Coordinator Trip Report - Missouri & Kansas

11-18 September 2005

From: Bruce Gagnon

This report covers the period of September 11-18 as I traveled to Missouri and Kansas for a speaking tour. 

My first stop was in St. Louis, MO where I was hosted by the Peace Economy Project, a long-time Global Network (GN) affiliate.  Catherine Marquis-Homeyer took me straight from the airport to a 9/11 River Cruise for Peace down the Mississippi River.  As I arrived about 150 folks were boarding the riverboat having just finished a peace walk, from the local courthouse, where the famous Dred Scott slavery case was first heard, to the Mississippi River.  (In 1846, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet filed suit for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court. This suit began an eleven-year legal fight that ended in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark decision declaring that the Scott's remain slaves. This decision contributed to rising tensions between the free and slave states just before the American Civil War.) 

During the cruise I was among a couple of people who spoke to those on the boat.  A violin quartet performed alongside a theatrical performance of Mark Twain's famous "War Prayer," that was a scathing indictment of the Spanish-American war.  A black man, columnist from the local newspaper, spoke about the immediate despair resulting from the St. Louis Circuit Court decision to reject the Dred and Harriet Scott case, but then reminded us that history reveals ultimate victory to those who remain steadfast in their determination for justice.  A good lesson at this moment as the peace movement sees only darkness coming from the illegal and immoral war in Iraq.

Following the riverboat cruise the participants were invited to a wonderful dinner at a local venue.  I was able to do a full speech to them afterward.  My topic throughout this trip was the "Battle for America's Soul" where I laid out some of the history of military-industrial complex corruption, the use of space technology in current plans for military transformation, and the need to admit our national addiction to militarism and war.  The way out, I suggested, was a national campaign calling for conversion of the war industry to alternative sustainable technology development (wind, solar, rail).

While in St. Louis I did two radio interviews.  One was an hour-long spot on the regional National Public Radio (NPR) station.  The next morning following I   received an e-mail from a man who was driving past St. Louis on the interstate highway and heard the interview on the radio.  He asked to be added to the GN e-mail list.  The second interview, with a popular local talk show host, was very special for me.  The host, a fiery black woman, had been doing a series of interviews with poor black folks who had fled New Orleans just before hurricane Katrina.  One large family of 40 had come to St. Louis and were all staying in the home of a relative.  They had no money, no jobs, and had not yet been offered any assistance by the government.  As I sat in the radio station waiting room I could see the weariness on the faces of the family members and the sadness as they faced an unknown future.  The talk show host and I explored the connections between Star Wars, the war in Iraq, and the impending cost of hurricane relief.  How could our government afford to help the people of New Orleans when they were spending nearly $6 billion a month in Iraq and $10 billion a year on Star Wars research and development?  The callers that phoned into the station easily got the connections and I was filled with hope as I heard people make the right analysis of our current situation.

My next visit was to Columbia, MO where I was hosted by retired peace studies professor Bill Wickersham.  Bill did an incredible job of arranging four presentations for me at the University of Missouri, a progressive oasis in the middle of a conservative "red" state.  My first talk was before 50 graduate students at the Nuclear Science & Engineering Institute.  I rarely get the opportunity to speak to nuclear engineering students and it went over better than I had expected.  During the course of two days at the university I spoke to over 300 students.  In addition, Bill arranged for me to do a one-hour radio interview on the local progressive radio station.  I was interviewed by Mark Haim, the director of the Mid-Missouri Peace Works group.  A pot luck with local activists and a dinner with virtually the entire sociology department at the university topped off one of the best organized visits to any university that I have ever had. 

From Missouri I went to another "red" state - Kansas.  Here I was hosted by Dr. Manfred Menking, from Physicians for Social Responsibility, in Wichita.  Manfred, originally from Germany, is suffering today as he watches the United States do preemptive military attacks on other countries and restrict civil liberties at home - things that frightfully remind him of Nazi Germany.  Manfred arranged for me to speak to 80 students at nearby Friends University in Wichita, and then the next day to a good crowd of local peace and justice activists.  He also scheduled me to do a cable TV interview with Horace Santry, director of the Peace & Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas.  Manfred also was able to get an op-ed I wrote about Bush's plans for offensive space weapons into his local newspaper, The Wichita Eagle, while I was there.  Wichita is loaded with aerospace industry facilities, including Boeing's work on the Airborne Laser for Theatre Missile Defense (TMD).

My last stop was due north to Salina, Kansas where I was hosted by 91-year-old Veterans for Peace activist Vernon Stevens.  Vernon, still very active and looking much younger than his age, had recently been featured with a big story and photo in the Salina Journal after local activists held a solidarity vigil in mid-August on behalf of Cindy Sheehan.  Vernon had me come to a morning planning meeting of their local peace group, where we had a good organizing strategy discussion.  Later that evening I spoke to a larger group at the local college.  Musicians Marty Bates and Janie Stein (Janie's mom had come to Florida in 1987 and was arrested for doing civil disobedience at a protest I organized at Cape Canaveral) sang before I spoke and I stayed at their home later that evening.  Once back at their house Marty and I played guitar together, doing an old blues tune, and Janie sang along. 

I was impressed by the local activists I met in Missouri and Kansas.  Many people wonder what has happened to folks living in the "red" states in America today.  What are they thinking?  How can they keep voting Republican?  Is anyone organizing there these days?  I can assure you that there are some very fine folks working extra hard in these two red states today.  They are doing all they can to keep things stirred up and get people talking.  We must all do what we can to reach out to our friends in the rural and conservative communities across the nation and support their efforts.  I was honored to visit with them and contribute a tiny bit to their local peace work.


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