As you can read here, the Muste Institute has lost a board member, the peace movement has lost a stalwart activist and we have lost a good friend. Elmer Maas's sudden death on May 8 was a great shock to us all. Elmer served on the Board since 1991 and was always a steady and cheerful presence. He was devoted to pacifism and nonviolent action, and he lived a life consistent with his values.
The best thing the Muste Institute can do to honor Elmer's long service on the Board is increase our efforts to educate and agitate for nonviolent social change. Our ability to accomplish our mission largely depends on your contributions. We are trying hard to respond to the many activist groups who have asked for our support, but our fundraising is still not keeping pace with the demand. Although many of you responded generously to our last appeal, we did not raise the extra $20,000 we had sought by April 15 to increase our grantmaking. We hope you will read the enclosed letter from our Board member Carol Kalafatic and make the largest donation possible for our work. We have ambitious plans to expand our programs and, with your help, the Muste Institute will grow and strengthen its active support for peace and justice.
Iraq Veterans Against the War
The Muste Institute made a $1,600 grant in April 2005 to Iraq Veterans Against the War for an organizing skills training of regional coordinators and other core members (see New Grants, below). This article is by IVAW Administrative Coordinator Amadee Braxton.
Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) is a national organization of recent veterans and active duty service members who, based on their experiences serving in Iraq, oppose the war and occupation. "People should be aware that we are fighting average Iraqis, that when we're dropping 500-pound bombs in residential neighborhoods, we're killing mostly innocent women and children," says Mike Hoffman, who founded IVAW with eight other Iraq war veterans in August 2004 at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace (VFP) in Boston.
Now a national organization with members in 24 states, IVAW is reaching out to vets and service members who feel disillusioned and outraged that they have been killing and risking their lives in a war based on lies and to fill corporate coffers. Many soldiers feel isolated when they return, not wanting to share what they've seen with their families and friends, and not exactly feeling like heroes. "Joining IVAW saved my husband's life," says the wife of an anonymous member. "When he came home from Iraq, he was depressed and would fly into a rage over small things. After working with IVAW, connecting with other vets and speaking out, he is back to his old self again."
Patrick Resta served as an Army medic in Iraq for eight months in 2004. After his return he got involved with IVAW and began speaking out against the war and occupation. "If you really want Iraqis to have democracy, let them run their own affairs," he said in a recent interview. "When you break something in a store you don't sit there with crazy glue trying to piece it back together. And you most certainly don't run around with a bat breaking more things. What you do is apologize, write them a check, and get out before you do any more damage."
IVAW members are speaking out every week, doing counter-recruitment work in schools and colleges, defending the rights of war resisters and conscientious objectors, and sharing resources on how to fight for veteran benefits and deal with health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the effects of depleted uranium (Gulf War Syndrome). IVAW also participates in the United for Peace and Justice coalition and serves as a bridge between longtime peace activists and the millions of Americans who disagree with what's happening in Iraq, but who've never seen themselves as activists or protesters.
- Amadee Braxton
Elmer Maas, 1935-2005
AJ Muste board member Elmer Maas died May 8, 2005, while on retreat with the Atlantic Life Community in Voluntown, Connecticut.
Born in 1935 in Kansas City, Missouri, Elmer's gifts led him to the University of Chicago to study music, although his parents wanted him to get a business education. Elmer moved to New York City around 1961 and lived on St. Mark's Place, long before it was fashionable, with his niece Julie Maas. From 1962 to 1968 he was a professor in the General Humanities Department at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, where he helped organize students into the civil rights movement.
By the late 1970s he was back in New York, joining the 339 Lafayette Affinity Group in the 1977 occupation of the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear reactor at which 1,400 people were arrested. In 1980, Elmer and seven other activists carried out the first Plowshares disarmament action. He later did Plowshares #4 in 1982 and the Thames River Plowshares in 1989. He helped prepare people for about 50 other actions, did support for imprisoned anti-nuclear activists and joined projects like the 2002 Hiroshima Flame walk, for which he gave a reflection at New York City's Ground Zero.
Elmer shared his gifts in many ways. He played piano at many Plowshares support functions and parties and enjoyed working at Valley Lodge in New York City, where he was choir director. He wrote three musicals, two of which were performed, in 1959 and 1967. Last year Elmer took part in the "Telling Lives Project" of the Columbia University Oral History Research Office, sharing his stories and songs of the civil rights movement with students at a Chinatown middle school.
Elmer's local peace organizing was based out of Kairos/Plowshares NY, his home community, where he coordinated office duties and often got arrested at actions--at Riverside Research, the Intrepid war museum, the Times Square army recruiting station. His life-work, known as the "curriculum," was a project he wanted to share with everyone, envisioned as a seven-year, once a month course of study for those interested in the genesis and evolution of the nuclear state, leading to the idea that history would come to a synthesis of nuclear disarmament and peace.
In addition to serving on the Muste Institute Board until his death, Elmer was on the Executive Committee of the War Resisters League for several years. He was patient, kind, principled, and even when there were the kind of rumblings that are inevitable in groups, Elmer was a steady presence, offering his intelligence, experience, and listening ear. He was gracious, gentle and generous. He also had a good sense of humor--he enjoyed subverting authority, and liked joking about it, too. He was endlessly hospitable, and an amazing cook.
One of the unsung heroes of the peace and justice movement, Elmer's life was an example of the daily actions that personify nonviolence and love--not only did he take risks himself, he was there for others. It seems too small to say that he will be missed, which of course is true; or that his legacy goes on, which it will, with all of us. I feel as if there is a hole in the fabric of our resistance and we will have to work together to mend it.
- Melissa Jameson
An Update on Projects Funded by the Muste Institute
In the Winter 2005 issue of Muste Notes, we featured a grantee profile on the Student Farmworker Alliance and its dynamic Taco Bell boycott campaign in support of fair wages for tomato pickers. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Florida farmworker organization which launched the boycott in 2001, announced on March 8 that Taco Bell's parent company, YUM Brands Inc., had agreed to all of the campaign's demands. YUM agreed to pay a penny more per pound for Florida tomatoes, making sure the extra penny goes directly to farmworkers. The move will nearly double the pay of some 1,500 tomato pickers from 1.2 cents to 2.2 cents per pound. The Student Farmworker Alliance played a key role by successfully organizing students--Taco Bell's target market--into "Boot the Bell" campaigns at some 300 colleges and universities. The boycott is over, but CIW and the Student Farmworker Alliance have their sights set on the rest of the fast-food industry, including corporate giants such as McDonalds and Burger King. As the Alliance says on its website www.sfalliance.org : "Watch out Ronald... we know how to win!"
The award-winning video documentary Another Brother, about the life of black Vietnam veteran and anti-war activist Clarence Fitch, is now available in DVD and VHS formats. The 50-minute film illustrates Fitch's struggles as an 18-year-old marine in Vietnam, then dealing with racism in Jersey City, recovering from heroin addiction, mentoring high school students, working as an antiwar activist and facing AIDS, the disease which took his life in 1990. The Muste Institute supported "Another Brother" with a $1,000 grant in 1994. As a new crop of veterans returns from Iraq, this film provides a timely resource. Copies can be ordered for $40 plus shipping from Transit Media (800-343-5540, [email protected]). A discussion guide can be downloaded free at www.andersongoldfilms.com To schedule speakers to accompany the film, contact AndersonGold Films (718-789-2168, [email protected]).
In April 2005, Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was indicted on 21 counts for violating restrictions imposed on him following his release from prison a year earlier. His "crimes" include speaking to foreign journalists and attempting to leave Jerusalem to attend Christmas mass in Bethlehem. He faces up to three years in prison. A former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant, Vanunu exposed Israel's secret nuclear program in 1986 by providing facts and photos to London's Sunday Times. Israel retaliated by kidnapping Vanunu in September 1986 and keeping him jailed for nearly 18 years, 12 of them in solitary confinement. The Muste Institute supported the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu with grants in September 1993 and February 1998. The Campaign asks for letters of protest to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other officials--for more information, see the website at www.nonviolence.org/vanunu/ Letters of support can be sent to Dr. Mordechai Vanunu at [email protected] or c/o Cathedral Church of St. George, 20 Nablus Rd., P.O. Box 19122, Jerusalem 91191, Israel.
New Grants, April 2005
IRAQ VETERANS AGAINST THE WAR
NIGER DELTA PROJECT FOR ENVIRONMENT, HUMAN RIGHTS & DEVELOPMENT
OAK RIDGE ENVIRONMENTAL PEACE ALLIANCE
PEACE AND JUSTICE CENTER
PROJECT ON YOUTH AND NON-MILITARY OPPORTUNITIES