By David Swanson
If you have an interest in grassroots organizing, international alliance building, the peace movement, the labor movement, the conversion of the U.S. economy from weapons to human needs, the preservation of life on earth (come on, admit it), the weaponization of space, or the autobiographical insights of smart and determined people, then I cannot more strongly recommend that you get a copy of “Come Together Right Now: Organizing Stories from a Fading Empire,” by my friend and ally Bruce Gagnon.
Gagnon provides further confirmation of Randy Shaw’s thesis in “Beyond the Fields,” that the best organizers come out of the United Farm Workers. Gagnon got his training as an organizer working for the UFW in Florida after having grown up Republican, joined the military, and then been reached and persuaded by the peace movement. Gagnon later came to the decision that organizing the poor to demand basic needs was the uphill struggle it was, at least in part, because those with power were directing too many of our resources into wars and militarization. Gagnon became a leader of the peace movement in Florida, and then the leader of an international network of activists called the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.
I was privileged to participate in the Global Network’s annual conference last year in Omaha, Nebraska. And just this month Bruce and I spoke at a rally in Maine, where he has made his home for several years.
Bruce’s book is part autobiography, but it is made up largely of articles and reports and diary entries and even a play that he wrote during the past 20-some years. These thoughts of an activist and an organizer, as he was thinking them, presented here in chronological order tell a wonderful personal story, but also a story of where our country and world have gone. In early descriptions of campaigns we see Gagnon and his allies able to make use of “mainstream” media outlets. Fourteen years ago he already had a crystal clear grasp on how Washington, D.C., corrupted movements, and he was proposing that all social justice movements get out of that town and engage in grassroots organizing and educating. But he made no mention of investing in communications media. In contrast, five years ago, Bruce was writing about two strategies:
“work hard to reach people by speaking to them directly; and utilize mass communications where possible. When mainstream media is not available to us, create our own and promote it widely.”
I recommend visiting the Global Network’s website and assisting in that project. Figures in Bruce’s book suggest that the United States is spending at least $70 billion a year (as of four years ago, no doubt higher now) on military space development.
“Queen Isabella,” Gagnon writes, “began the 100-year process of building the Spanish Armada after Columbus’ ‘successful’ return voyage from the Americas. Spain’s naval armada helped create a global war system, that we suffer from today, as all the European powers were soon building navies to ‘compete’ for control and domination of the sea lanes for resources and markets.”
Gagnon suggests that debating whether so-called “missile defense,” the offensive intentions of which he documents, can ever work misses the larger view. We are “debating the size of the cannon balls on the Spanish armada ships rather than discussing the long-term implications of creating a new arms race in the heavens.” Whether or not “missile defense” ever works, Gagnon writes, it has “already allowed the Pentagon and the aerospace industry to move tens of billions of dollars into research and development programs for space offensive warfare.”
According to NASA’s director in 2005 Mike Griffin, “For America to continue to be preeminent among nations, it is necessary for us to be the preeminent space-faring nation.”
But we are not preeminent in raising life expectancy or lowering infant mortality. We’re nowhere near preeminent in reducing poverty or achieving an environmentally sustainable economy or lifestyle. We have no preeminence in educational achievements. Preeminence in job security, limited work hours, paid leave, healthcare, family stability, community support, quality of life, and happiness all belong to other nations. Yet we’ve given such massive secret unaccountable budgets to the military that a movie in theaters now depicts, in a not entirely fictionalized manner, a program in which people were trained in skills as stupid and fantastical as staring at a goat until it dies — a program that referred to its trainees as Jedi, clearly influenced by someone having viewed the movie “Star Wars.”
Bruce Gagnon’s book and his life are models of how, on every level, we can shift our priorities to what, in contrast to Star Wars, we might call earth lives.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.