GREETINGS FROM SOUTH OF the border! The plum trees are beginning to bloom here in California, shorts are becoming standard fare and the air is lightly scented with freshly-mowed grass and charcoals. I'm sure that, in three months time, spring will hit Canada!
Unfortunately, the political climate here could not be described as temperate. For the past two weeks, we have been subjected to a daily barrage of verbal attacks upon the Sandinistas by the Reagan Administration. And the latest rounds of accusations are dutifully and uncritically reported by the "liberal" press so hated by Jesse Helms.
Editorial criticisms have been relatively mild, and challenges to the Administration's accusations are rare in the mainstream press. Reagan said that he would bring his case to the people if Congress didn't cooperate in re-funding the contras, and that appears to be exactly what he is doing.
So far, he has not been able to convince the Democrats in Congress that covert funding to the contras is necessary or desirable. However, he is now threatening to impose stricter economic sanctions against Nicaragua and to recognize a rebel government-in-exile if he does not get Congress to re-establish funding. Reagan seems firmly determined not to lose a country to Communism during his term.
It's hard to judge the impact of this media offensive on the general public; the recent round of proposed budget cuts and deficit reduction efforts have moved to the forefront, and foreign policy matters have once again taken the backseat to domestic issues in the US. Keep in mind, however, that I teach at a community college in an agricultural area, and here the proposed cuts in the student loan program and the crisis in farming have obscured even the opening of spring training in baseball.
The testing of the cruise in Canada and the accompanying protests were reported here but were overshadowed by the "insubordination" of Prime Minister Lange and the New Zealanders. As soon as the State Department thought it had taken care of all the dissidents in the NATO Alliance, another trouble maker surfaced. The venomous tone of the Administration's reaction was starting to create the impression that threats of economic repercussions for banning US military ships in New Zealand ports came primarily from unnamed Administration sources rather than Reagan himself--heaven forbid that he should appear heavy-handed!
I was in Arizona during the holidays. You know Arizona -- it's the place where Canadian physicians have found refuge from the atrocities of socialized medicine. There are so many Canadians living in Phoenix that the local paper even has a weekly article called "The Canadian File" which recaps (in about a quarter of a newspaper page) the news from Canada. I actually read about the conclusion of the Peace Petition Caravan Campaign in "The Canadian File. " Imagine reading quotes from Mike Manolsen and Bob Penner in a Phoenix newspaper!
In Phoenix, the Center to Reverse the Arms Race (the local peace network) has been evicted from their offices and has basically fallen into disarray. Unfortunately, some good people were lost in the break-up of the Center and have yet to re-establish themselves in any kind of political activity. Many of the activists have joined one of two rather large affinity groups. One affinity group is focusing their interest and actions on Motorola (a defense contractor in Phoenix) and Arizona Public Service (the local utility company, which has built one of the largest nuclear plants in the country). The other affinity group will concentrate its energies on anti-intervention activities.
Right before Christmas, we held a rather impressive demonstration which involved circling half of the main APS office. (For Phoenix, a turnout of 200 people is wildly successful).
In search of a job, I took the same route made infamous in "The Grapes of Wrath" and ended up in Bakers field, California. (Bakersfield is the place where Grandma Joad was buried.) While agriculture is still important here the lushness of the San Joaquin Valley is now marred by the more-than-just-a few oil fields. The mingling of these two particular cultures makes the political climate here even more reactionary than it is back in Barry Goldwater's home turf.
The local disarmament group here is composed of a few dedicated souls, but probably more active is the new group called "Beyond War." Beyond War is a growing semi-national organization very similar in design and focus to the Peace Parties in Canada: members invite their friends who are not familiar with the disarmament movement to their homes for an evening of discussion about the threat of the nuclear arms race and the role of non-violence in conflict resolution. Their intent is to build an awareness of nuclear war issues on a very personal level. Unfortunately, the Beyond War members I have met have not seemed interested in connecting themselves or their activities to any already-existing peace groups.
Well, I was really hoping to close this letter with some good news. On March 6, there was a local referendum in Fresno, California to make Fresno a Nuclear Free Zone. After a valiant attempt, the referendum was voted down . . . But we can't give up the fight--not even here.