Security Without Empire

National Organizing Conference on Foreign Military Bases – American University in Washington, DC – Friday, February 27 to Monday, March 2, 2009. Coordinator was Joseph Gerson of AFSC.

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Seven Grannies attended – Barbara H, Bev, Carol, Caroline, Nydia, Pat and Phyllis.  A total of 200 participated with 24 representatives from overseas – Czech Republic, Ecuador, Germany, Guam, Hawaii, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, Okinawa, and Vieques.

This was the Granny Peace Brigade’s first sponsorship of a national conference and allowed us to network with other organizations here and abroad working on the issue of No Bases.

Thanks to Vinie’s work with the Women’s International Democratic Federation when she, together with Carol and Phyllis, attended the WIDF Congress in April 2007 – the GPB has reason to take pride. We were the first to recognize the need to educate the US/NYC public about the bases and to work to shut them down. We have pioneered this through our Teach-Ins, phone-a-thons, website, etc. etc.

To be brief, the Conference was excellent in every important respect and this report cannot convey all of the energy, intelligence, and warm interactions that we experienced.
The aims of the Conference were:

  • To move toward an ultimate goal of closing and reducing the number of foreign bases, as well as the clean up of military base sites;
  • To further integrate anti-bases networks and organizations into a more coherent movement;
  • To share and disseminate information about U.S. foreign military bases and resistance;
  • To develop new strategies for the U.S. anti-bases movement.

The Conference clearly succeeded in the first three areas and a good start was made on the fourth.

Friday evening at the Pentagon: We gathered at 4 pm in the protest area designated by the Pentagon. There had been a light rain which stopped and as we identified ourselves to others we hung our GPB banner on the fence. Outside the fence a long string of police watched and Art Laffin of Catholic Workers said CW has held a vigil for 22 years on Monday mornings from 7 to 8 a.m. Jonah House (Berrigans) have vigiled for 37 years there. Our friend, Jun Soto and another Buddhist were there with their drum on their walk from upstate NY.

We formed a circle and started a started a brief program with a ceremony requesting permission to stand there from representatives of the Piscataway tribe on whose land it was originally. Then into a large bowl placed on the earth in the center of our circle, those of us who brought vials of water poured it in – Okinawa, Italy, Japan, Hawaii, Maine, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Croton, etc. This opening of the conference was deeply moving. The mood was one respect for the earth and all its creatures with a sense of both formality and friendliness.

Program at American University: The main speaker at the opening plenary was Zia Mian (physicist from Pakistan teaching at Princeton) and he spoke pointedly about the 4 crises the US faces: war, the economy, energy, and a lack of confidence in America’s future. He referred to Obama as a “Restorationist” trying to rebuild the American Dream, not a “Radical” but the Dream is based on Empire. [More of Zia in Bruce Gagnon’s report.]

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The conference program was jam-packed and, as invariably happens, it was tough deciding which workshop or meeting to attend. The other plenary sessions were excellent with powerful testimony by the overseas guests relating the destructive and toxic impact of the bases on their communities in all areas — social, cultural, economic, environmental.

In the interest of time or for more specifics on the variety of workshops and the titles of the plenary sessions, please visit the conference website. Also, check out these reports: Bruce Gagnon’s March 5 report, and John Lindsay-Poland’s report.
Our Granny Table was set up in a corridor with Laurie’s “We will not be Silent” T-shirts, our buttons, MLK speeches booklet, war budget pens and a sign – Donations Accepted. We generated $375 giving $200 to Laurie and the balance to GPB. Because of a conference shortfall, as individuals we contributed $75 with $25 from the proceeds for a total of $100 which Joe Gerson appreciated.

Our workshop in the afternoon (Taking it to the Grassroots: Granny Peace Brigade Strategies for Informing the Public) went very well, even if attendance was slim.

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There were 3 women from Okinawa; one from Tokyo; two from Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace who treated us like royalty; one man with a petition, and Steve Chinlund enlisted on video by Joe Friendly who was elsewhere. One person from San Diego couldn’t stay but needed C/R info from Barbara. With Phyllis moderating, we all did our reports and Caroline with Bev staged a phone-a-thon encounter which everyone loved. Post-presentation our attendees were engaged and would have continued talking but we needed eat and then do the evening plenary.

Evening Plenary The featured speakers were Raed Jarrar (Iraq AFSC), Jana Glivicka (Czech Rep.) Suzuyo Takazato (Okinawa) and Gualdemar Jimenez (Ecuador).  All presenters were superb.

Patriotic and anti-Military Fashion Show This was terrific and worth describing in detail.

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For the record though, Bev was one of the stars, first in orange jumpsuit and black hood for Witness Against Torture and minutes later in a Granny outfit complete with a Power of the Purse, black balloon, and photos of her grandchildren.

Sunday Plenary On extremely short notice Phyllis Bennis stepped in to replace the featured speaker, Walden Bello from Manila, and was thrilling in her brilliant, focused and funny style. She emphasized that things have changed in DC. so now is the time to figure out what we need to do. Obama never mentioned bases in his Inaugural address and a new definition of “empire” is taking shape. The time is ripe for pursuing base closings in view of the possible savings of $140 billion, with Barney Frank’s proposal of a 25% cut in the military budget, and the 50-50 split on the legitimacy of an Afghan war. Our movement should say: WE HAVE THE ANSWER!
We packed up and went for dinner, planning to do lobbying the following day – Monday – but weather intervened.

– Nydia Leaf
Photos: Phyllis Cunningham

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