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

Monday, April 26, 2010


Students at the University of Maine-Orono (near Bangor) protested on April 7 against $12 million in cutbacks on their campus. Over 200 students took part

Today I spoke to two Sociology classes at the University of Southern Maine (USM) in Portland. The two classes totaled about 80 students.

I began each class asking for a show of hands of those who have had to take out student loans to pay for school. Almost every hand went up in the air. Then I asked for a show of hands of those who feared that they would have difficulties finding jobs once they graduated. About half the hands went up. Then I asked both classes how many of them believed that we had a fair democracy in America today where working and middle class people could run for office and have their voices heard. Amazingly to me, in both classes, not one hand went into the air.

Next I gave them some statistics on income disparity. First the BBC has reported that "the top 200 wealthiest people in the world control more wealth than the bottom 4 billion." Then getting closer to home, I quoted the Wall Street Journal that reported, "the top .01 % or 14,000 American families hold 22.2 % of wealth and the bottom 90%, or over 133 million families, just 4% of the nation's wealth."

I handed out leaflets from our Bring Our War $$ Home campaign in Maine and talked about U.S. military spending and the upcoming vote in Congress for another $33 billion war supplemental. I talked about how the corporations have exported our jobs overseas by the tens of millions in recent years and how the Pentagon is now preparing our role of "security export" under corporate globalization of the world economy. (We won't have industrial jobs anymore, we will build weapons and wage war - largely to control declining supplies of fossil fuels and other rare resources.)

I suggested that with increasing military spending in the U.S., and declining social progress, that we are now headed for a 21st century variety of feudalism - except this time we get color TV and a car, assuming we can afford to put gas in the tank.

The professor, John Baugher, began the classes saying that the promised person from the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who was supposed to come to the class and debate me, had cancelled at the last minute.

After my talk Baugher asked each student to write down a comment and/or question for me and he ready them to me a few at a time. There were many excellent questions but the general theme was "What do we do?" and "How can we really bring out change?".

I told them my story of having grown up in a military family and that by the time I was their age my mind had been thoroughly colonized by our culture of militarism and consumerism. In the end I suggested that we must each start with ourselves by decolonizing our minds, throwing off the corporate consumerist ball-and-chain we drag around behind us, and then move into building non-violent movements for peace and social change. We have the oligarchy outnumbered, I told them, and we must begin to understand that we have the real power on our side - people power.

On the way out after the second class one young man ran me down and said he wanted to help. After listening to this bright student, I suggested he might want to explore organizing on campus around issues that were most relevant to his fellow students - such as declining funding for USM and increased tuition. Make the connections to war spending, I told him. I had earlier told the story about recent protests at UMO (above photo) and wondered if those students had thought to make the connection to military spending?

By the time I had arrived home there was an email sitting in my In-box from the young man. Here is part of his email to me:

"I am the student who stopped to speak with you after class today. First, I want to thank you for coming and speaking with us. I respect what you're doing and admire your courage in speaking on up on this topic. I also want to thank you for taking a minute to speak with me. I took your advice and have already contacted the girl responsible for the protest at University Maine-Orono. I was wondering if you wouldn't mind sending me some statistics (or links) regarding military spending in Maine. I would like see the arguments that you referenced today in your talk."

You can imagine my surprise and great joy to hear from this young man so quickly. It is clear that I had run into a real gem. He had asked me to let him know about upcoming meetings and I have invited him to our next planning meeting. In the end I promised to assist him in every way that I can.

Once again I am reminded that the public, and in this case university students, understand much more than we think they do about what is going on in our society. But the biggest obstacle to real change is the sense of despair and disempowerment people feel. I told the students today that our culture teaches us "political docility" and resignation.

We each have the task of moving from political resignation to action. And we must begin this journey by taking full control of our minds again - removing all vestiges of corporate consumerist-militarist occupation of our brains and our hearts.

Once we do that the sky is the limit on what can be accomplished.


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