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Special Report

Activists still committed to choosing way of peace

Los Alamitos, Calif.

It was one more stop in a long day for Leah Wells, who works with Juvenile Hall and high schools, church and advocacy groups.

When Leah Wells came here the evening of Sept. 11 to teach a class on nonviolent resistance, she was keeping a commitment made several weeks earlier -- though attacks on U.S. institutions in New York and Washington lent an edge to the discussion.

Thomas Lash, a member of the Coastal Covergence Society, had invited Wells to train protesters headed for the late September IMF and World Bank meetings. Speaking as a social justice advocate, Lash said the Sept. 11 attacks “will make our work 10 times more difficult.”

These attacks don’t add any sense of urgency to the peace movement itself, he said, “because most peace advocates perceived the crisis years ago. For those of us in the global justice movement, the house is already burning.”

He believes passive resistance is the only route to achieving world social justice. “Somebody had a different way today [Sept. 11],” he said. “We choose not to go that route.”

At midnight, as Wells, protégé and admirer of peace educator Colman McCarthy, checked her e-mails after an 18-hour day, she found one from a former high school student, now in college. Having watched the day’s events on television, the student wrote, “Thank you so much for helping to open my eyes to issues such as this that our world faces. I might not remember the calculus equations or the periodic table, but I still carry all the information and passion you instilled in us to want to bring about change in the world.”

Wells had carried some of that passion to the Los Alamitos group, talking, as she had been all day, about Gandhi, and especially the Mahatama’s belief that “your role is not to bring your opponents to their knees, but to bring them to their senses.”

Melissa Jones is a freelance writer with an advanced degree in religious studies.

National Catholic Reporter, September 21, 2001