Friday, December 16, 2011

From War to Peace in Style and Good Conscience


So what do you do with materials from disarmed nuclear missile systems?

A) Make a statement about the follies and dangers of nuclear weapons.
B) Recycle.
C) Turn them into art.
D) Create shiny, pretty things for people to wear.

The answer is, obviously, E) All of the above. And the company providing that answer is From War to Peace, who offer jewelry, charms, bottle openers, and more as products, and a business model, with a conscience.

Founded by legislator, healthcare entrepreneur, and social justice advocate Paul Ogren and his wife Sandee,who sadly passed away in 2010, From War to Peace is an all-American company dedicated to using their art and jewelry to raise awareness about the need for peace and nuclear disbarment. At the heart of their enterprise is Peace Bronze, which is made using American-mined copper recycled from the thousands of miles of cables connecting missile silos to their command and control center. Using casting foundries both in the US and Mexico, they work with local artisans to create the beautiful peace-themed products.

If that isn’t green enough for you, consider that they also used recycled paper for their packaging and, when plastic is needed, biodegradable plastics. And if promoting peace by turning the components of weapons of mass destruction into objects of beauty isn’t enough, they donate 20% of their profits to organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Peace Now (Shalom Achshav), the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, and others.

I happened to come across Paul, a very friendly guy, at his From War to Peace booth at the Green Festival LA last October, and I was struck by how beautiful and high-quality the jewelry was...and affordable.

For myself, I bought a pendant with the Japanese kanji character for peace, “the only nation on earth to embrace a pacifist constitution” and “also the only nation ever subjected to the horrors of nuclear weapons in war.”  The design is by Jason Main and consists of red enamel on peace bronze.It’s just the sort of product that embodies what I, as a fashionista, want from I buy: local manufacture, environmental consideration, and a business that aims to use its success for the social as well as individual good. And it looks great.




 Eager to delve a bit deeper into what drives From War to Peace, I eMailed Paul for an interview.

Paul Ogren
Making and selling jewelry is quite a change from legislating and founding community colleges...beyond the fact that the opportunity to create jewelry existed given all that copper, what made you decide to try such a different approach to effecting social change?
Occasionally - if we're lucky - we have ideas which grab us. Those ideas are life's gift, combining - at their best - intellectual curiosity and heart. I've been grabbed by such ideas a few times in my life, and by and large they shape my passions and the direction my life has taken.
From War to Peace is such an idea, and came to me one day about four years ago when my niece asked me to sing the bass in an old Hebrew hymn. The words of the hymn are quite simple, and are drawn from Micah & Isaiah in the Old Testament: 
And every man, 'neath his vine and fig tree, shall live in peace and unafraid. And into plowshares turn their swords, nations shall know war no more.
I sang it, and knew instantly that I would spend the rest of my life finding those swords and transforming them into symbols of peace.
FWTP is also - at least in part - an opportunity to expiate my sins. Here's what I mean: after 9-11, I, like far too many others, reacted with fear and anger, and supported going to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Clearly, George W. was not the only idiot operating in America at the time! In any event I realized quickly what a foolish and brutal face America was turning to our world, and resolved to try affecting change any way I could.
Like many folks, I worked hard in an electoral context, and thought we had won a significant victory in electing a peace president, Barack Obama, in 2008. It is almost inconceivable to me that one so clearly brilliant, who spoke with such extraordinary clarity and love in the course of that campaign, should have turned out to be such an impossibly weak leader. We (America) are spending over 25% more on military and war today than we ever did under the recent Bush presidency.
Peace bronze jewelry offers a great way for people to promote their dedication to peace...but what comes after that? Obviously, From War to Peace encourages a smarter kind of consumerism rooted in social ideals that are, sadly, all too lacking in our politics these days. And it's great to read about how you donate 20% of your profits to various social justice organizations. But how would you like your customers to go from wearing your jewelry to becoming active agents of change?
We (FWTP) are developing a companion website to our commercial venture. We call it The Peace Front (www.thepeacefront.com), and it is dedicated to connecting folks to other like-minded individuals who share their commitment to creating a better world. To that end we are linking all peace, social justice, environmental, and economic justice organizations we can find in our world in a single location, and we have begun to actively recruit folks from our commercial website to engage in broader activism. The recent Occupy movement is eloquent in its expression of rage and sorrow, but it needs to translate into genuine, widespread social change. The Peace Front will be shaped more fully as we move into 2012.
Are there any legislators, State or Federal, wearing From War to Peace jewelry? I could easily picture Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich wearing your pieces...but how wonderful would it be if other members of Congress and other political bodies expressed their commitment to nuclear disarmament?
Thus far no politicians - to my knowledge - are wearing FWTP jewelry, nor have we actively encouraged them to do so. I am, however, sending former President Bill Clinton several pieces of our jewelry in the coming days. He, more than any other American leader, actively engaged in Nuclear disarmament, and with extraordinary results. Our world has eliminated half of all worldwide nuclear warheads in recent decades, largely as a result of Clinton's efforts. God knows, however, that we still have enough warheads left to blow us all to hell several times over, so there is much work still to do.  
I was hugely disappointed in the utter lack of debate on issues of War & Peace in the recent 2010 federal elections. It appeared that all incumbent politicians - Republicans and Democrats alike - were marching in lockstep to the beat of the Military Industrial drummer. Let's pray that the 2012 elections demand the renewal of this debate.
In addition to pendants and bracelets, you also offer key chains, wine bottle stoppers, even Beers Not Bombs bottle openers. How did you evolve your collection? How do you work with artisans to develop new designs?
I am always actively recruiting artists and designers with ideas that will translate into From War to Peace offerings. Ideally those offering will resonate with peace, but peace in a fairly broad sense. Joy, humor, light, love, music and nature all express peace. Thus far we have worked with three different artists: Jason Main of San Luis Obispo, Jack Biesek of See Canyon, and Mary Rose O'Leary of Eagle Rock, all of them Californians. 
I am particularly thankful to a British artist named Gerald Holtom, who designed what we now call the Peace Sign for our world's first significant anti-nuclear weapon march in 1958, from London to Aldermaston in England. The peace sign incorporates the semaphores for the letters N and D, wrapped in a circle, and was created as the symbol of Nuclear Disarmament.
The peace sign was brought out of England to the U.S. several years later by the wonderful American civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, and has become our world's universal symbol of peace. Mr. Holtom left his work intentionally in the public domain, so that it might be used by all those who share his commitment to a more peaceful world. I am delighted that From War to Peace has been able to bring Holtom's symbol full circle, actually casting our Peace Signs from disarmed nuclear weapon systems. While Mr. Holtom himself has long since died, I am delighted that his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren wear From War to Peace created Peace Signs today in his memory.
Finally, what can we look forward to in From War to Peace's future?
From War to Peace has been actively creating and selling its art for about one year thus far, and we are hugely ambitious. Our work is now sold in about a hundred stores in the U.S. and Canada. By the end of 2012 we hope to be in over a thousand stores worldwide. For many decades now the primary American export to the world has been militant aggression. Our hope is that From War to Peace becomes the new American face shown our world: one that turns weapons meant to destroy us into art meant to restore us, designed and created entirely in the United States of America from recycled weapons of war.
This next year we will begin incorporating precious and semi-precious stones in our designs, casting cuff bracelets, brooches, pins, and rings, and alloying our copper recycled from nuclear weapon systems - along with recycled gold - in the creation of a wonderful new Peace Gold form of rose gold. We hope to increase our network of artists and jewelry designers substantially. Our design dreams are bound only by beauty and imagination.
We have also begun working with some terrific American peace activists on the creation of two heroic scaled sculptures dedicated to the Peace Gardens located in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. These sculptures will be cast from Peace Bronze, the alloy created from disarmed American nuclear weapon systems, and will be a simple gift of love from the people of the United States to the people of Japan - the only nation on earth ever subjected to the horror of nuclear weapons in war. We hope to complete this project for installation in 2014.
And there you have it. Beautiful jewelry that eases rather than hinders the conscience. Visit www.fromwartopeace.com to learn more about the company and see more of their catalog.

Many thanks to Paul Ogren for taking the time to answer my questions!

Note: All images, except the one of me wearing the pendant, are borrowed from FWTP’s website with Paul’s kind permission.



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