John Lindsay-Poland - 2010 Encuentro Local Updates Print

2010 Encuentro Local Updates


Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) Latin America Program

My principal passion has been as a researcher and writer, to get down, get inside, draw out details and patterns, uncover the intentions and impacts of militaristic actions, particularly those of my country. And then get this knowledge out. I've also participated in civil disobedience, legal protest, peace walks, legislative lobbying, public speaking, fundraising, training and accompaniment, delegations to Latin America. For the last 20 years, I've been lucky to do this through the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a national interfaith pacifist organization in the U.S. (part of an international network with affiliates in more than 40 countries).

And I identify with my country, with lineage through both my parents to English children who came to North America on the Mayflower; to a captain in the Revolutionary Navy, my namesake, that invaded a Canadian province and laid waste and fear; to a pacifist pastor during World War I; to an activist mother who cultivated awareness and the value of studying issues, and an economist father who lived his ethics.

The least effective project I did was a speaking tour I organized that brought together a Bolivian coca grower union leader and a Chicano former gang member turned soccer coach to talk about the drug war. Audiences in the U.S. typically only ‘got' one or the other, sometimes neither, and they didn't understand each other well, either. It was also under-resourced, and the two were on their own some of the time.

I also think that traveling great distances to give one-hour workshops to the same groups of people, and doing this over and over, has not been especially effective, by itself. This is the challenge the international network to close military bases has faced - what to do after we've had a conference, published a booklet,set up a web site; what to do that draws on our international reach and connects with sectors of people beyond the usual suspects in the Left and peace movement.

More effective was the commitment the FOR made in the 1990s to a campaign to ally ourselves with SERPAJ-Panamá and other organizations to ensure U.S. implementation of the Carter-Torrijos Treaties and to expose the environmental contamination caused by the military presence in Panama. I learned a lot from that campaign - about the strategic use of research, about leveraging the ambivalence of some of the empire's managers, about learning history and building on the victories of the past, about the risks of my own white male arrogance, about not giving up, about some complexities and internal conflicts of popular movements, about how sweet victory is. I'll never forget the rainy noontime on December 31, 1999 when the canal was turned over to Panama, the military bases having been closed. And yes, about how there is so much more work to do, in the wake of our victories, when existing fissures fracture us, or empire reasserts its prerogatives, and we must meet the next set of challenges.

One way this - and the movements in Puerto Rico and Ecuador - affected me is they've given me a sense of optimism that our movements can win, and that it is worth undertaking such improbable goals. Because if we allow our imaginations to close, what we actually can achieve will be a lot less.

In my experience, we need a diversity of strategies to close foreign military bases. These occur in both the country where U.S. soldiers are, and in the U.S. itself. The most effective have been:

  • Action at the bases themselves - encampments, civil disobedience, vigils: the students who challenged the Canal Zone, the native activists who took small boats to Kaho'olawe, the women, families, pastors, politicians who entered the Vieques bombing range during maneuvers, the protests at Bay Area bases, the SOA vigil, the youth encampment in Manta, the elders stopping construction in Henoko, Okinawa, the massive protests and camps against Reagan's Euromissiles at Greenham Common and bases across western Europe. These are what make the bases, ultimately, unsustainable.
  • Skilled and creative use of mass media and messaging. Making relationships with journalists, creating our own media, being persistent, doing things that are visual, having reliable information and calling back on time. In spite of the corporate control of media, journalists, the medium and the public often can't resist our message when we're good at it.
  • Grassroots mobilization of diverse sectors, in ways that all kinds of ordinary people can be involved. It is about attending to the desires for extraordinary that live in the hearts of ordinary people, giving those desires support, space, time for expression. Involving sectors from where they are - religious, economists, feminists, military veterans, political party militants, cooks, carpenters, historians, filmmakers, etc.
  • Culture, theater, music, art. This makes our struggle sustainable, reaches us in ways these words do not, finds folks otherwise alienated.
  • Court actions, lawsuits, constitutional challenges. Environmental lawsuits have been effective where U.S. courts have jurisdiction. In Colombia, the constitutional court is reviewing a challenge to the base agreement. Sometimes this just wins us time, but that time is helpful to organize and to question the legitimacy of the bases.

On the foundation of these, it is possible obtain legislative and policy victories, getting electoral candidates, elected officials, and bureaucrats to take favorable action, that formalize what we have decided as a people.

John Lindsay-Poland, 14 June 2010
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