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. We must all do more to help stop this western corporate arrogance that puts the future generations lives in despair. @BruceKGagnon

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Weekend in Washington.....

MB and I have just returned from a weekend in Washington DC.  I had some frequent flyer miles that I had to use or lose.  So, we decided to travel to DC and visit our dear friend Herschel Sternlieb (I think of him as the godfather – in the best sense) who now is in an assisted living facility near his son.  

After his wife Selma, long-time peace stalwart in Maine, passed away last year Hersch was moved to DC.  We spent lots of time at their home for meetings, parties, talks, and game playing over the years after we moved to Brunswick in 2003.  Selma is hugely missed by all but at least we can still soak in the love and wisdom of Hersch now and then.

As always when we go to DC, we stayed at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House where we have many good friends.  The only thing is that DC was hotter than hell all weekend and their big house stays quite warm even though we had three fans blowing in our room.  Many years ago, the house was a Catholic convent which was donated to the Catholic Worker community.

We arrived mid-day on Friday not sure what we’d do that night – hoping there would be some kind of political activity in the city but as it turned out nothing of interest was happening.  So that left us with just one good choice – take the hour-long train ride to Camden Yards in Baltimore to watch the Orioles play the Boston Red Sox in a baseball game.  

MB was agreeable to this plan since my birthday comes next week and she has pity on me as the Orioles are the worst team in all of major league baseball.  The Red Sox are the defending champs so we were prepared for the worst.  It turned out that the O’s won by a score of 11-2 in a well-played game (including an inside the park home run) by the lowly O’s and we caught an Amtrak train back to DC, arriving at the Catholic Worker House just after midnight.

Up early Saturday morning we grabbed a cab to get to Herschel in time for breakfast.  He misses Maine so much (he ran a textile mill for many years in his day) but it was a joy to once again spend time probing his quick and gentle mind for his take on politics.  He’s long maintained that our nation’s massive debt, plus our cancerous military spending, were dooming us to a hard-economic collapse.  

We’ve learned so much from him over the years – such as Obama was ‘made’ by the Crown family in Chicago who are the majority stockholders in General Dynamics Corp. which owns Bath Iron Works.  It was Obama that forced the Navy to build the Zumwalt ‘stealth’ destroyer at more than $7 billion per copy when the Navy didn’t even want them.  Obama was paying the Crown family back for greasing the skids (within the military industrial complex and the national Jewish community) to get him elected.  

We left Hersch at noon and took a cab to the African-American Museum in DC.  It’s damn hard to get into this place – even though the tickets are free they are almost nearly impossible to get ahold of.  Our cab driver though told us to get in line and tell them we came all the way from Maine and maybe they’d take pity on us and let us in. It worked and they told us to come back in an hour’s time and they’d let us enter. So that is how it all turned out.

There were legions of buses parked just outside the museum. Big groups of African-American families with colorful T-shirts, designating one family reunion after another, were also lined up waiting to get in the museum.  It was like a pilgrimage – once we got inside there was very little room to move around as the crowd was enormous but electric. 

The museum recommends you begin in the basement level and work your way up to the 4th floor.  But because of the crowds we did the opposite.  On the 4th floor were the stories of the descendants of slaves who have contributed so much to America and the world in music, politics, art, literature, sports and more.  

They do a wonderful job of mixing standard museum artifacts and written descriptions with multi-media imagery.  My favorite thing was the Muhammad Ali section that much to my delight showed his anti-Vietnam war statements that led to his being kicked out of boxing for several years.  Ali is one of my greatest lifetime heroes.

Finally, we moved down to the basement and got in the long line which had us waiting more than 30 minutes before we reached the slavery section.  The first thing we saw was some European woman of ‘royalty’ quoted as saying that ‘Yes slavery was indeed horrible but our economy needs the cheap labor and profits’ from this brutal and evil system.  This entire part of the museum movingly shared the horrid story of the ‘passage’ from Africa to the Americas and then the calamitous life of the slave in the US.

The next level up was about the resistance to slavery – from the Nat Turner rebellion to the Underground Railroad to revolution and liberation in Haiti.  The story of black participation in the Civil War was not neglected and emancipation brought a temporary ability of black citizens to vote and participate in the government at long last.

But the next level up brought us to the KKK, Jim Crow and the crackdown on liberation.  The brutality of lynching, Emmet Till and much more.  But all along this journey, over and over again we were given the often-little known stories of those who fought for freedom and liberation from a hypocritical nation that declared ‘all men were created equal’.

The civil rights movement was on the next level and a most remarkable display was present there – a long lunch counter with screens at each seat where one could order from an interactive ‘Woolworth’s menu’ which had choices like protest, voting, etc.  Each different menu item took you to another series of stories and questions – asking you what you would have done at the time if you’d been sitting in the middle of these historic moments of activism.  

Probably the best part of the museum for me was just watching this overwhelmingly black jammed-packed crowd slowly making their way thru the museum.  Old women in wheel chairs, young people, folks singing and moving to the sounds of several generations of black music and entertainers who brought such beautiful culture to a white bread society.  Watching the people learn and share what they knew about this event or that one – the burning in 1921 of an entire black section of Tulsa, Oklahoma because the white folks couldn’t handle the fact that black people (left in peace) could in fact create a successful and happy life.

The museum opened in 2016 and is still packed every day.  It’s just so heartwarming to see how black people have such a place where they can go to connect, or reconnect, with their hard, sad, and joyful struggle in the ‘land of the free and home of the brave’.
I’m glad we finally got inside this great place and I urge everyone to take this pilgrimage as well.  

I’ve always believed in, and am eternally grateful, for the loving, determined spirit that African-American people have brought to this land.  I also am lovingly grateful for the rich culture they have created here to America – the place where I learned to love the blues.



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