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Christine O'Brien on St Petersburg
By Christine O'Brien

St. Petersburg was the first city I ever lived in, and though I had been raised a country girl, I soon realized the fantastic benefits of living in this charming city: an art museum with real paintings by artists I had only read about; buses; the then-thriving old downtown, with Maas Brothers Department Store, where I worked for some years; Williams Park Band Shell, where I have given speeches for so many causes; Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), which I moved here to attend in 1967 when I was 18.

When I was 19, I came to the local meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and it became the center of my life and the hub of my life's work as a community organizer and an activist for peace and social justice. This year I am retiring after nearly 24 years of clerking the St. Petersburg Meeting. I've cherished this service to my faith community and its call to hold up with a tender hand each beloved child of God.

If you want to be a community organizer, it helps to live where you can find like-minded folks to work with. I have found that here, and together we have organized various campaigns, forums, and demonstrations; we've conducted marches, teach-ins and discussion groups; produced newsletters and Web sites, statewide and nationwide actions, vigils and demonstrations; given rise to statewide groups such as the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice and the Florida Greens; and held a zillion potlucks. Our areas of concern have been wide ranging, including world peace, non-violence, nuclear weapons, nuclear power, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender rights, health care, concern for the earth and its health, violence against women, conflict-resolution training, conscientious objection, community building and finding ways to spread joy and love around. We have worked on this last concern every year for 30 years by throwing a big party for the community called Circus McGurkis, the People's Fair - an event unique to St. Petersburg, though we are now organizing a Web-based manual for others to use as a guide to create a People's Fair in their community.

I helped organize the first Circus McGurkis in 1971, along with other hippies, and I'm already working on the 31st year's even more incredible "People's Fair." Our goal then, and still is, to create peaceful community by combining all kinds of special concerns groups, artists and crafters, storytellers, performers and the occasional dragon or flight of fancy.

Peace, love and flower power is still just as groovy as it was 35 years ago when I first made St. Petersburg my home.


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