Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County
celebrating 30 years
CHRIS SMITH - THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | October 26, 2014
Is the world more peaceful and just today than 30 years ago? Whether it is or not,
Alice Wacoand Mary Moore have turned gray toiling in their own ways to make it
so. At 83, Waco, a retired Santa Rosa teacher and seasoned activist, focuses
most intently on seeking to mentor prison inmates to the realization that violence
doesn’t work. Camp Meeker resident Moore, 79, is a one-person political clearing
house who collects and distributes information on issues ranging from the Israeli
blockade of Palestinians to the shooting of Andy Lopez and advocates action that falls generally in the liberal-to-radical range.
Both Moore and Waco have helped to write the story of the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, just now celebrating three decades of grappling to resolve the world’s conflicts, and its own.
A degree of struggle within the center has been inevitable as members have sought to come to consensus on plotting the political positions and priorities of a local, left-of-center consortium that’s housed within a small space in Santa Rosa’s South A Street district and seeks to help bring humankind closer to peace.
An early debate flared over the very naming of the center. The delegates of a collection of advocacy groups who created it in 1984 — amid the U.S.-entangled wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and President Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” approach to the nuclear-arms race with the Soviet Union — dubbed it the Sonoma County Peace Center.
Moore and Waco were among the advocates of calling it the Peace & Justice Center. Said Moore, “It was second nature; if you want peace, work for justice.”
Waco said peace and justice “are really both the same. They feed on each other, as injustice and violence feed on each other.”
Certainly, no one at the Peace Center opposed civil justice. But the proposed name change prompted an examination of the center’s mission, which initially focused intently on advocating solutions to war and the risk of nuclear catastrophe.
Look at the groups that came together to create the Peace Center and share a rented meeting/education/advocacy space on Pacific Avenue, near Santa Rosa Junior College. Allied with the founding Sonoma County Peace Network were Lawyers for Reduction of Nuclear Arms, SONoMoreAtomics, Women for Nuclear Disarmament, People for Peace in Central America, Gray Panthers, Occidental Nuclear Education, Draft Counseling Center and Educators for Social Responsibility.
Recalled Waco, “We were all doing our own little things and decided we needed to get together.” Catalysts to that decision in 1984 included speaking engagements in Sonoma County by two of the period’s foremost peace proponents: anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott and radical priest Daniel Berrigan.
Persuaded by Moore, Waco and others to add “Justice” to the name of their busy little center on Pacific Avenue, members took often to the streets to protest and commit civil disobedience in opposition to U.S. involvement in the rebel wars in Central America, and to nuclear proliferation and the production and sale of war toys.
Among the early leaders of the Peace and Justice Center were many of the Who’s Who of pacifism and left-of-center activism in the county: Adrienne and Len Swenson, Lucy Forest, Barry Latham-Ponneck, Earl Herr, Shirley and David Thatcher, Shirley McGovern, Tanya Brannan, Russ and Mary Jorgensen, Eszter Freeman and Larry Harper.
Moving beyond its opposition to U.S. sponsorship and provisioning of war, members of the center agitated also against apartheid in South Africa, for the rights of women, and for the Palestinians and for the Occupy movement.
“We’re a place where people can come with their concerns and their fears and their passion,” Waco said. “We’re not just the Peace Center down the street; we’re the Peace Center that’s a movement.”
Most recently, the center and its paid coordinator, Susan Lamont, have forcefully condemned the shooting of Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy and the militarization of American police departments.
Waco said Lamont has done well at sizing up the need for education and advocacy on issues across the spectrum and from local to international.
“She’s got what I call the integrated position,” Waco said. “She sees the whole picture.”
That’s not to say that Waco and Lamont don’t sometimes knock heads.
“We will go around,” Waco said, adding, “She’s usually right.”
To mark its 30th year, the Peace and Justice Center will host a celebration and awards ceremony Nov. 8 at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center. That night, the organization once focused almost exclusively on war will posthumously present its “Peacemaker of the Year” to the boy of 13 who was carrying a simulated assault rifle when he was killed just more than a year ago by a war veteran turned deputy who perceived the gun to be real.