Formation and outreach of Al Filipov Forum for Peace & Justice in Concord. Annual speaker forum at Trinitarian Congregational Church coinciding with Sept. 11 remembrance. Turning tragedy and loss away from revenge into positive action for peace and justice.
Formation by September 11 families of Peaceful Tomorrows Organization, inclusion of others who have suffered loss in Oklahoma bombing, Ruwanda, Beslan.
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
It is five years after September 11, 2001 and we are continuing the oral history that we did connected with the enormity of that event. The fifth anniversary remembrance of September 11 showed that the wounds were certainly still raw for the loved ones that were torn from us, but also substantial recovery and healing efforts toward peace has been made. The Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum has taken root in the community as an annual event remembering September 11 and became the natural gathering place to assemble for the forum speaker and discussion.
Loretta - After September 11, 2001, it became clear that the whole world reached out to us. We were going to relinquish those efforts by going to war. Some of us felt that war was not the answer, violence is not the answer, and we knew we had choices. Better choices that we could make as individuals. I think I said something then like, "Boy, if nothing else we need to talk, we need conversation." I knew that conversation was necessary in order for us to just keep going. John with the help of some others in the church community ran with it, and the Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum was formed. It's something that I know I'm very proud of. You're right, it has taken hold. I think the community came out this year because of the speaker, because of the topic, because people are now familiar with the forum. This is something that happens in our community, and we want to talk about these issues.
John - I'm now starting my 14th year here, and I think for me one of the most painful times centered around 9/11. Not only we as a nation were in pain, but we specifically were impacted here because of Al's tragic death. But emerging out of that is something I think I'm most proud of for this church and this community, and that's the establishment of the Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum. I'm proud because I think it emerges out of our faith. I'm proud because it is a living memorial. You know there are monuments galore throughout this world for all kinds of people and occasions, but I think living memorials contribute to the ongoing health and welfare of our life together. I was so pleased when Loretta tapping into her faith and belief saw this as a vehicle for expressing religious values even secular values that are important in terms of peace and justice, and that Al would have been an exponent of in his own life if he were still living. I'm proud of the fact that this forum after five years has indeed really taken root. It is perspective, it is increasingly well-known in the region, and I think the fact that we had the largest attendance we have had in all these years at this past forum speaks well to its impact.
The other thing that converges right now though, and I think there are really two things, and we've already talked a little bit about it. One is the fifth anniversary of 9/11, and I think again our emotions were kind of rubbed raw once again as we demarcated it at five years. So I think there was an extra sensitivity. But more importantly, I think people in this country are really becoming aware of the fact that we are in the midst of an intractable situation which is just drawing the life blood out of this country. Before we can figure out how we're to make sense of it and respond to it, we have to understand it. So I think people are hungry to understand. I think people are hungry to figure out how we are going to make this world better without just pouring $2 billion a week down the tubes in a situation that only gets worse, where violence is the order of the day, and which I truly believe impacts every generation coming along.
In one week's time we've had three school shootings. Just imagine. When I was a kid growing up, I wouldn't look cross-eyed at a teacher. What has happened in our life together where violence is such an easy thing, almost to the point that we're numb to it? Violence is not the answer. It's countercultural, it runs against the grain of so much American pride, we could say arrogance in this world. But I think it is so critical. The reason I am proud of this forum is it creates an ongoing conversation. I don't pretend to know all the other observances and things that take place in this country out of 9/11, but I would be willing to bet that it is one of the very few instances where there is such a positive ongoing effort to create a dialogue among peace and justice issues emerging out of 9/11. I'm proud of our people for doing this, and I'm proud of Loretta as a person of faith really allowing her faith to guide her in terms of allowing us to do this. I often think if Loretta had been a bitter, angry, hateful person, she could have simply said no. And this probably would not have happened. But she has worked hard and she has transformed herself to become not only a great supporter of this forum, but so many wonderful causes that give us hope for healing in this world. So I'm really proud of this even though it emerges from a lot of pain. And I'm proud of this church for rallying around it.
Loretta - After the first forum and it was successful, Nancy Haynes said you can't rest on your laurels now and showed me a picture of a woman in a magazine who had gone to Afghanistan. She'd lost her brother in the World Trade Center. He was on the 29th floor and he could have gotten out but he stayed with his friend, a paraplegic, waiting for help, and help never came. This woman went to Afghanistan after we dropped our smart bombs and she went with four other people. There she found people just like her who had lost relatives because we dropped our bombs, and they weren't as smart as everyone thought they would be. There were children without limbs, blind, people who had lost parts of their family, someone who lost her sister the way Rita had lost her brother. I said, "Wow, I have to meet these people."
Also Dick Nethercut of our church had been telling me about Peaceful Tomorrows, and I remembered hearing about a family that was walking from Washington to New York to protest the war that we were going to have, to protest dropping bombs in Afghanistan. Amber had lost her husband in the Pentagon. He went to work at the Pentagon with peace stickers on his bumper. But he was an artist in the Pentagon. He did some drawings for the Army, and he died. All of these people met in New York, and it was the beginning of what would become Peaceful Tomorrows. When I met them, it was as if I had met my family all over again, another part of my family. I called them my best friends that I never wanted to know, and they all quote that. They were all people like me who had lost someone on 9/11, but had found alternatives to their grief. They were not angry, they were not bitter, and they didn't want revenge. They wanted non-violence. They knew that non-violence was the only way. So I'm so proud of my work in Peaceful Tomorrows. I'm now a member of the Steering Committee, and this last year for the 5th anniversary we held an international conference where we invited 30 individuals from around the world to participate with us and tell their stories, and with them we formed a global network that will work towards non-violence.
The network expands. The woman from Afghanistan, the first woman there, Afifa, runs 90 NGOs in her country working to empower woman and children. She lost family members in the bombing but continues to work toward that effort in grave crisis most of the time. Just recently there was a bombing, and a woman just like her was killed when she walked outside her home, because she was doing what she was doing. Olga from Russia -- we couldn't speak to one another, but I felt like we were close because of my Russian connection. I told her about my grandchildren who can speak Russian and my son who had spent a lot of time in Russia. She was in Beslan when the children were killed. The government investigated that but the people don't like the results of that investigation and she and others have formed a group called "Mothers of Beslan" who are working towards trying to get the government to open up and tell the truth, not have government come in and start shooting in school buildings but helping children go on with their education. There are so many people. We met Father Romain who is studying in Boston. He's a Catholic priest and he's studying conflict resolution at Brandeis University. We're hoping he will come to our church some time, but he lost everyone in his family, extended family, close family, nine brothers and sisters, and he's helping the widows and the orphans of the genocide in Rwanda.
The stories are healing. They're fascinating and all these people from all around the world are doing a peaceful thing in spite of what has happened to them. They're looking toward non-violence, which just makes you wonder how do we get the people wanting the violence, why can't everybody be like us?
John - There is a fellow I had an occasion to meet in Boston. In addition to Father Romain, there was a fellow by the name of Bud Welch. As a parent of two daughters, there was something about Bud Welch that I really resonated with. Bud had one daughter whose name was Julie. I happen to have a Julie in my life. Bud Welch owned some Texaco gas stations in Oklahoma City which strikes me you know this could be an average hard-working small business person in this country. In other words, it could be any of us. His only daughter was killed in the bombings in Oklahoma City. By his own confession, Bud came out of that initially a very angry, hurt, pained man, and I think with some vengeance in his heart. But he soon discovered as he was wrestling this all out that violence was not the answer. He admitted to having absolutely no satisfaction derived from the execution of Timothy McVey, and he has now turned a good chunk of his time over to opposing the death penalty as a major campaign throughout this country. He's been here in Massachusetts any number of times to meet the government officials and go to hearings and basically to say capital punishment is not the answer or the solution to all these exercises of violence. I have a great deal of admiration for Bud Welch. I often think in my own life golly, if I am, heaven forbid, ever in that situation would I have the capacity to transcend what might be immediate feelings. I don't expect people to suddenly jump from all the pain and hurt to sudden forgiveness. This is a process and it takes time even for the best of folk, but he is an inspiration to me in terms of recognizing and I believe to be true that violence only breeds violence, and that we must find other ways to get along, to reconcile one with another, and to invest our resources, human and material resources in things that are constructive and positive. So Bud Welch is an interesting guy, full of energy, but I appreciate where he has come from and what has been a rough journey, but I think has been an inspiration journey for lots of us.
I had the privilege of going with Mrs. Filipov and a friend to Boston University where three of the speakers, Terry Rockefeller, Bud Welch, and Father Romain made up a panel. I was privileged to be part of this group. I was truly inspired by all of them again in the face of huge loss in Rwanda, 9/11, and Oklahoma City, and together collectively, what these people were doing to make a peaceful world. I was reading the lectionary which has designated readings for each Sunday during the year. Clergy don't necessarily pick these out of the air. There are some guidances to readings so that over a three-year period you basically go through the whole Bible. But the reading resonated with my having been with these three people on this panel, and I thought you know, this is an inspiration to me because the reading was about Paul. Paul was writing to a church in ancient Biblical times and sort of giving them encouragement to keep going. It was a tough life for a small emerging church in a pagan world so they needed encouragement. One of the phrases that Paul says near the end of this particular reading is that "They should live lives worthy of the gospel." I had just heard these three people a few days earlier, and I thought to myself, you know whether or not these people are Christian is immaterial, but from a Christian perspective, they were living lives worthy of the gospel. I thought to myself what better examples could I use to underscore what I want to talk about in church this coming Sunday, to lift up these three people and sort of explore that a little bit about what it means. It has a lot to do with Jesus and who Jesus was as the prince of peace as a major image of Jesus and to figure out how these people reflected it, whether or not they are Christians again for me is immaterial, but they certainly were reflecting in what they were doing what we hold dear in the Judeo-Christian tradition as significant values and ethics. These things will bubble up throughout the year at different points in time. You know the forum is a wonderful focal point, and it's sort of at the start of a church year which gives us some energy and a launching point so that over the course of the year, in some shape, form or another, there will be other things that come up on a smaller scale for our internal use in the church and for any visitors that come. This coming Sunday is an example of how that ripples through.
Plus, shortly after the forum on September 21, we did have a service here, an International Day of Prayer for Peace, in which we invited the community. We did this with three other churches as a cooperative service and invited people to come in and basically take some time out of busy lives and in quiet reflective ways such as reading, silence, and prayers, to be intentional about collectively lifting us up toward God, again regardless of your particular faith or persuasion. It was something that was encouraged throughout the country, a U.N. sponsored initiative that at least provided an opportunity for people to stop and to seriously pray about and reflect upon the world we live in and the crying needs that we have to respond to.