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. @BruceKGagnon

Saturday, January 31, 2009


We are having a writing workshop all weekend at our house by Louise Dunlap who is author of the book in the banner above. Louise is a longtime respected teacher of writing for social change and does workshops all over the world these days after a successful career that took her to MIT and UC Berkeley among others.

Things began last night with Louise speaking to a packed crowd at a local progressive book store in nearby Brunswick. (I didn't attend last night's event, instead walking across town on a cold night to watch a local high school basketball game. One of my ways to escape.) Then today we had a very diverse group of 20 people at the house for a full day of writing skills training. The workshop will conclude at noon on Sunday.

Many of the people who came today we had not met before so it was an interesting opportunity for us to get to know some new people in the region that have different agendas than our usual circles. By the end of the day though we were finding that they were learning about our efforts to convert military production to sustainable technologies. One woman was the wife of a retired weapons maker, another a professor at a Maine college, another a woman who ran a popular local restaurant for years but had to give it up due to ill health. New connections and new friends.

The primary thing I learned in the workshop is to pour out the words and let them take you where they may. Don't think so much in that first go at it. Sort of like painting or drawing I suppose.

At the same time my main computer seems to have shut down and our wireless connection at the house has gone dead. So I am writing from a local coffee shop down the icy hill from our house. I've made an early appointment with our computer repair guru for early Monday morning. Computers - we love and hate them.

Friday, January 30, 2009



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Thursday, January 29, 2009


This is a very important interview between MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Rep. Peter Defazio (D-Oregon) on what was in the stimulus package that passed the House of Representatives last night.

Rep. Defazio reports that 33% of the $819 billion package went for more tax cuts. Only 7% of the bill was for direct infrastructure and key needs like Amtrak rail and manufacturing buses was taken out of the bill in order to mollify the Republicans. Other programs like water infrastructure repair, drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities and sewer lines, were also severely cut back.

Congressman Defazio pointed to Larry Summers, Obama's head of the White House National Economic Council, as the person who led the charge to slice out these vital programs and replace them with more tax cuts. Summers, who was one of the people responsible during Bill Clinton's administration for reducing regulations on Wall Street, got fired as President of Harvard University after the faculty revolted against his authoritarian rule.

This fight between Obama's economic team and progressive Democrats in Congress has only taken one-week to bust out into the open. It could be a long four years for all of us.


Secretary of Labor-designate Hilda Solis with United Farm Workers co-founded Delores Huerta

Of all Obama's cabinet picks, most of which I have been critical of, his very best selection has been Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) as Secretary of Labor. Maybe because she was the one real "progressive" in the bunch, Obama chose her last.

Solis is the daughter of poor Latin American immigrants and has been instrumental in drumming up support in the House of Representatives for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), the new labor backed bill to make it easier for workers to organize unions. Obama promised during the campaign that passing EFCA would be one of his major priorities in his first year. As a result labor unions nationwide worked their tails off for the Obama-Biden ticket.

While in the California legislature Solis led the effort to increase the state's minimum wage in 1996. Once elected to Congress in Washington she wrote a measure that authorized $125 million for work force training programs in areas such as energy efficiency retrofitting and green building construction.

Of course, with a 97% voting record on labor issues, not everyone in America was thrilled about the Solis selection for Labor Secretary. Mark Mix, president of the anti-union National Right to Work Committee, called the Solis nomination "a slap in the face to America's independent-minded workers." Translation: Big corporate interests don't like her.

There could be another problem for Solis. She supports labor's position on renegotiating US trade agreements to ensure worker, safety, and environmental standards are properly addressed. Obama's pick for US Trade representative, former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, supports NAFTA and would likely see Solis as a rival on these issues.

Just days ago the Houston Chronicle reported, "Kirk also favors giving Congress fast-track authority to approve other trade agreements, a provision opposed by organized labor. The process gives the executive branch the authority to negotiate and write trade agreements without consulting Congress. It sets a 90-day deadline for Congress to hold a vote on an agreement and strips Congress of the power to change the deal."

Mark Stoller, writing at Open Left, said just before Obama's inauguration, "I could see Labor becoming a department that has to build its own power, since Obama's not exactly going to welcome that perspective to the seat at the table unless Solis forces her way in. As an example, Obama has introduced his 'economic team' and met with it many times, without even having chosen a Labor Secretary, a clear sign that to him, the perspectives of organized labor are somewhat peripheral to his thinking on the economy."

But there is a bigger problem. Solis has not yet been confirmed by the Senate and it appears that the Republicans are holding up her nomination as the first shot in the labor-big business war over EFCA.

According to one labor official, the unions are waiting for word from the Obama team that they can start making a fuss about the hold-up, but they have gotten no feed-back from the administration. “People are just frustrated because they are not getting a clear signal of when and where to fight.”

Even the pro-corporate New York Times is wondering what is going on with the Solis hearings. In a recent editorial the newspaper wrote, "If there was ever a time the nation needed a strong secretary of labor, this is it. And yet, for the past several days, at least one Republican senator has been using a parliamentary procedure to hold up the confirmation of Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-California), President Obama’s choice for labor secretary. The 'hold' tactic delays a full vote by the Senate on the nomination, pending, well, pending what?"
Personal reflection: In 1978 when I quit college to go to work for the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), just before graduating at the University of Florida, it was Delores Huerta (pictured above on the right) who gave me my job interview at the UFW hall in Avon Park, Florida. I passed and went on to work for the UFW for two years organizing fruit pickers throughout the state. I was the note taker for the UFW in negotiations between the union and Coca Cola (Minute Maid orange juice) that were led by Delores.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


I'm watching the debate in the House of Representatives on the stimulus package.

You can see it live here:

Looks like the proponents of public transit just succeeded in putting $3 billion more in the bill for mass transit.

If we could just get the Democrats to move some money from the Pentagon into sustainable technologies that would be outstanding - but they don't seem to want to talk about that.

Oh, it's a bummer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Already there are liberals arguing with each other about Obama's strategy of working closely with Republicans on the economic stimulus package that is needed to pull the economy out of the dumper.

Of course none of the discussion yet seriously mentions cutting military spending as a way to free up major funds for creative projects like rail, solar, wind power and more. Current projected spending on these environmentally sustainable programs is minimal compared to the tremendous need due to climate change and declining fossil fuels. Obama proposes to spend alot of money on traditional "shovel ready" programs like road building which only reenforce the wasteful car culture.

The video above between MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and liberal activist David Sirota gives a good view of these issues. Some, like Sirota, are saying that Obama should not be compromising with the Republicans to water down his economic plan by agreeing to more tax cuts and the like.

One conservative Republican commented on their meeting with Obama to the New York Times: “This was not a drive-by P.R. stunt, and I actually thought it might be,” said Representative Zach Wamp, of Tennessee. “It was a substantive, in-depth discussion with our conference, and he’s very effective. He [Obama] knows that the debt and the deficit are huge long-term problems as well,” Mr. Wamp said, “and he made a compelling case. He sounded, frankly, a lot like a Republican.”

In the national campaign Obama spoke out strongly against more tax cuts for the rich and has since winning the election begun to back away some from that position.

Expect more of this liberal jostling as those who play the inside Washington ball game try to analyze and influence the Obama team. It is my view that folks are beginning to see that Obama is indeed a centrist - some will be OK with that and others, who "hoped" for more, will be severely disappointed and are beginning to say so.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Our Maine Veterans for Peace chapter held its annual retreat this past weekend at a nearby environmental teaching camp. Our chapter was the founding chapter of the national organization and is pound-for-pound the best peace group in the state of Maine.

About 25 folks turned out for the Friday-Saturday event that began with a pot luck supper on Friday evening. We sat around a roaring fire afterward in the main meeting hall of the camp and listened to one of our members sing some good songs with his guitar. Then we watched a great film about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 2006 national concert tour opposing the Iraq occupation. The best scene in the documentary was of those walking out in conservative Atlanta, Georgia after the band sang Neil Young's song "Let's Impeach the President" from his Living with War CD. Many of those filmed as they angrily left the concert were surprised that CSNY had played "political" songs. Hello?

We slept in yurts at the camp which had small wood burning stoves inside the round huts and in spite of very cold outside temperatures we stayed pretty warm. Going out for a pit stop in the middle of the night was a challenge though. Walking in the two feet of snow on the ground was a hazard when trying to locate a tree to lean on.

On Saturday we began with each member telling a story from their past experiences as a veteran or as an activist. We had members present from WW II, Korea, Vietnam, and during non-war years. The stories were moving and often humorous.

I talked about the time in Gainesville, Florida that retired General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (also known as "Stormin' Norman") was given a honorary degree by the University of Florida. Our VfP chapter organized a protest outside the ornate campus chapel and some of us went inside, up to the balcony, to drop a banner and chant just as he began to speak. We chanted "Schwarzkopf lies, Gulf vets die" and security got onto us pretty quickly but had to bend our fingers back in order to get the banner from us that we had draped over the balcony railing. A few of us were arrested and banned from the campus for six months or a year - have forgotten the exact amount of time.

We also spent some time at the retreat doing an assessment of Obama and the likely direction he was heading with his foreign and military policy. The members of the chapter were clear that we must stand up strongly and speak out against Obama's plan to expand the war in Afghanistan. We have one member of the chapter that was a medic in Afghanistan and has become a key leader in IVAW.

Three of us in the Maine chapter are now on the national organizing committee for an upcoming conference called Security Without Empire: National Organizing Conference on Foreign Military Bases that will be held Feb. 27–Mar. 2 in Washington DC at American University. Unless we begin to stand in solidarity with peace movements protesting American bases around the world we stand little chance of shutting down the empire.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


This video is a must see 8-minute expose from British TV news. It shows absolutely that Israel's intention in Gaza was nothing more than complete destruction. In one instance the Israeli military herded 100 people into one building and bombed it killing 49 of them.

One can only call it genocide from those who should know better than anyone what genocide is.

And we in the US paid for much of the hardware that made it all possible.