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: Bath, Maine, 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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

History department: 1987 Cape Canaveral protest against first-strike attack planning


In January of 1987 I coordinated the biggest protest in my organizing career. The event was held at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida and I was working for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice.

We called the protest 'Cancel the Countdown!'.

More than 5,000 people turned out to protest the first test launch of the Trident II nuclear missile from the space center. 

Things actually began two weeks before the big rally.

Our 'Peace Pilgrimage to Stop the Trident' began at the Kings Bay Trident submarine base (built by President Jimmy Carter) which is located just over the Florida-Georgia border line. More than 200 people were on the peace walk. The walk was led by John & Martina Linnehan.

Affinity groups were formed on the peace walk as it headed south and just days before the pilgrimage reached Cape Canaveral small teams of activists began sneaking into the launch zone at the Cape. The public goal was to reach the Trident launch area and sit on the pad so the nuclear missile could not be fired into space.

In the middle of the night people walked south down the beach to the Cape, others waded through the alligator and snake infested swamp, and others still found even more creative ways of getting into the forbidden zone. Each day for a week before the scheduled national protest, arrests were reported in the local papers about those who had been captured by the military security. Warnings blared in the mainstream media about machine-gun armed military personnel and the dangers of being eaten by alligators. But the alarms did not deter people from their peaceful trek.

We were strongly supported by then national Mobilization for Survival that had its office in New York City. They organized a 'peace train' on Amtrak that began in Boston and headed south to Florida. At each big city they stopped, a news conference was held at the train station, and more people joined the journey to the Cape. Mobe staff helped in many ways to make this a special event.

On the day of the final rally a slew of great speakers and musicians took the stage at our protest area just one mile from the Cape Canaveral (now named) Space Force station gates. Among the speakers were Dr. Benjamin Spock (the famous baby doctor and activist), Odetta, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and more. Peter Yarrow (from Peter, Paul and Mary) sang at a church fundraiser for the protest in Orlando the night before.


Dr. Benjamin Spock

After the rally was finished we began a slow but deliberate march to the Cape's well-armed front gates. The day before several of us on the organizing team met with the Brevard County Sheriff's Department who told us that a 'counter protest' was planned against us. We agreed that the cops would keep us on one side of the four-lane road and the counter folks on the other side - with police down the middle. But things did not turn out that way.



During our rally we sent our peacekeeper team down to check out the front gate and they reported that the police were on the base side of the closed gate. And standing in front of the gate were beer drinking right-wingers who vowed to block us from entering the base. Many were carrying wooden sticks with signs on them.


As we approached this mad scene at the gate it was difficult to communicate with our peacekeepers on the walkie-talkies because a military chopper was just above our heads and along the river to one side were air-boats making an additional racket. It was a prescription for a disaster. The police had set us up.


One of the counter-protesters 'guarding' the front gate. Our numbers swallowed them up as we approached the missile launch base gate.

There were maybe 50 of the heavy drinking rightists and over 5,000 of us. As we made our final approach to the gates our peacekeepers went forward and mingled with the right-wingers. Then the rest of us just overwhelmed them with joy, love and determination to get over the fence.


Among the many Florida Coalition leaders arrested was Bobbie Heinrich from Ft. Myers, Florida who went over the fence. She was a deeply spiritual person and spent many years in Africa working with tribal people.

Ladders were placed up against the fence and large pieces of carpets were slung over to cover the barbed wire. Dr. Spock was the first to climb over then many, many more followed. In the end over 200 of us were arrested either at the Cape base gate or during the previous days as folks attempted to venture into the launch zone.



As it turns out one woman was able to reach one of the launch towers and picked up the phone and called security to come get her. The local media loved that story.

The reason we felt this protest so important was because the Trident nuclear missiles on submarines are a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack planning. It was in those days that I really began to understand that the US was setting in motion a dangerous and provocative program to gain global supremacy by threat of first-strike attack - something both China and Russia have renounced. It is even worse today.

I too climbed over the fence and spent five days in jail for refusing to give my real name - something many people did during that action. I said my name was Joe Nagasaki. (The jailers had never heard of Nagasaki and called me Nag-ass-key.)

My work today is just a continuation of those days back in the 1980's. I keep people like Dr. Spock and Bobbie Heinrich in my heart. 


See more photos from the protest here


Anonymous Jon said...

Thanks for this history lesson Bruce. Reminds me of stuff we did in Hawai'i in the sixties.

9/21/21, 11:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hurrah -for the Peacemakers, Peacekeepers who protest so effectively to STOP the Military industry to say NO MORE WARFare production. This is what America needs-a mobilisation of Peace and Climate activists outside the military production factories, launch sites just as you did then. In New Zealand we had to keep up the protests against nuclear subs or warships entering our harbours over 8 years (once or twice a year 1976-1984). It was very successful especially for attracting media attention within our braid based public education and political lobbying campaign. Kind regards
Laurie Ross -NZ Nuclear Free Zone Peacemakers

9/23/21, 4:40 AM  

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