In its annual Peacemaker Awards November 2, Ashland’s Peace House will honor well-known local frontline activists, Dot Fisher Smith and Herb Rothschild, as well as The Racial Equity Coalition of Southern Oregon, and Asha Deliverance will be the keynote speaker.
Fisher Smith, 89, is a co-founder of the 35-year old Peace House and tireless worker for women’s rights, the environment, nonviolence training — and against the Vietnam War. Rothschild has worked for the ACLU, nuclear disarmament and with nonprofits for gay rights, peace and climate action.
The Racial Equity Coalition addresses racial bias through small group communication and community action. They have created the Race Toolkit Project for three-hour conversations where each of 10 members get “safe-space confidentiality and use ‘I statements’ with no blaming or inappropriate language … each person heard deeply and supported in their process,” according to a Peace House statement.
Deliverance, the keynote speaker of the event, has created “We Choose Love,” and is doing bridge-building with the Islamic community after her son Taliesin Myrrdin Namkai-Meche lost his life last May while standing up to a racist attack on a Portland IMAX train.
Her work is about “trying to stem the tide of white supremacy,” says Elizabeth Hallett, chairwoman of Peace House. Her son and two other defenders, one of whom was also killed, will also be honored.
“We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common,” said Taliesin's mother, in a statement. “He was resolute in his conduct (and) respect of all people.”
Also killed was Army veteran Ricky John Best, the married father of four. Micah Fletcher was severely cut, but is recovering now. In a Portland interview, he said, “We must stand hand-in-hand with one another and find a way to start ending the anger and hatred and to not allow (it) to flood our city streets with violence and with the destruction that can come with it."
Deliverance founded the Biodynamic Farm Project at University of California Santa Cruz, runs a midwifery school, has a large scale farm for alfalfa sprouts and owns Pacific Domes, which are often used for disaster relief. She hosted a forum for 15 years giving visibility to thought leaders in many related fields.
Rothschild, a past president of Peace House and native of New Orleans, said, in an interview, “I started in the civil rights movement, trying to make a difference. I was challenged to live in a society based on repression. I made the decision to cast my lot in with those struggling for justice. I’d never done that in a place (Ashland) where people model in their own lives the world we want to bring in, working on inner peace as well as peace out in the world.”
Fisher Smith, a native of Memphis, Tennessee, grew up with racial segregation and vowed she would “never be like them.” In her 20s she joined the War Resisters League, blocked the Oakland Induction Center with Joan Baez and won her first of many jail sentences. She protested nuclear weaponry at Livermore Labs and Hood Canal, learning about “letting go of resistance: going limp and meeting the energy that comes toward us with transparency and harmlessness, then the resolution will follow,” according to a Peace House statement. In a picture splashed across the world by news media, she is seen chained to a logging truck with a u-shaped bike lock around her neck, this in a 1996 logging protest in Southern Oregon.
In an interview, Fisher-Smith explained her motivation for such a life: “My conscience told me to. I try to live a harmless, simple life. I don’t feel what I did deserves an award at this point. I’m touched and feel very humble. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do what I did. My sense of injustice goes back as far as I can remember, the horror of human brutality and wrongdoing and not caring. I’ve been plagued with it all my life, with the feeling I haven’t done enough.
“Peace and justice and equality, those are the things I really care about, but I feel hopeless about the state of the world and the distressing inhumanity. I don’t feel what I’ve done has made much difference, except to me — and to those I’ve inspired. Now, I’m trying live a simple life that’s harmless to the planet and to do what I love — hiking, bicycling, swimming and being with the people of my community.”
The salmon dinner (or stuffed squash for vegetarians) is $65 and starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, at Grizzly Peak Winery at the end of East Nevada St. Tickets can be purchased online at www.PeaceHouse.net or by calling Peace House at 541-482-9625. Reservations must be made by Sunday, Oct. 29.
—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.