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, December 04, 2010


In the city of Mahalla the crowds had gathered in a football stadium to look on as Egypt's parliamentary votes were being counted to ensure that the counting would not be rigged. The city was already tense after several polling stations were illegally shut. Violence has marred Egypt's parliamentary elections with hundreds of opposition supporters battling police at vote counting stations. There are no exit polls to indicate who is likely to win the vote, but what most people predict is more clashes and violence regardless of who the winner is.



Seen as an honest-broker in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Canada has become one of Israel's most fervent supporters. Avi Lewis investigates.

Friday, December 03, 2010



Democracy Now speaks with the acclaimed Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef. He won the Right Livelihood Award in 1983, two years after the publication of his book Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics.

"Economists study and analyze poverty in their nice offices, have all the statistics, make all the models, and are convinced that they know everything that you can know about poverty. But they don’t understand poverty," Max-Neef says.


Mainers rally at the state capital in Augusta to launch the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign in January, 2010

I taped another edition of my public access TV show, This Issue, today. I've just completed my 7th year of broadcasting the program that plays on eight TV stations across Maine.

My guests this time were Alexandra Valenti and Nicole Moreau who both attend the University of Maine-Farmington. They are leaders of the new peace group at UMF called PAINT (Peace Activists in Training). Both of them were heavily involved in the recent Veterans for Peace walk through our state that brought the cost of the wars to the public's attention. They both did an excellent job on the TV show and I will be anxious to get it posted on the Internet so many others can see them in action.

One exciting thing for me was when Alex told me that she regularly reads this blog and found the interview with Professor Crotty the other day useful and is going to use it to help her write a paper for her economic class. Very nice.

Last night I was on a national conference call to discuss the growing movement that is making the connection between endless war spending and economic collapse here at home. People from coast-to-coast were on the call and they shared what they have been doing locally around this concern. It is clear that Maine's Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home is a model of sorts for other groups around the nation who are just beginning to move into this particular organizing focus.

There were a couple of comments on the call that troubled me and I wanted to share that with readers of this blog. Several people (they appeared to be folks who call themselves Progressive Democrats) were talking about the need to get some "legislation drafted" in Washington that could then be used to rally around as a key organizing strategy.

I was a bit surprised to hear this because at this time even the casual political observer would recognize that with the recent Republican victories across the nation that politics in America is being devolved to the state legislatures and local communities. We will now be facing both political gridlock in Washington and the capitulation of Obama to the demands of the Republican Party to dismantle social progress in America. Even now during this "lame duck" session, while the Democrats still control Congress, they can't even get an extension of unemployment insurance passed. So how could a serious movement focus on the coming black hole in Washington and still be effective, inspiring, or most importantly, strategically sound?

The action in the coming next few years is going to be at the state capitols and in our local city councils and school boards. Those are the political bodies that are going to have virtually every social responsibility dumped on them without any resources. The Republicans, who want to end "big government", are going to pull the plug on every social program they can. Thus people will be turning to their local government bodies for help and they are going to be told - there is no money to help you.

Real organizing is going to need to happen locally and at the statewide level. Coalitions of teachers, students, workers, peaceniks, unemployed, people without health care, and others who are being cut loose will need to be brought together on the statewide level. These coalitions must then call on local and state politicians to demand an end to war spending so that those wasted billions every month can be invested back into our communities to deal with the growing economic crisis.

In other words our ability to impact the politicians in Washington is going to dramatically diminish. Thus our energies and our voices should increasingly be directed on local politicians who will be feeling the pressure every day from the growing masses of unemployed and displaced. If we play our cards right, those politicians will soon enough begin to speak out against war spending because they will recognize that returning those wasted $$ will be the only way to help alleviate the fiscal crisis here at the local level.

Pushing some ill-fated legislative package in Washington might make activists feel good but it is not going to inspire folks or create much energy at the grassroots where people will be daily struggling with survival issues in their communities.

The progressive community does not do "strategic thinking" very well. Many national progressive groups, based in Washington DC and funded by foundations that are most often linked to the Democratic Party, have to try to focus grassroots work on the Washington black hole in order to justify their existence and their continued funding. Thus they are not really in support of pushing the foundation money down to hire local organizers to work on these local issues. It cuts them out of the picture and their job is to be gate-keepers to stand between the grassroots and the Democratic Party.

I've been saying these kinds of things since 1995 when I wrote a piece for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice newsletter called "A Strategy for the Future". In that article I said:

I've got an idea. I think we should demand that the Washington DC based progressive groups (unions, women, gays & lesbians, peace, environmental, social justice, people of color, senior citizens, disabled) all get together and develop a 10-year national organizing plan.

We should demand these groups skeletonize their expensive Washington operations and pool those dollars as seed money to build a base that would, in time, begin to change America.

When I say "skeletonize" what I mean is this: Stop paying all those expensive rents on those lobby offices. Stop introducing legislation that will be compromised even before it is written. Stop paying lobbyists to fight the losing battle in Congress. Stop asking the "folks back home" to get letters into Congress. My research shows me that they're not writing. (Many have given up hope.)

Instead I suggest we take the money saved by my skeletonized DC plan (we would keep a small team of lobbyists in Washington - say two or three - just so we could have one office open with a phone and a computer) and hire grassroots organizers by the thousands around the nation who would implement the national grassroots campaign. The campaign would be centered around the local realities that people face. We would seek to involve local people in issues that affect their lives from day to day. We'd organize campaigns around health care, education, fixing roads and bridges, and cleaning up the local water system. We'd fight for more job training money. We'd call for conversion of the military-industry complex. We would run folks for local offices, using the energies that would be unleashed when people saw their allies moving together all over the nation.

Once each year state conventions would be held followed by regional conventions. At these events the collective demands of the people would be voiced. We want health care. We want clean water. We want jobs!

I know what would happen next. The ground would shake. The sky would rumble. The Democrats would find a backbone, or a very strong third party would be formed. The politicians would begin to write legislation. Our two or three lobbyists in Washington would tell us so. A bill would be passed to create jobs and the military budget would be cut to pay for it.

I wrote the above soon after Newt Gingrich took over as Speaker of the House the last time the Republicans threw the Democrats out of power in Congress. Not much has changed during the last 15 years - in fact the issues are the same except now things are getting worse. The organizing strategy of the progressive community has not changed one iota. The Washington DC strategy still trumps all other comers.

Some say we can do it all - do local work and still maintain a Washington legislative strategy that keeps the DC groups relevant. I say it's a mistake. We can't fund both approaches. We don't have the local energy for both. We have to fish or cut bait.

We need to talk more about this. Let's not wait another 15 years to get started.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Unemployment insurance is set to run out on two million Americans while the Democrats appear to be poised to cut a deal with the Republicans to extend tax cuts for the already bloated rich. Which political party is the enemy of the working class and poor people in America? How about both of them.

I heard one commentator say that the Democrats have the public overwhelmingly on their side in opposition to more tax cuts for the rich. But instead of using that power in tough negotiations with the Republicans, Obama has once again caved in without getting anything in return. It is obvious to me that Obama is either the most absolutely incompetent president ever (even George W. Bush was good at holding out for what he wanted) or else Obama is nothing more than a wolf in sheep's clothing. You decide. Either way we are in big trouble.

But why in hell is his party allowing him to cut the legs out from under the working people in this country? Why is Obama's party allowing him to continually reward the fat cats at the time that people are being thrown out of work and literally out of their homes? Unbelievable.

People are starting to call the Congress the "Millionaires Club" as we today have more super-rich people there than ever before. As Sen. Bernie Sanders says below in his speech before the Senate (he's one of the few non-millionaires there) we are now facing a return to the days where capitalists had free reign over the lives of the people. The gains of the working class are now under wholesale attack by the greedy rich. Sadly there is no political party that will stand (like Sen. Sanders is doing) and fight for the people against the interests of the wealthy.

I think the message is clear. If you want someone to fight for you, you'd better begin to fight for yourselves. Organize and fight against the rich because they have declared a full scale war on you and have taken over both political parties in this country.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent/Socialist from Vermont)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Students across the nation have been making videos as part of a contest called "If I had a Trillion $$$$."

Here is one of the entries.

The contest was organized by the American Friends Service Committee and The National Priorities Project.


Professor James Crotty (Ph.D., Carnegie-Mellon University) is a macro economist with broad interests whose research in theory and policy attempts to integrate the complementary analytical strengths of the Marxian and Keynesian traditions. His writings have appeared in such diverse journals as the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the Review of Radical Economics, Monthly Review, the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, and the Journal of Economic Issues, and in many edited collections.

His research interests include: economic methodology; the implications of radical uncertainty for macro theory and policy; theories of financial markets and their implications for understanding financial booms and crises; Marxian and Keynesian perspectives on investment theory; the structure and performance of the global neoliberal economy; theories of competition and their impact on theories of macro dynamics; the financialization of the nonfinancial firm; and the political economy of South Korea.

See part two of the interview here

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Friday, Dec 3

4:30 pm (PT)
Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA

'Beating the Bomb' covers 50 years of the Peace movement in Britain against the historical and political backdrop of the atomic age. The narrative follows the now called 'nuclear deterrent', starting at the dawn of the nuclear age in WWII to present day. Nuclear weapons shaped the power structures that rose out of the rubble of WWII and underpin them to this day. It is widely argued that the pressing issues of the day, from poverty to climate change cannot be tackled without addressing the underlying economic system. The film evidences the claim that the foundations of our economic system are 'straight power concepts'. The most straightforward of these concepts being the bomb, both in its physical manifestation and also in the mindset it engenders and stems from.

The film charts the efforts of individuals and organizations to rid Britain of its nuclear weapons system from past to present. It also frames the nuclear weapons issue within the wider context of global justice. The documentary is a tribute to peace campaigners and accordingly features interviews with Tony Benn, Mark Thomas, Walter Wolfgang, Helen John and Vivienne Westwood, bringing into special focus the UK-based Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. It is an attempt to mediate their spirit and commitment and to thus empower and inspire the viewer.

Bruce Gagnon from the Global Network is also featured in the film.


Students throughout Italy have been protesting against planned cuts to the education system. Thousands stormed historic sites and disrupted roads and railways as they rallied against the reforms proposed by the government of Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister.

Monday, November 29, 2010


A planning meeting for the Maine Campaign to Bring Our War $$ Home will be held on Saturday, Dec 4 from 12:30-3:30 pm at the Addams-Melman House (212 Centre St) in Bath. All are invited and please bring your own lunch.

The meeting will follow the weekly Advent vigil at Bath Iron Works on Washington Street from 11:30-12:30.

This meeting will be an opportunity for us to review the statewide effort here in Maine and discuss what the next steps will be as we continue to build public consciousness about the important link between war in Iraq-Afghanistan-Pakistan and the economic collapse here at home.

In the last vote by the House of Representatives (last summer) on the war funding supplemental bill our two members of the House from Maine (Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree) voted against more money for war. Then in the recent election they were both reelected by comfortable margins while across the country many Democrats lost their seats in Congress.

Our challenge now is to find ways to turn our two Republican Senators from Maine (Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins) away from their continued support for endless war funding.

The Bring Our War $$ Home effort has also grown nationally, in particular due to Lisa Savage's efforts to get national CodePink to make the campaign a priority. In addition activists in many states have taken up the call.

Despite Republican efforts nationally to sell themselves as being able to solve our national fiscal crisis they will be unable to make a serious dent in the problem as long as Congress is spending $8 billion per month on the war in Afghanistan.

The public will increasingly be looking for answers to the economic crisis and since neither the Democrats or Republicans will take on military spending in a serious way the opening is widening for the peace movement to inject this issue into the public debate. But in order to be successful at this there must be a serious and sustained campaign to bring this issue alive. A one-time event or appeal won't do the job.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Actor Mark Ruffalo reads union leader Eugene V. Debs' famous Canton, Ohio speech.

On June 16, 1918, Debs made a speech in Canton, Ohio, urging resistance to the military draft of World War I. He was arrested on June 30 and charged with 10 counts of sedition. His trial defense called no witnesses, asking instead that Debs be allowed to address the court in his defense. That unusual request was granted, and Debs spoke for 2 hours. He was found guilty on September 12. At his sentencing hearing on September 14, he again addressed the court, and his speech has become a classic. Heywood Broun, a liberal journalist and not a Debs partisan, said it was "one of the most beautiful and moving passage in the English language. He was for that one afternoon touched with inspiration. If anyone told me that tongues of fire danced upon his shoulders as he spoke, I would believe it."

He said in part:

“Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means....

"I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul....

"Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

"When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing – that relief and rest are close at hand.

"Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning."

Debs was sentenced on November 18, 1918 to ten years in prison. He was also disenfranchised for life. Debs presented what has been called his best-remembered statement at his sentencing hearing:

“Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."