Over 100 people turned out to discuss peace and to develop a strategy to end the wars in the Middle East.

Meeting Energizes Peace Community

On the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the peace movement in our politically conservative San Joaquin Valley got a big boost. One hundred thirty-one people spent a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon discussing the most effective local actions for ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the drone attacks in Pakistan. They discussed many aspects of war and peace, human motivation and the history of the peace movement, but their challenge was to focus on the local peace movement today and the responsibility of each individual to commit to the success of a local strategy for ending our nation’s wars. By the end of the day, almost everyone had committed to action by signing up to work on the various tasks required for success.

The current level of peace activism in Fresno and the Valley is far too little, but we have many strong organizations working for peace. The 9/11 meeting showcased these organizations so that participants could see the infrastructure already in place to support action.

The Peace Community Meeting and Dinner was organized by Peace Fresno and co-sponsored by the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fresno. These groups and others working to end the current wars briefly presented information about their work. Included were KNXT/Catholic Diocese of Fresno, Fresno Food Not Bombs, the Community Alliance newspaper, Fresno Free College Foundation KFCF 88.1 FM, Sun Mt, the Fresno County Green Party and the Fresno County Democratic Party. Everyone present received a folder with details about the groups. Identifying active groups that comprise the local peace movement was an important part of the day’s program. Each has its own focus, and awareness of the groups helped people consider where their interests and skills fit best.

The Raging Grannies entertained and Sweet Tomatoes catered a lovely meal.

Peace activists young and old attended the event.

Peace Fresno’s board of directors was confident that the 50 most dedicated peace activists could be counted on to show up for the Peace Community Meeting and Dinner, but as the reservations grew from 50 to 85 to 100 and beyond they realized that, as Mike Rhodes said, “The event struck a chord with a lot of people.” A year ago, when the Obama administration was less than a year old and the President hadn’t sent an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, the attendance probably would have been less. Now we know we can’t count on the President or the Democrats in Congress to end the wars. It’s up to us.

Dr. Jackie Ryle facilitated a discussion focused on questions related to increasing the effectiveness of the local peace movement. She has 40 years experience as a facilitator statewide and nationwide, with a focus on the Central Valley. Dr. Ryle holds a Ph.D. in human and organizational systems, teaches at Alliant International University and Fresno State University and conducts seminars throughout the state. Her book, All I Want Is A Little Peace, is used by crisis intervention leadership teams in several countries. Under her guidance, the meeting was interesting, focused and productive.

Dialogue started when Dr. Ryle posed the questions for the day. People responded, summarized and recorded their responses.

A few of the many responses follow. Detailed information about the questions posed and the responses is posted at the Peace Fresno Web site (www.peacefresno.org), as are additional pictures. Jim Grant, KNXT Channel 49 producer, videotaped the event and has copies available. If anyone desires a 2-hour DVD recording of the gathering, contact Jim at 559-488-7480 x104 or jgrant@dioceseoffresno.org.

“What is the value of a local peace movement?”

  • Mutual support
  • Community leadership to step forward for peace—witness
  • Political power
  • Encouragement for commitment to act
  • Educate the community

“What has the peace movement in Fresno achieved in the past?”

  • Visibility in corporate media
  • Infrastructure and community: KFCF radio, Community Alliance newspaper, meeting place (UU Church, Fresno Center for Nonviolence)
  • Counter-recruitment (of military)
  • Dissent
  • Education

The key question: What would be the most effective actions for us to take in the coming year to end the wars?

  • Build unity in peace movement, including veterans and religious community
  • Youth engagement
  • Alternative independent media—youth, new media forms, video music, remixing, support and use social media, e.g., Facebook
  • Support Citizens for Civility and Accountability in Media (CCAM)
  • Call radio shows, write letters to the editor
  • Reframing peace message from war to peace
  • Educate on effects of war—debate
  • Run progressives for local offices and hold elected officials accountable; letters, protest, voting
  • Identify the cost of war and community needs

Camille Russell, Peace Fresno president from October 2009 to September 2010, emphasized that good ideas are critical to success, but without action to carry them out they are useless. People signed up for ways in which they will actively participate. People who weren’t at the meeting can go to the Peace Fresno Web site, review the tasks at the end of Dr. Ryle’s report and e-mail Peace Fresno regarding their interests and willingness to help.

Ideas from small group sessions were shared with the larger group. A special thanks to Dr. Jackie Ryle for these photos.

Now the challenge is to transform the energy and enthusiasm of the peace community demonstrated on September 11 into a working plan. Richard Stone of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence suggested the following process as the next step. “I think a small group needs to go through the final response sheets and formulate two or three activities (e.g., sitting in at [Rep. Jim] Costa’s office with the possibility of civil disobedience; planning a billboard campaign; trying (again) to get speakers into FUSD—whatever comes out of the written comments), asking attendees to enlist in one or more [activity]and asking participating groups to adopt one or more [activities]. Then have committees start meeting for each of these.”

This is a good place to start. The small group should include representatives from the groups that co-sponsored the meeting; they have experience with their members and the community. Others newly motivated should also participate. Contact Camille at 559-276-2592 or camille.russell@att.net, any active member of the organizations participating in the meeting or go to www.peacefresno.org.

We can’t know exactly how the process will develop or what the outcome will be, but we can be confident that our peace community has the resources to greatly increase its effectiveness. Now is the time to personally commit to action to build a larger, stronger, more visible, and more effective force against the wars.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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