Ann Dwight Lewis. Photo by Emma Freeman.
What do grade-school lavatories and the Republican National Convention have in common? Both played important roles in Ann Dwight Lewis’ life as an activist, which she started more than 35 years ago.
Then a young Edina mom of three boys and a girl, she noticed that her sons rushed home from elementary school every day to use the bathroom. She asked them why and was startled by their answer. “They told me that they didn’t want to ‘poop’ at school because there were no doors on the stalls in the boys’ lavatory,” Lewis said. (The stalls in the girls’ room had doors.)
Lewis picked up the phone and called the principal. He agreed to meet with her, and asked her where she’d like to meet. “I told him, in the boys’ lavatory,” she said.
She brought a few other parents and the principal had a school board member in tow. After less than 10 minutes, the officials agreed to put doors on the stalls. And just as important, Lewis’ early victory kindled an interest in working for change.
Like the stall doors, Lewis’ first few campaigns were close to home and related to kids. “I came in a back door to make change,” she said. “But I learned that dedicated people could change things-even in a conservative community.”
As her young children grew, so did Lewis’ activism. She helped organize Youth Action, which gave Edina teens a place to congregate for social events and made chemical abuse counseling available to them. Later her activism came to be centered on peace and justice: She participated in the Edina chapter of Grandmothers for Peace and worked in other local organizations, including the Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers (MAP), a coalition of 74 peace and justice groups.
As the 2008 Republican National Convention drew near, Lewis became concerned about the potential for violence in the streets of St. Paul-and apprehensive that the media might focus on a few incidents of violence rather than on the peaceful agenda shared by most of the activists.
MAP asked Lewis to convene a working group on the issue. Lewis and others went to Detroit in May for five days of peacemaker training by the Michigan Peace Team. And then they headed home to organize Peace Teams in Minnesota, recruiting 80 members here. Though she thought she was prepared for what might happen, the scene outside the RNC was much bigger and more chaotic than she had expected. She witnessed the police tasering a young man, then knocking him down on the concrete and beating him. Though she was tear gassed, she was not arrested. She still has nightmares about police actions she witnessed.
But what she saw hasn’t deterred her from continuing to work for justice. Nor has her view of some peace organizations that she thinks are too exclusive. “I have become, at my age, very impatient with those who are intent on dominating organizations and isolating power,” she said. “My dedication is to equality-and that justice come from a diverse base.”
The Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers’ (MAP) website offers a comprehensive list of local peace organizations, including contact information, and a calendar of events, www.mapm.org.