On the evening of September 23, at ten Nelson coffee shops and restaurants, activists from across the continent will lead discussions about peace and justice.
Empire Coffee will host James Favell of the Bear Clan, a non-violent street patrol in Winnipeg, and Expressions Cafe will host Pastor Cori Bush from Ferguson, Missouri.
The ten ‘peace cafes’ are a part of the annual International Peace and Justice Studies Conference to be held, not in a big city as usual, but at Selkirk College’s Tenth Street Campus. This year’s conference is entitled Obstructing the Old or Constructing the New? Embracing the Tension to Build the World We Want.
The conference’s keynote speakers are Manitoba MLA and broadcaster Wab Kinew and the Guatemalan activist and politician Sandra Moran.
Randy Janzen is the chair of Selkirk’s Mir Centre for Peace, an instructor in peace and justice studies, and the main organizer of the conference. He said that with the peace cafes he wants to “de-institutionalize the conference. Bring it to the streets, to places where people are very comfortable.”
Favell, pictured below, contacted by the Star, explained that the Bear Clan is a non-violent safety patrol on the streets of Winnipeg.
“We look out for the women, children, the elderly, and the vulnerable members of the community.”
Favell says he was inspired by the death of Tina Fontaine in 2014.
“Her body was found in the Red River wrapped in plastic, and the misery that was her life inspired me to do something more.”
Favell recounted a recent event in which three young women engaged with his group on the street. They learned that one of the women, in her 20s, was about to sell a 13-year old girl to a 22-year-old man.
“Our whole purpose is to get in the way of those kinds of things happening. We interrupted that, and we fulfill our mandate doing that. What happened to Tina Fontaine could have happened to that girl.”
At Empire Coffee, Favell says he wants to inspire people to “get off their couch and out of their comfort zone and into the streets. You’ve got the capacity to lead and to give back, so get out there.”
Favell is an example of someone working outside the system. But is that always what is needed? Janzen says that question is the theme of the conference.
“We want to examine the tension between pounding the streets with placards and protesting, versus joining boards of directors. So the conference is a look at what works best, when to use which process and which tactic.”
Pastor Cori Bush (pictured below) told the Star she works both in inside and outside the system.
She runs the Truth Telling Project in Ferguson, Missouri, and was involved in the protests there as a protester, a member of the clergy, a medic and as a victim of police assault. She came second in the 2016 race to become the Democratic senate candidate in Missouri.
She said she likes the idea of the peace cafes because “this movement is not about one person, and it not a leaderless movement. It is a ‘leaderful’ movement, so having it all over town with different people facilitating the cafes, that is the point of it, not from one particular demographic, it should be a mixture.”
Other peace cafe presenters to date include Lauren Terbasket of the Enowkin First Nation centre in Penticton; Matt Meyer, a New York based activist; terrorism expert Michael Loadenthal from Miami; elders from the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State; Sa’ed Atchan from Miami who speaks and writes on being gay and Muslim in the US; and local members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
Other venues include Railtown Coffee, John Ward Coffee, Jagannatha, the Dancing Bear Inn, Sidewinders, and Cafe Momento. Each cafe will feature a local musician.
Janzen said a ticket to the peace cafes comes as part of the registration for the conference, but he expects that there will be enough space for a few local people to drop in.
Following the peace cafes, members of faculty at Selkirk College’s music program will present Woodstock Has Nothing On Us! A Night of Peace-infused Music at the Bloom Nightclub.
There is much more to the conference than the peace cafes. A draft schedule can be found here.