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MIC at 50, Charlottesville - ACTIVISM PANEL REMARKS

By Lisa Savage

Following on Ray McGovern's call to action for October 6 in Washington DC, the website for info is

Thank you conference organizers, and to everyone for taking time to be here today.

When I reflect on activism and the military-industrial complex (MIC) I think of a video made by a friend, Pete Sirois, of Bruce Gagnon in front of Bath Iron Works speaking about conversion. Bath Iron Works is where they build the Aegis destroyers that are to be docked on South Korea's Jeju Island that Ann Wright spoke about last night. Bruce's speech mentions the Pollin & Garrett-Peltier study about relative number of jobs generated by investment in various sectors of the economy, which sounded interesting. So I contacted Bruce and got a link to the study, done at UMass Amherst in 2007. This led to my husband Mark and I starting to organize with  Bruce and Mary Beth Sullivan in Bath. Which led eventually to joining others in a statewide, and now a national campaign, to Bring Our War $$ Home.

Pete at the time was an amateur videographer, with a local access tv cable show. He grasped early what potential this communication channel offers at a very low cost. His willingness to challenge himself and take risks to do the work has really helped get the word out, and been a catalyst for all kinds of activism.

My Maine grandmother told me things that have stuck with me, and two of them are: “Fools' names and fools' faces are often seen in public places,” and “Pretty is as pretty does.” I had to overcome that first admonition in order to do the activism that I do. And I have come to a deeper understand of the second one.

Bruce has told how as a young “true believer” serving in the Air Force and stationed in California, he and the others would see protesters at the gate of the air base. This led the people inside the base to have long debates over whether the signs were right or wrong. These conversations changed Bruce's understanding and brought him over to the side of demanding military cuts to fund domestic needs.

So don't ever think, just because you don't get to see their effects, that your messages don't matter. They matter a lot. People today lack good information and you are helping to address that problem with well thought out messaging.

Using the power of branding is also effective and this is one thing that I love about Codepink. Also choosing a short phrase that conveys the essence of the  message in a way that most people are likely to understand. Bring Our War $$ Home is all short, simple words that even a young kid can understand. I wish I could take credit for penning the phrase, and its author remains anonymous.

Then repeating the phrase in many ways as you can think of while also thinking carefully about the explanation that backs up the slogan. Knowing it's possible your understanding of the phrase will evolve. When this “headline” has clear meaning to your audience, it becomes the work horse of the campaign.

The most important aspect of communication is listening. We have to listen to the audience if we are to know whether our message was received. And we communicate effectively when we understand the needs of the listener. Then, as we devise ways to address some of those needs, and build relationships, we can keep using listening to get feedback in order to try new things.

We've used many communication strategies in our current campaign: radio ads by a well-known comic personality are running now on right wing talk radio stations; we've had signature ads and community event listings in newspapers; and with the Union of Maine Visual Artists we've conducted Draw-a-thons and Draw-ins at various places, including our state capital building, where artists interact with the general public. These resulted in a group of strong poster designs for war $$ home available on our website, designs that are now on  t-shirts. We have shirts here at the conference, and gave two of them as participation prizes yesterday during the federal budget activity at the conference. And so the message goes forward.

Currently I'm seeking support for the development of a digital game that offers the chance to convert war spending in a community to other needs, because I think that could be a powerful communication device. Imagining conversion as utopia could be addicting if visually appealing and properly designed. Young people with all that college debt and no real jobs are the audience I want to reach.

I don't play such games but I do tweet, facebook, and skype in the course of my activism. Most of you here have  stretched and learned new technology tools. I have been helped immensely in learning these by younger members of Codepink who are very patient with us oldsters. Blogging is something I've added lately and I've had some good mentors who encouraged me as I was getting started. I often learn and get ideas from other blogs. Getting real information is almost a full time job in this day and age. Thankful for the Internet while we still have it.

What else are we up against? I think Americans – that is, people in the U.S., because America is a continent, not a country – are scared. Maybe more scared than we give them credit for a lot of the time. I'll tell two stories to illustrate

The last time Social Security was on the chopping block, back when George W. wanted to “privatize” it, a woman who worked at my school as an ed tech told me in the hall that she appreciated my letter to the editor about how families who have a parent die depend on S.S. The woman told me that her mother had used her father's S.S. to help feed them family after he died, and had a hard enough time even with that income. I told my co-worker that people needed to hear her story, and to please consider a letter of her own. She reacted with alarm and said, “Oh I don't think Dr. ____ would appreciate that” referring to our superintendent. He had never said anything negative to me about my letters, and I told her so. “Oh but that's you,” she said as if perhaps her status as an ed tech without a continuing contract was much different than mine as a teacher.

Just this summer I was at a conference and I needed a ride to Rockland at the end, in order to meet my husband to stand with local organizers opposing an Islamophobic group that was going to be protesting a speech by the Al Jazeera Bureau Chief in Washington. When I briefly stated my reason for needing a ride, the other teachers and librarians in the room froze like deer in headlights. No one said a single word in response. I think I had violated the unspoken dictum of life in our nation, that as long as we don't rock the boat that nothing bad will happen around us. Bad things are happening elsewhere, but not right where we are. And hoping to keep it that way.

So people are frightened, and they are bewildered by misinformation, and we offer them our message. The Bring Our War $$ Home coalition in Maine has benefited from a good faith approach of supporting one another tobring an accurate explanation for budget cuts and funding shortfalls in our communities, cooperating across what is a large if not very populous state. The Care-a-Van began on Sep 10 at Unity College with WERU Community Radio's Grassroots Media Conference as we silkscreened the t-shirts we have here today. It continues to many venues including five other college campuses in our state, with a teach-in at Bowdoin, and a stop in support of on campus peace group P.A.inT for a concert at the University of Maine, Farmington.

Because I am also deeply involved with Codepink as a Local Coordinator two of the co-founders, Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, picked up on the campaign and asked if they could adopt it nationally. Adopt away, we said, with the result that the campaign is now being waged in California, New York, and Texas among other places, and that the US Conference of Mayors passed a resolution to bring the war dollars home this summer.

If people stopped cooperating with and supporting the MIC, it would grind to a halt tomorrow. People just don't know it yet. Some do -- right now there are youth occupying Wall St. in a show of nonviolent methods that remind me of the great untapped power of human stubbornness. I was lucky enough to meet Gene Sharp and Jamila Raqib of the Albert Einstein Institution a couple of years ago and Sharp said in response to my question that the antiwar movement lacked an overall strategy. I can see several heads nodding in the audience.

Now is the time in the program where we will have some time for planning and I'm going to read you a list of questions developed by the organizers of the confernce, questions that can inform this part of our work today: Where is the MIC vulnerable? What are the hidden strengths of the progressive movement? How will moral energy be generated and harnessed? How do you prepare the ground for change? What strategies for change are inefficient or unproductive? What strategies will capture the imagination of others and empower them? Are progressives willing to pay the price?

Now we are going into self-selected groups. Thank you.



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