Many hands for peace – San Jose Peace Center commemorates 50 years

On November 15, 2007, generations of peace activists met at the San Jose Public Library to commemorate the fifty years of the San Jose Peace Center. Founding members Alice Cox, Barby Ulmer, and former director Kathy Lynch gave presentations about their involvement with the Peace Center.

, The cold war, fallout from nuclear tests, and Mutually Assured Destruction gave little comfort to the pacifist George Collins. He started distributing flyers calling for nuclear disarmament in downtown San Jose. A group meeting at his house decided to make efforts to end war and educate the public by opening a Peace Center and starting publication of a newsletter, the Peace Times. The San Jose Peace Center opened its doors in 1957.

The fifty years of the Peace Center saw rapid changes in San Jose and rural Santa Clara County. One man remembered riding his bike around downtown and being yelled at by yokels coming into town on the weekends from the surrounding farms and orchards looking for trouble. These days he rides his bike unaccosted by tan musclebound hayseeds. The aerospace industries and electronics industries at the core of the military industrial complex planted themselves in Santa Clara County in the 1960s and orchards were bulldozed to make way for suburban tract housing. The Peace Center moved through many different rented offices as well before finding a permanent home.

Alice Cox, one of the founding members of the Peace Center, was first involved in protesting the hydrogen bomb detonations at the Nevada Test Site and the development of nuclear weapons at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. These tests spread radioactive fallout across the Southwest. She participated in the drive to collect children’s teeth for radioactive isotope Strontium-90, proving mothers’ milk in the West had been affected by fallout from the tests. Many members remembered contributing their babys’ teeth to the drive. The Peace Times published Dr. Spock’s concerns about the effects of fallout on infants. Her husband Bill Cox opened a print shop in San Jose and printed the Peace Times as well as the thousands of leaflets and posters for social causes.

As a young woman in Nuremburg, Germany, the importance of disobeying illegal orders was drilled into Lisa Kalvelage by the American Consul during her immigration interview. In the United States, she found herself in a country committing criminal acts of aggression. She committed her energies to the peace movement. With three other housewives she blockaded a forklift loaded with napalm bound for Vietnam on May 25th, 1966. During her trial for trespassing, Kalvelage argued that the Kellog-Briand Act’s ban on chemical weapons rendered the use of napalm illegal. Her statement against the war was immortalized in the Pete Seeger song “I am Lisa Kalvelage.”

Many Peace Center members remembered participating at the die-in at San Jose State when Dow Chemical brought its recruiters to the university in the winter of 1967. Police panicked and rioted when the demonstrators tossed fake blood at the administration building, bashing heads and spilling the real blood of the crowd.

A spurt of reactionary terrorism in the South Bay struck at the Peace Center offices in 1969. A small pipe bomb smashed the window of their storefront on February 11 and exploded, doing little damage and causing no injuries.

The Peace Center served as a distribution point for over 15,000 flyers for the November1969 Vietnam Moratorium demonstration in San Francisco. The activists distributed flyers at train stations, college campuses, and at factory gates, building a broad resistance to the war.

Founding Peace Center member Barby Ulmer trained with the Central Committee of Conscientious Objectors and converted the Peace Center into a draft counseling center as the war escalated in Vietnam. The hotlines provided many thousands of worried young men with information about resisting the draft.

In the 1980s Peace Center activists worked in solidarity with Nicaraguan Sandinistas and South Africa’s African National Congress. Kathy Lynch, director of the Peace Center from 1980 to 1986, found time to raise her kids in between the consensus meetings dragging on into the night, the non-violent demonstrations, and the day-to-day work of keeping the center open. She organized trips to Nicaragua to witness the destruction caused by the covertly funded contras and the progressive policies of the democratically elected Sandinistas.

The growing tide of the worldwide anti-nuclear movement swept across California in the early 1980s. Many members reminisced about arrests at the Lockheed plant and Lawrence Livermore Labs. Lynch recalled the effort to stop construction of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power reactor. 20,000 people assembled at the construction site of the reactor and 1,960 people were arrested on the grounds in 1981, the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in the U.S.. Lynch was a part of the affinity group San Jose Medflies that landed a small boat on the coast and hiked for two days to get to the construction site..

In 1984 the embarrassed Los Angeles District attorney returned a stolen copy of the Peace Center’s membership lists, a mild reminder of the constant threat of harassment and surveillance. How the L.A.P.D. obtained the membership list was never explained.

In June 1986 the Peace Center purchased a dilapidated former frat house with a leaky roof, finally finding a permanent home after thirty years. Members pitched in to renovate the structure and struggled to pay off the mortgage.While Reagan waged covert wars in Afghanistan and Nicaragua, Richard Ramirez battled the Rambo worshipping political climate with a wave of bilingual counter-recruiting presentations at local high schools. Peace Center members burned their mortgage at a party in 1991.

The Peace Center recognizes the need for social change to permanently end war. The Peace Center served as a meeting space and incubator to many organizations, including the San Jose Green Party, Big Mountain Support Group, the urban youth magazine DEBUG, and the Impeachment Center. Many of the women involved in the Peace Center are members of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom. South Bay Mobilization currently organizes protests against the Iraq war and meets at the Peace Center.

Peace Center members opposed U.S. involvement in the 1991 Gulf war and protested the sanctions depriving Iraqis of food and medicine. In 2001 Peace Center members met to begin opposition to the War On Terror as the bombs fell. The invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, the unlawful detentions at Guantanamo, and the looming threat of invading Iran demanded renewed energy. Many demonstrators have been appearing at weekly vigils held at the corner of Second and San Carlos since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A 2007 article in the New York Times revealed the Boeing subsidiary Jeppeson was booking flights for the CIA’s kidnappings of suspected terrorists. Protests have targeted this company acting as the travel agent for torture flights.

Alice Cox deplored the persistence of the problems that motivated her protest: nuclear proliferation, wars of aggression, and social inequality. Although the anti-war movement left a definite mark on American culture, military buildup and war planning continues in much the same vein as in 1957. Alice Cox died on her way to a Peace Fair in December 2007.