Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill: An Activists’ Crossroad

Graymon Ward & Coleman at the Mayview Collective in Raleigh

Graymon Ward & Coleman at the Mayview Collective in Raleigh

Missing our exit, we wandered around and through and into the heart of Raleigh, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S. Finally, we found our way to the Mayview Collective, the home of Graymon Ward, who offered us the hospitality of the household for the evening. Graymon and Clare H. were both prisoners of conscience in the SOA Watch movement. Coleman and Graymon have connected through the Earth First! Movement. We arrived in time to sit in on a meeting of the local group gathered in the back garden near the chicken yard and the recyclery.WTR Day 2-3 & Greensboro2 047In later conversations about strategies and philosophies in the movement, Graymon emphasized, “Young people want to see concrete results.” He used the example of an action at a coal-fired power plant in Carbo, Va. where Earth First! and Rising Tide activists used nonviolent intervention. Locking down on the truck frame and letting air out of the tire, they temporarily disabled a truck delivering coal to the American Electric Power’s (AEP) Clinch River coal fired electric facility. This action shut down operations throughout the day.

Over dinner, we listened to Meredith, an 18-year old  community member, who talked about the radicalizing experiences at the Republican National Convention where she witnessed and was subjected to indiscriminate police action and jailing of nonviolent actionists. She told us she felt more resonance with the anarchist style of direct action planning used at the RNC. The organizers provided target strategy, general guidelines, maps, and logistical support to affinity groups who then fanned out across the area to act in decentralized and autonomous ways. This contrasted with the more symbolic arrests at the recent Cliffside action in Charlotte, where an orderly march through downtown led to an orchestrated civil disobedience at the headquarters of Duke Energy. Both styles of action were appropriate and relevant in their particular settings for the two different groups of participants.

Other Community members talked of their involvement in anti-gentrification work, opposition to torture rendition flights, and oppressive policies regarding immigrant residents. As the night wore on, most of the house dressed to go out to a goth party while a few of us finished a movie and talked. When we asked about when to lock the door,  we were told, “We never lock the door. The only ones who knock, are probably the cops!”

The Mayview collective is part of ACRe, Action for Community in Raleigh, which serves the activist community with meeting spaces, cooperative housing, skill sharing, a bike recyclery, a community kitchen, urban gardening, and more. The entire front yard of the collective house, actualy a duplex, is a garden. It is situated on a large corner lot, with the homes to one side typical middle-class suburban, and to the back, those of less affluent and more racially diverse neighbors.

In the morning we spent more time with Graymon at breakfast and strategized a bit about  how North Carolina networks can be more effective. Beyond the obvious electronic communications, we were in agreement that reps from different cities should visit and spend more time together. Once again, the theme of getting out of  issue bubbles and silos was key to building alliances.

We had the great opportunity to meet for several hours with Mandy Carter, now active with SONG, Southerners on New Ground, and other groups. Mandy followed Steve Sumerford’s seven years of leadership, to take charge of the WRL Southeast office, a position she held until 1989.

Mandy, Clare & Coleman Connecting

Mandy, Clare & Coleman Connecting

We felt an easy rapport with Mandy, and shared candidly about the opportunities and difficulties of our work as southern activists, particularly around issues of race and class. We all recognize that we carry internalized racism, and that we must find ways to look beyond our own personal biases and the cultural lenses through which we engage the world. We were heartened as she encouraged us to continue our work, and appreciative of how quickly she seemed to understand our intention. She assured us that she could help by sharing contacts and introducing us to others in the area who might assist us with a S.E. organizers’ gathering. She emphasized the importance of collaborative ventures in the work, and agreed to be an adviser as we go forward.

That afternoon we caught up with Susan O’Neill at her veterinarian’s office. She was picking up her dog Sam. We gave the two a ride back to Chapel Hill where we visited Internationalist books, leaving some copies of the Veterans for Peace publication, War Crimes Times. Susan is a long-time environmental activist who lives in Durham where she is an officer with the North Carolina Green party.

Susan is committed to the Ten Key Values of the Green Party, and this is where she sees overlap with the mission of WRL. Susan helped us to make the connection with Ed King. Ed is another long-time N.C. activist and writer. He joined us on short notice for dinner and conversation at Elmo’s at the Carr Mill Mall. Ed served 18 years as regional director of the hunger action group CROP. He organized community CROP hunger walks all over the Carolinas for Church World Service. Ed, a Navy veteran, lives in a simple homestead he renovated on an old tobacco farm in Chatham County. 

Ed King & Coleman share a laugh in Chapel Hill

Ed King & Coleman share a laugh in Chapel Hill

He is a former teacher, scholar of Latin-American history, and hunger activist who served on the Board of Rural Southern Voice for Peace during Clare H.’s tenure there. It was good to catch up with Ed and learn of his continued work, now with the North Carolina Green party and in acting to preserve the “rural traditions of slow growth and ecological sustainability,” in his homeplace, Chatham County.

In all our conversations, we talk about our proposal to the WRL for a S.E. gathering. And as we listen, we realize that such a coming together is a welcome idea, and one many feel they could support. How and when and where it will take shape will continue to be informed by the people on the ground most intimate with the issues that matter to them in their local area, and who will look to such a gathering for skills trainings and collaborative connections that will help further their work for a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.

Next:  Conversations with Peggy Misch and John Heuer
On the farm with GI Rights hotline in Silk Hope, North Carolina
In Fayetteville at Quaker House, Chuck Fager and Wendy Michner


Greensboro: Red Red Roses and “Dixie” Dialog

Isabell's Roses

Isabell's Roses

War taxes us all. We are all made to pay for it in so many ways. Paraphrasing Marine Major General Smedley D. Butler from his 1935 classic, War is a Racket, “…it is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious…It is the only one international in scope… the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

After a weekend of discussion on ways and means of living up to the vision, If you don’t believe in war, then don’t pay for it, we had much to discuss and reflect upon as we traveled on to our next stop—Greensboro, North Carolina.

Just as when we sped north on the west side of the Appalachians towards Harrisonburg, Va., we were equally drawn into the history of the land as we traveled on the eastern side of these oldest of mountains towards Greensboro, North Carolina, and further South. Moving through rolling hills and forested Piedmont, passing through Lynchburg and Appomattox, Virginia, where General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, we were reminded that this land we sometimes call Dixie, has many different associations, to many different people – many of them difficult to acknowledge.

We used the word Dixie in our first post to define a region—the Deep South. Used in this context, Dixie is a folk term referring to a geographic region in which we live and travel. Technically this is the region located south of the Mason-Dixon line between Pennsylvania and Maryland. Dixie is a familiar word in our Southern lexicon and heritage. Not completely unexpected, some of our northern and western colleagues challenged us as to how a progressive organization such as War Resisters League could use this term. What about the slavery; the terrorism of the KKK; and the racial apartheid that divides our region?

We acknowledge that the word carries painful associations with our nation’s historical and persistent oppression based on class and race. As Southerners we have absorbed the regional manifestation of this country’s endemic racism. We see the challenge as another opportunity to confront racism in all its insidious forms. As we travel and write, we have tried to encourage open discourse and debate concerning the appropriateness of continued use of this emotionally-charged word.

When the word Dixie is seen only as a reference to the continued injustice of a tragic segment of Southern history, and is made taboo and politically incorrect, it is stripped of its full poignancy. Dixie can hold deeper and more positive meanings for many people who have lived and worked here for generations.  To identify the South only by the lush diversity of its lands, it’s peoples, and the brighter aspects of its heritage, without seeing it’s darker side, is an incomplete understanding of the region, and leaves us living half a lesson. Understanding the collective pain this word carries for African-Americans and finding ways to mediate this impasse, is part and parcel of the difficult work of nonviolent social change.
At a time of great need and horrible injustice, the rest of the country came to her side and helped to lift Dixie out of her unique personal hell in our struggle towards freedom for all. That’s not to be forgotten. When we asked people on this trip, What does the word Dixie mean to you? the answers were colorful, predictable, and surprising all at the same time.

At the Carolina Country Kitchen in Greensboro, we met Tre, an industrious young Black woman who served our breakfast.  She told us she had lived in the South until age seven, but was raised in Boston. Every summer she visited her grandmother in North Carolina and has recently returned here to raise her daughter. To Tre, Dixie means:… going to the A&P on Sunday afternoons and buying clothes at K-Mart that night; blue grass music, summer weddings, sweet potato pie and picking strawberries; warm nights sitting and swinging on Grannie’s porch, smelling the sweet lilacs, and snapping green beans until my fingers bleed.

Our conversation was abruptly interrupted by a phone call from her 17-year old daughter who thought a strange man was stalking her as she walked to school.  Tre is a single mom. It was a telling scene as she balanced our breakfast dishes in one hand, and while holding the phone in the other, she tried to calm her daughter.

This memory of Dixie contrasts with the experience of four students from N.C. A&T College who chose to sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter an politely request to be served.greenboro-first-day< Within four days, 300 others had joined them. Enduring racist taunting, ridicule, and risk of personal harm, these brave warriors held the high ground for what is now an internationally-recognized turning point in the history of the civil rights struggle. The historic Greensboro Woolworth store is gutted now, awaiting completion of the International Civil Rights Museum.

Later during the day, after our exchange with Tre, we interviewed a group of African-American students on the UNC-Greensboro campus. One outspoken woman addressed the Dixie question in a way that may have expressed the feelings of the majority of Blacks: The word brings to mind all the painful associations of segregation, racist attitudes, cotton fields, oppression, lynchings, and the Klan. Another woman said that she rarely hears the word, but when she does it means all of the South. Two older African-American women who we spoke with later in this loop had different versions of the same sentiment. One physically recoiled at the word, and the other told us that she was still uncomfortable with the idea of “traveling in Dixie,” but could live with the term if used in the context of “reforming Dixie.”

Building bridges between the different cultures and ways people experience the South requires deep listening through layers of hurt and misunderstanding. But, disregarding part of a culture because of its negative connotation, in this case the word by which many know this region, without acknowledging its alternate and positive meanings, leaves WRL at a disadvantage in our work to engage the entire South in an authentic and comprehensive way. 
Our next interview was with Steve Sumerford, who used to run the War Resisters League’s Southeast office in Durham, N.C. in the mid to late 70’s. Steve is now the assistant director of the Greensboro Public Library system. Among other interests, Steve works with WRL Southeast representative

Steve Sumerford and Clare Hanrahan sharing ideas

Steve Sumerford and Clare Hanrahan sharing ideas

Isabel Moore on the board of the Fund 4 Democratic Communities (F4DC). Of all the lessons he has learned in decades of working to sustain a progressive agenda, he emphasized the need for alliance building and more specific skills training to help communities and organizers to see outside their “silos.” We’ve heard this sentiment from numerous people. Sometimes it’s referred to as “issue bubbles.”

 “Alliance building is still an abstract concept for most of the population,” Steve said, “We need to give up time from our own issue to assist with the work of others.” Steve has seen more continuity between Justice and Environmental groups, but says he sees fewer and fewer Peace groups to link up with. This is consistent with the overall drop-off of the anti-war movement since the post-911 surge of activity.  His work with the F4DC supports community-based initiatives and institutions that foster authentic democracy to make communities better places to live. The F4DC makes grants, provides direct technical assistance, and conducts research. It is based at a collective community space in Greensboro called the HIVE (History. Information. Vision. Exchange.)

We pulled up to the HIVE just as Tim Hutchinson, keys in hand, was locking up.

Jordan and Tim explain the workings of the HIVE

Jordan and Tim explain the workings of the HIVE

When we explained our interest, he reversed course and gladly showed us the facilities and discussed the work that is shared in the collective. The Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), NCOSH, the Transportation Advocacy Center, the Fund 4 Democratic Communities, Food Not Bombs, and a Holistic Health provider all have offices there, and many people came and went as we talked. At the HIVE they are walking the walk of building alliances among communities and between “silos.” When we discovered that Issabel lived just around the corner, we paid her a surprise visit. She had just finished a 15-page paper and was buried deep inside a 20-page production. We quickly reaffirmed our commitment to get together after her schoolwork was finished, so with big hugs all around and a beautiful red rose from her yard, we hit the road again.

Isabel and Coleman in Greensboro

Isabel and Coleman in Greensboro

Next stops: Raleigh/ Durham/ Chapel Hill/ Carrboro and Silk Hope. Stay tuned….

War Tax Resistance! The Bucks Stop Here!

Farmer Daniel Woodham of Greensboro, N.C. addresses war tax resisters at Harrisonburg, Va. meeting

Farmer Daniel Woodham of Greensboro, N.C. addresses war tax resisters at Harrisonburg, Va. meeting

Our travels took us through the Shenandoah Valley, a land of rolling mountainous terrain that once absorbed the violence of Civil War battles and skirmishes. Our destination was Harrisonburg, Virginia, for the gathering of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC). People from around the country, who refuse to pay for war, rendezvouzed at the Community Mennonite Church to further our work of nonviolent resistance against the war economy and the conscription of our taxes to support war profiteers.

NWTRCC gatherings always get to a core value at the heart of resistance to war: If you don’t believe in war, don’t pay for it. Twice yearly the Coordinating Committee comes together to strategize with peace and justice activists and to share skills and experiences of war tax resistance.

Ray Gingerich, professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Eastern Mennonite University, set the challenge for members of his congregation with the statement, “It’s time to be Christians and Pacifist Christians; to not resist war taxes is categorically contradictory!” Both secular and spiritually minded exchange guided the committee through it’s business and strategic planning sessions. Workshops, a movie review, group and panel discussions punctuated by shared stories of long time tax resistance, commanded 0ur interest. Scattered throughout the weekend was plenty of opportunity for fun away from the conference. Mixing with our gracious and generous hosts throughout the community widened and deepend our conversations.

WTR Day 2-3 & Greensboro 017

 For a more detailed report on the event, read David Gross’ account on his website.  

We shared an impressive Saturday dinner at the Grand Opening of Our Community Place, a volunteer supported community kitchen and neighborhood center with the vision:  To build around our free noon meal, an atmosphere of love, safety, education, spiritual awareness, healing, and fun.  

It was a fine way to spend the first weekend of May among so many who “oppose militarism and war and refuse to complicitly participate in the tax system which supports such violence.”

Sharing the Table in Harrisonburg
Sharing the Table in Harrisonburg

With a renewed commitment to end war by resistance to paying for it through our taxes, we headed out for Greensboro, North Carolina to meet with former War Resisters League Southeast director Steve Sumerford. Look for our next few posts as we travel South towards Savannah, Ga.

Jonesborough: Depleted Uranium– A Story That Needs Telling

Linda Modica of Jonesborough, Tenn. Telling the Story of Depleted Uranium

Linda Modica of Jonesborough, Tenn. Telling the Story of Depleted Uranium

“People have to know,” Linda Modica stressed.  On May Day we sat down to a cup of tea together in Johnson City, Tennessee, . We came to learn more about Linda and  her work to expose the deadly truth about the depleted uranium weapons (U238 uranium weapons cores) manufactured at AeroJet Ordinance near her home in Jonesborough.

 “It’s the perfect pollutant,” she continued, sharing with us a book by Afghanistan author and presidential candidate, Mohammed Daud Miraki.  Afghanistan After “Democracy” The Untold Story Through Photographic Images  provides an alternative source of information about how life is in post-democracy Afghanistan, and graphically depicts the human costs of the  “everlastingly killing product” called depleted uranium.

Linda, a Manhattan native, moved to Jonesborough over fifteen years ago with her physician husband who came to teach at East Tennessee State University. Over the years, she said, the rural neighborhood where they lived received quarterly announcements about the testing of the emergency evacuation system at AeroJet Ordinance. It wasn’t until 2006, when Cliff Kindy of the Christian Peacemaker Teams called, that she was finally alerted to the real danger of the facility.

“They put the plant out in the county, in a very rural location, tucked away on a two-lane state road,” she told us. “They have an insidious grip on county government,” she added, telling us that the manager of the munitions plant became  chair of the local Chamber of Commerce. AeroJet is a subsidiaryof Jen Corp of Californina. 

DOE is charged with handling and disposal of the depleted uranium waste from all our nuclear facilities. “There are tons of it,” she told us, “and there is no repository”. DOE has private contractors which ship the DU to Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee which then delivers the radioactive material to the facility in Jonesborough. At AeroJet, the DU is converted into ammunition and other ordnance used in battle. This dense, heavy metal is perfect for use in armor piercing rounds which pass through thick steel plating like it was butter. Upon impact, heat from the kinetic energy vaporizes the DU which is then spread into the air and surrounding environment contaminating the area with radioactive dust for generations, a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.


Linda cites the work of Rosalie Bertell, a Catholic nun from Pennsylvania,  as “unimpeachable” on the issue of depleted uranium. Bertell writes:

DU is a weapon that destroys one’s own military and the generally exposed civilian population, as well as enemy combatants. It renders the postwar civilian environment hazardous for many years to come.”

“The plague is upon us and we have to stop it,” Linda stressed. The strength of her will to carry this fight forward is inspiring.

In 2007, Linda attended the United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ) conference in Chicago. The group chose Oct. 27, 2007 as a day of action against the war. Linda successfully lobbied to have that action focused in Jonesborough, and many of us from throughout the Southeast joined her there.  I told them if they did it in Jonesborough, all the papers will pick up the story. They did.

“Its an Appalachian problem, an Appalachian issue,” Linda told us.  We agreed and promised to stay in touch, to learn more, and to gather support for her efforts. 

To punctuate the reality of the political climate where Linda is living and working, the gunshop we passed on the road out of town said it all. 

In the South, as we’ve heard so many times,  where the most work needs to be done, it is often the most difficult to accomplish.


Parting Shots from Johnson City, Tennessee

Parting Shots from Johnson City, Tennessee

Are You Army Strong?

UNCA SDS members take a stand

UNCA SDS members take a stand

“The military guarantees you a job — and accompanying salary and health benefits — and marketable skills that can be used for a civilian career,” so said U.S. Army Sgt. First Class William West, a recruiter from Asheville quoted in a recent article in the the Asheville Citizen-Times.

With both recruitment rates and the suicide rates of recruiters on the rise, on a short notice from the UNC Asheville chapter of (the new) Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), WRL Asheville joined the GI-Rights/Counter Recruitment demonstration at the military recruiting station in Asheville. The action was in solidarity with a national call for a day of action on April 23 to stop recruitment. Coleman assisted students with a Press Advisory, combining information from their website with material from WRL literature. This brought out a local television crew to film. Six SDS members and we two from WRL Asheville gathered in the late afternoon.

As we arrived, three Army recruiters were outside the office catching a cigarette, they seemed a little surprised and taken aback when we approached them just as an Asheville police officer pulled away. Had the police intercepted our press release? Had they been informed by the media of our intent?

Making connections

Making connections

  “You don’t have to worry. You can stand down, we’re not going to rush your office today,” Coleman told the three camo-clad recruiters. He offered them the literature we carried, including the GI Rights Hotline card and the WRL brochure, “The Military is Not Just a Job…It’s Eight Years of Your Life.”

Disarming them with his affable manner, he continued “I understand you have a tough job, and that the pressure is on you to meet a quota.. I respect you as warriors, but I despise the war.” The Older sergeant who said he had done three tours in Iraq readily accepted the GI rights hot line, nodding when Coleman told him “You don’t always get the whole story when you sign up, and when you get back in the states, support is not always there.”

While we were standing outside, several people came by to sign up or get information from the recruiters. One man arrived in a pick-up truck with his son. As Coleman approached, he responded “I served, and I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”

“No matter what happens with your son in there, there is good information on this card he may need,” Coleman persisted. “Here is a phone number he can call and get straight information from people who have been there and know the services that might be available to GI’s”
He took the card. Once again, it was the GI Rights hotline card that broke the ice.

This particular counter-recruitment demo came on the heels of a successful campus action where students, part of a counter-recruitment rapid deployment force, sat down and surrounded the recruiters table, set up without notice on campus, and completely shut down the operation.

The media coverage on the evening news seemed fair, with a focus on the students who were well spoken and well informed about the issues.

It was a good day of action and solidarity across the generations.