Wheels of Justice bus tour making its rounds

(Pictured making a stop at the St. Francis convent in Little Falls as it makes its way around the country was the Wheels of Justice Bus. From left to right are Sister Merle Nolde, OSB, Sister Adela Gross, OSF, Dan Winters, Sharona Ovrahim, Doug Johnson and Larry Fisk. The bus stopped at the convent on Aug. 22. Staff photo by Sarah Wocken)

Known as the Wheels of Justice Bus Tour, the current tour began in Chicago about a month ago. As a peace activist group, its goal is to offer first-hand experience to challenge and educate Americans about the repercussions of war and occupation both on people abroad and Americans at home. The tour was founded to work at lifting the sanctions on Iraq.

The group’s two main goals are to bring medicine and supplies to Iraq, and to raise an awareness around the U.S. about what the sanctions are doing to Iraqi civilians.

The current tour is hitting a little over 400 cities in the U.S. and part of Canada. Through their sponsors, which are Voices in the Wilderness, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, the present group of three stops at places like the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls where members are trying to advocate peace in their own way.

The tour stopped by the Franciscans’ home on Aug. 22 to give eyewitness accounts on the occupation of Palestine and Iraq. Dan Winters of Colorado and Doug Johnson of Kentucky talked about their experiences in Iraq over the past number of years.

Johnson said he was in Iraq between February and April of this year. “I was witness to devastation caused by sanctions,” he said. “Cancer rates have gone up six-fold, there’s lots of congenital failure and women are afraid to have babies. The first thing a mother asks when her child’s born is if its healthy, not if it’s a boy or a girl.”

He continued that the depleted uranium from nuclear weapons has also been the cause of death of thousands of civilians. “I saw children physically underdeveloped. Many children were on streets begging, shining shoes if they could …” he said. “Sanctions have also oppressed medicine from being imported. Entire populations are exposed to waterborne diseases since the water treatment plants have been bombed and no medicine is available. I saw all this before the bombing … and then the bombing happened.”

Winters was in Iraq this past January. A longtime peace activist, he also camped out on the Iraq/Saudi border during the first Gulf War in 1991 with the Gulf Peace Team. In his many trips over there, he said he has tried to smuggle in medicine. His group was fined $160,000 in the past trip, the medicine confiscated, and three individuals were fined $10,000 each, he said. “Of course we’re not going to pay it,” he added. “We’ll continue to bring in medicine since the morality’s not something we can live.”

The bus’s operator, Sharona Ovrahim, said she was in the peace movement back at her home in California. When she heard the founder of Wheels of Justice speak once, she decided she wasn’t really interested in attending college yet. “I’m having lots of fun on the bus,” she said. “Through the bus, we’re uniting all these different groups.”

The different groups are the various peace groups around the country who participate in the tour, meet up with the bus when it stops in their town, and help sponsor it.

Ovrahim plans on getting back to California in December, since she only bought a one-way ticket to get to the bus.

Larry Fisk, an activist from the Brainerd area, met up with the group for the first time at the convent. Wearing a white button with the words “War is terrorism,” he is part of the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace. Fisk said his group joins with the Franciscan sisters’ Little Falls Area Partners for Peace for various events. “I believe terrorism has no military solution,” Fisk said. “The organization finds real information and has people who go over there and find the truth and make the public here aware.”

The Sisters thought it was important that the bus tour stop in Little Falls. Sister Adela Gross said they felt that the presentations were important because of the educational aspect. “I think our motivations have been strengthened,” she said. “Many of the sisters were out protesting before the war, and we haven’t changed our minds since then.”

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