Giving Peace a Chance

An old one-story building a mile south of downtown houses an organization with an even older purpose; building a strong and credible peace movement in conservative Dallas, Texas.

Even during the tumultuous Sixties, Dallas was no hotbed of dissent. Surprisingly, this social milieu suits the director of the Dallas Peace Center, John Stoesz, just fine. “We feel that there are more sophisticated, effective ways to advocate peace and justice in this community,” says Stoesz, who is also on the US/USSR International Friendship Congress Advisory Committee. “We don’t try to be grand. The Dallas Peace Center is more interested in intelligent verbiage and educational forum-building.”

The Dallas Peace Center, located at 1907 S. Harwood, was started in 1981 by members of the Dallas Mennonite Fellowship as a peace outreach to the city and quickly evolved into the main resource and coordinating office for Dallas’s peace and justice community, made up of approximately thirty-five groups such as the Dallas Nuclear Education Group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the American Jewish Congress, and the local Amnesty International chapter. The groups range across the political spectrum between radical and conservative, but are united by the desire to end human rights abuses.

The center is now run by an interdenominational, independent board, and its “genius,” according to Stoesz, lies in the network system it has fostered within the peace community. “We’re trying to create a working liaison between these organizations,” says John Long-hurst, editor of the Dallas Peace Times, an issue-oriented newspaper published ten times yearly by the center. “It’s difficult for peaceworkers immersed in their own intense endeavors to see the whole picture, the effectiveness of interdependence. We want poverty and racism workers, for example, to know they share inherently common values and approaches with supporters of causes like nuclear disarmament. It all starts with fundamental human rights,” explains Longhurst. Concrete results will come, he says, when peace and justice concerns become major election issues.

Though it has garnered little publicity, the center has managed, through a well-oiled contact system, to land noted human rights activists for speaking engagements. On September 20, charismatic labor leader Cesar Chavezf champion of migrant workers’ rights, will speak at a conference to be held at SMU called ’The Time has Come: Uniting Against Racism, Poverty, and War,” designed to build a multiracial peace and justice coalition in the city and raise public awareness of human rights issues. Center officials hope the September conference will help dispel the WASP image normally associated with peace movements.

Can a peace center flourish in an era of Rambo-fueled militarism? One longtime Dallas activist thinks it will be tough. Says Dick Nelson, administrator of the Richardson Unitarian Church: “Most people desire peace. But many here in Dallas still look at peace movements and disarmament as a communist plot. The center is doing good work, but as long as you have the present administration in office, it’s going to be tough sledding for any association that’s peace-seeking.”

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