Coordinator Trip Report - New York City
4-8 August 2007
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip report covers the period of August 4-8 as I travelled to New York City for speaking events in Manhattan, Great Neck, and Staten Island.
I took the train from Portland, Maine to New York and stayed at the home of Global Network member Alice Slater in Manhattan. Alice has been a leader in the anti-nuclear movement and Abolition 2000 for years.
The trip was ably coordinated by Anne Gibbons (Code Pink NYC) and Sally Jones (Peace Action). They had heard me speak to a small meeting in NYC several months ago and arranged for me to come back and speak at Hiroshima & Nagasaki remembrance events planned in the area.
On August 5 I spoke at the All Souls Unitarian Church in Manhattan. The topic was 62 Years After Hiroshima and Nagasaki: A Vision for Peace or Endless War? In the talk I outlined current U.S. provocative plans to deploy "missile defense" in Eastern Europe, and the growing concern by Russia as it now threatens to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The INF Treaty came about after massive European protests in the early 1980's due to the Reagan administration deployment of the nuclear tipped Pershing II and Cruise missiles in Germany, Italy, and England in October, 1983. I concluded the talk, as I so often do these days, suggesting that we will never successfully end war until the peace movement creates a positive transformational demand calling for the conversion of the military industrial complex to sustainable technology development.
Following the talk several of us went to a local alternative movie theater to see the new Iraq war film called No End in Sight. The movie advertisement in The New York Times had many positive statements about it. The essence of the documentary was interviews with key insiders (military and civilian) who were involved in the period directly after the 2003 U.S. invasion. The basic story line was that the Bush administration did a poor job of "managing" the resulting occupation. After the film was over several of us had a lively and critical discussion on the sidewalk outside the theatre about how the film seemed to be trying to say that it could have been a "successful" occupation if Bush and his crew had just done things right. In many respects that is the "official" Democratic Party line and we could not help but wonder if the film was created in order to promote the idea that the Democrats, if in control of the White House, would do a better job of managing the occupation in the future. The film also took two very hard warlike swipes at Iran and never once mentioned U.S. permanent bases now being built in Iraq. It was in many respects a propaganda film.
On August 6, Hiroshima Day, it was arranged for me to take the train to nearby Great Neck to speak at an event organized by Great Neck SANE/Peace Action which has been led for many years by Stan and Shirley Romaine. The event drew about 150 people and began with a wonderful song done by Japanese kids who are part of the Lotus Blossom Youth Music Group. Several people spoke before I did, including a local town official, a State Assemblywoman, a Rabbi, the president of the local Islamic Center, a reverend from a local church, a high school presidential scholar, and a member of Code Pink. When the Rabbi spoke he stated that the controversial bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 was the "best choice of many bad choices" and one man yelled out in anger from the audience at this remark.
Historian Gar Alperovitz has written extensively about this question of the "necessity" of the U.S. dropping the bomb. In his book, The Decision to Use the Bomb, he writes, "In his memoirs Admiral William D. Leahy, the President's [Truman] Chief of Staff -- and the top official who presided over meetings of both the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combined U.S.-U.K. Chiefs of Staff -- minced few words:
On August 7 Alice Slater and I were invited by David Occhiuto, Co-producer of Eco-logic, to appear on his radio show on WBAI in NYC for a one-hour interview. David did a fabulous job in preparing for the interview and the Global Network office received several phone calls and many web site hits due to the show. You can listen to the interview by going to WBAI's archive page at http://archive.wbai.org/ and clicking on August 7 Eco-logic. (WBAI is part of the progressive national Pacifica radio network.)
That evening Sally Jones took me on the ferry to Staten Island where we met her husband David for dinner at a Middle East restaurant. I am a huge lover of Middle Eastern food and told the owner that I have a hard time finding such food in Maine.
During dinner Sally and David gave me a fascinating tutorial about the conservative politics of Staten Island. This was my first visit to the island and they talked quite a bit about the inability to get their Congressman Vito Fossella to even meet with them to talk about Iraq or any other peace issue. Fossella is the only Republican in the entire New York City congressional delegation so the group works hard to find ways to get the residents of Staten Island engaged. I was most impressed when Sally told me how they often leaflet people as they come off the island ferry in droves. She said that on a good day they can pass out a couple thousand leaflets. Not to bad.
Following dinner we went to the "Everything Goes Book Cafe" where my talk was to be held. Following my talk, during the question and answer period we had a lively talk about how peace activists should react to the "arterial blockage" we are now finding in Congress with the Democratic Party. I suggested that the peace movement should not be in bed with any particular party, that we need to be able to be critical of all politicians that enable Bush's occupation of Iraq and endless war.
One Global Network member, Sung-Hee Choi from South Korea, lives in New York where she teaches art at a local Korean center. Sung-Hee has come to the last four Global Network annual international space organizing conferences and came to each of the talks I did in NYC. She filmed each talk and will put them up on YouTube. She gave me the latest peace magazine of the South Korean group called SPARK and in it I found that she had translated my report from our 2007 space organizing conference in Germany last spring. Sung-Hee also recently got SPARK to join the Global Network as an affiliate and is now working to convince them to send a representative to our important 2008 space conference that will be held April 11-13 in Omaha, Nebraska where the Strategic Command (StratCom) is headquartered. StratCom is now responsible for "full-spectrum global strike" (staging offensive, preemptive attacks); combating weapons of mass destruction; space and computer warfare; ballistic missile defense; and surveillance and reconnaissance (the "warrant-less wiretaps" conducted by the National Security Agency).
I need to give great thanks to Alice Slater whose wonderful hospitality during my stay in New York was unsurpassed. We had great organizing discussions in the evenings after I'd return from my various speaking events. It was Alice who told me about a steam pipe bursting in Midtown in Manhattan on July 19, killing one person and wounding 26 others as the ruptured pipe sent thick plumes of smoke and ash into the air. This of course happened just days before the bridge collapsed in Minnesota revealing how the infrastructure of the U.S. is falling apart because of government disinvestment as we sink so many of our precious resources into endless war. We concluded that both parties in our country don't want to give up the empire and that it will take extraordinary effort on everyone's part to pull us back from this dangerous period we are now in.
Lastly, my thanks go out to all those who hosted me during this very good trip to NYC. Once again I am so lucky to meet the good people who are working hard in their local communities to make the needed changes. Keep at it!
Bruce K. Gagnon