Coordinator Trip Report
10 August 2002
From: Bruce Gagnon
During this event plenary speakers Sr. Joan Chittester, OSB, Bishop Thomas Gumbelton, and Bishop Sullivan challenged those in attendance to become more active and to live out the radical teachings of Jesus the peacemaker during these times of U.S. arrogance and aggression.
Following that event we traveled to northern New Mexico to the Presbyterian Church Ghost Ranch, a retreat center dedicated for “peace and justice.” Hundreds of people come from all over the country for a series of weekly classes on topics ranging from politics to painting and pottery. I was invited by Jane Hanna to be one of three discussion leaders for the week of July 29 – August 5 on the topic of “In Search of Alternatives to Violence.” Jane is an active Presbyterian Peacemaking Commission leader and wanted to bring the space issue to her church community.
Twenty-five persons from all over the nation came together for that week, many of whom are Presbyterian ministers (active or retired.) Presenting along with me were Alan Geyer (Canon Ethicist at the National Cathedral in Washington DC) and Barbara Green (Director of the Center for Theology & Public Policy in Washington).
Rarely do I have an opportunity to spend so much time exploring the depths of the nuclearization and weaponization of space with so many people. It was an exciting experience. The sheer beauty of the desert mountain environment surrounding us gave Mary Beth and I the opportunity to enjoy kayaking in a nearby reservoir and hiking the “box canyon creek trail” behind the center.
It was our great fortune that on August 1, we were among the fifteen from Ghost Ranch to make the long drive into Santa Fe to hear Dr. Helen Caldicott speak at an event organized by New Mexico Peace Action. Over 300 persons turned out to hear Helen call on American activists to show “courage and guts” as the U.S. permanent war on the world unfolds. She urged all attending to step up our efforts for peace.
Following the week at Ghost Ranch Mary Beth returned to Gainesville and I went back to Santa Fe where I spoke at a Hiroshima Day rally organized by New Mexico Peace Action at the downtown plaza. Hundreds of activists and tourists gathered to hear music and speakers throughout the rain filled day that gave some welcome relief to the severe drought in the region. The following day, the Santa Fe “New Mexican” newspaper ran a large front page photo of the rally with a headline and caption that created the impression that the day of “remembrance” was in support of the tragic U.S. atomic bombing of Japan. I’ve sent a letter to the editor of the paper calling their stunt unethical and suggesting an apology to their readers. It’s not likely they will print my letter or run an apology.
Later on that August 6 evening, I spoke to local folks in Gallup, New Mexico, having been driven the three hours by Nevada Desert Experience board member Marcus Page. Along with us was a Navajo activist from Church Rock, N.M. named Mervyn Tilden. During the ride Mervyn shared his work to prevent the destruction of homes and trees on his reservation. A new “model” housing development is being built for the Navajo, where homes will sit on top of each other, no trees will be left, and the sacred space where the afterbirth of their children is buried near their old homes, will be lost.
The next day Marcus took me to the local NPR radio affiliate in Gallup where we broadcasted live a spot to promote a one hour audio recording of one of my speeches that the station was going to air the next evening.
That same day we made our way back to Santa Fe where I spoke to people that evening. Several of those who came were preparing to begin the Family Spirit Walk that left Los Alamos on August 9 and will end at the Nevada Test Site in mid-October. The walk is organized by Native American families that want to illuminate how the nuclear cycle (from uranium mining on reservations to nuclear testing on Shoshone lands) impacts Native people. Walkers took the remainder of my literature and promised to share the story about plans for space control and domination along the way.
On August 8 Marcus drove me to Albuquerque where we met with local activist Bob Anderson who is now working with people in that city to escalate protest activity at Kirtland Air Force Base where the Pentagon is developing laser weapons for space warfare.
At each of the stops on this trip I promoted the October 4-11 “Keep Space for Peace Week,” urging local actions at key military bases and aerospace facilities near their communities. Quite a number of groups made commitments to hold activities during the international days of protest to stop the militarization of space, including actions at NASA’s Stennis Missile Center in Mississippi, White Sands Missile Test Range in southern New Mexico, and Kirtland A.F.B. in Albuquerque among others.
My last couple of trips has largely been to speak to faith-based communities who deeply understand the moral imperative implicit in the space issue. Not only are they confronting the political structures and the current war climate, they are also engaged in faithful struggles to move their churches away from the same right-wing domination we see in the larger society. Their determination to come alive on these two fronts at once gives me inspiration and much hope.
Bruce K. Gagnon