In 1977, Barbara Riverwoman, Mary Ann McGivern and several other women decided to respond to the military – industrial complex as personified by the McDonnell Douglas corporation. Shareholder resolutions were drafted and conversations started with the machinists.
At the end of the decade, a proposal was submitted to the Ford Foundation, which subsequently provided a $29,000 grant with the understanding that staff would be hired and analysis made of the impact of military spending in St. Louis. Mary Ann and Susan Jordan joined the staff, and Bill Ramsey was recruited from North Carolina.
In the early 1980s, SLECP moved into its Skinker office, and Chuck Guenther was hired to run the staff. As an engineer who had worked for McDonnell Douglas, he had an appropriate perspective for the size and culture of military spending in the country. With the election of Ronald Regan, a new special challenge developed – how to help the nation understand the folly of the “star wars” initiative, as well as appreciate the complexity and waste associated with military contracts during a time of explosive defense spending.
In the second half of the decade, Chuck left to pursue teaching and Mary Ann and Virginia Nesmith joined the staff. They continued to analyze the economic dependance on the military economy being experienced by the St. Louis region. Emerson Electric, General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas and more than 700 other prime defense contractors collectively accounted for around 74,000 people (6.4 percent of the workforce) and 2.3 billion (8.4 percent of the wages).
In July 1990, McDonald Douglas announced plans to eliminate 4500 jobs in St. Louis. Then in 1991, with the cancellation of the A-12 project, another 5000 people were terminated. The cold war was clearly over. The St. Louis Economic Conversion Project joined a regional advisory committee to oversee a government supported Economic Adjustment and Diversification Program.
An economic adjustment plan was prepared, surveys of workers and defense contractors conducted, and a variety of special projects begun. SLECP helped prepare several federal grants, and devoted special attention to a St. Louis Technology Transfer and Management Assistance Program, and a Business Assistance Network. Lance McCarthy joined the staff with a focus on finding investors for distressed sites in the inner suburbs.
In the mid nineties, SLECP entered into a contract with the St.Louis Development Corporation in order to help small manufacturers within the City to improve communication and collaboration amongst themselves. This followed an active effort by SLECP to define projects that could be built into the 1994 St. Louis Empowerment Zone application. The $10,000 award from the City’s Enterprise Community program resulted in formation and initial support for the St. Louis Manufacturing Association.
After a slower time period in the late nineties, Chris Stolz and Marie Andrews were hired. With their assistance, concern returned to the issue of missiles in space, a high priority project in the mind of the new Bush Administration. Drug interdiction efforts in Latin America were also examined.
Marie left in 2001, and Chris left in the summer of 2002, moving with his wife to a new service opportunity in Burundi. Chrissy Kirchoefer left the Board to provide part time staff support in the summer. She was joined in the fall of 2002 by Catherine Marquis-Homeyer. Chrissy Kirchoefer left the staff to pursue other interests in summer 2004.
The name of the organization was changed to the Peace Economy Project in October 2002. The new focus of research became the St. Louis area-based military division of Boeing Company, the area’s second largest employer and the nation’s number two military contractor.
Andy Heaslet joined PEP in the summer of 2007 as coordinator for the organization. Andy left in 2010 to start his own bike delivery business, and Tila Neguse came on board as the executive director. During her time at PEP, Tila wrote a grant proposal which funded and supported PEP’s youth initiative, the Student Activist Coalition of St. Louis, which would later become its own organization, Young Activists United St. Louis.
In the summer of 2012, Tila left to become a peace lobbyist with the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington DC. Sylvester Brown stepped in as the interim Executive Director at this time to keep the systems running smoothly. In this role, he created the Peace, Poverty, People, and Our National Priorities public information campaign which brought together a number of St. Louis organizations to discuss sequestration and the need to protect social programs from budget cuts.
As of February 2013, PEP continues to focus on sequestration, advocating for protecting discretionary spending for social programs and cutting the Pentagon budget. They have also brought in Jasmin Maurer to serve as the Executive Director. Sylvester Brown continues to serve as a board member.
In August 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown shook the nation and the city of St. Louis. In the Ferguson aftermath, many organizations increased focus on gun violence, police militarization, racism and other issues highlighted in those protests. The Peace Economy Project was no exception.
Following Ferguson, PEP joined both the Don’t Shoot Coalition and the Drone Free St. Louis coalition to work against increased police militarization, surveillance and armament. PEP also received a small grant from the Deaconess Foundation in 2015 to research youth violence in St. Louis. The research will be completed in Fall 2016.