It's quiet right now inside Peace House. Invitations to Friday's dinner with Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin have been sent out and responses are coming in.

It's quiet right now inside Peace House. Invitations to Friday's dinner with Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin have been sent out and responses are coming in.

Occasionally, someone wanders through the sliding-glass front door and offers to help serve food to the homeless or organize news clippings from past front-page war protests. Sometimes, the old RadioShack phone rings and office manager Ruth Coulthard, who has been involved with the center for most of its 30 years, answers softly, "Peace House."

For an organization that grants everyone a voice, Peace House, on the ground floor of a shaded, two-story building catercorner to Southern Oregon University's bustling campus, is calm on this Wednesday afternoon. But it hasn't always been that way.

Over the years, there have been heated discussions, board member resignations, lack of funds and other hard times. But for now, everyone agrees that this office — with its bare-bones desks, antiquated equipment and $60,000 annual budget — is making a difference.

The organization launched by John Stahmer and others in 1982 to create a nuclear-free zone in Ashland has remained a cornerstone of peace and justice work here. It operates Uncle Food's Diner community meals and presents educational programs on the federal budget, workshops on conflict resolution and talks with local politicians and international advocates on economic, environmental and human rights issues.

Today, Peace House is stable enough to also offer help to emerging groups such as Southern Oregon Pride, Transition Town sustainability project and Time Bank community service. The now successful Ashland Food Project, co-founded by early Peace House member Paul Giancarlo, leaned on Peace House at its start.

During Peace House's early days, vocal anti-war advocates met in living rooms and in donated spaces, first in an office above the Plaza, then a rectory on the grounds of the Methodist Church and since the mid-1990s, underneath the Quaker Meeting Hall.

On one of three desks is a vintage eMachine computer with a display screen the size of a piece of notebook paper. Here, current board Chairman Herb Rothschild Jr. is showing photographs of marches, vigils and other past gatherings in which promoting peace was the goal.

There is Dot Fisher-Smith, one of Peace House's founders, marching against the manufacture of nuclear war components and talking about tax resistance in 1983. There is author and philosopher Jean Houston speaking at one of many Unite for Peace Conferences.

There are Dr. Benjamin Spock, Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn, First Amendment defender Daniel Sheehan and political columnist Molly Ivins, all standing before Ashland audiences, courtesy of Peace House volunteers and donors.

In 1988, the group widened its anti-war range to include other issues of peace and justice, but, says Rothschild, "No peace organization worth its salt doesn't also address the problem of war."

An old photo shows a boy standing next to a pile of toy guns collected by Peace House members in exchange for peaceful playthings.

In 1983, Peace House members started a vigil to commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to call for nuclear disarmament. That vigil continues today, organized by several groups. Every August, hundreds of paper cranes are folded, lanterns are painted, the mayor speaks and ceremonial sunflowers, the symbol of the nuclear-free movement, float down Ashland Creek.

In 2008, members set up a chilling Iraq Body Count Exhibit, with thousands of tiny flags posted on the lawn of the SOU campus alongside busy Siskiyou Boulevard. "People in the community expect us to organize so they can channel their response," says Rothschild.

On Friday, Peace House volunteers are putting on a fundraising dinner. Code Pink: Women for Peace co-founder Medea Benjamin is coming here straight from Pakistan to speak to about 150 people at SOU. "We punish people for what they do wrong," says Rothschild. "The peace and justice community needs to also honor the people who inspire us."

Although the founders now have graying hair, office manager Coulthard says high school and college students participate in Civic Engagement Days and Happy Hour Peace Talks. Youthful activists in last year's Occupy Ashland were offered civil disobedience training by seasoned sit-in pros.

Rothschild says the grassroots group is busier than ever and in need of new members and donations. "Without Peace House, there would be no steady voice for nonviolence in this valley," he says.

This year, the group organized Empty Bowls, a fundraiser to feed the hungry, and canvassed door to door about the Move to Amend the Constitution on campaign contributions.

He says the board decides on issues to work on locally and globally, from the Ashland watershed and homelessness to distant wars, not on a set formula, but on the need.

Of all the issues presented by members, which are chosen to receive Peace House's limited resources? Coulthard raises her hands in the air, her palms facing upward as if forming a scale of justice. She moves one hand down and the other one up; then reverses the order. She shrugs and smiles.

"It's all about balance," says Rothschild. "As a volunteer organization, we allow people to work on justice issues in which they are most interested."

He pauses. Peace House is quiet. Then he adds, "Basically, our agenda for changing the world is to do so in a peaceful, nonviolent way and to educate people to take action. We always wish we could do more, but we're proud of what we can do."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

The print version erroneously stated that Medea Benjamin was coming here from the West Bank. She is coming from Pakistan.