CCA’s legal director James M. Branum, was interviewed on Democracy Now! about Bowe Bergdahl and the conscientious objector discharge from the US military.
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.
Internationally renowned singer songwriter chronicling people’s movements around the world and inspiring its activists through his music. Visit davidrovics.com to download and learn more.
Fundraiser to benefit GREAT PLAINS TAR SANDS RESISTANCE and their efforts to stop Keystone XL pipeline and expansion of tar sands infrastructure. Visit http://gptarsandsresistance.org.
Sponsored by Center for Conscience in Action, the Peace House – Oklahoma City, and dedicated local activists.
Thursday, Nov. 14.
Cocina de Mino banquet rooom
6022 S. Western (corner of 59th)
Oklahoma City (map: http://goo.gl/maps/Xpp8k)
6pm Doors open for drink and dinner orders (optional & exclusive of concert ticket)
7-9pm Concert – $10 donation
Please help us spread the word:
Not in Central OK area? David is playing in Tulsa on 11/13, Dallas on 11/15 and in Austin on 11/17. See davidrovics.com for more info.
Can’t attend but want to donate?
or mail to GPTSR, PO Box 901, Drumright, Oklahoma 74030
Center for Conscience in Action – centerforconscience.org
The Oklahoma Center of Conscience is hosting a talk and book signing with oral historian/activist Rosalie Riegle, author of Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace and Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community. Ms. Riegle is in Oklahoma City to receive the Stetson Kennedy Vox Populi Award from the Oral History Association (event not associated with that organization).
The talk, which is free and open to the public, will take place on Thursday Oct. 10 at 7pm at Joy Mennonite Church, 504 NE 16th Street. Light refreshments will be served.
Crossing the Line (Wipf and Stock, 2013) and Doing Time (Vanderbilt UP, November, 2012) are oral histories of nonviolent resisters and their communities and the families that support them. They contain 150 interviews covering the period from WWII to the present, including renowned peace activist from Catholic Workers, Plowshares, School of the Americas Watch and others. Copies of these books will be on sale for less than they can be purchased in bookstores.
Ms. Riegle’s two previously published books include Voices from the Catholic Worker (1993), a collection of oral histories of CW communities up to the 1980s, and a compilation of interviews entitled Dorothy Day: Portraits by Those Who Knew Her (2003). Day founded the CW movement.
The evening promises to provide a good overview of the peace movement over the past few decades, and the most committed activists within it who have dedicated their lives, and in some cases their freedom, to make a positive difference in US foreign policy.
Learn more about Rosalie Riegle and her books:
48 min audio interview with Rosalie Riegle discussing her book Doing Time For Peace.
Day of international action for Oklahoma native on July 27
Like thousands of Bradley Manning supporters around the world, those in Oklahoma held rallies and vigils on Saturday, July 27 for the whistleblower whose court martial just concluded at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The difference for this group was being able to make their statement on the main street of Bradley Manning’s home town of Crescent, about 40 miles north of Oklahoma City.
The dual-location event, sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for Conscience, began with an early evening protest near a busy highway overpass in Oklahoma City, where 12 folks displayed a “Free Bradley Manning” banner and handmade signs and waved to cars passing by. Then they jumped in cars and vans for a caravan north up State Highway 74 to the small town where Manning was born and lived until he was a teenager.
Arriving before dusk, and meeting supporters who had traveled from Stillwater and other central Oklahoma communities, the activists gathered in front of the joint City Hall/Police Station with tealights, a large banner and signs. For an hour, as darkness descended, they quietly stood as a witness for the man they see as a truth-teller who exposed wrongdoing, lies, human rights abuses and war crimes. Several police officers came outside and quietly flanked the line of vigilers, where they remained throughout the event.
Perhaps in part due to the police presence, there was almost no negative reaction, “no more than we get anywhere else,” said Rena Guay, who organized the event. “A couple of hand signals from cars were clearly non-supportive, but there were far more instances of waves, peace signs, thumbs up, honks and even a loud ‘Thank You’,” she explained.
About halfway through their hour-long vigil, the group was joined by three young people from the town, two of whom grew up with Bradley.
“Having Crescent citizens express approval, and some even join us was a pleasant surprise,” Guay said. “We were a bit curious what the general reaction would be, and we were afraid residents might think we were protesting the town rather than honoring one of its own.”
“We are grateful to the town officials and police, who granted our request for the event, and then respectfully monitored the situation,” said James Branum, legal director of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience. “We may come back for another action when the sentence is announced in a month or two, and maybe will have a chance to eat and visit a bit at the newly reopened Okie Café, or check out the great old brick buildings and local landmarks in daylight.”
The Oklahoma Center for Conscience is a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, and the state affiliate of the War Resisters League. For more information, see centerforconsience.org or bradleymanning.org.
This press release was sent out a short time ago by the War Resisters Support Campaign of Canada. OCCPR Legal Director James M. Branum was the lead defense counsel on this case.
WAR RESISTERS SUPPORT CAMPAIGN
For Immediate Release
Monday, April 29, 2013
Iraq War Resister Kimberly Rivera sentenced to 14 months in military prison after deportation by Harper government
TORONTO—On Monday afternoon, during a court-martial hearing at Fort Carson, Colorado, Kimberly Rivera was sentenced to 14 months in military prison and a dishonourable discharge after publicly expressing her conscientious objection to the Iraq War while in Canada.
Under the terms of a pre-trial agreement, she will serve 10 months of that sentence.
Private First Class Kimberly Rivera deployed to Iraq in 2006 and sought asylum in Canada in 2007 because she decided she could no longer be complicit in the war. A mother of four young children—including two who were born in Canada—she was forced back to the United States of America by the Conservative government after receiving a negative decision on her pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA). A Federal Court judge denied her request for a stay of removal, finding the possibility of her arrest and detention in the U.S. to be “speculative.” Rivera was arrested three days later, on September 20, 2012, as she presented herself at the U.S. border.
“Kim is being punished for her beliefs and for her comments to the press while she was in Canada,” said James M. Branum, the defense attorney who represented Rivera during the court-martial proceedings. “Because she spoke out against the Iraq War, Kim’s sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent of deserters who are not punished but administratively discharged. In the closing arguments, the prosecutor argued that the judge needed to give PFC Rivera a harsh sentence to send a message to the other war resisters in Canada and their supporters.”
The tremendous public outcry related to Rivera’s case shows the deep and broad support that Canadians continue to express for Iraq War resisters. In a period of 10 days leading up to the Rivera family deportation, 20,000 people signed a Change.org petition (http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/minister-kenney-stop-the-deportation-of-iraq-war-resister-kimberly-rivera) supporting the family. Faith (http://www.united-church.ca/communications/news/general/120911b), labour (http://www.usw.ca/media/statements/opinions?id=0032) and human rights organizations spoke out, Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.ca/news/news-item/amnesty-international-expresses-dismay-in-the-case-of-conscientious-objector-kimberly) adopted Kim as a prisoner of conscience, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu published an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail newspaper (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/dont-deport-war-resister-kimberly-rivera/article4544856/) calling the deportation order “unjust.”
In stark contrast to this outpouring of support, Conservative MPs cheered when the Rivera family’s removal was announced in the House of Commons.
“The Conservative government knew that Kim would be jailed and separated from her children when they forced her back to the U.S., yet they cheered her deportation,” said Michelle Robidoux, a spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. “They are out of step with the great majority of Canadians who opposed the Iraq War and who support allowing U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.”
On February 1, 2013, the Federal Court of Canada issued a decision in the case of another U.S. war resister, Jules Tindungan, finding that the U.S. court-martial system “fails to comply with basic fairness requirements found in Canadian and International Law.” The Court also found that the Refugee Board failed to deal properly with evidence that soldiers who have spoken out publicly about their objections to U.S. military actions are subjected to particularly harsh punishments because of having voiced their political opinions. (http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/federal-court-rules-in-favour-of-us-war-resister-jules-tindungan-1752888.htm)
“The sentence Kim received today underlines the concerns we have been raising all along, and what the Federal Court now acknowledges, that soldiers who speak out against unjust wars face harsher punishment and have no recourse within the U.S. military justice system,” said Robidoux.
“Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney were ardent supporters of the Iraq War, and they want U.S. Iraq War resisters punished. But Parliament has voted twice to stop these deportations, and the majority of Canadians believe Kim and the other resisters did the right thing. We will continue to fight to make sure this injustice does not happen to any other U.S. war resister who is seeking asylum in Canada.”
For further information, please contact:
Michelle Robidoux, Spokesperson, War Resisters Support Campaign, 416-856-5008; or
Ken Marciniec, Communications Volunteer, War Resister Support Campaign, 416-803-6066,