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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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. @BruceKGagnon

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Outside the "media center" in Yongsan
Eating along the busy Seoul sidewalk with Father Mun (with beard) and other activists just outside protest "headquarters" where five men were killed by police for trying to save their building.

The wife of a killed man, me, and Kim the union organizer

Wow, what a day I had yesterday.

It began with a news conference at a church center where reporters from three religious and progressive newspapers interviewed me for about an hour.

Then Sung-Hee Choi introduced me to Kim, Seong-Whan, the General Union Chief of the Samsung workers. Kim has been organizing the workers for 10 years; the company has a no-union policy. Kim was jailed for two years after he revealed that Samsung was spying on the workers electronically….he was charged with "dishonoring" the corporation and "disrupting" their operations. While in prison he held many hunger strikes and his case was taken up by Amnesty International and by a famous Korean progressive Congressman who held a one-man protest on Kim's behalf in front of the president of Korea's "Blue House" – the equivalent of our White House.

The Samsung Corporation is also an investor in an effort to destroy a large downtown Seoul neighborhood called Yongsan that they want to "redevelop" for towering high-rise buildings. But the people in the neighborhood have fought back hard against this plan and about seven months ago five men were killed by the police when they refused to leave one of the buildings. The police raided it in the dark of night, a fire started, and the men were hacked to death by the raiding cops.

Kim took us to meet those now involved in this fight, including one of the wives of the dead men. Currently the gutted building where the men were killed, four-stories tall, remains as headquarters for the movement to demand an apology from the government and payment for the financial losses of the families. A nationally famous activist Catholic priest (Father Mun) has joined the permanent vigil at the now legendary spot and he has succeeded in getting the Catholic Priest Association for Justice to send priests from all over Korea to take part in the daily vigil. While I was there I saw at least a half-dozen priests sitting under a tent, right along the busy sidewalk, in the heart of a bustling Seoul.

Organizers took me for a walk in the neighborhood, much of which is now abandoned but adorned with protest banners, paintings, cartoons, and messages of solidarity. One now empty building has become a media center; local artists are turning another into a library and prayer hall. Police were all around the area watching our every step. But activists say that since the Catholic priests began their vigil the frequent brutal attacks by the police have stopped.

I had a great conversation with Father Mun who was very interested in hearing more about the work of the Global Network on the space issue. He heard that I will be coming back to Korea in October during our annual Keep Space for Peace Week (October 3-10) and hoped I could visit his home city where a US military base is located.

After we left this intensely heart grabbing place the labor organizer Kim guided us to a retreat center about an hour west of Seoul, out in farm country surrounded by mountains. There we joined a weekend retreat of a group called "Workers Institute of Social Science" which is a socialist organization that was going to be discussing the recent seventy-seven day occupation of the Ssangyong Motor factory by more than 600 workers who faced lay-offs. The company said it was going to lay-off the workers because their profits were down so the workers began their occupation. The government threatened the workers and the company sent in hired thugs to try to chase the workers from the factory. Eventually the police did a major raid to attack the workers, who had by then been labeled as "terrorists", but they held on. Ultimately the workers settled the strike but people say that a boycott of Ssangyong products has now begun and the strike has helped to contribute to a further weakening of the right-wing government's image in the eyes of the public.

The 20 people gathered at the retreat center invited me to speak about space issues and ended up changing their program to give me more than an hour to talk. We spent the night at this place before heading back to Seoul this morning.

One of the women in the meeting last night, after my talk, said, "The power of the US is decreasing." After answering their many questions I wanted to ask them a few. To my question, "What do you expect to see from Obama?", several of them quickly replied in broken English, "Nothing!"

Tonight I am to have a few moments to speak at a cultural event here in Seoul that will celebrate the 64th anniversary of Korea's August 15, 1945 liberation from Japanese colonialism. The rally will also denounce the right-wing South Korean regime of Lee Myung-Bak who comes out of the corporate world and is seen an as agent of the US.

UPDATE: I just got in my emails today a link to an interview I did while in Japan for a TV program. It is in English with Japanese sub-titles. You can see it here


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