2009/03/30:Janesville Gazette: Giving peace a chance - Sue Nelson

Giving peace a chance
The Janesville Gazette
By ANNA MARIE LUX ( Contact )   Monday, March 30, 2009

Sue Nelson

Age: Not too old to dream about a peaceful future

Occupation: Nonprofit administrator

Family: Husband, Gordy; five daughters; five grandchildren

Favorite hobbies: Gardening, knitting, traveling

Favorite CDs: Connie Dover, Harry Chapin, Interpreti Veneziani

Favorite movie: Anything with Rowan Atkinson

Favorite book: "The Naylor Sonnets"

Role models: Maurine Ryan, a Washington environmentalist, who chained herself to a redwood at age 72. She is 102 now.

Three words that best describe you: Determined, curious, happy


Photo by Dan Lassiter

JANESVILLE — With wire-rim glasses perched atop her gray hair, Sue Nelson looks more like a gentle librarian than someone who works tirelessly for peace, even when the crush of public opinion opposes her.

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Nelson cautioned against hatred of Arab people. When the steady drumbeat began for the Iraq War, she spoke against it.

When the fighting started, she emerged as a strong voice in Rock County's peace community.

"My core value is that all people matter," the Janesville woman said. "There really is only one choice. We have to keep working for peace and nonviolence. It's clear the other way doesn't work."

Nelson has been a Quaker for 32 years and, as such, is opposed to war and violence.

She is the guiding force behind the Rock Valley Fellowship of Reconciliation, a local peace group that started in 2002. The group sponsors regular speakers in Rock County with diverse viewpoints, including a Jewish woman who works for peace on the West Bank and a Chicago-based activist who has traveled to Iraq many times on humanitarian missions.

Nelson also supports the weekly peace vigil on South Main Street in front of Rep. Paul Ryan's office.

She writes a periodic newsletter and sends information about programs to 180 supporters of the fellowship in Rock and surrounding counties. In addition, she has been a driving force behind an Opt Out of the Military effort, which provides high school students with information about alternatives to military service.

"Sue is inspiring because of her relentless push for nonviolence as public policy," said Kathy Holcombe, a supporter of the fellowship of reconciliation. "She has been working for peace for a very long time and does not give in to burn out."

Ed Timmer is a worship leader of the Unitarian Congregation of Rock County, which has co-sponsored speakers and programs with the fellowship of reconciliation.

"Sue's ability to recruit and encourage people to actively take part in community peace activities has made peace and nonviolence important issues in our community," Timmer said.

Fellowship supporter John Graf agrees:

"It is easy to look with frustration at the state of the world and what seem like small peace efforts in response," he said. "But the examples of Sue Nelson and people like her allow the peace movement to point to successes."

Nelson has been a peace activist for three decades. She protested nuclear weapons in the 1980s. She founded Habiba Chaouch (pronounced Ha-bee-ba Show-oosh) Foundation from her dining room table in 1991 to further international understanding between Americans and Arabs. Today, she splits her efforts between the foundation and the fellowship of reconciliation.

Nelson is motivated by a pivotal conversation with a Tunisian man in 1986. Through a translator, she asked the man how he felt about the United States bombing Libya at the time.

"When we were fighting for our independence from France in the mid-1950s, America sent us food, and we will never forget that," the man replied.

"Clearly, if we want to be friends in the world," Nelson said, "it is bread that works, not bombs."