A Tribute to Woman Peacemaker Joan Bernstein


An article by Sherry Zitter for Nonviolent Peaceforce

Joan Bernstein — advocate, activist, peacemaker and passionate organizer — was sadly struck with Multiple System Atrophy (a Parkinson-like disease) several years ago that cut short her life’s work of bringing peace to our nation and the world through Nonviolent Peaceforce. Joan died December 19, 2016 at 65 years old.

Joan was the heart and soul of the U.S. and Canadian chapters of NP for many years. She helped organize the founding conference for NP, and later the annual conference of North American chapters. She provided us with vision, inspiration, resources, skills — and the endless belief that we could rise to any challenge. In fact, one of her greatest skills was making us believe that her pet project was our own idea and at the top of our priority list!

I first met Joan when the Boston chapter of NP was in its childhood. We had coalesced around Elise Boulding‘s well-known workshop: “Imaging a World Without War,” which Elise suggested we change to “Imaging a World with Nonviolent Peaceforce Instead of War.” Firmly believing that a society cannot reach a goal until we have a clear vision of it, Elise, at 85, trained several of us to run her workshop under NP’s auspices.

Then Joan came along with a vision of her own: a community training model that would teach ordinary US citizens basic conflict resolution skills while they learned about NP’s work and became inspired to support it. Joan was not a trainer, and asked for volunteer trainers to help write the manual and run pilot workshops. I started out telling her I didn’t have time for this project and ended up spending more hours on it than any other over the next several years!

Joan’s vision of a self-duplicating model of trainings in the US to build support for global NP was smart, and it worked in many ways. Lack of consistent volunteer time and budget constraints slowed the progress of the trainings, but many hundreds of new adherents to NP bought Peace Bonds, contributed regularly, and were able to solve neighborhood or family conflicts better than before. Joan wholeheartedly gave technical and emotional / spiritual support to our cadre of trainers in a consistent and deeply devoted manner.

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Question for this article

Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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Her vision of the Listening Project, where inner city voices were amplified by NP volunteers, was another example of Joan’s endless creativity — and how she got volunteers in many cities around the US to join her on this effort.

Joan’s life and peacework may have been cruelly shortened, but we all can carry it on!

I will long remember what she taught me, and will always miss her.

Joan’s Song

A Woman of Peace, a fighter for change,
A powerful mind with a limitless range,
Holding a vision of the way things could be,
Joan, you leave us a rich legacy.

1. You could have used your brains toward money and power,
Instead you helped justice and equity flower…
Devoted your life to nonviolence and peace,
Our respect for you will never cease! (Chorus)

2. Your dedication to what’s right and true,
Was matched only by Don’s dedication to you,
With no words to guide him, through fatigue and despair,
So loving was his tender care! (Chorus)

3. Delegating to others was your asset so strong —
We thought the idea had been ours all along!
You brought out our best, ‘though I never knew how —
Bet you’ve organized Heaven by now! (Chorus)

4. Your last years were fraught with a sorrow so deep,
Your vital life’s vision you could not complete,
That damn illness silenced the fine work you do,
Now we all must carry on for you! (Chorus)

(Thank you to Janet Hudgins, the CPNN reporter for this article.)