Global Network Conference and Coordinator Trip Report - Australia
23 May 2003
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip began when I flew to California on May 9 to speak at the Women's International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) western regional meeting that was held at a beautiful oceanside retreat center in Monterey. Many thanks for Sheila Baker and Ellie Bluestein for making the visit possible. There were women in attendance from several western states and I was able to speak to the entire group in a plenary session as well as conduct a workshop. The weekend gathering, which I attended in full, was uplifting and filled with useful content. It was great to see several old friends there who I've worked with over the years. WILPF has been very supportive of the space issue in the past and will work to promote the October 4-11 Keep Space for Peace Week this year.
While there I heard that Garrison Keeler's show Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio had done the entire segment on the theme that the U.S. has only one political party. It's a subject that comes up every where I go these days.
On May 13 I made the long flight to Melbourne, Australia and was thrilled when Dr. Michio Kaku and I ran into each other right before boarding the plane in Los Angeles. He was going to Melbourne to be the keynote speaker at the Global Network (GN) 11th annual membership conference on space organizing. It turned out that he was the hit of the show as well. (More on that in a bit.)
Things began on May 16 when new GN board convener Dave Webb from CND in England and I did a half hour live radio talk show on a community radio station in Melbourne that feeds throughout the entire state of Victoria. The hosts were pleased when notes were passed to them during the show with questions from callers, something that rarely happens they said. Clearly the use of space to direct the recent Iraq war has made people more interested in the subject of U.S. control and domination via space technology.
Later that day in downtown Melbourne a protest was held in front of the Optus corporation headquarters opposing the launching of Australia's first ever military satellite. It's reported that the satellite will cost taxpayers over $500 million despite the government cutting back the national health service due to "lack of funds." Protestors held banners, one dressed as Prime Minister John Howard with his arm around Star Wars storm troopers, while others leafleted along the busy street in front of the corporation. Optus, among other things, is a cell phone provider and Australians are talking about now organizing a boycott of Optus products. A letter to the head of the corporation was delivered by Dave Webb on behalf of the Australians and the international delegates who had come for the conference. Leaflets that were handed out concluded with the statement: KEEP SPACE FOR PROPHETS NOT FOR PROFITS. A large but generally respectful police presence was there to ensure activists did not enter the corporate building.
The conference was held at the famous Trades Hall in downtown Melbourne, built in 1874 and site of virtually every significant progressive movement activity since then. The stately stone building, built by the workers themselves, housed the 1917 anti-conscription campaign that opposed World War I. Inside are many memorials to the passage of the eight hour work day. (Eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, eight hours of rest.) Thanks to Jacob Grech, the manager of the Trades Hall, and a GN advisory committee member who coordinated our conference, we had full use of the historic site for our entire weekend.
On Friday afternoon I was asked to speak to a group of trade unionists who were being trained at Trades Hall. They wanted me to speak about my experiences working for the United Farmworkers Union and Cesar Chavez. In addition they wanted to learn more about space issues. Several of the union activists and their leaders attended our weekend conference.
Later that evening Dr. Michio Kaku, a Professor of Physics at CUNY, and a founding member of the GN, gave a stirring keynote to begin the conference. Michio talked about the new right-wing foreign policy architecture that he called "New Rome." He said the containment strategy in place for the last fifty years is now obsolete because of the U.S. moves towards a policy of preemption, which will bridge "New Rome" and space. Michio reminded the assembled that "now is the time to educate the peace movement about the new strategy and it's use of space technology."
In response to several questions about getting young people involved in activism, Michio responded that "Young people understand what is going on and many feel hopeless. We have to articulate an alternative vision for the future that will provide them direction and hope."
Michio had to leave on Saturday afternoon to fly to Europe but conference attendees talked about his message for the rest of the weekend. By the end of the event most people were using the expression "New Rome" as a short cut to describe U.S. military and foreign policy.
Activists from 11 countries, including England, Fiji, Philippines, Japan, India, U.S., Romania, as well as the Palestinian representative to Australia attended the conference (see conference programme ). Over 17 Australian peace groups from all over the country sent people to the conference.
Senator Lyn Allison (Australian Democrats) also gave a keynote address to the conference saying that the Optus military satellite would give Australia the ability to spy on nations as far away as India. She predicted that the future would bring more military spending and more government secrecy to Australia. Senator Allison declared her support for the goals of the conference and, then quite unlike most politicians, stayed most of the day, and took notes as others spoke on various space issues.
Dave Webb began the conference with a multi-media presentation that he adapted from the one we opened with at last years GN conference in Berkeley, which was put together by Ji Ho Park (our South Korean intern.) Dave also gave an excellent PowerPoint presentation on the general plans and technologies now under development for Star Wars.
Several Australian speakers, including Jacob Grech and GN board member Dr. Hannah Middleton, reminded us how important the U.S. Pine Gap spy base was to future plans for fighting war in space. Like similar facilities in other parts of the world, Pine Gap will be upgraded to help direct war from, in, and throughout space.
We were lucky to have Ema Tagicakibau with us. She was representing the Pacific Concerns Resource Center located in Fiji. She spoke of the Pacific islanders who are still suffering from the legacy of atomic testing and now face the reality of "missile defense" testing in the Marshall Islands. The Western Pacific is more militarized then ever due to the expanding forward deployment of US forces in an effort to encircle China.
On Sunday we met for the annual GN business meeting and spent much of the time brainstorming future space organizing. One theme that struck a chord was to make greater use of the moon as a universal symbol of peace in the heavens. Yet several folks felt we must drag the moon back down to Earth, to show how war and insanity on our planet is facilitated by space military technology. Another important suggestion that we must all talk more about how the space command will be the military arm of corporate globalization. Australian activists explored how they could get their people's attention during the October 4-11 Keep Space for Peace Week. Most felt it was best to focus on their own nation's new role in militarizing space, while highlighting issues like the development of space facilities (one example being Pine Gap).
Finally, we decided to hold the May, 2004 GN international space conference in Maine after receiving word from Peace Action Maine, Maine Vets for Peace, and WILPF (Brunswick branch) that they would join as co-sponsors of the event. The presence of Bath Ironworks, builder of Aegis destroyers with the new Theatre Missile Defense interceptors onboard, and the need for more links with peace groups in the Northeast, made Maine the perfect choice.
GN board member Sri Raman volunteered to check with activists in India about holding our 2005 meeting there.
So many thanks to all our kind Australian hosts who often feel so isolated out there in the middle of the Pacific. We were proud to be with all of you. And as you say in Australia....no worries!
(Lots more excellent pictures from Aurel Duta available at: