Stephen Braunginn was honored for decades of social justice work with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th Anniversary Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice Gala on Saturday, Oct. 15, at First United Methodist Church.

Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice (WNPJ) is a powerful coalition of activist groups and citizens of conscience statewide that has served as an essential coordinating force for movements to end wars and cut military spending, and to promote economic and social justice, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, prison reform, immigrant rights, and more.

WNPJ Board Leader Claire Tran was the emcee and she welcomed the crowd to the event.

“The award is presented by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice board for someone who has played a significant role in WNPJ, and has been a peace, justice, and sustainability activist for many years and has done inspiring movement work,” Tran told the crowd.

Tran listed previous winners of the WPNJ Lifetime Achievement Awards including Sam Day (2000), Clarence Kailin and Frank Zeidler (2002), Jim Missey (2003), Nan Cheney and Midge Miller (2004), Maureen McDonnell (2005), George Paz Martin (2006), John LaForge (2007), Julie Enslow and John Kinsman (2008), Esther Heffernan and Joe Elder (2009), The Madison Raging Grannies (2010), Fred Risser (2011), Rev. Joe and Joyce Ellwanger (2012), Al Gedicks (2013), John Peck and Mary Beth Schlagheck (2014), and Joyce Guinn (2015)

John Quinlan, a member of the board of directors for WNPJ, introduced Braunginn mentioning that they had been friends for 30 years.

“I am really humbled,” Braunginn said, accepting the award. “I’ve been gone from the field and out of the trenches for a number of years now, but I do spend a lot of time on Facebook and I do keep on pushing and I keep on teaching.”

On February 23, 1991, more than 350 people representing over 60 communities throughout the state responded to a call from State Rep. Frank Boyle and crowded into the Assembly Chambers of the State Capitol to gather strength from one another in their frustration and concern about the Gulf War. On that day, the ground war had officially begun and WNPJ was born.

“The intent for the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice came out of the Gulf War. A whole bunch of us were planning demonstrations in Madison to deal with the impending war that was before us,” Braunginn remembers. “It was a blow to a peacemaker because the day that [George Bush] did it was on the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That was an insult.”

Braunginn served as one of the first co-chairs for the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice along with the late Nan Cheney. At the awards ceremony, he was very emotional remembering his late longtime friend.

Nan Cheney
Nan Cheney

“My dear friend Nan Cheney was a remarkable person. We spent many hours together. Nan and I sort of became attached at the hip,” he said. “The biggest thing was putting together this event that took place at the state assembly. We weren’t expecting a whole lot … and then … everybody came! The whole state showed up. We said, ‘My God, gracious, we’ve got something going on here. It’s a movement.’

“The Rev. Martin Luther King spoke at a conference in the early ’60s and said, ‘True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice,’” Braunginn added. “And I felt that way when we were protesting that invasion. It was supporting peace and justice.”

Braunginn said he hoped that more and more of the younger generation would continue to be involved in the social justice work that WNPJ does.

“I want to thank you for this award. This organization was one that we poured our hearts into because we knew that we needed to make it happen,” he said. “Your vision is to rebuild, flourish it, pour more fertilizer onto this thing, and reach out to more people who aren’t acting on behalf of peace and justice.”