20 March 2001

by Clare Hanrahan
(Asheville, N.C.)

While scientists warned of the Russian MIR Space station's imminent plummet to Earth, citizens gathered in Huntsville, Alabama March 16 - 18 for the National Space Organizing Conference and Protest. The event was sponsored by the Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, the War Resisters League, and the North Alabama chapter of Veterans for Peace.

"We have to stop our country from turning the heavens into a war zone," Professor Karl Grossman told nearly one hundred citizens from 20 states. Grossman, a professor of journalism at the State University of New York, spoke to an impressive gathering of scholars, lobbyists, activists, war veterans, Plowshares resisters, whistle blowers, war tax resisters, movement musicians, and community organizers.

"Action! Action! Action! Organize political action. Information alone isn't going to do it," Grossman stressed. "You can't put this back in the bottle once it is out," he cautioned. "Once they have the orbiting platform you can kiss democracy good-bye."

The Conference included speakers and discussions on the ''Nuclearization and Weaponization of Space," ''Military Satellites for Warfighting, Intelligence, and Counterinsurgency,'' and "Strategies and Movement Building Under a New Administration." A full day of information was sandwiched between a demonstration Friday afternoon at the gates of the Redstone Nuclear arsenal, where 70% of the Nuclear Missile Defense and Theatre Missile Defense programs occur, and on Sunday morning at the Space and Rocket Center Museum, where busloads of America's children are subjected to space weapons propaganda.

Citizens from as far as California and Minnesota, Florida and New York joined Huntsville residents and others from throughout the southeast at the Holiday Inn Space Center. Participants shared information and strategies to defeat the US Space Command plan to control and own space as a "U.S. 4th frontier," as outlined in a the recently released Rumsfield Space Commission Report: "In the coming period, the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on earth and in space."

"I've been following the nuclear trail for a long time," said David Swain of Lake Junaluska, NC. Swain is an Asheville native. He lived in Japan for four decades and collected and translated stories of Hiroshima Atom bomb survivors as a peace researcher and educator. "I was very impressed," he said following the conference. "There were so many people there who are involved in effective groups. They are professional, committed, linked up, and integrated. It was quite satisfying."

Keynote speaker Dr. Michio Kaku's Paris flight was canceled due to bad weather. Instead of the keynote address, military veterans, whistle blowers, former weapons industry engineers, and elder and youth activists shared stories of their work around the country and the circumstances that led them to lives of committed resistance to US militarism. The time was well spent in making the vital, person-to-person connections critical to the success of the rapidly growing movement to halt the militarization of space.

Kitty Boniske of Asheville, a member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, said the personal stories shared by participants were particularly inspiring. Boniske believes that "using the heavens for war is not acceptable for anyone, on any level, who has any sense of ethics. It is just wrong."

Paloma Galindo, an organizer with the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said she felt "even more committed," after the conference. She intends to incorporate the information into her work to end nuclear weapons production at the Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

"The peace in space movement is growing rapidly," said Global Network coordinator Bruce Gagnon, whose tireless and dedicated work has taken him throughout the world to alert citizens to the dangers of weapons in space. "We all have a piece of the puzzle. We must continue to build this national and international movement because we need each other," he said. "The south is vital to this plan for the weaponization and nuclearization of space," Gagnon said. "It is vital to integrate the south into the national and international movements to stop the arms race."

The United States Space Command's own document entitled "Vision For 2020" leaves no doubt about the sinister intent: "Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict," with an ability "to deny others the use of space." A motto of the Air Force Space Command is "Master of Space." The designation is displayed in large letters over the entrance to the 50th Space Wing in Colorado. It has chilling echoes to the Nazi ideology of the German scientist Wernher von Braun, who found work in the Redstone Army arsenal at Huntsville, Al, in 1949 producing the Army's first operational ballistic missile. He was one of nearly one thousand Nazi scientists who were taken in by the US military and corporations after the war.

Peter Lumsdaine of the Vandenberg Action Coalition in California warned that the US Space Command is increasingly "the coordinating hub of the military terror and space-age counterinsurgency war used to enforce the economic and environmental violence of corporate globalization." Lumsdaine called for direct action of the magnitude that occurred in Seattle. "I believe that the US Space Command is the WTO of military control and terror in the 21st century." He also underscored the connection between the US Space Command activities and the war in Colombia.

The New York Times recently confirmed that " US military satellites are now guiding the defoliation planes, helicopter gunships and elite military strike teams as they accelerate their offensive in southern Colombia."

"If we don't challenge the garrison state head on we may be deceived by incremental changes the pentagon may make, deceived into thinking we are getting something when in fact we are losing ground," said Chris Ney, Disarmament Coordinator with the War Resisters League. "It is time for activists to put out a call from this country for international activism and solidarity."

The US Space Command's plan to militarize space violates The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which the US signed along with more than 90 other countries. The treaty bans nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction from space, and stipulates that the "exploration of outer space be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all (hu)mankind). US Space Command plans also violate the 1972 ABM Treaty, which prohibits building a system to counter strategic ballistic missiles or their elements, The US signed the treaty with the then-Soviet Union.

''Last year, at the United Nations, 157 countries, including China, Canada, and Russia, passed a resolution calling for a global ban on weapons in space,'' according Gagnon. ''The U.S., Israel and Micronesia abstained from the vote."

Angela Schindler, 26, came with three others from the Nashville Greenlands Catholic Worker Community and the Nashville War Resisters League. "I want to make sure that we don't waste money on things that will continue the cold war or will break anti proliferation treaties," she said. "Anything that is pushing us to continue conflict with some of the major powers in the world is not pushing us in a direction that I want to see. I'm concerned about the underlying issues. Who the profits will go to from this and how power will be consolidated from this kind of system, as well as the absolute waste of dollars that could be spent on programs to take care of our own children."

Bill O'Connell an adult education teacher from Birmingham, Al and a member of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committe said, "Star Wars is building pyramids to the sky on top of my students. Our books are falling apart. We're already 50th in education." O'Connell explained that the tax dollars he withholds from the Pentagon will go to purchase books, computers, supplies and equipment for his students.

Judy Cumbee, from Lanett, Al., wore an ornate jacket, a gift from her friend, Brian Baldwin, a man executed by the state of Alabama. Cumbee is a death-penalty abolitionist and member of the War Resisters League. She sang a hauntingly beautiful song about her homeplace in the "Red Hills of Georgia," Other musicians included Holly Gwinn Graham of Olympia, Wa. and Joel Landry from New York. Both wrote special songs for the movement against weapons in space.

Huntsville City Councilman and Food Bank Director Dick Hyatt, welcomed the conference to Huntsville. "I know how the fight goes and I understand what you're up against," he told the assembly. "We profess to have a democracy,' he said. "A democracy is based on an informed populace. Without that a democracy cannot exist. Without hearing the other side of this issue we cannot have democracy. If you go back into your communites and inform them about the other side of this issue, I firmly believe that the people, people like you and me can make this country move into the new millennium in a way that is good for all of us," Hyatt said.

"In our country today, people are becoming too much like good soldiers, following, following what we know to be evil. Before you become good soldiers it is time to become good citizens," Gagnon said. "Our job is to create a global debate."

Ilene Sparks was among the several whistle blowers and former weapons industry workers at the conference. "My greatest accolade was being placed on Nixon's enemies list for my involvement in the civil rights movement," the Huntsville resident said. Sparks began work at the Redstone Arsenal when she divorced at age 41.

"I felt fortunate having a good paying job working for the Army," she said. "I was a pacifist and I had guilt, but I tried to justify my work because I needed to support my son. Sparks told how she became a whistle blower on the Iran Contra issue. "They abolished my job," she said. "Then they sent me off to work in a different area where I learned more." She spoke out again and was again demoted. "I was a whistle blower for which I have suffered greatly," she told the assembly.

Another mother spoke up, "I worked in Huntsville on development of the "smart" missile. I helped build 14 prototypes. When my children asked me, 'Mommy are you really building things that will kill people,' It made me think. I had to stop." she said.

The weapons makers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and TRW -- have received billions of US taxpayer dollars already. Sixty percent of all Pentagon missile defense research and development contracts went to these four companies during 1998 and 1999, according to the World Policy Institute. They stand to make billions more if a national missile defense system is deployed.

The Global Network has called for an International Day of Protest to Stop the Militarization of Space, Oct.13, 2001.

More information

The Vandenberg Action Coalition has called for a Nonviolent Security Zone Occupation on May 19 as part of the Vandenberg Resistance Camp May 18-23.

For information:

Hanrahan is an Asheville writer and war tax resister. She serves on the National Committee of the War Resisters League and is a member of the National Writers Union.

(See also Protesters to target Redstone's arms work, Protesters gather to protest Redstone space defense work, Conference & Protest details,
and )

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