What’s in a Peace Talk?

26 11 2012

At a Peace Talk this fall, one of our grantee speakers wanted to know what our criteria was for a successful event.  Would it be the number attending?  Donations to PDF as a result?

No, we told him.  It is not the number of attendees, because at PDF’s Peace and Justice Center in Amherst, we can’t hold hundreds of people.  If there are 15 to 20 gathered in our living room, that is a perfect size for a discussion.

No, it is not the donations PDF would receive, we continued.  We don’t use the Peace Talks to buttonhole people into giving.  Our donors are loyal, and we dare say they would give to PDF’s work even if there wasn’t a Peace Talk on the event schedule.

But a Peace Talk is an opportunity to publicize the work of our grantees and engage our audience in the ongoing work of organizing.  That is how we measure success.

Anyone who comes to a Peace Talk can hear directly from our grantees about the challenging and inspiring work they do.  It is also an opportunity to network with others working for progressive social change, be they grantees, donors or students from the local colleges.  Not a Peace Talk ends before we hear folks exchanging ideas and email addresses.  And the grantees say they couldn’t do that—get out of their daily routine and the silos that build up around them—without someone from PDF inviting them to a Peace Talk.

Grantees also say, and we never have to ask them to do so, that they couldn’t do what they do without PDF’s early support.  “You supported us when we didn’t know if we could stay working or close,” said Anne Richmond from Gardening the Community.  “You kept us going.”

“You were our very first grant,” said Josie Shagwert of Fuerza Laboral.  “That was a huge vote of confidence in us.”

At Peace Talks we talk about victories and losses, the 99 percent and the one percent, the stories we know and the ones nobody writes about.  We talk about how to move forward and how to keep going.  As Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action and the Media said at our last Peace Talk, “I have to remind myself that the partial wins are still wins.”  We need to keep reminding ourselves of that too, as we define success.

“Each of us takes the piece of the work that we can do,” says Jaclyn.  For PDF, it is providing the space for organizing.


Still Open for Business!

22 12 2011

The Peace Development Fund history blog moves on now from a 30 year reflection of how the past has affected where PDF and the peace and social justice movements are today, to our 31st year and a focus forward. Like any business, we have had our ups and downs. Operating with no endowment, each year we must raise the necessary funds to make grants and support grassroots communities.

Nothing has dimmed the “fierce commitment” The Boston Globe ascribed to PDF in 1988. If anything, we are only more determined to continue providing grants, training and other vital resources necessary to grassroots communities working on peaceful conflict resolution, human rights and environmental sustainability in the U.S.

From The Boston Globe, Sunday, May 29, 1988

 “Peace-minded Fund takes businesslike approach to goals”

By Stephen J. Simurda, Special to the Globe

AMHERST – Across the United States, hundreds of grass-roots political organizations are working on peace and justice issues ranging from the prevention of nuclear war to maintaining political stability in Central America.

Among the things these groups have in common is that they generally work with a fierce commitment in their community to influence thinking on an issue of international significance. According to the movement, these groups act locally and think globally. And they usually do it on a shoestring budget with little guidance or expertise in organizational skills.

The Amherst-based Peace Development Fund has been working since 1981 to change that by providing funding, organizational training and recognition to community-based groups.

Through its work, the fund has become well known to community political groups throughout the United States and has built itself into the only national source of funding and advice for many of these groups.

“Before there was the Peace Development Fund, there was no single voice to advocate for peace groups,” said Meg Gage, executive director and cofounder of the fund.

PDF Co-founders, Meg Gage and Bob Mazer

Since its inception, the fund has given about $2 million to more than 400 groups in all 50 states and watched its annual budget grow from $130,000 to $1.6 million for the coming fiscal year. It also sponsors training workshops for political activists.

Recently, the fund presented the first Grassroots Peace Award to Citizen Alert of Reno, Nevada, a group that promotes public participation in nuclear, environmental and military matters. It is hoped that the award can become a yearly alternative peace prize for small political organizations.

According to Gage, one thing most grass-roots political organizations have in common is that they do not like to talk about money.

“A lot of these people would much rather talk about weapon systems and politics” than budget planning and fund-raising strategy, Gage said. But by not talking about those practical matters, many groups can work themselves right out of existence, she said.

“The feeling [when we started the fund] was that what a lot of groups needed was funding,” Gage said. Soon it became clear that just providing money was not enough and that training in organization building was crucial to make money more effective. “I would ask a group what their budget was and they’d way ‘It depends on how much we raise.’” Gage said.

Trainer Randy Kehler said the training program that grew out of that realization is “an adaption on what you’d find in a workshop for a small business.” While the issues covered focus on budget and fund-raising planning, training sessions also cover organizational development issues, such as how to best locate and train new staff, and how to do more effective outreach work in the community.

The fund’s work does pay off in tangible ways, according to Jean Weiss, fund-raising coordinator for the New England Central America Network in Cambridge, a group that has received funds and training. The fund is “very involved with the groups that they give money to. It’s a model we’ve adopted from them,” Weiss said.

The Central America network has grown from a string of 30 community organizations in 1983 to about 200 today. A $3,000 grant from the Peace Development Fund last year allowed the network to begin its own training program for other Central America groups.

According to the Peace Development Fund, grants are given to carefully screened organizations for specific projects.

“This is the best way to support [peace groups] other than my personal contribution,” said Arthur Obermayer, chief executive of Moleculon Inc., a Cambridge medical technology firm.

Obermayer said he particularly likes the fact that the fund helps community-based groups in all parts of the country. “I feel that often the most important work is done at the grassroots level.”

Asked to evaluate the role the fund has played nationally, Gage says simply, “The sheer fact that we have succeeded and grown is one of the achievements of the peace movement in the 1980s.”

PDF Grantee, Citizen Alert

Time for Another Great March?

20 10 2011

The Occupy Wall Street movement spreading across the country reminds us of other movements when ordinary people—like the “diverse bunch” who organized to create a non-violent focus for positive change—embarked on the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament from California to Washington, DC. In 1986, the Peace Development Fund supported the marchers who, despite loose organization and trying circumstances, stood up to say “enough” to war and make their voices heard. The Great Peace March nearly fell apart as it moved from the west coast eastward, and there are certainly a few lessons to learn from this by Occupy Wall Street. But like Occupy Wall Street, the Great Peace March gathered momentum. Now Occupy Wall Street is changing the terms of the public debate, from despair that the financial world is stacked against Main Street to active concern about local jobs, education and the environment. Just as the Great Peace March entered people’s collective consciousness as they marched forward, Occupy Wall Street has the potential to mobilize thousands demanding jobs for all and civil rights. Perhaps it’s time for another great march.

from Peace Developments, Fall 1986

“The Great Peace March”

“Sure, we’re a diverse bunch,” says Larry Heiss, camp doctor for the Great Peace March. “We’ve got kids and septuagenarians, professional people and counter-culture youth, straight and gay, the angry and the serene, the ministers and agnostics, politically left and politically right, people form 50 states and eleven countries. But we’ve got one important thing in common: we are all committed to global nuclear disarmament.

As one of the core group that has been on the 3,200-mile peace walk across the U.S.A. since its start, Larry has seen the whole panorama: from the shaky send-off in Los Angeles on the first of March, through the breakdown of the original ProPeace organization two weeks later, leaving 1,200 walkers stranded on the edge of the Mojave Desert; through a determined but wrenching struggled to reorganized, raise money, and keep going; across deserts and mountains and plains to Omaha at an incredible 20 to 25 miles a day in order to catch up to the original schedule.

Together they’ve walked, despite blisters and sunburn, through desert sizzle and mountain frost, through hail and thunderstorms, through the fallout area downwind of the Nevada Nuclear test Site at the time of the Mighty Oaks test, past some of the nuclear facilities and military installations that bristle across our West. There was a high moment of celebration as they crossed the Continental Divide, with jokes that from now on it would “all be downhill.”

The marchers had faced staggering problems in their forming their new organization. All their equipment, including support vehicles, had been repossessed. They wouldn’t be allowed to march without at least portable toilets (which the Peace Development Fund was instrumental in getting for them). Everything has to be started again from scratch, and by a group with no experience.

But there were people like a man and his daughter from Sydney, Australia, who had raised money in their community in order to get to Los Angeles and join the march. As Phyllis Rodin, another marcher, said, “no way could we tell people like that ‘It’s folded. It’s over. Go home.’”

“We were halted in our tracks for three weeks in Barstow, California,” related Phyllis. “But it was an important three weeks. We moved from a green, helpless group of strangers, into a cohesive, fired-up determined community.”

In order to get the march back on the road, the marchers began to scavenge and resuscitate ancient junkyard trucks. Soldiers (in civilian clothes) from nearby military bases turned up to help with that thankless job. In gratitude for the outpouring of help from Barstow, the marchers painted the town’s church inferiors.

A newly-formed advance team had to start contacting peace groups and town officials in the areas ahead, to arrange for camp sites, permits, water, waste disposal, peace rallies, and speaking engagements. It helped when town officials learned that the marchers were cleaning up the roadsides as they walked.

Omaha seemed like a turning point. There, they were back on schedule and could slow their pace to a mere 15 miles a day. There they were halfway to their final goal, Washington, DC.

“We don’t feel we’ll be stranded again,” Larry says with confidence in spite or reporting that their income at present is less than their outgo.” We know now that nothing can stop us from getting to Washington. We know the support is out there, and we’re confident the money will come in when people realize we need it.”

Expenses are $7 a day per marcher – $4,000 a day total – for food, insurance, payments on the support vehicles, campsite permits, publicity, gas. The high cost of marching has sometimes meant turning down people who would like to join in. In spite of that, the number had grown from 500 to 650 by Omaha, with hopes that as the new fundraising canvas bring in additional support, the group can also expand. By the time the group gets to New York City, in mid-October, the march almost certainly will be considerably larger. And optimism runs high when they talk about arriving in Washington, DC for a mid-November final rally.

Within the march there are, of course, differences of opinion. “Peace begins with ourselves,” as Larry Heiss says, “and it’s not always an easy lesson.”

But despite the occasional friction, there’s a lot of camaraderie, creativity, energy, and humor. Musicians, comics, and clowns have teamed up within the marching community to keep spirits high.

There is also support, both moral and financial, from “outside.” The marchers are visited by national celebrities, such as Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Hill Street’s Betty Thomas, and Congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado. There are rallies and house parties, and marchers-for-a-day who join them in every city.

It’s an adventure for everyone, perhaps especially for the 40 children on the march, some of whom have become experienced speakers already. From one-year-old Alexa to 8-year-old Franklin Folsom, everyone counts.

“Something is very different about this march,” to quote marcher Tom Atlee. “I don’t’ know why so many cars honk and give us a peace sign; why so many mothers cry as we pass; why fundamentalist veterans stop by the road to bless us; why old women with American flags hanging over their doors thank us for marching for them. Maybe it’s because 95 percent of Americans really want peace, and that desire is beginning to ache inside. If they had a way to be peaceful AND patriotic AND honestly hopeful, they’d grab it in an instant …

“Hope grows here like moss on a pine. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m witnessing a metaphorical dawn; that the darkness is giving way; that in the next year, perhaps in the next few months or days, I will see the edge of the sun and know that we, as a planet, have made it.”

Face Time

18 08 2011

“We are more than just a grantmaker,” says PDF Executive Director Paul Haible. “We are partners in the peace and social justice movement.”

From the Peace Development Fund’s earliest days, PDF has visited with and advised grantees, encouraged networks such as our current initiative, BASE (Building Action for Sustainable Environments), and above all, LISTENED.

1985 Meg Gage and Linda Stout

Our model of philanthropy involves direct funding, advocacy where appropriate, and partnerships built around mutual respect, sharing of resources, and transparency of planning and decision-making. This article from 1985 highlights the person-to-person work that, over three decades, has made PDF unique among foundations.

from Peace Developments, Fall 1985

Learning Person-to-Person

“Visiting peace groups on site, in the communities where they work and live, sends valuable information both ways,” said Meg Gage, the Peace Development Fund’s executive director. “It gives us the chance to learn more about grassroots groups and the current state of the country’s peace movement.

“And in these visits the groups get to see us as people, to realize we are not Big Daddy Peacebucks. Though we have been a source of funds for hundreds of peace organizations, we are also engaged and active people much like themselves,” Meg added.

Making sure that our donor’s money is used responsibly and effectively is a high priority for the Peace Development Fund and [its sister organization] the Pacific Peace Fund (PPF). We have developed many ways to encourage effective use of our grants, such as researching, monitoring and consulting by mail and phone. But good as these long-distance methods are, we also try to observe conditions directly for ourselves through site visits.

Kim Klein, Exchange Project

Being in an organization’s actual working space can tell an astute visitor nearly as much as meeting the people themselves. The Bucks Alliance for Nuclear Disarmament (BAND), outside Philadelphia, has created a peace center consciously designed to reach a wide spectrum of people. Some groups work in places bristling with militant posters. By contract, BAND’s office is an open, pleasant, business-like environment where anyone would feel at home.

“As for BAND’s productivity,” says Paul Aicher, a PDF board member who visited the group with Meg Gage, “the number of activities listed on a wall chart and the number of people doing them speak volumes.”

PDF’s contact with one important Freeze organization in New York had led us to conclude that one strong person was orchestrating the whole enterprise. A visit by Andrea Avvazian, director of PDF’s Exchange Project, taught us something different. Though that individual does indeed exert a major influence, in fact there is a strong sense of shared leadership in the group.

PDF and PPF are located in the northeast and northwest corners of this vast nation. Through site visits we have been able to learn far more about regions of the country that are distant from or offices. For example, we once believed the Midwest to be a fairly homogenous region, until a staff person from PDF visited there. “Minneapolis and Chicago are not in the same region,” she was told firmly by one person. “We have nothing in common with northern Illinois,” said someone from southern Illinois.

In this way we learned that there are at least four “Midwests,” each with its own character and needs.

PDF Staff Members

Groups that host site visits from our funds benefit from the meetings, too. For one thing, we serve them as a window on the peace movement. Peace workers in northern Maine or rural Arkansas can feel very isolated in their effort. Such people love to hear news from the rest of the peace network; it gives them a sense of support, solidarity and hope. Because of our special role as hub and connector of grassroots peace activity, our Funds can talk – and literally have talked – about Maine in Arkansas and Arkansas in Maine.

Another boon to both PDF and the groups we visit is the appreciation which they stir in us. It is very energizing and gratifying to experience directly the fruits of our own labors, to see our support making such wonderful work possible.

Andrea Ayvazian, Exchange Project

This sense of appreciation for the work we see during site visits has taught us to balance carefully our judgment of groups we have visited with judgments of those we have not. “Whenever you visit a group and meet it members,” says Pat Close-Hastings, executive director of the Pacific Peace Fund, “you almost always end up liking them, and you are tempted to become their advocate. It can give them a great advantage in the competition for funding. A funder needs to be able to make fair decisions, which sometimes means turning down people you like.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit to local peace activists from our site visits is the way our coming affirms their sense of being worthwhile and needed. Taking the time and expense to see them at work sends a message as eloquent as words, and their gratitude for this extra expression of support can be very moving indeed – often shown in hand-printed welcome signs, special lunches prepared with care, and warm hospitality in their homes. “You’ve come so far,” a minister from remote Centertown, Kentucky, said over and over to Andrea Ayvazian with deep feeling. “You’ve come so far.”