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

I grew up in a military family and joined the Air Force in 1971 during the Vietnam War. It was there that I became a peace activist.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The View from Kiev Political Activist





Ukrainian political activist Margarita Montyan talking about how the oligarchs all took the West's inducements for warfare as a chance to rip off money allocated for it.

Fascinating analysis of Ukrainian situation - even if you don't know a lot about internal politics in Kiev you can still learn much from this spirited woman.

To get the English subtitles you may need to click on the wheel in the lower right hand corner of the video and pick English

An Instructive Afternoon in Ferguson

Standing in front of what looks like a brand new police and city court building, likely funded by the heavy fines levied on black residents in Ferguson


Today two of us from Veterans for Peace went to Ferguson to see what was going on.  The town had the atmosphere of a festival along the main drag.  When we arrived cops were blocking the street near the police department (where most of the nightly protests have been held) as a large group of black motorcyclists zoomed into a parking lot nearby.

All along both sides of the downtown business strip people (predominantly white) were painting the boards that are covering up windows in the store fronts and tying colorful ribbons to a fence.  I spoke to several of those painting the boards and asked if they thought things would now change in Ferguson.  All of them said yes.  I asked one white couple who owned a store about the story that blacks in Ferguson are more frequently fined for minor legal infractions.  They said that this story was not true, it was only because there are more black people in the city that it "appeared that blacks are singled" out they told me. 

NPR reports:

In 2013, the municipal court in Ferguson — a city of 21,135 people — issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations. Last year, Ferguson collected $2.6 million in court fines and fees. It was the city's second-biggest source of income of the $20 million it collected in revenues. Blacks make up 67 percent of the city's population, but are 86 percent of motorists stopped by police. Whites make up 29 percent of the population, but 12.7 percent of vehicle stops.

A recent report says the courtroom in Ferguson gets so crowded that judges lock the doors just five minutes after court begins. Sometimes people show up late and can't get in, so they leave. But then they're counted as missing court, and an arrest warrant might be issued.

Jeff Smith, an assistant professor at the New School and a former Missouri state senator from St. Louis, says Ferguson "facilitates a debtors prison" because of the high number of arrest warrants that get issued when people don't pay. When people go to jail, they sometimes lose their jobs.

That sounds like a 21st century version of Jim Crow to me.  Indentured servitude, a modern version of feudalism. When I gently challenged the white store owning couple on this they became very defensive so we moved on.

Next we came across a middle-aged white women wearing a "Don't shoot" T-shirt standing vigil across from the police station with her two children.  I asked her what she thought about the painting of boarded up windows and she said it was all for show.  "These people never come stand here to support the black community," she told me.  "It's all being done to make themselves feel better," she said.

As we talked three bus loads of National Guard troops unloaded in the parking lot behind city hall.  At that same moment an older white woman drove by and screamed at the T-shirted woman who was standing next to me with her hands in the air.  The angry white driver stopped her car and yelled "Stop holding your hands up!"

Before leaving we drove to another part of Ferguson where some of the local stores had been burned down.  As we approached the area we noticed many TV crews and lots of cop cars.  Then we saw a march organized by the NAACP with about 100 people heading the opposite direction in the four lane road. (I later learned that it was a 120-mile march to the governor's mansion in Jefferson City.)

One old black man I spoke with just a few doors from the police department told me he thought change would come.  "We've never seen protests like this in the St. Louis area before.  Now they are protesting at the shopping malls too.  The impacts on these business people is going to force some changes," he predicted.

Everywhere I've been during these recent days there has been tons of police and it must be costing the greater St. Louis community a bunch of cash.  The negative impacts on local business must also be forcing the local ruling class to consider some changes.  (A Mexican restaurant owner in Ferguson told us her business has been heavily impacted by the ongoing protests.) But the brand new looking police department and municipal court building was likely built on the backs of black residents paying these outrageous "fines" over many years.  Those in power are not likely going to be eager to shut off that pipeline of easy cash anytime soon.  It's a modern plantation system and the Michael Brown killing gave local black residents the impetus to express their pent up rage.

My first, middle, and last reflection on the painting of the boards on the windows was what I'd call a typical American reaction to such things - create a facade, a false front, an illusion, go Hollywood.  I asked several of the white folks painting the boards if doing so was not an admission that things are not really changing - after all the boards are still up in the windows and you are just trying to make the best of a bad situation.  It was when I said that that several of the folks got the most agitated with me - the only thing worse than putting up a false front in America is for someone to challenge the illusion.

Let's all go on pretending that everything is just fine and dandy.

U.S. Funding Neo-Nazi Extremism in Ukraine




An amendment to the 2015 NDAA that would have forbidden US assistance, training and weapons to neo-Nazis and other extremists in Ukraine was dropped at the request of two of the largest Jewish pressure groups in the United States.

Saturday History Lesson: Confronting Nuclear Death Machines



"Polaris Action" is an 11-minute 1960 film by Hilary Harris, about nonviolent demonstrations and civil disobedience against Polaris nuclear missile firing submarines, in New London, CT. (They have since been supplanted by the multi-warhead Trident ballistic missile submarines.)

Letter to St. Louis Post-Dispatch

VFP member Russell Johnson manhandled by St. Louis cops at city hall protest


Dear Editor:

I have been in St. Louis for the past week. I came from my home in Maine to join other members of Veterans for Peace who have come to your community to stand with those who are outraged over the killing of Michael Brown. Yesterday I helped shut down the Galleria Mall for about 90 minutes on what was appropriately renamed 'Brown Friday'.

I picked up your paper (11-30-14) and was drawn to the Opinion page. I read local columnist Bill McClellan's piece suggesting that it was "Time to move on....Whatever happened happened." Not quite the kind of attitude that shows the community is really ready or willing to deal with the reality of racism and economic disparity that causes these tragic circumstances. It appears to me that Mr. McClellan is missing the historic moment here.

After witnessing St. Louis's "finest" charge a peaceful group of us sitting on city hall steps the other day I got a feel for how police work is done around here. Barely given a chance to disperse I got a billy club in my chest as I tried to find a way from the steps around the cops. One of our Veterans for Peace members (a Persian Gulf war vet from North Carolina) was tackled from behind as he moved away from the steps and was then grabbed by four cops who dislocated his shoulder as they man-handled him into a police van. He is a tall black man and we all wondered if he was selected for "prosecution" in that moment.

I'd not recommend anyone ever come to St. Louis for a vacation - this doesn't seem to be a very friendly city. But I'm already suggesting that fellow Mainers come join the protests that I hope will ultimately force this community to deal with its cold-hearted treatment of its black citizens.

Bruce K. Gagnon
Secretary
Maine Veterans for Peace
Bath, Maine
207-443-9502

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cold & Wet in Gaza



Shut It Down!

These two women workers at Macy's led chants as we passed their closed store

I'm right in the middle of this shot in the green waving a peace sign

The Galleria Mall in St. Louis was shut down today as hundreds of black and white activists walked chanting through the enormous shopping center on "Black Friday".  We learned about the action just before it began and when we arrived inside the mall many activists were already there leading chants like:

  • Shut it down
  • Indict, convict, put the killer cops in jail - the whole damn system is guilty as hell
  • No justice, no peace
  • Forward together, no going back
  • No Black Friday
  • Hands up, don't shoot
  • Stop shopping, join the movement
As the crowd swelled it took over both floors of the mall and about half the stores pulled down the security gates to close their shop.  Many of the workers inside the stores stood behind their gates and clapped, chanted and filmed the protest.  The best moment was when two women in Macy's uniforms led the rousing chant "No Black Friday".

Twice during the 90 minutes we were there a mass die-in was held to remind everyone that Michael Brown's body was left in the street of Ferguson for four and one-half hours after he was shot dead.  Local organizers named the action today - Brown Friday.

Many cops from various law enforcement agencies were brought into the mall but they were helpless - it was impossible to distinguish the protesters from shoppers as many mall customers were clapping and filming the action with their cell phones.  Many actually joined the crowd as we walked through the mall.

As I write this back at the Veterans For Peace office I am listening to St. Louis public radio which is reporting on the event.  One local Fox News station posted on their web site that the mall was closed "indefinitely".

This action had to have significant impact on the shopping mall's Black Friday profits.  (I learned after we left that the protest organizers moved from the Galleria Mall to other stores in the metro area.)  The local business community has to be feeling the pressure as these protests spread from the streets into the economic zone of the St. Louis metropolitan region.

The best thing about this action was knowing that most of the mall customers would never dream of attending one of these Michael Brown solidarity protests.  They would be too afraid to ever go near such an action but here today they suddenly found themselves right in the middle of the whole thing.  They had to see and feel the spirited non-violent protest was in fact not nearly as dangerous as corporate media keeps telling them.

The media, gathered here in St. Louis from around the world, was all over this protest today.  The young black men and women leading these events are doing themselves proud.

Europe Becoming Irrelevant



Former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini has hit out at sanctions implemented against Russia, saying they are counterproductive. He also believes this is a very bad time for the EU to be losing a valuable economic partner.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ain't No Maidan Allowed Here



The US government
supported the violent
Maidan in Kiev
that set Ukraine
on path
to civil war
on Russia's border

The US government
funded much of
violent uprising
against Socialist
government in
Venezuela

The US government
was linked
to 'Occupy Hong Kong'
wanting to give China
a black eye
and balkanized
future

on and on
the story goes

The US government
opposed the largely
non-violent
Occupy movement
across America
the message of
the 99%
a big threat
to the ruling 1%

The US government
fears the Ferguson
inspired protests
now happening
across the nation
violent police
sent in to break
the backs
of the growing
solidarity movement

MLK called the US
"The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"
King was killed
for uttering those
prophetic words
while trying to end
the slaughter in Vietnam
and bring social justice
to poor people back home

Obama lectures
the nation
about staying
'peaceful'
after the
Grand Jury spectacle
was announced

The half-steppin prez
said
“You know, this is a country that allows everybody to express their views, allows them to peacefully assemble to protest actions that they think are unjust...but using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are.”

Yes
Washington loves
the rule of law
when it suits
their fancy
when it works
in their favor
when it is
convenient
when it looks good
on TV

but mostly
Washington
loves violence
to create
chaos
instability
regime change
in other places

but we can't have
regime change
here at home

Sitting on the steps
of city hall
in St. Louie
chanting
for real justice
not allowed
riot cops called in
break up the crowd
ain't gonna be
no Maidan
allowed here
in the USA

Oops in Ferguson Case




This is Black History


The First Thanksgiving


"Stools of stumps made good seats for the Pilgrim population. The Indians sat on the ground, gnawing on deer bones, tearing fowl apart, and lapping up the very ancient and rancid butter with grunts of appreciation. It is a pretty picture to think of."
                                            
- from Old Glory, by Samuel Eliot Morison

A harvest feast did take place in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621, probably in mid-October and the Indians who attended were not even invited. It later became known as "Thanksgiving" but the Pilgrims never called it that. The pilgrim crop had failed miserably that year, but the agricultural expertise of the Pilgrims’ Indian friend Squanto had produced 20 acres of corn without which the Pilgrims would have surely perished. The Pilgrims invited Massasoit, and it was he who then invited 90 or more of his Indian brothers and sisters to the affair to the chagrin of the indignant Europeans. No turkey, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie was served, no prayers were offered and the Indians were not invited back.

The Pilgrims did, however, consume a good deal of home brew. In fact, each Pilgrim drank at least a half gallon of ale a day which they preferred even to water.

Contrary to popular mythology, the Pilgrims were no friends to the majority of local Indians. Just days before this alleged Thanksgiving communion, a company of Pilgrims led by Myles Standish actively sought the head of a local chief.

They deliberately caused a rivalry between two friendly Indians, putting one against the other in an attempt to obtain "better intelligence and make them both more diligent." An 11-foot-high wall was erected around the entire settlement for the purpose of keeping the Indians out.

Standish eventually got his bloody prize. He beheaded an Indian brave named Wituwamat and brought the head to Plymouth where it was displayed on a wooden spike for many years. Just a few years later, in about 1636, a force of colonists trapped some 700 Pequot Indian men, women, and children near the mouth of the Mystic River. English Captain John Mason attacked the Indian camp with "fire, sword, blunderbuss, and tomahawk." Only a handful escaped and few prisoners were taken, to the great delight of the Pilgrims:

To see them frying in the fire, and the streams of their blood quenching the same, and the stench was horrible; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God. This event marked what was most likely the first actual Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims were pleased with the result. Any goodwill that may have existed was certainly now gone and by 1675 Massachusetts and the surrounding colonies were in a full-scale war with the great Indian chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet.

Renamed "King Philip" by the White man, Metacomet watched the steady erosion of the lifestyle and culture of his people as European laws and values engulfed them. Forced into humiliating submission by the power of a distant king, Metacomet struck out in 1675 with raids on several isolated frontier towns. The expedient use of the so-called "Praying Indians," natives converted by the colonists to "Christianity," ultimately defeated the great Indian nation, just half a century after the arrival of the European historian Douglas Edward Leach describes the bitter end:

The ruthless executions, the cruel sentences ... were all aimed at the same goal—unchallenging white supremacy in southern New England. That the program succeeded is convincingly demonstrated by the almost complete docility of the local native ever since.

When Captain Benjamin Church tracked down and assassinated Metacomet, his body was quartered and parts were "left for the wolves." The great Indian chief’s hands were cut off and sent to Boston and his head went to Plymouth where it was set upon a pole on Thanksgiving Day, 1676. Metacomet’s nine-year-old son was destined for execution, the Puritan reasoning being that the offspring of the devil must pay for the sins of their father. He was instead shipped to the Caribbean to serve his life in slavery. In the midst of the Holocaust of the Red Man, Governor Dudley declared in 1704 a "General Thanksgiving" not to celebrate the brotherhood of man but for:

[God’s] infinite Goodness to extend His Favors ... In defeating and disappointing ... the Expeditions of the Enemy [Indians] against us, And the good Success given us against them, by delivering so many of them into our hands... Just two years later one could reap a $50 reward in Massachusetts for the scalp of an Indian.

The model of the Indian reservation system in North America had its origin in Massachusetts. A series of legislative acts "for the better regulation of the Indians" established Indian settlements throughout the state. A White overseer was appointed and white Christianity was imposed. Historian George F. Weston wrote that demand was great for rope maker John Harrison, what with "the need for rigging for all the ships and a new rope every time an Indian was hanged." Bon Appetite!

- Dr. Tingba Apidta is author of The Hidden History of Massachusetts: A Guide for Black Folks and also The Hidden History of Washington, DC

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

VFP Member Attacked by Cops in St. Louis



Veterans for Peace member Russell Johnson from Asheville, North Carolina was arrested at St. Louis city hall today as the crowd of a couple hundred was dispersing after sitting on steps to building....he was walking away from the city hall steps and was slammed to the ground from behind......more than 100 riot cops attacked the non-violent protest...he's now got a dislocated shoulder and was released from jail about 7:00 pm.  He was taken to an emergency room by another VFP member who did not return to the office where we are sleeping on the floor until 2:00 am.

The Black & White Problem


Ferguson: Far From Over

Protests during last 24 hours spreading all over the world.  This one in Atlanta is a winner.

This morning on steps of historic court house in St. Louis

Several of us from Veterans For Peace attended an incredible protest action today in downtown St. Louis within a stone's throw of the famous arch along the Mississippi River.  We marched from a local park to the historic courthouse facing the river that was a place that slaves were once sold.  It was also the courthouse where the famous Dred Scott case was first heard. 

At the old courthouse a moving series of young black speakers shared the many reasons that the Michael Brown case had been a betrayal of justice.  One reason cited - white privilege.  The several hundred there (mostly black with a good smattering of young white activists) then proceeded to march to the larger newer courthouses a few blocks away that are symbols of injustice for the black people that currently populate the jails in this state and across the nation.

At the four-lane intersection by these towering court buildings the organizers had us spread out to block the streets by holding hands closing both two lanes in the four directions of traffic.  One young woman organizer said that we'd have one moment of silence for each of the four hours that Michael Brown's body was left in the street after being killed by the police.  It was a profoundly moving four minutes and my heart swelled with pride to be a part of it.

From there the organizers led us a couple blocks further to St. Louis city hall where people sat on the steps leading into the building.  Immediately more than 100 riot police descended on us, and armed with tear gas, began to rush the steps of the city building.  Most people tried to get away but the police began pushing and tackling some of the crowd.  I tried to move away from the steps and was hit in the chest by a riot cop's thrusting wooden baton.  I saw police slam several young people to the ground and then other cops pounced on them like a football gang tackle.  I was able to get away with most of the others and we reassembled on the street and began heading back to the park where it had all started.

At the park a young black woman concluded the event by saying that this cause would not die.... that revolution in America was needed and was inevitable as the forces of repression escalate their attacks on those who have tried to call for real reform of this corrupt system.

By the end of the action it was snowing and cold and the young woman told us all to go home, have some hot soup, enjoy our family time, love one another, protect one another, and remember that all this is far from over.

Checking in from Ferguson

On the streets last night in West St. Louis (I am on the right in the red)

Last night I had the chance to ride around St. Louis and Ferguson with Veterans For Peace (VFP) Executive Director Michael McPherson who is also serving as co-chair of the Don't Shoot Coalition.  I was quite impressed with the planning and coordination that is going around the protests that continue both in St. Louis and nearby Ferguson.

We made stops at several 'safe houses' where food, medical workers, and other volunteers were assembled to give aid to people who are currently protesting or have been released from jail.  The VFP office is real close to the county jail where most of those arrested have been taken.

We also stopped to join a protest of a couple hundred people that were blocking street intersections in a 'trendy' part of west St. Louis.  At one intersection an elderly white couple were in their car and having to wait while the peaceful occupation of the road was going on.  The white man in the car was honking and flailing his arms demanding the blockade be removed.  I moved over and stood in front of their car so they could see a white person was part of the blockade.  At another intersection a black woman was the first car blocked and her reaction was one of solidarity, positive waves, and a smile.  Many cars were honking their support.

Next Michael drove us to Ferguson - the scene of continued protests against the killing of Michael Brown.  Some roads were blocked in the community and the dark sky was dotted with helicopters (likely media and police) making a large continuous circle around the town.  We went to the safe house inside a local church basement that was staffed by about six women and men.  They reported that two nights ago things were busy with young people who were tear gassed coming there for aid and safety.  Last night was different as they police had shut down the road between where the protests were happening at the Ferguson police department and the safe space.  Michael explored with the volunteers whether additional safe houses in Ferguson would be needed as the police made tactical adjustments.

It is clear that the local authorities made the Grand Jury announcement so close to Thanksgiving for a reason.  They knew that it would throw a monkey wrench into the local protest movement planning and it has.  A meeting is being held today (that I hope to attend) to review what comes next.

Two nights ago it appears that virtually the entire greater St. Louis metro area was shut down - mostly needlessly out of over-hyped fear.  

I'm not the only one from VFP to come to St. Louis to show solidarity.  Last night I slept on the floor as did other members who came from across the country to be here.  I am glad to be here and can say without hesitation that the organizers are doing everything they can to keep the protests non-violent and positive.  After watching some police and some private security types last night in action I can say that they are the ones we need to be concerned about.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In Missouri to Show Solidarity


I flew to St. Louis today and was picked up at the airport by folks from the national Veterans For Peace (VFP) office that is headquartered in this city.  I've come to join other members of VFP to support the people of Ferguson in their struggle for dignity and justice.

We are waiting on one more person to arrive and then will head over to Ferguson.  More later.

Isn't it pure irony that the most violent country in the world can't understand when the most repressed, suppressed and beaten down people reach their final boiling point and react with the very violence that the nation is steeped in?  The black community is the conscience of America.

This important fact (that blows my mind) should be remembered:  The Ferguson police let Michael Brown’s body lie in the street for four and a half hours after he was shot by the cop.  The rage in Ferguson has a long track record.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Some of the Inside Story



United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down from his post atop the Pentagon, the Obama-appointee said Monday from the White House. Hagel's departure could both signal the White House is ready to carry out a more aggressive foreign policy.

Patrick Henningsen writes:

History will eventually show (we hope) that the elephant in the room isn’t ‘how to deal with ISIS’, but how to conceal and whitewash Washington’s integral role in building up, funding, training and arming today’s extremist ISIS fighters.

Stop the Pipeline



"They've Been Tested"



The film is Yotam Feldman‘s The Lab, which was released in North America in August.  Feldman writes:

    The Lab is a cinematic investigation into the lure of Israeli weapons in the international arms trade. Why are countries all over the world lining up to buy Israeli arms? And how did such a small country become one of the biggest military exporters in the world? Israeli salesmen and executives in huge arms corporations seem eager to promote their products and pride themselves on their booming business. Profits have never been better — sales are doubling every year, and the potential seems unlimited.

    But the product they are selling is unique. Rather than rifles, rockets or bombs, the Israeli companies sell their experience. The long-running conflict with the Palestinians has created a unique and unrivalled laboratory for testing technologies and ideas relating to “asymmetric warfare” — a conflict between a state and civil or irregular resistance. In this manner the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians may be seen as a national asset — rather than a burden…

    While making the film, I witnessed the relationship between a network of military generals, politicians and private business; the use of current military operations as a promotional device for private business; the brutal employment of the Israeli experience, and the blurred lines between what is legitimate and forbidden in this line of business.

Great Short Film: The war Inside Saudi Arabia



In Saudi Arabia's oil-rich Eastern province a 3-year uprising has been raging, hidden from the world. With unprecedented access, this report explores the growing protest movement - the biggest in Saudi history.

In scenes reminiscent of Libya, Egypt and Bahrain, masked protesters fill the streets, fling rocks and chant "martyrdom is better than oppression" as police bullets fly. In the Shia-dominated Eastern region of Qatif, there has been growing resentment that despite "standing on top of oil fields that feed the world", local communities suffer poverty, sectarian discrimination and no political freedom. Figureheads of the protests have been added to government wanted lists, been arrested and several have been killed in dubious circumstances. Saudi filmmaker Safa Al Ahmad risks arrest and worse to get inside this troubled region. In secret meetings protesters share their accounts of the growing state violence against them and their families. One leader's disabled sister tells of how security forces "came while I was sleeping and threatened me with a gun".

The movement insists it is nonetheless growing, but a few incidences of violence by protesters have alienated many locals and given the state justification for their crackdown. After protesters fire on security forces, police funerals are broadcast on public television and the rioters are officially labelled "terrorists". Both sides are now entrenched. "It is very dangerous for the future. The state just want to show the iron fist. The only reaction is apathy or violence."

- BBC Arabic

Interview with Regis Tremblay



The latest edition of This Issue features Regis Tremblay who shares his views on the recent elections and U.S. military and economic policy.  Regis is a filmmaker from Woolwich, Maine and is the creator of the award-winning documentary The Ghosts of Jeju.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

News Reminder: Biden Admits U.S. Allies Funding ISIS



And do we think the CIA is not involved in this funding, directing, and training ISIS as well?

This serves two primary purposes:

1)  Helps take down the Syrian government which is an ally of Iran and an enemy of the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia

2)  Creates the vicious new boogey-man ISIS that then allows the US to re-send thousands of troops back into Iraq and to further justify destroying Syria.

This whole bunch is as corrupt and evil as can be.......

Sunday Song