A History of CONA, by Julia Myers
This is an incomplete history, which will soon be updated and completed.
Part One * 1982-1993
In the spring of 1982 a Lenten series “The Nuclear Arms Race: a Study in Christian Ethics,” was offered by the Reverend Samuel Hartman of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Newcastle. Several attendants, having a strong bond in opposing war in general, and nuclear arms in particular, came together to organize CONA, Citizens Opposing Nuclear Arms. By October we had begun publishing a monthly newsletter, enlisted 95 members, and were holding weekly meetings.
Election Day ’82 found members at the polls obtaining signatures for what turned out to be the largest single-issue referendum in US history, the Nuclear Freeze.
Within a year we listed 267 members. Our activities focused on publicizing the Freeze. An essay competition, “Nuclear Arms- the Ultimate Dilemma,” stimulated thought and writing skills among students at Lincoln Academy and Medomak Valley High School. Dr. Paul Silverman, President of the University of Maine, presided over the distribution of $1,000 worth of prizes to five students. Five-hundred dollars went to the best essayist.
We walked many miles for peace, conducted “Bread not Bombs” sales in front of the “old” Yellowfront market and wrote numerous articles and letters to local and state newspapers.
In these first years we were not without critics. Comments such as “Why not place your advertisements in Pravda or Izsvestia ?” and “ the greatest threat to humanity today is continued action of groups such as yours, which present the US as a nation of cowards.” From a local minister: “If you truly value your freedom and way of life, don’t tie the hands of those that are sworn to defend the US. Given the events of the past few weeks (the downing of KAL Flight 007), do you really feel that we can negotiate a verifiable treaty with the Soviets?” Pax vobiscum!
Several towns in Maine passed an article proposing a resolution directing the President and Congress to take immediate action to halt the nuclear arms race. In Lincoln County, South Bristol voted approval of the article by an “overwhelming majority” (Portland Press Herald 3.11.83).
Dick and Jean Harris were leaders in the life of “Bridges for Peace.” In a leadership exchange, they went to the Soviet Union. Upon their return they provided CONA members with a careful, honest and enthusiastic picture of what was touted as our “mortal enemy.” Following their trip, a Soviet delegation, in return, came to Maine. Dmitri Maleev and Vyacheslav Sluzhiviv enjoyed gracious hospitality in several area homes. Side trips included Bar Harbor, Augusta, Brunswick and Portland. Dmitri’s eyes twinkled as we drove past B.I.W. He held his hand over his eyes, saying, “I will not peek at secret ships,” the most English he used in my presence.
During this period, Ruth Pope was responsible for conceiving and executing the Peace Essay contest, at least one barn sale and a rummage sale. Enid Sharp faithfully and productively kept the newsletter under her wing, while Jean Harris corralled bakers for “Bread not Bombs” sales and a bake-off competition at Cheeckako Restaurant. Edward Myers and Robert Marshall wrote erudite articles and letters.
Over time, several couples went to Washington to speak with Congressman John McKernan (now Mr. Olympia Snowe), and Senators William Cohen and George Mitchell. The former was advocating a “build-down” concept, an attempt to lure supporters away from the Nuclear Freeze, by generating a technical loophole whereby we could build more nuclear weapons.
“Beyond War: a Women’s Convocation” was held at the University of Maine, organized by Vinita Burns of Wayne, Maine, with a panel consisting of herself, Helen Nearing, and Julia Myers as speakers.
Perhaps you will remember the “Peace Ribbon” that was wrapped around the Pentagon at the time of the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Literally tens of thousands of painted, quilted or stitched ribbon banners from all over the US and a few from other countries depicted “What I cannot bear to think of as lost forever in a nuclear war.” Talented CONA members contributed.
The Maine Peace Mission, a statewide organization, pressed for legislation that would increase real security, and bring about negotiated arms control and reduction, and acted as a coordinator for the many peace groups. The Mission hoped to unite political voices into sustained and responsible conversations with members of Maine’s Congressional delegation. Eventually the Maine Peace Mission and the Maine Freeze Campaign became the on-going Maine Peace Action organization.
Trips to Washington for continued dialogue with members of Maine’s elected representatives failed to persuade Representatives McKernan and Snowe, nor Senator Cohen. They continued to support appropriations for the “MX” missile program, but Representatives McKernan and Snowe did co-sponsor a bill to resume negotiation for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
CONA was honored in April ’87 by the Maine Freeze Campaign with the their “Seeds of Peace” award, citing “the involvement of CONA’s 300 dues-paying members,” and for “fostering a spirit of tremendous cooperation among peace groups in the state, including Maine Freeze Campaign, Veterans for Peace, Bridges for Peace and Beyond War.”
In December ’88, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by a vote of 136-4. In 1989, 165 members of Congress signed a letter to President Bush (I) calling for a C.T.B.T. by 1995.
Speaking in Brunswick in 1988, the Reverend William S. Coffin said, “All peace organizations must advocate a moratorium on testing as a necessary step to peace goals: a 50% reduction in ICBMs, multilateral reduction and non-proliferation.” In closing, he said, “We are called upon first to be faithful to what is right and let economic success be a second consideration.” Corporations are you listening?
Paul Warnke, Director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under President Carter and chief negotiator of Salt II, speaking at the Bath Area Citizens for Nuclear Arms Control said, “Failure to take advantage of Mr. Gorbachev’s moratorium offer is a tactical and strategic error.”
Toward the end of 1988, the Cruise Missile Referendum Campaign got under way. Cruise missiles fly low, following the contour of the land. If you were on a mountain in Baxter State Park, you would look down at them. The Navy planned to launch them from ships near Ellsworth and bring them down by parachute near Rangeley. CONA members covered 14 polling places in Lincoln County garnering 3400 signatures to a petition asking, ”Do you favor stopping cruise missile tests in Maine?”
In March ’89 nine CONA members attended a crowded cruise missile meeting hearing in Augusta; 72,000 signatures statewide were submitted. Peter Knauss spoke for CONA, noting that cruise missiles would cost Maine $30 million dollars. Julia Myers spoke for CONA in terms of her children and grandchildren, comparing a family in Karelia with her family. She reminded listeners that a single cruise missile is at least 100 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and asked what social or political advantage is to be gained by obliterating a Karelian or an American family? Ultimately, the Navy abandoned the plan.
CONA was also able to contribute financial aid to Thor Ericson, a Lincoln Academy student, who participated in the 1988 Helsinki US-Soviet Youth Conference as the sole representative from Maine. Thor returned to attend the Junior Statesman summer program at Stanford University. A subsequent letter to CONA from Thor in 1992 established that as a Yale student he was awarded a Yale fellowship to study the municipalization of the Brazilian political system. He wrote,” At this point I’m more interested in what small political units can do about common world problems that in the promises or vague goals of large nations.” Go, Thor!
Jean Harris continued her efforts with “Bridges for Peace,” promoting the Maine-Komi project, a three- year program of exchange, dialogue and cooperation between people of Maine and Komi.
To my uncertain knowledge, CONA’s first report on affairs environmental came to light in 1990 when Senator Cohen spoke in Portland of the need for greater use of energy efficient motors and light bulbs. Government support for energy efficiency at that time was 1% of federal appropriations as opposed to 3% ten years earlier. CONA member Alfred Eipper also spoke frequently and forcefully on the dangers of overpopulation as an environmental threat.
During the Persian Gulf crisis candlelight Vigils for Peace in support of a negotiated, diplomatic solution on the Newcastle- Damariscotta were well-attended. Fund raising continues with another Ruth Pope success. An Open House and Garden Tour in July 1991 was followed by a fine barn sale at Ruth’s barn, raising $770.
An article appeared in the May ’91 CONA newsletter quoting Dr. Frank Press, President of the National Academy of Sciences: “The possibility of ecological disaster due to an increase in global temperature is sufficient reason to act now.” How much action has there been taken in this regard?
With kind and trusting forbearance, two history and social studies teachers of juniors and seniors at Lincoln Academy invited two CONA members, Darcy Boyd and Julia Myers, into their classrooms to allow students to express and discuss their thoughts about alternatives to violence. At the end of class each student was asked to write down one question he or she would like answered. Their questions and answers were subsequently published in our newsletter.
A session of letter writing to President Bush, Congressman Tom Andrews and Senators Cohen and Mitchell made for a productive evening. Subject matter included military expenditures, nuclear proliferation, arms reduction treaties and world population increase.
In 1992 at CONA’s annual Christmas potluck supper, Clifton Olds, Professor of History and Criticism of Art, presented a slide lecture on great works of art which depict the theme of peace. For this high point among our evening programs, we have Ruth Pope to thank.
This is the end of CONA’s first decade. Of necessity, I’ve left out many events and neglected to mention names of hardworking, effective members. I recognize them now:
Alfred and Molly Eipper, John and Florence Field, Enid Sharp and Robert Marshall, Arthur Hamlin, Jean and Dick Harris, Edward and Julia Myers, Ruth Pope, Joan Beauregard and David Ellis, Dick and Sally Snyder.
CONA speakers through the decade included:
Dr. William Caldicott, husband of Helen Caldicott, both renowned anti-nuclear activists
Buzz Fitzgerald, former President of B.I.W.
Thomas Watson, former President of I.B.M.
Robert White, former Ambassador to El Salvador
Donald Kennedy, former President of Stanford University
Admiral Eugene Carroll, Deputy Director of C.D.I. on the C.T,B.T.
Tom Andrews, former US Congressman
CONA History Part Three, 1997 to Spring 2004 by Julia Myers
Toward the end of 1997, Study Circles bloomed and expanded. The theme of “Simple Living” drew a large crowd, necessitating formation of several circles. We discussed many aspects, including over-consumption, population growth, how simple living impacts the causes of peace and justice in our society, the stressful effects of a complex society on the individual, and the spiritual dimensions in the search for simplicity.
The second year of Peaceful Beginnings, January 1, 1998, was celebrated at Round Top. Approximately 200 people attended, doubling the previous year’s attendance. Dr. Peter Wilk, psychiatrist and anti-nuclear weapons activist, delivered a talk entitled “Next Steps toward Abolition: De-Alerting and Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” As vice-president of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, Dr. Wilk reminded us that the three last chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had all endorsed the treaty and urged immediate passage by the U.S. Senate.
At our June 1998 annual meeting, a spirit-stirring speaker, educator and philosopher, William Strickland, told of his remarkable public high school in Pittsburgh. Located in a less-than-desirable neighborhood, this school, unlike others in the area, disavowed police guards with guns (vs. students with guns) and bars and locks on the windows and doors. Strickland showed slides of halls filled with paintings, sculptures and photography, orderly classrooms and students with happy faces. A high rate of graduates went on to institutions of higher learning.
At a CONA program that year Robert Marshall reported on Jonathan Schell’s keynote speech at the Regional Conference on Nuclear Abolition in Portland, quoting Schell: “In our new circumstances what is needed is not just a moment of protest, but the steady engagement of citizens and their representatives over many years of constructive purpose.” Are we following his recommendation?
Also at this time Enid Sharpe and Robert Marshall took their leave to pursue a new project, the Two-Echo co-housing community in Brunswick. Their contribution to CONA for 15 years was invaluable, and we miss them as friends as well as fellow-travelers.
The Study Circles continued to attract members and friends. In particular, the theme “Propaganda” drew many participants. As organizer Paul Kando explained, “People in Study Circles share views and topics of mutual interest in an enjoyable atmosphere of openness and mutual respect, honing their critical skills and challenging the temptation to accept simplistic mantras in place of real information.”
Jim and Darcy Austin’s boat “Pax” plied the Damariscotta River, giving passengers the opportunity to observe this beautiful natural resource and to encourage them to observe standards of non-consumption. Powered by soy oil, the “Pax” added emphasis to the consideration of environmental impact.
At a CONA meeting Paul Best addressed the mega-problem of health care, arguing for a universal single payer system. During his first term, President Bill Clinton made affordable health care a priority issue. David Broder of the Washington Post wrote: “You would think it would be an issue that every presidential candidate would address. Instead, what we hear is silence.” Paul called on us to urge state and national legislators, party leaders and presidential candidates to give single-payer health care serious thought, a need that continues today.
In support of social issues, CONA organized a forum for Maine Speak Out, “Meeting Our Gay and Lesbian Neighbors.” This “standing room only” meeting emphasized the need to accept each other as we are and to support a more tolerant society.
CONA offered an outstanding workshop, “Money and Our Lives,” supported by a $300 grant from Bath Savings Trust Co. Lu Bauer, CPA, led a large group of participants with the goal of empowering them to achieve a positive approach to their financial lives.
Professor George Caffertzis from the University of Southern Maine led a discussion on the abolition of the death penalty. While most Eastern European nations and some former republics of the Soviet Union had abolished capital punishment by 1989, the United States saw a large increase in executions in the 1990s, supported by politicians including George H. W. Bush and Clinton.
With Paul Kando at the helm, assisted by Steve Gorry, CONA’s website, CONAMaine.com, was established. The site provides valuable information concerning current and future programs, membership, and matters for reflection.
Julie Zimmerman of Brunswick Friends Meeting, a graduate of Swarthmore College and author of five books, was the speaker for our 2000 annual meeting, In her talk she demonstrated her compassion for prisoners on Death Row and questioned the efficacy of our criminal justice system.
At another program, co-founder of the Green Party, John Rensenbrink, spoke in favor of transforming America into the genuine democracy it was intended to be. He strongly favored a new politics based on a “power-with, as opposed to a power-over, model.”
A CONA workshop sponsored by United for a Fair Economy and titled, “The Growing Divide: Inequality and the Roots of Economic Insecurity,” gave us an insight into true economic justice. The group envisions a global society based on economic fairness, genuine equality of opportunity and economic justice. This is a timely call, considering that by the end of 1997, the wealthiest 1% of households had acquired more wealth than the bottom 95% combined.
In September 2001, following the 9-11 attacks, CONA president Tom Schmidt quoted poet Adrienne Rich in a fine letter to members: “My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed. I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perseveringly, with no extraordinary powers, reconstitute the world.” Schmidt urged us to focus on issues we could address locally and individually and to go on with the work we must do–and do well. Quoting in the same vein from Edward Myer’s book Turnaround, he explained, “This is your holy work, and it cannot wait. Make it big this time. Make it so.”
Also in 2001, a family involved in CONA made a generous donation to establish a Speakers Fund. This benevolence has allowed us to offer many fine programs.
A new Study Circle studied the timely book, Ethics for a New Millenium, by the Dalai Lama, in which he explores modern ethics in a secular value system and their role in modern society. Clearly this is highly recommended reading.
As part of the Speakers series, Professor Dana Sawyer from the Maine College of Art spoke on “American Culture in a Time of Stress.” An arresting speaker, he focused on some of our important cultural assumptions, and then challenged them all! Later that year, our great friend, supporter and former president, John Field, died in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he and Florence had moved a year earlier.
In the May 2002 CONA News, President Tom Schmidt wrote, “While what we do as members of CONA may seem ordinary to us, I can tell you that it seems extraordinary to others. All those friends that we visited (in the South) are liberal thinkers, yet they find it hard to believe that in Maine we live in a community of freedom and mutual respect.”
Belva Ann Prycel’s name began appearing in CONA News as a regular contributor, as well as in local newspapers. Her grasp of current issues and conflicts is expressed in clear, concise paragraphs.
The fall ’02 issue of CONA News carried a fine article by Paul Kando, inspired by Donald Rumsfeld’s now famous message about “Knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.” Belva Ann Prycel contributed a short article, “The Road to Liberty,” about the harsh realities after 9-11, the expansion of the USA Patriot Act to detain individuals indefinitely, and the increase of surveillance powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Peaceful Beginnings, now a well-established, welcome annual event, hailed in the 2003 New Year at Skidompha Library, a new venue. Poetry, puppets, arts and crafts, music, singing and dancing provided participatory entertainment for all ages. Many members and friends, good cooks all, provided an appealing array of edibles.
CONA members Reg and Sue Gagnon returned to Haiti for five months to serve as house parents for boys in Port-au-Prince. Their dedication to this project serves as a fine example of support for a poverty-stricken people. Another traveler was Suzanne Hedrick, who attended a protest in Georgia at the scurrilous School of the Americas. On her return she described how ten thousand protesters stood at the gates of the Fort Benning, Georgia, army base, bearing small wooden crosses with the names of victims of the school’s graduates.
Poet and essayist Paul Kando turned his talents to finding alternative films to show monthly at Skidompha Library. Subjects included U.S. history and foreign policy, life in Iraq, the Gulf War and the political situation in the Middle East, misdeeds of major corporations and the anatomy of a presidential election. Paul continues this mission with CONA’s deep gratitude.
“Impeachable Offenses” by Belva Prycel appeared in the Lincoln County Weekly in 2003. It is interesting to note that in March ’06 there again appears to be widespread interest in presidential impeachment.
Member Carol Brightman gave a program discussing her book, Total Insecurity: The Myth of American Omnipotence. In it she warned that U.S. actions were causing a rise of Iraqi nationalism and analyzed the U.S. abandonment of international treaties and security arrangements. Brightman argued cogently that it will take more than regime change in Washington to dispel the myth and illusions about unilateral American power.
To be continued.
CONA History * Part Four 2002 to 2005, by Julia Myers
In November ’02 Gretchen Hull developed a new “Bridges for Peace” movement in our community. Beginning in Wiscasset and expanding first to Damariscotta , the effort eventually grew to over 40 bridges around the state. Many of us withstood cold, windy, snowy or rainy Sundays on the Damariscotta Bridge. Fellow citizens who supported the Iraq war or wanted to express support for our troops stood on the opposite side of the bridge. Photojournalist Olive Pierce of Rockland came to take pictures of “bridge” participants. Gretchen then set up an exhibition of Pierce’s photographs of people on both sides of the bridge, as well as her photos of children of Baghdad at the American Legion Hall. At a reception Legionnaires and CONA members had good exchanges, thus building toward another bridge.
Spring 2004 found members thinking about the upcoming presidential election. The electorate seemed increasingly polarized as the gap between rich and poor widened. Lisa Pohlman of the Maine Center for Economic Policy spoke to CONA on the “Great Divide”, noting that the life of the poor had become measurably more difficult since the rise of the conservative movement in America, beginning with the Reagan administration’s broad cuts in programs for the poor.
The Spring ’04 CONA News carried an excellent article on the environment by editor Sharon Crosbie, deploring such euphemisms as “Clear Skies,” “Healthy Forests,” and “Clean Water,” used by the Bush administration to give us the impression that their environmental policies were sound, when in fact quite the opposite was true. Just one example of hypocrisy gone rampant was the EPA’ s revised regulations for emissions from coal-fired power plants replacing the 90% reduction in three years with a 30% reduction in 15 years.
Reg Gagnon, home from Haiti, wrote in a Newsletter a poignant tribute to that small country, whose burgeoning democracy collapsed while trying to overcome the forces of unchecked capitalism. He and Suzanne gave much of themselves in the time they were allowed to be there.
The fall of 2004 seethed with pre-election emotion. Never within this writer’s memory had divisions been so extreme. Quoting CONA President Tom Schmidt:
“This election will decide whether or not we have the democratic opportunity to rethink our positions or whether these decisions will be made by the radical right.” After the election he gave us three simple suggestions for post-election attitudes and behavior in a splendid letter entitled “Dear Mr. President”. His message to us was: “1. Don’t be discouraged. We are and remain a resilient nation; 2. Get smart about the resources we have, and 3. Listen ….do you know any folks who voted for ‘the other guy’? What are their concerns?”
Board member Kay Liss led a study group on Democratic Ideals, at Round Top, covering writings of Solon, Lycurgus and Pericles, Plato’s Republic, Machiavelli, John Locke, and Thomas Paine. Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America served as a core text. She also organized a forum, co-sponsored by Round Top Center for the Arts and CONA, on the state of democracy in America today and the idea of exporting democracy to other countries. The three panelists were Bruce Steadman, a retired deputy secretary of the UN and long-time CONA member, Tom “Mac” Deford, a former foreign service officer and foreign affairs columnist for the Free Press, and Wendy Hazard, a professor of history at UM.
In November 2004 the Midcoast Co-Housing Community became a reality, after one and one half years of intensive planning. They began by sharing a large house on 37 acres in Edgecomb, until each family is able to build its own home on the property. David and Linda Pope, as well as several other CONA members, are part of this community. Today there are nearly 90 functioning co-housing communities in the country, two of them in Maine.
At that time Guy Marsden began donating his time and design skills to revitalize our website www.conamaine.com.
Former Maine Governor Angus King was the highlight of our June ’05 annual meeting, presenting “Travels with Molly,” a lively and interesting illustrated tale of his family’s cross country RV trip.
Question #1 on the November ’05 election ballot asked Mainers if they wanted to overturn an antidiscrimination law passed the previous March. Before the election, a CONA forum presented three members of Speak-Out, a group opposing discrimination based of sexual orientation. A lesbian, a gay man and a trans-gendered male spoke of their personal experiences of discrimination based on sexual prejudices. The measure failed, ensuring all Mainers would continue to be protected against discrimination in employment, housing, credit, accommodations and education.
To close this history of CONA to 2005, I want to mention members who have given of themselves so graciously and generously toward perpetuating the goals of the organization:
Following two successful terms as president, Tom Schmidt was pressed into service for a third term. In midterm, he and Robin found it necessary to move to Brunswick. Tom left his mark of quality, good organization, interesting programs and well-run meetings. We are grateful for his continued participation even from the sidelines.
Jenny Begin, with myriad demands on her life, took on the presidency until family illness forced her to step down. Fortunately, for everyone, she continued leading our successful Peaceful Beginnings.
Jo Clauson stepped into the president’s vacancy until she, too, was forced by a family illness to resign, but she continues to serve on the leadership team
Thanks go also to Sharon Crosbie for three years of dedicated and skillful work as Newsletter Editor.
We are grateful to Paul Kando for continuing his tireless work, bringing excellent, informative films to Skidompha Library.
Kay Liss has provided outstanding programs and is a valuable member of the leadership team.
Belva Ann Prycel, artist and author, and the third member of the leadership team, is providing both excellent organizational skills and great inspiration for the group.
Of necessity, I’ve left out many events and neglected to mention names of hardworking, effective members. I recognize them now: Alfred and Molly Eipper, John and Florence Field, Enid Sharp and Robert Marshall, Arthur Hamlin, Jean and Dick Harris, Edward and Julia Myers, Ruth Pope, Joan Beauregard and David Ellis, Dick and Sally Snyder.
CONA speakers through 2005 included:
Dr. William Caldicott, husband of Helen Caldicott, both renowned anti-nuclear activists
Buzz Fitzgerald, former President of B.I.W.
Thomas Watson, former President of I.B.M.