The Center for Conscience in Action (CCA), formerly the Oklahoma Center for Conscience, is engaged in the historic and continuing struggle to bring to our nations policy and civil society a better understanding and expression of true justice and real peace. We are a pacifist organization and the state affiliate of the War Resisters League. Our work is funded by individuals, faith communities and foundations who share our dream of a world where human dignity and rights are valued more highly than property, wealth or military power.
We were founded in 2004 as a project to support conscientious objectors, and over the years we built on that foundation to create fuller anti-militarism, pro-peace set of objectives, including a legal support program for resisters that worked closely with the GI Rights movement across the country.
Most of those goals and projects remain a part of our mission, though they continue to evolve in reaction to changes in US military activities and policy. So, in 2013 we decided to take another step towards a more comprehensive philosophy and program that could better respond to the realities of the culture we are part of – where the impact of violence comes not just from the machine of war, but the other machines that are endemic to our lives – the ones shooting carbon into our atmosphere, pumping tar sands through our neighborhoods, gunning down our children at school, or stealing our self-respect with unfairly compensated work in unhealthy conditions.
What is our response to this constant violence in our lives? How do we keep from becoming inured to the constant sense of dread it breeds? How do we overcome the isolation that is part of it, and rebuild community bonds that foster individual growth and civic engagement?
As always, we want to find or build a connection between personal conscience and action for change. In one way we are looking at a larger field for our work, beyond the state of Oklahoma, although we remain rooted in our connections here. We want to grow a regional network of activists and action organizations, so we can share resources and support in an ever more challenging world.
But we also are zooming in on the small scale work that makes big changes possible by planting seeds and building confidence and skills. It is on the local level – in a neighborhood, a school or organization – where concrete and dynamic action, if given encouragement and minimal resources, can immediately and directly impacts participants, the community and the planet.
Grant Program Development
To begin one new branch of our work, we are developing a small grant fund that will launch in 2014. Our grants will help launch small local projects that spread nonviolence, seek justice or foster sustainability. We have commitments from a diverse group of community leaders and activists to support this program, review applications, provide oversight and assistance in their area of expertise, and otherwise guide the programs grantees to assure that their project can succeed.
Donations for this fund are requested. Even small contributions, pooled together, can quickly create enough for a small grant to be awarded and work to begin. We especially encourage ongoing monthly or quarterly donations to the grant program in order to give it stability over time.
Traditional Peace Activism and Coalition Building Continues
CCA’s executive director, Rena Guay, is a long time organizer who coordinates, or works with others to coordinate, demonstrations, educational forums, and advocacy campaigns in central Oklahoma. She is a founding member of Americans Against the Next War, serves on the steering committee of the Military Law Task Force, and the advisory board of Under the Hood Café and Outreach Center, a GI Rights coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas near Ft. Hood.
Through her work, CCA has been active with the Private Manning Support Network, and in June of 2013, she traveled to Ft. Meade to attend several days of the Manning court-martial. After the sentence was announced, two pro-Manning demonstrations organized by CCA were held in Crescent, OK, Manning’s hometown, and a press release with our position statement was published in the Crescent newspaper and other outlets.
Using the Internet, social media, and our own organizational newsletter, Rena is constantly distributing to CCA friends and supporters current news, resources and action alerts from a diverse assortment of organizations here at home and around the world, including Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, Amnesty International, School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Courage to Resist, Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Mennonite Central Committee and many others.
With the critical assistance of CCA steering committee member Fannie Bates, we hosted a concert by internationally known peace and justice troubadour David Rovics in November, which allowed us to make a contribution to the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance while sharing David’s inspiring music with the local community.
We have also funded local activists to attend national conferences and workshops where they can develop their knowledge and skills for future work. Of this we are especially proud, since they will be the next generation of peacemakers.
Legal Support for Military Resisters Continues
CCA provides, through the funding of an attorney in military law, low-cost legal representation for members of the US military who are seeking a discharge on the grounds of conscience. Conscientious objection discharges are included in the Uniform Code of Military Justice because the military recognizes that servicemembers, even those who volunteered to join, sometimes discover that they cannot, and will not, kill another human being.
Services are provided on a sliding scale by CCA legal director James M. Branum, who has represented hundreds of GIs since 2006, including Robin Long (the first US soldier of the current era to be deported from Canada after refusing deployment), and Travis Bishop (one of the first resisters of the war in Afghanistan). James has given legal support to Under the Hood Café and Resource Center, one of three GI Rights Coffeehouses currently operating near US bases.
CCA’s legal support project enables James to accept cases from those who otherwise could not afford legal services, thus giving them an experienced civilian attorney to guide them through the CO application or even represent them in court-martial if necessary.
More information about this project can be found at conscientiousobjectorlawyer.com.
And, along with work for resisters, we advocate for veterans, that they can receive the benefits they were promised, and the treatment they need. We have worked to remove the stigma of PTSD, and to support the post-service work of veterans in full physical and psychological healing, through activism or creative endeavors.
Education, Advocacy and Outreach
CCA staff stay busy. There are always more challenges in the world to respond to than time and means to do so, but we make the effort anyway. We read constantly to try to keep up with current events and the work of our many ally groups. We write articles and op-ed pieces for national, state-wide and local publications. We develop training materials, or assist ally groups in composing, editing or publishing educational materials. We draft and distribute petitions. We photograph or audio-video record speeches and forums for online distribution. We speak to church and youth groups about myriad peace and justice concerns. We table at events, attend conferences. We work with local organizations in Oklahoma City like The Peace House to respond to worldwide crises, to build support for peaceful, rather than violent responses to them. In short, we try to speak out in our community, and wherever necessary, on behalf of all victims of war and violence.
Oklahoma Conscience Award
Since 2011, OCC/CCA has honored an Oklahoma individual or group that we determine made a significant contribution to our state by exemplifying and practicing the values of peace and commitment to conscience. In 2013, we so recognized Rev. Lawrence Hart, a Cheyanne Peace Chief and Mennonite pastor, in a moving ceremony that borrowed from Native American traditions. This event is the highlight of our year, and in 2014 will be moved from May to February or early March – stay tuned for updates on this soon.
We don’t have all the answers, so we also have to take time to listen, to others, and to the soft, small voice of our own conscience, to discern wisdom for our work. In all, we are guided by that voice to carry on, day to day, year to year, seeking to bring some light to our own circle of concern, and to the big globe of concern we live on.
We hope that your light leads you to donate to our work, or to join our news list, or to get involved, or to just wish us well. We can’t continue without all of that, and we are grateful that all of us are here together here to make things better.