Coordinator Trip Report - Pentagon
18-20 March 2006
From: Bruce Gagnon
The conference, attended by about 180 people, was organized by Peace Action Maine and the Global Network was a cosponsor. The full title of the event was Sustainable Maine Conference: Turning Toward Peace Through Jobs and a Clean Environment. The purpose of the conference was to expand a dialogue in Maine about creating a unified vision for the peace movement, environmental movement, and labor movement to use our tax dollars for peaceful production. Until we create the political will in the country to convert the military industrial complex, we will jump from one war to the next because our country's economy is addicted to military production. Weapons are the number one industrial export of America today, and the global marketing strategy for that product line is endless war.
I facilitated a workshop at the conference that was called Corporate Takeover & Pentagon Transformation. In that workshop I explained how the late economist Seymour Mellman had written years ago that military production is capital intensive, thus we get less jobs per million than if we were to invest that same amount of money in any other kind of labor intensive job creation. So building roads, schools, hospitals, repairing bridges, hiring nurses or teachers, building solar, wind or rail systems for mass transit would all create more jobs than military production does. It's in the interest of all the progressive movements to call for this kind of sustainable investment in our country. It won't happen unless we begin to articulate a common vision and make consistent political demands on Congress to move in this direction.
The conference was hosted by Doug Rawlings who teaches at the University of Maine at Farmington and he ensured that a large number of students from that campus turned out. Doug is also our very able president of Maine Veterans for Peace, and in fact he was a founding member of the first chapter of VfP right here in Maine.
On Sunday, March 19, I attended an anti-war protest in downtown Portland that drew a good crowd. From there I went to the airport and flew to Washington DC. I was invited to speak at Monday's march on the Pentagon called From Mourning to Resistance: 3 Years Too Many - Stop the War! The event was organized by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance which is led by Gordon Clark and Max Obuszewski.
When I arrived in Washington I went directly to the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House where my old friend Art Laffin lives. Art is a long time war resister and I've stayed at the Catholic Worker house many times over the years when in DC. Art has been a loyal supporter of our efforts to keep the arms race from moving into space. He and others from the Catholic Worker community each year organize protests at the White House and/or NASA headquarters when the Global Network puts out a call for actions during Keep Space for Peace Week or at other times.
Art woke me up before 6:00 am on Monday, March 20 and we made our way to an entrance that has been designated a "protest zone" at the Pentagon. We were joined by 20 others for an hour long vigil as Pentagon employees arrived. Holding my simple sign, "Stop the war," I was amazed at the sheer numbers of people entering the Pentagon. Art told me 20,000 work there and each Monday he and others hold their vigil at the same spot. Art has been arrested more times than he can count at the various entrances of the Pentagon over the last 20 years.
Few of the military or civilian Pentagon employees made eye contact as they passed us. I counted positive responses from about 1 out of every 50. One woman, an Air Force officer, gave me a courageous "thumps-up" as she passed by. Another woman in civilian dress said, "You people are making progress" as she hurried by. I was struck by the large numbers of black and Hispanic civilian employees entering; most of them too would not make contact. I thought it sad that so many people must work inside this "shrine of domination" to feed their families. It made the conversion message resonate even more for me.
Next we moved to the assembly point for the 9:00 am rally and march to the Pentagon. Located near the Vietnam war memorial, over 200 people and tons of media from all over the world gathered. It was here that I stood on a plastic milk crate and made my speech. I talked about how in Maine, the day before, anti-war protests were held on bridges all over our state. I shared how, for the past year, we have been organizing occupations of Congressional offices in our state and how we must demand a cut in funding for the war if we hope to ever end it. I also said that we must prevent the next round of the arms race from moving into space if we hoped to have social progress in America. We can't afford guns and butter. We must, I concluded, develop and promote a transformative vision that calls for production of sustainable technologies with our tax dollars or we will never end our nation's addiction to war.
Following all the speakers, including Cindy Sheehan and Michael Berg (whose son was also killed in Iraq), we marched the final leg to the Pentagon where we were met by a large contingent of police. Most of the cops were African-American and they stood on the other side of a closed gate blocking our entrance onto Pentagon grounds. Art Laffin led us in singing protest songs like We Shall Overcome and Keep Your Eyes on the Prize as 51 people slowly climbed their way over the fence into the waiting arms of the police. The large contingent of media filmed the entire exciting scene. I knew that, sadly, few of these images would broadcast on the TV news in the U.S..
It was a very long walk back to the center of DC. I made my way to the White House where I stopped and said hello to a woman who has held vigil there since 1981. Day and night for 25 years, Concepcion Picciotto has occupied a small slab of pavement across from the White House, braving the wind, rain, and police harassment. Connie has been keeping an around-the-clock vigil for world peace and nuclear disarmament since Ronald Reagan first entered the White House as president. She says that many people stop and talk but she wonders when the American people will rise up to resist our current move toward fascism.
Every time I go to a big city I always wonder how our seemingly small efforts for peace can reach the millions of people who rush around their city leading their busy lives. On the flight home I sat next to a man returning from a winter vacation in Florida. I asked him how he felt about the war. I discovered he works at Bath Iron Works in Maine where the Navy's Aegis destroyer is built. The Aegis is now being used by the U.S. to surround China with Theater Missile Defense (TMD) systems on-board. I talked to him a long time about the need for conversion of the military industrial complex. He listened intently and when he discovered that I am an organizer of protests in our local community he laughed and shook my hand. At one point he said, "People like me need to get more involved or nothing will change." I took that as a good sign.
Maybe people are listening more than we know. Maybe as the woman said at the Pentagon, "You people are making progress." We just need to keep believing in ourselves and our message for peace....and conversion of the military industrial complex.
Bruce K. Gagnon