Vince Hawkinson Foundation Honorary Award remarks by Steve Clemens, October 14, 2012
When Eric Hucke called me in July to inform me about this award, I went to the website to view the listing of past honorees. I noticed I had been arrested with at least 10 of the previous honorees.
My friend Marv Davidov had 11 more years of resistance after receiving his award; John and Marie Braun keep going, keep going, keep going … like Energizer bunnies for peacemaking.
I see Ralph Hildenberg on the Lake Street Bridge almost every week; I was just on trial this past May with 3 of the 4 McDonald sisters. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer has poured his energies into the Minnesota Arms Spending Alternatives Project (MN ASAP) and another book since he and Sara were recognized a couple of years ago.
So when the honorary award is for lifetime achievement it really is merely an encouragement to keep on rather than rest on one’s laurels. Have you ever known Polly Mann to give any indication that she is “retiring” from peacemaking and her passion for social justice? Ken Masters has slowed down but he and Carol continue in the work of reminding us to keep agitating for justice.
Vince Hawkinson: I never knew him personally but I heard him speak a few times after moving to MN in 1990. It is clear to me that his deep faith inspired and fed his resistance to war. I, too, find my personal faith –coupled with its public expression in a faith community – has been my primary inspiration for my work in peacemaking. The Biblical call to be reconciled to God and to one another is central to my understanding of peacemaking.
However, day-to-day ministries of reconciliation are often ignored in favor of dramatic arrests. We need to end the hierarchy of peacemaking or spirituality and instead celebrate all the diverse gifts given to the body. This Hawkinson Award has recognized many various facets of peacemaking – not just practitioners of direct action and nonviolent civil resistance. For that, I am grateful that the Foundation has an expansive view of the ministry of peacemaking.
In this journey, I’ve found that humor is essential. Unless one can laugh at oneself or the seemingly impossible forces we are up against, we can too easily succumb to despair. And without accountability and feedback we will fall victim to our own blind spots. That is why peacemakers who are in it for the long haul need community. While there are some Lone Rangers, most peacemakers are supported, nurtured, encouraged, and corrected by fellow disciples along the way:
There are Teachers who give the ideas and explain the context. Some preach sermons or give powerful, moving speeches; others are story-tellers. Many write books or essays to deepen our understanding or give us a new perspective. Some give us inspiration – especially for me is the power of song or a piece of art which gets past the defensive walls that surround my heart at times. For me, listening to the sermons of Martin Luther King and Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farm have inspired me. Books from John Howard Yoder, William Stringfellow, Walter Wink, and Ched Myers have enlightened my way. The music shared with us by my friends with Bread for the Journey have given me songs to while away the hours in jail; and the music from the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa recorded as “Freedom is Coming” reverberates in my thoughts 30 years after I first learned them from Henri Nouwen and Jim Wallis during a sit-in at the Rotunda of the US Capitol in 1983 – especially the lyrics, “It doesn’t matter if you should jail us – we are freed and kept alive by hope.” And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the insight and passion of my fellow Hawkinson Award recipient in this category: Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.
On the journey as a peacemaker, there have been plenty of Mentors who model the practice – since moving to Minnesota in 1990 I’ve been blessed by learning from the McDonald Sisters, Char Madigan, Marv Davidov and many, many others – Minnesota has been an oasis of peace mentors after living in southwest Georgia for 16 years. In Georgia, it seemed we knew most of the peace activists from all over the state as we’d travel to support each other to the various corners of that state. But I’m so grateful for a multitude of mentors before moving to Minnesota. One of my first mentors was a dairy farmer, Walton Hackman, who lived across the road from the house where I was raised, and had returned to the farm after his younger brother died suddenly. Ladon Sheats, a former IBM executive, who radically changed his life and was mentored himself by Clarence Jordan. Two priests: Larry Rosebaugh and Roy Bourgeois inspired me and – in fact - most of my mentors were people I’ve been arrested with – including Dan and Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister. Now, I find some of my mentors are younger than me. Kathy Kelly, Dr. Hakim in Afghanistan, and Ched Myers readily come to mind. I’m encouraged and inspired by the youth and vigor of the Occupy movement.
One of real pleasures of this journey has been Co-conspirators – con-spire – to breathe with. People who accompany one on the journey – our Alliant Action vigil group would be a great example of co-conspirators. Sometimes in the 1980s I’d vigil by candlelight outside the gates of Ft. Benning or with the model of an electric chair outside the Sumter County Courthouse in Georgia with only a handful of folk. Other times, I am astonished to be one of more than 6,000 people risking arrest by crossing the line 15 years later at the same School of Americas’ witness. I always need to remember that many times there are folks “back home” – in my neighborhood, my faith community, my many friends –scattered across the country-side (and now around the world) who are with me in thoughts, spirit, and prayer as I undertake some of the riskier acts of nonviolent witness. Many of these co-conspirators have never risked arrest themselves but write and visit you in prison and share the message of peace and justice with their co-workers.
I remember how moved I was when the entire group of Resident Partners from the Koinonia community cancelled their weekly meeting in order to drive 25 miles to sing outside the jail where I was fasting and being held for trial after blocking the White Train carrying nuclear warheads to a submarine base off the Georgia coast in 1985. When the Community of St. Martin takes the Vow of Nonviolence together each year on the second Sunday in November, I’m reminded of others on this journey with me. The powerful women of WAMM – and they let some of us men join them as well – and the Veterans For Peace, who have also welcomed as Associate Members those of us who have “served” our nation and fellow humans without weapons; my compatriots in the Pax Christi movement, Catholics who have welcomed this Anabaptist into their midst, and now the Muslim Peacemaker Team partnering with our Iraqi & American Reconciliation Project continues to broaden that circle.
And, of course, there are the Examples and Role Models of others from afar: for example, Jim and Shelley Douglass and the White Train resistance community they founded at Ground Zero in Washington State helped inspire our own White Train witness in Georgia. All of us in the movement of non-violent resistance owe a debt of gratitude to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, to Sojourner Truth and Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez and Dorothy Day.
But we cannot forget the Alternatives creators – those who help envision what we want, not just opposing what we don’t; Back in the ‘70s, Dan Berrigan penned a powerful poem, “No and Yes and the Whole Damned Thing” describing the dual call to both nonviolent resistance and the building of alternatives – something we can say “yes” to. When Dan’s brother Phil Berrigan came to Koinonia in 1974 with his call to prophetic criticism of US Militarism, some of the Koinonia members pushed back stating that creating educational alternatives for pre-schoolers was equally important if one wished to live in a just and peaceful society. So, to name a few of these alternatives close to my heart: Common Harvest Farm, Seward/Longfellow Restorative Justice Program, From Death to Life, Loaves and Fishes, St. Stephen’s Housing and Street Outreach Ministry, Southside Family Nurturing Center, Centro Campesino, IARP, …
I confess that I have a lot of fear and trepidation before many public actions but my faith and the companionship of like-minded folk can help overcome fear and allow one to act. So I want to acknowledge some of that companionship today in receiving this award as a community effort rather than an individualistic accomplishment: For me today: Christine and my sons Micah and Zach. Thank you for sharing this journey with me. Both of you going to Death Row with Christine and me to visit Bob Redd. Micah, for standing aside me as the smoke bomb hit my feet outside Ft. Benning when you were only 4 or 5, and then traveling with me to El Salvador in 2005 to learn more about the witness of Oscar Romero. Zach, for walking with me up to the fence before I crossed at the School of the Americas vigil and then visiting me when I was taken to the hospital from prison. Christine, as I now head off to Iraq again, and the many adventures we’ve shared together, thank you for your love and support for these past 34 years. And especially thanks to those of you who supported her when I was locked up.
But I also have an extended family of fictive kinship. Peter Thompson who accompanied me to Iraq in December 2002 just months before the war started; David Harris who was my support person at the School of the Americas protest and again at the Republican National Convention. He even joined me at the Hennepin County Workhouse/Jail this Spring – choosing imprisonment over community service to be in solidarity with me. The Community of St. Martin is part of my family. I have a Pax Christi family, and I could go on and on. For me, my 16 years living in an intentional Christian community in south Georgia was probably the most significant aspect of my spiritual formation as a peacemaker. Today I continue to be connected with the many life-long friends I shared life with at Koinonia during those years. Did not Jesus promise us that if we left our old securities to follow him, we will be blessed with homes and families, and friends, one hundred times over? I have found this to be true and I am grateful.
Peacemaking must always be combined with social justice – for example, LGBT issues, the rights of immigrants/refugees, the needs and cares for the homeless, for those in prison – especially those facing the death penalty, and care and advocacy for the natural environment is an especially pressing issue for both peace and justice.
So, when I am arrested at the White House protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline, it is connected with peacemaking. When I stand with my gay brothers and lesbian sisters demanding their rights to love and marry, it is connected to peacemaking. When I march with the custodial workers of the CTUL union in front of K-Mart or Cub Foods, it is connected to peacemaking. When I attend the march and memorial remembering the homeless who have died in our state each December, it is connected with peacemaking. On the first Sunday of each month when I am part of the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration’s prayer vigil in front of the Ramsey County Detention Center is for me an act of peacemaking.
So I accept this award on behalf of a broad community of peacemakers – those here in the Twin Cities today as well as my friends and mentors who are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” whose lives and message have help blaze the path which I have tried to follow.