PEACE SUPPER TALK
By Sally Breen
Woodfords Congregational Church
May 7, 2011 (shared by Sally July 17, 2014, email)
Come out on stage and put on my cowboy hat and my apron:
Howdy y’all. My name is Sally Breen, and I bring you a big Texas Welcome to the biggest turnout of peace activists in Maine each year.
Y’all all look so lovely out there. I may not know everyone here, but I know you are my friend, because you are here!
Media! See this pink apron—made especially in bright pink just for you and Code Pink.
Jacqui asked me to tell you a little about the history of Peace Action Maine tonight. I’m glad to do it, because the story of Peace Action Maine is a lot about the story of my life these last 22 years. But the story really begins before I arrived here from Texas. By the way, when Keith told me we were moving to Maine, I said, “Where’s Maine? Isn’t that part of Canada?”
Peace Action Maine’s history really began with Randall Forsberg who had been talking to peace groups about nuclear issues as early as 1975. After she joined forces with the American Friends Service Committee, Clergy and Laity Concerned and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, in December 1979, she drafted the “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race.”
Now! Enter Maine! Enter Bill Slavick. Enter Cush Anthony. And there were others in Maine who began coming together around the issue of a nuclear freeze.
About this time the American Friends Service Committee loaned a good part of Deb Hibbard’s time to work on the issue in Maine. And Larry Dansinger joined in the effort as a member of Clergy and Laity Concerned. Larry’s a man of many talents and walks the talk more than anyone I ever met. Soon various groups came together and called itself “The Clearinghouse.” Their moto was “Watch Maine Freeze!”
In 1982, Enid Sharp entered the picture. And life in Maine was never to be the same again. (Enid, please stand up!) applaud! We consider 1982 the official year of the birth of our organization. That year, 81 Maine towns and the Maine State Legislature endorsed the Nuclear Arms Freeze resolution. Enid did all the paperwork for us to have a 501 c3 status. She developed the Maine Peace Fund, our educational arm. In 1983, she helped write (or maybe wrote them herself!) the first by-laws. There was the first Peace Walk when 600 people participated. Enid developed our first data base and a membership program. She taught us how to do successful signature ads. Later when she tried to retire, we had to really scramble, and call her often (like every day several times a day)!
Bob Stein was our first executive director. The office space was on Tyng Street in a few small rooms. Somehow I found myself immediately on the board of directors, and I was just in time to help with my first Peace Walk. For my second Peace Walk, my son-law drove my car towing the big mock up of a Tommahawk Cruise Missile through the streets of Portland. (I’d ask him to stand up, but he’s in Texas fighting tornadoes and wildfires—he’s a volunteer firefighter.) That missile met an untimely demise when I left it parked in my church parking lot and some kids did a kill on it.
We have worked closely for many years, and continue to do so, with Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pax Christi and Veterans for Peace.
In 1988, Cruise missiles were being tested in Maine, and a petition drive collected 72,000 signatures, enough to get a state referendum on the ballot. Enid managed to buy thousands of post cards showing a missile cruising at tree-top level. We would ask people, “You don’t want these missiles being tested over Maine, do you?” Of course the answer was “NO.” The referendum passed. Although the referendum had no real teeth, guess what!! They never tested another cruise missile over Maine.
By this time our name had changed to Maine Freeze Campaign, then to the Maine Peace Campaign, and later, finally, with guidance from National Peace Action, our name changed to Peace Action Maine.
We can’t go long without an all-out war, so in August 1990, the US government, without permission, began the Persian Gulf War. We created the priorities poll that we took from place to place, and especially to the Common Ground Fair, so that Maine voters could use their nickels to tell our elected officials that we prefer EDUCATION, ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH CARE rather than war. Yes, HEALTHCARE (DO YOU HEAR ME UP THERE IN AUGUSTA?). Then Grace Goldberg created the Give Peas a Chance pea soup with that secret recipe. You have to work at the pea soup booth at the Common Ground Fair in order to learn how to prepare it. And then there are those big wooden paddles—the soup has to be stirred for about (hmmmmm) 12 hours a day for 3 days during the Fair. Who here has had that job of stirring the pea soup? Raise your hand. Quick, Jacque, see who hasn’t raised their hands, so you can tap them for this year’s Pea Soup Booth.
In 1992, Eric McCabe Johnson was our Executive Director. He formed the Real Security Initiative that was highly visible at the Democratic Party event in Augusta. Its message? —same as today! Rebuild America! Cut military spending!
Before the time of e-mails and the internet, we had a quarterly newsletter, Peace Talk, written and edited principally by Selma Sternlieb. Peace Talk won the Peace Action national award several times.
By the way, copies of each edition of Peace Talk and some of our more important documents are now housed at the Maine Historical Society.
One day I’ll never forget is the day I interviewed Wells Staley-Mays. That was in 1996, and Wells brought to us his love of women’s history, of black history, of his history of participating in all sorts of civil disobedience, of his many arrests, of his long-time commitment to working in the prisons with Alternatives to Violence, and now his commitment to working with our immigrant population. I was so happy that Wells was with me for my first arrest in Washington, D.C.
Rosalie Tyler Paul and I were president and vice president of Peace Action Maine for many years. One night, when our offices were in the Cinamon (this is the correct spelling) Building, Rosalie and I read about a world-wide initiative to abolish nuclear weapons called Abolition 2000. We looked at each other and said, “We have to work on this project.” We worked especially hard and held two regional events. One of them was held here in Portland. Jonathan Schell an early advocate for nuclear abolition and author of Fate of the Earth, was our keynote speaker. With help from PSR, thirty-five Maine towns passed the abolition 2000 resolution, beginning with Portland’s unanimous vote!
Rosalie and I recruited the first members for The Raging Grannies of Maine. We have written many of our own songs, and in 2002, the grannies sang at the launch of an Aegis Destroyer. I wore my hat and apron as I sang with the grannies across the street from the entrance to the launch site. Then I took off my hat and apron and walked across the street. I had secreted inside my shirt a big sign I intended to open up once inside the launch area. Instead, the guards stopped me and eventually handcuffed Wells, Scott Miller and me and hauled us off to jail. We had to go to court for that one.
This morning, they launched yet another Aegis destroyer from Bath Iron Works.
In 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, a group known as The Snowe Seven were arrested in Senator Snowe’s office. We tried to tell her on a phone conference, “War is not the answer,” and “There are no weapons of mass destruction.” She replied several times, “I just don’t know. The President tells us there are weapons of mass destruction.” What do you say now, Senator Snowe?
This was followed by marches in Augusta and the beginning of Bridges for Peace, which is still ongoing.
Also in 2003, Peace Action Maine created an Artist-in-residence program with Natasha Mayers as our first artist. Natasha who helped expose Governor LePage’s murals fiasco!
2003 was a big year for another reason. Bruce Gagnon and MaryBeth Sullivan moved to Maine. Bruce is coordinator for the national organization, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. Bruce, MaryBeth and Karen Wainberg now own the Addams-Melman house in Bath, a house for state-wide meetings, a place for visiting guest speakers to stay, and more.
Maine’s military recruiting stations learned to fear and dread the Raging Grannies of Maine. Twelve of us grannies invaded the premises of the South Portland Recruitment Center. Those poor Army guys didn’t know what to do about us. They begged us to leave, but we kept saying, “Bring our young people home, and take us. We are experienced in organizing, and we can help you.” Instead…they called the police.
In 2007, PAM celebrated its 25th anniversary with a Middle Eastern meal at the Guild Hall. About this time we moved our offices to its current location at 644 Congress Street, a space now known as the Meg Perry Center, a space where multiculturalism is alive and thriving.
Jacquie Deveneau used to be at most of our events with her camera and telling us about her Green Party activities. Now we are lucky that she decided to become such an integral part of everything Peace Action Maine. Thank you, Jacquie!
We have tried just about everything short of violence to stop these insane wars. Several times we have read the names of each coalition member and an equal number of Iraqi names killed—the last time when there were 2,500 US dead, it took us over eight hours. How long would it take now that there are over 4,400 dead? We have visited the offices of our elected officials. We have occupied the offices of our elected officials. We have written letters to the editors, written op ed pieces, we have held Town meetings.
But the most success we have had began in 2009 when a small group of us decided to try convincing our state legislators to write letters to our two US representatives to BRING OUR WAR $$ HOME. Twenty-nine of our state legislators wrote letters to Rep. Chellie Pingree and Rep. Mike Michaud to vote NO on the $33b supplemental war funding. And…wonder of wonders, they were both re-elected to office! Now that message has spread across the nation, mainly because of the extraordinary help of Lisa Savage, a little spit-fire of a teacher from Solon, Maine, and our own Maine Code Pink representative. Code Pink has now hired a staff person to help make Bring Our War $$ Home a national campaign.
Now I realize I have not mentioned every person who has had an important impact on the success of Peace Action Maine during its existence, but if I mentioned your name, or even if I didn’t mention your name, but you have played a big part, I’m asking that you please stand now! Come one, wake up now, and please stand…applause!
I want to thank Peace Action Maine for being the organization that provides a vehicle that magnifies the voices of so many Maine peace activists!