Coordinator Trip Report - Colorado
2-6 April 2006
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip began on April 2 with a very early morning drive to Portland so I could catch the bus from there to the Boston airport. After a three-hour wait in Boston I flew to Chicago where I ended up with a seven-hour delay due to major thunderstorms throughout the Midwest. I finally arrived in Colorado Springs at 12:30 a.m. and gratefully Bill Sulzman still came to the airport to pick me up.
Bill Sulzman was one of the founding members of the Global Network when it was created in 1992. At that time I was the state coordinator of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice. Bill's group, the Colorado Springs-based Citizens for Peace in Space, had been working with us in Florida since the 80's. For some time the two groups were really the only local organizations in the country doing on-going space organizing. It became clear to us by 1992 that we needed to grow this movement, and with the help of journalist Karl Grossman, we created the Global Network to do just that.
This year marked the 22nd annual meeting of the Space Symposium, an event put on by the aerospace industry. It was reported that this year almost 8,000 military personnel, aerospace industry executives and technologists were in attendance. In addition the Space Symposium brought in hundreds of students from elementary, middle schools and high schools as a way to recruit them to work in the industry.
This event draws a protest each year by Citizens for Peace in Space. The symposium is located at the very posh Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. I was told that a membership to the Broadmoor Golf & Country Club has a $100,000 entry fee and there is a waiting list to join. The setting for the protest could not be more ideal. We were able to stand with banners on the sidewalk directly in front of the main symposium auditorium thus every person entering the event passed directly by us.
The theme of the protest this year was "Only You Can Prevent Truth Decay" and T-shirts were made with that message on the front and the schedule of protest events for the week was listed on the back similar to a rock-and-roll concert tour. The sub-theme was "Blow the Whistle on Crime and Corruption!"
The theme could not have been more timely as the New York Times reported in its April 2 edition that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington has been covering up a scientific fraud among builders of the expensive "missile defense" system. The Times reported that the GAO ignored evidence that the two main contractors for the program (Boeing and TRW) had doctored data, shewed test results and made false statements in a 2002 report.
Our first protest at the symposium began at 5:00 p.m. on April 3, just as the confab was to begin with a banquet. Our group of about 25 folks blew whistles and handed out leaflets urging the vast assemblage entering the building to "blow the whistle on the deception that is rampant in the military space program." We even handed out baloney sandwiches to those willing to take one, suggesting our baloney was better than the baloney being passed out inside the space symposium.
On April 4 we got to the symposium at 7:30 a.m. just as the crowd arrived. I held a banner that read "Beware of the power of the military industrial complex. - Dwight Eisenhower" and would routinely ask military officers passing by if they would like to take a turn holding it for awhile. I got no takers.
From the space symposium that morning we drove north to Aurora, Colorado where Buckley Air Force Spy & Space War Base is located. We held a vigil outside the main gate with the huge white golfball looking "radoms" in view. Loring Wirbel explained how these systems "suck in" all phone, fax and e-mail communications from throughout the entire world as part of the U.S. program called Echelon. I told the story about how Global Network affiliated groups in Australia, Germany, England and the like continually protest at U.S. "downlink facilities" that collect this information regionally and then send it via satellite in "real time" to Buckley AFB for final processing.
We were met at the Buckley vigil by the three Dominican Nuns, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson who were found guilty in 2003 for having symbolically "disarmed" a Minuteman nuclear missile silo in northeastern Colorado. Their action, called Sacred Earth and Space Plowshares, put them in jail for a considerable amount of time and Ardeth was the last to get out just a couple of months ago. This was the first time they had been back in Colorado since their trial. Following the vigil at Buckley we made the two hour drive further north to Weld County where the sisters had done their act of disarmament at the N-8 missile silo.
When we arrived we decorated the missile silo gate with yellow crime scene tape and hung an eviction notice, signed by all who were there, on the gate. A team of reporters from several newspaper and radio outlets listened to the sisters make a statement about what motivated them to do the action in 2002. They spoke about their Dominican order being one of preachers who were obligated to tell the truth. The non-violent Jesus called on them to publicly witness against weapons of mass destruction. Their mission at the N-8 silo in 2002 was to open the gates so the world could see that the U.S. had WMD's as Bush lectured the rest of the world about the evils of nuclear weapons. Having worked with the poor all their lives, the sisters insisted that the funding of WMD's was a theft from the poor.
Next we drove back to the nearby town of Greeley where the sisters had been taken to jail following their 2002 action. On this April 4 evening we were to show the new documentary video called "Conviction" that told the story about the nuns and their peace witness at N-8. The only place that would host the event in Greeley was a Mexican restaurant - and fortunately they had a wonderful buffet. Following dinner the filmmaker introduced the film and a good crowd of local people, in addition to those on the protest caravan, watched the documentary. The film not only featured the sisters but also included extensive interviews with the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals who is based in Colorado Springs. During the film Haggard explains how U.S. military technology keeps the world free and called the disarmament action by the nuns misguided and criticized their theological interpretations.
On April 5 we were back out to the Broadmoor Hotel for a lunch time vigil. Bill Sulzman remarked that he had never seen so many military personnel as this year. Many generals (one star, two stars, three stars, four stars) walked past us. Former Republican Congressman Robert Walker, a 20-year veteran of the House of Representatives, where he served as Chairman of the House Science Committee, passed by us on three different occasions. While in Congress he was a big critic of "liberal big spending" so each time he walked by I would ask him why we were not reading any quotes from him in the newspaper about the "big spending" Bush administration. He groaned and gruffed as he slinked by. At one point I also noticed former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-VA) enter the symposium. Robb, a former Marine, became the first senator ever to simultaneously serve on the Senate Armed Services, Foreign Relations, and Intelligence Committees. All these politicians are now working as consultants and lobbyists for the military industrial complex. I also noted their business suits were cut from very expensive cloth these days.
Following this mid-day vigil I was invited to speak to a Philosophy class at Pikes Peak Community College. The class, I was warned, had a couple of recent Iraq war veterans in it and some wives of soldiers at nearby Fort Carson, an Army base that regularly sends troops to the war in Iraq. About 20 students were in the class and I was asked to speak about Ethics and the Military Industrial Complex. My talk went quite well with no real opposition expressed during our lively question and answer period. It was clear to me that this working class group of students clearly understood that the rich were getting richer in today's America and that the war in Iraq was a war for control of oil that would only benefit the big corporations. It gave me confidence that the public increasingly has figured out the big picture.
The primary question posed by one student was, "What do we do now?" I answered by saying that as I walked from the parking lot to the main building on campus, I was nearly blown over by the powerful wind. Why, I asked, can't you have some windmills here providing power for this college? Think of the money and energy saved, the oil not needed, and the jobs that could be created in America building windmills. Why not solar too with so much abundant sun in Colorado? Why not a public transit system, here in Colorado and across the U.S., giving you an option other than your expensive car? Why can't we build these sustainable technologies instead of weapons and endless war? And why can't the peace movement, the environmental movement, and the labor movements create a unified campaign and political demand around this issue? The students got it.
My trip to Colorado ended with another early morning vigil at the Broodmor Hotel on April 6 as the symposium was wrapping up "business." On my first day in Colorado Springs the local newspaper had carried an article about the event and one space symposium organizer was quoted as saying the whole event was about "business." He said the aerospace industry sponsors would be cutting business deals during the week. There is huge money to be made moving the arms race into space and the rats are gathering around the cheese. In order to pay for, what the weapons industry calls the "largest industrial project in the history of the planet Earth," the aerospace industry has targeted the "entitlement programs" for defunding. The space business community wants Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and what is left of the Welfare Program, to be defunded with the money moved into the new space arms race.
The open question is how will the American people respond? If my talk to the Philosophy class was any indication they are not eager to see the dismantling of social progress. But first they must learn about the issue. The week-long protest at the 22nd Annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs was an important contribution to this much needed public debate. I'll be back next year for more. I hope more of you will join us.
Bruce K. Gagnon