. I keep moving, can't sit down for long, have to be checking the e-mails again....have to do some laundry....have to get dinner going before Mary Beth gets home from to check the e-mails again after days a week.....keep going. Run and check the mail at the post office box. There is a war going to push to do more to stop the war.

But now it is snowing. I find myself wanting to stand by the window and watch the flakes take their time falling to the ground. They are in no hurry. They don't particularly care where they land. They seem to be enjoying their brief moment of flight through this life. The snow knows nothing about a war and a Bush presidency.

I look out the window and the road has changed from black top to white. It is amazing the power of nature. It can change the color of a road in minutes. But the humans will soon run the noisy gas-hogging snow plows through trying to change the color of the road back to black. For a little while the world slows down, almost stops. I don't want to miss that moment. Let me run back to the window.

Friday, December 02, 2005


George W. Bush announced this week that he has a plan to end the war in Iraq. But it was really just more of the patient he told the country, this kind of endless war on terror takes time. We've heard it all before.

The Bush team might play the shell game with us in 2006 by bringing home a few troops but in the end the permanent bases will remain and so will active U.S. engagement for control of Iraq. According to the "strategy plan" document Bush released after his speech this week at the Naval Academy, while the U.S. military presence "may become less visible, it will remain lethal and decisive, able to confront the enemy whereever it may organize."

It was disclosed yesterday that the Pentagon has given a Bush supporter a $100 million contract to plant stories in the Iraq media that have been written by the U.S. military. The Washington-based public relations firm, called the Lincoln Group, is working with the Pentagon's "Special Operations Command" to place favorable stories about the war and rebuilding in the Iraqi media as a way to turn the growing opposition to U.S. occupation around. I guess the hope is that they can do like they do in the U.S. -- influence the public with a compliant and subservient media. So if they have to spend some taxpayer $$$ to pull it off, well why not. It's all for freedom and democracy.

As I was watching the NBC news report on this story last night they concluded the spot by interviewing a journalism professor from a major U.S. university. He commented that if the U.S. wanted freedom and democracy in Iraq, then this program of planting stories and deceiving the people would fundamentally UNDERMINE their development of a truly free media and would UNDERMINE the development of real democracy.

I think the phony media stories though clearly reveal the real U.S. intentions for Iraq. It is not about democracy and freedom. It is about control and domination of the people so the U.S. can extract their oil and water - their primary national resources.

Bush is repeating his lies over and over again in hopes that people will just be worn down and give up - both in Iraq and here at home. We can not, and will not, allow this to happen. Our opposition must grow as the Bush lie machine cranks out even more of its garbage. Now is the time to step on the anti-war pedal and push even harder.