by Pauline Druffel
The 40th anniversary celebration of PJALS has special significance for me because I was a part of the early staff of PJC, the Spokane Peace and Justice Center (PJALS’s predecessor). PJC, started in 1975; I came on board in 1978 and stayed until 1982. The other day, Liz Moore asked me to write a piece for the Handful of Salt Newsletter about how my time at PJC has influenced my life since then. I recently had an experience of looking back over my life and identifying stepping stones that brought me to where I am today. I’m going to use that idea in what follows because I can see in hindsight that my experiences at PJC proved to be a major influence on my subsequent worldview.
PJC seemed to be an option for me, not because I knew so much about peace or justice issues, but because I was looking for an opportunity to share what I had just learned about environmental and world hunger issues. My education was in biology which I then taught, but a class in ecology enticed me to go further in the study of environmental concerns. During that year of study, I felt stirred to speak out on how our disregard for the natural environment and for indigenous peoples had led to major world hunger issues. I thought that was something to offer PJC. Joe Albert, who had been involved with Bread for the World, a national citizens lobby group, had left the center, and they assigned me to that role. My environmental focus also fit into PJC work on lifestyle. I met with church groups who were trying to alleviate world hunger, and I organized at least one major event for teachers about including environmental ethics into their classroom curriculum.
But I was very timid in those days, and felt fearful as I stood downtown passing out flyers about war related activity. I was petrified to think someone might suggest I go to demonstrate along with a group of Fellowship of Reconciliation members. I was terribly afraid of getting arrested or of getting identified as working against governmental policy.
None the less I learned a lot by interacting with others who were committed to pacifism, and who understood the relationships between poverty and militarism. I had a sister working in Central America as a missionary at that time, and she confirmed for me what PJC staff were saying about the US involvement in the overthrow of governments in that area. So I could even more appreciate the work of PJC staff addressing those issues including U.S. support of the School of the Americas and their training of the military who went on to oppress their own people. I learned about Gandhi’s commitment to non-violent resistance, and also about the value of community organizing. It was like I was putting on a new pair of glasses that helped me see networks of interactions and modes of oppression that I had no idea existed.
Ultimately, though, I wasn’t ready to be an activist yet. This had been an important stepping stone, but I needed to first look at my inner self and to face injustice in my own situation. I had been in the convent when I came to PJC. The convent was a family expectation for me, and I carried that out. But finally, at middle age, my inner being would not let me just do “what was expected”. I left my position at PJC, eventually left the convent, and went on to follow another yearning that had lived in me: to be a counselor. I got a degree in Counseling Psychology from a San Francisco Bay Area school of Transpersonal Psychology where we studied psychology in the context of spirituality; spirituality in general, not as related to any particular religion. This was a broadening and very powerful growth experience of following a true inner calling. I found out that when my activity comes from that place in my being, the hesitancy and timidity loses its power. I act because I want to act, because there is a passion in me to act. Having faced inner fears, I am able to stand up for what I believe.
As a psychotherapist I worked mostly doing play therapy with kids, some of whom had been mistreated through physical or sexual abuse or caught in the middle of high conflict divorce. I was called on to advocate for a number of these children through the family court system. Sometimes things went the way I thought they should, sometimes not. I came to see how important it is to be compassionately present to a person in their pain even when I can’t fix everything for them. It was another very valuable learning experience, another stepping stone.
I loved my work as a therapist and stayed with it as long as I felt my mental acuity was strong enough for it. Then, in the fall of 2011, I came back to Spokane to retire. I was delighted to find that peace and justice were still being addressed by a committed group of people–now working together as the Peace and Justice Action League. I got involved and soon took part in an action handing out flyers downtown at River Front Park. I don’t remember the specific action, but it was urging President Obama to not intensify war in the Middle East. I was surprised when I realized I was handing out these flyers without any timidity. Since then I’ve also taken part in other actions and am impressed by the energy with which I get involved.
As I look back, I can see that issues I brought with me to PJC and insights that I learned while there, remained active in me in the intervening years while I was away from Spokane. I joined marches in San Francisco and San Jose when we saw that the U.S. was leading up to war in Iraq. I made phone calls to the President and to legislators about justice issues that had special importance to me. I even went with a group to Lawrence Livermore Lab where we protested nuclear weapons production and some stood in the entrance way knowing they would be arrested. And now that I’m back in Spokane, I’m very involved in working for environmental issues such as Global Warming. In California I advocated for abused children; now I am advocating for an abused earth and the health of us who live on it. I see that my early time at the Peace and Justice Center sensitized me so that I carried away a new context in which to view the world. I’m very grateful for the experience and to be reconnected.