By Peggy Gish and Mara Giglio
From Peggy Gish: APJN has come a long way in the past 30 Years! It has involved a lot of fantastic people in our region. It has offered them a lot of encouragement, resources and support as they organized and worked for peace and justice. As I share this overview of those years, please forgive me if I have left out important programs and activities.
It all started in 1984 after Carol Kuhre, then co-director of UCM, and others canvassed people in the Athens area and found them concerned and open to dialoguing about stopping the nuclear arms race. The time seemed ripe to launch a new organization which would facilitate grassroots dialogue and organizing around peace and justice issues in southeastern Ohio.
Preventing nuclear war and U.S. Military intervention and reducing expenditures for war was the early focus of APJN. Issues broadened out to include racism/diversity and conflict management. Staff members spent time traveling around a ten county area of southeastern Ohio (and for several years into Wood County, WV) supporting people who were forming local peace organizations, offering workshops, meeting with clergy, teachers, and community and religious groups and listening to them and encouraging them as they took action.
In 1988 APJN sponsored a group, representing four counties in our area, to take part in a Witness for Peace delegation to Nicaragua. Upon returning, delegates spoke about their experiences in their home communities. During a time in the early ‘90s, when the KKK marched and rallied in southeastern Ohio and Parkersburg, WV, APJN-supported community groups responded with public displays of racial unity and educational activities. Dr. Francine Childs was one of APJN’s slate of speakers who went into area schools and religious settings to share about
the effects of racism and about the civil rights movement. We circulated a lending library of resources, had workshops for teachers and staff members taught Alternatives to Violence courses. From the Athens Friends Meeting, APJN continued to oversee the yearly Appalachian Ohio Peace Prize program for regional school children. While continuing these programs in Southeastern Ohio, APJN made a leap in the early 1990s into more work with schools. APJN staff started by mentoring with Bob Maher, a local school teacher, who had been trained to teach peer mediation in schools. APJN then started getting our own contracts from the Ohio Dept. of Education to train educators and students and to prepare them to develop school-wide conflict mgt. and peer mediation programs.
Sprinkled throughout the years were times when APJN supported local anti-war activities such as during the build-up to the War in Afghanistan, the 1991 war with Iraq and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Pete Hill and Art Gish trained hundreds of people in nonviolent civil disobedience. We continued to educate around costs of war with the yearly tax-day penny poll and the April 1st “Pentagon Bake Sale,” collecting food in local communities to represent the proportion of military spending per residents of that community. We sponsored events around our campaign to, “Bring the War Dollars Home” where we demonstrated by bringing groceries to the Court House steps to dramatize how much each Athens County resident contributes to war each day. We worked with the People for Peace and Justice and other Athens area organizations to co-sponsor public events concerning a variety of social justice and peace topics.
From Mara: When I was hired in 1999 as the new Program Coordinator, APJN was involved in organizing against the assassin training School of the Americas and the unfair policies of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Debbie Phillips was organizing to reform the unjust way the Ohio school funding formula works. APJN was also running conflict management trainings at Amesville Elementary thanks to funding from the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management, OCDRCM. I was trained by OCDRCM to run trainings on comprehensive conflict management programs, CCMPs. CCMPs aim is to infuse conflict management into school-wide programs for students and staff as well as into each school’s curriculum and pedagogy. Through OCDRCM I trained hundreds of school teachers, guidance counselors, principals and bus drivers from across the state.
As I sifted through my new job responsibilities I realized a theme: violence. Whether it was violence against women, children, LGBT people, people of a different race, people in other countries, animals or the environment, it all boiled down to violence. I thought, “How can I work to end violence against all people and things?” The answer came through the immensely valuable training I got from the OCDRCM as well as my experience as an assistant teacher for River Valley Community School, RVCS. At RVCS, I learned about the huge amount of research already being done to prevent violence as well as an evidence-based curriculum to prevent violence and bullying called Second Step. I brought the curriculum to Amesville’s Conflict Management Committee and we began teaching it in five classrooms. These classes were funded by the Ohio Children’s Foundation.
Since then I have taught the following classes: Alexander – One preschool class; Amesville – Five years with 35 classes of preschool through 6th grade students; Athens Community Center – Two classes of 1st through 6th grade students; Athens Middle School – Six classes; Chauncey – Six classes of 4th through 6th grade students; Federal Hocking Middle School – One class of special education boys, two classes with Kids on Campus Middle and High School students; The Plains – One preschool class and four classes with Kids on Campus 1st through 6th grade students; Trimble – Three years: five classes with preschool and kindergarten students and six classes with Kids on Campus 1st through 5th graders; Trimble Middle School– Two classes with Kids on Campus 5th through 8th graders; and West – Six classes with 5th and 6th grade students. Classes are funded through the Athens Foundation and the Sister’s of St. Joseph Charitable Fund of WV. APJN has run a total of 62 Second Step classes (23 lessons each) at 13 Athens County Schools and after-school programs!
Staff members through the years have included: Helen Horn, Bob Gridley, Peggy Gish, Karen Affeld, Sabra Robinson, Debbie Philips, Mara Giglio, Lilly Reeves, Leslie Horner, Cat Cutcher, Christy Truly and Jennifer McClung. Although APJN began as a peace and justice networking organization, it has also tried to address the root causes of violence and militarism. APJN’s work for peace continues to assist people to identify and analyze problems, develop possible solutions and work for necessary changes. Programs have changed, but the central goal remains the same—to empower people in southeastern Ohio to secure peace and social justice for all.