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Space and Security

Careers in Science From the Field

Mr. Bruce Gagnon is a professional organizer for the Global Network, a grassroots organization dealing with issues in space and security. He served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War and attended the University of Florida, where he studied Sociology and Political Science. Mr. Gagnon also worked for 15 years as the State Coordinator for the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, and has been involved in space issues for the past 20 years.

What is your profession?

I have been a professional organizer since 1978.

What are the responsibilities of your position?

I coordinate a global network of 185 affiliate groups, based on virtually every continent of the world. My primary responsibility is to keep in touch with all these different organizations. Every year we hold an international conference in a different part of the world, where many representatives from these groups come. This year we will be meeting in Portland, Maine. We have people coming from 10 countries and 20 states. I also am responsible for putting out publications and newsletters. In addition, I do a lot of traveling and speaking all over this country and around the world. The responsibility there is to try to expand the number of people who become involved in space issues. By speaking at universities and before organizations, we are developing a larger constituency around the world. Those are my main responsibilities.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

Every week I do some type of media interview, mostly radio but every now and then newspaper too. I also regularly answer the mail--we sell a lot of videos. We have produced four videos in the past 12 years, so every few years we are producing a new video, and we sell a lot of those. We also sell a lot of books, bumper stickers and literature. So every day I get orders for these things, and have to meet those orders. I am also very involved in local and state affairs. I am Chairperson of the Peace Action Program Committee, so I have those responsibilities as well, because it is our belief that we need to be connected to other organizations as much as possible. We work with them to help them see how space is used to essentially coordinate all modern warfare. So I do a lot of activities with local and state rights groups. I also travel frequently--I am usually on the road around 2 weeks out of the month.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?

The most satisfying part is meeting the enormous number of wonderful people from all over the world. A lot of people say to me, what gives you hope? I tell them that I am hopeful because I realize that everywhere you go on this entire planet, there are people doing this kind of peace work. That is really an incredible thing, when you can look at a map of the world and see all of this activity happening. So that is the thing that really sustains me.
The greatest challenge is the enormous power of the military-industrial complex--the power and wealth that it has at its disposal, its connections to the media, and in many cases its control of the media. That is a huge challenge for us, and one that I take very seriously. It is also a challenge that I take some pleasure in trying to find ways around. I think we have to try to have fun in our work too, so I take pleasure in trying to find new, creative ways to reach the public with our ideas, that get around the control and domination of the media.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

The greatest benefit is a clean conscience. It is very difficult anymore, especially as you look at the colleges and universities that are increasingly coming under the control of the military-industrial complex. Colleges and universities are increasingly strapped for funds, and they are turn to corporations to receive money from them. Because of this, they are having to do research at colleges and universities for these weapons corporations, and I imagine, for many students, that is a very difficult thing to live with. The greatest benefit of my job is that I have a clear conscience--I am working for the people, and that gives me enormous pride.

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

The biggest challenge is the enormous wealth and power of the weapons corporations, who view space as a new market. They have enormous assets at their disposal--they are able to create jobs and offer people money, and that buys them support, even from people that might have some concerns over what they are planning to do in space.

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

I think the most important skill is to be someone who enjoys working with people and can withstand the frustrations of not being able to show immediate results and immediate success. I have spent many years doing this work now, and I do not know that we have had too many "victories," but you have to be able to take the long term view to do this kind of work. I also think, in a practical way, that you have to have good administrative skills to do the type of work that I do. Because we do not have a large budget and I am the only staff person, I do not have a receptionist or office manager. I have to do my own office work and do it efficiently. So I think administrative skills are an underrated part of this kind of work.

What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

I strongly recommend volunteering for an organization similar to ours, where you get the experience of working in an office, working with the public, talking to the public and the media, and organizing events, conferences, demonstrations and teach-ins. I have seen, over the years, that the people who get jobs doing this kind of work started out as volunteers.

What type of education background is required?

For my particular work, I do not think educational background is so important--I think life experience background is more important. I was in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, and it was that experience that developed the core of who I am today. I was at an airlift base for the war, where GI's would get on planes to fly to Vietnam, and when the planes would come back, they would bring the body bags of the dead soldiers. Those experiences really, in many ways, created who I am today. I think that no amount of education could have replaced that experience. Education is important, but practical, everyday life experience is very important for this kind of work. Again, I think for many people, the only place you can get that is by volunteering for an organization and developing those kinds of experiences.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?

My experience in this field is that there are not too many entry-level jobs, so the best way to get that experience is to volunteer. On occasion, there are some organizations that have internships, and those are excellent ways to start out. For example, last year we had an intern from South Korea who stayed with me for about five months and worked in our office, and he learned a great deal about this issue and how to run an office. Internships are very important.

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?

It depends on which group you work for. There are some groups in Washington, DC that pay quite well--$40,000 to even $80,000 a year for people with more experience. But grassroots groups, which is what we are and are proud to be, pay a little less. My salary is about $12,000 a year, and I have been doing this work for a long, long time. But my particular situation is unique--I choose to make a very small amount of money, because I want to be under the taxable level so that I do not pay war taxes. So the way I get around paying war taxes is that I make less money, so that I am under the taxable level. So my salary is by choice, but it gives me more of a clean conscience.

What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?

I think our world right now is in very big trouble. What we need right now, more than anything else, is people who are out there organizing and teaching the public, and getting them to move in the direction of political action if there is to be any hope for survival of the planet. I mean that in the starkest way that I can say it. I believe that anyone who is interested in this kind of work needs to have a very realistic picture of the difficulties we have before us today. We essentially have an oligarchy in charge of our government, and we have the media under the control of this oligarchy. The only way we are really going to be able to impact the public's consciousness is by literally getting out and talking to the people--getting around the media and going directly to the people. There are a lot of different ways to do that, but we have to be more direct than ever. So I think that anyone who is interested in doing this kind of work has to understand that, and not have any illusions about the situation that we are in. They have to really understand very clearly the situation we are in today. And they have to be motivated not by money or a desire to become famous, but by a desire to serve the people, and most importantly a desire to serve the future generations. When you are motivated by that, you are willing work for less money. You are willing to start out volunteering because you understand that this kind of work is not going to pay a lot of money.

Submitted by: Tomomasa Nagano, spring 2004 intern