Primed to Explode

20 09 2011

In 2002, the Peace Development Fund launched the Cross Border Initiative, working with groups seeking justice and peace amid the exploitation of land, water and people along the U.S./Mexico border. The situation has not improved. Considering the El Paso/ Juárez border today, the ensuing drug wars, and ultimately the fence that the U.S. government built, the border has become a lightning rod for violence. Explains author, Charles Bowden, about his book, Murder City, “There are 400 foreign, mainly American, factories in Juárez, they pay at best seventy-five dollars a week, the cost of living in Juárez is about ninety per cent of what it would be on the U.S. side of the border. In addition to this obvious point—that the factories play slave wages and have a turnover on average of one hundred to two hundred per cent a year—the city has now had at least two generations of kids raised pretty much on their own as their parents work five and a half days a week in the factories. It was primed to explode.”

from Peace Developments, Spring 2002

“Supporting Cross-Border Alliances”

This winter in El Paso, Texas, the Peace Development Fund took a bold and new step in our work to support alliance building across the U.S. – Mexico border. On December 5-7, PDF hosted a weekend-long training in Strategic Communications, in Spanish, for more than 30 people from nine organizations: four based in Mexico and five from the United States. The training was designed and provided by the Mexico City-based organization Incide, which, like all organizations invited to the training, is also a PDF grantee.

Incide – whose name translates to “Incite” – is driven by the idea that communication has the power to create deep transformation in our everyday cultures. Incide trainers work with grassroots organizations to share communication and strategic thinking tools, in order to enable people to exercise what Incide believes is a fundamental right to communicate and be heard. This workshop was facilitated by trainer Cecilia Sanchez with the support of Gabriela Sanchez.

For PDF, underlying the content of this workshop was a deeper intention to foster relationship building and an exchange of strategies between a diverse group of organizations along the border and in Mexico. “This workshop brought us together,” PDF board member Teresa Juarez commented at the close of the training. “These workshops are not only about content and techniques – the most important part of this is the human connection.”

Participants shared a common experience of economic globalization’s negative impact on communities of Mexicans and Mexican immigrants to the United States. “We need to democratize the global economy,” explained training participant Gustavo Lozano. “I have witnessed how international economic treaties benefit multinational corporations, not workers. The treaties have facilitated the exchange of goods and services, not people. Mexicans have been demonized in the process.”

The fundamental problems brought on by economic globalization have now been compounded by the political climate of the War on Terrorism – the loss of civil liberties for immigrants, an increase in the militarization of the border, and the favorable political climate for future trade policies (such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas and Plan Puebla Panama) that will affect communities throughout the hemisphere. Now is clearly a critical time to provide resources that strengthen the organizing of Mexican and Mexican immigrant communities who are working to ensure their means of survival.

During the training, participants divided into strategy groups that allowed for an in-depth look at pressing issues. One focused on the government’s refusal to investigate a pattern of brutal murders against an estimated 250 young women over the past eight years in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua (the sprawling city that mirrors El Paso on the Mexican side of the border). Another group brought together organizations to share experiences and strategies surrounding the militarization affecting Mexican immigrants in the U.S. border region and indigenous communities in southeast Mexico.

“The feedback we have received from this training has shown us that bringing these organizations together is an invaluable form of peer-to-peer technical assistance,” explained Reverend John Vaughn, executive director of PDF. “By creating a space for community organizations to interact with each other, PDF works to encourage movement building. This is where organizations work together – across borders and beyond specific issue areas – toward a common vision of justice and peace.”


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.”

Why Can’t Progressives Get Traction?

13 07 2011

As we go into the next election cycle, many on the Left who were enthusiastic about the advent of President Obama and a new political time are now disenchanted and reluctant to re-engage in the mainstream political process. An article from Peace Developments in 1998 suggests that the preliminary lessons from the Peace Development Fund’s Listening Project remain unlearned.

from Peace Developments, Spring 1998

“The Listening Project: Exploring the Pre-Millennium Potential of Progressive Movement-Building”

The United States has not seen a progressive social change movement strong enough to gain substantial victories since the ‘60s. At time sit is hard not to think that we are losing ground as economic inequality becomes more marked and attacks on immigrants, poor people, and organized labor increase. While the progressive movement won critical victories in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the backlash from those successes resulted in the regalvanization of the Right. The progressive movement became ideologically fractured, and in the absence of a uniting vision, the Right was able to win popular opinion about a series of narrowly focused, reactionary ideas based on its own self-interest. As we grow closer to the millennium, PDF is increasingly concerned about the Left’s ability to build real and lasting progressive change.

PDF believes that there are several barriers that inhibit progressive work from achieving greater impact. To name just a couple of those barriers, too many organizations are working in isolation, disconnected from each other and from larger national issues and information, while many of the Left’s victories have been local, leaving a serious need for more regional and national successes. It is in this context that PDF believes it is time to be asking harder questions of ourselves. How can we create consequential change on a national level? How can we make the transition from localized and disconnected work to a strong, broad-based, progressive movement that has the power to transform the national landscape?

Out of the desire to answer these questions – to make sure PDF’s efforts are targeted most effectively to create lasting change – arose the Listening Project. The Listening Project was designed specifically to hear from social change organizers and activists, across a spectrum of sectors and from around the country, to gather thoughts on movement-building in today’s political and social milieu. People’s responses have been intriguing and informative, and have also raised additional, critical questions.

What Is a Social Change Movement?

Listening Project participants are being asked, “What does the term ‘social change movement’ mean to you?” There are some widespread commonalities as well as interesting differences in how people are thinking about social change movements. A common vision seems to be the most necessary characteristic according to respondents, without which people are not connected. The great majority of interviewees feel that, for the most part, progressive work remains disconnected, lacking a shared analysis, consciousness, or vision.

Barriers and Challenges to Building a Broad-based, Progressive Movement

In the “Undoing Racism” training of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond participants are asked to define racism. As their ideas and thoughts are written down, it is clear that people have extremely diverse ways of thinking about racism. Such a varied analysis has colossal implications for undoing or dismantling racism. How can people and organizations that have widely different views about racism work together to dismantle it? Language is very important for developing a shared understanding of issues, and many people have suggested that much more effort must go into creating a common framework for understanding such issues as poverty, racism, and class before we can work together in a meaningful way.

Many interviewees mentioned the need for simultaneous, multiple approaches to progressive social change work. Despite the acknowledgement of the need for diverse roles and strategies in movement-building, there was an overall belief that the various sectors are not interested in connection to one another. This is definitely a point of tension, and a perceived weakness among the Left. Many people are working with the opinion that their strategy is the most effective path toward change, without understanding the synergistic role of the various progressive sectors. For example, without grassroots organizing, there will be no base of people to push progressive policies through, yet there are few policy organizations that outreach to and receive input from the grass roots.

Perhaps one of the most talked about barriers to building a broad-based movement is the challenge of articulating our message. A large majority of interviewees in the Listening Project are talking about our lack of influence with the media. Our work, very simply, is not being reported. This is a devastating problem resulting in serious public misconceptions about truth and reality and an under-representation of the successful progressive work that is happening. People advocated the need for more media savvy and an increase in alternative media projects.

The second aspect of the challenge of articulating our message lies in how we craft our communications and our campaigns to resonate with people and to create links across difference. What are the issues that lend themselves to coalition-building and connecting diverse constituencies? Can we organize around those issues? Some of the issues that have the potential to build bridges are living-wage campaigns, environmental justice, education, and defeating the anti-democratic Right.

Wedge issues pose a serious challenge to the goal of building a broad-based movement. There are huge numbers of organizations that stay away form critical issues in fear of losing membership. Many interviewees expressed the need for help in dealing with high levels of homophobia among their membership. Along the Bible Belt, for example, although organizations may successfully organize around economic justice issues, they avoid working on a gay rights case lest their membership dwindle. In order to address wedge issues and keep them from splitting us apart, many interviewees emphasized the need for extensive education around cultural and oppression issues: This is the pre-work that must be done before a broad –based movement can truly coalesce, they said.

Geographic isolation increases the challenges presented by the lack of a common language or analysis and the efforts to connect oppressions. PDF’s Exchange Project all too often sees groups attending regional workshops, realizing for the first time how many communities face struggles similar to their own. In the Northeast, where the population is highly concentrated and consists predominantly of urban and suburban communities, isolation is not a problem. But the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest, and Northwest have predominantly rural communities. In these regions, groups need more resources and more opportunities to come together.

Surprisingly high numbers of interviewees mentioned factionalism, ego, and turf issues as major barriers keeping progressive work from coming together. When individuals or organizations are more interested in their individual successes than in the greater good, movement-building can be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, these are barriers for which interviewees have no, so far, offered solutions.

As we bring the Listening Project to a close later this spring, we look forward to sharing what we are hearing and learning. In publishing and distributing the findings for the Listening Project, it will be a tool for individuals and organizations interested in movement-building. It will be an examination of the trends in how people think about progressive movement-building, and the implications of those trends. We hope it will spark further dialogue and planning, encouraging others to look at their own work.

Nuclear Repercussions

2 04 2011

It’s so easy to make a mistake.  Or not believe that a tsunami big enough to damage a nuclear energy facility will ever wash ashore.  Or forget all the collateral damage that the race for nuclear weapons during the Cold War caused—and is still causing in our grassroots communities.  Let’s remember, while we watch with horror what’s happening in Japan today.

At the Peace Development Fund, we are committed to making this message heard.  Let’s hope that the lesson will finally get through.

from Peace Developments, Summer 1989

“The Human Cost of Nuclear Weapons Production”

The chances are good that you’ve passed them, unknowingly, while driving on the highways in your own state: a seemingly unremarkable convoy of one truck and two or more escort vehicles.  You probably didn’t event realize they were together – the escorts might have been Chevy Suburbans, or Beechcraft Motor Homes, or even a 40-passenger bus.  And the truck would have been unmarked, nothing to indicate its contents or attract attention.  A perfectly ordinary truck: why should you notice?

In fact, hundreds of trucks like these are under contract to the Department of Energy (DOE), a misnamed bureaucracy which spends more than 65% of its funds to make nuclear weapons.  Every day of the year they travel our public roads hauling refined uranium, plutonium, and tritium gas between the widespread reactor facilities and assembly plants that make up our H-bomb production network.  From 1976 through 1987, these trucks were involved in over 170 accidents on highways from New York to California.  At least once, torpedoes tipped with nuclear warheads have rolled off the bed of a speeding truck onto a metropolitan interstate highway.

Alarming though it may be, the transportation of highly radioactive materials is only a small part of the process of making nuclear weapons.  Some of the most serious environmental threats come from pollution at the facilities themselves.  Recent news reports have focused attention on problems at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina and the Hanford Reservation in Washington, where production reactors make plutonium and tritium.  But these are only two of the thirteen DOE production sites, each of which has an ample record of mismanagement and disregard for the health of workers and townspeople.  In Tennessee, the Oak Ridge facility has released over 23,000 pounds of uranium into the air; at Fernald, in Ohio, six open pits contain a deadly tea of 11 million pound of uranium and other radioactive substances; in Ohio, plutonium from the Mound Laboratory has contaminated local ponds and a public park where children swim and play; and the list could go on.  Epidemiological surveys of surrounding populations are beginning to turn up hard evidence of the hazards that researchers long suspected: high cancer rates, infant leukemia, and genetically-associated deformities.

These problems won’t go away soon: plutonium-239, for example, the substance which initiates a nuclear explosion, has a half-life of 24,000 years.  If you care to figure it, it generally takes eleven half-lives for a substance to decay to “safe levels.”

In response to the health and environmental threat pose by weapons production, anti-nuclear citizen’s campaigns are turning toward new ways of organizing.  Bill Mitchell of the Nuclear Safety Campaign in Seattle sees an increasing sophistication among community-based organizations working in areas surrounding weapons production facilities.

“We’re seeing more and more emphasis on the research, litigation, and advocacy aspects of anti-nuclear activism,” says Mitchell.  “Many groups continue to sponsor civil disobedience actions, but they’re blending that with a commitment to outreach through public exposure of the issue.  Activists are learning the benefits of careful research through Freedom of Information Act requests and the like.”

While large national organizations such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council have been instrumental in providing technical and lobbying support, equally important is the grassroots organizing in neighborhoods surrounding weapons facilities.

These efforts are often complicated: offending facilities are also frequently the main source of livelihood for local residents.  Citizens who speak out for closing bomb factories are often met with suspicion, or worse, by their neighbors.  Management at the private facilities – and the Department of Energy – try to reinforce such suspicions by blaming activists and the media when plants are closed, even when financial problems and gross health risks are the cause.

In many ways, the problems at our nation’s nuclear weapons facilities represent deeper issues at the heart of our national infatuation with “the nuclear deterrent,” as policy makers call our immense arsenal.  For fifty years, civilian control over the military has been eroded by a special relationship between contractors and the Pentagon, and by the secrecy of nominally independent agencies like the Department of Energy.  The energy and sophistication of groups like the Nuclear Safety Campaign and Colorado Peace Network are helping to reestablish a measure of control over the contractors’ unsupervised conduct.  The impressive research and legal challenges being used alongside more traditional organizing activities is a measure of how far the peace movement has come.  Our alliance and environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, and our dialogue with trade union groups concerned for the health of employees indicates the way toward a more secure future – a future when the need for a national defense no longer gives cover to those who poison our water and air.

It’s a lesson in their perfect evil: weapons of mass destruction need not be detonated to bring suffering and death.  If we are going to teach that to the DOE and the profiteers who run its facilities, we have to start at the grassroots.  Thanks to organizers and activist in the peace and environmental movements, the lesson may finally be getting through.

From Washington to Rural PA: Candles and Congressmen

11 02 2011

It has never been unusual for Peace Development Fund grantees to go to Washington for a demonstration or to meet with their congressman.  What was unusual—and still is for many grassroots groups—is to get funding to make the trek.  PDF has a proud history of funding groups in isolated areas to foster connections to the larger social justice and peace movement.

“The trip to Washington in this PDF article from 1984 was memorable on many levels,” says Bob Borzok today.  “I brought home a large poster and still use it from time to time.  Last year I took Russian, and showed it to my professor from Volgragrad University.  She is in her late twenties, and I thought she’d be interested in knowing what was going on over here on this side of the world during that time.”

The Peace Development Fund, like many groups, focused on the nuclear arms race in the early 80s.  Mr. Borzok’s group, PDF grantee the Nuclear War Education Group (NWEG) of Tioga and Potter Counties, evolved into a more general stand for peace.  Today, the Peace Education Group (NWEG’s successor) sponsors an annual Candlelight Walk for Peace.  People hold candles and walk from one end of the town to the other, ending with a message by a local pastor and Christmas tree lighting.  Adds Mr. Borzok, “The event has actually gotten much larger than back in the days when we were more or less protesting.”

Says Bryn Hammarstrom, the Peace Education Group co-chair, “Our area is in the heart of the Marcellus shale natural gas development, and much of the area’s political activity/momentum has shifted to stopping the drilling in NY or limiting the environmental impact of the exploitation in PA.”

Yet through 30 years of acting for social change, the residents of Tioga and Potter Counties five principles for rural organizing that this article talks about still hold:

Move the meetings around.

Publicity is more important than meetings.

Reach people where they live.

Vary the activities.

Take time out for fun!

That’s still how we get to peace.

From Peace Developments, Winter 1984-85

“Working for Peace in Rural Pennsylvania”

Bob Borzok lives in farm country and cares about the arms race. One day he went down to Washington from his home in Pennsylvania to talk to his congressman, Joseph M. McDade, a powerful Republican on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

After listening to the argument that the U.S. needs a huge arms build-up before it can negotiate disarmament, Borzok answered, “In Tioga County farmers know that if you’re going to tear down a barn, you don’t start by building a new roof!”

How do you work for peace in a rural area? Plain speaking and common sense like Bob Borzok’s certainly help. Nonetheless, by all accounts from grantees  in places like Sweetwater County, Wyoming or the mountain country of southwest Virginia, such work is not easy.

The basic hindrance is isolation. People in rural, conservative regions who share a common interest in nuclear disarmament often live geographically far from one another and psychologically even farther from the concentrations of peace activities and strong support systems found in the cities.

If the problem is isolation, then the solution is connection. When Bob Borzok and others formed the Nuclear War Education Group of Tioga and Potter Counties in the spring of 1982, they were connected by one central article of faith: “We believe that our efforts can change the direction of the arms race.” After about six months of educating themselves on the issues, this group of physicians, farmers, public school and university teachers, homemakers, and others started to bring the issues to their larger community.

A skillful approach in such outreach is crucial. This farm country in northern Pennsylvania is solidly Republican. Instead of horrifying people with visions of holocaust, a tactic that probably would have backfired, the Nuclear War Education Group carefully connected with people’s other concerns. For example, it showed a slideshow on the civil defense crisis relocation plan to the Lions and Rotary and asked, “What would actually happen in our community if this plan had to be put into effect?”

When Borzok returned from his visit to Congressman McDade, he shared his experience with his neighbors at the local Grange. Because they have “duly sworn to protect the resources of the land and the rural life we love,” the Charleston Valley Subordinate Grange of Tioga County subsequently adopted a resolution condemning the arms race and supporting a nuclear freeze.

After much experience and success with such local outreach, the Nuclear War Education Group cast its net far wider. With a grant from PDF the group held a conference last spring of peace groups from all over Pennsylvania’s huge, sprawling Tenth Congressional District. Comprising ten counties and lacking any city which serves as a hub of communications, the Tenth District presents a formidable challenge to coordination.

The conference met this challenge well, drawing many participants and creating a district-wide steering committee and communications network for the region’s peace groups. A second grant from PDF has helped to pay for a newsletter and other costs of the new network.

After nearly three years of practice, the Nuclear War Education Group has learned a good deal about working for peace in a rural area. Here are some of their conclusions:

Move the meetings around. With long working days and with long distances to travel, rural people find it hard to get to meetings. Not everyone will come when you alternate the locations of meetings but people in isolated corners of the countryside get a chance to participate and to feel included in the effort.

Publicity is more important than meetings. Small rural newspapers are hungry for substantive articles and good letters to the editor. Many people will not go to meetings, but almost everyone reads either the paper or the “penny saver.” So even though only a small number of people might come to a film about the nuclear issue, hundreds will read the article detailing the film’s message when it appears in the paper.

Reach people where they live. Many farmers will not feel comfortable on a university campus, but they might discuss the nuclear freeze at their Grange or at a church meeting.

Vary the activities. A colloquium is an important medium for some kinds of people, while coffee house events draw others.

Take time out for fun! Working constantly on the subject of nuclear war can become grim. It helps now and then to put aside Mutual Assured Destruction, megatonnage, throw weight, or the prospect of nuclear winter, and to gather instead for a potluck supper where people can bring the kids and just enjoy each other. “I have met some terrific people in this work,” says Dennis Murray, one of the founders of the Nuclear War Education Group. “It is very important in a rural area to find like-minded people, to know that your neighbors care.”

The coming together of people who care remains one of America’s oldest and healthiest traditions. From Crooked Creek, Pennsylvania to the “global village,” it is by such connection that peace will be won.

Still Organizing After All Those Years

31 01 2011

In 30 years, our lives can take us many places, and sometimes even home again. Steve Sumerford was in his 20s when the War Resister’s League received one of PDF’s first grants and sent him off on a disarmament tour of the South. Supporting the year-old Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign which pressured the government to stop the nuclear arms build-up, especially between Russia and the U.S., grassroots groups were organizing across the country to push for nuclear reductions through ballot initiatives in towns and cities. PDF was an early funder and deeply involved in this effort.

Today Sumerford is Assistant Director of the Greensboro Public Library in his native North Carolina, and comments, “I have wonderful things to say about PDF.”  Said Sumerford recently on, “I think that the fact that what was going on for me in high school and college really shaped me about my career and how to spend my time and money.” He noted that many of the achievements younger generations take for granted now were issues we fought long and hard over in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Sumerford says that it intrigues him that so much of what was important to him and to his development growing up in the 1960s and 1970s – including the national conversation about social justice, equal rights and U.S. foreign policy – is largely silent today.

And despite the achievements of the past three decades, the same issues keep surfacing. Consider the New Start treaty, an arms control pact that would force the United States and Russia to pare back nuclear arsenals and resume mutual inspections that lapsed in 2009 for the first time since the cold war. Are we back to where we, and PDF, began?

Sumerford says that he is heartened by what he sees among many younger people, who are bringing their own values to the idea of making a difference in the world. “I am happy to see that there is a growing number of college students and young adults in Greensboro who are getting involved in social change and peace work. They are doing it differently from the way my generation did it and that’s a good thing. They organize meetings and activities with text messaging and blogs. We used to have to turn the crank on a mimeograph machine to get the word out.”

Organizing our communities, one step at a time, perhaps in different ways, but we’re still organizing.

from Peace Developments, May 1982, Vol. 1, No. 1

“Tour Sparks New Groups” by Steve Sumerford, Staff of the War Resister’s League in Durham, North Carolina

With the financial assistance of the Peace Development Fund and the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, I spent five weeks on a disarmament speaking/organizing tour of the South. I visited the following communities: Atlanta; Hazard (KY); Charlottesville; Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Auburn (LA); Tuskegee, Mobile, Carrolton (AL); Memphis, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Dallas and Houston. It would be impossible to detail or even summarize my experiences in each of these communities, but I can share a few of my impressions.

I served many functions on this tour, depending on the needs and desires of the local organizers. In my role as Speaker/Resource person, I gave talks, workshops and media interviews on the following topics: the draft, counter-recruitment, the links between racism and militarism, the economic impact of the arms race, how to make arms control a local issue, the “Freeze” campaign, and the UN Special Session on Disarmament. It became clear to me just how isolated Southerners feel from the rest of the peace and disarmament movement. A personal visit from a regional organizer served to lessen this isolation, and I will be following up this tour with letters and phone calls to local organizers to maintain their new connection with regional and national events.

The most exciting thing about the tour is that I discovered just how much disarmament and anti-militarism organizing is going on in the South. When we first opened the War Resister’s League regional office in 1977, you could count on one hand the disarmament groups in the South. Now there are at least 50 or 60 groups focusing on the issue of militarism in some direct way.

I feel the tour was very successful. I came home with a great sense of hope because of the growing commitment of those dedicated organizers in places throughout the region.

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.