Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October Ovation

Yesterday morning, I opened up the Bangor Daily News to see that Ilze Petersons of the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine has won an award from the University of Maine as an inspiring woman. (Here's the story.)

I felt an immediate pang of guilt, followed by a burst of elation. The guilt I'll explain in a bit. I was elated because right then I knew what I'd write about today as my contribution to October Ovation, a blog round-up organized by 2k8er Barrie Summy and her cohort Laramie . We're all supposed to write about someone we admire. I was having trouble choosing.

So why the guilt?

I don't know Ilze Petersons. I think I talked to her on the phone once when I was a reporter. For at least a decade, however, I have believed that I would be happier and finer if I were the kind of person who did know the Ilze Petersons of this world. Watching the days tick by in which I still do not know Ilze Petersons, I feel uneasy.

Is this admiration or just self-castigation? For a New England Puritan, I'm not sure there's a difference.

Ms. Petersons has been the coordinator of the Bangor-based Peace and Justice Center for 15 years. The center gets involved in all sorts of causes--opposition to the war in Iraq has been the big one in recent years, but also environmental and social justice issues. Upcoming events include "Considering Democracy: Eight Things to Ask Your Representative" and "Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash."

It's not so much that I agree with the PJC, although I usually do. Nor is it that I approve of their rhetoric, which I sometimes don't. What excites admiration is the fact that Ilze Petersons and her colleagues keep this stuff going even though they're in Bangor, Maine, rather than, say, Berkeley, California.

Maine's Second District, which includes Bangor and my little town, recently has been targeted as a place that might vote for McCain/Palin. Sarah Palin is doing a quick stop at the Bangor airport this week, and her husband was here a few days ago. It ain't easy being an Ilze Petersons in an environment like this. People think you're misguided or nuts or an international conspirator or from Vermont.

And she's been walking around being this particular Ilze Petersons, day in and day out, for 15 years. FIFTEEN YEARS! Nobody holds a job that long, especially when a healthy segment of the population routinely distrusts your motives.

Ms. Petersons is not the only person around here who is capable of making those around her instantly happy and fine. Sister Lucy Poulin, who founded H.O.M.E., is another one, along with just about everyone who works with her.

But I don't want to cheat. One ovation per customer, please.


debra said...

It's the folks who walk their talk every day that are heroes, aren't they? Sometimes the quietest people have the most to say.

Anonymous said...

These people who say it out loud, calmly and strongly, in their own small community amaze me almost more than those who say it from a podium in front of thousands of people they don't know.

Just as brave, if not more.

Nice post.

Barrie said...

I think I could use an Ilze Petersons in my life too. Loved the line about being from Vermont! Thanks for joining in, Ellen!

Patti said...

i stand in your ovation as well.

Larramie said...

One's physical location doesn't matter as long as your heart is in the right place.

Gabriele Goldstone said...

It's all about believing in something enough to work on it. Interesting post. Thanks!

Shari Green said...

Definitely an inspiring woman! Thanks for sharing this. :)

Jeannine Atkins said...

Hi, Ellen,
It was great to meet you in South Hadley today. I love the cover of the Unnameables and look forward to reading it -- hope to post the 2K8 picture on my blog and write about the books soon or um soon-ish. It's at

Good luck with your launching!

Jeannine Atkins said...

Hi, Ellen -- I don't know if you'd get my reply on LJ, so I came here to thank you for posting. It was great to meet you, too! You did inspire me to write a library post today! And I'm still hoping for some reason to get to Brooklin. When I told Dina at the other table about it, she sounded already to come up too and gawk at White-trod trails.

I can't wait to read your book, but a few other things have to come between. Meanwhile, several friends said they love the cover. Hey, that's a start!
Jeannine Atkins