Merrimack Valley People for Peace
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20 Years'Highlights

see 2003-2004 by Bobbie, lower on this page

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Kathie remembers 20 years

In honor of our 20th Anniversary, I have been asked to share a few thoughts on the history of Merrimack Valley People for Peace. But before I go further, I want to offer a disclaimer; I can not say for certain that we are in fact 20 years old yet. Our records are somewhat conflicting on that point. Some show us starting in early 1985, while others show us already active in 1984. Since we celebrated our 10th Anniversary in 1994, while one of our founding members was still active with us we will carry that tradition forward tonight.

MVPP started as North Andover People for Peace around the kitchen table of Alison Ceplikas, our first President. Alison, who was an active member of the Trinitarian Congregational Church, invited a small number of others active in the Unitarian Universalist, Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches to form a group. Their purpose: to keep members of these and other congregations in the North Andover area and the general public informed on the scientific, political, psychological and moral issues of the nuclear arms race and to generate enthusiasm for peace and justice. Although I am not sure of all the names of our founding members, I have it on good authority that they included: Alison Ceplikas, Gwendolyn Smith, Elizabeth Elliot, and Jim Keller.

It didn't take long for the word to get out on this promising group. Many of our earliest members were already working for peace in other organizations in area communities and some of these merged into NAPP. Jim Keller, a pastor and founder of the Greater Lawrence Ecumenical Area Ministry brought many of the members of the Greater Lawrence Interfaith Council for a Nuclear Weapons Freeze to NAPP. I was one of those as were Arthur Brien, Jane Cadarette, and Dick McCarthy. This broader community expanded the membership beyond North Andover, even in our first year. By the later 1980's NAPP started doing business as MVPP. This coming year we plan to legally change our name, to reflect the reality we have experienced over the last twenty years!

In early 1985 NAPP was incorporated and applied for its non-profit education status under IRS 501 c 3 with the help of two pro bono attorneys Marcia Damon-Rey and Ruth Bortzfield. It was an unusual thing for a grass-roots organization to go though this effort but our founders had their eyes on bigger programs and the access to grants that nonprofit status brings.

One of the first events of the new organization was a presentation by Dr. Robert Nelkin, a resident of Andover, and member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Other events mentioned in our nonprofit application included sponsored films, discussions with teachers, peace and justice evenings with local church youth groups, debates and discussions on cable television, a walk for peace fundraiser, and a Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemoration. The group raised money and donated books to local libraries. They organized a booth at North Andover's 4th of July Celebration.

These smaller events were soon followed by larger ones including a speech by Dr. Benjamin Spock titled "Educating for Peace in a Nuclear Age" given at Phillip's Cochran Chapel in 1985. In order for us to guarantee Dr. Spock's airfare several member of the group had to loan us $150 each, which we paid back with the proceeds after we filled the place! We followed that with a musical satirical play "Alice in Blunderland" with members of the North Parish Unitarian Church. With the help of a grant from the Kendall Foundation, we were able to hire a director and perform at North Andover Middle School. We also organized a Star Wars debate and sent a container of school and medical supplies to Nicaragua. We marched for many years in North Andover's 4th of July parade. In 1991 we even had our own float! We gave out scholarships for local public school teachers to learn conflict resolution and local youths to attend peace camps.

After a few years as President, Alison passed the mantle to Ed Meagher who served as President for approximately 10 years. Under Ed's Presidency the organization flourished. As Ed's Vice President, I served as acting- President for a year during the Gulf War and succeeded Ed in the Presidency when Ed's health caused him to step back from community involvement. This gave me the dubious distinction of serving as President during both Iraq wars. I remain grateful for Bobbie's offer to assume Presidency, which she handles admirably.

Although we have enjoyed much success, we have also encountered resistance. During the Gulf War the town of Andover tried to require us to post high bonds, request vigil dates 3-4 weeks in advance, and pay for police protection. We remain indebted to the ACLU for talking reason to the Andover Town Manager. We have published many controversial letters to the editor. After one of these, we were surprised to find a response letter labeling us as the "Radical Chic" and stating that we were elitists motivated simply by the limelight and cared nothing for the neediest members of our communities. (The author, a former North Andover resident, had clearly never met Arthur Brien or Mary Kate Small.) Most recently, our outspoken position on Iraq, the Wall and the Wheels of Justice Tour have again stirred the pot of public opinion. Despite this controversy and perhaps because of it we have grown stronger.

No enumeration of our history would be complete without a word about the newsletter. Our newsletter has been recognized throughout the peace community for inspiration, insight, and "groundedness" in the local community. Among the numerous flyers and memorabilia I have laid out, you can see an early newsletter from 1991.

In closing, I would like to recognize and thank you all for your leadership, inspiration, endurance, and hard work. It is no small thing to be working for peace for 20 years. Congratulations to us!

Kathie Robinson, Vice President

President's Report 2003-2004
June 18, 2004

Congratulations, MVVP for 20 wonderful years of making a difference… in North Andover, Merrimack Valley, and in the world. Look around you. Aren't we a great group of committed people? Committed to making the world a better, more peaceful place. As a group, we share our commitment, integrity, and outrage at the injustices in the world, and the needless damage our current administration has caused under the guise of fighting terrorism.

This has been an exciting year for MVPP. As the world situation grew worse and worse, we became more and more committed to doing whatever we could to change the course of events. First with daily vigils, and now with vigils
6x/week, we are getting noticed in the community, and in the peace movement, and we continue to attract new people. Despite frigid or hot temperatures, or any kind of precipitation, someone is always out on the curbside during our vigils. Of course on Tuesday mornings, it's mostly Mary Kate Small and Arthur Brien greeting the workers at 5:45 AM as they go to their shift. We've sold over 300 peace flags, and many more bumper stickers and buttons, with important - and sometimes funny - messages. We've had some amazing interactions with people who drive or pass by our vigils. Quite a few have changed their views after some discussions, and many have thanked us for being there consistently.

We've also caused a bit of controversy, by bringing first a replica of the Wall to our Andover vigil last November, and then the Wheels of Justice Tour, which educated people about the occupation of Iraq and of Palestine and made quite an impression on some 10th grade history students in Barry Humphreys' classes in North Andover High School. We've had a lot more publicity this year in various newspapers, partly thanks to our publicity committee, and individual members have had many letters-to-the-editor published. We even attracted 3 police cars to our March 14th vigil.

Merrimack Valley People For Peace now has a fabulous website, business cards, a beautiful new banner, and a pamphlet about why we still vigil. Our online newsletter attracted the attention of Swarthmore College Peace Coalition, which has joined MVPP in order to receive the newsletter for their peace archives. At our last count we have 123 members. We've had increasingly more people at our larger vigils, with over 70 at our "No More Victims" vigil last March, on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the war. We tabled at the Bread and Roses Festival in Lawrence, at the Peace College in Salem, at the Michelle Shocked concert in Newburyport, and at events we co-sponsored, including Noam Chomsky at Merrimack College, The Spirit of Resistance Concert with Pete Seeger and The People's Music Network at Cochran Chapel at Phillips Academy, and the Dave Lippman/George Shrub concert at this church. Also, we have permission to table on Saturday mornings in Andover through at least November.

We heard Dan Bishop from the International Depleted Uranium Study Team (IDUST) explain about DU, watched a movie called The Invisible War about the consequences of DU, and have been selling various books on DU. Members have supported and participated in the Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride, ANSWER's march on Washington last October, and last March, over 12 MVPP members participated in the demonstration in NYC to bring the troops home… and we managed to find almost everyone there through our cell phones. MVPP has made contributions to the Tony Van Der Meer fund, Jane Bernhardt's trip to Hiroshima, Global Peacemakers, the House of Peace, Mass Peace Action, the March to Abolish Poverty, AFSC, Toxics Action, LIFE (Life for Relief and Development), for food and medicine in Iraq; The War Resisters League of New England, and United for Justice with Peace, and individuals contributed to Oxfam and Adopt a Landmine at our potluck dinners. We supported Mary Kate Small and Hattie Nestle when they got arrested once again, this time at BAE, which is the largest defense contractor in NH. Last month John and Carrie Schuchardt also had their trial after their arrest at Westover Air Force base a few days after the US invaded Iraq. We joined the Campaign to ban DU, endorsed the petition for the resolution to Congress for our government to investigate the death of Rachel Corrie, and endorsed the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. We again hosted a potluck supper for the Buddhist monks from the Leverett Peace Pagoda and other walkers on their Walk for a New Spring, and some of us joined part of the walk. We have increased our linkages with the Lawrence community, by supporting the Latinos United for Justice vigils and other efforts, and we have linked up with other peace groups in Lowell, Groton, Reading, Ipswich, and Newburyport. Some of our members are involved with these other groups as well. We are active members of UJP (United for Justice with Peace) in Greater Boston, attending their monthly community brunches, and we communicate with and are members of UFPJ (United for Peace with Justice), which is a national organization of peace groups. We have 2 ministers, Ralph Galen and Jim Todd, who have joined us this year, and are working to make connections with other religious leaders in the community. We have also held some events in their churches. Wow, what an impressive list of accomplishments!

Thanks to all the folks who make this possible. This is a team effort. My biggest thanks go to Becci Backman for ordering the most outrageous buttons and bumper stickers she can find and setting up her table wherever she can. Becci, your dedication is what makes our Saturday morning vigils so unique and powerful. You have also organized our membership records, and have coordinated your efforts with our treasurer, Peter Cameron, who is always ready to write a check whenever needed. Next, I'd like to thank Don Abbott for prioritizing our programs and events, and for keeping us on task at our meetings. You write wonderful minutes, have inspiring interactions with passersby at our vigils, and you keep us entertained with your poetry and song. Brian Quirk, thank you, thank you for being such a patient and creative webmaster, for playing your bagpipes at our vigils, and for coming to our rescue with the newsletter. We have a great team who work on the newsletter, but special thanks go to our editor, Barbara Haack, and for Lou Bernieri, who steps in when Barbara goes to Mexico in winter, and for Arthur and Marge Brien, who deal with the printer and the mailing labels. A special personal thanks to Barbara Haack and Jane Cadarette, who listen and support me well when I get overwhelmed or confused, and are great sounding boards and mentors. Thanks, also, to our vice president, Kathie Robinson, who fills in for me when I'm unavailable, and is the voice of reason and experience. We miss our deceased co-founders, Gwen Smith and Alison Ceplikas, and our strong supporter, Henry Everett, who died this year. And we sorely miss Ed Meagher, who reluctantly retired 2 years ago from active peace duty for health reasons. But we now have so many new, dedicated members. What would we do without Masood's letters-to-the-editor, Dilenia's picture of her son, Javier, or Henry's signs at our vigils, Boryana's scrumptious vegetarian delights and recorder playing, Mary and Jim's hosting of numerous potlucks, Ralph's energy and outrage, and everyone else's contributions as well? It's been very personally gratifying, too, to have Eli Grober, a student at West Middle School, as an important member of our vigiling team. I'm looking forward to the day when the reins of the presidency of Merrimack Valley People For Peace will be handed over to him!

Bobbie Goldman, President


Merrimack Valley People for Peace meets monthly, on the fourth Tuesday,
at 7:30 pm,
at North Parish Church, North Andover.

Contact Merrimack Valley People for Peace       (978) 685-1389
            P.O. Box 573
            North Andover, MA 01845

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