As the sun slipped below the horizon on a Friday, I drove east on Manning Avenue to a destination that is more a state of mind than an actual place. Google Maps was leading me to the Reedley Peace Center.
The “center” is a group of like-minded people who explore what it means to strive for peace and justice in the world.
They enjoy one another’s company at a potluck dinner and hear from a guest speaker. Topics are as varied and complex as today’s headlines. Women in Islam. Bullying in schools. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Human trafficking.
You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker: “Think globally, act locally.” The folks of the Reedley Peace Center aren’t just talk. They also act. More about that in a moment.
One of the main things we have learned is that the most powerful and effective force for combating tyranny and injustice is nonviolent action. That is a message that is worth spreading.
– Don Friesen
Reedley resident David Krehbiel explains the Peace Center this way: “We are a fellowship of people who feel the same terror of what’s happening in our world today.”
The Peace Center’s definition of peace is rooted in the nonviolence tenets of the Mennonite Church. In fact, the Peace Center meets in the fellowship hall of the First Mennonite Church in Reedley, a community with a long and strong Mennonite tradition.
Don Friesen welcomed me to the Fellowship Hall. Friesen has taught math at Reedley High School for 50 years; he is semiretired now but still teaches calculus at the school.
He is a lifelong Mennonite who sees Jesus as someone who challenged authority. In late 2002 and early 2003, when the United States was ramping up to invade Iraq, Friesen and others in a Sunday school class at First Mennonite took action.
Sixty or so people started marching peacefully once a week down Reedley’s main street to a city park. Out of that, the Reedley Peace Center was born.
The marches continued, prompting some folks to protest the Peace Center protesters. On one occasion, someone drove an ambulance down the street playing patriotic songs and proclaiming through a loud speaker that “freedom isn’t free.”
Clearly, some of their fellow citizens see members of the Reedley Peace Center as naive and foolhardy.
After the war started, Friesen and the others decided not to march out of respect for people who had loved ones in the military. But they kept gathering in the park.
Friesen accepts – even welcomes – conversation with people who see the world differently than he does.
In late 2011, members of the Peace Center protested the role of banks in the financial collapse that led to the Great Recession. Some of Friesen’s students from Reedley High staged a counterprotest with a message that the government was to blame for the recession. Friesen joined the students to start a dialogue about their differences.
Other Peace Center regulars opt for other forms of peaceful protest.
Kingsburg farmers Karen and Richard Peterson, for example, protest what they term “the military industrial complex” by withholding the same percentage from their federal tax payments that the U.S. government spends on weapons. The amount they withhold every year is several thousand dollars. The Petersons donate the equivalent amount to the Mennonite Central Committee for relief projects around the world.
They end up having to pay the full federal tax anyway. The Internal Revenue Service takes the unpaid portion from their bank account and also assesses a late payment penalty.
“We do not take issue with the federal income tax system,” the Petersons say. “We believe that returning soldiers need to be supported and want a portion of our taxes to care for them. But we cannot abide the use of present-day weapons that will leave an impact on the world and generations far into the future.”
In 2009, the Peace Center joined the Reedley Police Department, Kings Canyon Unified School District, the Mennonite Central Committee and Reedley Rotary Club to launch the Reedley Peace Building Initiative. The initiative has received statewide recognition, and the Reedley Police Department won a state award in 2014 for its participation.
Restorative justice – the heart of the initiative – aims for mediation and reconciliation between juveniles who commit misdemeanor crimes and their victims. Peace Center members are among the mediators who work with offenders and victims.
Said Friesen: “One of the main things we have learned is that the most powerful and effective force for combating tyranny and injustice is nonviolent action. That is a message that is worth spreading.”
Doug Hoagland is a freelance writer in Fresno. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.