“We believe Carolyn has more than earned recognition for this Jack Gore award through her lifetime of peace activism and her unceasing commitment to peace.”
Since 1976, the Jack Gore Memorial Peace Award has recognized community members who have carried on the work of the Boulder peace activist who worked to end the Vietnam War as well as for peace and justice worldwide. The American Friends Service Committee said of Gore, “With his wife, Jean, he gave strong support to the program work of AFSC. With this award, we remember his commitment to and work for peace.”
This year, Carolyn Bninski, a 30-year member of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Committee and Judith Marquez received the 2016 award.
Carolyn Bninski, Co-chair of the Boulder Green Party is a high-profile figure for her work educating the public about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). She is currently working to persuade Boulder City Council to pass a resolution against the TPP and has counted 60 legislators that she has lobbied to condemn the TPP. She and the RMPJC have held 15 sit-ins outside of Representative Jared Polis’ office and another is scheduled for September 14. Polis has not publicly committed to supporting or opposing the TPP, but Bninski feels that his silence has spoken for him.
Bninski has lived in Germany, Austria, Panama, and Sri Lanka growing up with a father who was employed in the Foreign Service. It was her time during her adolescence in Washington D.C. though that helped shape her values while continually being exposed to an anti-war and civil rights movement. She turned to working for tenant’s rights in New York City and later to nuclear freeze activism. She took that work to Boulder, Colorado when she worked to close Rocky Flats Nuclear Trigger Plant. She works to stop the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq and along with the AFSC, organized the Colorado Communities Against War in Iraq. She was tear gassed at a march at Peterson Air Force Base by Colorado Springs police.
Bninski says that preventing war with Russia means having a greater understanding of Russia along with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In her acceptance speech she said, “Activism isn’t done alone. It’s a joint project. It’s a communal project. We all create things together. Many of the people that I’ve worked with over years are here working on the Middle East, on the wars against Latin America, on the financial collapse in 2008, homelessness, and the corporate trade agreements. I really appreciate the fact that I’ve been able to work with so many committed people and so many ethical people over my lifetime. Not everybody has that opportunity.”
She is critical of media sources that have “demonized” Russian president Vladimir Putin and of those who have blamed Russia for the increased tension between Russia and the United States, “It is a dangerous situation because as we move closer and closer to Russia’s borders and the United States and NATO have increased weapons presence and the anti-ballistic missiles presence and increased troops, Russia is getting very nervous. These are nuclear arms states on both sides and most of us aren’t aware of this because the mainstream media covers this as an anti-Putin tirade rather than that Russia is really not the aggressor in this case. There may be a few things that they’ve done, but really the blame lies with the United States and NATO. I think it’s something we all need to be aware of.”
But consuming a chunk of time from her schedule is the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and educating the public about it. Earlier this month she sat on a panel for a town hall organized by Representative Jared Polis who represents the district that includes Boulder. She sat opposed to corporate lawyers who promote the TPP and made arguments for opposing the potential agreement between countries in question referring to the agreement as a “corporate takeover. “The Transpacific Partnership is one of several of these agreements that have been negotiated in the last seven years. They were negotiated with the help of corporate entities, five hundred corporate advisers, and so the end products are very much pro-corporate documents. The take away power from governments and give that power to multinational corporations. None of the democratic congresspeople have come out against it in the Boulder/Denver area. Diana DeGette hasn’t come out against it, Ed Perlmutter, and Jared Polis hasn’t come out against it. Where it’s going to get defeated is in the House of Representatives if it gets defeated. It’s a huge corporate power grab.”
Drawing a round of applause though was her declared support for the communities who are protecting the water from contamination from the Dakota Access Pipeline whom she said are fighting “for all of us.”
“They really are sacrificing. They’re fighting for their lives because water is life. If their water is contaminated, you’re drinking contaminated water. They’re really are sending out a message to the whole planet and people all over the world are inspired by this. I think they will stay and fight because they have to, and we have to support them.”
The RMJPC currently organizes with a campaign called Keep Kids Off Of Rocky Flats, “The purpose is so that young people don’t go and get contaminated with plutonium at Rocky Flats.” Currently the Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship, a project of the RMPJC, is hosting a petition to the Boulder Valley School District for a written agreement that it along with other Colorado schools or other children groups will not be taken to Rocky Flats for any type of field trip or any school-related event.
Bninski thanked the AFSC for their work protecting immigrant rights, “Immigrants are really one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States. They really have very few rights.” Bninski talked about the recent and current sweeps in the US, “The treatment of people, as many of you know, is unbelievable what they’re doing, just taking people away from their families, putting children in these prisons.”
Judith Marquez was introduced by Jeanette Vizguerra who broke down in tears before she even began to introduce Marquez, “She is one of my best friends.”
Marquez works at El Centro Humanitario in Denver for worker rights, and has worked at Colorado Progressive Coalition, Rights for all People, and Front Range Economic Strategy Center.
Judith Marquez comes to Denver from East LA. Her parents who were sitting in the audience immigrated from Mexico and it was their work in their jobs and their work for immigrant rights that inspired Marquez in her own work. Vizguerra said that Marquez was also inspired by Martin Luther King and by the Zapatista Movement of Mexico and how such movements could achieve such great changes “without degrees or education but had the values and courage.”
In her adolescence she was impacted at a march against the war in Iraq when she saw a 14-year old youth being arrested in an act of civil disobedience. She decided then to involve herself in positive change and found a group called Rights for All People (RAP). From there she became a volunteer working for the rights of immigrants and for all. Vizguerra said, “Some working in this movement have come and gone, and it’s very rare that someone in the movement stays this long. And I immediately knew that she would become a leader and that she would make change. She’s not just a leader. She works from the heart.”
Marquez described Vizguerra as her mentor and her teachings, “She doesn’t care if you’re a lawyer, if you’re a Ph.D. Whoever you are, she will tell you, and you will listen and you will learn from her. That’s important in a working community because we’re made to feel less. We’re made to feel that we must follow these authority figures and that’s not true. We have so much that we bring to this society.”
Marquez recognized her family and especially her mother whom she described as also her mentor, “I come from a fierce group of Mexican women and from a strong Latina community. We can’t do this life alone. It really is a community effort.”
Her mother, a Mexican farmer who came to the US to “confront racism, classism, and oppression, according to Marquez. Her mother joined Marquez on the stage and spoke of a time when Judith dropped everything to assist a gentleman who was about to be deported. Her mother told her, “After you’ve helped him, you’ll be a stronger woman.”
In her acceptance speech talked about current uprisings that bore mentioning, “There are so many powerful moments happening right now with Standing Rock, and Black Lives Matter, and with immigrant mothers doing hunger strikes in the detention centers. These movements are coming from people who are suffering the most, that are tired. They’re so tired of being oppressed.”
Marquez went on to talk about the queer women who began the Black Lives Matter movement who said, “We are not going to wait anymore for someone to hand us this mic. We’re going to take that power. As allies sometimes we don’t live these experiences. We don’t understand” She advised ally organizations to “let people lead. Our communities are asking, ‘Listen to us, believe us, take our leadership.'”
“We do live in a country that was based on white supremacy. It was based on the benefit of white people on the backs of people of color, of Native Americans, the genocide, of the slavery. And that continues on today with how broken our undocumented system is today, and our immigration system. We have second-class citizens that are exploited. As you teach young people that are in your community, bring that message, that we need strong solidarity and to share that leadership. Let go of that privilege because we need to transform this world.”