(KUNM Airdate: 2/23/07)

This time we'll ask, what role do peace centers play in communities? Whom do they serve and what have they accomplished? How can a community start one for itself? On this program, host Carol Boss talks with representatives of peace centers in Albuquerque and Las Vegas, New Mexico and Burlington, Vermont to find out how their centers came to be and what peace issues are priorities in their communities. Featured are Serena Chaudhry (Burlington, Vermont), Pat Leahan (Las Vegas, New Mexico) and Maria Santelli (Albuquerque, New Mexico)

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Transcription: Rogi Riverstone

Chico, California

BOSS: Why should everybody in a community, not just peace and justice activists, care to have a center? Serena in Burlington, Vermont?

SERENA CHAUDHRY (Burlington, Vermont): I think a center can serve as the base of a community. It can be the voice of a community. It can mobilize people, across political persuasions, across religious and racial divides. Having a center can pull people together who are unlikely to be together in the first place, and then bring them together and help move them forward on common ground issues.

PAT LEAHAN (Las Vegas, New Mexico): One of the things about our center is, if an organization, group or individual wants to effect change on their own, lots of times you don't know how to do that. A center is a physical space where people come and learn how to tap into their own empowerment, do their own organizing, or get support from us on that organizing. As the world gets crazier, people will need centers to go for support, guidance, or offer their own resources and expertise to further the mission of their local center.

MARIA SANTELLI (Albuquerque, New Mexico): It's a community space. It's a nongovernmental community center. It's a shared space. It's not just "our" space; it's your space, the larger community. A novelist who lives hear in Albuquerque, Demetria Martinez, was living in Tucson during the terrorist attacks of September eleventh. She felt so lost. She didn't know where to go. She related that story to me, after she moved back to Albuquerque, and how grateful she was that the Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center existed. It gave people a place to go. They knew where to come.

Our heyday was really in the eighties. Then, in the nineties, with the Clinton years, of course, there wasn't much going on with so many peace and justice issues. On the whole, Albuquerque activism slowed down. Our Peace and Justice Center was a quiet, little place. But once September eleventh happened, the Center exploded with activity. People walked through the door who, maybe, had never been there before - or who hadn't been there in ten years. They said, "Thank you, so much, for being here. Thank you for opening your doors." We were being a place where they knew they could go. People felt a collective mourning, a collective sorrow. But, at the same time, they were moved to raise their voices for peace. They knew that this little Center on the corner of Harvard and Silver in Albuquerque was there. So they came. Maybe they hadn't been there before, but they knew where to go.

LEAHAN: This is relevant, at least, to our little center in Las Vegas, New Mexico: sometimes, small, low-income communities either can forget - or don't realize - how special they are, how much they have. Our center provides a mirror, to show the community how much we really do have. Sometimes, we forget that we are an amazing town, an amazing community. We are able to reflect that back. We could not run our center without that community. It's all about them. It's for them. I'm really glad that we can be there.

Peace and Justice Center
Santa Cruz, CA

BOSS: Peace and Justice Centers advocate for what are generally considered progressive or, what some would call "liberal," causes. What do you do to reach across the political aisle? How do you build bridges, so you are not just "preaching to the choir?"

CHAUDHRY: One way is finding common ground. We're at a moment in time where there is common ground between the so-called, "left" and so-called, "right." It's identifying the unjust nature of the war in Iraq, coming together around that, brainstorming ways that we can collaborate. Economic issues, racial justice issues: it's about that common ground. It's about employing different tactics, too. Not everyone feels comfortable with the typical tactics that are associated with peace and justice centers, such as protest marches. It's helping people to understand that there are different tactics and making those tactics available to them.

SANTELLI: A good example of how folks in the peace and justice movement have, in recent years, reach across the different ways that divide us is the Patriot Act and the protection of the Bill of Rights. We saw Libertarians and folks on the far, far right of the spectrum joining with people on the far, far left of the spectrum, in order to protect all ten of our rights in the Bill - not just the first one, freedom of speech. It was an agenda that everyone could embrace. It was a way to link together. Once we see that one piece of common ground, we open doors to find where there's common ground in other areas.

BOSS: How did each of your centers get started? The Peace and Justice Center in Burlington is the oldest of the three. It was founded in 1979. Serena Chandrey, tell us what issues were the catalyst for the birthing of your center.

CHAUDHRY: The founders of the center, Wendy Coe and Robin Lloyd, came together to build the center to connect the issues of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Wendy and Robin were gathering people together in their homes. People were talking and protesting. That group, that energy, needed a place to go. They wanted this group to grow and be bigger than their homes. That's when they made the conscious decision to create a center, a place, a space, where people could come together around issues of nuclear power and nuclear proliferation.

BOSS: Maria Santelli is one of the coordinators at the Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice. Your center is a few years younger than the Vermont center, started in 1983?

Carol Boss
Peace Talks Host

SANTELLI: Yes, 1983. Our center was originally founded as Action for Nuclear Disarmament. It was later changed to the Albuquerque Center for Peace. Then, "Justice" was added. Folks around here, in New Mexico, felt that it was not only an opportunity to organize around nonproliferation and an end to the Cold War, but also our responsibility as New Mexicans, as people living in the birthplace of the nuclear bomb. Our founders, Kent Zook, Blanche Fitzpatrick and Dorie Bunting, felt similar to folks in Vermont. They needed a place to come together: a safe place where people could network, learn from each other's work and support one another. It was 1983, the height of the Cold War and the height of the Reagan years, as well. People felt they needed not only a space to do organizing, networking and sharing information - but also a safe space to get in, off the streets, out of people's homes.

BOSS: The Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center is the youngest of the three. Pat Leahan is the founder and director of the center. Tell us when and why the center came together.

LEAHAN: The Las Vegas Committee for Peace and Justice formed first. If that organization had never been created, the Center probably never would have happened. Several of us started the Committee around the war. We knew that the U.S. was about to invade Iraq. Several of us got together and said, "e need to start meeting around education and support on this issue." In April of '04, I was teaching at New Mexico Highlands University. I was walking out of one of my best classes yet, a wonderful group of students, working hard. I was feeling such satisfaction with my work. I love teaching. This voice came out of nowhere and said, "Well, enjoy it now, because soon, you'll be starting a Peace and Justice Center." I was pretty stunned. I don't usually hear voices. Within a month, we were open. It's a miracle, really.

BOSS: Many peace centers have the words, "peace" and "justice" in their names. Many of the centers take on social justice issues. What's the relationship between peace and justice?

LEAHAN: On the front of our brochure for the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center, we have a quote from Martin Luther King, which says, "Peace is not merely the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice." You can have an absence of tension, or folks getting along, but hand-in-hand with that has to go some form of justice. At our Peace Center, we focus on social justice.

CHAUDHRY: We work along similar lines. Our working motto, for years, has been, "If you want peace, work for justice." Thus has been the programming at the Peace and Justice Center. We look at the interconnectedness of economic and racial justice, and peace and human rights. By working in each of those areas, we work toward achieving justice in our communities and the world at large, in the hope that it is a step toward creating a peaceful society. We have four projects. One is the Economic Justice Project. That has really taken on a life of it's own, over the past decade. It is home to the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, which is the only, statewide, livable wage campaign in the country. That campaign has been instrumental in increasing the minimum wage in Vermont, which currently exists at $7.53. It's one of the top ten minimum wages in the country. It has made "livable wage" a household saying, in the state of Vermont. One of the reasons it has been so successful is that it has been a grassroots effort, as well as a more macro and legislative effort. We've organized people at the grassroots level: teachers, tipped workers, laborers, to help us push these issues and to testify at the capitol. We've worked at the legislative level to pass legislation that increases the minimum wage and pushes it toward a livable wage. More recently, we've added a COLA (Cost Of Living Adjustment), which increases the minimum wage each year.

BOSS: How would you see that as related to peace?

CHAUDHRY: We're working for justice in our society. When there is the absence of poverty and inequality - when people have access to their basic needs - there is going to be stability in their lives. That reverberates into their communities, which - from our perspective - decreases the violence and tensions that lead to upset and then to war.

SANTELLI: The obvious link is a democratic distribution of wealth and resources is what leads to peace. We try to educate on that issue, educate on the disparity on what's spent on human needs and what's spent on preparation for war. Particularly here, in New Mexico, our economy is, unfortunately, dependent on war and the military industrial complex. The natural link there is in supporting human needs with adequate amounts of resources.

LEAHAN: I would say that a center that's willing to take on issues of class is really important. We can speak out against war. We can try to stop nuclear weapons and all of that, but the issue of class is a big one. It runs deep. In this state, in particular, it's a big issue. So, I'm really grateful to the centers that combine both concepts, of peace and justice.