As Iraq falls, peace activists at McDaniel pursue cause

Nonviolence center guides students in anti-war efforts

April 13, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A few hours after the streets of Baghdad filled with cheering Iraqis in a scene that, for some, confirmed the righteousness of putting American military might to use, Mahlia Joyce recited a poem taken from a Web site.

"War - does it have to start again?" she read. "Why can't we stop all of this?"

To Joyce, a student at Westminster's McDaniel College, reading poetry at a small gathering in the school's student center seemed an apt response to Wednesday's fall of Baghdad. Having joined with three generations of peace activists to protest the war through teach-ins and candlelight vigils, the apparent success of fighting in Iraq only seemed to hasten the need to rally against additional bloodshed.

McDaniel senior Eric Whitehair, 29, said demonstrations should continue because "a strong presence is still needed as we go to the nation-building phase, if we care about making the lives of the Iraqi people better."

At the center of this small movement is the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Nonviolence and Peace Education, a McDaniel College-affiliated program of classes and workshops on the history and nature of anti-war protests - and the practice of conflict resolution.

"The way we've been acculturated is that the only response to violence is violence. What a violence response does is to justify the first violent person," said Pam Zappardino, half of a husband-and-wife team of instructors at the Zepp Center. "If we learn nothing from watching what has gone on in the Middle East, it's that retaliation breeds retaliation.

"What we need to be able to do is figure out if we're serious about stopping these types of conflicts," she added. "We need to build alliances and look at the next generation."

As a student at Western Maryland College in the late 1960s, Zappardino, 52, marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. She learned the power of protest.

"If people had not been vocal on such a large scale then, we would not have reached the stage where decision makers had to look to alternatives to continuing the war," she said. "You can't resolve a conflict by sweeping it under a rug. You need to have conversations, and sometimes the only access you have is mass public expression."

Zappardino is a psychologist and former director of a battered women's shelter. Two years ago, she founded the Zepp Center with her husband, Charles E. Collyer, 54, who teaches psychology at the University of Rhode Island. They also teach at the university's peace institute.

The couple wrote a book promoting their views, Nonviolence: Origins and Outcomes, recently published by the Writers Workshop. Together, they talk to church and school groups and prison guards to educate them on the history and success of nonviolence. Their topics include the civil rights movement, Gandhi and Denmark's resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II.

They teach ways to analyze conflicts, build alliances and brainstorm for nonviolent solutions. Mediation, negotiations and refraining from impulsive answers are among their methods. They also discuss anger management. Their lessons sometimes involve role playing.

The Zepp Center holds a one-week training session at Common Ground, an annual event held on campus that brings together musicians and activists. Last spring, the center offered a course for college credit at McDaniel. This year, the center is advising students in independent study projects.

Zappardino's mentor is 73-year-old Ira Zepp, a retired religious studies professor who taught for 25 years at what was then known as Western Maryland College. Zepp, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama and Mississippi, still teaches one class a semester at McDaniel, passing on his experiences with the civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam War protests and the part religion plays in politics.

Growing up in Harford County, he remembers being influenced by the strong Quaker community. The future Methodist minister was drawn to a style of life he describes as "thoughtful, respectful, tolerant and peaceful."

"I felt it was a natural progression from being a Christian to being about peace and justice," he said. "Martin Luther King Jr. was rooted in Christian love, and Gandhi was rooted in Hindu non-injury. ... This is a kind of religious vision to see the lion lying down with the lamb."

In January, the center organized a tour of civil rights landmarks in the South. Joyce, 30, said the tour helped to inspire her to back the organization and its cause.

"I've always been active in some kind of volunteer activity, but I was bouncing around," said Joyce, a Westminster native who enrolled at Western Maryland College in 1992 before taking time off to work. "Now I'm part of a movement. This is what my life is about, and I feel a need to be more committed."

She is now a double major in Spanish and religious studies. Joyce and other students, along with instructors and Westminster residents, have gathered in groups of up to 50 about once a week since the war started.

"Why can't we stop all of this? Joyce said, reading from "My Vision of the World of Today from September 11th to Now," a 14-year-old's contribution to a peace poetry Web site. "Stop the anger and the hatred."

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