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, July 27, 2013


Yesterday morning Victoria and I joined a protest by the Australian Anti-Bases Campaign in Sydney. We met at a park where people dressed themselves in white with white masks and carried signs calling themselves the Invisibles since the Australian corporate media refuses to cover their protests against the growing militarization of their country.

As we walked in single file through the busy Saturday morning streets leaflets were handed to people, cars honked, a bus driver flashed us the peace sign, and we got a nice reaction from the public. We ended up at city hall and a sound system was waiting for us as more people joined the protest. While waiting I went to the microphone and sang "Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside." The others joined in with me.

Eventually I spoke to the assembled (which grew larger as people paused on the side walk to listen) and Victoria followed me to speak. She first sang an indigenous song from Guam and then an elected official from the Green Party made a fine speech as well.

The leaflet that was handed to the public included these words:

More than 80% of Australians want less money spent on the military. About 70% did not want Australia involved in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. But Liberal and Labor governments ignore our voices for peace and justice.

The Invisibles, dressed in white and masked, symbolise the silent majority. We will not be silenced!

We march to demand:
  • No US Marines in Darwin
  • No US war fighting and spy bases on our land
  • No US drone base on the Cocos Island
  • No more war games intended to teach Aussie soldiers to fight in more shameful US wars
  • No more destruction of our precious environment by military exercises such as the four bombs dropped by US planes in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
  • No increased US warship and military plane visits to Australia
  • A cut to the massive military budget of $25 billion a year
  • Australia must not become a US military base and a launch site for US wars in our region
As former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said: It's time Australia stood up and learned to be independent.
A send-off dinner for Victoria and I was held later in the evening with a dozen members from various peace groups joining us. We had a lively discussion about non-violence, organizing strategies, Australian politics, and more over fine Middle Eastern food in a basement room of a local Lebanese restaurant.

Today I head to the airport for the long trip home. I fly to Dallas and then to Boston where I catch a bus back to Maine. The trip will take me a full day.

It was a great trip to the Pacific and I am deeply grateful to all of my wonderful hosts in Hawaii, the Philippines and now here in Australia where Denis Doherty and Hannah Middleton saw that Victoria and I were given excellent treatment.


After 60 Years of Suffering, Time to Replace Korean Armistice with Peace Treaty

By Christine Ahn
July 27, 2013

Sixty years ago today, the United States, North Korea and China sat down to sign the Korean Armistice Agreement to "insure a complete cessation of hostilities." Several provisions were to guarantee a peaceful settlement, including a permanent peace agreement, withdrawal of all foreign troops, and no new arms introduced into Korea. Six decades later, none of these have been honored. As such, war, not peace, defines the relationship between Washington and Pyongyang.

Official commemorations are now taking place throughout Korea and United States, mostly honoring veterans who sacrificed their lives to fight the Forgotten War. Missing from this sanctioned remembering are the nearly four million Korean, mostly civilian, lives lost in just three years. Also missing is the central question: what are the costs of maintaining division and a permanent state of war? The costs are indeed enormous.

The most obvious is the threat of war, which would result in 1.5 million casualties within the first 24 hours, according to 1994 Defense Department estimates, well before North Korea possessed nuclear weapons. We came dangerously close this spring after Washington responded to Pyongyang's satellite launch and nuclear weapon test with another round of UN sanctions, followed by nuclear capable B-2 stealth bombers and nuclear power submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles. Washington was "within an inch of war almost every day," said former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Another major casualty are the millions of families separated by the DMZ, who by no choice of their own, are unable to see, embrace or communicate with their loved ones.

Unending war means bolstering up militaries to prepare for war. In 2012, the United States spent nearly $665 billion on its military, South Korea $32 billion, and North Korea $6 billion. North Korea recently acknowledged how they had "to divert large human and material resources to bolstering up the armed forces though they should have been directed to the economic development and improvement of people's living standard."

North Koreans are also struggling with food and energy shortages because of another weapon of war: U.S.-led sanctions, which have for the past 60 years had deleterious effects on the daily life of North Koreans. On his last trip to North Korea, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter remarked how "sanctions have deprived the North Korean people from adequate access to trade and commerce which has been devastating to their economy" and that "the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer the least."

The costs are also of repression on both sides of the DMZ in the name of national security. Every government, including the United States, justifies violating human rights on the grounds of national security, whether it is the NSA's spying program or systematic torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. We often point to North Korea's prison camps, but rarely do we critique South Korea's antiquated Cold War-era National Security Law, which is still used to silence and imprison political dissidents.

The partition, however, has very real consequences for North Korean women who make up the majority of migrants leaving North Korea due to poverty and hunger. According to estimates by aid workers, 80 to 90 percent of North Korean female refugees are trafficked and survivors of sexual violence. One 19-year old North Korean woman recently shared among a circle of women her experience of being raped four times during her journey to Seoul: once by the Korean-Chinese man who promised her work; twice by a Chinese man who hid her from authorities; third by a South Korean man who smuggled her into Seoul; and a fourth time by a South Korean agent.

The Korean War lives on. For six decades, the Korean peninsula has been marked by tragedy and war, a pawn on a global chessboard determining its fate. Yet much of this human suffering could be resolved through one action: replace the armistice with a peace treaty. In June, Pyongyang requested direct talks with Washington, but the Obama administration has not yet responded, even though there is a wide political spectrum of U.S. voices calling for peace with North Korea, including former U.S. ambassadors to South Korea from both political parties.

In Korean culture, 60 years represents an entire lifetime. It's time to end 60 years of war and hostility and begin a new lifetime of peace, reconciliation, and hopefully, reunification. Central is replacing the Korean Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace treaty.

-  Christine Ahn is a founding board member of the Korea Policy Institute and the National Campaign to End the Korean War.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


With Washington refocusing its forces to the Asia-Pacific region, the US Naval Base on the small island of Guam is preparing for the arrival of 5,000 more troops and their dependents.

The goal is to turn Guam, an unincorporated territory of the US in the western Pacific Ocean, into a regional security hub by integrating the US Air Force and Navy.

The move is seen as a bid to counter what are perceived by the US and its allies as challenges to the freedom and security of the region.

However, many of the locals feel there are other ways their island can prosper, and that growth should not happen at any cost, particularly at the expense of their environment.

Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas reports from Guam.


This motion passed this morning in Melbourne:

The Victorian Trades Hall Executive is concerned with the recently announced expansion of US military bases and stationing of US Marines in Darwin in Australia and Asia-Pacific.

We are concerned that Australia's foreign policies, the armed forces and military infrastructure, are being deeply integrated into the US global military operations.

We are concerned that Pine Gap [US NSA listening post in Australia) and other joint US bases in Australia are being used in extensive electronic surveillance and gathering of information on people and other countries for the purpose of launching wars.

The VTHC-executive supports an independent Australian foreign policy that builds peace and friendship with people and countries in our region.


Last night Victoria and I spoke to more than 50 folks (a very diverse group) at the historic Trades Hall in Melbourne.  The Trades Hall was built in 1859 by workers as a rallying point for the labor movement, following the successful Eight Hour Day campaign of 1856.

I was here 10 years ago when the Global Network held our annual space organizing conference in this magnificent building.

Our talk was expertly facilitated by Richard Tanter from The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability.  He is an expert on the Australian military and the growing US military presence in this country.  He also showed himself to be quite up-to-date on US military space policy.

This morning Victoria and I were interviewed on a progressive radio station.

Following the radio show we were brought back to Trades Hall to meet with the 15 members of the Executive Committee of the Victoria Trades Hall Council.  The listened attentively to each of us and then passed a motion calling on their country to stay neutral and independent during this US pivot into the region.  Once I get a copy of the motion I'll post it here on the blog along with a photo of this beautiful Trades Hall.

It's cold and wet here, quite a change from the heat of Darwin, Manila, and Hawaii.  I had to borrow a coat from my host Nic Maclellan who is an expert researcher and journalist on Pacific issues.  Nic and I met some years ago (neither of us can remember where or when) but he has been on our mailing list for a long time and follows the work of the Global Network closely.  We've been having some great discussions about the "pivot" and it is great to get his informed perspective on things.  He also made a fine bowl of tomato soup for lunch when we arrived yesterday from Darwin.  Just what the doctor ordered on a cold day.

We have a lunch meeting with various activists (including some who could not make it to our talk last night).  Victoria and I fly out tonight to Sydney which will be my last stop before heading home.


Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a poet from Marshall Islands in the Pacific.

Kathy writes, "During the period from June 30, 1946, to August 18, 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, all of which were considered atmospheric. The most powerful of those tests was the 'Bravo' shot, a 15 megaton device detonated on March 1, 1954, at Bikini atoll. The US continues to deny responsibility while many more Marshallese continue to die due to cancer and other radiation related illnesses."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Holding banner at the front gate of Robertson Army Barracks in Darwin where Obama intends to deploy 2,500 US Marines.  Who does the US need to protect Australia from or is this purely Pentagon power projection?

Denis Doherty runs interference as private security guard at Shoal Bay Satellite Receiving Station base tried to block our banner

I arrived in Darwin, on the north coast of Australia, yesterday afternoon.  This is where Obama has announced that over 2,500 US Marines would be sent as part of the "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific.

Joining me here was Denis Doherty (who I was with in the Philippines and hails from Sydney) and Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero from Guam.

Last night a public meeting was held at a local pub and just over 30 people turned out in this military town to hear us speak.  You can see the video clips of our talks here

The last person on the video is a woman who asked to recite a poem about Obama's visit to Darwin that was pure joy to listen to.  

Today our hosts took us to visit the front gates of two local bases that are involved in US war operations.  Robertson Barracks is the place where the US Marines will be sent.  Major upgrades are underway at the base in order to accommodate the additional soldiers.  The Australian government claims that the Marines stationed there will help to "deepen interoperability" between their forces and the US military.

The second base we visited is called Shoal Bay which is an important satellite interception station used by the NSA's ECHELON surveillance system - part of the program exposed by Edward Snowden that is collecting millions of phone, fax, and email communications from this part of the world.

When we arrived at the front gate of Shoal Bay, hidden along a lonely dusty road in a wooded area, a woman security guard came out of the shack to see what we were doing.  I announced that we were from the NSA and wondered if Edward Snowden was there.  She didn't look amused and immediately turned away.

Later in the day, after lunch, while at the home of one of Darwin's local activists we got a call from the guy who had driven us to the two bases.  He reported that the Australian Federal Police had just called and asked who was the person that said he was from the NSA.  Clearly anyone mentioning the NSA and Edward Snowden deserves to be checked out!

Early Thursday morning Victoria and I board a plane and head to Melbourne where we will speak.


For a response to President Obama’s comments on the acquittal of George Zimmerman and racism in the United States, Democracy Now is joined by Dr. Cornel West, professor at Union Theological Seminary and author of numerous books.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Sebago Tar Sands Demonstration from Regis Tremblay on Vimeo.

On Saturday, July 20, 2013, 350 Maine conducted a wonderful "teach-in" at Sebago Lake to inform the public about the dangers of fossil fuels, and specifically Tar-sands. The Canadians want to reverse the flow of the Portland to Montreal pipeline to move filthy, dirty Tar-sands oil down through Maine, 500 feet from Sebago Lake, to Portland to be shipped to China and other places. 200 people took part in the festivities and street (lake) theater. founder, Bill McKibben spoke to the crowd and took part in the activities. The band, Melodeego entertained with eco-relevant songs, featuring "They Are Digging Us a Hole."


By David Swanson

Copperhead was a name for Northern Democrats opposed to the Civil War. Now it's also the name of a remarkable new film: This is not the first film about a family opposed to the Civil War. Many will probably recall the 1965 film Shenandoah starring Jimmy Stewart. But Copperhead is the one to see.
This is a war movie that neither sanitizes war nor pornographies it. This is a war movie set far away from the war, in upstate New York to be precise -- just as all of our wars today are far away from all 50 states. It's an unpredictable movie, an engaging movie, a personal drama that makes the Civil War and the politics surrounding it more comprehensible than a gazillion tours of battlefields or hours of PBS specials.

We come, through this film, to understand the viewpoint of a man, and others like him, who opposed slavery but believed the cure of war to be worse than the disease. Here was a man of principle and courage who saw better than others what war would mean, and who opposed it. Here was someone opposing President Lincoln's assault on the Bill of Rights as he was engaged in it, not just centuries later as Lincoln's example is used to justify similar abuses.

Copperhead does a remarkable job of bringing us to understand the mindset of the copperheads, these opponents of mass-killing who found themselves accused of "aiding the enemy." And yet I wish this film went one step further. I wish it addressed directly the inevitable audience response that -- reasonable as the copperheads may have seemed at the time -- the war proponents were eventually proved right by the ending of slavery.

But the copperheads never claimed the war couldn't end slavery, only that slavery should be ended without war, as it had been in other countries and would go on to be in still more. Today we have more African Americans in prisons, jails, and under the supervision of the U.S. justice system than were enslaved in the United States in 1850. If we were to wake up tomorrow and discover that everybody was suddenly appropriately outraged by this horror, would a helpful proposal be for us to gather in some large fields and kill each other off by the hundreds of thousands? Of course not! What would that have to do with prison reform or with prison abolition? And what did it have to do with slavery abolition?

Anti-slavery activists in the U.K. had already been somewhat disappointed when Parliament had chosen to compensate slave owners for the liberation of their slaves. The slaves themselves were, of course, not compensated. They had little but hard times ahead. But the compensation of slave owners offered a model that might have served the United States better than bloody civil war.

During the American revolutionary war, the British had recruited slaves to fight on their side by promising them freedom. After the war, slave owners, including George Washington, demanded their slaves back. A British commander, General Sir Guy Carleton, refused. Thousands of freed slaves were transported from New York to Nova Scotia to avoid their re-enslavement. But Carleton did promise to compensate the slaves' owners, and Washington settled for that. So, it was good enough for George Washington!

The original British abolitionists, including Thomas Clarkson, greatly influenced Americans like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. But few picked up on the idea of compensated emancipation, which had not originated with the abolitionists. Elihu Burritt was an exception. From 1856 to 1860 he promoted a plan to prevent a U.S. civil war through compensated emancipation, or the purchase and liberation of slaves by the government, following the example that the English had set in the West Indies. Burritt traveled constantly, all over the country, speaking. He organized a mass convention that was held in Cleveland. He lined up prominent supporters. He edited newsletters. He behaved, in other words, like Clarkson and many an activist since.

And Burritt was right. Britain had freed its slaves without a civil war or a slave rebellion on the scale that was possible. Russia had freed its serfs without a war. Slave owners in the U.S. South would almost certainly have preferred a pile of money to five years of hell, the deaths of loved ones, the burning and destruction of their property, and the uncompensated emancipation that followed, not to mention the century and a half of bitter resentment that followed that. And not only the slave owners would have preferred the way of peace; it's not as if they did the killing and dying.


It was a hot day in Manila yesterday as I spent several hours marching with Bayan (diverse coalition of groups that coordinated the protest).

In the first photo above you can find me on the left side near the front of the march.  A couple of hours later I was invited to speak to the crowd about the US "pivot" in the region.

The march and rally took place on the 16-lane Commonwealth Avenue that leads to the Filipino Congress building.  Groups applied to hold the rally near the Congress as the president was delivering his SONA (State of the nation address) but the courts backed the police who had denied the permits.

In the top photo you can see a tree-lined median strip separating the two sides of the avenue.  At one point the march broke through the razor wire blockade along the median strip and took control of both sides of the highway.  This continued for about two hours but eventually more police moved in with water cannons and night sticks and began cracking heads.  I saw some who had been beaten and were bleeding quite profusely.

It was predominately a young crowd and people lined the route watching from their homes and various stores along the long highway.  The marchers were protesting the privatization of everything from water to public services.  They demanded jobs and of course were vigorous in their opposition to the governments stated desire to make major increases in military spending - to modernize the military by buying weapons likely from the US.

After my talk at the rally I had to make my way and get ready to head to the airport.  (That took 90 minutes in the massive traffic jams that are characteristic of Manila.)

Corazon was in a coffee shop while waiting for me and saw the chief of the cops sitting there coordinating the protest operation of more than 9,000 police.  At one point she heard him yell into a phone "Maximum tolerance, maximum tolerance."  President Aquino didn't want to have too much police violence spoil his day in the sun.  There were tons of media covering the event.

As we made the drive to the airport Cora kept giving me a running translation of Aquino's SONA that was airing on the car radio.  Some of his comments were really stupid such as when he was talking about energy.  He mentioned alternative energy but only in a way to negate it as he said, "What do you do when there is no wind?  What do you do when there is no sun?"

He talked about the police for more than 20 minutes and called for the purchase of 74,000 more guns for the police forces.   

Lots of "public-private partnership" talk came out of Aquino's mouth as he clearly is a promoter of the corporate agenda of neo-liberalism.

I had a great experience in the Philippines and I must thanks those at the Ban the Bases Now conference and Cora for the great job of hosting me during my week there.

I am typing this from Darwin, Australia as we prepare for a talk tonight.  I'll be joined by Denis Doherty (who was also in the Philippines) and a young woman activist from Guam who will be speaking in Darwin, Melbourne, and Sydney with me.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


US warship being serviced yesterday at the former US Navy base at Subic Bay

My wonderful host and guide Corazon Fabros organized another great day for me on Sunday.  Five of us loaded into a van and headed northwest towards the beautiful green mountains near the former US Navy base at Subic Bay.

Once on the MacArthur Highway we again passed miles of rice paddies and I saw many workers planting the rice in the wet fields.  As we got further into the rural areas thatched roof houses became more common alongside those with the rusty tin roofs.

I learned that the Catholic Church currently owns many of the rice fields.  One veteran activist told me that after the US defeated Spain and took control of the Philippines in 1902; one negotiated point was that the Catholic Church could hold onto their vast land holdings they had obtained during Spain’s 300-year rule.

The US had replaced one colonizer with another.

Writer Mark Twain was one of the most prominent opponents of the Philippine-American War and an outspoken anti-imperialist - an aspect of his biography that is rarely mentioned in high school English classes.  In 1901 he wrote about the US-Philippine war: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.”

The US bases at Subic and Clark were finally returned to the Philippines in 1991 when a majority in the Filipino Senate voted to force the Americans out.  By 1992 the US was gone.  But things are rapidly changing back to the old ways.

Today, under Obama’s “pivot” of 60% of US military forces into this region, the port at Subic Bay is getting up to five US Navy warships a week making port calls under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries.  During an interview with a newspaper reporter while visiting Subic he told me that the VFA allows the US to even avoid paying any docking fees.  In a way it’s a better deal, he said, than when the US had to maintain the huge Navy base at Subic.

An American ship maintenance corporation is now permanently stationed at Subic to service the US destroyers, supply ships, and frigates that are regularly arriving.  Just last November there was big controversy after one US warship dumped human waste into the bay rather than pay to have their on-board sewage tanks emptied.  Fortunately they got caught.

During our tour of the enormous former Navy base at Subic our guide, a long time security official at the port, took us to the far side of the bay to see the former Naval runway that will soon be buzzing again with US military aircraft. 

Near this spot, where we saw monkeys and fruit bats hanging from the trees in the thick jungle, were more than 300 weapons bunkers that the US had used to store their nuclear weapons and other ordinance.  One of the former bunkers has been converted into “Bob’s Bunker Restaurant” and we couldn’t help but stop in to take a look.  Just inside the door was an orange steel drum marked “Agent Orange” that is used to hold the menus.  Just a reminder of the massive toxic legacy the US left in Subic Bay after 50 years of occupation.

Our next stop was to pick up three activists near the former US Clark Air Force Base that left a similar calling card – massive toxic contamination – so much so that children and adults were catching cancers and other diseases at alarming rates during the years of US control. 

Today Clark has been converted into an international airport and foreign investors are moving in big time to build casinos, call centers, plastic and steel factories, and garment and electronics factories – all in pursuit of cheap labor.

I learned that the average monthly wage at a call center is about $500.  At wages like that you can see why the greedy corporations have left the US and moved overseas.  Even Korean corporations like Samsung are exiting their countries due to the presence of strong unions and setting up profit-enhancing production in the Philippines.

It was just getting dark as we headed back toward Quezon City last night.  As we approached the urban center we noticed an incredibly long line of police trucks, full of well-equipped men, stopped at a highway tollbooth.  I asked Cora what was going on.  She replied that police are being brought in from the outside provinces for the big protest that is set on Monday in Manila.  President Benigno Aquino’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be delivered then and the police will set up along the highway to turn activists away who try to come to the protest from the rural areas.  They will be easily identified she said because they will be riding in the converted “jeep” taxi vehicles that are seen all over the country crammed full of people.

The Filipino judicial system has denied the request of the protest organizers to have a permit to rally near the Congress building where the speech will be given.  Instead the march and rally will have to be held in the middle of the hot paved street that leads toward the government center – but we will be kept a good distance away.

Cora also told me that the presidential address would be a high fashion show.  The wives of the elite will present themselves to the nation in their most expensive gowns and jewelry.  They consider themselves royalty and have used their powers to keep the unruly rabble far away while they celebrate their control over “democracy”.

The protest march will be addressing the growing economic disparity between rich and poor.  The protest will also highlight the return of colonial status for the Philippines as the US military returns to Subic and drags the Filipino people into the coming US conflict with China.  The US wants the Philippines to spend more on “modernization” of its military so that it can be “interoperable” with US forces. 

In this age of space satellite directed high-tech war that means that the US would ultimately control the military forces of the Philippines.  (The Filipino military has no satellite capability to direct the "modern" weapons they would purchase from the US.)  The days of Filipino national sovereignty will be over if the US can pull this charade off. 

During my time here I’ve tried to plant some seeds about how the US Space Command coordinates all warfare on the planet on behalf of the corporate interests.  Activists and organizers have appreciated the information.  They seem to understand the connection.

Time will tell if the people here can hold onto their democracy – what little of it that still exists.