Coordinator Report on GN Annual Conference, Omaha Nebraska

 3-17 April 2008

From: Bruce Gagnon

This report covers the period of April 3-17 as I traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado and Omaha, Nebraska for the Global Network's (GN) 16th annual space organizing conference and protest.
Many of you already know that I live in an intentional community in Bath, Maine along with three others.  Two of them, Mary Beth Sullivan and Karen Wainberg drove with me in a rental car to Colorado so that we could be part of three days of protest at the 24th Space Foundation Symposium.  Each year GN affiliate Citizens for Peace in Space holds vigil during the event that this year drew 7,500 attendees (mostly military and aerospace corporation employees) and cost a total of $25 million to put on. 
We had GN members come to Colorado Springs from India, Czech Republic, New York, Washington state, Maine and South Korea for the protests.  The big corporate space confab, held at the swanky Broadmoor Hotel, was a perfect place to hold a protest as conference participants had to walk right by us when they moved from their hotel rooms to the convention center.  Many leaflets, entitled Blinded by Greed, were handed out as we held signs and banners.  During one of the days while we were there hundreds of high school students were bused into the corporate space event to be indoctrinated by the "space warriors."
In between the daily vigils at the Space Foundation Symposium Bill Sulzman, coordinator of Citizens for Peace in Space and a co-founder of the GN, arranged a public talk by Jan Tamas (Czech Republic), J. Narayana Rao (India), and Mary Beth Sullivan (GN Outreach Coordinator) at the local library.  Also scheduled to speak was Damian Moran from Poland, but he was denied entry into the U.S. by Homeland Security after he landed in Chicago.  Bill also arranged for Jan Tamas to speak to a class at Colorado College about proposed deployments of a Star Wars radar in his country and the fierce opposition to it amongst 70% of the people in the Czech Republic.  Jan urged people to sign an on-line petition now underway to support the campaign in the Czech Republic to resist Bush's provocative "missile defense" deployments in Central Europe.
On another day our group of protestors went to hold a drive time vigil outside the gates of Peterson AFB which is home of the Air Force Space Command.  Colorado Springs has five military bases and about half of the population of the city work for the military industrial complex.  Our last day there was spent visiting a "peace camp" at a local public school where we had a chance to speak and sing to groups of kids from 3-8 grades.  Holly Gwinn Graham led them in singing and short talks about the reasons for being in their city were given by Karen Wainberg, J. Narayana Rao and myself.
On April 10 two cars left Colorado Springs for the expected 10-hour drive to Omaha for the GN's annual space conference.  The night before we learned that snow was expected so we got up very early for the drive.  Little did we know that the trip would end up taking us 15-hours as we were hit with a blizzard in northeast Colorado and western Nebraska.  Often driving at 20 m.p.h. we saw at least 25 cars and trucks off the road, some upside down, in the snow.  One car tried passing us at one point and when the driver tried to steer back into our lane in front of us, he went flying off the road into the snow bank.  It was a close call.  Bill Sulzman, who grew up in western Kansas on a farm and knows this weather well, did a magnificent job of steering us through the worst of it.  During this same time, our second car was driven by Holly Gwinn Graham and Brendan O'Connor.  (Brendan lives in upstate New York and has had experience driving in harsh weather. He is one of our best young volunteers and helps us with many internet related organizing tasks.)  At one point we turned to a very calm and quiet J. Narayana Rao and asked him how he was holding up in this nerve wracking car ride and he blurted out with joy, "I will be the only person in Nagpur, India who has ever seen anything like this!"
The GN's 16th annual space organizing conference and protest was held in Omaha at the request by Nebraskans for Peace  (NfP) who wanted our help to shine an international light on StratCom that has now become the most dangerous base on the face of the Earth.  Ably led by NfP staffers Tim Rinne and Mark Welsch, scores of volunteers arranged local home hospitality for virtually all of the many out-of-town guests as well as a myriad of other logistical tasks.  Throughout the course of the weekend about 200 people from 12 countries and 28 states attended the biggest ever GN space conference.
Among those who came to Omaha were a group of ten students from an alternative high school in Taos, New Mexico.  I had recently spoken at their school and invited them to send a group to our conference and I told them that we would waive the registration fee for them and find them home hospitality.  We were tremendously impressed as these students stayed involved in conference proceedings throughout the weekend.
Things officially began on April 11 with a news conference that was attended by a couple of media outlets but fortunately we had phone interviews before hand with three other local media sources.  Probably the best coverage of all was by the Omaha Weekly Reader that did a comprehensive interview with Mary Beth Sullivan about the permanent war economy.  The front page story appeared on racks throughout Omaha just as our conference began and we later heard stories of conference participants seeing the paper at various restaurants around the city.
In the afternoon on April 11 we chartered a trolley bus and made the trip out to Offutt A.F.B. for our protest at StratCom.  The military closed the main gate and turned out a large security force to "dissuade" us from walking onto the base.  There in the fierce cold wet wind we stood and held vigil and then a rally for over an hour.  You can see videos of speeches at STRATCOM gate made by Sung-Hee Choi and a full set of photos by GN board member Aurel Duta (Romania) at this link:

That evening, after drying out and warming up to a fine catered supper in the Creighton University chapel basement we heard opening talks by Nebraska Native American activist Frank LaMere, Jan Tamas, and Mary Beth Sullivan.  All three talks were well received - in fact people raved about each one.  Frank, from the Winnebago tribe, brought along four young men to do traditional drumming and singing for us.

See: Videos of Dinner Speeches and Drumming

On April 12 we gathered in a large auditorium at Creighton for the opening welcome created by GN chairperson Dave Webb who is also the Vice-Chair of Britain's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).  The five minute intro about StratCom is a must watch piece that you can view by clicking on:

Click here for the slide presentation shown at the Conference

The morning was full of excellent panels (StratCom's New Mission: From Waging the War on Terror to the Domination of Space and U.S. Bases Worldwide: Stories of Resistance to Domination) led by key organizers from the U.S., Philippines, Italy, Australia, Germany, and England (see for example, "StratCom in Context: The Hidden Architcture of U.S. Militarism" - Jackie Cabasso's Presentation). Then after lunch we held two workshop sessions that featured nine different workshops.
The evening program featured excellent and moving presentations by Ko Young-Dae (Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea) who laid out StratCom's role in the U.S. dangerous and destabilizing militarization of the Korean peninsula.  He was followed by longtime peace activist and Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton who began his talk by warning us that what he had to say would be "very controversial" in many circles.  His speech touched on the assassination of JFK as a coup d'etat by the military industrial complex, a theme spelled out in a new book called JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died & Why it Matters by Jim Douglass.
Following these intense but vitally important talks we had four singers perform their political music for us: Lynda Williams (a physics teacher from California), Holly Gwinn Graham (Washington), Tom Neilson (Massachusetts), and Aurel Duta (Romania). 
Our final day of conferencing was spent primarily doing the business work of the GN with my report, financial reports (available to anyone who asks), board elections (we added Tim Rinne to our advisory board), and a strategy brainstorming session (also available to anyone who requests it).  We ended the day by going to a local health food restaurant and had the second floor room to ourselves for a large closing lunch.  The restaurant had anti-war signs in their front windows so folks felt good about being there.
After a one night stop at my sister's house in northwest Iowa (our mother had died just days before we left Maine for Colorado) we headed back east, this time joined in our car by Brendan O'Connor who Mary Beth, Karen, and I dropped off near his home in Cooperstown, N.Y.
In all we drove just over 5,000 miles but it was a great event and we were inspired by the great activism going on around the world to end the empire of violence and injustice.  We thank everyone who helped us organize the conference and look forward to working with the many new friends we made in Colorado Springs and Omaha. 
Keep on truckin' as they say in the biz.
Bruce K. Gagnon
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 443-9502

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