Remarks at North Carolina Peace Action Event in Raleigh, N.C., August 23, 2014.

 By David Swanson


Thank you for inviting me, and thank you to North Carolina Peace Action.

It’s an honor for me to have a role in honoring the 2014 Student Peacemaker, iMatter Youth North Carolina. I’ve followed what iMatter has been doing around the country for years, I’ve sat in on a court case they brought in Washington, D.C., I’ve shared a stage with them at a public event, I’ve organized an online petition with them at, I’ve written about them and watched them inspire writers like Jeremy Brecher whom I recommend reading. Here is an organization acting in the interests of all future generations of all species and being led — and led well — by human kids. Can we give them some applause?

But, perhaps revealing the short-sightedness and self-centeredness of myself as a member of a species that didn’t evolve to manage a whole planet, I’m especially happy to be recognizing iMatter Youth North Carolina because my own niece Hallie Turner and my nephew Travis Turner are part of it. They deserve LOTS of applause.

And the full iMatter planning team, I’m told, is represented tonight as well by Zack Kingery, Nora White, and Ari Nicholson. They should have even more applause.

I take complete credit for Hallie and Travis’s work, because although I didn’t really teach them anything, I did, before they were born, tell my sister she should go to our high school reunion, at which she met the man who became my brother in law. Without that, no Hallie and no Travis.

However, it was my parents — who I suppose by the same logic (although in this case I of course reject it) get complete credit for anything I do — it was they who took Hallie to her first rally, at the White House protesting a tar sands pipeline. I’m told that Hallie didn’t know what it was all about at first or why the good people were being arrested, instead of the people committing the offenses against our loved ones and our earth being arrested. But by the end of the rally Hallie was right in the thick of it, wouldn’t leave until the last person had gone off to jail for justice, and she pronounced the occasion the most important day of her life thus far, or words to that effect.

Perhaps, as it turns out, that was an important day, not just for Hallie but also for iMatter Youth North Carolina, and, who knows, just maybe — like the day Gandhi was thrown off a train, or the day Bayard Rustin talked Martin Luther King Jr. into giving up his guns, or the day a teacher assigned Thomas Clarkson to write an essay on whether slavery was acceptable — it will eventually turn out to have been an important day for more of us.

I’m a bit ashamed of two things though, despite all my pride.

One is that we adults leave kids to discover moral action and serious political engagement by accident rather than teaching it to them systematically and universally, as if we don’t really think they want meaningful lives, as if we imagine comfortable lives is the complete human ideal. We are asking kids to lead the way on the environment, because we — I’m speaking collectively of everyone over 30, the people Bob Dylan said not to trust until he was over 30 — we are not doing it, and the kids are taking us to court, and our government is allowing its fellow leading destroyers of the environment to become voluntary co-defendants (can you imagine volunteering to be sued along with someone else who’s facing a law suit? No, wait, sue me too!), and the voluntary co-defendants, including the National Association of Manufacturers, are providing teams of lawyers that probably cost more than the schools Hallie and Travis attend, and the courts are ruling that it is an individual right of non-human entities called corporations to destroy the inhabitability of the planet for everyone, despite the evident logic that says the corporations will cease to exist as well.

Should our kids do as we say or as we do? Neither! They should run in the opposite direction from anything we’ve touched. There are exceptions, of course. Some of us try a little. But it is an uphill effort to undo the cultural indoctrination that has us saying phrases like “throw this away” as if there really were an away, or labeling the destruction of a forest “economic growth,” or worrying about so-called peak oil and how we’ll live when the oil runs out, even though we’ve already found five times what we can safely burn and still be able to live on this beautiful rock. 

But kids are different. The need to protect the earth and use clean energy even if it means a few inconveniences or even some serious personal risk, is no more unusual or strange to a kid than half the other stuff they are presented with for the first time, like algebra, or swim meets, or uncles. They haven’t spent as many years being told that renewable energy doesn’t work. They haven’t developed the fine-tuned sense of patriotism that allows us to keep believing renewable energy cannot work even as we hear about it working in other countries. (That’s German physics!)

Our young leaders have fewer years of indoctrination into what Martin Luther King Jr. called extreme materialism, militarism, and racism. Adults block the way in the courts, so kids take to the streets, they organize and agitate and educate. And so they must, but they are up against an educational system and an employment system and an entertainment system that often tells them they are powerless, that serious change is impossible, and that the most important thing you can do is vote.

Now, adults telling each other that the most important thing they can do is vote is bad enough, but saying that to kids who aren’t old enough to vote is like telling them to do nothing. We need a few percent of our population doing the opposite of nothing, living and breathing dedicated activism. We need creative nonviolent resistance, re-education, redirection of our resources, boycotts, divestments, the creation of sustainable practices as models for others, and the impeding of an established order that is politely and smilingly steering us over a cliff. Rallies organized by iMatter Youth North Carolina look like moves in the right direction to me. So, let’s thank them again.

The second thing I’m a little ashamed of is that it is not at all uncommon for a peace organization to arrive at an environmental activist when choosing someone to honor, whereas I have never once heard of the reverse. Hallie and Travis have an uncle who works largely on peace, but they live in a culture where the activism that receives funding and attention and mainstream acceptance, to the limited extent that any does and of course trailing far behind 5Ks against breast cancer and the sort of activism that lacks real opponents, is activism for the environment. But I think there’s a problem with what I’ve just done and what we usually tend to do, that is, with categorizing people as peace activists or environmental activists or clean elections activists or media reform activists or anti-racism activists. As we came to realize a few years back, we all add up to 99% of the population, but those who are really active are divided, in reality as well as in people’s perceptions.

Peace and environmentalism should, I think, be combined into the single word peacenvironmentalism, because neither movement is likely to succeed without the other. iMatter wants to live as if our future matters. You can’t do that with militarism, with the resources it takes, with the destruction it causes, with the risk that grows greater with each passing day that nuclear weapons will be intentionally or accidentally detonated. If you could really figure out how to nuke another nation while shooting its missiles out of the sky, which of course nobody has figured out, the impact on the atmosphere and climate would severely impact your own nation as well. But that’s a fantasy. In a real world scenario, a nuclear weapon is launched on purpose or by mistake, and many more are quickly launched in every direction. This has in fact nearly happened numerous times, and the fact that we pay almost no attention to it anymore makes it more rather than less likely. I imagine you know what happened 50 miles southeast of here on January 24, 1961? That’s right, the U.S. military accidentally dropped two nuclear bombs and got very lucky they didn’t explode. Nothing to worry about, says comedy news anchor John Oliver, that’s why we have TWO Carolinas.

iMatter advocates for an economic shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy and for sustainable jobs. If only there were a couple of trillion dollars a year being wasted on something useless or destructive! And of course there is, worldwide, that unfathomable sum is being spent on preparations for war, half of it by the United States, three quarters of it by the United States and its allies — and much of that last bit on U.S. weapons. For a fraction of it, starvation and disease could be seriously dealt with, and so could climate change. War kills primarily through taking spending away from where it’s needed. For a small fraction of war preparations spending, college could be free here and provided free in some other parts of the world too. Imagine how many more environmental activists we could have if college graduates didn’t owe tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for the human right of an education! How do you pay that back without going to work for the destroyers of the earth?

79% of weapons in the Middle East come from the United States, not counting those belonging to the U.S. military. U.S. weapons were on both sides in Libya three years ago and are on both sides in Syria and Iraq. Weapons making is an unsustainable job if ever I saw one. It drains the economy. The same dollars spent on clean energy or infrastructure or education or even tax cuts for non-billionaires produces more jobs than military spending. Militarism fuels more violence, rather than protecting us. The weapons have to be used up, destroyed, or given to local police who will begin to see local people as enemies, so that new weapons can be made. And this process is, by some measures, the biggest destroyer of the environment we have.

The U.S. military burned through about 340,000 barrels of oil each day, as measured in 2006. If the Pentagon were a country, it would rank 38th out of 196 in oil consumption. If you removed the Pentagon from the total oil consumption by the United States, then the United States would still rank first with nobody else anywhere close. But you would have spared the atmosphere the burning of more oil than most countries consume, and would have spared the planet all the mischief the U.S. military manages to fuel with it. No other institution in the United States consumes remotely as much oil as the military.

Each year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spends $622 million trying to figure out how to produce power without oil, while the military spends hundreds of billions of dollars burning oil in wars fought and on bases maintained to control the oil supplies. The million dollars spent to keep each soldier in a foreign occupation for a year could create 20 green energy jobs at $50,000 each.

Wars in recent years have rendered large areas uninhabitable and generated tens of millions of refugees. War “rivals infectious disease as a global cause of morbidity and mortality,” according to Jennifer Leaning of Harvard Medical School. Leaning divides war’s environmental impact into four areas: “production and testing of nuclear weapons, aerial and naval bombardment of terrain, dispersal and persistence of land mines and buried ordnance, and use or storage of military despoliants, toxins, and waste.” A 1993 U.S. State Department report called land mines “the most toxic and widespread pollution facing mankind.” Millions of hectares in Europe, North Africa, and Asia are under interdiction. One-third of the land in Libya conceals land mines and unexploded World War II munitions.

The Soviet and U.S. occupations of Afghanistan have destroyed or damaged thousands of villages and sources of water. The Taliban has illegally traded timber to Pakistan, resulting in significant deforestation. U.S. bombs and refugees in need of firewood have added to the damage. Afghanistan’s forests are almost gone. Most of the migratory birds that used to pass through Afghanistan no longer do so. Its air and water have been poisoned with explosives and rocket propellants.

You may not care about politics, the saying goes, but politics cares about you. That goes for war. John Wayne avoided going off to World War II by making movies to glorify other people going. And do you know what happened to him? He made a movie in Utah near a nuclear testing area. Of the 220 people who worked on the film, 91, rather than the 30 that would have been the norm, developed cancer including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead, and director Dick Powell. 

We need a different direction. In Connecticut, Peace Action and many other groups have been involved in successfully persuading the state government to set up a commission to work on converting from weapons to peaceful industries. Labor unions and management support it. Environmental and peace groups are part of it. It’s very much a work in progress. It was likely stimulated by false stories that the military was being slashed. But whether we can make that a reality or not, the environmental need to shift our resources to green energy is going to grow, and there is no reason North Carolina shouldn’t be the second state in the country to do this. You have moral Mondays here. Why not have moral every days of the year?

Major changes look larger before they happen than after. Environmentalism has come on very quickly. The U.S. already had nuclear submarines back when whales were still being used as a source of raw materials, lubricants, and fuels, including in nuclear submarines. Now whales are, almost suddenly, seen as marvelous intelligent creatures to be protected, and the nuclear submarines have begun to look a bit archaic, and the deadly sound pollution that the Navy imposes on the world’s oceans looks a bit barbaric.

iMatter’s lawsuits seek to protect the public trust for future generations. The ability to care about future generations is, in terms of the imagination required, almost identical to the ability to care about foreign people at a distance in space rather than time. If we can think of our community as including those not yet born, who of course we hope far outnumber the rest of us, we can probably think of it as including the 95% of those alive today who don’t happen to be in the United States of America, and vice versa.

But even if environmentalism and peace activism were not a single movement, we’d have to join them and several others together in order to have the sort of Occupy 2.0 coalition we need to effect change. A big chance to do that is coming up around September 21st which is the International Day of Peace and the time when a rally and all sorts of events for the climate will be happening in New York City.

At you’ll find all sorts of resources for holding your own event for peace and the environment. You’ll also find a short two-sentence statement in favor of ending all war, a statement that has been signed in the past few months by people in 81 nations and rising. You can sign it on paper here this evening. We need your help, young and old. But we should be especially glad that time and numbers are on the side of the young around the world, to whom I say along with Shelley:

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you-

Ye are many — they are few.

2012 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference Report

“Love in Action:

The Transformative Power of Nonviolence”

The 2012 Lake Junaluska Peace Conference

November 8th-11th  Report

North Carolina Peace Action was well represented at the 5th annual peace conference held at the Lake Junaluska Conference Center in western NC, November 8–11.  NC Peace Action leaders were an integral part of planning this year’s program which included:
·        Rev. Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr., Distinguished Scholar in residence at Candler School of Theology
·        Dr. Michael Nagler, founder and president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, CA
·        Rev. Alan Storey, Central Methodist Mission, Cape town, Africa
·        Ms. Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and Nobel Prize winner.
Each of these speakers provided riveting presentations describing events where otherwise ordinary people joined together to overcome seemingly insurmountable forces of violence and oppression.
Conference workshops were an opportunity to delve in to case studies of the use of nonviolence.  “How to Start a Revolution” featured a screening of the film “From Dictatorship to Democracy” about the work of Gene Sharpe, with discussion led by Doug Wingeier; and “Civilian Diplomacy,” led by Fellowship of Reconciliation Director Mark Johnson.  Following Mark’s description of FOR’s world-wide witness, our group engaged in a round table expression of personal experiences as “citizen diplomats.”
One unforgettable presentation was provided by a young Congolese student who overcame extraordinary odds to organize soccer games between warring factions in the Congo and Rwanda.
Another highlight of the conference was a Saturday afternoon workshop moderated by NCPA’s Betsy Crites and Michael Nagler, featuring an opening, interactive exercise conducted by Clare Hanrahan and Coleman Smith of the New South Network of War Resisters.  The workshop was designed as “An Activists’ Dialogue” with the following description: “Pacifism, Nonviolence, Diversity of Tactics;  How can we engage these concepts in ways that build toward a broader, deeper justice movement?
“Join Peace Conference speaker Michael Nagler, NC Peace Action, Veterans For Peace, the New South Network of War Resisters, Katuah Earth First! & Occupy Asheville’s Nonviolent Direct Action Trainers Group in an interactive dialogue on effective strategies and tactics for fundamental social, economic, and political change.”

Fifty people attended the two-hour discussion, which then led to another hour long conversation about how to continue this dialogue.

NC Peace Action board member Rachael Bliss described her impressions of the Saturday events:
“I’m so pleased that NC Peace Action made it possible for a van load of us peace activists from Asheville to attend some of Saturday’s events.  An extra benefit was to meet new people in our region who have devoted years of their lives to cultivating peace and putting their bodies and minds on the line.
“Although I was familiar with Gene Sharpe’s list of nonviolent strategies to promote change, I particularly liked material provided by Michael Nagler.  He was able to summarize degrees of risk along a timeline.  In most instances, promoters of change increase their personal risks (up to even death) when other less risky strategies fail to bring about desired changes.  His insights were useful for our struggles.
“Lastly, the featured speaker Nobel Peace Prize Winner from Liberia Leymah Gbowee challenged us to not let rage cause us to exchange violence with more violence, but instead to “pour our rage” into nonviolent containers, so true and lasting improvements can be realized even in the most dire circumstances.
“This was truly a good day for the Spirit of Peace to bring hope into my life.”
NCPA Director John Heuer is a member of the Lake Junaluska Peace Conference planning committee, and welcomes your suggestions for future conference themes and events.



October 1, 2011: Student Peacemaker Award Call for Submissions

NC Peace Action seeks to discover, honor and award young leaders who are working on solving the problems that face our world. We invite nominations of young adults age 18-24 and students age 13-17 who are involved in community service or social justice work that relates to broader problems facing the world as a whole. To complete entry, nominees must write an essay describing their service or active involvement in the community and how it relates to the global community. See guidelines for more details.

Deadline for submission of both the nomination and the essay is October 1. The Grand Prize for each age group is a trip with Witness for Peace to Latin America in 2012. Second prize is a trip to Washington in March to take part in a youth program to learn how to lobby Congress. Click here for forms and details. Direct question to Betsy Crites, 919.381.5969 or

Reflections on “A Journey to Peace” – Wally Myers


Our three guests, in different circumstances, may have been firing guns at each other, but after stepping away from violence, these two Iraq War veterans and their Iraqi refugee friend have joined forces to bring a message of peace.

A soldier turned conscientious objector, Stieber, 22, decided that if he believed war created more problems than it solved, he would journey to learn about, promote, and invest his military pay to peaceful alternatives. His journey began in early summer 2009 in Washington D.C. and after 3000 miles; Stieber reached San Francisco by walking and bicycle.

While Stieber was passing through Ohio he met Curran, 26, a former Marine and fellow Iraq War veteran. The two decided to complete the remainder of the trip together. It wasn’t until the last stop of the trip that the two Iraq war veterans met Hassan, an Iraqi refugee, who hosted the men at his house during their stay in San Francisco.

Stieber was a member of the Army unit which made international headlines in the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video and has been actively speaking about his experiences. Hassan is able to share the perspective of an Iraqi living under both Saddam’s regime as well as the U.S. occupation. Curran has a journey to share regarding his diagnosis with PTSD and his path to healing. Along the way, these men will be joined from halfway across the world via Skype by Our Journey to Smile, a group of Afghan youth campaigning for peace.

Please welcome our Peace Pilgrims.

Conner Curran

Conner Curran, a marine veteran with 2 tours in Iraq, was trained by the military to look at the world as the worst case scenario. One insurgent set off an explosive with a cell phone and, with the worst case scenario training, every Iraqi using a cell phone triggers his fear mechanism. The world becomes the worst possible. Conner was on a house-to-house detail and notices a beautiful lawn and garden in the middle of desolation; and instead of appreciating it; it becomes an object of suspicion. Wouldn’t this lawn and garden be the perfect place to hide weapons? Where did the owner get the money to afford this? Convinced by the dark imaginings of worst case scenario training, Conner and his marines power their way into the house and start turning over everything searching for incriminating evidence. Conner went to the garden and started pulling plants up and poking holes all around to find the weapons of his worst case imagination. And then from this disregard, this disrespect, this violation of privacy something unexpected happens. The owner of the house brings tea to the marines. Conner looks into his eyes and sees only love and compassion. The Iraqi asks about his family, about his parents, his brothers and sisters. Conner realizes that this man is returning kindness for the marines’ aggressive behavior, and thinks how strange. Back at the barracks, the guys talk about it a little and then it was forgotten.

But the training was not forgotten even though Conner left the marines and returned home, the worst case training is still rattling around in his head. The military doesn’t un-train soldiers; they are left to work it out by themselves. His body was walking in downtown USA; but his mind is still war-torn. Then comes one of those pivotal events that can save us. Conner sees this nice looking old lady walking toward him and he’s wondering what threat she poses. The worst case scenario training has gone too far and he realizes that this is part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But at a gut level he realizes he is crazy. Then he flashes back to the Iraqi who served him tea and realizes the difference between returning kindness for aggression and his returning suspicion for the neutral behavior of the lady. And in that instant, Conner realizes that he is the victim of worst case training and decides to stop it and try on the kindness and compassion of the Iraqi. So he experiments with his day-to-day activities and finds that his interaction with people is getting better. His relation with his family is helpful and healing. He tells his family of his experiment in kindness and they start running the experiment too. Conner sees that the lesson in kindness in Iraq has now travelled to his home in Ohio. And this was how Conner’s life was transformed from worse case scenario to kindness makes the world better. His enthusiasm is powered by his success for turning negative situations into opportunities of understanding with kindness, compassion and love; this was his “Journey to Peace”; the one he is sharing across America.

Salam Talip

Salam Talip is a refugee from Iraq. He’s running an experiment too. He knows that human beings are not by nature violent. So he wonders how does the American culture build soldiers? His experiment – look at media violence, the whole history, from Tom and Jerry cartoons to Clint Eastwood. After subjecting himself to this, he realized that it is getting more violent. Conclusion: in our media culture heroes are often killers.

Salam is a computer engineer and he sees the same thing happening with video games. So Salam runs an experiment. He has some kids play a bang-bang-shot’m-up video game and they are having an exciting time blowing away the enemies. Salam stops the game and shows them video footage of real people who are shot and in agonizing pain. He invites the kids to return to their game play. But after viewing the more painful outcomes of the violence; they didn’t want to play the game. Conclusion: Violent games are ignoring the suffering of violence.

Salam also told us about another experiment with combat trained GIs. He asked the GI’s if they saw in on an Iraqi street would they shoot him. Short answer: yes. Then Salam talks to the GIs for a half an hour and then asks if they would shoot him. Short answer: no. “Would you shoot any who were surrounding me?” No. “If you were ordered to shoot me, would you? No. Conclusion: it takes about ½ hour to make a friend and you can’t kill a friend.

For Salam American nationalism is a problem that is being protected by an embargo on information that comes to us from Iraq. Iraqis and GI are not allowed to bring videos or pictures from Iraq. The effect is to block the pain of violence from being seen on American media. It also limits our view of the humanity of Iraqis. And it covers up the brutality of hero as killer.

Having lived through Sadam Hussian and the US occupation, Salam calls us to take a look at the violence of our media, the bias of nationalism, and instead take ½ hour to know an Iraqi personally. And this will be A Journey to Peace.

Josh Stieber

Josh Stieber feels betrayed. After attending a Christian high school where The Faith of George W. Bush was required reading, Josh had faith in our mission of bring democracy and freedom to the backward Iraqis. These ideals motivated Josh to join the Army. During basic training, Josh had an inkling that something was wrong. Some of the cadences that he marched to told them to take a machine gun and spray in the market. His training included videos bombing Iraqis and rock and roll “Die Terrorist Die” (lyrics) by Dope. Warning: these links are so filled with hate, I was shocked and dismayed at the cruelty. I feel that anyone subjected to this combat training, needs an equal amount of training to undo it before returning to civilian life. When Josh told his minister he was encouraged to go along with the training. And he did. When he arrived in Iraq he was became part of the army unit that gained international notoriety when a Wikileaks video, “Collateral Murder”, showed their helicopter gun ship killing Iraqi civilians and 2 Reuters journalists. Stieber does not excuse the behavior, but advises listeners to consider the social and military training that leads to such actions. Josh felt betrayed. His “willingness to sacrifice for good ideals were exploited so that we ended up doing what we were there to prevent. Our mission betrays our ideals. I have more in common with my enemies than with those who told us who our enemies are.” Josh rejected that exploitation and became a conscientious objector. He brings a message from Afghan children to America in his Journey to Peace.

The Journey to Peace Tour – Betsy Crites

Iraq Army veteran, Josh Stieber, told audiences in the Triangle June 13th and 14th about the painful dissonance US soldiers face as they see themselves killing innocent people.  They go to war often for altruistic motives, thinking they’re going to help the people; to free them from tyranny or to keep the evil doers from coming back to hurt their own families and fellow citizens. They find themselves killing people for the slightest provocation or no reason at all—deeds they never imagined they would be part of. Swept along by a mentality of aggression instilled since childhood and the belief that the strong and righteous will prevail, their ideals ultimately collide with a reality of unjustified “collateral murder”.

The wiki leaks video, “Collateral Murder” that brought Josh Stieber to prominence recently (LINK) was not the first time he’d considered the painful contradictions of war. He’d already finished one bike tour across the country speaking about his decision to become a conscientious objector.

In that first tour he met Conan Curran, a former Marine, battling PTSD and his own conscience, and Salam Talip Hassan, an Iraqi journalist studying in the US.  Conan spoke of his amazement when an Iraqi man, whose house and beautiful garden he and his fellow Marines ransacked and destroyed, offered him tea and spoke to him kindly in English.  This nonviolent response changed his life.

Salam talked about his childhood in Iraq.  Like most children here, he too was exposed to violent cartoons and video games.  The distant war with Iran in the 80’s did not impact his life, but he knew Iraq was righteous and was supported by the U.S.

A conversation Salam had with an American summed up for him the journey to peace.  After talking and sharing their lives for half an hour he asked the American soldier if he would have killed him if he’d just seen him on the street before their conversation.  The answer was yes.  Would he kill him now that they had talked?  The answer was no.  We may be only a half hour conversation away from recognizing the humanity of our presumed enemies.

The program ended with a heart rending yet uplifting video from Afghanistan children addressed to the children of Barack Obama. (UPLOAD)

The sponsoring organizations are grateful to these three courageous and nonviolent men for their testimonies, warmth, and commitment to share their message. We need to learn from them and we need to support their journeys.

NC Peace Action, WILPF, Orange County Coalition for Peace and Justice, Elders for Peace, and Triangle Chapter of Veterans for Peace.