Coordinator Trip Report - Florida

29 Dec 07 - 7 Jan 2008

From: Bruce Gagnon

This report covers the period of Dec 29 - Jan 7 as I traveled to Florida for a six city speaking tour.

On Sunday, December 30 I delivered a talk entitled "Keep Space for Peace" at the Manatee Unitarian Fellowship in Bradenton.  Friends from my Florida Coalition days, Don and Jane Thompson made the arrangements. The response from the congregation was quite wonderful.

On December 31 I did an early morning radio interview with a station in the Tampa-bay area promoting my appearance at a planned "Peace Day" event on January 1 on Siesta Key.

The January 1 "Peace Day" event has been held for the past 18 years as a way to bring together people from many different faiths.  Again, Don Thompson arranged for me to speak at the event that was held this year at the St. Boniface Episcopal Church on Siesta Key (Sarasota).  The event was attended by about 150 people and I gave a brief introductory talk in the morning and then after lunch I was given a two-hour block to speak and answer questions from the diverse audience.  It was a very exciting day for me.

Following this event I drove east across the state to the home of Peg McIntire in St. Augustine.  Peg, now 97, still remains very active in peace movement activities and was organizing a talk by me on January 3.  For many years Peg served as the Treasurer of the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice and was recognized by most peace activists in the state as the heart of the movement.  To this day she still receives invitations to speak around the northern part of the state.

On January 2 Peg and I drove north to Jacksonville where I spoke to the group called Wage Peace.  My talk was entitled "A Positive Vision for the Future" and in it I strongly emphasized the need for the peace movement to promote conversion of the military industrial complex if we ever hoped to end war.  Old friends Mary Claire Van der Horst and Al and his daughter Wendy Geiger were there.  Mary Claire served as Secretary of the Florida Coalition for a long time and Al donated land in the middle of his tree farm north of Gainesville to the organization so we could build a kids peace camp.  A subsequent donation made it possible to build a dining hall/meeting room on the land and peace camps are still held at the location.

At midnight on January 2 I did a second radio interview from the Tampa-Bay area.

On January 3 Peg's Unitarian Church in St. Augustine hosted my talk.  I was introduced by a local radio talk show host by the name of Andy Johnson who lives in Jacksonville and had come to hear me the night before as well.  Andy interviewed me on his show several times over the years.  His show, a rarity in conservative and militarized northeast Florida, was broadcast from a Christian radio station where he had been purchasing time for many years to do his own progressive show.  But the show was only three-hours while the rest of the station's time was spent on right-wing fundamentalist talk.

Andy, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, has just taken over that station in Jacksonville (AM 1460 WZNZ).  Beginning Monday, Janueary 14, he will turn it into the only progressive talk station in North Florida. People anywhere can tune in on the station's website.

Andy is a cousin of Al Geiger, their families having been in the Jacksonville area for multiple generations.  Andy's grandfather had owned the local dairy and was a member of the NAACP during the height of segregation.  The KKK and local White Citizen's Council started a boycott of the dairy trying to force Andy's granddad to resign from the NAACP, but he refused.

At the January 3 talk, Peg asked Andy to not only introduce me but to also ask the audience, just after my speech, to make a donation to the Global Network.  In classic southern Baptist preacher style, Andy joked about making people line up and file past him, repeatedly, if their donations were not large enough.  Everyone had a great laugh and the crowd of 36 people produced the largest collective donation of the trip.  Peg was thrilled.

At mid-day on January 3, I did a full hour radio interview on the Tampa progressive station WMNF.  News Director Rob Lorei, who over the years has extensively covered our space organizing, once again gave me a chance to speak with his large Gulf Coast listening audience.  The primary purpose of the interview was to give advance notice about my coming talk in Clearwater.

On January 4, I spoke to more than 80 people at an event organized by Samm Simpson who ran for Congress in the last congressional election.  She is planning to run again next November against the Republican arch-conservative militarist, Rep. Bill Young, who has been in office for 19 terms.  Samm asked me to talk about "Swords into Plowshares: Transforming the Military Industrial Complex."  This was a very remarkable event because of the diversity of the people who attended.  There were blacks, Hispanics, old and young.  There were Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich supporters, as well as Green Party activists who are supporting Cynthia McKinney for president. And afterward, at least half the audience stayed around for one full hour, talking with me and each other in one of the most lively events I had ever experienced.  It was clear to me that Samm Simpson was a key spark plug in this part of Florida and the people there are lucky to have her as their candidate and fellow activist.

I had the day off on January 5 but put it to good use.  In the morning I met old friend Greg Musselman for breakfast in Dunedin.  Then for lunch I met friends John and Sheila Stewart in St. Pete at a wonderful Cuban restaurant overlooking the bay.  Karl Grossman, and his wife Janet, joined us as they were staying with the Stewart's while on vacation in the area.  Then for dinner I headed farther south to Naples to meet my hosts for my last talk.

On January 6 I spoke at the Naples Unitarian Church forum before the service began.  About 75 people attended and I am grateful to Maureen Armour and Flo Beckler who arranged my talk and provided warm hospitality.  I can't remember ever having spoken in Naples before, so it was a nice ending to a good trip.

Florida is a huge state and I saw a good portion of it during this week.  While I did see many old friends, I also saw that the peace movement in Florida has been growing in recent years.  It is now 10 years ago that I left the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice so that I could work full-time on space issues for the Global Network.  In city after city there is new leadership within the peace community at a time when we need to be reaching beyond our previously existing circles.

My next trip takes me to New Mexico from February 6-17 where Bob Anderson has arranged a seven-city speaking tour.  Included will be our protest at the annual space nuclear power symposium in Albuquerque where NASA, Department of Energy, and aerospace corporations meet to plan the full nuclearization of space.

Best wishes to all for a better year in 2008.  Good luck and keep organizing.

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