Coordinator Trip Report - Arkansas

17 September 2003

From: Bruce Gagnon

My latest organizing trip on behalf of the Global Network (GN) was to Arkansas on Sept 7-10.  The trip was organized by my old friend Mark Swaney and Dr. Dick Bennett (retired English professor at the university), both of Fayetteville.
I met Mark back in the early 80's when I worked for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice, which at that time was headquartered in Orlando.  Mark was working as an engineer at Martin Marietta where they were building the Pershing II missile.  I was organizing protests regularly outside the production facility.  Our signs often read Good People, Bad Product.  Mark decided that he wanted to quit his job because he didn't want to work for the military industrial complex anymore and I suggested that we hold a news conference to announce his leaving.  We don't often get opportunities like that to have a weapons industry worker talk publicly about their conscience.  Mark agreed and the event was quite successful.  Mark soon there after moved his family to Arkansas.  We've kept in touch over the years.
While in Arkansas Mark became a key person in a small group of people that began investigating
and broke the story on secret government cocaine and weapons trafficking at the Mena  airport involving both Bill Clinton as governor and George H. W. Bush as president.  Quite a number of books written on the subject name Mark as a major investigative source of information.  Today Mark is a key leader in the Green Party in Arkansas.
While in Fayetteville they kept me busy with three talks, the last at the university.  At this event I invited two wonderful folk musicians (Kelly Mulhollan & Donna Henschell) to play a couple of songs.  I had heard them the night before at an Omni Peace Center open mic coffee house that is held each month.  One really moving song told the story about the escalation of the arms race, from stones to Hiroshima and now Star Wars.
On Sept 9 Mark drove me to Little Rock where I was to speak.  All the way I quizzed him about the whole fascinating Mena drug smuggling story.  He recalled when Bush (the first) was in office the Democrats were all over the story, calling him for bits of evidence the Arkansas team had dug up.  But when Clinton got in office, knowing that he had as governor of the state allowed the CIA to use Arkansas as a base of operations, the Democrats suddenly were no longer interested in the story.  But now out of power, the Republicans began calling Mark wanting information on how Clinton was involved in the scandal.  Such is politics in the good ole USA!
As we entered Little Rock, along the interstate, I saw the Clinton Presidential Library, now under construction.  Virtually everyone I talked with had a Clinton story -- in a small state like Arkansas they all knew the man.
My talk in Little Rock was organized by Nancy Dockter and held at the university.  Midway through my talk three young African-American men came in and sat down and during the Question and Answer time they took a very active part in the discussion.  One young man said that he felt like the U.S. was a terrorist nation and that black people were essentially being used as cannon fodder in Iraq.  It is not often that my talks are attended by black people, and afterwards I went up to thank them for coming in.  They told me, "We talk about these things every day."  It was a clear reminder to me that even though we think the greater public is not listening to the debate on war/peace/military spending issues, in fact they are.  In this case the war was touching these young men's lives very closely and they were extremely interested.
I spent the night in Little Rock at the home of Jean Gordon who told me she hosted the first ever political event for Bill Clinton.  She was asked to open her home, because she has a huge living room, for Clinton's first campaign event when he ran for Arkansas Attorney General.  Clinton showed up, holding his mother's hand, and a career began.  Jean also hosted the founding meeting of the grassroots group Acorn, with nearly 300 people meeting in that living room.
The other thing of interest while in Arkansas was talk about Gen. Wesley Clark's (NATO Supreme Allied Commander for the Kosovo war) bid for president.  Some of peace activists I met were talking about supporting his campaign.  I guess once you have one president from your state, the temptation is to go for another. 
I can't get the pictures of the bombing of Yugoslavia out of my mind -- hitting hospitals and TV stations, the use of depleted uranium, the contamination of major rivers in that part of Europe, the denial by the U.S. of satellite recon information to the European partners in that war that has now led Europe to begin to develop their own military space capability.  Never again, the EU says, will they allow the U.S. to hold all the cards.  Gen. Clark, nice as he might be as a person, was smack dab in the middle of all that.  In recent days, since Clark has announced that he will run, my e-mail traffic has picked up with a few folks sending me letters saying they are happy he is running.  Word is now starting to circulate about how Clark took positions for and against the current war with Iraq.
I can't help but marvel at how eager some peace folks are to "win," that they will even support  military officials thinking that they will lead us out of this dark tunnel we are in today.  Remember what Eugene V. Debs said long ago about leaders.  "They can lead you out of a fire and can lead you right back into one."


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