20 years of Peace Presence in Reno

At the federal courthouse, activists bear witness to the futility of wars

IMAGE/RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL CLIPS: For 20 years, people have gathered weekly in front of the federal courthouse in Reno to advocate for peace.

On Sept. 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked four planes, and America watched in shock as two of the planes flew into the World Trade Towers, one into the Pentagon, and the fourth went down in Pennsylvania.  This deadly terrorist attack was met by an eye-for-eye resolve to bring the terrorists to justice.

In an address on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush demanded the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders to the United States, or “share in their fate.” They refused.  On October 7, 2001, U.S. and British forces launched Operation Enduring Freedom, an airstrike campaign against al Qaeda and Taliban targets including Kandahar, Kabul and Jalalabad that lasted five days.  This began our 20 year “war on terror” in Afghanistan. 

Member of Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace, founded more than 30 years ago, called for a non-military approach to justice that would seek alternatives to the enormous destructiveness of military action, and, as we now know, the ineffectiveness of military action.  We resolved to create a space, we call Peace Presence, to symbolize the need for alternatives to military action.  We sought to provide a community place once a week to discuss and engage around nonviolent methods interpersonally and on the world stage. 

John Hadder/Great Basin Resource Watch

During the 20 years the Peace Presence has varied in size depending upon the political climate with a core of about half a dozen providing a continuous thread.  Many have passed through taking the message of alternatives to violence with them, and many have brought personal experiences and insights into the circle enriching all present. 

It is painfully clear that the non-military approach was needed.  In a recent publication, The Afghanistan Papers,  by Washington Post journalist, Craig Whitlock, direct interview evidence indicates that the military never understood Afghanistan and didn’t know who the “bad guys.” were  This is the problem with a military approach — it does not seek to understand, but only to apply power over and attempt to force its preconceived notions on the “target populace.” 

Even before the Peace Presence was organized there was a movement, advanced in Congress by Representative Dennis Kucinich to form a Department of Peace.  Such a cabinet level agency would have the resources of the federal government to explore and develop non-military alternatives to be proposed to future Presidents.  A Secretary of Peace would essentially be a counterpoint to the voices in the Pentagon and State Department.  After September 11 2001 this voice was desperately needed as we now know.

Sierra Interfaith Action of Peace and the hundreds of people that have been involved with the Peace Presence still call for the formation of a Department of Peace.  Our current need to work cooperatively to advance just policies to address our changing climate stands in stark contrast to the violent methodology of the military.  Indeed the 21st century needs to be the century of nonviolence on many levels. 

Join us at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 20, in front of the Bruce Thompson Federal Building at South Virginia and Liberty streets in Reno as we recognize 20 years of the Peace Presence in Reno.

John Hadder is a member of Sierra Interfaith Action for Peace and executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch.

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