Coordinator Trip Report
(New & Old England)
9 October 2002
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip, from September 23 to October 8, took me to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Wisconsin and the United
On September 23 I arrived in Western MA. and was hosted on this leg by AFSC staffer Jo Comerford. During my trip to Western Ma. (Great Barrington and Pittsfield) I spoke at the Quaker Friends Meeting House and at the Berkshire Community College. Jo also arranged three radio interviews, two of which were on stations that beam their signal throughout the state and Vermont.
From there I went on to speak at Trinity College in Hartford, CT in an event organized by Political Science professor Brigitte Schulz.
On September 25 I was back in the care of another AFSC worker, Anna Galand. She had scheduled talks for me in Falmouth, MA. and Providence, R.I. that day. The two talks (Falmouth Public Library and Brown University) were separated by a one hour live phone interview on statewide Wisconsin public radio. While I did the radio interview (promoting an up-coming space conference) over 900 people were gathering on the steps of the state capital in Providence to protest the Bush war plans for Iraq.
The next day I drove to Portland, ME. where I joined a very diverse demonstration in the heart of downtown at 5:00 pm to protest the impending war. The gathering turned into a spontaneous and thrilling march thru the streets of downtown, with a surprised but cooperative police escort. Traffic was halted all around and people on the sidewalks and in office buildings and local shops gave us a remarkably warm reception. Following the march I met for dinner with Sally Breen and other local leaders of Maine Peace Action.
I next headed to Milwaukee, WI. to speak at a daylong regional conference called "Keep Space Safe" held at Marquette University. I was hosted by Arnold Kaufman who had previously been to two GN space conferences (Cleveland & Berkeley) and had worked to help Milwaukee Peace Action organize a similar one in that important Midwestern city. The Milwaukee conference concluded with their pledge to work on Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to get him to introduce a version of the Kucinich "Outer Space Protection Act" into the U.S. Senate, where a sponsor has yet to surface.
When I arrived at the Milwaukee airport the next morning to fly home the local Sunday newspaper carried a full page advertisement (with hundreds of signatures) calling for NO U.S. WAR AGAINST IRAQ. Once again I was seeing the evidence of lively and growing public sentiment opposing war.
After returning home for two days rest I flew right to England to join Global Network (GN) affiliate Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) for several activities during the October 4-11 Keep Space for Peace Week.
My host Dave Webb, a leader in Yorkshire CND and the GN's webmaster, took Stacey Fritz (Coordinator of GN affiliate No Nukes North in Alaska) and I to Harrogate to do a presentation to the Menwith Hill Forum. We were joined on the panel by Dave Knight, former chair of National CND and currently chair of the GN's Advisory Committee.
Menwith Hill is a U.S. satellite spy base now being upgraded with new technology to participate in the Star Wars program.
Earlier that day I had been the guest of the Peace & Emergency Planning Department of the City of Leeds and accompanied their staff to two city sponsored functions that marked the 50th anniversary of British nuclear tests in Australia. The U.K. atomic veterans, like their counterparts in the U.S., have never been acknowledged or compensated by the British government for their sacrifice as guinea pigs. Several widows placed wreaths at a marker to honor their husbands whose lives were cut short by cancers caused from their physical witness of the 1952 above ground nuclear tests. Leeds city staffers also organized two radio interviews for me that day on regional Yorkshire commercial radio stations.
On October 4 Dave Webb and I took the train to Sheffield where we joined a noontime march at the university to protest the recent signing of a 15 million pound deal with Boeing Corporation to involve the school in "aerospace" technology development. A group of students and local activists marched to the vice-chancellor's office to present a letter opposing the high-tech deal knowing that inevitably Sheffield University will be drawn into Star Wars work as Boeing is now the top space weapons contractor. I was interviewed over cell phone by the regional Yorkshire newspaper just as we prepared the march and later spoke to those assembled at the vice-chancellor's office, telling them the story about University of Santa Clara (CA.) students and their recent hunger strike to draw attention to huge Lockheed-Martin "donations" to pull their campus into the space weapons gambit.
Later that day many of us joined the Women in Black anti-war vigil at the Sheffield Town Hall as the streets swelled with people heading home after work. My favorite banner at the vigil read, "Abolish war and replace it with something nice." Once again the response was positive, as the British were all aware of the 400,000 people who had just marched days before in London calling on Tony Blair to get off the lap of George W. Bush. Polls in the U.K. show over 70% of the citizenry are opposed to the war.
During this same time Blair's Labor Party had just concluded their national party conference and despite the presence of Bill Clinton, giving Blair his "total" support, 42% of Labor delegates voted for a resolution calling on Blair to back away from war. (Many others were sympathetic to the peace resolution but didn't want to offend Blair I am told.)
On October 5-6 Stacey Fritz and I attended the main event of our U.K. trip, the "International Conference on Missile Defense, Globalization and the Militarization of Space" organized by Yorkshire CND. Among the speakers was an Inuit leader from Greenland, where the U.S. has the Thule radar facility which also must be upgraded to help direct Star Wars. Actually, Kuupik Kleist is one of two elected leaders from Greenland who serve in the Danish parliament, where Denmark essentially controls Greenland in today's world. He spoke of how the Inuit people were removed years ago from their native lands so the U.S. could build the large base at the top of their country. His leftwing political party opposes the upgrade of the Thule installation and wants it closed.
The two-day conference also heard from Stacey, myself, Dave Webb, Dave Knight, Jacob Grech (our GN friend from Australia via video tape), student leaders, and elected officials representing the Green Party, Labor and the Liberal-Democrats. The Lib-Dems (as they call them in the U.K.) politician told a great joke that went like this: "Who gave George W. Bush the right to be the policeman of the world?" Answer: "His brother!"
On October 7 Dave Webb, Dave Knight, Stacey and myself drove to Fylingdales in the Yorkshire Moors, a U.S. constructed space radar facility sitting in the middle of their beautiful national park surrounded fields of heather. There we met with leaders of the Fylingdales Action Network who have been protesting plans to upgrade the installation for participation in Star Wars. We were welcomed by the head of security, a nice man named Jimmy, who gleefully told us he regularly checks the GN's website and recognized Stacey from it. (She later gave him a No Nukes North T-shirt which he gladly accepted.)
We asked if we could meet with the "Wing Commander," the Royal Air Force (RAF) official in charge of the facility. After a 10-minute wait the officer came out to the front gate to talk with us. The RAF maintains that Fylingdales is not an American facility even though the U.S. built it, will pay to upgrade it, and lists it as a Space Command facility. It's all done this way to maintain the illusion of British authority rather than subservience to the U.S. Pentagon.
The group of us questioned the commander, all the while two media workers from local newspapers snapped photos and took shorthand of the lively discussion. I asked the commander about health affects from the massive facility knowing that a similar PAVE PAWS radar on Cape Cod, MA. has become controversial for emitting dangerous radiation waves that reportedly is causing numbers of cancers there. The RAF officer, a son of the British elite, only stated that they were within acceptable levels, set by a government board, who are all he reluctantly admitted appointed by the same politicians that now support Star Wars.
After the visit to Fylingdales we went for tea and biscuits at the 100 year old stone home of one of the local peace activists who lives nearby. Following that, a "quick nip around" to the seaside town of Whitby for fish, chips and mushy peas and then the four of us headed back to Leeds.
(See also report from Yorkshire CND )
The next morning was a nerve racking train trip to the Manchester airport. Trains all over the system were being cancelled as Maggie Thatcher's "privatization" of the once proud British rail system has come back to haunt the country. The rail system, now controlled by several private corporations, is an example of what happens when the basic public services of a nation are dismantled and sold to the highest bidder. Education and health care in the U.K. are now under attack as well.
It was an inspiring visit to England and once again I'm filled with great hope as I see the resistance to war on Earth and
in space growing worldwide. The long British history of peasant struggle against feudalism, a slow but steady progress forward, reminds me that we each are just another
stone in the honored battle of David verses Goliath. While the challenge at times can feel daunting, I know that I carry the spirit of those who came before me in
my heart and take courage from their sacrifices and their joy. I will keep on and know that all our efforts, added together, are changing the world, one Jimmy the
gate guard at a time.
Bruce K. Gagnon
Bruce K. Gagnon