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Peace House mission remains steadfast

ASHLAND ' Peace House has seen a boost in interest and activity in the recent escalation to war in Iraq, but the notorious Valentine's Day flag burning on the Ashland Plaza dried up donations overnight.

Peace House members, as their recorded phone message reminds you, had nothing to do with the flag burning and they don't appreciate being associated with it.

Luckily, we have grants to get us through this time, said director Justine Cooper. We just got &

36;10,000 from the McKenzie River Foundation.

Since the war began, Peace House workers have focused efforts on organizing groups in Grants Pass, Yreka, Klamath Falls, Medford, Mount Shasta City and Cave Junction, said Cooper.

— Our mission remains the same as it has since we formed here 20 years ago, which is to co-exist with all beings, said Cooper. These are really dark times. People are very distressed, confused and heartbroken and so we do a lot of support in the community.

People call us up and say they're in pain and afraid and we invite them to do something, at least to write letters in support of peace.

Peace House sends out a daily e-mail list to about 1,000 people, carrying alternative news to counter the lies and distortions carried by mainstream media, which reflect the White House line, said Cooper.

Peace House works now to bring in speakers, show films and videos and organize support groups, like the group has planned at Ashland's Bellevue Grange on May 5. The event will address what people can do to make a difference, she said.

The war has changed our focus, but not our mission, said Peace House board Chairman Ken Deveney. Our attention lately has not been as much on nuclear and environmental issues, but we will always promote nonviolent resolution of conflict in our trainings and in schools. We've been doing a big job in pulling people together to work for positive change.

Peace House office manager Tim Bousquet said the group tries to show how war affects people on a local level, how it relates directly to Ashland cutting 10 days of school and how elderly people are losing their health benefits. These are all peace issues.

The group also trains Women in Black in nonviolent, silent protest in their weekly vigils in downtown Medford, he said, so they don't respond in kind to the obscenities that are yelled and they allow the ugliness to just sit there. It is a powerful statement not to respond to it.

Peace House continues to publish and mail out 1,500 copies of its monthly Clear Actions newsletter and works with other organizations to promote peace.

Peace House will continue its annual demonstration against the nuclear bombing of Japan in 1945. The group also plans information campaigns against restricting freedoms in the United States and any further Mideast military action, which Cooper said seems to be shaping up against Syria.

The group organized in 1983 in Ashland in support of the nuclear freeze movement and worked successfully then to make the town a nuclear-free zone. It participated this year in getting Ashland City Council support for restrictions on local police participation in the USA-Patriot Act.

I'm a Quaker, said Deveney, the group's board chairman, and I do this to live my beliefs that everyone is basically good and we live in the virtue of that spirit which takes away the occasion of war.

John Darling is a free-lance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org