A couple of weeks ago, I traveled back to my home state to accept an award on behalf of the Center for Progressive Reform. The first-ever De Prey Peace Awards, named for Sheboygan, Wisconsin, peace activist Ceil De Prey, honor individuals and organizations whose work, volunteerism, and advocacy contribute to peace, a stronger democracy, and a better, more inclusive world for future generations.
Over the course of her life, De Prey has advocated for peace and worked to improve the lives of those around her. This included her past work as a medical researcher and volunteer efforts in every community she lived in. In just one example, for many years, First Congregational United Church of Christ of Sheboygan served what it called “Ceil’s Meal,” which brought together area residents from all walks of life to share meals. Many of the dishes featured at the events were based on De Prey’s own recipes. De Prey is also a cancer and stroke survivor.
The De Prey Peace Awards were coordinated by the local Giving Back Campaign to preserve De Prey’s legacy, and they were presented in conjunction with her 87th birthday celebration on March 19.
While the Center for Progressive Reform’s mission and vision do not specifically mention peacemaking, there is a connection between peace and the work we do. That through-line is a strong, effective democracy.
As we've seen in Eastern Europe since late February, strong, effective democracies are essential to peace. That's because autocracies like Russia tend toward oppression, violence, and war. That's not to say that democracies are inherently peaceful, because we know of too many that are not. But the difference is that democracies include mechanisms that make it possible for people to rise up, speak out, and make change – and move their democracies down a more peaceful path.
At the Center for Progressive Reform, part of our mission is to hold our government accountable, demanding strong, effective democracy. We believe that governments — from local levels to state and federal — must work on behalf of the people writ large, rather than on behalf of powerful special interests or the wealthy elite. Our governments must create opportunities for all voices to be heard, included, and taken seriously. They must work to ensure that the policies they pass on climate change, air and water pollution, and more benefit everyone and leave no one behind. And they must work to address and correct the injustices inflicted upon historically marginalized communities through the undue burdens of air pollution, water pollution, climate change, and more.
As an organization, we strive for climate justice, strong public protections, and a responsive government that works on behalf of the people, and it is an honor to have received the inaugural De Prey Peace Award.
In addition to the Center, awards were granted to De Prey, the Above and Beyond Children's Museum (which also hosted the awards ceremony), Ebenezer United Church of Christ of Sheboygan, the Friends of Peace Park Sheboygan, the Sheboygan Peace House, and the local chapter of the United Church Men and Women.
We are deeply moved by the award and are grateful to the local community for its generous donation to our organization so we may continue to move our government along the path toward a stronger, more peaceful democracy.
De Prey Peace Award video courtesy of Kevin Gumm. Climate justice sign by Bob Fleming.