Coordinator Trip Report (Arizona, New Mexico & Maine)

31 January - 15 February 2003

From Bruce Gagnon


On January 31 I flew to Phoenix, Arizona where I was hosted by Celeste Howard who made it possible for me to do my first speaking tour in Arizona.  After speaking to local peace & justice folks that night, the next day I was preparing to leave for Tucson when I heard the reports on the TV that the Columbia shuttle accident had happened.

The media calls immediately began pouring into our office back in Florida and Mary Beth Sullivan directed them to me while she worked with Karl Grossman on drafting a news release to be sent out to the media on behalf of the Global Network (GN).  On the couple hour ride to Tucson with Celeste I did a couple of media interviews on her cell phone, one with the Arab News which gave extensive coverage to our thoughts on the shuttle accident and once posted on their web site was picked up by other media outlets, including the St Pete (FL) Times.

In Tucson, Jack Cohen Joppa, publisher of the Nuclear Resister, coordinated my talk to a filled room at a local church and cooked wonderful meals during my visit.  Tucson is the home of Raytheon where the hit-to-kill mechanism for the "national missile defense" system is being built.  Jack also gave Celeste and I a driving tour of the local air base that is the "graveyard" for generations of U.S. military planes.  Literally miles of them bear witness to the wasted tax dollars and growing poverty in our world as a result of these misplaced priorities.

My next stop was Albuquerque, N.M. to hold two days of protests at the 20th Annual Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion that is hosted by the University of New Mexico (UNM) Nuclear Engineering Dept.  The night before the vigils began local hosts Bob Anderson and Jeanne Pahls organized a well attended community event that Bob and I spoke at concerning the plans for the nuclearization and weaponization of space.  Bob had just days before arranged for the UNM student newspaper, Daily Lobo, to do a story revealing how the school's Nuclear Engineering Dept had been working on space nuclear reactors for over 20 years under contract with the Pentagon.  This was an important disclosure because it broke through the cloud of denials where all parties had maintained that nuclear reactors for space based weapons was not a reality.  Bob had obtained copies of UNM contracts with the Pentagon going back 20 years thus making this story possible.

By this time the media calls were pouring in.  Jeanne loaned me her cell phone as we stood out in front of the space symposium protesting and simultaneously doing radio and newspaper interviews.  A few times I had to go into the hotel lobby to find a quiet space to do a long interview on KPFA (Berkeley), the nationally syndicated Peter Werbe Show, a Montreal station, WBAI (New York), or others.  An hour long appearance with me and GN board members Karl Grossman and Dr. Michio Kaku on "Democracy Now" with Amy Goodman on February 3 (listen to it on our web site) seemed to open the door to many more media calls.

One evening while in Albuquerque we were watching the late night news and witnessed men dressed in haz-mat suits (including oxygen tanks on their backs and gas masks) using geiger counters to wand local residents in Texas who had come in contact with Columbia debris.  Placed in the context of the warnings coming from local authorities in the region who claimed that they were told by NASA that there were radioactive sources on-board the Columbia, we were devastated at the possibilities.  We have since learned from a reporter, who was told by the EPA, that there was radioactive Americium on-board.  What was the Americium being used for?  How much of it was there?  NASA refuses to comment.  Speculation suggests that the toxic Americium was powering a small reactor that was used to perform one of several military experiments during the space mission.

NASA had intended to hold a "Town Hall Meeting" about Project Prometheus at the Albuquerque symposium, the nuclear rocket powered by reactors now under development at NASA's Cleveland, Ohio and Huntsville, AL. centers as well as the UNM and University of Florida Nuclear Engineering Departments.  Prometheus is part of Bush's $3 billion "Nuclear Systems Iniative" that will dramatically expand research and development of space nuclear launches.  When we first heard of the Town Meeting we requested entry and were told it was not open to the public.  The night before the event Bob and I prepared a news release with the headline "Town Denied Entry Into NASA Nuclear Town Hall Meeting" and faxed it around to the local media.  In the release we listed the key questions that we intended to ask and stated that local residents were indeed going to enter the event at the symposium.  The next morning the local media began calling the symposium organizers about our plans and by midday they had cancelled the town hall meeting citing the Columbia accident as the reason.  Hardly!

After a one day trip back to Florida, just enough time to wash clothes, Mary Beth and I headed to Portland, Maine for a one week working vacation in the snowy wonderland.  We were hosted by Sally Breen (a leader of Peace Action Maine) and her husband Keith.  Our plane had to put down in New York City because of bad weather so we, and three other Mainers from the flight, rented a car and make the 7 hour drive to Portland.

On February 8 I had the honor of speaking to 250 people assembled for the Peace Action Maine annual supper.  This incredible event was very special for us as Mary Beth and I will move to southern Maine by next June and we were able to meet many of the key activists in the state.  The board of directors/advisers of the GN has authorized the moving of the office as well so the work of the organization will continue without interruption but in a new location.  Just north of Portland, in the city of Bath, is the place where Aegis destroyers are now being built for the Pentagon's Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) program that will be deployed along China's coastal region provoking and encircling them and guaranteeing a new arms race.  We look forward to joining the growing protests at the Bath Ironworks in the future. 

Just as I have traveled back to Albuquerque for the past five years to organize the annual protests at the space symposiums, I will be able to return to Florida when necessary to help organize protests at key launches at the space center.  Since my mother lives in Titusville, FL. (the town neighboring the space center) I will stay a regular visitor to the area.

During the week of house hunting in Maine I stayed busy, thanks to Sally Breen, with local radio interviews and speaking to a class at the University of Southern Maine.  One radio interview, on the local National Public Radio affiliate, went out statewide.  I also did an hour interview from Maine on the right-wing nationally syndicated Michael Medved Show.  Expecting to be torn to shreds, I actually held my own.  After hearing of my years as an organizer in the peace and social justice movements Medved asked if I'd ever had a real job.  My answer that I had been in the military during the Vietnam War, where I became a peace activist, stopped him short.

Speaking with GN board member Karl Grossman about the flood of media calls following the Columbia accident, he confirmed that he too had done interviews non-stop for days as well.  It was clear to us that the national/international  media now is beginning to recognize the Global Network as a valuable resource on the space issue.  This should encourage us all that our message of stopping the nuclearization and weaponization of space is getting out into the public consciousness.  Just to underscore this point our web site,  under normal times averages 150 hits a day, had over 1,000 hits in a 24 hour period following the Columbia tragedy.

In the end though the Columbia disaster makes the point that space technology can and does fail.  When you mix nuclear payloads into the equation you are asking for trouble.  There is nothing like personal experience.  People all over the planet can now see with their minds eye the long path of debris covering several states in the southwestern part of the U.S.   NASA, the Department of Energy and the Pentagon would be wise not to go forward with their dangerous plan the move war into the heavens.  The public is beginning to get on to their plan.

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