Penny Cragun champions the cause of peace and nonviolence. Being involved in anti-violence protests and actions has led her life, shaped her life, and been the largest part of her life.
Penny was born in Kansas and grew up in Arkansas in a Lutheran faith-based home. She attended a (Missouri Synod) Lutheran college in Illinois. While in college she was fortunate to have some very good theology professors who challenged her to actively grow in her faith. This was during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed while Penny was working at her first teaching job in a Pittsburg inner-city school. Feeling the intolerable tension, fear and injustice around her spurred her into passionate action. She hasn’t ever stopped.
Marrying Rodger just doubled both their efforts. They changed church affiliation a few times, as well as moving their household to a variety of states. Penny has worked with domestic abuse victims and held a variety of teaching positions. She worked at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the long-standing center for students with disabilities from 1985 until her retirement in 2014. As the long-time director of the Center, Penny worked to expand the understanding of disability and to support students’ rights.
Her first political action was a march in Washington D.C. protesting the Vietnam War. There have been many since, including protests at the School of the Americas, Program Minnesota/Leon (in Nicaragua, Minnesota’s sister state), and participation in Witness for Peace delegations. Some of these actions have resulted in Penny’s being arrested. Though it is often difficult to be out in public as a non-violent peacemaker, she believes that being arrested for her faith is an empowering event.
She was committed to working with the Overground Railroad Network. This network assisted Central American refugees to safety in Canada during the Reagan era contra war. She and Rodger harbored some of the first refugees to pass through Two Harbors on their way to Thunder Bay. At times, they even drove the refugees to Canada and sat with them during their court hearings. Penny also helped organize Women in Black and Grandmothers Against War, both groups protesting the Gulf Wars.
Since all issues of violence are interconnected, Penny states that whatever issue presents itself is the issue she feels compelled to work on. She quotes a line from a song sung by the Echoes of Peace choir: “none of us is free as long as one of us is chained…” stating that those chains are poverty, racism, sexism, lack of respect for humanity, and violence.
Penny is motivated by the things she feels she needs to say No to. No to domestic abuse. No to the abuse of Native American treaty rights. No to gun violence. No to wars. No to Sandanistas in Nicaragua.
Connecting her faith with her actions often causes non-faith-based people to distrust her as there is a common assumption that Christians and Christianity are part of the problem to start with. In spite of this, Penny has “stuck with it” and stayed true to her passion. War is NOT the answer. She and Rodger strive to live simply so others may simply live.
Interviewed by Tim Peters ~ Thank you to Pamela Mittlefehldt for editing Voices for Justice each month.
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