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, May 26, 2012


During the Chicago Counter-Summit last week I spoke in three different workshops about NATO's "missile defense" plans throughout Europe.

This particular video was made during the workshop organized by WILPF that we held on the balcony overlooking the historic People's Church sanctuary.  Seven workshops were going on in various parts of the church at the same time creating an exciting atmosphere that reminded me of a scene from the film Reds.

Friday, May 25, 2012


  • I am at the Toronto, Canada airport waiting for my flight back to Portland, Maine.  The plane is delayed for several hours.  It is probably because so few people were going to be on it.  When I flew here there were five passengers on the tiny propeller plane that only had seats for 18.  When I checked in at the Portland airport I asked for an aisle seat and was told all the seats are in the aisle.
  • The space roundtable conference I attended in Waterloo (one hour from Toronto) during the last two days was an interesting mix of folks.  Twenty of us sat around the table inside what used to be a Seagram whiskey distillery now turned into an office building.  Wooden whiskey barrels remain stacked in the thick wooden supports that reach toward the ceiling.  A very interesting place.  Project Ploughshares, one of the sponsoring groups, has their office in the building.
  • There were folks there representing the Pentagon, Canadian Foreign Affairs, the Chinese and Indian governments, as well as European satellite operators, the European Space Policy Institute, space academics, space policy scientists, former diplomats, and a handful of concerned citizens with interest in space issues.  Only two activists types were there as speakers - Ray Acheson from the WILPF project Reaching Critical Will and myself.
  • The bottom line is that the U.N.'s Conference on Disarmament, that handles the negotiations on nuclear disarmament and the proposed treaty called Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), has been stalled for nearly 20 years.  No serious movement is happening thus PAROS is going no where.  Some suggest various reasons for the frozen negotiations but we know that the U.S. and Israel have essentially been blocking PAROS for years.
  • As a result many in the diplomatic field are pushing a space Code of Conduct which focuses on establishing space rules of the road to promote safety for all space users.  This approach essentially circumvents the treaty process as it avoids the domestic complications of having treaties ratified by government legislative bodies.  It also severely hampers the pressing negotiations on key issues like what is a space weapon and should we ban them or not.  I am not against a Code of Conduct in space per se but it feels to me that effectively removing the United Nations from the space treaty process serves the interests quite nicely of the Pentagon and the military industrial complex. (The U.S. will work with other nations to develop an international Code of Conduct for outer space, but only if the code does not hinder U.S. national security efforts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Jan. 17, 2012.)
  • One issue that emerged while I was in Chicago for the anti-NATO protests was the serious allegation that NATO expansion into the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Asia-Pacific is a key way that the U.S. and European allies are developing an "international" war making body that can get around the "sticky" process of having to get U.N. agreement on military interventions.  When I add NATO expansion to the current reality of avoiding serious U.N. negotiations I see a dangerous pattern emerging.
  • One space legal academic, with a long history of working at the Pentagon, talked about this being a "new period in history" where treaties might not be the way things work anymore. Her words reminded me of hearing former Navy war college instructor Thomas Barnett's presentation some years ago on C-SPAN where he was introduced as former Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld's "strategy guy".  In his three-hour power point Barnett suggested that the U.S. would not do treaties any more because they would restrict Pentagon ability to intervene when and where it wished.  I'll never forget his words, "Adolph Hitler never had to ask permission to invade another country and neither will we."
  • During my talk I suggested that U.S. space policy (and current "missile defense" deployments that are increasing the encirclement of Russia and China) had to be viewed in the context of growing global competition for declining resources.  The Pentagon and NATO, I suggested, have become the military arm of corporate globalization.  I also suggested near the conclusion of the meeting that rather than spending all of our time playing "junior negotiator" (trying to come up with the best plan and language to make the Code of Conduct a reality) that we might think about doing some careful planning about how we can bring the global public into these space technology issues so that they could play some significant role in determining how their collective tax monies are spent.  Shouldn't the public be in on this historic space debate?  Was not a particularly popular suggestion. (My speech at the event can be read by clicking here.)
  • Just what kind of space program should all of our countries be creating anyway?  What kind of seed should we carry with us into space? Do we really need so many countries spending massive funds to go to the Moon and Mars?  Do so many nations really need to launch rockets that each punch a hole in the ozone layer?  Should we continue to militarize space and continue the slippery path to space weaponization?  Should we turn over space to the nuclear industry?  Should we give up on the idea of creating a PAROS Treaty?
  • As Noam Chomsky says, "How can you expect the people to react to something that they don't know anything about?"  Most people around the planet are worrying about surviving wars, growing global poverty and the coming ravages of climate change.  But each day new nations, many who have massive poverty in their midst, are spending huge amounts of money to get into the space technology game because they don't want to be left behind.  It's in the interest of the U.S. and the aerospace industry to keep the U.N. from having successful negotiations on questions like PAROS and updating space law which would further define just who owns the planetary bodies and can control them for resource extraction.  As long as the U.S. is king of the space hill it wants to limit any restrictions on its ability to "maneuver".  Better we just get everyone to agree to a few rules of the road which keeps things in check while the U.S. (and chosen allies) make their move to control and dominate space.

Thursday, May 24, 2012



Five leaders of Gangjeong village including Mayor Kang and the chair of Women's Committee shaved their heads in Jeju City demanding the resignation of island Governor Woo Geun-min on May 24.  He has turned out to be a total dud when it comes to supporting the people's struggle against the Navy base.  
Notice how they wipe their feet on the governor's photo as they board the bus at the end of the video to go back to Gangjeong village.  They have essentially declared war on Gov. Woo.  (It should be noted that a former governor of Jeju Island strongly supports the villagers struggle.  In fact last summer he went on a two week hunger strike in solidarity with Professor Yang during his 75 day fast against the base.)
When the Global Network met on Jeju Island last February we took a letter signed by our leaders to the government building office of Gov. Woo.  He had his police block the entrance and only after a protracted pushing and shoving did they finally agree to let Gangjeong village elders and GN leaders enter the building so we could deliver our humble letter that requested a halt to Navy base construction.  Such is life in South Korea today.
 Sung-Hee Choi writes:
Shaving one’s all hairs during the process of struggle. What is that for?

It might be hard for non-Koreans to understand the meaning of it. It might be hard even for Koreans like me to accept it. Personally I am seldom backer of it. People like me may choose different ways.
Shaving hairs is emotional because according to the Buddhism-kind interpretation, (It seems the ritual of shaving hairs in Korea's social movements has been affected by the tradition of Buddhism in Korea, though I may be wrong) it is a moment that one quietly declares and shares with the world that one is ready to abandon one’s remaining past attachment and to walk a new way- the way of non-compromise to injustice. For that sublime and pure spiritual moment, one cannot but be most humble. Shaving all one’s hair means one is ready to go to the bottom, the ground where one owns nothing but exists wholly with resolution for justice, though it could be temporal and whole circle of anguish may come again and again.

How one cannot be fearful of such moment then? Tear is natural in that moment. Buddhist Monk Bongak says.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


  • The Chicago NATO "summit" turned out to be a public relations event for all sides.  Obama did get NATO's 28 member countries to "approve" the Europe-wide missile defense (MD) program.  He announced that in addition to Poland and Romania taking ground-based interceptors, Turkey hosting a MD radar system, the Netherlands has now signed on for an MD radar upgrade and Spain will host Navy Aegis warships with MD interceptors on-board.  More deployments are to follow on in coming years.  Hillary Clinton came out of Chicago saying that future NATO meetings must be about further expansion of the aggressive military alliance and she named Georgia, right on Russia's southern border, as the next candidate for NATO membership.  That's going to make Russia very angry.
  • But Obama hoped to come out of the summit with an agreement with Pakistan to allow contested Afghanistan war supply routes to be opened up again for NATO use but this did not happen during the Chicago events.
  •  NATO has reached a deal with the military contractor Northrop Grumman for a $1.7 billion fleet of new drones. NATO’s "Allied Ground Surveillance" system will use the drones and their accompanying command stations at sites around the world. NATO says it will spend additional billions on the system’s operation.
  • I'd say the biggest disaster of the NATO summit was the week of protests, conferences, meetings, and concerts throughout the city of Chicago by progressive groups.  NATO has not been an issue for most progressives, even for many in the peace movement.  But that is now changed.  With NATO's cancerous appetite for inserting itself in global conflicts people are starting to turn their attention to the "alliance" which I maintain has become the military arm of corporate globalization.  Thanks to this summit being held in the U.S., and particularly in Obama's home town, the NATO war crown now sits squarely on the head of the president.  A bad public relations move on his part in an election year.  
  • While the mainstream media coverage was pitiful as usual it was the alternative media that did an exceptional job of carrying the message of NATO's expanding military mission out to larger numbers of people around the world.  
  • Libya, which has the largest oil supply on the African continent, was "liberated" by NATO on behalf of the oil industry.  NATO is expanding into the Asia-Pacific as part of Obama's "pivot" and will now "partner" with Mongolia, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and other countries in the region to militarily surround and contain China.
  • I head to Toronto this afternoon for two days where I will speak at an event called Securing the peaceful use of space for future generations being organized by Project Ploughshares in Waterloo.  Canadian Pugwash and Science for Peace are co-sponsoring groups and I will talk about "missile defense" and try to put the program into the wider context of U.S. and NATO plans to control Russia and China.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Quebec students are teaching us all an important lesson

"Those who struggle may fail. Those who do not struggle have already failed." - Bertolt Brecht

Quebec's students are teaching, or re-teaching, an important lesson to all of us.

In Canada, and here in British Columbia, decades of neo-liberalism have rolled back our public services. Even more damaging, perhaps, has been the way these years have rolled back our public imagination.

The There Is No Alternative (TINA) doctrine, popularized by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative rule in the U.K., still holds sway over much of our political discourse. Official policy debates are too often just a matter of opposing views on how to tinker around the edges.

But in Quebec, the student movement is pointing right at the heart of the matter. Faced with a 75 per cent tuition increase, they have fought back - hard. Holding out on strike for well over three months now, they have displayed remarkable unity and creativity.

In addition to putting up a fight for their own right to an accessible education, they have appealed to the wider society, calling for a ‘social strike' against Quebec's Charest government. As in B.C., Quebec's government is Liberal by name, but in reality is a coalition that represents right-wing corporate interests.

Earlier this month, the Charest government announced it had a tentative ‘deal' with the students. But when this ‘offer', which did not in fact do anything to cut the proposed tuition increase, was discussed democratically by the student unions, it was overwhelmingly rejected.

Faced with this collective defiance by the students, the Charest government has turned to some incredibly draconian legislation. Rushed through in an all-night session of the National Assembly, Loi [Law] 78 puts onerous restrictions on the right to assemble and threatens students who continue the strike with heavy fines. CLASSE, one of the student organizations leading the strike, had anticipated this type of action by the government in an earlier appeal:

"Let us stop fearing the laws that fetter our discontent, let us collectively disobey and go together into the streets of Quebec. Alone, this disobedience will be marginalized and repressed by the government. But if all sectors of Quebec society act together, the government will be unable to rely on the courts."

Opponents of Quebec's student strike often bring up the history of Paris in 1968 as a sort of 'bogeyman' of wild, radical students.

Let's not concede the spirit of '68 to their ahistorical scaremongering. Paris 1968 was part of a worldwide uprising that dared to dream of a better world.

The bold actions of the young French students sparked a general strike across the country that nearly toppled the government of Charles de Gaulle. The example reverberated on campuses around the world.

All movements for greater social justice sometimes need a spark from the young, from the generations that are not weighed down by past defeats and disappointments.

In 1968, the Parisian students shouted, 'Sous les pavés, la plage!' (under the paving stones, the beach!) conjuring the imagination of a just and truly free society.

Today, the Quebec students speak of a 'grève générale illimitée' (unlimited general strike) or, in a playful twist, 'rêve général illimité.'

Quebec's student strike, and the utopian energies and slogans it has unleashed, should not be sneered at or cynically dismissed by anyone concerned about changing the dismal state of politics in Canada and British Columbia.

The global financial crisis, and the inspiration provided by the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, has weakened TINA but it's proving a stubborn acronym and doctrine to kill off. Here in North America, the Quebec student strike is the most important challenge to TINA we've seen in a long time.

So let us all take a moment and show some solidarity. It's the right thing to do, and we might just learn some things that we can apply in the rest of Canada too.


By the year 2020, there could be as many as 30,000 unmanned drones flying around in over the United States. In February, Congress passed a bill approving the Federal Aviation Administration's plan to open up national airspace to drones by the year 2015. Last week the FAA said they will facilitate the process for obtaining a certificate of authorization for an unmanned craft. Trevor Timm, activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joins RT to discuss how drones could change American's' lives.


Monday, May 21, 2012


This is a photo you will never see in the Chicago media.  I would guess there were up to 10,000 people at the rally and march yesterday.  (The local media is reporting that two or three thousand were there.  The New York Times reported that "several hundred" were at the protest.)

The media though was only interested in the couple hundred anarchists who got into a push and shove contest with the cops after everything was over. Lots of stories too about the "brave" Chicago police commander out on the streets directing his troops and wearing no combat gear! All very sickening.

There was virtually no coverage of the rally and the content of the 40 speakers. There was no coverage that I saw of the 40-some Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who made remarkably moving short speeches and then threw their medals toward Obama's love fest with NATO just blocks away from the stage set up on a platform at the end of the march.

All the public heard about and saw was the black bloc and the cops.  And endless stories about the couple of anarchists that got rounded up days before things began for being "suspected" terrorists.  The police state has this routine down to an art.  They do it every time.  The create fear and then distract people from the message of the protest.

But in truth many citizens turned out to watch the march as it passed the two plus miles through the city streets.  They stood on apartment balconies taking photos and waving to us.  They saw the huge peaceful march - something that readers of the newspaper and TV viewers were not able to see.

The newspapers are reporting that the new French president will go along with NATO's expanded "missile defense" system deployments throughout Europe that will be used to encircle Russia.  He was promised that French weapons corporations will get a piece of the action.  So the "Socialists" are taken care of.  Just another business deal.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


TALKING NATO (and The Kinks)

The big rally and march is today in Chicago.  Everyone is wondering how the cops and Homeland Security are going to react.  Does Obama want another 1968 Chicago head-busting spectacle on his hands during an election year? 

I did three workshops during the two-day conference and was able to speak to many people about "missile defense".  The Global Network has been working on this issue for a long time and this NATO summit has given the issue a visibility we've not previously seen. 

Global Network chair Dave Webb (also the national chair of CND in the UK) and I have been staying at the home of friends who live in the Chicago suburbs.  It took us 1.5 hours to reach the conference each day on the commuter train and then subway.

Last night, after the conference had finished, Rick Rozoff who lives in the city and runs the No NATO list serve, took Dave and I to dinner at his favorite Middle Eastern restaurant which he has frequented for the past 32 years.  Excellent food.

Rick knows more about NATO than anyone I've ever met and I was shocked that he was not invited to speak at the conference.  Made no sense.  He is an encyclopedia of NATO history and current NATO machinations.  It's a pleasure to listen to him. (You can see Rick interviewed in the RT video just below this blog entry.)

As it turns out Rick is also a huge fan of The Kinks.  Dave is as well so we sat around the table talking Kinks music and Rick reeled off lines from many Kinks songs as easily as he spins NATO tales.  A great mixing of pleasure and pain!