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, October 24, 2015

The Dancing Buddhist Nun


Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist nun Jun-san Yasuda grabbed the hat of the cheerleader from the 'Leftist Marching Band' this morning and showed us some of her moves before we began the final leg of the Maine Peace Walk.

Jun-san is a real character and is beloved by all.  We were honored to have her walking with us.

Day 15 & 16 - The Big Finish


Lined up across from the Navy shipyard gate in Kittery this morning
Navy veteran Eric Wasileski tells his story at the Navy shipyard rally


MB and I are home and have unloaded the car and cleaned out the coolers and food crates.  The signs and banners are stowed for next week's (October 31) protest at the Bath Iron Works shipyard where the Navy will 'christen' another Aegis destroyer.

In the video posted just below you find about 50 of us having just come over the bridge from Portsmouth, New Hampshire heading for the Kittery Naval shipyard in Maine.  We held a rally at the gate with several good speakers and the band played some more music which we broadcasted with our sound system deep into the shipyard for their listening pleasure.

One of the speakers at the shipyard gate was Eric Wasileski who served in the Navy on a destroyer during Bill Clinton's attack on Iraq (Operation Desert Fox) in 1998.  Eric's ship fired more than 50 cruise missiles into Iraq and he told the story of one of the missiles that misfired and landed in the ocean just minutes away from the ship.  They steamed to the site of impact and discovered massive kills of ocean life - fish, sea snakes, sea turtles and more.  He also told the story of regularly firing 'depleted uranium' shells from onboard the ship into the ocean to test the guns which would have put huge amounts of the radioactive debris into the sea.

On Friday as we neared Portsmouth we arrived at the Kittery Naval shipyard at 3:00 pm just in time for the start of the worker shift change.  Cars poured out of the gates for more than an hour and we stood on both sides of the narrow exit road holding our signs and banners.  Veterans for Peace member Nate Goldshlag handed out many fliers to drivers as they sat at the traffic light waiting to leave the shipyard.  (In the end we got rid of all of the flyers we made for the walk.)

This morning (Saturday) we gathered at Market Square in the heart of downtown Portsmouth to prepare to walk back to the shipyard for our rally at a second gate.  As we waited on folks to arrive the 'Leftist Marching Band' cranked up the sound which drew attention far and wide.  As we walked the two miles to the shipyard the band kept the songs going.  We were also joined this morning by Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist monk Brother Kato who in the past has led several of our walks through Maine.  It was quite a site seeing our long line of marchers going over the bridge.

After the rally at the shipyard gate we walked back to Market Square for our final closing circle.  I thanked this wonderful community, a family, for their cooperative spirit and for their determined effort to walk so far for such good reasons.  While I am sure everyone will be glad to get back to their own beds tonight I know that we all will miss one another and cherish the bonds we formed during this sacred walk.

My hope is that we all find ways to work and walk together again.

I am still collecting photos from the walk.  Probably tomorrow I'll post many more of them.  Thanks to all who helped make this walk such a great success.

Day - 16 Back to the Navy Shipyard


The Maine Peace Walk marches from Portsmouth, NH to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
Posted by Bob Klotz on Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Day - 14 Biggest Walk Day So Far

A few from the 'Leftist Marching Band' greeted us as we arrived in York Beach

Pat Scanlon (right) greets walkers at they arrive at his York Beach home for the night

Students from the New School in Kennebunk walked with us today

We walked 14 miles today from Kennebunk to York Beach.  Thirty people joined the walk giving us our largest turnout since we began on October 9 in Ellsworth. Eight of the students from the New School walked as did seven folks from a senior intentional community near Kennebunk.  It was an impressive line of walkers during the high point of the day.

Early on this morning it began to drizzle a bit but the sun finally broke through the cloudy sky.  The rain held off until we got to York Beach - just as we started to eat supper outside at Pat Scanlon's house the rains came back for about an hour.  Luckily the Smedley Buter Brigade out of Boston has set up the three canopies where we huddled and ate the pizza, chili, and salads provided for us.

About 10 members of the Smedley's were here to greet us as we arrived at Pat's house.  Many of them will join with us tomorrow as we walk into Portsmouth.  There will be a rally at 5:00 pm at Prescott Park after we arrive in Portsmouth and at 6:00 pm there will be a supper and program at St. John's Episcopal Church (100 Chapel St).

As we pulled into York Beach we were photographed by the York Weekly and then a reporter from the paper interviewed several of the walkers.  Our good string of coverage by local weekly papers continues (except for the Bath area where those weeklies don't like to report on protests at the BIW shipyard - although we did get front page coverage in the local daily paper there).  But circulation numbers show that most small weekly papers often have larger distribution than the daily papers due to the fact that many people are canceling their subscriptions to the dailies and relying on the free weekly papers for their news as a way to save money during these hard economic times.

The Leftist Marching Band that greeted us today in York Beach has a slogan that I just adore - "Our music is better than it sounds".  Gotta love these folks. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Day 13 - Walking to Spark Thinking, Debate and Action

A member of the Portsmouth-based 'Leftist Marching Band' met us on the road today with his saxophone as we approached Kennebunk.  When we arrive in York Beach tomorrow the band will greet us at our night spot.
Peace walker John Morris (on left) playing guitar with some students at the New School in Kennebunk who are hosting us tonight


Twenty-two folks joined the walk today as we did our 10-mile peace strut from Saco to Kennebunk.  I've been joking today, with a great deal of truth in my words, that we are a moving line of senior citizens.  In fact just as we arrived at the New School this afternoon I got a phone call from a woman who lives at a senior citizen home 1.7 miles from here who said that 6-12 folks from their center want to join the walk when we pass by tomorrow morning.  That will be exciting for sure.  Power to the peaceful elders!

We were joined on the walk this morning by Maine Vietnam veteran Preston Hood (a former Navy Seal) who won the Maine Literary Award in 2012 for his poetry.  While waiting for dinner he read a couple of his poems to us.  One was about his Marine son who killed himself and Preston reminded us that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

We are hosted at the New School by Olive Hight who is a high school senior and coordinated the cooking of our dinner with a group of her fellow students in the school kitchen.  Olive is the daughter of my longtime friend Matt Hight who brought her to Bath last July 4 for the annual parade.  They both helped us carry our political displays in the parade and she agreed then to inquire about hosting us when the peace walk came through Kennebunk.  It's fun to see the excited students preparing food for our group.

We had two different local newspapers take photos and interviews today as we walked. We are told that another paper will catch us tomorrow as we head into York Beach.  One reported asked me what our primary goal was and I answered that we are trying to break through the silence about the Pentagon having the largest carbon bootprint on the planet.  She remarked that she'd never heard that before but that it made alot of sense.  If that gets into her story we will be happy.

York Beach is likely to be our biggest evening event during the walk.  The Boston-area Veterans for Peace Smedley Butler Brigade is going all out to get people to this event.  Pat Scanlon is getting his neighbors involved in housing some of us and he has arranged for the 'Leftist Marching Band' from Portsmouth to greet us as we walk down the street to Pat's house.  Add in the various activists from around the state who will appear there as well and it should be quite a night.  And the pizzas being donated will be a hit I'm sure.

It seems we had more honks from cars and trucks today than previously.  One family stopped their car right in the middle of the busy US Highway 1 while we were taking a break asking for more information.  It's really fun to watch people approaching us and wanting to talk politics - it happened several times today.  You can see there is a hunger amongst many people for community and answers to their questions about why things are so bad across the country.  We've repeatedly seen that this walk is serving to spark thinking, debate, and action.  Can't ask for much more than that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Day 12 - Enjoying the Reactions to Our Walk


Twenty-one of us walked 13 miles into Saco today.  We ended at the First Parish Congregational Church which has hosted us on three or four previous occasions.  When we started out early this morning it was misting but after a couple of hours the sun came out and it turned out to be a gorgeous day to walk.

Tomorrow we have an easy day only going 10 miles into Kennebunk where students at the alternative New School will host us for the night.

While on our lunch break in the parking lot of Lois's Natural Market I went inside the store to use the restroom and when I came out standing in the middle of the establishment was an old friend from Florida, Michael Canney.  What a surprise!  Michael came to Maine to visit him mother who, though 86 years old, walked for a couple miles with us during the last legs of today's journey.  His mom, Connie, came the last day of the walk last year when we reached Berwick for our protest at Pratt-Whitney where they build the engines for the boondoggle F-35 warplane.

Our van driver Jeff shared a story about passing Rudy's Diner in South Portland early on this morning and going inside to hand them some literature.  While there he heard some of the customers in conversation about the walk and it appeared that there were folks on each side of the war/peace issue.  Jeff also reported that when he handed a street construction worker a flyer the man said, "I want to walk next year".  It's exciting to know that people are being moved to think and talk about our walk.

Last year we handed out 1,000 flyers during the walk so this year we printed 1,500.  Our distribution has been steady and it appears we'll run out of them by the time we finish up in Portsmouth on October 24.

Starting to hear from more and more folks saying they will join us for the finale on Saturday, October 24 - we'll meet at Market Square in downtown Portsmouth at 10:00 am.  The plan is to walk back over the bridge into Maine and hold a protest at the gates of the Naval Shipyard in Kittery and then head back to Portsmouth - a total walk of about four miles.  We should be done that day by 1:00 pm. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Day 11 - Walking as Long as I Can

Climate change and militarization of oceans banners lining the walls at Portland pot luck supper


Fourteen of us walked from Freeport into Portland today - a 15 mile journey.  We had the biggest crowd yet for a pot luck supper at the State Street Church in Portland - much thanks to Grace Braley for organizing that event.

Earlier in the day we walked our first 9.4 miles before our lunch which was provided by the Friends School in their beautiful new no-carbon footprint school.  Three of our walkers went there at 10:00 am and spoke to the combined class of 7th and 8th graders.  Russell talked about the Navy's impact on sea life, Eric (Veterans for Peace member) shared what it means to be a war veteran who now opposes US foreign and military policy, and Katie led the group in singing the alternative words to the Star Spangled Banner written by VFP leaders Tarak Kauff and Ellen Davidson.

As we entered Portland I got a phone call from a man I did not know who wanted to bring us some coffee that he got donated from a local company.  He met us during our break as we walked around Back Cove and the group loved his thoughtful sharing.  One of our folks remarked that it was the best coffee he's had on the entire walk.

A young woman also called early this morning wanting to join us.  She had seen a post on the Internet about the walk and recognized the photo of the Buddhist nun Jun-san who is now with us.  So Lynn showed up at our lunch spot and walked the rest of the way.  These are the kind of spontaneous things that keep happening each day.

Just as I started writing this blog I got a call from Pat Scanlon, our local host in York Beach, who said he had mentioned the walk while at his favorite pizza shop today.  The pizza owner offered to bake 12 pizzas for us and add salad as well.  The magic of the walk continues.

It's exciting to see how the peace walk message creeps into layers and layers of our communities across the state - often in small ways but each touching the lives of ordinary people.  This process of creating experiences for people when they make contact with this traveling road show is how people begin to change. 

Try as they might local Portland activists had little success getting the Portland Press Herald or the local TV to cover us as we walked into town.  Breaking into the bigger mainstream media has become increasingly difficult in recent years.  All along the way we've had good success getting coverage from the smaller local papers but the media giants are still proving to be generally out-of-bounds for groups that dare take on the sacred cow of the military industrial complex.  (One of the smaller Portland weekly papers did send a photographer as we crossed the bridge into the city.)

Al Johnson from the Boston-area VFP Smedley Butler Brigade joined us in Freeport early this morning.  He was on our walk planning committee and had made the trek up to Maine a couple times when we had meetings.  He also raised funds to help with walk costs.  After we reached Portland this afternoon he jumped in his car heading back to Boston to pick up a couple more VFP members.  That is real commitment.

I'm tired and at times I find myself getting just a bit disoriented.  While this kind of walking is truly a young person's game I still love it - particularly walking along the highway with my sign trying to make eye contact with the legions of people driving by.  It's an organizers dream to have such a captive audience - all I have to do is just keep walking - and I will as long as I possibly can.

Activist Profile

 
Video by Regis Tremblay

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Day 10 - Into the Shopping Mecca of Freeport

Video by Eric Herter

Following the end of World War II the US loaded nuclear weapons onto warplanes and flew them just off the coast of China.  Each pilot was assigned a different Chinese city as his target.  Bob Dale flew for the Navy and carried a nuke on his plane along with his assigned target city.  Fortunately Bob never had to drop the bomb.  Years later it dawned on him what he had been assigned to do and for many years he has been an active leader in Maine Veterans for Peace.

Today Bob, at 91 years old, walked half of our 10 mile journey from Brunswick to Freeport.  This time he was only armed with two walking sticks, one in each hand.

When we arrived in Freeport, world famous as the home of L.L. Bean store, we walked all the way through the busy town handing out flyers on both sides of the street.  When we hit the end of the mega corporate shopping strip we crossed the street and went back to the other side of town.  Then we headed to the local church where we are being hosted tonight by the parishioners from the First Parish Church (this is the third time one of our walks has stayed here.)  This was our most productive day of handing out flyers yet.

It is great to have Jun-san Yasuda with us today.  She brings joy and deep inspiration to our walk.  She brought with her an activist from Okinawa.
In the morning we head for Portland with a stop at Friends School where they will feed us lunch and three of our folks will speak and sing to the 7th & 8th grade students.

Here are a couple photos from today......



Sunday Song

 
 

Sunday at the Movies