Amid themes of eco-sustainability, nuclear abolition and justice for indigenous peoples, Ashland Peace House Friday honored four local peacemakers and Lakota lawyer Chase Iron Eyes who, in a fiery speech, warned that the forces of genocide and slavery that colonized the world are still going on in the form of oppression of women, voter suppression, private prisons and slave wages.
Attendees at the sold-out, dress-up gala banquet at the Historic Ashland Armory honored Iron Eyes as Peace House’s sixth national honoree. Local honorees were Hideko Tamura Snider, an author-teacher and survivor of the Hiroshima nuclear attack; climate-energy activist Shaun Franks, non-violent communication activist; the late Joanna Niemann; and the clean energy activists of Rogue Climate.
Iron Eyes, who was jailed for “inciting riot” at the Standing Rock Reservation protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, showed dramatic video of water cannon blasting peaceful protesters in sub-freezing temperatures. He said, “I never started any riot. We were protecting Mother Earth and are the true patriots. The reality is we elected a lunatic to lead a country that has served as a shining light that people look to for leadership and we let them down.”
He described the pain of being “born in a demographic” where officials in Washington are “calling for your death and where the Proud Boys (an all-male alt-Right group) openly call for a racist execution. We very much right now are facing serious tests of the fabric of our democracy … and we can’t ignore them or take them lightly. They are falling squarely on our shoulders.”
In remarks supporting Iron Eyes, retired Southern Oregon University anthropology Professor Jim Phillips told stories of oppression from his childhood in in First Peoples country of Quebec and in present-day Honduras, noting, “There are lots of ways to obstruct the wheels of oppression,” much of it coming in militarization of corporate extraction projects in mining, logging, tourism and palm oil harvest.”
The fight for Mother Earth has taken on a sense of urgency, said Hannah Sohl of Rogue Climate, as it becomes motivated by the threat against low-income families and communities of color during the present transition to clean energy.
Rogue Climate, which she helped found, is focused on the volunteerism and skill development of millennials, she said, cautioning that a recent United Nations report gives us 12 years “to transform our energy systems and that’s not a lot of time. We have a lot to do.”
Rogue Climate, she adds, is working to defeat “racist” state ballot measure 105, which repeals sanctuary city protections for immigrants — and the group worked to help gather 42,000 signatures opposing the looming natural gas pipeline across southwest Oregon, which, she adds, would be the largest carbon emitter in the state and impact many rivers and tribal lands.
Niemann’s award was accepted by her widower, Michael Niemann, who said that, in her work on nonviolent communication, “she valued the architecture of human relations and the spirit that resides in each human being.”
Snider, who, at age 10, lived through the 1945 nuclear bombing, said she was saved by the “misfortune” of being pinned under wreckage, leading her to a life teaching peace and asking “Why do people do these things to each other?”
She poignantly touched on the personal transformations this led to, noting, “I was very hungry and lonely. I lost my mother. You pretend you’re OK. You reach out. You don’t become isolated. You connect to your fellow human being … You find common ground with self, other, community. You can’t imagine being decimated inside and that outside is the ultimate abyss. (In time) you see the radiance of life. You are still alive. Please answer to your life. You have today. That’s how I got my vision.”
Finishing his keynote talk, Iron Eyes called out “institutional racism,” adding that America was framed as “a pristine land filled with non-Christian subhumans … There is no reconciliation if there’s no truth-telling … We have the compassion. I trust in our dignity. We have to take that first step to liberate ourselves from oppression, fear, ignorance, apathy, nihilism, cynicism.
“Who told us God was separate from nature? We de-sanctified our world … We de-spiritualized our world … but we are part of the divine expression.”
Peace House started during the 1982 nuclear-free campaign and was a force at that time in voting for Ashland to be nuclear-free. They work on many fronts: racial equity, just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the Syria war, end of drone assassinations, human rights in Honduras, and food-and-shelter sufficiency.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.