Coordinator Trip Report - Florida
1-10 June 2006
From: Bruce Gagnon
This trip report covers the period of June 1-10 as I, along with my partner Mary Beth, made a working/vacation trip to Florida.
The trip was brought about when the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice (FCPJ) invited me to their "Weaving a Culture of Peace" statewide convocation in Gainesville. I worked for the FCPJ for 15 years and in 1992 we created the Dr. Benjamin Spock Peacemaker of the Year Award. Dr. Spock came to Florida that year and gave the first award in his name to the first recipient. Last week, I was invited by the FCPJ to come to their event to receive the Dr. Spock award, honoring my years of work to stop the nuclearization and weaponization of space.
The FCPJ became friends with Dr. Spock in 1987 when he came to Cape Canaveral to speak at a protest we organized opposing the first test launch of the Trident II nuclear missile. When over 5,000 people marched to the front gates of the space center, it was Dr. Spock who was the first one to climb over the base front gate into the waiting arms of the military police in a symbolic act of opposition to the launch. In his final book, called "Spock on Spock", Ben had a photo of himself climbing the Cape Canaveral fence.
When Mary Beth and I arrived in Jacksonville on June 1 the first thing we did was rent a car and drive south to St. Augustine to visit our 95 year-old friend Peg McIntire. I have worked with Peg for about 20 years and she is fondly known as the "Grand Dame" of the Florida peace movement. Peg has been arrested at the space center more times than most people and remains active in her beloved Grandparents for Peace group that she still ably coordinates.
We moved on to Gainesville to attend the FCPJ convocation on the weekend of June 2-4. The keynote speaker for the event was David Korten, the author of the highly popular book called "The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community." In his talk to the FCPJ Korten talked about the coming hard times due to peak oil and global warming. "Communities that fare best will be the ones that begin now to plan for the coming changes. Building true community means moving beyond competition and empire to cooperation," Korten said. We must break the silence and end our isolation, Korten suggested, if we hope to save democracy.
I spoke at a workshop on organizing during the FCPJ conference with old friend Joy Towles Ezell who has been working to stop the Pentagon from moving a bombing range into her north Florida rural county. I suggested that we begin the workshop by having people go around and say why they came to this particular workshop and what they were looking to learn. They key themes on people's minds were how to sustain a peace group over time, how to expand our base and how to connect issues in our work.
On the evening of June 3 there was a formal dinner and Peg McIntire presented the Spock award to me. In my talk I reminded the assembled how the FCPJ had played a key role in the creation of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space when it was formed in 1992. I shared stories about the work I am doing today and concluded by offering a transformative vision for an end to this cycle of endless war that we find ourselves in today.
From there I would travel to speak at the Sunday service of Peg McIntire's Unitarian Church in St Augustine and then back to Gainesville to do a June 6 speech at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville. This event was sponsored by the Gainesville Chapter of Veterans for Peace which I belonged to for many years before moving to Maine. It was wonderful to see old friends there like Julie Netzer, Miriam Elliott, Bill & Sally Warrick, Bill Gilbert, Joe Courter, and Eve & Richard MacMaster. All of these folks I had worked closely with on campaigns in Gainesville around issues like the Patriot Act and the local cost of the Iraq war.
In between talks I was able to visit my mother in Titusville and to return to Peg's home on St Augustine Beach. Long walks on the beach and a couple swims in the ocean were nice breaks from the otherwise hectic but exciting visit to Florida where I had lived for 30 years before moving to Maine three years ago.
Our last day took us back to Jacksonville where I was invited to speak by the local peace group called Waging Peace. They held a community supper at their beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright-style church where I had spoken many times over the past 20 years. Old friends like Al & Wendy Geiger, Mary Claire VanderHorst and Doris Marlin made Mary Beth and I feel at home again.
At each of my talks on this trip I continued to emphasize the theme that the peace movement needs to provide a positive, alternative vision to endless war. America's economy is addicted to military spending, I said, and until we offer another way to create jobs for military industrial complex workers we will never be able to break the cycle of weapons production and war. Why, I asked over and over again, can't the peace movement create a national political demand that calls for our tax dollars to be used for production of public mass transit systems, windmills and solar technology instead of weapons of war? Imagine what would happen if the peace movement, the environmental movement and the labor movements all began to create a unified demand to convert the military industries to peaceful and sustainable technological development. Think of the good jobs created. Think of the lessening of our demand for oil as our nation turned to mass transit, wind energy and solar. Think of the positive impacts on global warming as we helped create this shift in national industrial policy.
It is one thing to say NO to war in Iraq and Iran. That we must do. But as I travel to places like Jacksonville, Florida or Colorado Springs, Colorado, what I see are communities dominated by the military industrial complex. If we wish to create the "Great Turning" that David Korten speaks of then we must also change the stories of our communities. Right now the military culture - the death culture - is the prevailing story of America. If we are to weave a culture of peace then we must begin to offer the public another vision of a society that can provide their families with jobs, hope, and a real possibility of a positive future for their children.
Bruce K. Gagnon