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Nancy and Rusty Nelson

“We are Strong Believers in Civil Disobedience”
Interview by Brittany Roach
March 2012

Rusty and I have been married for 41 years.  We have explored the meaning of civil disobedience and peacemaking through activism on such issues as nuclear weapons, the Israel/Palestine conflict, racial equality, LGBT rights and the abolition of the death penalty to name a few.
Peace is a lifestyle for us and one we take very seriously. I have been arrested for protesting more than a dozen times, but this does not stop this us from taking a stand. Rusty and I were co-directors of Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) from 1991-2008. We have planned and organized protests to stop the passage of nuclear weapons into Spokane and they organize vigils for every execution in the state of Washington.  Civil disobedience is a calling. For many people in the peace movement it is controversial, but sometimes there is no other way to say I do not support what you are doing other than noncooperation.
Rusty is a Vietnam veteran who was moved to become a pacifist because of his experience in the war. He was bothered by the permanence of the military structure, the effects of war are not temporary, but can be seem permanently. Rusty’s personal philosophy is a quote from AJ Muste that says, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” He lives out this mission through his various peacemaking efforts and the belief that peacemakers “are not called upon to be successful, but we are called to be faithful.” Rusty and I lived out this faith through the adoption of our two African American children. The adoption process led both of us to a spiritually driven life once again and inspired a spirit of activism.
I have been a lifelong activist. Growing up in a conservative home and being surrounded by foreign students that my mother would host, I had a natural disposition towards activism. Moving to Spokane in 1981 made Rusty and I more passionate about activism. I immediately connected with the Mennonite Peace Center, which later became PJALS. I have also served on the staff for Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), the world’s largest spiritual pacifistic organization. Along with my various positions I have strove to ensure that I embody a spirit of noncooperation. In March of 1985, I was arrested for the first time for protesting nuclear weapons. The weapons came through the middle of Spokane on a train from banger, Washington and I laid down on the train tracks to prohibit the passage of the weapons into Spokane. This is believed to be the first civil arrest in Spokane in over 100 years since the Industrial Workers Worldwide strikes 100 years earlier. My personal peace motto is, Our goal is not to win, our goal is conversion. This is not always achieved by winning. It’s more a matter of winning hearts than winning battles. It’s about planting seeds.

Advice to the Budding Peacemaker:

Start with one issue to avoid burn out and become an expert on that one issue
Ground yourself in nonviolence, it is the foundation
Do not have unrealistic expectations this will also lead to burn out
Make sure to use many different news sources, beware of those touted as progressive because these sources often do not have an understanding of nonviolence.
War is always the wrong answer. There may not be an apparent nonviolent solution, but there is one. We need to spend half of the energy that is exerted trying to justify war on trying to find a nonviolent solution.

Suggested Reading List for the Budding Peacemaker:
Gene Sharp’s works
People’s History of the United States
A Force More Powerful
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
Bread for the World
What Would You Do by John Howard Yoder