A number of years ago (when I turned eighteen and before the Vietnam War period) I registered with the Selective Service as a Conscientious Objector when to do so was a suspect and unpopular thing to do. Little did I realize that this would provide a leading to become a field worker (in Maine) under concern for peacemaking with the American Friends Service Committee during the Vietnam War period.
At the time, I was pastor among Friends in central Maine but moved up to Bangor to work at the Inner Cities Ministries which was located in the old Methodist Church on Pine Street.
It didn’t take long to realize that there was a need to focus on counselling with those who were struggling with issues of conscription. (Potential draftees were likely to come from the low-income or from non-white communities. I went to New York City to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. speak. At the time he stated that the war and the draft lay heavily on the backs of the poor and communities of color. He was ‘taken to task’ by many, including The New York Times, for making this observation.)
A group of high school students and young adults in the area worked to establish an organization out of the AFSC office which became known as Zero Induction whose purpose was to provide counselling (including even on the sidewalk of the Induction Center at the Federal Building in Bangor). The goal was to provide sound, adequate counselling so that if any of the potential inductees were willing to "just say no!" they would not be inducted. This effort proved to be successful beyond any of our expectations.
Another aspect of this peacemaking effort consisted of travelling around the state of Maine (from St. Francis in Aroostook to the New Hampshire border) to do counselling and to train draft counselors. Work and travel also consisted in travelling to the Maritimes (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) every month to help counsel those who went to Canada as refugees from the military (AWOL) or the draft. Because of the easy border crossing into Canada, our ministry attracted a number of folks from the eastern seaboard and the Midwest as well as those from the State of Maine.
There are many stories I could share but one comes to mind as I write this.
Ray (who hailed from the Appalachians in Tennessee) came by the AFSC office indicating that he was on his way to Canada. (My practice was to encourage any potential refugee to exhaust all options rather than go north of the border.) It became clear that Ray was AWOL from the military and was bound and determined not to continue in the military “to kill or to be killed.” We talked about possible options and support. He finally left for the South Mountain at Paradise, Nova Scotia. Ray settled in, got a job working in the numerous apple orchards in the Valley (he would walk at least five miles–one way– a day to get to work). Ray built a geodesic house near an old (now abandoned) African refugee (Underground Railroad) settlement in the back country. He married Jennifer, who was Canadian. I would visit Ray and Jennifer regularly on the way to Halifax. One day, Ray walked off to work. Jennifer was alone and delivered her first baby (a son they named Gabriel) all alone in her home. Later, Ray told me that it was some surprise that when he left the house in the morning there was one person there and when he came back he found two!
I would travel this circuit to end up at the home of Mike, a former Catholic seminary student, who was in Halifax and who was involved in the East Coast Conspiracy to Save Lives in Baltimore (connected with the Berrigan brothers and others). Mike was one step ahead of the U.S. federal authorities and I was able to arrange support and hospitality as he made his way north and east. As a gifted community organizer, Mike proved to be an amazing asset to those working with the poor in this region of Nova Scotia.
Thank you AFSC, for your work and for this monumental effort exploring the issues of life and death in this war where there were no "winners." (So true of every war!)
Pax et bonum!