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: Bath, Maine, 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.

Monday, April 19, 2010

TRIP REPORT TO CONNECTICUT & MASSACHUSETTS

At the Teach-in in Northampton, MA.

This report follows my short trip to Hartford, Connecticut and Northampton, Massachusetts to speak about the campaign I have recently been co-coordinating in Maine called Bring Our War $$ Home.

On April 16 I took the train to Hartford where I spoke to 50 people from the West Hartford Citizens for Peace & Justice. This group is led by the very enthusiastic Flo Woodiel who described herself as one of the “freeze ladies” from the days in the early 1980’s when the nuclear freeze campaign was blazing hot across the nation. The freeze campaign got its start in Massachusetts and Connecticut, as these two states were instrumental in creating the early momentum around the issue of ending the nuclear arms race.

Flo told me that since those glory days their local group had been looking for the “right” issue and had been yet to find it. They felt that the Bring Our War $$ Home Campaign made sense to them and helped to connect the dots to other key issues like defending social progress, dealing with climate change, creating jobs, as well as stopping the push for endless war.

In my talk I spelled out the basics of our four-month old Maine campaign that was topped off when Maine’s largest city (council) in Portland recently passed a resolution calling on our congressional delegation to Bring Our War $$ Home by a margin of 7-1.

I described to the Hartford audience how our goal in Maine has been to make war spending a local issue as communities struggle with the fiscal crisis that affects our state just like it does in 44 others across the country.

We have made it a priority to reach out to town councils, school boards, and the state legislature (where we have now secured 22 state senators and representatives signatures on a letter calling on our congressional representatives to vote against further war funding.)

A vote is expected in the coming weeks on another $33 billion war supplemental proposed by the Obama administration. That is on top of $137 billion already passed by Congress for 2010 war spending.

I left Hartford hearing promises that they would immediately begin working on the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign and would take the additional responsibility to reach out to other towns in their state with the understanding that these kinds of efforts work best if they can be spread throughout our states and be organized in a coordinated and cooperative fashion.

On April 17 I took an early bus to Northampton where I was met by peace movement legend Frances Crowe who is now 91 years old and still working hard. I had been invited to speak at a Teach-in called “Bring the War $$ Home” which was organized by The Alliance for Peace & Justice. Other speakers were Michael Klare (defense correspondent for The Nation magazine) and Sut Jhally (Professor of Communications at UMass).

In my talk to about 125 people at the event I again outlined the goals and organizing steps we took in Maine to build our war $$ home campaign. I shared with them some words from a recent surprise editorial on April 14 in the Midcoast Maine newspaper called The Times Record that said in part, “In the buildup to Tax Day locally, we had two [city council] presentations last week by local peace and social justice activists calling attention to how much our federal tax dollars are going to war funding….one could argue that Bath and Brunswick are ideally suited to having a robust and healthy debate about 'war dollars,' given the makeup of our local economies and communities….Why not schedule the public hearings that have been requested and give everyone – shipyard workers, retired and active-duty sailors, peace activists, apolitical taxpayers – the opportunity to weigh in on critically important questions concerning national priorities and how our tax dollars are being spent?”

I also shared copies of the Bring Our War $$ Home pizza-style door-hangers that we distributed on the weekend of April 10-11 in 17 communities across Maine.

Following my talk in the plenary session workshops were held and I led a well-attended session on the same theme as the Teach-in. During the workshop it became apparent that this particular issue was going to move quickly across western Massachusetts. Already the folks in Amherst have scheduled to take a war $$ home resolution to their city council on May 5. The town of Leverett is also planning to do the same very soon.

During the long bus ride back to Maine I began reading a new book that Frances had recommended I get called Beyond Vietnam: The Politics of Protest in Massachusetts, 1974-1990. In this book I read the story about the founding of the nuclear freeze campaign in western Massachusetts by Randy Kehler, Judith Scheckel, and Frances Crowe. Their work to bring freeze resolutions and referendums to the many towns across their state lit the fuse that forced the nuclear freeze movement into national prominence.

When I returned home I found an email waiting for me from the wondrous Frances that read in part, “Enormous thanks for coming and speaking exactly as we envisioned the talk. It gave the emphasis and energy we needed.”

It is clear that Frances, like Flo Woodiel in Hartford, feels that the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign is the right organizing ingredient for this particular moment in our country. Both of these veteran peace activists will now undertake the effort to create statewide campaigns, that along with our efforts in Maine, will help galvanize much of New England as people cast about looking for answers to our national fiscal crisis and concomitant attack on social progress.

It is our hope that activists around the country will explore making similar efforts to create Bring Our War $$ Home campaigns in their community.

For more details about the campaign see this web site at http://www.bringourwardollarshome.org/

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