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

Monday, January 03, 2011


I went to a meeting on January 1 at the home of a local activist. About two dozen folks were there and most were local peace or environmental activists. The general theme of the meeting was to discuss what we all might do in the year ahead.

To be blunt about it I was severely disappointed by the meeting. Several people talked about wanting to find joy, wanting to "go inside" to find out what their values are (these are people in their 50-60's), or that they wanted to have fun.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not against joy and fun. I like these things as well but as we face the disintegration of our economy, of the environment, and our democracy, I think it is a bit of a white middle class privilege to walk into a meeting like this and claim that your personal angst should trump all else that is around us in this historic moment.

When it was my turn to say my piece I painted a picture of the Lakota sitting inside their tepees in the Black Hills in South Dakota during the 1860's as the U.S. Army was pushing them onto reservations and killing their culture and way of life. In those moments the Native people had to determine whether they would submit or fight. Many of those in the meeting this weekend, as far as I am concerned, decided to submit.

One of the folks quoted a friend who told him that she was going "to turn her back on Empire." I took this to mean that while she understands the horrors of the U.S. military Empire - what it means to the world - for various personal reasons she was turning her back on it. In my mind, as she turns her back on Empire, she also turns her back on all those around the world whose necks are under the boot of Empire, she turns her back on the environmental consequences of endless war, and she turns her back on the economic implications of Empire here at home as the Pentagon now controls 54 cents of every federal discretionary tax dollar. So the roads this woman drives her car on, the water and sewer systems she relies on that are falling apart due to lack of maintenance, and a host of other services she counts on in her middle class existence will all see the back of her hand.

This "escapism" is literally an epidemic here in America. So I grapple with the why? Are these people who want to "turn inward" doing it because they hope to find some magical spiritual source and power that will then enable them to some day tackle the realities of our time? Or are they, in perfect middle class fashion, finding a safe and politically correct way of saying "I want to lay low during these hardball times....I don't want to make any enemies....I want to keep my nose clean...I don't want to lose my job or any friends by stepping outside of the socially acceptable box?"

Personally I find much joy being with courageous and dedicated activists.....I was deeply moved when I was in Washington DC on December 16 getting busted for standing in front of the White House protesting against endless war. And if truth be told, I had some good laughs listening to the jokes being told by Vietnam-era veterans while we sat on the police bus waiting to be hauled away to the jailhouse.

I will close with two quotes that mean alot to me and I think speak to this topic.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are [wo]men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.
- Frederick Douglas

It is time to speak your truth, each of you. Do not look outside yourself for the leader. There is a river flowing very fast. Trust the river has its destination. You must let go of the shore, push off into that river. Keep your eyes open and your heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. We are the ones we have been waiting for.....
- Message from Hopi Elders in Arizona


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article. I don't know why the folks you were with seem so indifferent to what's going on within and because of Empire. Possibly because they have given up all hope that the situation will ever be changed. I recall the Despair and Personal Power workshops that Joanna Macy used to give in which she addressed our feelings of impotence and hopelesness and took people through these feelings to a place of self-empowerment. I think we need such workshops again. Joanna is doing other stuff now but there must be people around who she trained who could start giving these workshops. I think they are important because they address the psychological problems that affect activists.

1/3/11, 12:32 PM  

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