Peace Farm's mission remains unfulfilled - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Peace Farm's mission remains unfulfilled

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AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - "Our mission is to rid the world of nuclear weapons."

So said Jerry Stein, the current chairman of the Peace Farm board of directors.

Is the mission unattainable? Don't tell Stein that it is. Stein plans to keep up the effort until he no longer is able to do so, he said.

What has become of the Peace Farm, which used to be a high-profile focal point of opposition to nuclear production? It's still going, although perhaps not as strongly or visibly as it was when it was created in 1986, said Stein and fellow Peace Farm board member Jim Murphy.

Stein is a retired Catholic priest who has been active with the Peace Farm since its inception. Murphy is retired from the Veterans Administation and currently is the longest-tenured member of the Canyon Independent School District board of trustees. Both men reside in Amarillo.

The Peace Farm used to occupy about 20 acres of land across U.S. Highway 60 from the massive Pantex nuclear weapons storage plant. The organization sold off all but one acre and deposited the proceeds from the sale in a bank account, which it uses now to fund its protests and related activities.

During its heyday, which Stein described as being from 1986 until about 1990, the Peace Farm would commemorate Hiroshima Days -- Aug. 6-9 -- which remembered the world's only use of nuclear weapons during wartime; that was when President Harry Truman ordered the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan near the end of World War II.

"We would have gatherings at the Peace Farm," Stein recalled. Murphy chimed in, "People would camp out for several days mounting protests" over the development of nuclear weapons.

Stein rememberd how some demonstrators "would sit on railroad tracks trying to block trains" carrying nuclear weapons.

Stein also recalled a time when the priest who had blessed the B-29 bomber -- named the "Enola Gay" in honor of the command pilot's mother -- that carried The Bomb on its mission to Hiroshima "came to one of our protests. He gave a stirring testimony." The priest, said Stein, had become an anti-nuclear activist and wanted to state his opposition to the weapons being stored at Pantex.

The board currently comprises three members, Stein and Murphy said; the third member is Pam Allison, another Amarillo resident. At its peak, the board had 12 to 15 members, they said. But in recent years, board membership has fluctuated between five and seven individuals.

The Peace Farm hasn't been dormant, Stein and Murphy said. The organization has sent a lobbyist to Washington and sent a representative to the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability fall meeting in 2014.

The Peace Farm had a revival of activity during the Persian Gulf War of late 1990 and early 1991, Murphy recalled. "We were concerned about whether there would be nuclear weapons might be used" during that brief, but violent, conflict, Murphy said.

Stein said today the Peace Farm "doesn't have much of a relationship" with Pantex, adding that Peace Farm representatives have met with Pantex officials to discuss "environmental concerns," mostly relating to potential groundwater contamination.

He said another group, Serious Texans Against Nuclear Dumping (STAND), has taken the lead on some of the environmental issues relating to Pantex.

"We used to have a much greater physical presence at the Pantex gate," Murphy said. "Guards would take pictures of us," he said, explaining further -- with a chuckle -- that "we'd often get two types of responses from others: They would be peace symbols (with index and middle fingers) or just a single finger."

The Peace Farm still meets regularly, Murphy said. "We usually meet every other month." He said the organization has a website and a Facebook page and added that he "had to get my granddaughter to help me set up the Facebook page."

What does the future hold? Stein and Murphy say the Peace Farm has had difficulty getting younger people involved and engaged in the effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons. "We had a Randall High School teacher who tried to get young people involved," Murphy said.

The effort hasn't produced much long-term impact, Murphy added.

"We are throwbacks to the 1960s," Murphy said, recalling the protests that roiled the nation during the Vietnam War. "People, of course, know that Pantex isn't exactly a soap factory," Stein said.

The men recalled an earlier era when the Peace Farm boasted high-profile advocates, such as the late Bishop Leroy Matthiessen, who led the Amarillo Catholic Diocese.

Stein, who is 74, and Murphy, who is 75, both said they "can't tell about the future" when the day comes when they're no longer able to maintain the Peace Farm's mission.

"Oh, we might have a big war or something," Murphy said, "or we might decide to bomb Iran." If either of those events occurs, then there might be a surge in younger activists, he said.

"Young people today have a different way of communicating," Stein said. "They interact on social media," he said, indicating less interest in the kind of grassroots protests that used to be a Peace Farm hallmark.

Murphy also recognized that the Peace Farm "had a pretty negative stigma attached to it. The powers that be were aligned with Pantex." He said Pantex always has enjoyed widespread community support for the mission it performs, hinting that the number of jobs created by the munitions operation has helped build Pantex's public good will.

"We are not Woodstock here in the Texas Panhandle," Murphy said."

And that makes our work here," Stein added, "even more important."

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