Saturday, October 31, 2015

Memories of the Modesto Peace Center by Samuel R. Tyson - A Founding Member

By the time the Peace Center came into being, the Saturday Night Group had all but disappeared when so many people went to Canada.

The remnants were available for the new effort, although it was originally limited to draft counseling. The draft work had been ongoing in an ad hoc sort of manner by individual volunteers. Vietnam took counseling from the theoretical to the hard facts of reality. Lives were very much in jeopardy.

The true organizing work of the 1970s was not by or through the Peace Center with its limited vision. Something different popped up – nuclear power. The proposal to build nuclear energy facilities west of Waterford brought opposition. At various times it became necessary to take on Pacific Gas & Electric, General Electric, Livermore, Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto Irrigation District. It was a new learning experience to perform this service under pressure. Stanislaus Safe Energy then came into existence to block, refute and deny any such facility. Of course Government bodies and the Stanislaus and San Joaquin Farm Bureau were all for it.

For once the Modesto Bee did it – a half page story with pictures of the half dozen activists standing up on the front lines for Safe Energy. Public meetings, Dr. John Gofman speaking, the pancake breakfast a three month Notice of dissenting was created and then the Harvest Supper was started as a second fund raiser. Safe Energy’s last major public event was at the 1987 Stanislaus County Fair of 1987 in the midst of the super conductor-super collider protests. The proponents of this super warfare program were the University of California, Livermore, liberal Democrats, Chambers of Commerce, as usual, the school system and of course Governmental agencies.

In between these events came the farm workers to Modesto, 8000 on foot or car to add to the 1000 or so already at Graceada. Vietnam was over so a lot of energy was now available energy to work on farm worker issues. Gallo was far and above the great villain as a large outfit not interested in being limited by the Farm Worker’s Union. What was Modest to do with such an invasion and with it, its inflammatory possibilities?

Having done crowd control by invitation several times in San Francisco’s anti-war marches, it was an interesting challenge for me. Organizer Chuck Gardenier and I agreed it would be useful to have a non-violent presence on March 1, 1975. Since there had already been joint meetings with the California Highway Patrol, Sheriff deputies of several counties and the Modesto Police Department.  Chuck and I were known to them, to say the least. There had been violence during the march in Merced County recently. So in blue jeans and jacket with a red arm band, I was a presence all along the side to take (block) intersections or along the front as Modesto was cut in half from Gallo to Graceada Park. Holding half of Needham for the crowd, the traffic got real messy, but there was no violence. The Modesto Police backed off and left the crowd to discipline itself.

When the Latin Americas group decided to stage a sit in inside Tony Coehlo’s office during the Nicaraguan Contra imbroglio, I was brought in to do the non-violence organizing. Now with the people ready to sit in, it could be done all at once, a big bang, as it were. It appeared more useful to split into three groups for a  larger impact. So, poor Jane Jackson, who knew many of us, had to be at her desk three days to watch people be arrested. It was not that Coehlo was a poor congressman but as one in a leadership position, more was needed and could have been done to end the conflict.

Whatever organizational skills there may be, it cannot work without other people. Foremost were Howard Washburn and Howard TenBrink who were both there from the beginning at the monthly Fellowship of Reconciliation Meetings. He was in Nevada, Self Help Housing (SHE) (Visalia), Everyman Building, Coehlo’s office and in later years collating the Stanislaus Peace/Life Connections.

Howard Washburn – Rural Life Conference (1940-1950s), first director of SHE (1960s), tax resister at Fresno, Livermore, Vandenburg, who tragically, with much of his family, was killed in an automobile accident. Jake Kirihara (Livingston) SHE board, Livermore, Coehlo’s office, United Technology Middle plant (Merced County).

Mel Harvey was of this breed in Nevada, arrested for leafleting at the IRS in Modesto (I was not ready for arrest, nor was Betty Tillotsoin or Frank Muench), Oakland Induction Center 1967. Mary Harvey upon the Everyman sentencing in 1960, went to Nevada, crossed the line and was arrested,  given 30 days in jail – the only woman in the Tonpah jail (she was on the second floor). These folks were there; open and allowing themselves to be available for joint action over a period of many years.

For its time slot, Safe Energy found Dan Pollack (Ecology Action) a stalwart. Jim Higgs came along in the 1970s but did not break out until the 1980s, with more than one visit to Livermore and Santa Rita.

Involved with the United Technology venture and sit ins at Coehlo’s office – Jim Higgs was a long time Peace Center board member. He could be frustrating, certainly. But he did hang in with Peace Center activities as long as possible.

Kay Barnes, who overcame her military raising to come to look at Peace. For nearly 20 years she did the little things to keep the Center going, as a volunteer. As usual there was little thanks, if any at all.

Not doing in public does not mean the service is worth less. One does not relish the value of such help until it is gone. A venture to Livermore was not her thing. An example of her commitment: When coming out of the Stanislaus County jail for sitting in at Coehlo’s office, I was totally disoriented. It had been a hot day and the air conditioner broke down, leaving the inmates dripping and half clothed.

For once Zane Clark, or whoever was running the place,  arranged for inmates to shower out of regulation. Mine was at midnight, but the cell was crowded, with most inmates on the floor.

The next morning, I was pushed out the door after minimal sleep. But there was my guardian angel, Kay, to transport my carcass to Waterford. Christmas. This was a service more than once was provided at the Choose Life Christmas-blocking at Livermore. My going number there is under 1000 as one of the lags (1960) though they can have 10,000 entices to Santa Rita in a year. No organizer can do it without help.

When one is lucky there are those who can be leaned upon for years.

Those who dare to follow conscience under fear, but refuse to allow it to dominate or paralyze action and are in this sense free.

After exposure to various situations,  there is an esprit which may well appear to be arrogance.

Experience has taught certain lessons. There are probabilities of behavior and results. However, planning based on effectiveness tends to backfire as the means become distorted by the desire.

Results are long term. It is ludicrous to expect change of a useful nature in under five years. Patience is not a virtue much cultivated, because our ego demands satisfaction.

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