VPT  Voice

for nonviolent social change & sustainable living

July 2022

Three Recent Losses in our Community
Camping, Cabin-Stays & Stargazing at VPT
A Peace of History: April, May, June

Sustaining Support for VPT
Get Involved

Troy West, Janet Minella-Didier, and Peggy Scherer:
Three Recent Losses in Our Community

Troy West

("The Sail Song" by Troy West)
Troy West’s connection to the peace trust goes back to the eighties when he met Marj Swann, who had moved back to Voluntown. She was the director of the Women’s Resource Center in Rhode Island, and he designed a building for them. He worked closely with Marj, learning about her work towards their common commitment to peace and justice. He reconnected with the peace trust in 2009 when we organized a Political Art Exhibition that included his work. That led to a friendship with many members and his offer to design the needed renovations for the Swann House. While his work was phenomenal, his vision was not accepted by the local building codes no matter how hard we tried. His sculpture “The Sail Song” can be seen from the new deck on the back of Swann House. Jim MacBride, a mainstay in taking care of VPT grounds, called it “The Sloop John Deere”, which, thankfully Troy thought was humorous. We appreciate Troy’s multifaceted relationship with VPT, and with many of our residents and members over decades. We are deeply moved that Troy wanted donations in his memory made to VPT. 
Donate to VPT here
See Troy West's full obituary here.

Janet Minella-Didier

(Building the labyrinth, remembering a peace walker)
Janet Minella-Didier came to VPT through St. Francis House and the Southeastern Connecticut Peace and Justice Network. An active member of the Cooperative for Nonviolent Action, one of the three core programs of VPT, she joined the board as the CNVA representative. As a participant in many of the Peace Walks, she had a particular love of the labyrinth created in memory of Rev. Emmet Jarrett who was a Walk organizer and former VPT Chair. Janet took on the task of helping to sort the scores of boxes of Marj Swann’s archives. She loved to read the letters and stories about the Community for Nonviolent Action and was especially moved by the work done in opposition to the Vietnam War. The pandemic put a stop to going to Voluntown, but she asked if boxes could be brought to her. And they were, and she sorted them! We will not forget all she gave to VPT – her time, her insight, her monthly donations and the items she would buy (acid-free folders, a mop to reach the top of the 20 ft ceiling, etc.) She left us organized archives, sets of newsletters, and books organized for the Vietnam War Library. She offered Reiki prayers for healing at the dedication of Herbie’s Cabin at Ahimsa, and her spirit remains with us. 
See Janet Minella-Didier's full obituary here.

Peggy Scherer

(The VPT woods which Peggy helped preserve)
Peggy Scherer met Chuck Matthei at the Catholic Worker in New York in the mid-seventies. Chuck had lived at CNVA in the late sixties and had been influenced by Bob Swann’s work on community land trusts. The “Johnny Appleseed” of community land trusts, many of his friends became committed to CLTs. When Chuck moved back to Voluntown in 1990 with the newly organized Equity Trust, he drew Peggy into the work. Her organizational skills, her understanding of economics as a series of relationships, and her dedication to the Catholic Worker’s commitment to “building the new society in the shell of the old”, she was an important partner in that work. When Chuck died in 2002, Peggy was President of the Equity Trust Board. Realizing that Equity Trust could not continue to develop its mission of “promoting equity in the world by changing the way people think about and hold property” and take care of the 54-acre property at Voluntown, she lead the way to transferring the property to another organization committed to justice and peace – which was the new Voluntown Peace Trust created in 2004. We are thankful for that leadership and commitment to the land being held in trust.
See Peggy Scherer's full obituary here.

Camping, Cabin-Stays & Stargazing at VPT

VPT remains an exceptional place for tranquil contemplation and communion with nature. Come walk the labyrinth. See "The Sail Song" metal sculpture and other works of outdoor art along our trails through the woods. Beat the heat with a dip at Green Fall Pond. Set up tents in the field behind the VPT farmhouse and take advantage of our location within "The Last Green Valley" to catch the Perseids Meteor Shower in August. Rent one of our affordable cabins to have as a base for adventures around the area or to stay the night immersed in nature. 

We have plenty of tent space for campers as well as a large outdoor fire pit. The camping fee is $30 per tent per night. Besides camping space, our two most affordable lodging options are the Yurt and Chuck's Cabin. Both can accommodate 4 to 6 guests per building, and both start at just $45 per night. Ahimsa Lodge, nestled deep in the natural woodlands and adjacent to Bliven Brook, can accommodate up to 14 guests. Swann House, adjacent to the main field as well as several other facilities, can accommodate up to 10 guests. Swann and Ahimsa both start at $150 for up to four guests per night. Book your stay at one of our unique lodgings now!

Or, plan your next outdoor event at the Peace Trust for direct access to our trails through the woods and other natural delights. We have outdoor tables, plenty of space for tents, as well as a meeting hall large enough for a small group to easily keep social distance. Consider VPT for your next gathering!
Renters have easy access to our 54 wooded acres and the surrounding natural attractions including Pachaug State Forest, the largest state forest in Connecticut. Visit our Rentals page for more photos and information about the facilities, and consider forwarding the page to a friend! To book a stay or to inquire about our gift rental package, please call Nancy at 860-376-9970 or email us at voluntownpeacetrust@gmail.com

A Peace of History

Over the decades, VPT has produced, collected, and preserved a rare collection of historical newsletters, ephemera such as leaflets, and limited-series print books from the peace movement. The main newsletters that we use are the Polaris Action Bulletin (1960-1963) and its successor Direct Action for a Nonviolent World (1964-1973). As these newsletters were published by the original VPT founders, the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), we feel that it is our responsibility to share these stories of nonviolent leftist political activity in our region, and how the organization in Voluntown connected to broader movements across the United States and the world.

At the end of each week, we post a story about past nonviolent resistance from one of these sources  "A Peace of History"  on the VPT Facebook group and on our website. For those not on Facebook, we use this newsletter to send a snippet and a link to the original post on our website. Click on the title of each to read more.


4/1/2022 - “Report on the Walk” (1961)

"In solidarity with the 1960-1961 San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace, one of the longest and most ambitious peace walks in modern history, many companion walks were organized throughout the United States and Europe. The New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (NECNVA), based at VPT in Voluntown, Connecticut, organized the New England companion walk which started in Kittery, Maine and passed through cities in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut before ending at the UN Building in New York City. Along the way, hundreds of people participated either as walkers or providers of hospitality, and thousands more heard the NECNVA message: that the US military plans during the Cold War were both ethically and strategically compromised. By many measures, the “3-Week Walk for Peace” through the Northeastern US in 1961 was a massive success..."
4/7/2022 - “Civil Disobedience at Portsmouth, N.H.” (1961)

"In March 1961, two antiwar activists disrupted a commissioning ceremony for the world’s fifth ever nuclear missile submarine in order to raise awareness of the danger and absurdity of the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. The two activists nonviolently attempted to board the submarine by paddling through frigid waters and dodging the patrol boats in nothing but a canoe. As alluded to in last week’s story, this action occurred during the Easter-time 3-Week Walk for Peace through the Northeast US, organized by the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (NE CNVA) as a companion walk for the much bigger San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace..."
4/15/2022 - “Crisis and the Individual” (1961)

"In the early 1960s, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) frequently staged protest demonstrations at and around the General Dynamics: Electric Boat facility in Groton, Connecticut — the place where some of the world’s first nuclear-armed submarines were being built at the time. Many of those CNVA EB demonstrations involved attempts by young activists to physically block, board, or otherwise disrupt the launch of those submarines. They used canoes, other small boats, or just their bodies swimming in the Thames River to disrupt public ceremonies, drawing attention to the fact that 1) there were people in their community who had deep and well-considered misgivings about the area’s involvement in producing such weapons, and that 2) even just a few strong swimmers or paddlers armed with nothing but their convictions could outmaneuver dozens of other military watercraft and reach the nuclear leviathan to pose the question: were these weapons really worth the taxpayer money and the danger of annihilation?..."
4/21/2022 - “let’s walk for PEACE” (1961)

"Even in progressive and radical circles, there still remains a great deal of misinformation and confusion about the strategy and philosophy of nonviolent resistance: particularly, its reasoning, goals, and tactics. Therefore, it is often helpful to consult the leaflets and other primary sources of the time to learn exactly what they thought they were doing. This little leaflet from 1961 produced by the New England CNVA gives us a particularly clear articulation of their analysis of the Cold War nuclear situation and the practicality of nonviolent action in the age of weapons of mass destruction. As we today again find ourselves in conflict with the greatest nuclear power in the world, it may be useful to examine the analysis and strategy of past generations’ nonviolent actionists..."
4/29/2022 - “Thousands in Civil Disobedience; Hundreds Arrested in US and England” (1961)

"...In April 1961 in New York City, over two thousand people obstructed, refused to participate in, or otherwise protested the “civil defense drills” (i.e. “duck-and-cover” drills”). That same month, across New York State and New Jersey, many more staged demonstrations against the drills, especially students and educators at various colleges and high schools. In New Hampshire, one university professor helped to organize dozens of students and other activists in a protest march during a civil defense drill, and ultimately resigned from his position in order to join the San Francisco to Moscow Transcontinental Walk for Peace. Over in London, UK, where the Transcontinental Walk would pass within a few months, over 2000 people marched in protest over their own government’s active involvement in and production of nuclear weapons. The hundreds of protesters went limp when arrested, just as they had trained, refusing to cooperate with their own arrests and causing massive and expensive disruptions in the heart of the country..."


5/5/2022 - The Civil Defense Protest at City Hall Park (1961)

"Last week, we shared some general descriptions of a wave of mass civil disobedience that swept through the US and UK in the Easter season of 1961. The demonstrators objected to the “civil defense drills” promoted by the US and UK governments, pointing out what a meager defense that duck-and-cover could provide in the face of a doomsday scenario that their own governments had started. Common people were forced into the role of pawns in a global chess match between the nuclear-armed powers, and some of those common people had had enough..."
5/12/2022 - “Peace Education” & “Summer Program” (1961)

"In the summer of 1960, the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), the most active antiwar group in the country at the time, came to New London, Connecticut to stage demonstrations and host workshops arguing against the nuclear arms race. They called it Polaris Action after the Polaris nuclear weapon submarines being built at the nearby General Dynamics facility, Electric Boat. Eight months after the summer activities had finished, a contingent of CNVA members was nearing the East Coast again, having walked all the way from San Francisco as demonstrators against the arms race and intending to walk across Europe to Moscow as well..."
5/20/2022 - “5th Annual Peacemaker Training Program in Nonviolence" (1961)

"In 1961, the Peacemakers came to southeastern Connecticut to hold their fifth annual summer intensive training. It was an easy choice: the world’s first nuclear-armed submarines were being built in the area’s General Dynamics - Electric Boat facility; the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) had established a New England chapter over the past year there to continue protesting the submarine manufacturing; and they had already held their 1960 training in the area the year before. As a collaboration between two of the most active antiwar groups committed to nonviolent action in the country at the time, the 1961 Peacemakers summer training program was planned to be intensive, comprehensive, hands-on, creative, diverse in identities, globally-minded, and locally focused. The theme of the 1961 program explored the dynamics and tensions between the individualist and collectivist values within the movement — a prescient topic that is still relevant today..."
5/26/2022 - The Fateful Dilemma" by Gordon Christiansen, Professor of Chemistry, Connecticut College (1961)

"Through the last few months of 1960 and into the early summer of 1961, US antiwar activists noticed something strange about some of the national news articles regarding the nuclear arms race. Since 1958, both the United States and the Soviet Union had held a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing — the most significant victory for the peace movement up to that point. It was far from perfect, but the compromise had kept tensions between the two countries relatively low until April 1961, when the United States attempted to invade communist Cuba in the infamous Bay of Pigs fiasco. Even before the failed invasion of Cuba, however, national media in the United States had been regularly publishing stories and opinions that made the resumption of weapons testing seem necessary and almost inevitable. Public opinion, it appeared, was being actively shaped into what Noam Chomsky later called 'manufactured consent.'"


6/3/2022 - “Summer Program” by Bob Swann (1961)

"By June 1961, the New England Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA) had accomplished quite a lot in its first year of operation: several submarine launch disruptions and other protest actions, the establishment of public offices and a staff, countless hours of leafleting and discussing issues, and more. But in that time, the US national media had been steadily intensifying rhetoric in the other direction: in favor of renewing nuclear weapons testing. Many in the peace movement rightly predicted that renewing weapons testing would lead to greater tensions (and thus, greater chances of nuclear war) between the United States and the Soviet Union — a prediction borne out the next year during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Over the course of this period, the New England CNVA also realized that, after the many actions and activities they had conducted over their first year of operation, it was now time to reflect on their work, assess the results, and then strategize about their next steps moving forward. The shape of the New England CNVA 1961 Summer Program was becoming clearer..."
6/10/2022 - Thirteen Walkers Leave for Europe; Others Join Polaris Action Project” & “‘Protect Us from Pacifists,’ Navy Asks” (1961)

"Similarly, in June 1961, The Peacemaker newsletter celebrated the conclusion of the first part of a massive CNVA project: the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace. At the end of May 1961, the Walkers had completed their trek across the width of the continental United States. As the brief but informative article mentions, thirteen of the Walkers flew across the Atlantic to continue their journey to Moscow. In the UK, where the Team was to begin their European journey, a British movement against nuclear weapons had been gaining momentum for years. In another article in the same newsletter, The Peacemaker reports that the US Navy had recently requested the British government for extra security “against harassment by pacifist demonstrators” — a particularly ironic statement when considering the vast differences in resources and applications of force between the military and antiwar activists. Meanwhile, three of the Walk participants headed to Europe were only able to join the team at the last minute due to a sudden influx of funding — a reminder of how so many antiwar campaigns and actions were conducted on shoestring budgets even as they opposed the beginnings of the modern military-industrial complex..."
6/16/2022 - “Thomas Edison Protest” & “Family Day at the Roman Circus” (1961)

"On June 15, 1961, a team of six people attempted to stop the launch of one of the first nuclear weapon submarines in the world — with just a canoe, their own bodies, and sheer determination. This was not the impulsive act of some hooligans, but rather a carefully planned protest action with trained and extremely disciplined activists. Ed Guerard, one of the main participants of the action, wrote a breathless account of the events from his perspective which we present today..."
6/24/2022 - “French Turn Back Moscow-Bound Group” & “Peace Walker Swims Ashore at Le Havre, France” (1961)

"In June 1961, five antiwar activists leapt from a ship into a French harbor, attempting to defy the French government which had denied them entry. This was the first major obstacle for the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace in the European leg of their journey. The group had just finished its trek down Great Britain with little issue, but there are the harbor in Le Havre, before 400 French supporters of the Walk, the French government refused the Walkers entry. Notably, Soviet Union officials had already agreed to permit the Walkers entry through Germany, including through Berlin — a fact that French authorities would have known due to the CNVA policy of openly sharing their plans. But the French government stood firm in their decision..."

Sustaining Support for VPT

Please consider giving a tax-deductible donation to VPT. Between the lack of rentals due to the pandemic, the cost of the Swann House renovations, and other expenses, we could use the help. Our online donation platform Mightycause is the easiest way to give to us a one-time monetary gift.

Also, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of VPT on Mightycause. To do that, just set your gift to recur monthly. Donors may cancel or change their giving amount at any time. Click here or on the Mightycause logo above to visit our donation page.

Alternatively, you may mail a tax-deductible check to our address: 539 Beach Pond Road, Voluntown, CT 06384. Past donors who gave by check will receive this appeal in the mail with a return envelope.

Monthly recurring donations especially help us budget and plan ahead, but any and all monetary gifts are appreciated. Thank you.

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