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Convert (to peace economy) and be saved.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Loretto Sister Mary Ann McGivern has digested so much information about so many Big Issues that she can tick them off like menu items. "I went from hunger to land use to corporate misbehavior to looking specifically at McDonnell Douglas," the main U.S. weapons manufacturer for 15 years, she said.

McGivern, 51, was describing peace and justice curricula she developed in the 1970s for Catholic schools in St. Louis. This labyrinth of learning led to action: She organized a coalition of religious communities concerned with socially responsible investments and the need to steer away from a military-based economy.

Today, McGivern directs the Economic Conversion Project in St. Louis. Born of a 1980 proposal McGivern wrote requesting Ford Foundation funds, the project promotes policy changes that enable companies to convert from military to peacetime production.

Among other things, the project is promoting an economic venture with Moscow, a city that "shares many of the same problems of economic dependence on military spending as St. Louis does," McGivern observed.

It is still a radical idea: that human needs, not killing, can form the basis for an economy. Getting that word out takes nerve, which McGivern said comes from living at the St. Louis Catholic Worker in a small house that gives long-term shelter to a few people, some with serve psychological problems.

"It gives me a little more courage," she said, "to tell men in $800 suits that they're wrong."

Wrong--and right--have long been on McGivern's mind. The Bloomington, Ill., native said her grandfather was an ardent supporter of a maximum wage who always wore a button with a picture of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In the 1960's McGivern backed Cesar Chavez's grape boycott. And at graduate school in Stanford, where she studied education and anthropology, she pro-tested against the war in Vietnam. Two of her brothers were in Vietnam at the time.

Today, McGivern's focus is less on protesting and more on, well, planting: whether in the garden (she's up at 5:30 a.m. for an hour of gardening before work), or at a regular office "think tank" meeting of union leaders, managers, university administrators and others who cultivate ideas for economic conversion.

Recently, McGivern was in Kansas City for a meeting of the Federation for Industrial Retention and Renewal. Wearing jogging pants and a Women's Ordination Conference T-shirt, she casually conversed about still more Big Issues as federation members exchanged information about how communities can stop plant closings, recover from military contract cancellations and promote sustainable industrial development.

All of this might mystify, or bore, the uninitiated. But for McGivern, an economy built on a supply of, and demand for, peace is not only a good idea but one that promises a good time.

"We had five Russians here for 16 days and we all went crazy. We just had a ball," said McGivern. The group met recently with representatives of a small U.S. producer of M-1 tank ammunition that is in the process of converting to oil drilling. The Russians, including a city counselor and a nuclear physicist, talked with company representatives about a possible joint venture.

One of the Americans pulled out an old propaganda video that contained footage from Russia and charts; it had been made to demonstrate that the United States was behind the Soviets in the production of M-1 tanks and needed to make more. Together, Russians and Americans watched the old clips. "It was a wonderful moment," said McGivern.
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Title Annotation:Sister Mary Ann McGivern's St. Louis Economic Conversion Project
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 28, 1993
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