We widen our mission, focus on the local … and change our name

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OCCPR's Legal Director, James M. Branum, and its Executive Director, Rena Guay, join protest against war with Iran on 2/2/12

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.

Find CCA on Facebook and Twitter

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.

David Rovics concert Nov. 14 to benefit Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance

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rovics2013flyerDavid Rovics in Concert in OKC!  Nov. 14

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

Buy tickets now/donate.

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?
Visit http://centerforconscience.org/rovics2013
or mail to GPTSR, PO Box 901, Drumright, Oklahoma 74030


Center for Conscience in Action – centerforconscience.org

Book talk and signing by oral historian and author Rosalie Riegle

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Rosalie RiegleThe 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.

Book reviews:
Waging Nonviolence
National Catholic Reporter

Supporters vigil in Crescent to protest Manning sentence

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Thirteen Oklahoma residents, from Tulsa, Stillwater and Oklahoma City, gathered in Crescent for a candlelight vigil on the evening after the sentence for the Wikileaks whistleblower was announced.

OCC statement on sentence.


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On his personal blog, OCC Legal Director James M. Branum reflects on the Manning case, his work representing war resisters, as well as his thoughts about supporting Manning in Oklahoma. He also shares his photos from the vigil.

The Edmond Sun reported on the event. Their story and photo slideshow can be found here.

Statement on Manning gender transition story

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The Oklahoma Center for Conscience issues the following statement in regards to the announcement of the desire of Bradley Manning to transition to female and be known as Chelsea Manning. Quotes from this statement should be credited to Rena Guay, OCC Executive Director.

Anyone who has given the Bradley Manning case more than the most cursory attention would have known that the Army private attested to gender dysphoria issues as early at 2009, and in fact was diagnosed with the condition by military doctors, facts that were part of the defense mitigation efforts during the sentencing phase of the court-martial.

Now, after a cruel and deeply unjust sentence of 35 years has been given, for the media to instead sensationalize the desire of Bradley Manning to live as Chelsea Manning, while not untypical of American media in general, is nonetheless a further travesty. It is a distraction from the very serious consequences for our society and system of government to have whistleblowers treated like terrorists, and information equated with treason.

Another day, another black eye for the mainstream media as concerns this case, and the unconstitutional and immoral actions of our government in general.

Regardless of gender, Bradley/Chelsea Manning is a person of uncommon integrity and courage. The willingness to be open and honest about her medical condition, and desire to transition to better reflect her inner identity, is testament to that.

We will certainly honor Manning’s request to use Chelsea E. Manning in all references, and to use the feminine pronoun from this point forward. Like a name change for any individual, learning to use (or hear) a new name for someone one knows, whether personally or as a public figure, may take time and practice, but it soon becomes natural.

We will continue to support Chelsea Manning through the legal appeals process and advocacy campaigns for pardon or clemency. Further, we call on the US military to treat gender dysphoria as the medical condition it is and to allow doctors caring for Manning to treat her appropriately with standard hormone therapy.

Statement on the sentencing of Bradley Manning

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The Oklahoma Center for Conscience has issued the following statement in response to today’s announcement of a 35 year sentence for Bradley Manning, marking the conclusion of his court-martial and the beginning of appeals and petitions for clemency/pardon. This statement can be published in full or part. Credit quotes from it to Rena Guay, OCC Executive Director.

The Oklahoma Center for Conscience, due to its mission of opposing the injustices and evil of war, has stood against the prosecution and punishment of Bradley Manning since his arrest in 2010. We joined the Bradley Manning Support Network and have worked alongside activists around the world to educate the public about the war crimes and government misdeeds that the Wikileaks documents helped expose. We have organized numerous events in Oklahoma to express this support, expand awareness and demand that the real criminals — those who perpetrated war crimes in the name of the United States — themselves be brought to justice. We believe that blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime, and neither is publishing information that the American public has a right to know.

Today we are angered and heartbroken at the sentence of 35 years meted out to Bradley Manning, a sentence far greater than any ever given to servicemembers who killed innocent civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan and disproportionate to punishment of Americans involved in torture.  Or, for that matter, who lied the country into an unnecessary and illegal war. By the end of 2013, Manning will have been imprisoned longer than was William Calley, who led the slaughter of 500 innocents in My Lai (and that was mostly house arrest).

We have taken on this work because of our heartfelt belief in the courage and heroic motives of Bradley Manning, and we were further spurred into action by being in Oklahoma, where Manning was born and raised. Because of our location, we have been contacted by media from around the world, while most Oklahoma media outlets ignored, trivialized or distorted what is doubtless an historic case with serious domestic and global ramifications, while also failing to recognize local support for Manning.

Tonight we will gather for a vigil in Crescent, Oklahoma, Bradley Manning’s home town. We will mourn what is, so far, a lost opportunity to re-orient our priorities as a nation to one that truly values truth and democracy, rather than only giving them lip service. We deplore the actions and words of our President and Congress, who have failed to fulfill their oath of office, and who have allowed this nation to succumb to fear, suspicion and the endless greed of war profiteers. We reject that national zeitgeist as necessary for our security, and with today’s news, we vow to continue to resist immoral policies and actions, regardless of who is administrating and advocating them.