Maui peace activists honored by the ACLU

Congratulations to Mele Stokeberry and Charles Carletta, two leaders in Maui Peace Action, for receiving the Pila Witmarsh Aloha Award!


Maui activists win ACLU accolades


March 1, 2010

Two longtime Maui activists who were honored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i this month believe peace in the world may happen “someday.”

“Peace is possible, but it won’t be brought about by military means,” said Charles “Chuck” Carletta. “It will require nonviolent opposition to those who promote war.”

His wife and co-award winner, Mele Stokesberry, doesn’t believe peace is possible in her lifetime, “but we still need to always do everything that may be possible to work for peace,” she said. “Someday, people will be able to see clearly what presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich said, that ‘war is obsolete.’ ”

The husband-and-wife duo, whose activism stretches back to the Vietnam War era, accepted the Pila Whitmarsh Aloha Award “for exceptional volunteers” at the Hawaii ACLU’s Grassroots Celebration luncheon Feb. 20 at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center on Oahu. The award, one of four presented at the event, was established in 1974 and was renamed in 2001 in memory of Whitmarsh, who was popular with volunteers because of his “exceptional kindness and passion for justice,” a news release about the award said.

The Hawaii ACLU, an organization that aims to protect constitutional freedoms, honored Carletta, an assistant professor of business technology at the University of Hawaii Maui College, and Stokesberry, a retired Baldwin High School teacher, for their “meritorious service to the ACLU mission.”

Both are active in the local peace movement with Carletta forming and currently advising the UH-Maui Peace Club and with Stokesberry serving as president of Maui Peace Action. Together, they founded the Maui Peace Education Foundation with its Careers in Peacemaking program, which provides information to high school students about career and college-funding alternatives to military enlistment.

This “peace couple” have been anti-war and social activists for decades.

Stokesberry, who also is involved with The Friends of Haleakala National Park, Maui Ki-Aikido and Somos Amigos Nicaragua, said her activist nature began surfacing in 1980 when as a Spanish teacher she taught a section on the oppression of the poor in Central America. That led to her joining a sanctuary group in California that offered protection for Central American refugees fleeing civil wars in their countries.

She later taught English in Nicaragua, witnessing the Contra war, and traveled to Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico and Cuba to observe firsthand the effects of American policy.

Her husband’s activism began in 1965 as a student at Sacramento State College in California. Carletta and his friends organized an underground newspaper, “The Student,” that printed views of the Vietnam War – including those in opposition to the war – not found in the school newspaper. During that time in his life, he helped organize a “teach-in,” where three professors spoke out against the war and picketed the downtown Sacramento post office where war draftees boarded buses to the Oakland Induction Terminal.

Like his wife, Carletta also was involved in the sanctuary movement and other protests of U.S. involvement in Guatemala and El Salvador.

He believes that activism brings awareness that the wars “are morally wrong and that U.S. military intervention . . . does not bring peace or democracy but is intended to control people and resources.”

“I believe that these wars will only come to an end when people in our country finally wake up and demand that we stop supporting war and the military-industrial complex,” he said.

In recent years, Carletta and Stokesberry have focused their activism on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. They got involved in Maui Peace Action and have joined marches, listened to speakers, including Kucinich and the family of Lt. Ehren Watada, who faced a court-martial for declining to deploy to Iraq; and attended films and workshops. The MCC Peace Club was formed during the buildup to the Iraq War and currently has about 40 members, though only about a dozen are active, said Carletta.

“I believe the protest movement in the ’60s and ’70s was effective in bringing an end to the Vietnam War,” he said. “I think this could happen again with Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Stokesberry wanted to make clear that “the peace movement is not anti-soldier” and is concerned about the serious injuries and illnesses with which the nation’s warriors come home.

“We want the troops home and safe,” she said.

For many in the community, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are far away. They focus instead on the day-to-day happenings and problems of their families and have no time for peace activism, Stokesberry said.

“There is nothing to be gained by being frustrated at people who are too busy or stressed by their own lives to be able to look at the bigger picture,” she said. “Most of us begin to be more aware when the grandchild generation becomes a reality in our lives.”

* Lee Imada can be reached at