The new face of peace 

The next generation of Indiana activists

As the realities of armed conflict around the world change, so too do the tactics employed by those who oppose violence as a means of settling conflict.

And while some tried-and-true methods from eras past are still used, a next generation of Indiana residents committed to peace and social justice are creating new ways of interacting with the public and spreading their message in hopes of bringing alternatives to violence in conflicts around the world.

One such activist is Erin Polley, state coordinator of the Indiana chapter of the American Friends Service Committee, who returned to her hometown of Indianapolis after becoming involved in pro-peace efforts while a college student in Chicago.

Polley admits that she had little interest in political activism when she was younger. "When I lived here when I was a teenager, I didn't know that there was a movement against the wars or that people were thinking the way I do now," she says.

Like tens of thousands of other Americans, Polley opposed the imminent march towards a war in Iraq in 2003 and it didn't take long for her to join friends in demonstrations against military action.

"We totally didn't expect anything to happen," she says. "We half looked at it as a sort of social event. It quickly turned into something much bigger, and the police responded in a way we never expected them to."

Polley was arrested with many others for protesting the impending US involvement in Iraq, and her time in jail, she says, greatly influenced her decision to get involved and opened to her a wealth of pro-peace relationships.

"I made a bunch of friends there and got invited to a lot of meetings after that."

The cost of war

Polley's experiences and contacts in Chicago led her to volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee [see sidebar] and eventually help coordinate one of the largest and most powerful illustrations of the true cost of war to tour the United States.

"Eyes Wide Open" was created to help convey the human cost of the conflict in Iraq. The exhibit started in January of 2004 in Chicago, where 504 pairs of boots were displayed in public - each pair representing one American soldier killed in Iraq.

Since then, the exhibit has traveled around the country in an effort to make Americans stop and contemplate the very real cost of war that often seems far away from their own lives. In each city, the boots are ordered in rows on the ground, recalling the pristine headstones of the American cemetery in Normandy.

The exhibit also carries with it the unshakable reality that the number before you is nothing but a placeholder, as the real number of casualties continues to increase. It is a powerful experience for onlookers, who are presented not only with a quantifiable image of collective loss, but also with a tragic symbolism.

"Every place we take the exhibit there are people there, either veterans or families of lost soldiers, who thank us for what we're doing," says Polley. "They want to know what they can do."

Because new boots are added to the collection with the continued loss of soldiers in Iraq, problems arose in 2007 when the sheer numbers became too great to effectively trek the exhibit across the country.

"Once we reached 3,500 US soldiers we just decided it was too much," says Polley. "It became too cumbersome ...so we split it up into state exhibits. Now, smaller groups, sometimes local AFSC, church and peace groups, track their states' causalities and support smaller, proportional versions of the exhibit."

"Eyes Wide Open" can now be found in 44 states across the US, including Alaska and Hawaii.

A foundation to build upon

When the "Eyes Wide Open" project went from a large national exhibit to a collected series of smaller state groups in 2007, Polley came back to her home state of Indiana in order to jump-start a local, but fairly dormant, AFSC chapter and get people engaged with the pro-peace movement.

"I started with the community and getting to know different programs around the state," she says. "I tried to learn the history of the pro-peace movement in Indianapolis. I came back and started meeting veterans of the Vietnam War and the Gulf War who were doing work in places like Evansville and Terre Haute. It was really encouraging."

The foundations of activism already in place surprised and impressed the young advocate. But she recognized a problem in how many of the organizations were working as separate entities, with little mutual communication.

What the state needed, it seemed, was a new generation of activists to revitalize the state's pro-peace movement and join those who had seemingly been carrying the torch alone for decades. The needs for the future included both strengthening these connections and getting the public more involved in efforts against armed conflict abroad.

"It was slow going," Polley says, "but we were finally able to get a little group together."

That said, ideas about peace activism and attitudes towards how to implement those ideas have changed since the movement began in the 1960s, including on college campuses. Where images of active student protesters were commonplace during the Vietnam War, current students seem to be more generally pro-peace than specifically anti-war. Instead of just a select few protesting ardently, many students support peaceful relations.

"Traditional anti-war activists focused on a reactive model," says Kate Williams, Special Projects Coordinator at the Indianapolis Peace Institute (IPI). "A lot of students now don't protest as much, but they work on community service models and other projects."

The IPI works as an educational center and academic institute for students who want to get hands-on work with peace projects. Students from around the country are sponsored and housed by IPI while they work on service projects in Indianapolis.

Williams and Polley are currently working together on ways to get information out to college students, whose campuses often support pro-peace groups. Just as with the state's other organizations, there's a need to link the schools' groups together in order to foster action.

"We need ways of cross-promoting and supporting each other," says Williams.

Collaboration between organizations in Indianapolis, says Williams, is as necessary now as ever if the pro-peace movement is to continue making progress.

Creating connections

Looking forward, one of the main goals for the next year is to better coordinate efforts between the groups. "People may have very different definitions of what peace means," says Williams. "But, if we all want some of the same things, like de-escalation in the Middle East, then we can work together towards that."

"There are probably 10 or 15 organizations in the state that stay in regular contact with each other," says Polley. "We had a statewide rally last year in October around the anniversary of the war in Afghanistan and we had people come from Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, LaFayette, Bloomington, and we had a chance to get together and meet."

Large meetings, says Polley, are the perfect places for organizations to connect and also for interested people to get involved in any way that they can.

One such meeting is the Midwestern Peace and Justice Summit, now in its sixth year, which brings together pro-peace activists from all over the region. That's where Polley met IUPUI student and pro-peace activist Phillip Greene.

"The summit is a regional conference on issues of peace and justice, specifically economic justice," says Greene, one of the organizers of the Midwestern Peace and Justice Summit. "It brings academics and activists and workers together to hang out and eat some food, go to some workshops, attend some lectures, ask questions - just bring about some regional solidarity."

This year the event, hosted by IUPUI and organized by students, is scheduled for March 27 is slated to feature Ralph Nader as its main speaker.

"College campuses are just microcosms for the real world," says Greene. "Public opinion is against the war and college students are no different. Being pro-peace is almost fashionable for students these days."

Looking forward

The future of the the state's peace activists and their efforts appears to be hopeful, but the process has not been without its recent setbacks.

Last year, the Indiana pro-peace movement suffered a particularly hurtful blow with the loss of Jane Haldeman, one of the foundations of the state's peace and social justice movement, to breast cancer. As one of the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center's founding members, Haldeman's work had been invaluable and greatly influential to current young activists. With that loss, people in other areas will be forced to work harder to see change in the state.

The change in national leadership has also affected the pro-peace movement. President Obama once was viewed as a leader who would see peaceful resolutions to conflicts rather than continue the more aggressive war tactics of his predecessor. However, some activists are increasingly cautious about the new administration's involvement in establishing peace abroad. Of particular worry is the recent decision to send a fresh detachment of troops to Afghanistan.

"Sadly, we can no longer really say it's just Bush's war," admits Polley. "I believe Obama really wants to help in every way he can and he's worked very hard, [but] he received a Nobel Peace Prize before really being able to do anything," says Polley.

Polley hasn't lost faith in the new president or the possibility of an ever-increasing commitment to peace here in Indiana.

"During the Obama campaign, I volunteered my time and met a lot of people who maybe hadn't been involved in anti-war activities before but who had been really politicized by the campaign," she says. "People want to become a part of what we're doing in some way."

Joining the next generation of pro-peace activists in Indiana, as well as those who have been committed to non-violent conflict resolution before them, can be a commitment large or small, says Polley. There is room for everyone and all types of activism.

"You don't have to be a full-time peace activist. There are many different ways to help," Polley stresses. "We need more people attending the meetings, getting involved in any way that they want to. There are many different levels of activism."

SIDEBAR: Announcing AFSC Apprenticeships

WHO: Young people (ages 18 - 30) interested in organizing skills for peace and social justice

WHAT: AFSC Apprenticeship Program, a four-month part-time program featuring skill building and hands-on experience in organizing in Chicago on global and local issues.

WHEN: Feb. 17 - June 16; Apprentice must commit to attend workshops every Wednesday from 10 - 4 p.m., plus 14 hours of program work per week.

WHERE: American Friends Service Committee, 637 S. Dearborn, 3rd floor, Chicago

HOW: Applicants should send a cover letter, resume, and essay (500 - 750 words) answering the question, "What is your role in peace and justice?" to Erin Polley at epolley@afsc.org. For more information, you may reach the AFSC at 312-427-2533 or visit www.afsc.org.

Local peace groups alive and flourishing

A number of organizations in Indianapolis are dedicated to the cause of peace and justice. Here are those we know best.

Indianapolis Peace Institute

The Indianapolis Peace Institute (IPI) was initiated by the Plowshares Collaborative, a peace studies collaborative of Earlham, Goshen and Manchester colleges. The institute offers two degrees, a graduate and undergraduate certificate, and internship placement programs.

The Analysis, Ethics and Application of Peace building certificate offers 16 college credits, and challenges students academically while allowing them to incorporate peace building and conflict transformation into their everyday lives. By living on campus and participating in internships, students are immersed in an environment where applying peace building skills becomes a daily habit. Since the institute believes that peace building is applicable to any profession, students from all academic backgrounds are encouraged to apply. However, the graduate program is reserved for individuals with disciplines related to peace and conflict resolution.

With over 150 business partners like the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), Boys and Girls Club of Indianapolis, Business Ownership Collaborative of Indiana and others, internships are plentiful. The long list of business partners allows students to apply peace building over a wider array of professions. For example, IPI interns at the IMA designed new policies and procedures to make exhibits accessible to a wide range of people with special needs. For more information, visit http://www.indianapolispeaceinstitute.org/.

Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center

Housed inside the Earth House Collective at 237 N. East St., the Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) strives to connect groups and provide an outlet for those interested in spreading peace in Indianapolis and international communities.

The IPJC office offers monthly discussions on topics such as America's wars and the local peace community, a library with books and pamphlets, and various speakers, workshops and seminars.

Every Friday, The IPJC hosts a rally protesting the U.S. led occupation of Iraq from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in front of the Federal Building. The Indianapolis Peace and Justice Journal is a monthly publication released by the Center. It features news and commentary written by local activists and community leaders and international news pertinent to the peace community, and can be found around town. The Center holds membership meetings on the third Tuesday of each month. For more information, visit http://www.indypeaceandjustice.org/.

International Interfaith Initiative

Hoosiers have a rich tradition of organizing religious groups to fight against racism, poverty and environmental decline. Interfaith programs in Indiana date back to 1982, when the Interfaith Peace Prayer Service at the Carmelite Monastery was established. In 2005, Mayor Bart Peterson continued the interfaith legacy through a meeting with philanthropist Herr Klaus Martin Finzel of the Cologne-Indianapolis Sister Cities Partnership. Finzel had a dream of establishing a "world interfaith peace center" in America's heartland. The International Interfaith Initiative (III) is the realization of that dream.

Since then, the III has partnered with IU School of Education's Center for Urban and Multicultural Education, Peace Learning Center, Provocate.org, Max Kade German-American Center, The Village Experience and members of the Indianapolis community to create a network that inspires and hosts interfaith activities.

The III hosts events like "singing with the global church" and discussions on the future of Israel. The group is also responsible for organizing interfaith coalitions to help Iraqi refugees in Indiana, holding interfaith conferences that are internationally recognized and facilitating trips to the Middle East. Midwest Jews, Christians and Muslims have traveled to Iraqi refugee camps in Jordan and to schools on the West Bank of Palestine to engage Muslims and Jews in constructive discussion on behalf of III. For more information, visit http://www.internationalinterfaith.org/.

Marian University Peace and Justice Studies

Indianapolis' Marian University offers an 18 credit peace and justice studies minor, but a bachelor's degree is being considered by program director Ralph Leck. Vigils, teach-ins and a yearly spiritual retreat are all part of the peace studies program. In the spring, students will travel to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College for their annual Earth Day Celebration and meet with former Auschwitz inmate Eve Korr in the Candles Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute.

The practice of bringing peace and justice to daily life is taught through two student intentional living communities: Dorothy Day House for Peace and Justice (women) and the Peter Maurin House for Peace and Justice (men). These communities are based on the beliefs and values of Dorothy Day, an American journalists and social activist who established the Catholic Workers movement. Nonviolence, simple living and daily prayers are just a few of Dorothy Day's values embraced by the community.

Peace Learning Center

Founded in Indianapolis by Tim Nation and Charlie Wiles, the Peace Learning Center (PLC) strives to teach peaceful conflict resolution to kids and young adults. Since its inception in 1997, PLC has received numerous awards — most recently the IUPUI Chancellor's Community Award for Civic Engagement in 2007.

PLC offers programs for schools, community groups, summer camps, service clubs, businesses and individuals. Programs teach youngsters to avoid bullies, help incarcerated kids and young adults get their lives back on track, and offer work sessions for professions which engage with youth.

A list of PLC's accomplishments includes a Peace Learning Camp for 8,000 sixth graders consisting of conflict resolution classes and education about the environment, the founding of 35 school-based peer mediation programs, the formation of mentoring programs and Peace Clubs, and the building of strong community school partnerships impacting over 19,000 students, parents and school staff. For more information, visit http://www.peacelearningcenter.org/.

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