The Peacemaker Awards, granted each year by Peace House in Ashland, boast a long list of heroic-hard-laboring and visionary people, both here and on the global stage.
They'll add to that list on Sunday, Nov. 6, when they celebrate Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who has spent four years in jail for working against soldiers trained in the School of the Americas, run by the U.S. government to prop up Latin American dictatorships.
The well-attended dinner starts at 6 p.m. at the Inn at the Commons in Medford. It will also honor the late Sen. Alan Bates, who championed the reform of health care over 15 years in the state House and Senate and on the Health Services Commission. The honor will be given posthumously.
State Rep. Peter Bates of Ashland, retiring at the end of the year, will be honored for a decade of service in the Oregon House of Representatives, including many years shaping the state’s budget and partnering with Bates on affordable health care for residents.
Takelma Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, 92, who comes from a line of 15 chieftains, is an international spiritual elder of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz on the Oregon Coast and chairperson of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. She has traveled the world representing tribal people and speaking passionately about Earth’s environment and water. She is a friend of the Dalai Lama and has appeared with him.
The Rogue Valley Peace Choir will also be honored for its 14 years of singing music of peace, social justice and preservation of the Earth. The 90-voice body has been led by Dave Marston, Heather Hutton and Rob Lowry — and traveled to Hiroshima to sing at the annual commemoration of the nuclear war there. They also sing at World AIDS Day, Earth Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances.
Bourgeois had been to Vietnam in the Navy and in 1972 became a Catholic priest, albeit one who would make trouble for the church over its refusal to let women be priests. He started School of the Americas Watch, seeking to help Americans and their politicians take responsibility for this foreign combat training school on U.S. soil. He worked for the poor in Bolivia for five years.
People are chosen for the awards, says Peace House Chairwoman Elizabeth Hallett, because of “their contributions to the quality of life they have brought to bear on our local, state, national and international communities as activists for peaceful and creative change. Awardees are recognized for their abilities to use the values of nonviolence and harmony in the interest of peace, by applying open dialog, an ability to work across varying cultural contexts, spiritual discipline, and, in some cases, nonviolent protest or civil disobedience in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
“Bourgeois founded School of the Americas Watch in 1990. Its inaugural event was dramatic. He and several others went onto the grounds of Fort Benning, Georgia, site of the SOA, climbed into a tree near the SOA barracks, and broadcast a recording of the speech Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero gave just before his assassination in which he implored President Jimmy Carter to stop training and arming the forces of oppression. For that action, Bourgeois served 14 months, the first of several prison stays totaling more than four years,” said Hallett.
In a phone interview, Bourgeois said it was in Vietnam that he got his conversion to peacekeeping. “I was wounded. I realized God didn’t want us to kill each other. We were made to love, so I work for change. Many couldn’t take the pain and abuse anymore. But I’m here to change its teaching about women and LGBTs."
Past notables to win the Peacemaker Award include Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the progressive Tikkun magazine, founder of Tikkun and champion of Justice for the Palestinians; Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink and Global Exchange; and Senator Jeff Merkley, according to Herb Rothschild of Peace House.
Reservations for the dinner ($75) may be made through Sunday, Oct. 30, by calling 541-292-2106.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.