By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Like so many students motivated by self and national interest, my life as an activist ended when the war did, but others couldn't give up trying to make the world a better place. A handful in Dallas turned their attention to the environment, farm workers and the nuclear freeze campaign.
Other activists approached their non-violence from a more spiritual perspective, which led Dallas Mennonites such as Sam Nance to begin the Dallas Peace Center in 1981. Nance had been a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and for him, a commitment to peace was a confession of faith.
"We wanted our church [Dallas Mennonite Fellowship] to have an outreach project, and a few of us started kicking around the idea of a peace center," Nance recalls. "A place to do research, education and take action in peacemaking from a Christian perspective." The committee began to bring together the small but scattered network of peace activists throughout the city, reaching across religious lines to include on its board Jews, Muslims and agnostics.
In the '80s, the Dallas Peace Center provided a venue for local groups that were opposed to American foreign policy in Central America. "Those were our glory days," says activist Rita Clarke. "We had thousands of people marching through the streets of downtown Dallas to protest our involvement in El Salvador and Nicaragua. A bunch of us were arrested in Senator Lloyd Bentsen's office. I was arrested three times. It was wonderful!" And yet no one from either The Dallas Morning News or Dallas Times Herald covered the protest. "The mainstream press figured if they just ignored us, we would go away," she says.
With no big-check writer, the Peace Center almost folded three times. There has been a resounding lack of support from mainstream churches, particularly when things got too radical or left wing. Throughout the Dallas Peace Center's history, when our government began drumming up support for war, whether it was in Central America, the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan, the center has acted as a gathering place for those whose attitudes differ from the mainstream of public opinion.
Many hardcore Peace Center activists, both pacifist and secular, have never met a U.S. military intervention they liked. Some believe there is no such thing as a just war, while others admit that World War II, which liberated Nazi death camps, meets the "just war" criterion. Certainly the corporate culture of this city has made it difficult for activism to gain traction here; yet so has the left-leaning ideology of these activists, who are unflinching in their moral certainty that our government is up to no good.
Part of me--the part that is nauseated and on the bus--wants to buy their arguments. It's the cynical part, the part that thinks this war is all about oil or imperialism, the part that finds it reckless and illogical to fight a war to prevent a war. Then there is this other part--the part that can justify the use of force if it can prevent a dictator from exterminating his own people. It's the part of me that comes from being the child of Holocaust survivors.
Julie Ryan felt compelled to come. "I was so overwhelmed by 9/11, it made me go deep into my religious background to figure out how to respond," she recalls. "If we wanted to stop terrorism, we had to look at what we were doing to fuel their fury. Not that it was our fault," she hastens to add.
At 35, Ryan had never been an activist before, had never taken the time to understand the issues. At the small Minnesota college she attended, she was something of a feminist, and she still considered herself "left-leaning" enough to vote for Ralph Nader for president. But it was the birth of her children--now ages 2 and 3--that began to shift her worldview. "As a mother, I have a larger stake in the future," she says.
From those post-9/11 meetings at the Peace Center came the North Texas Coalition for a Just Peace, which staged a rally in front of the Kennedy Memorial on October 9, 2001, two days after American bombs began to pound Afghanistan. Although she hasn't seen the numbers she would like, she says her e-mail list has grown substantially since the coalition began. "There is a lot of stigma about activism in general here. People are so lulled by consumerism, they think it doesn't matter what we do in other countries."
It certainly mattered to activists at the Dallas Peace Center last summer after the Bush administration began to ratchet up its war rhetoric against Iraq.