Coordinator Trip Report - Florida
7-13 November 2005
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip report covers the period of November 7-13, 2005 as I traveled to Florida on a speaking tour. The trip took me to Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Titusville, Daytona Beach and Deland.
I flew to Florida on a new airline called Alliant that flies from Pease, N.H. to the Sanford airport just north of Orlando. I did not even know that Sanford had created such a big airport and it is clear that it has become a low-cost destination for people heading to Disney World. (I'd call Alliant the northeast Disney shuttle.) The Alliant ticket was only $130 round-trip and once on the plane I knew why. The seats were so close together that it felt like we were sardines in a can. The toilet in the bathroom would not flush and the bottled water on the plane was not free - it cost $2 per bottle. Obviously, Alliant had purchased the plane from a major airline when they had upgraded to a newer model. At times I felt I was on an old tramp steamer crossing the Atlantic.
My first stop once in Florida was in Delray Beach where I spoke to the Citizens for Social Responsibility. I have spoken to this group more times in my career than any other group in the world. They were founded in 1982, and in their heyday, used to draw hundreds to their meetings. Now age is taking a toll on the organization and when I arrived I learned that dear friend, and co-founder of the group Nat Kaplan, had recently died. But still they press on and this time I recognized some new faces in the audience and know they will keep working to end war and the nuclear arms race. In my introduction they told, with great pride, the story about how they had organized two bus loads of their members to join a space center protest I organized back in 1987.
My next stop was to speak to the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) in West Palm Beach. Lil Cohen, now 93-years young, organized the talk for me and I saw many long-time friends that day. Included in the audience was Edith Bush, a veteran organizer in the local black community. Many years ago, while working for the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice, I had started an annual summer peace camp for young folks across the state. Lil Cohen had arranged for WILPF to sponsor local black community kids to attend the camps, and each year I worked with Edith Bush as she rounded up many kids for peace camp. She told me how much the camps had meant to all the kids over the years.
During my talk about military transformation, and the role the space program plays in modern warfare, I also mentioned that I had been organizing occupations of our congressional offices across Maine during the past year. The folks at WILPF were very interested in this and at lunch afterward the discussion continued. I described how we've now done six office occupations in our senator's and congressman's office in four different Maine communities. I told them how we read the names of American soldiers killed in the war and an equal number of innocent Iraqi civilians. What at first took four hours to finish, now takes well over six hours to complete. West Palm Beach WILPF decided on the spot that they wanted to do a similar occupation, recognizing that a large group of senior citizens occupying the office of their senator would make quite a statement in the community.
I next went north to Titusville to spend two days visiting my mother. She is 79 years old and is now facing multiple health issues. She spends much of her life trying to deal with the increasingly difficult and expensive world of privatized health care. As soon as I walked into her house she told me about the congressional hearings that day featuring oil corporation executives. Normal TV programming had been interrupted to carry some of the testimony of the oil barons trying to justify why their profits had gone through the roof since hurricane Katrina. My mother, a life-long Republican who often says you can't beat city hall, is steamed these days about gas prices, food prices, medical prices, and thinks George W. Bush is a "jerk".
While in Titusville I had a long interview with a space reporter at the local Florida Today newspaper. He wanted to know our plans to oppose NASA's launch of 25 pounds of deadly plutonium on a January, 2006 mission to Pluto called New Horizons. I told him that we were working to build opposition to the launch and while there I arranged for the paper to carry an op-ed piece by Karl Grossman that would outline our concerns about the expansion of nuclear power into space.
My next stop was to speak at Daytona Beach Community College where I was hosted by long-time Florida Coalition members Tony and Beth Ehrlich. My talk that evening gave me a chance to speak much more about the coming plutonium launch. NASA had previously stated that a launch pad explosion, and release of highly-toxic plutonium, could be carried by winds for a 60-mile radius taking it as far north as Daytona. Attending my talk that evening was someone from the Daytona Beach News-Journal and afterward I arranged for an op-ed by Karl Grossman to be placed in that newspaper as well. I also learned that NASA is now making the rounds to all the newspapers in the region seeking to get their support for the controversial mission.
Tony Ehrlich also organized my last, and best attended talk during this trip, in Deland. I spoke at the DaVinci Cafe that has a stage inside and regularly features music and open mike evenings. The room was packed with veteran activists, church folks, and students and faculty from nearby Stetson University. During this talk I spent much time again describing how Runsfeld's "military transformation" was all about creating the infrastructure so the Pentagon could become the military arm of corporate globalization. Space technology becomes the glue that will hold together and guide the endless war preemptive attack program during the coming years. The plan is for the U.S. to "export security" to the parts of the world that have not yet submitted to the authority of corporate globalization. I also outlined the dangers from the coming New Horizons plutonium mission. One table of students was extremely responsive to my talk and afterward they inquired about becoming involved in any protest that is planned at the space center.
On the last two nights I was introduced to the assembled by Dave Hartgrove, from Daytona, who was a key leader at the Florida Coalition during my many years of organizing peace walks and space center protests. It was wonderful to see him again and to hear him tell the story of many good years of working together. But the issues in Florida are not all in the past. The space center remains a central installation in the Pentagon's plan to use space technology to control the Earth. It is also the place where just one launch accident with plutonium could create a nuclear wasteland in Central Florida for hundreds of thousands of years. The past and the future merged for me on this trip to Florida.
Bruce K. Gagnon
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 319-2017 (Cell phone)
http://space4peace.blogspot.com (Our blog)