Three of us from Maine were scheduled to fly from Boston on Thursday, April 6 in order to make it in time to get things ready for a very full weekend of events. One in our group, Jason Rawn, actually got there as planned as his plane left on time and he arrived in Huntsville nearly on schedule.
But due to major storms in Washington DC and Atlanta there was a national disruption of the airline schedules across the nation. (We heard Delta cancelled 300 flights.) Eric Herter and I sat inside our plane on the runway in Boston for two and one-half hours waiting to take off but the flight was eventually cancelled. We were told to retrieve our bags at baggage claim – Eric got his but my suitcase, full of banners and supplies for the conference, was nowhere to be found.
Mary Beth Sullivan was to fly to Huntsville the next day but when she heard about our cancelled flight she immediately took a bus to Boston and met Eric and me at the airport. By then we had decided that the only way we were going to make it to Huntsville in time for the conference would be to rent a car and drive all night heading south to Alabama. We took turns driving and resting in the back seat of the rental car for what turned out to be a 20 hour journey.
I had decided to go to Huntsville a day early because conference attendees were planning to begin arriving on Thursday and I was going to pick them up at the airport and get them booked into the hotel where we were staying. But now that we were driving we had to make other arrangements from the road.
Thankfully Jason got there on time so he rented a car and began looking for those who needed to be picked up. However, we soon realized that others coming to Alabama on flights from around the country were facing the same flight delays and/or cancellations that we had faced in Boston. So all of the work I had done to create schedules for pick-up and hotel room pairings were thrown to the winds.
Our Boston rental car crew of three arrived at the Huntsville hotel just an hour before our scheduled news conference that would review for the local media our weekend plans. But first I was in serious need of a shower. My bag had not yet been found so a local man loaned me a clean shirt.
Inside of my suitcase was a bag full of Global Network space banners that we were going to use at this protest but because the bag was lost we had to make due with a smattering of other signs that people brought along. Still the event went well and we had a nice closing circle with the 50 people who gathered at the gates. The place was crawling with media and we were pleased with the photo coverage we got from the Huntsville Times newspaper which you can see here.
One local space center employee told us that NASA had sent an email to all those working inside Redstone Arsenal informing them that we would be protesting. It was nice to hear that NASA had helped us by informing the workers which I am certain created some level of discussion about our protest even before we had arrived. I experienced similar situations during my time in the Air Force at Travis AFB, California during the Vietnam War when base authorities would warn us about weekend protests outside our gates – this always insured intense anti-war dialogue inside the barracks, the chow hall, and at our work sites.
By the time our conference began early Saturday morning we had heard from three speakers (Guam, Norway, New York City) who were not going to be able to make the event due to cancelled flights. In spite of that, the conference went very well and the venue inside the Flying Monkey Theater was a perfect fit for us. There was plenty of room for literature tables, for serving food and for comfortable seating for those who attended.
We were thrilled to have a three-person delegation from the current NO THAAD speaking tour across the US join us for the conference. Rev. Seonghye Kim (Co-chair Seongju Struggle Committee to Stop THAAD Deployment, South Korea) made an excellent presentation as she brought their important struggle to us.
My suitcase finally arrived at the hotel in Huntsville the night before the conference was over. When I opened it I found a card from Homeland Security saying that had performed a ‘routine check’ of the bag. Everything had been turned up-side-down. The plastic bag with the protest banners that we were going to use at Redstone Arsenal had been ripped open and was tossed back onto the top of the disheveled contents. I can’t help but wonder if my bag was sent off on its own delayed journey in order to make sure that I could not have what I needed for our events.
On Sunday morning the group gathered at the hotel to review and evaluate the weekend events. People learned a lot from each other and they enjoyed the diverse community of interesting folks who had made the trip to help bring a peace witness and presence to such a vital place in the military industrial complex’s growing web of space warfare bases now positioned around the planet.
The members agreed that we should invite Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Will Griffin (Georgia) to serve on our board of directors. Will helped quite a bit to organize and promote the gathering and did the welcome speech to the assembled on Saturday morning.
It was also agreed that our 2018 conference would be held in England – either at an expanding US surveillance base called Croughton (near Oxford) or at the Menwith Hill US NSA spy base in Yorkshire. That decision will be left to our friends in England to make. It was also decided to hold our 2019 annual conference here in Bath, Maine.
Special thanks go to a handful of local peaceniks in the Huntsville area who really extended themselves to help us in every way possible before and during the weekend events. We could not have pulled this event off without them and it must be said that living in Huntsville and doing peace work is not an easy task so their efforts on our behalf were even more impressive.
Thanks as well to all those who traveled to Huntsville to join the conference from as far away as India, Nepal, England, Sweden, Japan and South Korea and from every corner of the US.
A series of videos of most of the conference proceedings are available here