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, October 24, 2009


Kim Do-Hyung, Hwang Dae-Kwon, Kang Dong-Kyun and me sitting where the fresh water Gangjeong River flows into the sea at one end of where the planned Navy base on Jeju Island would begin

Sculptures made by Gangjeong villagers where Navy base is to be built
Navy Aegis destroyers will be homeported at the Jeju Navy base. The villagers say the base will destroy the fragile ocean environment

I returned to Incheon today and will fly home in the morning. It's been quite a trip to South Korea.

During my last two days I was visiting Jeju Island which is recognized by UNESCO as being a place of world class environmental quality and one that hosts many endangered forms of corals and other sea life. To say it is a jewel would be an understatement.

Soon after arriving our delegation of five activists, which included some real notables in the South Korean movement for democracy and peace, we were brought to the offices of Jeju Solidarity for Participatory Self-Government & Environmental Preservation. There we were shown a most impressive 50-minute video about the struggle on the island to stop plans by the federal government to build a Navy base on the south side of the island. Jeju calls itself the "Island of Peace" and activists wonder how a Navy base, hosting Aegis destroyers outfitted with missile defense systems, could be considered a compatible use.

Three villages have been approached to host the base and the first two turned the government down. By the time the third village was asked the government had decided to offer bribes of $100,000 each to the respected sea diving women who are known for searching the bottom of the ocean for sea urchins which they then sell to make a living. The third village, Gangjung, is predominately opposed to the base but the bribes created enough of a division to cause the government to say they will build the base in this village.

Gangjung, like the rest of Jeju island, is most famous for growing tangerines in this tropical climate. Tourism is the second industry as people come from around the world to experience the wonders of the lush volcanic island. A long walking trail takes people across the island and recently the government has removed Gangjung from the walking trail maps so they can limit the numbers of people who would see the active signs of resistance amidst the splendid beauty of the rocky seaside where the proposed Navy base is to be built.

When I asked activists who the government said they needed the base to protect against the answer was followed by much laughter: pirates they told me. The truth is that the US will be jointly using the Navy base with the South Korean Navy as a port to deploy Aegis ships that will be used to help surround the coast of China and to give the US the capability to choke off China's ability to import 80% of its oil through the Malaka Straight that flows right off Jeju Island.

The villagers of Gangjung do not see the Navy base as offering them much. Their local economy is thriving from the tangerine groves that are everywhere in the town and from the abundant numbers of tourists who come there to experience the seaside. In fact the Navy base would take significant portions of their village land now used for farming and would destroy the environment. The rocky shoreline would be covered with cement and the proposed base pier would extend to the edge of where the fresh water Gangjung River flows into the sea.

Kang, Dong Kyun, the mayor of the village and a key protest leader, told me that 70% of the drinking water for the community comes from the river and would surely be negatively impacted by the Navy base. Take away our water, he said, and you destroy the town.

Throughout the village you see many tall bamboo poles with yellow flags on them that say, "We desperately oppose the Naval base." But no one in the government wants to listen to them. They have tried all the usual steps of meeting with government officials, organizing protests, and they recently tried to recall their provincial governor in a special election but did not turn out a high enough percentage of voters to make the vote official.

They've now set up a camp along the rocky coastline where some are now holding a round-the-clock vigil. More tents will be erected in the coming weeks as construction is set to begin at the end of this year. When I spoke to the village people in their community center last night there were key activists from other parts of South Korea who are trying to help.

I was deeply touched by the good people of Jeju. Mayor Kang told me, "This is the land of our ancestors that we must pass on to the future generations. This village must not be used as a 'strategic' base but must be preserved. The government is dividing people against each other which is the worst thing of all. The long lasting people will ultimately win."

I told the mayor and the village people that because the proposed base would have Aegis destroyers homeported there, with missile defense systems on-board, that the Global Network must do all it can to help them with their valiant effort. Just as we did what we could to support the people in the Czech Republic last year in their effort to resist US missile defense deployments, we must do the same for Jeju Island. That is what solidarity means.

Who will speak for the fish, the coral, the rocks, or the water I asked? We must all do it.

My trip is now coming to an end in South Korea. It has been a remarkable journey and one that I am proud to have taken. I have met splendid people who are doing their best to resist the destruction of their democracy by corporate interests, the destruction of their farming lands, and the expansion of militarism. There are many fights going on in the world that we all have to be concerned about, more than we can all handle I know, but every now and then one comes along that represents all of these important struggles in one bundle. That is Jeju Island.

I hope that once we get the Jeju Island video, expected in a few weeks, that all of you will get a copy from us and show it in your community. I promise that everyone who watches it will be moved beyond tears about the beauty and the wonder of the island of peace. We must help bring the struggle on Jeju Island to the world.


Protests in California against Naval war training that is severely impacting ocean life. Who will speak for the whales, the fish, the coral, underwater planet life and the water?

Yes that is a US Navy Aegis destroyer you see in the news coverage......

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Here is a video put up on a Korean news web site from a news conference I participated in today on Jeju Island.

Jeju is a UNESCO acknowledged environmental jewel about 500 miles south of the Korean peninsula. The South Korean Navy is building a major Naval base where Aegis destroyers, outfitted with Missile Defense systems, will be homeported along with nuclear submarines. The US will surely use this port for its Aegis destroyers and other naval vessels as it is a strategic point for the entrance to the Malaka Strait through which China imports 80% of its oil. If the US could control China's importation of oil then it would hold the keys to their economic engine.

The coral reefs surrounding Jeju are wonders of nature and will surely be adversely impacted by a Naval base and the constant coming and going of Naval ships which will pollute the surrounding waters just as they have done at other Naval bases.

The activists here have created a fabulous 50-minute video about the situation and I have asked them to translate it into English so we can distribute it widely throughout the Global Network. They have agreed to do so and it should be ready in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Planes inside hangers at Kunsan AFB
Screaming planes overhead
Drying fish at the end of the Kunsan AFB runway

Father Moon is a 73 year-old retired Catholic priest who move to Gunsan 10 years ago in order to build resistance around the expansion of the US Air Force Base in the city. The base, called Kunsan AFB, served as a Japanese airfield during the time of their colonization of Korea. Gunsan is located along the southwest coast of South Korea, as close to China as one can get.

Today the base hosts 58 F-16's and will soon see two Apache helicopter units move here from another base farther north. F-15's from Idaho and also here on temporary duty and 16 Patriot missile batteries are located on the base as part of the US Missile Defense expansion in this region.

Fr. Moon has a long gray flowing beard and walks with a cane. He has a bad knee after being roughed up by the national police at one of the many protests he has attended over the years. He has spent a couple of years in prison, like so many of the most dedicated South Korean activists have, but he sheds no tears over his time in jail. He remarks with a laugh that he liked being in jail because he could read so many books. I gave him one of mine and signed it with the words, "For your jail reading library."

These days Fr. Moon is spending alot of time away from his work against expansion of Kunsan AFB because he feels the need to stand with the suffering widows in the Yongsan neighborhood of Seoul. He is largely responsible for bringing many Catholic priests and nuns into that struggle and for helping to encourage many other progressive organizations to get involved.

I asked Fr. Moon to give me some words for other activists and this is what he said:

It is one Earth - we must have peace amongst all the villages of the Earth - we must show solidarity with all who are suffering, open our hearts to people like those at Yongsan. We must show concern, participation, and solidarity.

The US Air Force is now building three new eight story barracks on the Kunsan base. Six villages of 547 households will be lost to the base expansion by 2013. It is obvious that big plans are being made here. I asked Fr. Moon who the enemy is for such a massive base expansion. He answered: China.

Along the outer fence line of the base I could see one housing area for the American base families who are essentially moving onto the land that was once lived on by fishermen and rice farmers. Visible as we drove around the base was the "Haven Baptist Church". My first thought when I saw the church is the growing fundamentilization of those in the military today. They are being told they are on a mission from God to bring true religion to the world. Knowing that God is on their side makes it easier to kill anyone who gets in the way.

We went to a red-colored marshland yesterday at one end of the 4 kilometer base runway which is located next to the sea. Here fishermen and their wives were drying small fish on netting raised off the ground on saw-horses. Just above our heads roared 4 F-16's and one F-15 as they took off from the base. We had to cover our ears and I could feel the vibrations of the plane inside my body. Think of living with this everyday of your life.

Once a year one of the planes crash.

Fr. Moon told me that police call him the "gangster". They do that because he refuses to give in to the corruption of policy and spirit inside his nation. The people of South Korea are being told to submit to US military authority and to the corporate driven consumer culture that now rules South Korea. But he is unrelenting in his resistance and for that he is seen by the "authorities" as an outlaw. It was an honor to meet this outlaw and to call him a friend. He is a role model for all self-respecting people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


My laptop crashed this morning when I went to check my emails. Am now using the computer that is in my hotel room in Incheon but not sure what access I will have in the remaining days.

I head to Kunsan this morning where the US has a military base and Father Moon, the famous activist priest that I met my last time here in August, has set up his peace operations near the base. I will speak there tonight and then head south to Jeju Island for the last couple days.

Jeju is the place where a huge Navy base for Aegis destroyers is now being built. Yesterday the police called from Jeju wondering what my program was going to be so it appears likely that the two articles that ran in national papers on Monday has peaked their interest in my visit. This is the first time, that I am aware of, that the police have inquired about my speaking events. I would imagine they will have some spies at the meeting.

More when I can.......In the meantime take a look at this important story just below about New Yorker journalist Sy Hersh saying that Obama had better stand up to the military or his administration will be toast.

Monday, October 19, 2009



Police detained four family members to keep widowed woman from speaking at peace rally
Haeng Woo Lee dances with the youngest person on our trip to the DMZ. Mr. Lee founded the National Association of Korean-Americans and lives in New Jersey. He was largely responsible for ensuring the success of the Global Network's annual space organizing conference in South Korea last spring

We returned to Seoul yesterday after a 24-hour trip north to the DMZ where we saw one of the old North Korean tunnels that they dug underneath the rock into South Korea during the period after the Korean War. During the Korean War the US bombed virtually every house and building in North Korea and by the end of the war the North Koreans were living underground during the day and only came out at night. So they had created a vast web of tunnels inside their own country and beyond.

The weather worn brown mountains on both sides of the DMZ are breath taking and it is just sad to see the South Korean government making a virtual tourist industry out of the separation line between the two sides.

Upon returning, after lunch, we attended a spiritual ceremony at the Yongsan neighborhood in the cold and wind. Several religious leaders spoke about the power of greed and corruption that is the driving force behind the attempts to take an entire city neighborhood from the people who have lived there for years. As usual the police were out in huge numbers.

Following that event we moved to the city hall lawn and listened to a unique Korean-rasta reggae band perform music along these same political themes. As we arrived we saw about 75 police, with large black shields, set up along the side of the busy downtown street and a couple dozen more cops standing in a circle. It was then that we realized that four members of one of the Yongsan families, related to one of the five men killed by police last January, were completely surrounded by the police.

It took awhile but we found out that the four were on the way to our peace rally in front of city hall and one of the widows was going to speak. The police did not want her to address the crowd, so they accused the four inside the circle of having stolen a police radio. Of course this was utter nonsense but for the next two hours they kept tight control of the circle and refused to let the four people join the rally.

During the last hour many of us from the World March (mostly the foreigners) formed a circle around the police circle to show solidarity with the four being detained by the cops. I was told by several Koreans that they had never seen this tactic ever before utilized by the police. It was one more bit of evidence, they said, of the growing right-wing crackdown by the hated 2MB government.

Only as the peace rally was concluding did the police suddenly open their circle and let the four family members go. The police ran like scared rabbits for their buses and the widow, with her arm in a sling, tried to board the bus seeking an apology from the police for their actions. They forced her to the ground, in the street, next to the police bus and a huge crowd of people formed yelling at the police. The emotion was running very high. I stood in the middle of the scene as did the other foreigners, the police leaving us alone for obvious reasons.

The five dead men from Yongsan have not been buried yet as the family is still waiting for the government to acknowledge responsibility for their killing by the police and the families are demanding an official apology and compensation.

I had dinner last evening with members of Korean Veterans for Peace, including the retired general who founded their organization. I had met them when I was last here in August and they had promised to take me to dinner when I returned on this trip.

Two national progressive newspapers covered one of my talks the other night and both stories, with color photo, came out on Monday. You can see them here and here. You can practice your Korean.

Today I have a day off before preparing to head to Kunsan and Jeju Island for my final days in Korea.

You can watch a documentary (with English subtitles) on the Yongsan situation here

Sunday, October 18, 2009


It's a slow photo day for me, yet to get the snaps from our visit to DMZ yesterday, so will write a bit about our trip to solar center in Gimhae some days ago.

This facility is quite remarkable as it serves two functions. The first of course is to generate a large amount of power for the city's use and the second is to serve as a teaching center for school children to come and learn about solar. Why can't we be doing more of this in the US instead of building more weapons of war?

It's all about vision. Our work in the peace movement should not only be "against" war, but we should in our second breath be projecting our vision for the future which should include the phrase "and we do have a crisis today and it is called climate change!"

We've got to keep reminding the American people, who are job scared these days, that more jobs could be created by moving money out of military spending into solar, wind, rail, etc.

Now it is true that many environmental activists are indeed talking about solar, wind, rail, etc ....but when you ask most of them where they will get the money to build these systems on a grand scale they usually don't have an answer. They feel they have a "relationship" with the Democrats and don't want to lose their "access" to these politicians by bringing up the controversial subject of military spending.

But let's get real here......unless we cut the military budget, that today is grabbing 54% of every federal tax dollar, then nothing on the dramatic scale needed to seriously impact climate change is going to happen.

It can be done but not without a serious national commitment. You can't have a killing culture and a sustainable culture. The American people have a choice to make. It is our job to bring that crystal clear choice to center stage.