By Jeff Wright
Peg Morton, arguably Eugene’s best-known peace activist, has died at age 85.
Morton, a Quaker who had been arrested for civil disobedience numerous times in her life, died [December 19, 2015] from intentional fasting, several friends said. She died at a friend’s home in Eugene surrounded by loved ones, they said.
Morton “was ruthless about wanting to make the world a better place,” said longtime friend Sue Barnhart. “But what I loved about her as an activist is, she always had a good time, too.”
Friend Bella Donna, in a Facebook post, recalled Morton as “tough, humble, principled and committed to nonviolence, but respectful of those of us in the (peace) movement who believe armed struggle has a place.”
Michael Carrigan of Community Alliance of Lane County said in an email late last week that Morton had “decided to end her life with a final fast.”
Carrigan said Morton appeared frail when he visited her last week “but she still joined (a) group meditation, took part in a solstice ritual, and signed some of her books.”
Activism, a Welcoming Attitude, Hugs
Morton’s lifelong activism extended into the last decades of her life. In 2004, well into her seventies, she served a three-month sentence in federal prison for civil disobedience, for trespassing during a protest outside Fort Benning, Ga. The Army complex there is home to a military school used to train foreign soldiers, whom Morton and other opponents contend later went on to commit rape, murder and other crimes.
When Morton returned to Eugene after serving her sentence, she received a heroine’s welcome at the Amtrak station. Morton parceled out hugs and then, true to form, distributed fliers urging people to contact their congressmen in support of prison reform legislation.
Morton also was among six anti-war demonstrators who were arrested in 2009 and fined $500 each after staging an overnight vigil on the steps of the state Capitol in Salem.
The circumstances of the arrests — regarding the legality of a rule prohibiting public use of the Capitol steps between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. — were ultimately reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court.
Morton was among eight who were arrested in 2013 during a sit-in following a rally to protest plans to close the Gateway mail processing center in Springfield.
Barnhart, who met Morton 20 years ago as a fellow war tax resister, said Morton had a knack of bringing people together, and was able to connect easily with younger people.
“She was one of those people who really loved everyone, and had time to listen to everyone,” Barnhart said. “Not all peace activists get along — but they all loved her.”
Barnhart said she will especially miss Morton’s smile. “She had a great smile and a good laugh,” she said.
An Earth Flag Dream
Morton was a prolific writer of letters to the editor of The Register-Guard — her most recent letter, which appeared Dec. 10, implored city leaders to find a way to turn downtown’s Kesey Square into a public park.
Barnhart said Morton voiced regret that she wouldn’t have time to write that last letter to the editor. Barnhart and others offered to craft the letter on Morton’s behalf. But when Morton saw the letter, “she said ‘You got it all wrong’ and completely rewrote it,” Barnhart recalled with a chuckle.
Morton also wrote longer works. She titled her memoir “Feeling Light Within, I Walk: Tales, Adventures and Reflections of a Quaker Activist.”
In an essay published in The Register-Guard in 2013, Morton recalled standing with a group of Veterans for Peace at the Eugene war memorial on Memorial Day. She wrote that Americans have a right to proudly recognize the country’s achievements, but called for a national transformation in regard to military and economic policies.
“I have an outrageous dream that on every flagpole there is an Earth flag above the American flag,” she wrote.
Carrigan said that, in honor of Morton’s dream, her “Earth flag is presently flying” at CALC’s offices.
In early December, Morton penned a different kind of writing. She called it her “end of life fast notice” and she sent it to several community groups that she supported financially or otherwise. She said she planned to start her fast on Dec. 6.
“Following a period of deep reflection and prayer, I have decided to end my life through a fast,” she said in her statement. “My body has been giving me ongoing and building messages that it is ready to go, and I have chosen this time, after a bout with pneumonia, to make the decision.”
Said Barnhart: “Peg had always felt she didn’t want to end up in a nursing home and being a burden to society or her family, or languishing and not being able to enjoy life. She always said she might do a fast, and knew friends who had done so.”
Morton celebrated her 85th birthday on Halloween Day. Memorial services are pending.Φ
Jeff Wright is the Team Editor (city desk night editor) at The Register-Guard. He supervises veteran and newbie reporters.