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Letters to The Editor

Remembering Leslie Brockelbank and the Eugene, Oregon No-GWEN Project
September 7, 2009

Remembering Leslie Brockelbank and the Eugene, Oregon No-GWEN Project (Sep. 7, 2009)

To: Editor
Date: Sep 7, 2009


By George Beres

When Leslie Brockelbank died in late August, Eugene lost an activist whose life was selfless with constant concern for those in need. She also was known for standing up and speaking out in behalf of democracy, even when her view did not have general support.
Her life is worth remembering, and for others to try to emulate. As she told me, "Many of the problems we have will continue to challenge us, and we have to keep trying even though we have no promise they will be overcome in our lifetimes."

Leslie and her spouse of the time, Charles Gray, another community organizer of note, built funding to create the McKenzie River Gathering. For years it has underwritten costs of social action groups dedicated to progressive issues in Eugene.

Leslie was constant in her support for peace and nuclear disarmament through her leadership of Eugene's WAND (Women's Action for New Directions). As with so many groups with idealistic aims, it marshaled efforts of women. When I met Leslie in the late 1970s, she had joined forces with another woman, the spouse of Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust, Sidney, to take on militarists who wanted to make Eugene part of a nationwide network of warning sites against atomic attack.

The network, labeled GWEN (Ground Wave Emergency Network), had a multi-million dollar budget to build a series of towers monitoring the nation's borders. Eugene was one of several sites chosen for West Coast towers.

"I have no argument against being alert to possible attack from outside," said Brockelbank in an organizing statement. "But those I trust tell me this is misuse of federal funds for a meaningless project, an effort of militarists to create paranoia that would fuel our acceptance of nuclear war. We have to beware of such insinuations from the inside as much as threats from the outside."

Brockelbank and Rust recruited several others-- men among them-- to create Eugene's NO-GWEN PROJECT. They contacted citizen groups in other affected states to join in the effort. Some did. But none had the success of Eugene's project, which ultimately got the tower network to be stopped nationwide.

I was new to Eugene and its public action reputation. But when I heard a stirring talk by Leslie, I joined on, and took part in public demonstrations intended to spread the word.

The efforts had value, but likely would not have achieved their goal had it not been for one personal contact she made. She spoke with Sen. Mark Hatfield, who recognized the project's merit. He became NO-GWEN's standard bearer in the Senate.

"Sen. Hatifled made all the difference," said a glowing Brockelbank after the GWEN Project discontinued plans for Eugene. "But let's not forget that citizen effort in our democratic system can do great things."

That is reason enough to not forget Leslie Brockelbank.


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