Bath Iron Works Vigil Report
October 11 2003
From Bruce Gagnon
On Oct 11 just over 30 people gathered under the bridge next door to Bath Ironworks (BIW) in Maine to vigil and leaflet about the Aegis role in foreign and domestic policy.
People were there from Veterans for Peace, Peace Action Maine, Pax Christi Maine and Maine WILPF. We were joined by two huge peace doves that had been made by activists in Portland. Each dove required three people to hold the body and its two spread wings.
The event began with Bruce Gagnon talking about some of the actions being held around the world during Keep Space for Peace Week and the key role that the Aegis naval destroyer will play in Theatre Missile Defense (TMD).
Then representatives from each of the groups read part of the brochure that had been designed for the day. The brochure told how the Aegis would be "forward deployed" around the world to protect the interests and investments of the multi-national corporations and was not built to "defend" the people of the U.S. The brochure went on to say the National Commission on Economic Conversion has long reported that the best way to create good jobs in Maine was to invest in education, health care, public transit, sustainable technologies and the like.
After the short program was over the group split up and went to various parts of town to hand out the brochures. Over 750 were passed out along the downtown area (where a Heritage day festival just happened to be underway), door-to-door in some neighborhoods, and to cars as they passed by the busy intersection by the bridge where we were set up for the vigil. At noon a shift change at BIW sent a steady stream of workers out of the plant and many of them took our brochures as they waited at the traffic light.
As we gathered for the closing some shared their experiences during the leafleting part of the event. One man was acknowledged for doing a tremendous job of working the cars at the stop lights, others stated how surprised they were to find local citizens so positive and open when approached with our literature. One told the story about how she approached one home and the woman ran to her car to get her leaflet saying, "I got one already when I was downtown shopping."
One very nice surprise was when the local state house representative from Bath saw us and stopped her car and came over to speak with us for quite a long time. She said she wanted to learn more about our position on the issues. After a very open conversation she took our literature with her when she left.
The local newspaper covered the vigil as well. After the event was over a large group of us went to a local pub, right next door to BIW, for lunch and good conversation.
Thanks to all who came and made this a special day.
13 October 2003
Peace activists took to the streets of Bath on Saturday to speak out against the militarization of the United States. A new twist was that they also raised the alarm about the growing
threat of expanding the U.S. military's control of outer space.
The peace vigil and leafleting effort was part of the International Days of Protest, a global effort to draw attention to what organizers say is an attempt by the U.S. government to militarize space.
The message that the United States plans to shift the emphasis of the space program from exploration to militarization is the reason for the existence of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, which moved to Brunswick from Florida earlier this year. The group, along with Veterans for Peace Chapter 001, Pax Christi Maine and Peace Action Maine, sponsored Saturday's activities, which they described as a peace vigil and information-sharing.
Bruce Gagnon, the coordinator and founder of Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, gathered protesters under the overpass in Bath as vehicles rumbled by. He read from the leaflets they passed out later as they marched throughout the city. The leaflets proclaim that the Aegis destroyer is "not to defend the shores of America, but instead is to provide 'forward deployed offensive' high-tech military capability to protect corporate interests and investments overseas."
Protesters expressed concerns that a U.S. military buildup, including destroyers being built at Bath Iron Works, will play a disastrous role in foreign and domestic policy, and will cause an arms race.
This worry extends to the militarization of space. As evidence of that potential, the group cites what members say is the U.S. Space Command's Vision for 2020's call "for control and domination of the earth and space in order to protect corporate interests around the world."
Gagnon and fellow protesters say that by protesting and handing out leaflets, they are educating people and engaging them to think about how their tax money is being spent. They want taxpayers to consider the question "Whose interests are being protected?"
The pamphlets also argue that the country's military spending is causing job losses by not investing in socially beneficial programs — such as health care, education, public transportation and environmental cleanup efforts. They told those who stopped to listen to their message that 7,300 jobs have left Maine over the past year and that the gap between the rich and poor in the United States has doubled in the past 20 years so that the richest 1 percent of Americans have more money that the bottom 40 percent combined.
"Military production is capital intensive," said Gagnon, who argued that more jobs could be created through investments in the environment and social advancements.
Protesters held a cloth dove to symbolize peace, played drums and held up signs on a sunny Saturday; the reaction was muted and mixed. A few people stopped to listen, but a jogger and some passing motorists shouted derogatory statements at the protesters.
Those comments did not deter the peace activists. "It's not about being effective; it's about being faithful," said Mimi Wirtz of Veterans for Peace.
George Ostensen, a member of the faith-based group Plowshares, stood outside BIW and held a sign that said "Stop militarization of space." He said he will be participating in the fourth annual Vigil for Disarmament at BIW on Saturdays in November and December. He realizes that some BIW workers are threatened by the protesters, but said that his group doesn't want to see them out of work, only to change the focus of their labors.
Ostensen said that he realizes that through the vigils he is manipulating people's emotions, but says that if by "egging them on" he gets someone to discuss the issue, then he's achieved his goal of getting people to think about the negative impact of a military-based economy and society.
Gagnon said that this protest was part of an ongoing plan to raise issues and said that the organization he heads will participate in public forums and talk in schools. He also noted that his organization is establishing relationships with Maine colleges and universities, including Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine.
Gagnon estimates that on Saturday the group distributed about 750 leaflets, including some to BIW workers.