Chapter 115, Red Wing, Minnesota Annual Peacestock Featured Religion and War/Peace Theme

The Red Wing area VFP chapter held its 10th annual Peacestock (formerly Pigstock) retreat on July 14, 2012 at Paul and Trudy Schaefer’s Windbeam farm in Hager City, Wisconsin.  The 2012 theme was Religion and War/Peace and featured Father Roy Bourgeois as key note speaker.   Plenty of time was also allotted for the (normally shy?) audience to speak their minds.

The 14th offered hot, yet relatively cool and humid 85° day (yes, even in Minnesota and Wisconsin), welcome relief from the near 100° days the area had been experiencing during the month of July.  Nonetheless, a large tent and very large fans provided some relief from the heat for the 125 attendees.  Speakers and attendees still managed to work up a lot of enthusiasm and passion for peace, amidst goats and gardens and nature.   Noticeably absent this year was an unnamed gray tabby cat who has graced Peacestock with her presence in past years.   This writer neglected to inquire about her well-being.

Pastor Duane Kamrath

Pastor Duane Kamrath, a veteran and retired minister, opened the day by sharing his work with “Wisdom About War and Violence”, a discussion tool for youth that features a month-long, daily topic on the issue.  The ecumenical source offers wisdom from both religious and non-religious voices.   Kamrath comes from a military family and yet is active in teaching about war and US foreign people versus Jesus’ message of nonviolence and the cross as a symbol of nonviolent love.  We must see the divine in every face.  Kamrath closed his presentation with small group discussions of selected readings from the book.    It set the perfect mindset for the rest of the day.

Josh Ruebner

 Josh Ruebner, Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, spoke next.   Ruebner started with an excellent primer on the history of the creation of Israel and the ensuing Israeli/Palestinian conflict that continues still, 64 years later.  The UN sanctioned partition (without Palestinian consent) promised much to parties involved, yet the result has been ethnic cleansing and displacement of millions of Palestinians.  In 1948 the Palestinians owned and occupied 93% of the land.  To date, they have been dispossessed of most of their land, including the occupied areas, as Israel deliberately has built settlements in a checkerboard fashion to weaken Palestinian ties and cohesion, much like that practices employed against indigenous people in the US.    Ruebner described US policy as one that’s ostensibly fair to both parties, but in truth is intentionally highly biased towards Israeli and dispiriting to the Palestinian people.

Leah Bolger

After a lunch of singing, Leah Bolger, VFP President, rallied attending VFP members to unite with other VFP chapters and members, as well as with other organizations, particularly on the issues of depleted uranium and PTSD (especially in children).  When asked about priorities, the public has named health care and education as priorities.  VFP needs to take action and put our name and positions out there.  Bolger has developed two initiatives to enhance communication:  Monthly electronic town halls and Keeping In Touch memos with updates, events, etc.

Sami Rasouli

Local Iraqi activist Sami Rasouli shared a message of hope through the experience in his return trips to Iraq.  He feels education is very important, as the mainstream public is very ignorant about not just Iraq but also the rest of Arabia.   The Iraqi occupation has greatly benefited Israel, particularly with oil.  Iraq is a failed state now, but positive things are happening such as the Songs of Hope, an international children’s group, doctors helping with the effects of depleted uranium, US/Muslim peacemakers, and a friend ship agreement between Minneapolis and Bagdad – recognizing each other as friends and not as enemies or terrorists. Rasouli described trips to Ramadi where local people offered their homes to him and his American comrades, stating, “Our home is the best hotel in town”, one example of the hospitality of ordinary Iraqis recognizing that ordinary Americans are not their enemies.

Father Roy Bourgeois

Father Roy Bourgeois, Catholic priest, peace activist and founder of the School of the Americas Watch was keynote speaker.   Soft spoken almost to a whisper, he related his journey from a segregated LA childhood and his escape from LA by joining the military where he bought into the Vietnam conflict.  “They will take evil and call it good and take the lie and call it truth; such is the nature of war”.  Humanity is not made for war.   Bourgeois recognized war is not an answer and joined the Mary Knolls upon recommendation of a chaplain.  Upon ordination, Bourgeois traveled throughout Latin America advocating for the poor and for Liberation Theology and shared his experience of working with the poor who chose to fight for justice and liberation against the elites who are armed by the US and the Vatican.   Later he brought this message to the US through direct action and speaking. Bourgeois also traveled on a healing mission to Vietnam to apologize to the people, where he learned that the ordinary people had no anger towards the American people because they recognized the difference between the government and the people.

Bourgeois recognized the tie between the violence in Latin America, particularly the assassinations of prominent clergy, and the School of the Americas in Georgia.  He founded the School of the Americas Watch, which educates the public on what SOA does and sponsors direct action every year.  Several Latin American countries have vowed not to send personnel to Georgia for training.   Bourgeois also has fought for the ordination of women in the Catholic church, knowing that there will never be justice in the church until women have power in it.

Bourgeois left the audience with a message of hope, “When we follow our connection to the divine we are free and when we don’t we are tormented   Silence is the voice of complicity – but the truth cannot be silenced”.

David Swanson

The last speaker of the day, David Swanson, was timed perfectly – his passion and energy ignited the crowd at a time of the day when one has the urge to nap and tummies are calling to dinner.  Swanson is a dedicated peace activist and author of several books, including “War is a Lie” and “When the World Outlawed War”, as well as the founder of  War is the second oldest profession, one waged for economic purposes to benefit the wealthy and pacifism is treason.   Although seventy five percent of the population claims to favor peace and getting out of Afghanistan and a large majority favor less defense spending, war has been the official US policy for decades.  Since Bush, war is bigger, more secretive, and professional than ever.

In 1927/28 the War Outlawry movement worked to outlaw war and make peace the law of the land through the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  Frank Kellogg, a Minnesota republican and firebrand, came to support the effort reluctantly, but lent his fire to its support.  The movement relied heavily on new female voters and on August 28, 1928 the peace pact was signed. After the pact became law, nations were prevented from waging war.  In WWII the pact was used to make war a crime, obviously unsuccessful, yet the Kellogg-Brain Act is still good law.

War is humanitarian since evil is in the world and we can do nothing or bomb people, especially if the “enemy” is darker skinned.  While civilians are the biggest casualty of war, suicide is now the top killer of US troops.  War depends on being something other than murder – witness the rise of drones.   Most telling is the outrage over troops urinating on bodies, rather than the murders themselves.   The standard of living would rise for all if we gave up some billionaires and bombs – we’d have jobs, not wars.  Swanson closed his talk by reminding us that there are more of us than them – “We are many, they are few”, we must realize and remember out strength.

The retreat closed with a burrito dinner, accompanied by yet more music.