Coordinator Trip Report - Colorado & Southern California
14 April 2003
From: Bruce Gagnon
On March 30- April 3 I flew to Denver, Colorado to attend the trial of the three Dominican Sisters (Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert & Jackie Hudson) who were ultimately found guilty of two felony counts (sabotage and injury to government property) for their October, 2002 citizens weapons inspection of a Minuteman nuclear missile silo in Colorado. During the trial, where the federal court would not allow them to present testimony as to their reasons for the action (international law, Nuremberg defenses), the nuns clearly proved that their action was a symbolic one that was intended to open hearts, minds, and doors. Two military officers admitted that the action had not, in the end, interfered with the "defense of the nation" but the military and the court made a big deal about the amount of "damages" the sisters had done to the outer fence that surrounds the underground missile silo. They had cut a 30 foot section out of the long fence in order to open the site for the world to see that the U.S. has weapons of mass destruction.
The evening before the trial began I spoke, along with Elizabeth McAllister and Bill Sulzman, at a well attended Festival of Hope held at a local church. I recalled how Ardeth had spoken at our Global Network annual conference last May in Berkeley and had told us how the U.S. now had become excellent killers, "We can kill fast and we can kill slow," she said. The Minuteman would qualify as the fast version and the steady, nagging hunger of the Iraqi and Afghani people is the slow version.
In the courtroom the military and the prosecution sprung a few last minute surprises that were objected to by defense attorneys but the judge, a recent Bush appointee, was not in the mood for justice. After spending nearly the whole week witnessing the trial, I had to leave mid-day on Friday when the sisters made their closing arguments. Years of work for social justice, seeing the poor and working class robbed of social services, led the three women to a path of telling the truth that Eisenhower's warning about the takeover of our democracy by the military industrial complex had come true. In the end one juror held out for a few hours but withered under the steady barrage of expectations from the legal system that now will decide in July what the sentence will be. The three sisters face 30 years for their dastardly crime of trying to sound the alarm that the gates of hell have been sprung open. I left with the hope that their action will shake many of us to be even more determined to be half as courageous as they have been.
While in Colorado, I taped an interview for a local cable TV program called "No Nukes" hosted by longtime local activist Bob Kinsey.
On April 7-12 I traveled to Los Angeles for a week-long speaking tour in Southern California organized by GN members Cris Gutierrez and Randy Ziglar who live in Santa Monica. My first day began with a live interview on the KPFK Morning Show talking about how space was directing the war in Iraq and about plans for future control and domination of the Earth via space technology. This widely heard Pacifica radio program gave me a chance to promote my tour itinerary, and at each subsequent stop I heard from folks who had come as a result of hearing the radio interview. That same day I joined another activist on a panel at Santa Monica High School for a teach-in on the war that was attended by about 120 students who had recently helped convince, with their impassioned testimony, their city's resolution opposing the war. That evening I spoke again to a good audience at a local church in Santa Monica which two radio stations covered, including a black station from South Central Los Angeles.
Randy does not like cars and has not had one for some time. A retired beach lifeguard, he prides himself on his public transit skills and his urban gardening. He is also an excellent cook and with each visit (this is now my third to their home) I've had a chance to taste his wonderful creations (like the egg foo young burrito.) Cris works as a public education consultant and keeps busy with a whirlwind schedule that includes much anti-war protesting.
Randy rented a car so we could get to several outlying talks in Northridge, Santa Barbara, and La Verne (in San Bernardino County). The traffic was intense as we drove to each of the talks and underscored the need for more public transportation, especially in such a heavily populated place.
On the last day we went to Claremont to a vigil that had about 60 anti-war protestors and 20 pro-war folks sharing the four corners of a busy intersection. One 13 year old boy, holding a large "We support our troops" sign, stood next to me for awhile and I asked him how he felt about the fact that we had bombed innocent civilians in Iraq. He answered that "It's their problem, they had a bad president." I then asked him if another country, for instance Canada, didn't like our president, did they have the right to bomb the USA? "That's a DUMB question. Canada is part of the United States!," he replied. I urged him to ask his school teacher about Canada when he returned to school.
My host for the last talk I did in La Verne, Marjorie Mikels, is an attorney that ran for Congress in the last national election. She ran as a Democrat when no one else would take on Rep. David Dreier (Republican chair of the powerful House rules committee). Marjorie got 37% of the vote in the election and said that the Democratic party (state or national) gave her absolutely no help. San Bernardino County reminded me alot of Florida. Agribusiness, weapons corporations and military installations are the predominant economic forces and conservatives control local politics. Folks wondered what they could do to impact the thinking of the local citizenry. I told them two key things: first that everyone in the room should run for some office in the next national election cycle - from local to national offices - and they should all run a coordinated campaign each talking about the same 4-5 key issues using the elections as an opportunity to do outreach and public education. The second thing I suggested was a "Price of War" campaign in the community, focusing local attention on the enormous damage military spending is doing to our economy at every level. We must, I told them, show the local impacts of Bush's endless war on the world, and there will certainly be plenty of them.
It was a good trip but emotionally difficult for me at a time when our country was destroying Iraq and ruining the lives of the Iraqi people even more than Saddam had been able to do. One personally shattering thing for me was the volume of stories about looting, including hospitals and the famous historical museum that was ransacked of its 7,000 year old artifacts while U.S. troops sat on their high tech tanks nearby. While Bush talks about rebuilding Iraq I can't help but remain skeptical that the chaotic existence of the people there will remain for a long time, giving Bush and the oil barons an easier task of controlling and dominating their lives.
My next trips will be to Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia April 22-23 and then on to Melbourne, Australia for the 11th annual GN space organizing conference May 16-18.
Mary Beth and I will be moving to Brunswick, Maine at the end of May. We look forward to working with activists there who regularly protest at Bath Iron Works, the place where the Aegis destroyer, a key part of Theatre Missile Defense, is being built.