Karen Porter, founder of the Chester County Peace Movement and community organizer with Organizing for America, spoke to West Chester University students on Tuesday evening, April 12, about her passionate vision for peace, support for the anti-war movement and the controversy that accompanies peace protests. Every Saturday afternoon for the past eight years, Porter and the Chester County Peace Movement has held vigils on the corner of Market and High St. in downtown West Chester. An opposition group of conservative supporters of military action has since formed. They go by the name of the Chester County Victory Movement.
“They think because we are anti-war that we are also anti-military, but that’s not true. Several of our members are decorated veterans,” Porter said. According to Porter, emotions run high at these gatherings and police intervention has been used to avoid potential violence. The situation is now mediated by the American Civil Liberties Union. She said the two groups must alternate corners weekly to keep a distance and avoid any physical threats.
For Porter, it all began in 2002 after receiving news of a potential war between the United States and Iraq, following the September 11 attacks. She founded the Chester County Peace Movement in 2003 and began her work as a peace activist in Chester County. “I looked at my 14 year old son and said ‘there’s no way they are making him serve in this war.’ I saw no relation; to me it made as much sense as invading Iceland or Zimbabwe,” Porter said.
She attended an anti-war protest in Washington D.C. following the declaration of war.
“You would think that half a million people marching would get as much press as Libya or Egypt are getting these days, but we didn’t. We were not very popular. Pro-war enthusiasm was everywhere in America and we were drowned out,” Porter said in response to the ‘lack of media coverage’.
In addition to her anti-violence values, she attributes much of the United States’ financial deficit to the war and ‘the government’s refusal to cut defense spending.’ “We have cut things like social security spending and feeding the homeless out of the budget to pour it into the rat holes of Afghanistan and Iraq. We can’t afford this war,” Porter said.
In addition to her involvement with the Chester County Peace Movement, Porter contributes to Organizing for America, a national organization responsible for supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Through the use of a ‘scientifically conducted campaign’, Porter and two fellow community organizers responsible for Chester County have combed the neighborhood to speak to voters. They work with a formalized process that carefully pre-selects a list of potential supporters and then knock on doors and make phone calls to gain support.
Referencing the three months she spent teaching at Murom Technical Institute in Russia, Porter said that American citizens ‘should feel lucky’ to have the degree of democracy available to them. While teaching seminars on business, economics and crime to help the students improve their English, she said she learned a great deal from the experience.
“While I was there in November 2008 following the presidential elections, a Russian girl said she always knows how theirs will turn out and would give anything to have an election where their votes would actually count,” Porter said.
She pressed the general importance of voting and getting involved within one’s community in order to make a tangible contribution to the country. “Our biggest goal is to educate people,” Porter said. “Voting is just pressing a button. You need to get out there and work for what you support.”
Leah Skye is a third year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at LS685444@wcupa.edu.