Carrboro: Long Perspectives and Broad Foundations

WTR Day 2-3 & Greensboro2 066“She’s the crossroads where all activists meet,” Pittsboro resident John Heuer said of his friend and colleague Peggy Misch.

This time, we met with Peggy in Carrboro, N.C., in the shade of the large Oaks outside the historic Carr Mill Mall. It was a privilege to listen to these two long-time activists talk about their work and to garner some advice for our proposed S.E. Regional gathering, and share ideas about how regional activists can strengthen our networks for collaborative action.

We were first introduced to Peggy in Charlotte a month earlier, at the Duke Energy Stop Cliffside Coal Plant action.  Our mutual friend, Triangle WILPF member, and peace walker Jean Chapman introduced us then, and has helped to connect us with many other key organizers in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle area.

Clare, Jean & Peggy in Charlotte

Peggy is rounding out her seventh decade as an activist in the most dynamic sense of the word.  In 2008 she was given the International Human Rights Award from The Human Rights Coalition of North Carolina for her work across many issues throughout the decades. Peggy brings passion and determination to these and other just causes she has embraced. And sitting across from her to listen,  it was apparant that her influence is wide reaching and vital with groups such as North Carolina Stop Torture Now, and the Coalition for Peace With Justice, a group working to establish a just peace in Israel and Palestine.  Peggy also spoke ofher concerns for immigrant rights, particularly with the injustices perpetrated by 287G legislation, and her work as a founder of the Orange County Bill of Rights Defense Committee.  

After 26 years, John has retired from Architectural and Engineering Services at UNC Chapel Hill.   He is a Viet Nam war resister and community organizer involved in numerous and varied groups, including the North Carolina Greens, and Veterans for Peace , Chapter 157 in North Carolina’s Triangle area.  John has recently taken a lead role with NC Peace Action.   Coleman and John first met on a conference call with the Backbone Campaign’s Bill Moyer helping to coordinate the late March North Carolina loop of The Procession for the Future”. This touring parade uses high production value art, puppetry and spectacle to animate our aspirations and portray a set of progressive policy priorities. 

Both Peggy and John had been in Johnston County the night before to appeal to the County Commissioners to sign a pledge prohibiting the torture taxi extraordinary rendition flights flown through Aero Contractors in Smithfield, North Carolina. 

Clearly, these elders have not let “retirement” keep them from the work at hand. They have much to teach, much to share, and a spirited perspective on ways forward based on decades of dedicated work for justice.

Old places and old persons in their turn, when spirit dwells in them, have an intrinsic vitality of which youth is incapable, precisely, the balance and wisdom that come from long perspectives and broad foundations— George Santayana (Spanish born American Philosopher, Poet and Humanist )WTR Day 2-3 & Greensboro2 067

NEXT: We’re greeted at Silk Hope Catholic Worker by a new generation. 


Coming Events: WRL Asheville

 Cliffside Debriefing: What Happened? What Now?

June 10, 2009    North Asheville Library   1030  N. Merrimon Avenue
6:15pm to 7:00pm Gather and Socialize      
7:00pm to 9:00pm Debriefing 

An opportunity for us to share, review and discuss experiences from the May 20th Cliffside-Duke Energy Action in Charlotte, N.C.

Arrestees, Legal Observers, & Jail Supporters, as well the general public, are invited to share their stories and observations of this collective climate action.
General discussion on what might be done next; How Cliffside ties into a bigger picture; and future training opportunities… Hope to see you there!

Gathering arranged by WRL Asheville and Cliffside coalition folks.

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.

Duke’n it Out with King Coal: Victory on the Other Side of Cliffside

War takes many forms on this imperiled Earth. King Coal is one of the most profitable and destructive, particularly in the mountains of Appalachia.


As the storms of Climate Change gather strength, resistance to the War against Nature is rising and gaining power on all fronts. When presidential candidate Obama spoke in Asheville last October, his earnest campaign workers were careful to keep out any critical signs or banners.  As thousands gathered in the outdoor stadium, a large van painted with a Clean Coal message pulled up and parked close to the entrance touting the dirty lie.  Not to be daunted or censored, local war resisters secreted in a large banner:  “Appalachia Says, Don’t Betray Us—Clean Coal Kills.”  We unfurled it and held it high in full view of the candidate and thousands of his avid supporters. It took twenty minutes before Obama’s crowd controllers demanded we fold it up. Only when Barak left the stadium, did we comply and fold up the banner.

The movement to halt Mountaintop Removal coal mining and the deadly coal-fired energy plants, which it feeds, is growing rapidly. It is a movement of persistent activists who are increasingly willing to take personal risks on behalf of their planet. The Cliffside Climate Action Call to Conscience, in Charlotte this past weekend, should be a wake up call to King Coal that such crimes against the Earth and future generations will not be tolerated.

Its about power. It’s about money. It’s about who gets to decide, said Jim Warren of NC WARN addressing the crowd following an afternoon of Direct Action Training. The determination to stop Mountaintop Removal and Dirty Coal is uniting activists across many areas of struggle. There are some very powerful voices calling us to action.

 Mountainkeeper Larry Gibson is one. His family has lived on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia since the early 1700s. I’m against coal. Coal kills, he told the crowd assembled for Direct Action Training at the Unitarian Church in Charlotte. “I’ve been told I should be arrested for treason, I’ve been told that I was a radical, an extremist.  But how should I react to what has been happening around me all my life!

A 12,000-acre flattened moonscape, that used to be mountains, now surrounds his home. Where once he looked out on a panorama of mountain ridges above his home, his house is now the highest point around – amid the devastation of this strip-mine. His 50-acre property near Charleston is an oasis he regularly opens up to students and activists from throughout the world who come to witness the cost of our reliance on coal for electricity and to join the battle against King Coal

 I fully expect to get arrested tomorrow, Gibson continued, referencing the planned civil disobedience at Duke Energy.

I fully expect to lose my life in this struggle. I do it for you. I do it for the people coming behind me. I do it so they won’t take it all. I do it because it is right. You people now—you can change it.

 Gibson’s words stirred many in the audience to risk arrest, including Asheville residents Laura and Ole Sorensen, who we traveled with to the rally. Also in the van from Asheville were Michael and Jessica, two young activists from the east Tennessee communities of Seymour and Gatlinburg. We first met them at the nonviolence training we facilitated for the Capitol Climate action in D.C. They braved the snow and cold on that adventure, and we caught up with them again in Oak Ridge, on a sunny-day vigil at the Y-12 bomb plant. Debralee from Black Mountain, an advocate of the Department of Peace, took time off from her household cleaning business to join us. We seven were offered gracious hospitality in the Charlotte home of retired banker Pat Brugh and his wife, Molly.  The coalition of organizers saw to it that everyone who attended was well cared for throughout the event.

The nonviolence training drew more than sixty people. Greenpeace Action coordinator James Brady and Hendersonville, N.C. activist Bruce Turk co-facilitated and helped prepare folks for the peaceful confrontation with Duke Energy. This corporation profits from the extraction and combustion of coal—the most urgent environmental issue threatening the world today. It’s the money. Current data on supply and demand for electricity reveals that eight coal plants could be taken off line today. But, at a combustion rate of 50-60 tons per minute and at $80 to $95 per ton, one can see that the construction of the Cliffside facility is not motivated by future demand. As society learns to conserve more and more there will be even less of an energy demand.

At the Sunday potluck supper, the food, music and camaraderie showed the heart of this movement. There was some persimmon pudding from an old mountain family recipe, lively tunes from a string band, and rousing protest songs from Asheville songwriter and street musician Ginnie Waite.

Peacekeepers consult at MLK,jr statue in Charlotte

Peacekeepers consult at MLK,jr statue in Charlotte

The march stepped off from Charlotte’s lovely Marshall Park, where green-helmeted peace-keepers gathered around a bronze statue of Martin Luther King, Jr., and prepared to assist the 350 to 400 walkers moving along sidewalks into the heart of downtown.

Stop Cliffside Rally Outside Gov. Bev. Purdue's Charlotte Office

Stop Cliffside Rally Outside Gov. Bev. Purdue's Charlotte Office

Police on bicycles, Segways and motorcycles kept the marchers on the sidewalks while thousands of Charlotte’s lunch crowd watched the passing parade, including scores of workers sitting on a low wall across from the Duke Energy headquarters where a new building is under construction. 

Various speakers took the microphone in the park, others spoke at the door of Governor Beverly Perdue’s office.  Earth First! , RAN, and The Ruckus Society founder Mike Rosselle,  and the Rev. Nelson Johnson of the Greensboro, N.C.  Beloved Community Center rallied the crowd to action on the corner across from Duke Energy. Forty-four modern heroes stepped over a line painted along the sidewalk in front of the offices of Duke Energy. Rather than coming out to address the crowd, CEO James E. Rogers authorized the arrest of these peaceful protestors, including teachers, students, nurses and doctors, workers, organizers, young and retired persons. Many who were participating in this act of  civil disobedience did so for the first time.

Be strong, be courageous, know that you’re doing the right thing and victory will be ours, Rev. Nelson Johnson called out as those risking arrest prepared to approach the line. “There is victory on the other side of Cliffside. There is victory on the other side of darkness.”

The actual arrest went peacefully. The police seemed unprepared for the large numbers of protesters and persons willing to “cross the line”. They were quoted as being, “appreciative of the organization and orderliness” of this mostly symbolic stand. The result was a virtual media coup. Local and national print and radio picked up the Associated Press feed and mobile satellite units made sure it was on national TV everywhere. Kudos to our media spokespeople for a great job!

The vigil at the jail went well into the night. Arrestees were released in batches. The final ones out the door included our van-mates Laura and Ole Sorensen, Asheville physician Richard Fireman of the N.C. Interfaith Power & Light, and Larry Gibson of Kayford Mountain. It had been a long day and an even longer night for those confined in the 2,000 capacity Mecklenberg County Jail . Those doing jail support, waiting outside, breathed a collective sigh of relief- 44 IN & 44 OUT.


Duke Energy’s Cliffside power plant has become a national symbol as one of the last bastions of dirty coal and corporate irresponsibility in ignoring economic, health, climate change and other environmental consequences, said Donna Lisenby, North Carolina Riverkeeper of the Upper Watauga River and one of the organizers of the Cliffside Rally. 

Laura & Ole free at last! The crew heads back to Asheville

Laura & Ole free at last! The crew heads back to Asheville

Taxes, TEA and Fireside Conspiracy

garden-0075The nettles are knee high in my backyard garden and still tender enough for a nutritious meal. The potatoes I buried last month are pushing dark green leaves up among the Jerusalem artichoke shoots that want to take over the yard, and the leeks are fat-stemmed with a firm grip in the earth.  All the garden life is seeking the sun that the tulips have caught in bright golden and purple cups. The lilac scents the afternoon breeze as I write, and myriad voices of birdsong mingle with conversations of neighbors as the church bell at St. Lawrence Basilica tolls the hour. Coleman is on a conference call now with the organizing task force of the War Resisters League, and I feel I’ve got the easier work taking to the garden to write.
The cinders from our tax-day fire circle are cold but I’m still fired up from a week of action and discussions on justice and peace, activism and apathy, along with workshops on successful strategies for nonviolent direct action.  On Tuesday, Asheville Area War Tax Resisters joined with Veterans for Peace and other advocates for justice in a remarkable Interanational Studies class at  UNCA called “Negotiating Peace,” led by Professor Elizabeth Snyder. Among the mix of local activists was Mike Robinson, an Iraq Veteran Against the War, and Elliott Adams, former President of the national Veterans for Peace who arrived that morning via Greyhound after 28 hours travel from New York. 

Elliott Adams Addresses International Studies Class

Elliott Adams Addresses International Studies Class

We elder activists shared stories of our lives and motivations for continued resistance against war. As powerful as these are, I found most poignant the stories the students shared—many were trying to find ways of relating to friends or family members who were actively engaged in the wars and occupations.

“It’s so hard to sit across the dinner table from my father,” one student said, her tears close.  “Both he and my step mother have been in the military a long time.  They believe what they are doing is right. He can’t even remember how many people he has killed,” she told us. “It’s hard to know that he makes his living this way, and that is how my tuition is paid,” her tears now streaming.  

Another young man, soon to be released from reserve service, had been a soldier in Iraq. He had been to the battlefields and was enrolled in the class as a way of reevaluating the role of the military in solving world problems. After his discharge, he said, he returned as a contractor. He then re-enlisted to work with Civil Affairs as a liaison between the military and civilians in the war zone.  “I found out that they don’t really know what they are doing there,” he said.  

Future Peace Negotiators

Future Peace Negotiators

A community guest, Iraq Veteran Mike Robinson, told about the non-combatant he killed while on patrol between two villages. “We heard a noise and I was ordered to shoot,” Mike recalled, as he pointed out the places on his own body where the Iraqi man had been hit by his bullets. “You need to remember that these people have been fighting in one way or another for generations and carry AK-47’s for protection against bandits and warring factions. He wasn’t an insurgent or terrorist. He was a father of eleven, simply out checking his farm and his animals” Robinson said.  “We put him in the back of the truck but he bled out. It’s why I’m against this war.”  Robinson is a member of the local Iraq Veterans Against the War, and though he has told his story before, it was obviously a difficult one to relate. You could sense his struggle with tears as well. He showed photos from his website of his woodworking art.  “It helps when I can use my hands to create something beautiful,” he said. Explaining that he has made more than one suicide attempt.  

Stepping Out on Tax Day

Stepping Out on Tax Day

On Wednesday, Asheville Area War Tax Resisters, along with Elliott Adams, stepped out from Woodlawn Wilds, an activist gathering place, and walked into town behind a magnificent banner, the handiwork of designer and activist Coleman Smith. We leafleted at the library and post office, engaging the police foot patrol. At one corner, as a driver stopped and leaned out her window to take a picture, holding up a line of traffic, the chief of police stepped out of the unmarked car behind her, gave me a knowing glance, and told the driver, “You’re holding up traffic, Ma’am. You’d best move one.”

“Most of the local tax resistance crowd was headed to city-county plaza as part of the nationally organized “TEA-party.”
We soon left the post office to the donut lady who was handing $1 coupons for “Dunkin Donuts,” and thanking folks for paying their taxes. We headed down to join the other tax resisters.

At the county building we raised our banner high in front of a crowd of at least 500 citizens fed up with bailouts and pork-barrel spending. It was an eclectic mix of mostly right-wing, good conservative Americans, including folks fired up by Fox News, Libertarians, out of work workers, and young families. Anti-Obama sentiment was widely expressed. These are our neighbors – some strongly opposed to everything we might be advocating. Yet many of them are simply struggling with why and how did it get so bad? We quickly distributed 400 or more War Tax Resistance Pie Charts among the crowd. Only a few were returned—one torn to shreds. “Here, use this a toilet paper,” one woman said as she handed the crumpled paper back to me.
“Ain’t Democracy great?” I retorted.
“Yes, it is,” another spectator said, taking a flyer.
“Wait, don’t take those,” a woman shouted as I passed through the crowd. “It says to not fund the military!”

Later that evening at a potluck and fireside gathering at Clare’s Asheville home, we were joined by WRL interim staff Clare Bayrd and her traveling companions, Ingrid and Ari working with a California group known as Catalyst. As usual at our Woodlawn Wilds gatherings we had lots of good conversation over a generous amount of food. Coleman took charge in the kitchen and prepared the backyard fire circle; Clare welcomed guests as Redmoonsong continued to prep food. Steve and Rusty sat side by side on the couch working out last minute details on Rusty’s belated decision to get his 1040 filed. Elliot downloaded photos from the day’s action as everyone began filling their plates.

Local Veterans for Peace, war tax refusers, Women in Black, working folks, Raging Grannies, and an assortment of neighbors filled the house and flavored the tax day festivities. Elliott noted that in a survey of successful versus not-so-successful peace action groups, it was those who had pot-luck gatherings who thrived.

Resistance is a Class Act!

Resistance is a Class Act!

Thursday, Elliott Adams led a small group of Veterans, joined by War Resisters League members in a workshop about the ways the national VFP works to support local chapters and to encourage input into policy making decisions. We then discussed specific local actions and debriefed on the Asheville VFP’s “Rolling Vigil” atop a local veteran’s flatbed truck. Elliot finished out that session with techniques to determine efficacy and target audience response. Later the evening he spoke at the University for a public event sponsored by Asheville WRL, VFP Chapter 099, and UNC-Asheville SDS on nonviolent direct action.

Elliott shared his bias that national organizations need to come full circle to restructure themselves from the bottom up with a spokes council approach. This echoes much of the common wisdom from the ground here in the Southeast as well as the intent of WRL National’s new structure and movement to realign itself with a more community-based local network of chapter’s, affiliates, and contacts.

Building connections, bridging issues, supporting each other in this work…that is what will nurture us into a springtime of hope and new directions in this world at war.

Our "Neighbors" at the Buncombe County TEA Party

Strategies for Direct Action: VFP’s Elliot Adams in Asheville

Elliott Adams was a paratrooper in the infantry and seved in Viet Nam, Japan, korea, and Alaska. He is a Nonviolent Training Coordinator for Veterans for Peace.  Join with WRL Asheville, Veterans for Peace, Chapter 099, and UNCA Students for a Democratic Society in a workshop and presentation by this seasoned nonviolent direct actionist.

UNCA Whitman Room, Ramsey Library.
7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16, 2009

Elliott Adams

Elliott Adams