This week, during the Veterans for Peace Conference, VFP awarded Pace e Bene co-founder Fr. Louie Vitale their Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award. Below is the transcript by Will Covert introducing Fr. Louie. Congrats Louie! Check out the recent book of Louie’s writings on peace and nonviolence here.
Good evening, my name is Will Covert and I am very proud to say that I am a lifetime member of Veterans For Peace.
I’m here this evening to present the Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award the most prestigious award Veterans For Peace can award. This award is bestowed annually upon an individual who, during their lifetime, has made significant, ongoing, and outstanding contributions to the cause of Peace. The recipient of this year’s award will join a select group of individuals who, since 2012, have received this award. In that year it was bestowed upon Ellen Murphy for her lifelong commitment to Peace and Justice. The following year it was given to Bradley Manning, now Chelsea Manning, for distinguishing between right and wrong and then, having the courage to do the right thing. In 2014 it was presented to Wayne Whitman of Veterans for Peace, Chapter 27, Minneapolis, Minnesota for his lifelong activism in both the Peace and Justice and Labor movements. Last year Col. Ann Wright was the recipient of the 2015 award. No one even remotely associated with the Peace and Justice Movements in this country or overseas could deny Ann Wrights’ commitment to the cause of Peace and Justice. Please join me in giving these past recipients of the award a big hand.
Now on to the matter at hand, the presentation of this year’s 2016 Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award. The recipient of this award should be an individual who is deserving to join the ranks of those former recipients. The recipient should also have a significant and lifelong commitment to the cause of Peace and Justice. So with close to 50 year of activism at home and abroad the recipient of this year’s award has been on an unwavering quest for Peace and Justice for decades. However, his quest for Peace and Justice, as with the other recipients of this award, is sought through nonviolence. Seeking Peace and Justice by any means is one thing, seeking Peace and Justice through Nonviolence is quite another. In a land where the predominant thought on violence and on war is that violence will triumph over nonviolence and that there always have been wars and that there always will be wars, seeking Peace and Justice through Nonviolence is somewhat analogous to Ginger Rogers statement about dancing; that is, doing it backwards and in high heels. I’m not suggesting to you that this years recipient of the achievement award wears heels but, I know him well enough to say that if he thought it would bring him closer to his objective, to a just and peaceful world, he’d where high heels, and without question.
An associate and mentor of this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award is Daniel Berrigan who lent credence to the concept of nonviolence overcoming violence when he said, “Nonviolence is not only the way we win, it is the only way we can win.” And then to add a touch of humor to truth, Daniel continued, “And besides, they have all the tanks and I don’t even have one.”
There is no one more qualified to be the recipient the 2016 Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award than Father Louie Vitale.
So who is this person, this Father Louie Vitale, who is to receive the most prestigious award that Veterans For Peace has to offer in 2016. He is a good man and a man of good thoughts. However, being a good man and a man of good thoughts is not nearly good enough for Father Louie. Good actions, now we’re talking Louie’s language. Nonviolent actions in the pursuit of Peace and Justice creates change. As was once said by Cesar Chavez, another of Louie’s associates and mentor, “Anyone could be nonviolent in a monastery… what’s difficult is to be nonviolent in the cause, in the battle for social justice.” And that is where Father Louie Vitale excels; taking it to the streets. You can always find him on the frontlines of any action advocating Peace and Justice through Nonviolence. His 2, 3, or 400 arrests for civil disobedience will attest to that fact.
As an aside, no one actually knows how many times Louie has been arrested, least of all Louie. But somewhere between the 200 to 400 arrest attributed to him is where the real Fr. Louie Vitale leaves off and the myth of Fr. Louie begins.
I would like to recount an experience I had with Louie a few years back. First let say that I have been involved in actions with Fr. Louie throughout this country: in Chicago when he received his honorary doctorate degree from Catholic Theological Union; in upstate New York at a presentation by Professor Dr. Norman Finkelstein; in Oakland, California at the Occupy Oakland Port; in Georgia on numerous occasions at Fort Benning for the SOA Watch; in Santa Fe, New Mexico for Sack Cloth and Ashes; in Las Vegas for the Nevada Desert Experience; in New York and Washington, DC; Palestine; Israel; and Cairo.
This particular incident took place in Cairo during the Gaza Freedom March in late December 2009. We were members of one of Scott Kennedy’s last delegations to the Middle East and we had just moved from a hotel on one side of the Nile River to a hostel on the other side of the river. The delegation was housed in a hostel on the sixth floor overlooking Tahrir Square. You remember Tahrir Square. It was the focus for the Arab Spring which took place a couple of months later.
I was having a bad day for some reason. It was just one of those days that wasn’t going well and something or someone becomes the object of the bad day frustrations and for me it was the inch or so of standing water in the shower. This was a very clean hostel but the plumbing must not have been up to par which left this water in the shower. So I’m complaining to Fr. Louie and he is listening attentively and when I was done he went on his way. Well, a few minutes later Fr. Louie shows up with a pair of flip flops for me. He had gone out and bought them off a vendor in downtown Cairo.
Other than feeling very humble and about two inches taller I learned a valuable lesson that day. I learned what it meant to be a caring and compassionate person, a caring and compassionate man.
So now when I find that I’m too full of myself I think back to that day and remember that I too, can be a caring and compassionate man.
No one better exemplifies living the mission and responsibilities of a Veteran For Peace, as is expressed in VFP’s Statement of Purpose, than does our own Father Louie. I would like to read that statement for you now. As I read, please keep in mind the Father Louie you are familiar with, the Fr. Louie you know. I think you’ll find that by his actions you’ll recognize Fr. Louie in every line of our statement of purpose.
It goes like this:
We, having dutifully served our nation, do hereby affirm our greater responsibility to serve the cause of world peace. To this end we will work with others,
• To increase public awareness of the costs of war
• To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations
• To end the arms race and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons
• To seek justice for veterans and victims of war
• To abolish war as an instrument of national policy.
To achieve these goals, members of Veterans For Peace pledge to use nonviolent means and to maintain an organization that is both democratic and open with the understanding that all members are trusted to act in the best interests of the group for the larger purpose of world peace.
I am certain that when Vincent Van Gogh penned the following quote he was speaking about himself, however, I am equally certain that he had Father Louie Vitale in mind when he wrote, “I am seeking. I am striving. I am in it with all my heart.”
On behalf of Veterans For Peace it is both my privilege and my honor to present to you, Father Louie Vitale the recipient of the 2016 Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award.
– William Covert
The following poem was written and read for Louie by Fred Norman during the event as well…
Many words describe Father Louie:
Peace is one; Commitment is another.
Add marching, protesting, demonstrating
For just causes to the list — for ending war,
For ending Man’s inhumanity to Man,
For ending Man’s inhumanity to children,
For ending Man’s inhumanity to women,
For trying to change Man’s Evil into Grace.
For our own salvation, we must join him:
We must don the flowing robes of Peace
To warm our bodies as he warms our souls,
From jail, for yes, it is indeed to jail that we
Will go as together we step across the line
That separates Peace from War, Human
From Beast, Our Nation from Base Nation.
We must not leave him alone as martyr —
We must renew the Principles of Peace,
His Principles that must be our Principles,
That Pledge of 8 in which the nouns forever
Change but the message forever remains
The same, that Message of Peace: Pace, Pace
e Bene, Peace and Goodness be with you,
Peace and Goodness be with him, and it is,
Peace and Goodness be with us, and it will be.
Fred Norman, Chapters 069 and 162,
and all of us in Veterans For Peace