West German peace protester learned political activism in US
Bonn — Andreas Zumach learned the secrets of political action while working for California farm workers leader Cesar Chavez. Today Mr. Zumach is a prime mover of West Germany's mass protests against NATO's planned deployment of American Pershing II and cruise missiles.
Back in the 1970s, as a conscientious objector to the bearing of arms, Zumach was allowed to perform his alternative to West German military service by working in Protestant church projects overseas. He spent some time at the Woodhaven Learning Center for the Disabled, operated by the Disciples of Christ in Columbia, Mo. He worked with the National Farm Worker Ministry in Chicago, then joined Chavez in California for six months.
That is when he learned the organizational techniques he has applied to the West German ''peace movement'' since 1981. His successes include bringing off the movement's first mass rally in Bonn in October 1981 and another this Oct. 22 . Each rally drew more than 300,000 participants, somewhat more than live in Bonn. Both were peaceful.
The 1983 mass rally was coordinated with other actions that brought up to 1.3 million demonstrators into the streets simultaneously to protest American policy.
None of West Germany's parliamentary parties has ever come close to mobilizing that large a show of support.
But although Zumach learned the practical side of political action from Mr. Chavez, he learned the religious principles his actions support at his mother's knee.
Hildegard Zumach was closely connected with the anti-Nazi witnessing church and has been active in international church affairs since the end of World War II. At the recent Vancouver meeting, she was reelected to the Central Council of World Churches. Her father, Andreas' grandfather, Pastor Ernst Runkel, was associated with Martin Niemoeller in the Hessen-Nassau church.
So although Andreas Zumach was born in 1954, long after Germany had been liberated from the Nazi yoke, he grew up in an atmosphere colored by the experiences of Christians suppressed and oppressed by the Nazis.
By the time he reached the age of military conscription, Andreas Zumach was involved in the Aktion Suehnezeichen (Action Reconciliation Peace Service) organized by the Protestant churches to perform reconciliation tasks in Israel and all of the countries occupied by Nazi Germany, as well as in the United States.
At any given moment, the service has about 160 members working abroad. This year, for the first time, two groups totaling 50 members also worked in the Soviet Union - on a project near Minsk.
In the US, the service has been working since 1968 on projects selected by the Mennonites, the Quakers, and other churches. Usually it has about 35 volunteers in the country.
In 1958, the Protestant churches' synod debated the nuclear weapons question at length, finally declaring that their use as a deterrent was morally acceptable, but only for a transitional period.
''We think that 25 years is long enough for a transitional period,'' Zumach said. ''As both sides now have a first-strike capability, nuclear weapons no longer are just a deterrent. Given the 40 times overkill available to each side, it should now be possible to start with a calculated disarmament initiative, with gradualism, as one of President Kennedy's advisers called it.''
Zumach is a moderate in the West German ''peace movement.'' He does not, for instance, call on West Germany to withdraw from NATO.
''If the two military blocs ever start to dissolve,'' he says, ''then I can imagine the Netherlands withdrawing from NATO at the same time as Hungary withdraws from the Warsaw Pact, for instance. But the last two to be released from the pacts will be the two German states.''
This is the reverse of the attitude of the Green parliamentary party, which believes dissolution should begin with neutralization of the two German states.
''Anyway, if we want to maintain any influence on the United States, Britain, and France, we have to remain in NATO,'' Zumach says. ''If we were to slip out of NATO, we would give up all chance to influence their policies.''
The problem the West German ''peace movement'' now faces is what to do with the momentum created by the Oct. 22 rallies. The Bonn parliament is to debate and vote on missile deployment on Nov. 21.
Zumach's idea calls for intensive lobbying of each of the 498 members of the Bonn parliament from now until then - ''much as the freeze movement lobbied members of Congress last March 7 and 8.''
But he rejects the suggestion of some members of the ''peace movement'' coordinating committee that it organize yet another mass rally in Bonn. That, he says, would achieve little and might be counterproductive.
Lobbying the deputies in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union could be much more productive, Zumach says. He is convinced Kohl ''does not really want the new missiles but has nailed himself down, and the problem becomes one of face-saving. We have got to create positive pressure on him. I am convinced that he'd welcome any straw that would let him avoid deployment.''
If deployment nevertheless begins, Zumach says, then the ''peace movement'' will accelerate its campaign for a consultative referendum on the issue with the aim of also influencing the 1984 US presidential election race.
''If we do not succeed,'' he says, ''there will be a stupid reaction by the Soviet Union, and then NATO will take countermeasures, and we'll have a colder war than in the '50s, and that for years to come.''
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