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, November 07, 2015

Arriving in Milan

The central rail station in Milan

I arrived in Milan, Italy today at 10:30 am and made the long ride from the airport to the central rail station on a crowded bus.  From there I took a cab 10 minutes to my small hotel room which I found online weeks ago - a good price and it turns out to be a nice space, small and clean, perfect for me.

My flight from Boston on Lufthansa was cancelled due to a strike in the airlines so I was switched to British Airlines (I had the worst meal ever on a plane as I crossed the Atlantic) and landed in London.  From there I flew to Milan and by the time I arrived, not having slept a wink on the plane, I was ready for bed.

I slept several hours before waking up hungry about 5:00 pm.  I learned that local restaurants don't really open until 6:30 pm so I walked around the area just seeing what I could see.  I went into grocery stores, corners shops, and was looking for possible eating places.  Mostly I was watching the people - even though I don't understand any Italian to speak of I am familiar with some words and most importantly the way people express them from exposure to my Italian grandparents.  (My mom's generation was taught to forget their native language and fit into America's 'melting pot' which meant that my generation had limited exposure to Italian.) I thought alot about my grandfather who originally came from Milan before he immigrated to the US.  He had served in the Italian Navy during WW I and came to the US soon after because two of my uncles served in the US Navy during WW II and both were on ships that got sunk.  Luckily they got pulled out of the drink.

I found a nice mom and pop restaurant not far from my hotel and while I could only read about half of the menu I had a good pasta dish with some wine and a salad.  At first the folks at the restaurant spoke to me in Italian but they figured out I was not 'in the lingo' soon enough.  They were very nice to me and I enjoyed the meal.

Luckily the Wifi works at the hotel and while in the Boston airport I bought an international electrical adapter which makes life a bit easier.

I want to take the train north to Lake  Como - might do it in the morning.  Flying into Milan from across France and over Geneva was a beautiful view of the Alps - the plane was very low and it seemed you could reach out and touch the snow-capped mountains.

Friday, November 06, 2015

What Do Syrian People Think & Want?


According to an ORB International poll, 81% of Syrians believe ISIS is foreign/American made. We’ve seen ISIS driving around in Humvees and Toyota’s supplied by the US. We’ve seen them using American-made rifles. We know rebels who’ve received money from the American government have become top ISIS officials. A secret Pentagon report revealed that the US not only foresaw the likely rise of ISIS as a result of its foreign policy in Syria, but that it also saw the creation of ISIS as a strategic way to fight Assad. And we also know that our politicians love to use ISIS as a talking point for why we need to keep giving military contractors and other incredibly rich corporations all our tax dollars. And yet still, unlike Syrians, many Americans still don't believe their country created ISIS. 

After all if you really believe in democracy then you must agree that the Syrian people deserve to pick their own leaders - the US mantra that "Assad must go" has no place in a real democratic state.  

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Some History of U.S. Anti-Russian Policies


Western Russia-bashing is not new, though it has never been so counter-productive. Unwilling to go along to get along, Russia’s political elite is self-confident when defining what is in the country’s interest. This makes the exceptionalists inside the beltway go mad! CrossTalking with Vladimir Golstein, Gilbert Doctorow, and Peter Kuznick.

Inside the Demented CIA Mind


Author David Talbot’s latest book, Devil’s Chessboard, takes a first-time look at Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA during the 1950s, and a number of deeds and plots that included targeting allies like France. Talbot speaks with Alexey Yaroshevsky and sheds more on light on the book.

Traveling to Support Resistance to U.S. Empire


  • I head to Boston early in the morning for Milan, Italy and then on to Sicily where I will be joined by Global Network board convener Dave Webb and our fellow GN member Jo McIntire (Jo who lived in Italy for many years will serve as our translator. His mother was one of our key leaders in the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice when I worked there for many years.) We will speak twice in the coming days in Sicily with activists who have been waging the No MUOS campaign against a US space warfare communications base built in the middle of a nature preserve.  Sicilian citizens and No MUOS activists are worried about consequences of the installation of this system on: human health, the ecosystem of the Sughereta di Niscemi, the quality of agricultural production, right to mobility and to the development of territory, right to peace and security of their homeland and of its inhabitants.
  • My mother was first generation Italian immigrant born in the US - her father came from Milan and her mother from Naples.  I intend to spend a couple days in Milan before heading to Sicily.  This will be my first ever trip to Italy - a lifelong dream come true.
  • After the trip to Sicily is over I will return to England with Dave who also chairs the UK's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.  He's organized a bit of a speaking tour for me and I will visit Bradford, Menwith Hill (US NSA spy base weekly protest), Leeds, London, Fylingdales (US space warfare base) and Oxford.  I will be get home on November 24.
  • The Obama endless war team has taken another step toward ensuring more chaos in Syria and the direct possibility of a shooting match with Russia.  Can there be any doubt that Washington is doing its best to provoke Moscow and Beijing into a roaring WW III?  One local woman here in midcoast Maine recently emailed that I was crazy for suggesting that the Pentagon has been developing a first-strike attack program using 'missile defense' as their shield which is aimed at Russia and China.  The real question is why do the American people allow the psychopaths running the asylum in Washington to remain in charge?  The Wall Street Urinal reported yesterday:
The U.S. and its regional allies [Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel...] agreed to increase shipments of weapons and other supplies to help moderate Syrian rebels hold their ground and challenge the intervention of Russia and Iran on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, U.S. officials and their counterparts in the region said.

The deliveries from the Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi Arabia and other allied spy services deepen the fight between the forces battling in Syria, despite President Barack Obama’s public pledge to not let the conflict become a U.S.-Russia proxy war.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Running from Corporate Looting & US-NATO Wars



Today 60 million human beings are displaced by war and extreme poverty. Many European countries are responding to the crisis with racist hysteria and polices, backed by police measures.

Abby Martin exposes the facts that are left out of the mainstream reporting: the role of criminal wars, disastrous neoliberal economics and why mass displacement is a permanent feature under this system.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Case of the Wayward Letters

A representative from Bath Iron Works met with three protest leaders last Saturday to accept four letters addressed to Maine's Congressional delegation.  We were told they would hand the letters over to congressional staffers inside the 'christening' ceremony.  Artist Russell Wray (on right in gold sweatshirt) later called PR man Matt Wickenheiser and learned the letters had not yet been delivered.  Maine public radio reporter is shown on the left recording the conversation. Photo by Peter Woodruff


The plan last Saturday was to deliver four letters addressed to Maine Senators Angus King and Susan Collins and House of Representatives members Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin who were inside the Aegis destroyer 'christening' ceremony at Bath Iron Works.  A delegation of protest leaders was going to attempt to enter the BIW gate into the ceremony.  The Bath Police Department (Lt. Savary) called prior to the protest and said that BIW would indeed arrest anyone trying to enter the ceremony from our event.

The Bath police said they'd worked out a plan with BIW to have one of its representatives accept the letters who would then immediately go back inside the event and hand them over to staffers of the congressional leaders.  We agreed to that plan.

A BIW representative took the letters promising to hand them over the congressional staffers.  He also gave artist Russell Wray the phone number of BIW PR man Matt Wickenheiser and Russell called him later that day to inquire whether or not the letters had indeed been delivered.  Come to find out they had not been handed over.

Instead Russell was given this convoluted explanation:

Matt Wickenheiser of BIW just called me back a few minutes ago. He told me that the letters would be Fed-Exed tomorrow morning [Tuesday] down to BIW’s DC office. They would then be delivered to our congressional delegation. He expected they would be received this week.

I asked him, as an aside, why they wouldn’t let us in to deliver the letter ourselves. He said it wasn’t because he thought we might do anyone harm, but rather because they feared we would disrupt the event.
Who really knows if BIW is ever going to hand these letters over as promised?  Why would they not just deliver them to the staffers at the 'christening' as they had promised?  Instead this contorted plan to ship them via airplane to Washington DC and have some BIW worker there make the delivery seems like some Laurel & Hardy routine.  It's an interesting example how the weapons industry wastes taxpayer dollars.  BIW will probably ask for a special congressional appropriation to reimburse them for this expensive maneuver!

I forwarded Russell's message about his conversation with Wickenheiser to Lt. Savary of the Bath police and told him that we feel like we got snookered on this one.  I told him that this is no way to build trust.  Maybe BIW mislead the Bath police as well.  This just goes to show that in the future we might have to make the delivery inside the 'christening' ceremony ourselves.

I guess it is fitting in a way though that BIW delivers the letters to Congress.  It's symbolic of the fact that much of Washington is under the control of the military industrial complex.  BIW, by its decision to deliver the letters to the nation's capital, underscores this sad but real truth.

Just to make sure, a volunteer called the four congressional offices in Washington this morning and asked them to notify us if, and when, they do receive our heartfelt communication.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Protest in Sicily Against NATO War Games

Hundreds of people have taken to the streets of Sicily protesting against Trident Juncture 2015, the largest military maneuvers in more than a decade, which NATO claims are designed to adapt the alliance to “emerging security challenges.” [That is code lingo for aiming NATO's war might against Russia.]
The protesters marched through the streets of the city of Marsala, less than 10 miles (16km) from Vincenzo Florio Airport. The airport is a base for the 37th Wing of the Italian air force and is one of the forward operating bases (FOBs) used by NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control.

Organized by the “No war, no NATO” group, activists from all corners of the Italian island marched with banners reading “Sicily is not laboratory of the war” and "Sicily is no war zone". People urged the Italian government to better invest in education and the medical sector rather than military activity.

NATO is an Expansion of U.S. Power

 
Tommy Raskin interviews Ralph Nader about American militarism and antiwar politics. The Center for Study of Responsive Law created this video in affiliation with the Amherst Political Union.

Sparks of Change Fly at Peace Protests

Vietnam war protest on August 26, 1972 at Travis Air Force Base in California


I've often told the story about being stationed at Travis AFB in California from 1971-1973 during the Vietnam war.  The base had 15,000 permanently stationed personnel with thousands more coming and going because Travis was a key airlift base for the Vietnam war.  GI's would come from all over the country and fly to Vietnam and when the planes returned they carried the body bags of dead soldiers, wounded soldiers, and those seemingly returning in one pieace but sentenced to a life of moral injury.

Upon my arrival at the base, when I checked into the barracks 'orderly room', they repeatedly apologized to me saying, "I'm sorry man, we've only got one room left.  We'll get you out of there as soon as possible."  I had no idea what they were talking about.

At this point it is important to remember that I grew up in an Air Force family, had been Vice-chair of the Okaloosa County (Florida) Young Republican Club in 1968 where I volunteered to work on the Nixon campaign for president, and I joined the Air Force under my own free will.  I wanted to be a career man like my old man. In fact I flunked my induction physical (because of an old high school football injury) and had to get a waiver to get into the military at a time when most guys my age were trying to avoid the draft.

As it turned out my first roommate was one of the leading organizers in the GI resistance movement in the barracks.  They published a newsletter called 'Travisty' and held meetings in our room as I sat in the corner thinking I was surrounded by commies.  One night white guys would come in with chairs, sit in a circle, and talk about the war in Vietnam.  Another night black guys would enter the room with their chairs and talk about racism in the military and across the country.  This is where I got my political education.

But it was the small and frequent protests outside the gate that created the biggest sparks that made the GI's debate the war in the chow hall, in the barracks, and on the job with the 'lifers' who generally supported the war - especially if they hoped to get promoted and make a career out of the military.

After all these years of thinking about these base protesters I finally met someone who was outside the gates at Travis AFB while I was on the inside.  Last Saturday after we finished the Aegis destroyer 'christening' protest at Bath Iron Works (BIW) we invited folks to come over to the Addams-Melman House for lunch.  One of the women, Meredith from Belfast, and I got talking and it came out that she was one of those protesters that helped change my life while I was stationed at Travis.

Protests at military bases and weapons production facilities create large amounts of ferment with those on the inside.  You can't numerically quantify or qualify the direct results but I have faith, based on my own experience, that change is put into motion because of these seemingly unimportant small protests.  The sparks fly as a result of these events and from those sparks of discussion and reflection lives are changed.

Early last evening MB and I walked out of the house to go for a walk.  A neighbor who works at BIW stopped us and said, "If I was an elected official I'd have come out of the shipyard during the 'christening' ceremony and taken the letter you all tried to deliver."  I was surprised by this and asked him how he knew about the letter hand-off story.  "Oh, I read about it somewhere," he replied.

The sparks from our protest last Saturday did indeed fly around Bath and beyond.  May we have the good sense to keep these small fires burning.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Shipyard Protest - Unity of Message


It was a good day yesterday in Bath at our protest at the Navy shipyard 'christening' of another Aegis destroyer.  These warships have nothing to do with defense - they fire offensive first-strike attack cruise missiles, the interceptor missiles on-board have shown they can function as Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons since one was used to once knock a malfunctioning US military satellite out of the sky.  These same interceptors have been developed to serve as the 'shield' after the Pentagon's first-strike attack is launched against Russia or China.

We had about 75 folks join us from throughout the state. We were very proud of the crew of folks who hung the long banner on the Bath bridge facing the shipyard on the Kennebec River.

The green message was dominant yesterday - virtually every one of our speakers during the three-hour rally talked about the links between climate change and militarism and the urgent need to convert weapons production facilities like BIW to build rail, wind, solar, and tidal power systems.  It is clear that this unified message has now become dominant across the state when it comes to the shipyard.

Ironically, the man who filmed all the video yesterday of our speakers at the rally was recently retired shipyard worker Peter Woodruff.  He is the one who passed around bumberstickers that proclaimed "Save BIW! Build Wind Turbines" at the shipyard and reported that workers pasted them on fork-lifts and their tool boxes.  That indicates a rare unity of purpose and message between many workers inside the production facility and the peace movement on the outside.  We should honor that success.

For the past couple of years several of us throughout the state have been working hard to bring this message, linking climate change and the Pentagon's #1 sized carbon boot print, into the larger discussion being organized by the environmental movement.  Yesterday revealed that this message expansion is indeed working as key leaders from the climate change movement spoke.  One of those speakers was Dr. Jill Stein who is running for the Green Party nomination for president.  She is indeed an important voice connecting all the dots which you can see in the set of videos just below.

Many of the folks who joined our recent Maine Peace Walk were at the BIW rally and our deep connection to one another was surely felt when we saw each other.  In our very large closing circle we held hands and the feeling of common purpose and serious commitment was strong.

Our next visits to BIW will come each Saturday during the Advent season. Beginning on November 28 we will gather at 11:30 am for an hour to be a witness for change as the workers knock off at the noon whistle.  We will carry our signs supporting rail and wind systems as a reminder that we are not opposing the workers but instead offer our support to build political momentum so that an alternative production system can be established at the shipyard.

In the Portland Press Herald newspaper this morning there is a long article about the growing struggle between the unions at BIW and the General Dynamics corporation.  Because of the deep fiscal crisis in the US the Navy shipbuilding budget is unsustainable.  The first approach being undertaken is to squeeze the unions - and many believe the ultimate goal will be to get rid of the unions so that costs can be cut by General Dynamics without impacting corporate profits.  But long-term many of these massively expensive warships will have to be cut which means jobs at shipyards like BIW will be in jeopardy.

Thoughtful community leadership should be planning for this coming day of reckoning by building consciousness and political support for transitioning BIW to sustainable production that helps us deal with climate change.  Anything else is just missing the boat.

Sunday Song