At a time when there’s a troubling gap between how the politicians in Washington vote and how the folks back home want the US to (re)engage with the rest of the world, the Ploughshares Fund – now the largest grantmaking foundation in the US focused exclusively on peace and security issues, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, with grants totaling over $50 million – has devised a creative way of bringing those issues home to people who care, and introducing a new generation to the importance of simply the most critical issues in life: war and peace. On Saturday, the Fund kicked off its Peace Primary, highlighting the work of extraordinary grassroots groups and activists.
I was honored when the organizers asked me to serve as a judge to help select the finalists for this initiative. (And I enjoyed being called part of an “all-star panel,” as my basketball-crazed family has always thought all-star status is reserved for the likes of Shaq, Kobe, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, etc. Other judges include: writer, commentator and religious scholar Reza Aslan; Ploughshares Fund Executive Director Naila Bolus; the Reverend Dr. Joan Brown Campbell of the Chautauqua Institute; Bonnie Jenkins, program officer at the Ford Foundation; former Congressman Paul (Pete) McCloskey; The Nation‘s peace and disarmament correspondent, author Jonathan Schell; and actor Martin Sheen.)
I’ve cared deeply about issues of peace and security – as a journalist who lived in and wrote about Russia during the Gorbachev years and, of course, as Editor of The Nation – a magazine that has been at the forefront, for decades, of finding non-military solutions to problems of our country and world. From our special issue in 1998 on the abolition of nuclear weapons to the fact that we may be the only magazine in the US (or in the world?!) with a peace and disarmament correspondent, the inimitable Jonathan Schell. The Nation has always been engaged with these issues, and in times of crisis, the enduring concerns of this magazine and progressives take on new relevance.
I spent hours poring over the material of about 25 or so groups. In a rigorous process, the judges – with the help of Ploughshares – made some hard decisions and selected 12 extraordinary finalists. People can now vote for the group or groups that they feel best articulate their own peace agenda. Each vote costs just $1 which goes exclusively to the selected group. (Ploughshare always gives 100 percent of public contributions to its grantees–it never takes a cut for administrative overhead or fundraising – which is another unique aspect of its operation.)