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Vol. 78/No. 37      October 20, 2014

Nebraskans for Peace discuss
farmers, labor, climate change
LINCOLN, Neb. — More than 100 people from across the state came together for the Nebraskans for Peace annual conference here Oct. 4 to discuss, debate and get involved in social struggles, including opposition to profit-driven environmental destruction, support for working farmers, defense of political prisoners, resistance to government attacks on immigrants, labor solidarity and fights against racist discrimination.

Nebraskans for Peace, which today counts some 1,000 households as members, was founded in 1970, during the rise of the anti-Vietnam War protests and on the heels of the Black rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. During its first years, the group was part of organizing tractorcades of farmers to show support for civil rights actions by African-Americans in Omaha. And they were part of fights to free political prisoners, including Black Panthers Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, who were framed up for killing an Omaha police officer in 1970; and Leonard Peltier, a leader of the American Indian Movement framed up for the killing of FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1973. Supporters of the three prisoners are still fighting for their release.

The event was held at the Center for People in Need, where volunteers each month distribute groceries to 1,000 families, many of them immigrants.

In a workshop titled, “Kids Fleeing Violence in Central America and Immigration Reform,” participants discussed how to respond to Gov. Dave Heineman’s attack on Central American immigrants, many of them children who entered the U.S. and are staying with family or sponsors while they await immigration hearings. Heineman demanded federal officials reveal “the names of the unaccompanied illegal children who are being sent to Nebraska and the names of their sponsors.”

Members of Nebraskans for Peace organized a Climate March here Sept. 21, to coincide with marches in New York, San Francisco and other cities. “Seventy people came out,” Brittany Crawford, a NFP staff member, told the Militant.

The conference opened with a panel on “Water and Peace: Is Peace Possible in an Era of Diminishing Water Supplies?” Panelists included Dr. Ann Bleed, former state hydrologist; Clint Rowe, professor of Climate Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Paul Olson, Nebraskans for Peace president emeritus; and State Sen. Ken Haar.

Bleed and Rowe talked about rising temperatures and falling water tables in Nebraska as a result of high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Haar presented legislative proposals aimed at limiting carbon emissions and other environmental protection measures, and explained how increased use of nuclear power could help reduce carbon pollution. Olson said diminishing water supplies in parts of the world could lead to wars over scarce resources. He also pointed out that grain-based ethanol not only cuts into food production, but also takes more energy to produce than it provides.

The conference, an annual event for some four decades, convened a week after Willie Nelson and Neil Young sang and raised money at a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in Neligh, and as falling prices of corn and soybeans threaten economic hardship for working farmers across the Midwest.

Squeeze on small farmers

“As a result of speculation driving up land prices and the ongoing rise in the cost of production, close to 40,000 farmers have lost their farms nationally in the last five years,” said Kathie Starkweather, director of the Farm and Community Program of the Center for Rural Affairs, who chaired a workshop titled “Building a Regional Food System.” She advocated measures to help younger people start farming and encourage local farmers markets.

A workshop on “Economic Inequality and the Case for Raising the Minimum Wage,” led by Hank Van den Berg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln economics professor, spurred discussion on fights by workers at fast-food restaurants, retail chains and airports for unions and higher wages. The Nebraskans for Better Wages coalition, as well as unions and other groups in the state organized the collection of more than 130,000 signatures this summer to put a $9 per hour minimum wage initiative on the ballot in November.

During the lunch break, Anne Else from Omaha encouraged those present to take part in the statewide speaking tour this month of Mark Braverman, author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land. NFP is a co-sponsor of the tour. A number of people at the conference had been part of protests in Iowa and Nebraska against the recent Israeli assault on Gaza.

Also during the lunch break NFP President Mark Vasina pointed to the exhibit of prison paintings by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five. Guerrero’s art was displayed in the main meeting room. A brief presentation spurred interest in the international campaign for their freedom. (See article on page 6.)

“My favorite was the workshop on race facilitated by A’Jamal Byndon,” said Candella Foley-Finchem, who came to the conference from Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Lots of good information there, and lots of wisdom from the participants also.” In the workshop titled “Table Talk on Race and Violence in Nebraska,” several people from smaller towns, including Scottsbluff and Norfolk, talked about their experiences in how to counter racist remarks in communities with few African-Americans. Others described participating in the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri, against the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Debates were joined in a number of workshops, including on the role of the Russian government in a discussion on “Ukraine and Russia” and around questions of strategy in support of the Palestinian struggle in a workshop titled “The Settlements and Other Roots of the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.”

“I was pleased with the panel and workshops,” said Vasina in a telephone interview. “The spirit was high and there was an open atmosphere in the workshops, even when people disagreed.”

Nebraskans for Peace publishes a monthly newsletter, Nebraska Report, available at
Related articles:
Steelworkers in Illinois fight Honeywell union busting
Build Oct. 11 solidarity rally in Metropolis
On the Picket Line
Fight to free Cuban 5 wins support at Neb. conference
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