As a membership organization, members make decisions about program and board representation. More than that, we are a community of people working together for justice and peace, learning together and organizing educational opportunities, and holding land in trust. At our last Annual Meeting in November 2019, members identified programs for the coming year. Of most interest was to learn about the massacres perpetrated against the original inhabitants of this land, known as “King Philip’s War.” Voluntown’s name came from Volunteer Town for the colonists who volunteered to fight against the Native inhabitants.
During the pandemic the board and members who expressed interest in this exploration engaged in conversations with Indigenous people in the area, especially with Narragansett members of Status Purple and Native Green who have come to the Peace Trust for their own workshops. There were a number of socially distanced in person meetings which lead to the board inviting Randy Noka, a Narragansett Tribal Elder, to become a board member. Last week the circle grew as 18 people, Peace Trust members and Narragansett Tribal members gathered.
We discussed the origins of the name “Voluntown”. As a Peace Trust that opposes war and the attempted elimination of the Indigenous people of this land, we agreed to consider a more appropriate name. We need to decolonize, to denumb ourselves from the violence and genocide that has been our history. To learn from Indigenous voices, not the narrative of the victors. To preserve the land, to heal the damage done. Learning from the Indigenous teachings of the Medicine Wheel, we discussed our need to walk on the healing path, a spiritual journey of reflection, creation, and education.
We will continue this discussion at the Annual Membership Meeting.
The plans we made at the last Annual Membership Meeting were changed when we had to shut the facilities due to the pandemic. We created online workshops, and worked with partner organizations to do additional online programs and organize demonstrations. We used our communication resources to promote this work and offer educational articles.
In the past year and a half there has been a collective effort to finish the renovations on Swann House. As reported, a number of people stepped in. Money was raised to pay for materials.
CORE PROGRAMS 2020 - 2021 REPORT Land Stewards - Peter Nightingale The garden continues to be planted by a number of people and it look great. Jim MacBride maintains the field and any trees that need attention and Nancy Kwasnik has been doing post-storm pick up of the trails. The Labyrinth was recently cleaned up by the Halloween wedding party and looks well-cared for.
Hartford Catholic Worker’s Summer Program - Jackie Allen-Doucot The past two summers Covid gutted our plans to hold Camp Ahimsa with all of the kids from North Hartford. Instead, we decided to once again open up the Ahimsa space for our families. It was a pleasure to offer the beautiful space to 8 of our families. This year wWe were also able to host a week for our "old school" graduates. It was a fabulous week for the over 21 crew of folks who were once Green House counselors to come and enjoy some reunion space (vaccinated only!). They helped us complete 2 murals for the backyard space at the Green House dedicated to nonviolence.
We were blessed to have some love from a few communities that support our regular camp. The Knights of Columbus came to complete the counselor cabin dedicated to Juanita Nelson. They spent time at the end of August building bunk beds and a few much-needed picnic tables. The Columbiettes from Jewett City who normally come on Monday nights with dinner, dessert, and fellowship collected funds to give each of the families a gift card to Town Pizza for a dinner out!
We are grateful to Todd for coming to fix the toilet, Nancy Kwasnick for helping with transitions and Micah Allen Doucot for staining the cabin and new tables. We are already planning to hold Camp Ahimsa for our vaccinated children this coming summer and are very grateful for the generous people who make that possible.
Cooperative for Nonviolent Action - Joanne Sheehan and Daz Park In 2021, as people became vaccinated, we felt more comfortable holding some in-person events again. We started the year with a public celebration of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in downtown New London. In March, VPT Board President Joanne Sheehan participated in a webinar about Barbara Deming, which was organized by the UMass Resistance Studies Initiative and which VPT co-sponsored. Come summer, we were back in the streets: first in May to urge President Biden to “cut military spending and rebuild local communities” while he was giving the commencement address at the New London Coast Guard Academy; then in August to urge New Londoners and especially EB engineers to learn about the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and to critically reconsider the logic of our government’s nuclear strategy. In October, local activist and filmmaker Constance Kristofik (founder of OutCT) interviewed Joanne Sheehan and Daz Park (VPT Communications, Country Queers of SECT) for a new film on the LGBTQ history of New London. And earlier this November, we had a small meeting with Narragansett tribal members and VPT community members on how to best respect the land and its Indigenous heritage. So far in 2021, we have had one webinar and at least three in-person protests, plus a few other small events.
All of these programs were sponsored, hosted, and/or organized in conjunction with other groups. Other than the organizations already mentioned, frequent collaborating groups include: St. Francis House of New London, the Hartford Catholic Worker, New England War Resisters League, the CT Committee for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and more. The co-sponsorship with other organizations is purposeful and important as it allows our groups to organically grow our audiences, connect our issues to each other, and build momentum into a greater social movement.
March 2020: Counter-recruitment Workshop with UConn YDSA A workshop about the basics of counter-recruitment and strategizing of implementing a counter-recruitment effort at UConn. Coordinated with the UConn Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA). Held in-person at UConn. Attendees: 8
April - May 2020: Nonviolent Social Change in the Time of COVID-19
4/17 “Beyond COVID-19”
4/24 “Personal Resilience”
4/29 "Warheads to Windmills: The Nuclear Ban Treaty and the Green New Deal"
5/8 "How Can We Be Effective?"
5/15 "Principled Practical Programs"
5/22 "Community Economics"
A series of discussions to keep up participation and momentum in important social causes during the first months of the pandemic lockdown. All workshops were co-sponsored by the New England War Resisters League and St. Francis House. “Warheads to Windmills” was also coordinated with NuclearBan.us, the Center for Nonviolent Solutions in Worcester, MA, and US Representative Jim McGovern. Held online over Zoom. Attendees: 14
August 2020: The Nashville Campaign Workshop A workshop for POC & white-allies new to activism & organizing using the model of the Nashville campaign which became a major spreader of the Civil Rights Movement. Held online over Zoom. Coordinated with the New England War Resisters League. Attendees: 12
October 2020: Preventing a Coup (two workshops) Two online workshops to address threats to the 2020 election, how to get involved in the defense of election integrity, analyses of election scenarios and responses, history of thwarted coups, de-escalation, safety, nonviolent resistance, and relevant national and local resources. Coordinated with the New England War Resisters League. Also connected to Choose Democracy, Protect the Results, and The Frontline. Held online over Zoom. Attendees: 12
January 2021: UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons A public demonstration of support for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which had just been put into force that month, and a show of gratitude to the 51 governments around the world who had already ratified the treaty. Organized by the CT Committee for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which includes: the Green Party of Connecticut, the New England War Resisters League, St. Francis House of New London, and the Voluntown Peace Trust. Held along the sidewalks of Howard St in New London. Attendees: 38
March 2021: The Revolutionary Nonviolence of Barbara Deming: Two Handed Practices A talk by Ynestra King & Joanne Sheehan, Joanne focused on Barbara Deming’s introduction to nonviolence by coming to a Committee for Nonviolence and Peacemakers Training in New London in 1960. Her commitment led her and her partner Mary Meigs to donating the money to buy the farm in Voluntown. Organized by UMass Resistance Studies Initiative, co-sponsored by several groups including VPT. Co-sponsored by the War Resisters League, Voluntown Peace Trust, and the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. Held online over Zoom.
May 2021: “Cut military spending and rebuild local communities” A public demonstration to urge President Biden to cut military spending and invest in covid recovery, general infrastructure recovery, and more public services. Many Muslim allies from other CT cities came to speak their minds. Organized by the Committee for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and the Connecticut Peace and Solidarity Committee. Held at McKinley Park outside the US Coast Guard Academy during their commencement ceremony in New London. Attendees: 130
August 2021: US Bombing of Hiroshima 76th Anniversary A public demonstration of mourning for the victims of history’s first nuclear strike and a show of support for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Organized by the CT Committee for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons consisting of War Resisters League, Voluntown Peace Trust, St. Francis House, Hartford Catholic Worker, and CT Green Party. Held at the corners of Bank & Howard St in New London. Attendees: 20
October 2021: Constance Kristofik LGBTQ interview An interview with Joanne Sheehan (who has a long history with CNVA and VPT) and Daz Park (Country Queers of SECT) for New London Landmarks about the LGBTQ history of New London. There is special interest in Bayard Rustin and Barbara Deming, early CNVA activists. Whose LGBTQ identities in part shaped their politics and values. Coordinated by Constance Kristofik founder of OutCT. Held at the VPT Gandhi Reading Room. Attendees: 3
COMMUNICATIONS REPORT - Daz Park
Between 2020 and 2021, our mailing list and general email engagement showed modest growth. VPT Voice, our monthly newsletter, has engagement levels comparable to other nonprofits of our size. Our non-newsletter emails enjoy slightly higher rates of engagement, which may imply that perhaps we should promote our newsletters more as the primary communications organ.
“A Peace of History” posts on Facebook, which are sent out every Thursday, vary in their engagement levels, and they are not an efficient use of time as we have been doing them. Starting in December 2021, we will start posting “clippings” of the old CNVA newsletters for our “A Peace of History” posts instead. We will also start hosting the posts exclusively on our website and post the links to those posts on social media instead of the full text; in this way, we can promote our own history in a more focused way, spend far less time on inconsistently effective posts, and drive more traffic to our website.
From data collected in online workshops, at protests and other in-person events, and through our digital communications platforms, it appears that the top interest topics for our community members are: 1) resistance to nuclear arms proliferation; and 2) antiracism, especially related to correcting historical violence against BIPOC.
We have a few communications challenges to address in the next year:
Make sure that everyone who should be on our mailing list is actually on there (e.g. Peace Geezers, past CNVA people, groups who have used VPT facilities like Hearing Youth Voices, etc.)
Continue to increase active engagement from our audience by email, social media, and both online and in-person events
Effectively translate higher engagement into more donor funds
Mailchimp Emails Mailchimp Demographics
635 are subscribers out of 779 total email contacts
15% of our subscribers engage with our emails often
13% of our subscribers engage with our emails sometimes
59% of our subscribers engage with our emails rarely
Top locations (based on IP addresses when contacts interact with our emails/signup forms)
Facebook Group 2021: 493 members, 293 active members, 65 new members, 247 posts
Most popular day: Monday
Age & gender (of 502 total likes)
18-24: 0.8% F, 1.1% M, 1.9% total
25-34: 9.5% F, 5.7% M, 15.7% total
35-44: 18.7% F, 6.5% M, 25.3% total
45-54: 15.6% F, 4.4% M, 19.8% total
55-64: 15.6% F, 4.0% M, 19.6% total
65+:10.3% F, 7.8% M, 18.2% total
Total: 70.5% F, 29.5%
Jewett City, CT7.4%
New London, CT6.2%
A Peace of History 2021
Average # people reached: 145
Average likes & reactions:18
Total likes & reactions:762
Average link clicks:1
Posts with most people reached
626 people: 11/11/2021 — “Excerpts from the Preface of The Militarization of Indian Country by Winona LaDuke”
395 people: 5/20/2021 — “Bombing Bikini Atoll: the First Nuclear Diaspora”
258 people: 6/3/2021 — “The Golden Rule: the First Protest Ship”
207 people: 11/4/2021 — “Revisiting the Removal of John Mason’s Statue”
186 people: 8/26/2021 — “Survival in Nuclear War a Vanishing Probability, Pt. 2”
Posts with most likes & reactions
50 likes & reactions: 3/18/2021 — “Asian-American Women and Civil Rights”
45 likes & reactions: 4/15/2021 — “Vietnam Veterans Against the War: When They Threw Their Medals Away”
42 likes & reactions: 11/11/2021 — “Excerpts from the Preface of The Militarization of Indian Country by Winona LaDuke”
40 likes & reactions: 1/28/2021 — “The Continental Walk for Disarmament and Social Justice”
37 likes & reactions: 2/4/2021 — “Rosa Parks & the Highlander Folk School
NATURE CONNECTION REPORT - Nancy Kwasnik
Nature Connection is a homeschool program based out of VPT. Our caretaker Nancy Kwasnik leads homeschool students ranging from ages 5 to 18 into the woods at VPT to learn about nature, traditional arts & crafts, and more. As a VPT-sponsored program, Nature Connection pays $15 / week instead of the usual $50 / week rental fee.
In October, three Narragansett guest experts, Bella Noka, her son Norman, and Mike came to teach the kids a little about the traditional Narragansett ceremonial arbor. Norman led the kids out into the woods, taught them how to find good logs for support posts, dig holes for the posts, build the side walls from long branches, arrange the upper lattice structure, and put up boughs of white pine on the lattice to serve as a roof. They then cleared a path leading up to the arbor and laid down the remaining branches and logs on the borders of the path.
Ahimsa is primarily taken care of by the Hartford Catholic Worker, who reported on repairs and the new cabin named for Juanita Nelson who spent time here with CNVA in the sixties and with Equity Trust and Chuck Matthei in the nineties.
Chuck’s Cabin has been rented many times in the past two years, serving as a retreat space during the pandemic. A small kitchenette was installed to make that possible.
Danbury, which is the shed and pump house, still needs to be dealt with. In February 2020 Bob Bady, an activist carpenter from Western Mass who has spent time at the peace trust, inspected it and came up with a number of options that were all dependent on assembling a crew of workers. With the pandemic, those plans have been put on hold.This year our priority was the Swann House. Facilities - This work is coordinated and done by several people - Nancy Kwasnik, Jim MacBride, the Hartford Catholic Worker and Joanne Sheehan. There is presently no Facilities Committee or point person.
The Main House needs to be painted. The outside paint is peeling, exposing the wood.
The Muste Center has been rented only a few times in the past two years. Nancy K kept up with COVID protocols for use There is still not a working kitchen. Jack Palin purchased an institutional stove which needs to be installed with a hood and pass inspection. The floors in the kitchen and two bathrooms still need to be laid.. (We have the tiles..) The furnace recently stopped working. To save money and fossil fuel (it can take nearly two tanks of propane to keep the pipes from freezing) , and to give us time to work on long term plans, It was decided to put antifreeze in the pipes and drain the toilets. We will use heaters in the library to protect the books from dampness. We have few rentals over the winter, and none with the pandemic. So it may be a long term solution to close Muste for the winter months.
Operations and Personnel - Rick Gaumer (Janet Minella-Didier is no longer able to continue on this committee.)
Regarding Operations - Caretaker Nancy Kwasnik consults the committee when there are specific requests regarding use of the facilities (i.e. longer term rentals). Rick is also responsible for writing contracts when needed. He is also consulted regarding aspects of the facilities.
Regarding Personnel - The committee is responsible for coordinating Personnel reviews for Nancy Kwasnik, reporting to the board, getting direction from the board, and meeting with Nancy. A review was done in 2021, with the board agreeing to sign a contract through 2022. Nancy and her daughters have lived here for 11 years this January. Nancy has been a good steward of the land, and for many years has shared her love of the land with homeschooled kids through Nature Connection. We appreciate her presence and her care taking.
Swann House renovations are almost complete! By the beginning of the pandemic it was clear that our contractor was not going to finish the work. Jim MacBride stepped in, doing what he could do and bringing in skilled contractors where needed. In October 2020, Nancy and Jim MacBride organized a day to repaint the exterior of Swann House. Then, from May to July 2021, more volunteers from the community and the Country Queers of SECT worked to paint the upstairs bedrooms, deep-clean the interior of the building and all of the windows and screens, repair parts of the walls and ceilings, repaint the interior walls, and replace old furniture and appliances. A contractor needing to do community service completed the painting downstairs and the floors. About two dozen total volunteers working over several days throughout the last two years have gotten us here. We still need a stove hood. And to pass inspections.
The Yurt has also been rented. However, the base has sunk and the door is now ajar. Repairs need to be made. It also has a small kitchenette.
BOARD & STAFFING Program Reps Jackie Allen-Doucot, Vice-Chair (Hartford Catholic Worker) Daz Park, Secretary (Cooperative for Nonviolent Action) Peter Nightingale (Land Stewards)
VPT Member Reps Kathleen Rowe Joanne Sheehan, Chair Attaquin Weeden-Machado
Community Member Reps Bishop John Selders (Moral Monday CT) Randy Noka (Narragansett Tribal Elder) [seat currently vacant]
Staffing Nancy Kwasnik, Resident Caretaker Sky Hall, Bookkeeper Daz Park, Media & Outreach