Michigan Peaceworks honored following closure

By Lily Bonadonna, For the Daily
Published January 29, 2012

After 10 years of fighting for peace and justice, Ann Arbor’s Michigan Peaceworks closed last month. The non-profit organization held its final event at the Arbor Brewing Company yesterday, celebrating a decade of activism and commitment to peace.

Tom Weisskopf, a current member of the Michigan Peaceworks board of directors and a retired University professor, said the group was founded in 2001 as the Ann Arbor Area Committee for Peace, advocating against the initial invasion of Iraq.

“That’s when it really mushroomed,” Weisskopf said.

The group subsisted on private donations and grants to fund projects such as anti-war rallies, candlelight vigils, a statewide peace conference and a Youth Activist Network, that engaged high school students in its causes.

At the height of its activity, the group brought in nearly $75,000 a year in donations and were able to sustain paid leadership positions. Notably, Michigan Peaceworks organized the world’s largest human peace sign in front of the Hatcher Graduate Library on the Diag in 2003.

Michigan Peaceworks member Don Bisdorf joined the group in 2010 and said he liked its anti-violence message.

“As an organization, we are opposed to responding to violence with violence,” Bisdorf said.

Following the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, the group started to face financial difficulties and a dwindling membership, according to Rackham student Elizabeth Entwistle, a group board member.

“Everybody put their energy in (Obama’s election),” Entwistle said.

Once Obama won the election, many of the members felt they had also won the fight for peace, Entwistle said. However, during the pending economic crisis, donations continuously decreased until the organization was forced to lay off its full time director and move its office.

Through the years, Michigan Peaceworks collaborated with various organizations, including the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. According to ICPJ Director Chuck Warpehoski, his organization has also faced financial strife.

However, Warpehoski said he thinks that volunteerism at ICPJ, which focuses on areas of public interest such as economic justice and hunger issues, remains strong and steady compared to participation at Peaceworks.

Larry Horvath, who was been a member of Michigan Peaceworks since its founding, said Michigan Peaceworks continually maintained about a dozen committed members up until the end, many of whom will continue their involvement with political activism and community service.

“We are all still in Ann Arbor, we’ve all made contacts,” Horvath said.

As Phillis Engelbert, the first director of Michigan Peaceworks, got ready to leave Arbor Brewing Company last night, she paused and said, “I’m proud of what we did.”