Maine Drone Peace Walk
Preserve our Privacy: No Drone Spying in Maine
From Limestone to Augusta, Maine
Led by Jun-san Yasuda

From: Bruce Gagnon's Blog: Organizing Notes

October 10-19 2013


October 09, 2013

DRONE WALK UPDATES

I had a call this morning from the Grafton, New York Peace Pagoda where Buddhist nun Jun-san Yasuda is based.  They called to say that a dozen Japanese would be coming to our Maine Drone Peace Walk.

We'll have about 20 folks at our house tonight in Bath for dinner and sleeping and then we head off early in the morning for the long drive north to Limestone.  We'll stop in Bangor to pick up a couple more people and then some others will meet us at the start point.  So far the weather reports look real good.  The colors are changing on the trees and as we begin the walk in Maine's potato county it should be beautiful.  We'll see the Mars Hill wind farm, the Amish horse drawn buggies and hopefully a friendly reception.

Our hosts in Caribou and Presque Isle are excited and have been alerting the local media.  The semi-secret plan to try to turn Aroostook County into a "weaponized drone test bed" is now on the table.

Yesterday Frank Donnelly called to say that last Sunday he made a bunch of copies of our peace walk flyers and stood outside the sold-out WERU Community Radio 25th anniversary concert in Ellsworth and talked to people about the walk.  WERU has been promoting the walk quite a bit and they are sending a reporter to walk with us on Oct 12 when we pass thru Bangor.

Come walk with us for a day or more.

You can find the daily details of walk route and schedule here
 



October 12, 2013
- Old Town to Bangor


Arriving at UU church in Caribou on the first day of the walk

I am writing this on our mini-bus as we head south from Presque Isle to Bangor.  We have nine of our group in this vehicle while another ten folks are in a couple other vehicles behind us.  Our crew in the bus has five Americans and four Japanese activists and for the first hour we were singing songs in both languages.  It’s been a lot of fun.

Last night we stayed in the home of two local activists who make up half of the peace group that weekly vigils on a local bridge – they’ve been doing it for the last 10 years even in the dead of winter.  We walked 13 miles yesterday from Caribou into Presque Isle – through the rolling potato fields of the “county” which is how folks popularly describe Aroostook County that happens to be the largest county in Maine.  The population of the county is only 72,000 people, which is likely one reason that some political leaders in Maine want to put a “weaponized drone test center” up this way.

When we arrived on Oct 10 in Limestone to begin the walk we were met by the local TV station that interviewed three of us.  We later heard that the coverage that night on the TV was “better than average” which was good to hear.  The local paper had a nice article on Oct 9 announcing the walk to the community.

As we began walking that first day we were pleasantly surprised at how warm and friendly the people driving by were to us.  One woman stopped her car in the middle of the road and took our picture and I handed her one of our flyers about the walk.  This is considered the most conservative part of Maine but the openness of the people has been more than refreshing.  (Yesterday one of our walkers crossed the highway to hand a flyer to someone working at a farm equipment dealership.  By the time she finished talking to the people there the walk had moved along quite a distance.  The next thing we knew a car pulled up and the walker got out – they’d given her a ride to catch back up with us.)

Our first night we were warmly hosted by the Unitarian Congregation in Caribou, which we were informed, has six active members.  We slept on the church floor after a wonderful supper that the church members prepared – four different soups and bread with an assortment of homemade pies.  Following the meal we asked Maine Veterans for Peace member Dud Hendrick (a US Naval Academy graduate and Vietnam war veteran) to speak about why he was walking.

Following Dud’s moving reflection we invited one of our Japanese friends to speak about their current struggle to project Article 9 in the constitution that outlaws their participation in war.  The US is now twisting the arm of the Japanese government to dump Article 9 in order to assist the Pentagon in the military encirclement and control of China.

Just before our program began that first night a young woman from the local community was preparing to leave.  I urged her to stick around and listen to Dud’s talk.  The next morning, as we were preparing to begin walking from the church, the same young woman drove up and jumped out of her car and approached me.  She handed me a pin and told me that her mother had given the pin to her but she wanted me to have it as a thank you for encouraging her to stick around. Later one of the church women told me that the young woman had been tremendously impacted by Dud’s talk the night before.

This morning at breakfast, before leaving Presque Isle, Karen Wainberg, who also lives at the Addams-Melman House in Bath, told me that the walk creates such a sense of “love and caring” that you can’t help but take that spirit with you when you go back into the wild and wooly world.

That is an important observation because that is indeed the experience we are having walking, eating, singing, laughing, and crying together.  We’ve been learning about each other and seeing that in our peace work – whether in the US or Japan – we are all working toward the same end.  It’s fun to watch the nine Japanese with us discover this new world here in Maine.  At the same time they bring us such spiritual centering and a wonderful playfulness to our otherwise often arrogant and uptight American way of being.

Today we’ll walk about 13 miles from Old Town into Bangor.  In the evening a potluck supper will be held at a local church and then we’ll be divided up and sent to various local homes.  I am promised a house with wireless connection so I can download the hundreds of emails waiting for me and upload this onto my blog.

My foot hurts and I have a blister on one toe but my heart is full.  We are reaching a lot of people on this walk.  Today (Saturday) I expect we’ll have even more folks join us as we enter Bangor. (Two TV stations covered us as we walked into the city.)

It’s all a blessing.
 



October 13 - Bangor to Skowhegan

No to Drones in Maine

We arrived at the Skowhegan Community Center around 4:00 pm today after a 13 mile walk. We left Bangor with 30 folks and walked 6.3 miles out of the city. Ten folks from Bangor then bid us goodbye and we shuttled 40 miles ahead on Hwy 2 heading west and had lunch along the road. Then we walked another six-plus miles into Skowhegan.

Yesterday when we were walking thru Orono a Native American man named Gkisedtanamoogk heard us drumming as he was washing dishes. He teaches peace studies and Native American history at the University of Maine-Orono. He came running after us and decided to walk the rest of the way with us into Bangor. Then this morning, as we gathered at the Peace & Justice Center in Bangor, Gkisedtanamoogk showed up and walked the entire day with us. When I asked him how he was going to get back home he said "I'm gonna walk". Then he laughed and said his daughter will come get him after our pot luck supper and program. During a break today he told me, "When we align ourselves with the energy of life we might just have a future....some people just don't know how to live."

Morgana Warner Evans (West Bath, Maine) also showed up this morning. She's been active with our local activist community for several years but went off to college last year. This coming week is her fall break from school and she decided to walk with us the rest of the way. She brought her guitar and beautiful voice which we immediately put to work by having her sing during a break this morning. She will sing in our program tonight.

We will also be sung to tonight by the Buddhist Monk Kineda-shonin and a young Japanese woman who is walking with us. They have both previously sung to us but they are so good we can't get enough of hearing them.

The Monk Gilberto Perez, who just last week was on Jeju Island, joined us last night and during our program tonight will share about his experience being in Gangjeong village in recent days. You might remember a photo of him I posted on the blog where he was sitting at the Navy base front gate holding a sign that read "Yankees Go Home."

Lisa Savage and Mark Roman are hosting the walk the next three nights - two nights here in the Skowhegan area and then in Waterville as well. In fact they've got the Mayor of Waterville to invite Mark to come to their city council meeting next Tuesday night and the city will issue a proclamation welcoming the walk.

Lisa and Mark have even lined up a massage therapist for this evening and she is got a long line of our folks waiting in great anticipation for their chance to lay on her table and get their aching body attended to. Life on the road so to speak.



October 14 - Skowhegan to Mercer

GOOD MEDIA COVERAGE

We walked along the Kennebec River yesterday as we approached Skowhegan.  The colorful fall leaves on trees overhanging the narrow road made for a picturesque moment.  We took a break at a beautiful park on the river and as we were preparing to leave a reporter from the Waterville newspaper stopped to interview us.  The same story ran in four papers (Portland, Augusta, Waterville, Brunswick) across the state this morning.

You can find it here.

The Bangor Daily News also has an article today. See it here

We've been doing better than one could expect with the media so far on the walk.  Our goal to bring this important issue to the public is being achieved in a good way.

It just goes to show though that if you get out and do the hard work - walking and reaching out to people across the state - that you can in fact make some level of impact.

Last night, just before our pot luck supper began in Skowhegan, I played the video (just below on the blog) from TV coverage we got in Old Town.  The Japanese were thrilled to see themselves appearing on American TV so quickly during the walk.

Build it and they will come.
 



October 15, 2013 - Mercer to Farmington

THE MAGIC OF THE WALK

We were walking along today from Mercer to Farmington when a big green bus zoomed by us.  I noticed it said Bread & Puppet on the back.  Then minutes later the bus had turned around and pulled into a parking lot in front of us.  A bunch of young people jumped out and they immediately began unloading band equipment from the rear end.  Soon we had the Bread & Puppet marching band leading our walk.  They played When the Saints Go Marching In and Down by the Riverside as we continued walking.  Then they apologized saying they had to get on to do a show someplace and headed back to their bus.

It is things like this that keep happening during these walks....magical moments.  Guaranteed to be one or more each day for sure.

We walked 14.4 miles today and had a wonderful pot luck supper at a church in Farmington.  The event was hosted by Veterans for Peace co-founder Doug Rawlings and our walkers were divided into various homes for the night.  I am in a log cabin in the woods (with Internet connection) somewhere eight miles from Farmington.

Tomorrow we head to Waterville.  We've been picking up more people as we go along, today three more full time walkers joined us.  More are expected to come onboard in the next days.

We are asking people to join us in Augusta at the capital Hall of Flags on Friday, Oct 18 at 3:00 pm for our closing ceremony/rally/news conference. Kathy Kelly, Tarak Kauff, and Shenna Bellows will be among the speakers.

You can find the entire walk schedule here



October 16, 2013 - Farmington to Waterville

WALKING TO END MILITARY MADNESS

  • We walked 12.6 miles from Farmington to Waterville today (had to shuttle a bit because of the long distance.)  After our lunch stop at the half-way point our support mini-bus would not start and we had to have it towed to a repair shop.  Don’t yet know what the problem was.  Going to likely cost us an arm and a leg for the towing and repair.
  • A man named Mike from Cape Elizabeth, Maine showed up this morning to join us for the rest of the walk.  He read one of the articles in the paper over the weekend and decided he wanted to jump in with us.  Good to know that the media we’ve had is having an impact.  Kathy Kelly arrived in time for supper tonight at the church in Waterville. Mayor Karen Heck of Waterville also came to the church to welcome us and told us she issued a proclamation at their city council meeting last night in support of the walk. 
  • Our hosts tonight are Mark Roman and Lisa Savage who win the prize for most hosting during the walk.  This will be the third night they signed up to take on the host duties.  They’ve really given all they have got and more to the effort. (They were both also responsible for arranging the mayor's proclamation.)
  • While we walk the military industrial complex and their dark agents continue apace.  I read today that the Obama administration is loosening controls over military exports, in a shift that former government officials and human rights advocates say could increase the flow of American-made military parts to the world’s worst conflicts and make it harder to enforce arms sanctions. Under the new system, whole categories of equipment encompassing tens of thousands of items will move to the Commerce Department, where they will be under more “flexible” controls. U.S. companies will also face fewer checks than in the past when selling some military aircraft to dozens of countries.
  • I just told Veterans for Peace member Jules Orkin about the bit above and his response was, “Wasn’t that Obama’s campaign slogan – yes we can?”  It’s confirmation of the horrid decision to hollow out our country and turn us into the “security export” bit role players.  We’ll make weapons for conflicts in regions where diminishing natural resources are located and then use those conflicts as an excuse to send in the troops to bring “stability” and, for good measure, a little bit of “democracy”.
     
  • Many of us have been noticing that the public appears to be more receptive to our message than on previous walks.  We’ve concluded that people are waking up from their deep sleep and starting to realize that we've been shafted and the clamp is ready to come down.  The ultimate question is whether the public will turn toward a fascism, that offers easy answers and scapegoats those who challenge them, or will they recognize the corporate take over of our nation for what it is and move toward non-violent resistance.  By walking we like to think that we offer the people an alternative vision and sign of hope.  Time will surely tell which way the hammer will swing.


October 17, 2013 - Waterville to Belgrade

ALL DOWN HILL NOW

We did 17 miles today from Waterville to Belgrade.  We are staying at the country home of a group of great activists who work on water and other environmental issues here in Maine.  Not long after we arrived Tarak Kauff and Mike Tork, key leaders in national Veterans for Peace, pulled up.

While we were taking a break along the road today a young woman jumped out of a car and bowed to our group.  We recognized her from yesterday as we entered Waterville.  She was at a gas station and as we passed by she stood with an unforgettable look on her face - near tears.  She was wearing a fancy blue dress with blue heeled shoes.  I handed her a flyer and she thanked me.  As it turns out she is part Japanese and went on the Internet and found our walk route schedule and joined us for a couple miles.  She was chattering the whole time in Japanese to the various members of Nipponzan Myohoji.  Just an example of more walk magic.

The house we are staying at tonight is ripping with energy right now - crowded but full of excitement as our numbers swell.  I've been hearing all day from folks who plan to join us at the state capital Hall of Flags tomorrow at 3:00 pm for our closing ceremony/rally/news conference.  I am expecting that it should be a fun day.

Years ago in Florida when I organized the 700-mile Walk for the Earth from the Everglades to the state capital in Tallahassee we asked people to come and walk the last mile with us.  On that final day 500 people showed up for the closing walk.  We won't have that many folks tomorrow but we'll have a nice crowd to share the experience and hear our great speakers and the music.

I am starting to feel just a bit sad as I contemplate the end of the walk.  It's such a wonderful feeling of community that having it end is not what I really want.  I feel so lucky to be with this incredible and dedicated group of people.



October 18, 2013 - Belgrade to Augusta

Photos from inside the Hall of Flags in Augusta at the Maine Drone Peace Walk closing ceremony:



 

 

 

 

 


Art props by Natasha Mayers; photos by Roger Leisner



October 19, 2013 - Augusta to Bath

WALKING FOR EACH OTHER & RESTORING OUR FAITH IN HUMANITY


We did a walking tour along Bath Iron Works before gathering to vigil

There is a lot to write about from our last two days of the peace walk.  I've yet to get any photos from our wonderful ceremony inside the state capitol in Augusta.  I'll post them when I can.  We had an astonishing entry into Augusta yesterday - cars were honking at us like crazy - it felt like the circus was coming to town.  People asked me why we had such a great response as we walked to the capital.  I'm not sure, maybe the public thought we'd come to liberate them from our right-wing Gov. LePage.  Maybe they'd heard about the walk and wanted to let us know they agree with us.  Anything is possible these days.

Artist Natasha Mayers met us at the capital building front door with loads of her big colorful pieces of drone surveillance art props that she used last summer in her local July 4 parade.  Big eyes spying on people inside a shower curtain, laptop keyboard hooked up to the NSA - stuff like that.  The pictures will tell the story.

A hundred folks came to stand in a circle with us inside the Hall of Flags at the capital.  The Buddhist monks (we were joined by two more monks for the 14 miles walk from Belgrade on Friday) led us in chanting as we began our final program.  Speakers were Kathy Kelly, Tarak Kauff, Shenna Bellows (former ACLU director in Maine and now candidate for the Senate against Susan Collins), and Lisa Savage.  Songs from walkers were included in the program as well.

After the event was over we walked to the nearby offices of the Mediation and Resource Center where we had a supper and a time for shared reflections on the walk experience before settling down on the carpeted floor for the night.  Then this morning we were up early and made the drive to Bath to prepare for our final vigil at BIW.  There was supposed to be the "christening" of the new "stealth" destroyer today but it was cancelled due to the government shutdown.

We walked from the Addams-Melman House in Bath down the hill to BIW at 10:00 am this morning.  We walked past the entire shipyard so everyone could have a good look at it and then came half-way back and set up a two-hour vigil outside the BIW administration building.  The monks led us in chanting and drumming until 11:00 and then we began a program of speakers and singing right up until the noon shipyard whistle blew and the weekend shift workers began streaming out in their trucks and cars.  They are used to seeing many vigils there but today was different.  We had alot more people today than usual, we set up on both sides of the road, plus we had these monks dressed in their bright robes. 

Once the BIW workers passed by we walked back to the house and had a wonderful lunch that Karen Wainberg had prepared for everyone.  The house was full of people and we all had mixed feelings (I wasn't the only one a bit sad) as others expressed that they too did not want the walk to end.

I helped clean up the kitchen after everyone had left but then finally had to come up into my office and sit down.  I soon fell asleep in a chair while trying to write this post.  I am dog tired but my heart feels full of love and I feel a great sense of satisfaction.  This is now my eighth such walk (seventh that I have organized) and I'd never been able to walk every step of the way because I usually have many responsibilities that kept me from always walking.  But on this journey I was determined to walk each and every one of the steps.  Miraculously my feet, which usually are in severe pain when I walk long distances, did not give me nearly as much trouble.

I loved this experience for many reasons.  The hard work that so many of the walkers shared to help with all the many tasks of shuttling vehicles, lugging things around, preparing food for breakfast and lunches, speaking and singing during our evening programs, and more made this event a joy to be a part of.  We had no real problems and everyone got along so well.  It was a living and breathing community of love and deep concern and I am certain that the public that saw us along the highways of Maine could feel it as well.

We directly reached many tens of thousands of people.  We handed out hundreds and hundreds of flyers along the way.  One man in a rural area near Belgrade took a flyer I offered him.  He was putting out the trash and shook my hand and thanked us and said, "You are doing a good job.  Keep going."  Maybe he had seen the article in his local paper about the walk or saw us on TV.  It often felt like people did know who we were as we came into their community.

We were walking about drones but the message was bigger than just that and I felt the public understood that too.  We were saying that there is a better way for our nation and the people who honked, or waved, or flashed peace signs seemed hungry to connect with us.  We gave them hope.

One of our walkers, a young man named Jason, told me his faith in humanity was restored by the walk.  So was mine.



October 22, 2013 -
THINGS LEARNED

Maine is a beautiful state to walk through.  Water, mountains, trees, farms, poverty, and interesting people.

One of my favorite moments on the walk was along the narrow rural Highway 2 from Skowhegan to Farmington.  (On this route truckers often blasted their horns.)  We approached a local mom & pop breakfast joint and three guys were in the parking lot watching us pass by.  I crossed the road and handed them each our flyer.  One of them asked how much it would cost to get a hunting license to shoot down drones.  I told them the story about seeing a bumpersticker that said, "Protect my 2nd amendment right to shoot down drones."  They liked that and as I pulled away one said, "Hey, you guys are doing a good job."

What made this a special moment for me was the cultural connection I felt to these guys.  My step-father was from Rumford, Maine and came from a paper mill family.  He was working class.  My mom married him when I was about three years old, so Wes was essentially my father.  When I talked with the three guys on Hwy 2, I saw Wes.  I loved being able to have that connection - it's a good part of what I am.

As the Buddhists chanted Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō I was lifted, by connection to the spirit of community and genuine purpose, to a new strength.  I often was dragging by the end of the day but was reminded how much energy the walking community can bring.

The deep connection of seeing and feeling the land, water and sky brought it all home for me.  Our machines are killing us.  They are killing nature. Now and then we'd make cars stop to let us walk by in a group.  Most folks were fine and enjoyed the parade.  But still, almost always in larger population centers, some drivers got more impatient and demanding.  Then they'd zoom off - 0 to 60 - in just seconds.  We were literally just taking a couple steps forward while watching this illustration of speed-time-power-success, that under girds the machine-culture mythology, roar into the distance.

Chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō would come in and out of my head.  Sometimes I'd chant to myself and other times I was fixed on wandering thoughts or organizing needs of the walk. (Being the perfectionist that I am it was always on my mind to try to stay flexible and patient with everyone.  My way was not always going to be the best way.)  Ego gets involved a bit here as does one of the other manifestations of the business model - competition.  It all comes out during such experiences.  So I had some interesting internal reflection over these things.

When you hit the walkers wall (about day 2-3 for me) you begin to question your sanity and your endurance.  Once you push thru that self doubt things get easier.  But in those moments the weak and dark corners inside of us awaken.  I found chanting would help bring me back to the light side.

We were lucky to have Jules Orkin with us from Veterans for Peace.  He lives in New Jersey and does alot of peace walks with Nipponzan Myohoji.  He brings along his van to help with shuttling.  Early on he offered to take charge of the daily vehicle shuttling process.  It was a big help but more than that Jules became my co-organizer and I loved working with him.  A retired bookstore owner, with more than 10,000 books still in his possession, Jules has a great sense of humor and a big heart.  We had first met in jail last spring when we were among those arrested at Hancock Field in Syracuse, New York protesting against that drone operations base.  Jules and I were among the last three men to be released from jail so we had a good bit of time to connect.  I'll miss him alot. 
 



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