Hometown series: Peace-building in Northfield



"Hometown Values & Vision" coverage is made possible by the Kurt Pearson Social Concerns Fund and the Wilson Social Justice Fund of First Unitarian Foundation.

A group of eight women in Northfield organized a community park event on September 21 celebrating “actions for peace” as one of the 17 sustainable development goals set by the United Nations to address global challenges by 2030. More than 25 tablers, working on behalf of goals around climate change, reducing violence, and more, were spread around the park. The event featured dancers, singers, and talks by women who lead Carleton College and St. Olaf.



Michelle Mattson, Carleton College

Michelle Mattson, Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs at Carleton College, opened up with these words: “I don’t know if this happens to you, but there are times when reading the news or watching it on television that I just begin to despair for the future of humanity and the future of this planet.

And then there are days like today at this gathering, where the collective efforts of individuals and organizations makes it clear that we cannot despair. That there is hope.”

The keynote speaker was Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, who spoke about his career in peace that started in Northfield in the 1970s, when he was a draft-age student at St. Olaf. “The napalming of people in Vietnam, the My Lai massacre — so many things got our attention. How many of you know that the United States dropped more bombs on Laos than it dropped in the entire World War 2 period?”

He detailed his earlier days as a college student. “As an undergraduate, I was able to leave the campus a lot, which I recommend to all young people. First, I studied in inner city Chicago, which was quite different than growing up in suburban Coon Rapids. I had the opportunity to travel and study in a number of countries — and the world kept intruding on our trip. We got to Ethiopia, and everywhere we went, when they found out we are Americans, we were [attacked with stones]. We were denied entry into India, because India and Pakistan were feuding and the United States was backing a dictator in Pakistan. We arrived in Israel the day after the Israeli athletes had been killed, after Palestinians had taken them hostage in an effort to get their cause some publicity. As we arrived, we could hear U.S. planes, with Israeli pilots, bombing the refugee camps.”

A Northfield store sells a toddler shirt that say “Strong Woman in Training”

After working on hunger and poverty issues in the U.S., he said, Nelson-Pallmeyer and his wife worked in the 1980s in Central America, during a time that the U.S. was “backing repressive dictators throughout the region: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and elsewhere.”

They returned to Minnesota and he became a professor with the Justice and Peace Studies program at the University of St. Thomas. “We talked about positive peace — what can we do to create more peaceful families, more peaceful neighborhoods, more peaceful cities, states, country. If you are teaching your children conflict resolution skills; or you don’t spank but you resolve conflicts; if you are educating students in public schools about restorative justice, or giving them the skills that they need to resolve conflicts peacefully, you’re engaged in peacemaking.”

Nelson-Pallmeyer added: “I live in Minneapolis, which turns out to be one of the worst places in the country to live if you happen to be a person of color. It’s a fairly nice place to live if you are not. We live in a [country that has] the greatest levels of inequality of any developed nation. We don’t provide health care to all of our people. As we think about what makes for a peaceful society, I want you to think about housing, and health care, and basic food needs. Many of the groups that are here today are engaged in peacemaking as a result of that definition of positive peace.”

Moms Demand Action was among the park-wide tablers

He said that feminist peace educators have talked about militarism as a belief system — the system of trusting violence as a useful tool. [See Colleen Burke, and the International Women’s Network Against Militarism, for more.] “Almost everybody believes that violence works. … How else can we explain 750 permanent military bases outside of our border? That the largest recipients of federal dollars in the discretionary budget are almost all defense contractors? How can we explain that our country is going to spend a trillion dollars in the next two decades to upgrade its nuclear arsenal? How do we explain that with 4 percent of the world’s population and 42 percent of the civilian arms in the world, our belief system says ‘violence saves.’ … The police system in the U.S. is particularly strong [in the view] that violence saves.”

“I had a New Testament professor years ago who said that the number one religion in the world today is violence.”

Flowers made from reclaimed fabrics and recycled goods by Dina Fesler

He concluded by indicating that young people seem to understand the climate crisis, but not enough people realize how much room resources for violence takes away from addressing the solutions needed for the climate. “My challenge to you is to also pay attention to war and the militarization of our budgets, which deny us the resources to make the changes we need to meet. If we are going to make the transition to a sustainable world, we are going to have to confront militarism as a belief system, and war preparation that is robbing us of a beautiful future that could be possible.

The final remarks came from St. Olaf college president Susan Rundell Singer, who said: “I know you’re scared. I’m scared too. Speaking at the United Nations, at an international convening of university presidents, where everyone spoke to the importance of the kinds of education we offer our students — and how that’s only effective if there’s deep partnerships with the community where we’re situated. What we’re doing here today is pulling together these hard problems, empowering each other and empowering youth to be solutions seekers, rather than feeling the overwhelming weight of a world that feels like it’s too late. I have particular confidence in our community — Northfield and St. Olaf and Carleton and our schools in this community — all pulling together to create a better tomorrow.”


Sights in Northfield

Sharing Our Roots had a table at the event, and we learned about the expansion since our story with them in 2020 (then called Main Street Project). They are including wetlands restoration as well as crops. There are nearly two dozen farmers — mostly immigrant- and women-led — now sharing farm space.

A cause-focused store on Main Street

Our magazine at The Sketchy Artist in downtown Northfield

After replenishing our magazine stock at Just Foods Co-op, we left the city to a deep sunset

This is Minnesota Badass members in motion.

Thanks to member Barbara Vaile who reached out about this Northfield event.

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