We’re Not Supposed to Blow Each Other Up

19 01 2011

A pacifist, war-tax resister, and advocate for social justice, Randy Kehler co-founded the Traprock Peace Center in 1979 (an early PDF grantee) and served as National Coordinator for the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign from 1981 to 1984. In 1985 Randy received the first Peace Development Fund Fellowship, established to provide an opportunity for a leader in the peace movement to take some time off from the sometimes hectic intensity of peace work, and be able to study, reflect, travel and rest. He worked for PDF’s Exchange Program from 1986-1988, offering strategic advice for grassroots justice and peace groups across the country.

Randy’s article about “Keepin’ On” continues to be a timely reminder that in the midst of frustration, electoral disappointment or violence such as the recent tragedy in Tucson, together we can follow our vision of a more just world and work for peace.

from Peace Developments,Winter 85-86, No. 11

“Keepin’ On for Peace and Disarmament” by Randy Kehler

“I think it’s because I believe in some kind of ultimate truth that says we’re not supposed to blow each other up.”

“For me it’s because of my love for my family and my kids.”

“I guess I just can’t not do it.”

These were just a few of the responses I heard this past summer when I asked local activists in southern Indiana, eastern Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee why they were doing peace and disarmament work. I asked other questions, too: “What keeps you going when you feel like giving up?” “How hopeful are you?”

At first I felt a little apologetic about asking people to come together – in living rooms, a public library, a church hall, a tiny office – just to answer my questions. But I quickly discovered that they really wanted to answer them. One woman exclaimed, upon hearing the questions, “Oh, I can’t wait to hear what everyone else is going to say!”

As I knew from my own experience, activists rarely take time just to sit and reflect on some of the larger, seemingly less pressing issues our work raises, much less to share their thoughts with their co-workers.

For me these sessions had a double value. It was energizing just to see and visit with lots of good folks – to be reassured that there is indeed an alive, functioning network of hard-working, creative, insightful, and generally wonderful people out there who are “keepin’ on” despite all the frustrations and disappointments of recent times.

Even in one region, there is a tremendous diversity of effort and of results, from the small and embattled Peacemakers of Southern Indiana, for whom success can mean getting permission to hand out literature at a church picnic, to the newly-thriving Nashville Peace Alliance, whose recent riverfront Hiroshima-Nagasaki commemorations brought out a record crowd of 4,000 Nashvillians.

The post-election period, not surprisingly, has been discouraging for almost everyone, especially in comparison with the heady years of 1982-3. But I saw no signs that anyone was giving up – though many are spending proportionally more time on issues that seem easier to address or more demanding of immediate attention.

Everywhere I went, two primary explanations emerged as to what keeps people going: first, the group itself and the people in it, the camaraderie and the mutual support; and second, though not as common as the first, meaningful activities, satisfying work, specific tasks that individuals can do and feel good about.

As for what’s needed, at least three things were mentioned over and over again: a compelling overall strategy for the movement as a whole, a strategy within which people can see the larger significance of the small actions they take locally; a sense of urgency, of creative tension, that will shake people loose from their apathy and business-as-usual attitudes; and an “inspiring vision” of positive alternatives to the arms race, military intervention, and economic exploitation.

At the same time I heard much concern about political “polarization,” in local communities and nationally. For some, this was coupled with a feeling that as we search for better ways to build bridges to the more conservative (though not necessarily unsympathetic) sectors of the community, we need to address what one organizer called the Reagan brand of patriotism: “my country, right or wrong.”

Few of the peace and disarmament groups I heard about seemed to have any kind of medium- or long-term strategy. Most seem to plan their work from one major event to the next and not much further. Thanks in part to PDF’s Exchange Project, some groups are now learning how to be much more effective fundraisers. I noticed a crying need for strategizing and organizational development skills, and am happy to note that the Exchange Project is now including more and more training in these areas, also.

Finally, it was so clear what a difference PDF “seed” grants have made in the lives of peace and disarmament organization in this region – the different between crawling along and starting to fly.

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