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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Who Knew?

 
 Why didn't we know about this beautiful monument given by the Russians?

Isn't the answer rather obvious?

Liberation Day Rally for Democracy & Peaceful Reunification in Seoul




It was another wonderful day as more than 10,000 people gathered in two lanes of a city street in Seoul today for a big rally to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from the imperial Japanese.

While many in the country seem satisfied with the official government patriotic show the Korean Alliance for Progressive Movement put together this beautiful rally and march that I was lucky to be invited to speak at.  (See my brief talk below.)

I have been able to see several people again that I'd met on previous trips to Korea such as Young-Je Kim Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) leader who calls me brother and Eun-A Choi who I visited while she was in jail when I visited Korea in 2009.  Eun-A was one of the key organizers of the events today. See her story here

After about an hour of walking the march that followed the rally was ended abruptly in the shadow of the massive Samsung building in the heart of the financial district of downtown Seoul.  The police blocked us from moving any further so people sat down and completely closed the already congested intersection.  The police presence was massive.  (I'll post more photos as I get them.)  The organizers moved the international guests out of harms way and we later heard that 3,000 of the marchers were able to break off and headed to the US Embassy where they held another rally.

I can hear the fireworks being set off from the Han River not far from my hotel as I write this.  While many people are feeling the 'patriotism' of the day there are still many in this very divided country that keep the fires burning for national reconciliation and for an independent foreign and economic policy.  None of that is possible as long as the US has 27,500 troops here and controls the political system.

I was very proud to be among these remarkable fighters for real freedom and true democracy on such an important day.  Every time I come to Korea I become even more convinced that the folks here are the best organizers I've ever seen and their spirit of love and determination fills me with the kind of hope that people always ask me to help them find.  The Korean movement reminds us that hope comes from determined struggle.  Wishing and dreaming don't bring change.  It comes from hard work and the willingness to build coalitions and link the issues.  No one does it better.

Seoul Rally Talk
I bring you greetings from the US Solidarity Committee and the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.  We recently met in Kyoto, Japan for our 23rd annual space organizing conference.  We were invited to hold our meeting there by local activists in Ukawa village who are protesting the US deployment of a so-called ‘missile defense’ radar system aimed at China.  The US missile defense program is a key element in Pentagon first-strike attack planning.

Today the US is encircling Russia and China with missile defense systems that would serve as the ‘shield’ after a Pentagon first-strike attack.  The missile defense shield would pick off retaliatory strikes made by Russia or China giving the US a theoretical victory.  The missile defense program is dangerous, expensive and highly provocative.  Each year the US Space Command holds a computer war game where they simulate such a first-strike attack on Russia and China.

The Obama administration and the Pentagon are now aggressively pushing for deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea. 

THAAD would help detect and track China’s nuclear missiles headed for the mainland of America.  This US initiative boils down to Washington trying to squeeze one billion dollars out of South Korea’s treasury for installing a missile system that South Korea does not need – in addition to the $880 million per year that Seoul already pays for maintaining permanent US bases across South Korea.

The US and NATO are also deploying these systems near Russia’s border in Poland, Romania and Turkey as well as on board Navy warships in the Mediterranean, Black and Baltic Seas.

Both Russia and China have repeatedly warned the US and NATO that these aggressive deployments will halt any further negotiations for nuclear disarmament.  Thus we clearly see the link between missile defense and a new arms race.

All of this US military mobilization is directed to one primary purpose – to ensure corporate control of diminishing natural resources around the world.  The Pentagon has become the primary resource extraction service of corporate globalization.  The people in the US and South Korea are not benefiting from this militarization.

As the US-NATO globalizes their war machine the peace movement must globalize our opposition to these endless war plans.  We must work harder to support resistance movements in places like Okinawa, Guam and Jeju Island where they not only oppose bases but also fight to protect the environment.  We must work harder to show the public how the military is the biggest polluter on the planet.

We must demand that our nation’s resources be used to deal with the coming reality of climate change – not be wasted on more war.  We must demand the conversion of the war machine to peaceful production.

No missile defense!
No more US-ROK war games in Korea!
Close all US military bases in Korea!
Support peace and reunification on the Korean peninsula!

Kamsahamnida   

Friday, August 14, 2015

Two Great Voices



In this episode of Days of Revolt host Chris Hedges continues his conversation with Dr. Cornel West to discuss the way in which the black prophetic tradition has been supplanted by black elitism and individualism.

Kiev Increases Shelling of Civilians



The US puppet regime in Kiev steps up the shelling of innocent civilian neighborhoods in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

The US-NATO goal remains the same - force Russia to directly intervene to protect the people in the Donbass which would give the green light for further US-NATO military ops in the area.

Will the American people wake up and smell the coffee?

Our Struggle Makes Us a Better Person




I write this in the car as we make the two-hour drive from Osan Air Force Base back to Seoul.  We were joined for this trip by a delegation of 17 Japanese peace activists from Tokyo and Osaka. 

Today was the highlight of my time in Korea so far.  We joined a marvelous peace protest outside a gate at Osan AFB that was made up of more than 500 multi-colored T-shirt wearing groups of students from around the nation.  There had to be more than 1,000 local police and national riot troops there as well making sure we didn’t try to enter the base.  We first had a rally at the gate and then walked around the perimeter of the base during this two-hour protest.

The students began by walking to various military sites starting around August 6 and converged at the gates of Osan AFB in the blazing heat today.  The reason for coming to Osan AFB was because of the recent revelations that the US Forces in Korea (USFK) had recently brought anthrax to the base and at least 22 people were contaminated.  This was a Top-Secret program but the word got to Korea from some American media.  The Pentagon claims it was all a mistake. The USFK are not giving out any information at this point.  The Korean peace movement is demanding a special independent investigation by the South Korean government but so far the puppet regime in Seoul has not shown much interest in making any such demands on their masters from Washington.

I was invited to speak to the assembled peace walkers outside the Osan base gate and told them that the Native Americans said the white man spoke with a forked tongue – Washington always lied.  I said that inside the Osan base is a so-called ‘missile defense’ system (PAC-3) but the Pentagon lies when they claim it is for defense – it’s really an offensive system.  I told the students that the US lies when it claims its biological weapons program is ‘defensive’ – it’s offensive.  I said that Washington lies when it tells the Korean people that it was a mistake to send the anthrax to Osan AFB.  I said the US was in fact sending a clear message to North Korea and China.

I finished my talk to the students by reminding them that Japan had a biological weapons program during WW II that it used to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Manchuria and other places they occupied.  After the end of WW II the US brought the leaders of the Japanese biological warfare team to our country to help create the American biological weapons program at Ft. Detrick, Maryland.  Then during the Korean War the US used those same Japanese biological experts to help the Pentagon drop anthrax and other deadly biological agents across North Korea.  I said the US policy on chemical and biological weapons is hypocritical – we lecture others about the evils of these weapons programs but then our nation continues to produce, test, and prepare to use them on the Korean peninsula.

After dinner we joined the students again at a big park in the city center of the air base town.  There organizers set up a sound truck with a huge TV screen on top of the vehicle and began with speeches and wonderful song and dance routines expressing their outrage against the US military occupation of the country.

The messages were clear and resolute:

  • Kick out USFK
  • Investigate US anthrax program at Osan
  • Apologize Obama who illegally imported anthrax to this country
  • Get out USFK we will do reunification without you
  • US out, out, out
  • Stop stepping on our land, go back to America
  • You tear up our dignity
  • We don’t need you, you are the one who is blocking our reunification
  • We can do it ourselves
  • Our sovereignty is not in our hands
  • Our struggle makes us a better person

As I sat on the ground in the park, surrounded by student groups in their colored shirts, I had tears in my eyes while I listened to their strong words.  Just minutes before, after coming out of the local restaurant where the international guests had dinner together, I saw groups of American GI’s walking through town in their civilian clothes. I thought back on my own time in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and felt proud that this time I was sitting on the right side of history. 

I know that the GI’s at Osan AFB will be talking about the protest today in the barracks, the chow hall, and at their work sites.  I thought about how much the GI’s really need to experience the collective outrage, love and joy that I experienced today being in the middle of this great protest event.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pentagon Shipped Anthrax to Base in South Korea


A probe has been launched to investigate the handling of an Anthrax virus shipment at a US airbase in South Korea several months ago. But activists are calling for a tougher government stance. They say South Korea’s weak position has made the country vulnerable against the US.

Drowning Democracy in South Korea



Today I met with Korean activists who have been associated with the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) which the right-wing government of President Park has had banned.  The UPP had six members in the National Assembly who were forced out of power.  Their great crime?  It’s hard to believe but essentially what the UPP did was dared to call for reunification of North and South Korea and the removal of US military bases across their occupied nation.

Under the draconian National Security Law (NSL) it is a crime to call and work for reunification and to challenge US war bases in Korea.  President Park, the daughter of former brutal dictator Park Jung-Hee, is drowning the exercise of democracy in her country because Washington does not want a free flowing democracy to happen inside of this military colony that sits in such a strategic spot so close to China and Russia.

The past president Park Jung-Hee had been a Korean collaborator with the imperial Japanese during their long and nasty occupation of Korea.  Following the defeat of Japan at the end of WW II the US military occupation forces in Korea put the former Japanese collaborators in charge.  This created the dynamic that led to the Korean war that ultimately saw the collaborators taking control of the south (with full US backing) and the liberation forces controlling the north.

The current President Park nominated a former Minister of Justice official (who created the draconian constitution which allowed her father to be president without term limits) as Chief Presidential Secretary soon after she was elected.  The Secretary then began a media oriented witch-hunt that led to the arrest of the seven members of the UPP on specious charges of ‘conspiracy of insurrection’.  Ultimately the case went to the Supreme Court and the seven party members were sentenced from two to nine years in prison.  The UPP was vilified in the corporate controlled media and the party was dissolved. Party workers were labeled and many now find it hard to get work due to the red baiting by the repressive government in Seoul.

I had lunch with two of the wives of now jailed UPP officials.  They shared the sad story of their homes being raided by the Korean CIA (who called the media from the raided homes to ensure that cameras were rolling when computers were carted away along with nearly empty boxes giving the impression of mounds of evidence being discovered thus condemning the government critics.)

The women talked about the toll the red baiting campaign has taken on their children and their relationships with extended family, neighbors and friends.  Fearing they might be labeled as ‘associates’ many friends turned away.  One of the women told a story about going to the local hospital in hopes of speaking to a psychologist to help deal with the stress but the mental health professional suggested she try another hospital.

When one of the husbands arrived at the KCIA office he was told he was arrested for past work against US military bases and other social justice organizing. 

The Supreme Count eventually dropped the ‘plotting for insurrection charge’ but maintained the conspiracy charges on the seven UPP activists.  Religious leaders, particularly Catholics, backed the jailed UPP members.  Jeju Island Catholic Bishop Kang sent a letter to Rome about the case asking for support from the Pope.  When Pope Francis visited South Korea in 2014 members of the families were able to briefly meet with the pontiff.  This religious community support helped lead to a reduction in charges and a serious reduction in the final prison sentences for the seven leaders.

I asked the women what message they would share with readers of this blog.  One responded:

“My son, now 8 years old, was asked ‘What are your wishes?’  He used to say ‘I want my dad to come home as soon as possible.’  Now he says he wants reunification of Korea.  Our suffering is not because of our own doing and can happen to others unless we have reunification – without reunification there will be no justice and no peace.”

The other wife said:

“My daughter is a college senior who came home and packed up and left the house as soon as school vacation started.  She is now working on the Comfort Woman issue.  Maintaining the peace requires everyone to help with the work and to do his or her own share.  We have to link the various issues like the KIA automobile workers struggling for justice to what is happening to the UPP.  It is all one struggle for justice.”

Following lunch we all moved to the entrance of March 1st Park (the day that South Korean people had their mobilization against Japanese occupation).  Speeches were made in support of the seven imprisoned UPP leaders.  I was asked to share some words and I talked about being moved hearing the stories of the suffering families.  I stated that democracy means healthy debate, democracy means you are supposed to question authority, and that it should not be a crime to call for US military bases to be closed down and for the reunification of the Korean nation.

I was told that it is believed by many inside South Korea that the US government has to ‘approve’ anyone who wishes to become president of this beleaguered nation.  Many are convinced that the current Park regime unleashed this attack on the UPP to divert attention from serious charges that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) directly interfered in the last national election that brought President Park to power. 

It is clear that South Korea is essentially a client state of the US military industrial corporate complex.  The jailed UPP leaders are being used to send an unambiguous message to the people of South Korea.  Don’t you dare stand up and seek an independent and sovereign nation. 

The UPP seven should be supported and applauded for their courage to stand up for true peace and justice.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jeju Island Peace Walk



Video includes walkers singing, dancing, and celebrating their long struggle to stop Navy base construction on Jeju Island.

This was from the annual walk all around the island in the heat of summer.  Remarkable people who resist with love and determination!

I will be there soon to stand with them in front of the Navy base gate!  

"The U.S. is a Bad Country"

At the Korean Comfort Women protest this morning across from the Japanese embassy in Seoul
A PAC-3 'missile defense' battery just visible over the wall at US's Osan AFB in South Korea



I began my day in Seoul by going to a protest by the Korean Comfort Women with Juyeon Rhee (fellow member of the US Solidarity Committee for Democracy & Peace in Korea). The well attended protest was observing the 70 anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese imperialism.  This weekly protest of the Comfort Women began in 1991 and is held across the street from the Japanese embassy in Seoul.  During WW II Japan forced more than 200,000 Korean women to serve as sex slaves for their imperial Army.

The Comfort Women continue to demand that the Japanese government issue an official apology (which they have yet to do), pay financial restitution to the women, and include the important story in Japanese school textbooks.

Following the protest we boarded a train for the two-hour trip south to the US’s Osan Air Force Base in Pyeongtaek for a guided tour by a prominent local activist.  We were driven around the perimeter of the bulging base that is now adding a second runway – likely as a result of Obama’s ‘pivot’ of Pentagon forces into the Asia-Pacific to encircle China.  (More airfields are needed for Pentagon warplanes.) In order to make the base expansion possible the US has forced the South Korean government to take even more lands from local farmers.  Local citizens and their supporters resisted this land grab by waging a long fierce campaign but their villages and rice fields were eventually taken.

Osan AFB currently has F-16 and A-10 warplanes stationed there as well as the high-flying U-2 spy planes.  In addition the air base hosts PAC-3 (Patriot third generation) missile defense systems that are aimed at China.  Their job is to take out the retaliatory response following a US first-strike attack against Chinese nuclear forces.

The tour continued to the nearby US Army base called Camp Humphreys that is also undergoing major expansion.  Similar to Osan AFB the US forced the grabbing of two rice-farming villages near the Army base to provide additional lands for the base expansion.  These new facilities at Camp Humphreys will allow the US to move its current base inside downtown Seoul southward making it more difficult for North Korea to retaliate against the US bases following a Pentagon attack on the north.

We had dinner with one rice farmer who lost his land when his village was taken.  He and others moved to another nearby location but they couldn't replace their rice farms in the local area.  The farmer, now the mayor of his small village, had to buy new rice land two hours away and must make that long drive back and forth to work in his new rice fields. I was told he spent time in prison for “obstructing” the expansion of the Army base during their protest campaign.

The Pentagon currently has 27,500 troops in South Korea at 70 bases and military facilities.  In order to pay for the current expansion of its bases the US has demanded that the South Korean government pay for the big changes taking place at these military outposts.  (My liberal Democrat Congresswoman Chellie Pingree calls it 'burden sharing by the host nation'.) Thus for the Korean people it is a double insult – not only is their government an occupied client state of the US empire but the people must increasingly pay for unwanted US military operations inside of their country.

Our guide today several times, while driving us around the perimeter of the two bases, said, “The US is a bad country.”  I immediately thought how much I wished the American people could take this tour and hear his words.  This remarkable activist also spent time in prison for trying to protect his people from the American assault on their culture and way of life.  I was told that he helps take care of the elderly farmers who were not able to purchase new rice fields and now struggle to find ways to make money in order to survive.

I came away from Pyeongtaek today feeling sad, ashamed of the US, and disgusted with those many American people who don’t really care what happens to the people around the world who are displaced by US military bases – or are killed by the soldiers that make war from these outposts on behalf of corporate capitalism. 

I wish I could do even more to help spread solidarity for these good people who want nothing else but to be left alone. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Navy Eager to Send Warships to Jeju Island

Outgoing Commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Korea Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti (R) speaks in an interview on Aug. 5, 2015, next to her successor, Rear Adm. William Byrne. (Yonhap)


SEOUL, Aug. 5 (Yonhap) -- The United States Navy wants to send its ships to South Korea's naval base on the southern resort island of Jeju once constructed for navigation and training purposes, the outgoing head of the U.S. naval forces stationed here said Wednesday.

"The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet really likes to send ships to port visit here in South Korea," Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti said in a group interview following a change of command ceremony. "I think any ports that we have the opportunity to visit will be a great opportunity for our navy to do work together (with the South Korean Navy)."

Wrapping up her 2 1/2 years of service as the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Korea, the rear admiral now will take up a new mission in the U.S. In the ceremony, Rear Adm. William Byrne took over the position.

"Any port that we are able to bring our ships to, we will take advantage of that for great (navigation) liberty and great training," Franchetti said.

Her remarks highlight the U.S.' willingness to engage in naval activities in the geopolitically sensitive maritime arena.

Under an ambitious Navy project, South Korea is building the naval base on the southern tip of the Jeju Island, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The port is capable of accommodating 20 combat ships and two cruise vessels at a strategic naval point leading to the Asian Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea, where Asian naval rivalries are brewing.

Some critics have said the new naval base for both military and commercial purposes could increase regional tension, especially between China and Japan or China and the U.S.

Touching on North Korea's growing nuclear threats and provocations, the outgoing rear admiral said the U.S. and South Korean navies are well-trained to deal with any type of North Korean threats.

"I think our navy, we are very well-rounded in our training, and that's what makes us come together to defeat anything that North Korea might develop today or in the future," she said, alluding to North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Also referring to the South Korea-Japan diplomatic tension feared to hamstring the trilateral military partnership among the neighbors and the U.S., she said moves like recent trilateral military exercises are a "good first step."

My Response

I will be heading to Korea early in the morning, first to attend a conference in Seoul and then I'll go on to Jeju Island to stand with the Gangjeong villagers who still continue to resist construction of the new Navy base in their 500-year old fishing and farming village.

All across the Asia-Pacific the US is forcing new base building, or expansion of existing bases, in order to meet the demands of Obama's 'pivot' of 60% of US military forces into the region to surround China.

As a result of the pivot more airfields are needed for Pentagon war planes, more ports-of-call are needed for Navy warships, and more barracks are needed for Marines and Army soldiers. Thus people on Okinawa, South Korea, Guam, Australia, Philippines, and more are organizing opposition to this provocative US move to control the region. (Similarly the US-NATO are encircling Russia with bases as well.)

How come none of the US 'presidential candidates' are talking about the cost of this massive Washington military mobilization? How come they are not talking about how destabilizing these military moves are to world peace?

What is the peace movement doing and saying about all of this?

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Sunday Song