Salem, OR Celebrates Peace During Action Week
by Pritam K. Rohila, Ph.D. of the Association for Communal Harmony
INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PEACE CELEBRATION: A REPORT
On the evening of Saturday, September 21, 2019, Association for Communal Harmony organized a celebration of the International Day of Peace, at St. Mark Lutheran Church, in Downtown Salem, OR.
Several local organizations set up their table displays. The organizations included, India U.S. Friendship Association (INDUS), Salem Peace & Social Justice Trail, Salem Chapter of United Nations Association, Share.org, Salem Chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Silverton People for Peace.
The program started with a stirring musical prelude on violin by Mark Babson, who has studied violin in the Netherlands and has played in professional orchestras in Mexico.
After introductions and welcome by our gracious host St. Marks Pastor Charles Mantey and Pritam Rohila, Mark Babson led the audience in singing of “I Got Peace in My Fingers”, a song written and composed by Susan Salidor (https://susansalidor.com), an award winning children’s music composer and performer.
Then Randall Burton shared with the audience the concept of his plans to launch Salem Peace & Social Justice Trail – “a designated route for lawful peace and justice activities and as an educational/tourism experience that conveys the enduring efforts of Oregonians to transform war/conflict into a peaceful and just society.” He is a peace practitioner, who has been video-graphing and documenting community programs in Salem on peace and social justice issues, for more than 40 years.
Angela Wanak, in her soulful voice presented on the piano her original musical composition, “Peace is Present”. Angela is an inspirational singer, song writer, and Music Director at Unity of Salem.
It was now time to start the symposium, the principal feature of the night. We were fortunate to have a well-respected moderator and a distinguished panel of experts.
Rev. Curt McCormack, who is a retired pastor, chairman of Salem Peace Plaza Board and a leading member of Oneness Coalition, served as the moderator. He started with a reading aloud of Dr. Pritam Rohila’s definition of peace. He asked people to really think about what peace really is.
The definition says: “Peace is a dynamic and multidimensional process of inter-relating within and between individuals, groups, nations, and with the environment. It is characterized by compassion, empathy, nonviolence, inclusiveness, justice and respect for the rights of others. It must lead to optimal benefit for all concerned. It includes Personal Peace, Interpersonal Peace, International Peace, and Universal Peace.”
PERSONAL PEACE was the topic for the first presentation by Rev. Patty Williams, Senior Minister, at Unity of Salem. She invited the audience to look deep within their self and truly ask the question: “Do I see peace or internal conflict?” According to her, Personal peace required that people stand at the ‘I of the Storm,’ a place of perfect equilibrium. This is a place of Wholeness where there is no resistance and people can experience the depths of personal peace. She asked people to breathe in “I AM Peace” with every breath and to breathe out “I AM Love.” From there, she advised the audience, that they would be guided to take action that demonstrated Love in every area of their lives, an action that is in alignment with who they are.
Marilyn Williams, Pastor at Salem Mission Faith Ministries Church, was the next to speak. Her topic was INTERPERSONAL PEACE. She said, “Today as I look around I see many people with the ‘me, myself, and I’ attitude and belief that I am entitled to have what I want. The second thing that I see is people with I’m good attitude and belief, which simply means as long as it doesn’t affect me or mine, then it is not my problem and I don’t care.”
She warned the audience, “We have become a society of greed and selfishness.” But Interpersonal peace, on the other hand, according to her, “ is being able to love all things, God has given us, with thankfulness, with the knowledge that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper and it is our duty to find a way to show the lost ones that they too can have peace within themselves by building trust, talking with each other, and helping each other to find peace within themselves, by just learning to take a small step, and stop building walls and silos between each other.” She continued, “We all have a purpose and a goal, and we can all start by cleaning up our air, water, minds, and bridging the gap of racism and hate with love.”
Dr. James Nafziger, who is the Thomas B. Stoel Professor of Law and Director of International Law Programs at Willamette University College of Law, spoke on INTERNATIONAL PEACE.
He reminded the audience of Benito Juarez, Mexico's first indigenous President, great reformer and contemporary of Abraham Lincoln, who had defined peace as "respect for the rights of others." Of the many definitions of peace, beginning with the rather simplistic "the absence of war," it seemed to him that this was akin to but not the same as the Golden Rule, but the most effective. He continued that this definition was also especially appropriate for the Salem gathering, because Juarez had made it clear that the definition applied "among individuals, as among nations."
Referring to the nine-inch clay cylinder, that had been found, in 1879, in a wall at the ancient site of Babylon, which has been described as the world's first human-rights pronouncement. “That is probably overblown and anachronistic,” Dr. Nafziger said, “The cylinder's cuneiform inscription from 539 B.C.E. is essentially propaganda,” he continued, “but it bears a memorable message by the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great. Accordingly, after his conquest of Babylon without bloodshed, he declared on the cylinder that all Babylonians, which would have included captive Jews, were free to return to their homelands with all their treasures and other personal goods, and Babylon would thereafter honor diverse religious practices. This very early expression of respect for the rights of others, a break from the past was followed by a durable peace.”
Dr. Nafziger stated, “Many other significant expressions through history of officially declared respect for the rights of others also led to substantial periods of peace. These included, for example, the judicial and legislative reforms, following civil war, of medieval English Kings Henry II, John and Edward I; preparation of the world's first modern code of conduct in time of armed conflict under President Lincoln's orders during our Civil War (the Lieber Code, which was very detailed and is still relevant); the Marshall Fund after World War II for reconstruction of Europe, including Germany and other defeated countries (reversing the disastrous, vindictive approach taken after WW I); and the Nobel Peace P rize-winning efforts to end South Africa's apartheid in a responsible and unifying way by Bishop Desmond Tutu (the prime mover behind that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission), F.W. de Klerk (who did an about-face as a former proponent of apartheid) and the wonderful Nelson Mandela, the country's first black, post-apartheid President.”
“Of course, important rights often clash with each other. International law and institutions often provide a means of resolving such conflicts. For example, the detailed principle of a Responsibility to Protect (R2P), first proposed by Canada during the early years of this century, offers a more collective, human-rights-oriented alternative to the unilateral, easily abused exercise of humanitarian intervention on behalf of the rights of peoples oppressed by their governments (which also have rights to be free of intervention, at least among democracies),” Dr. Nafziger continued his scholarly presentation.
“Finally, we may ask, how can we, as individual Americans, best give effect these days to the concept of respect for the rights of others?” he asked. “In my view,” he opined, “the most important contribution we can make is to work toward the election of a U.S. President in 2020 who most conforms to at least the following seven criteria. We can do so among members of our extended families, friends, and others in our various communities. These criteria are: vision; integrity (perhaps the most important criterion, coupled with honesty), the related "c" words (collaboration, cooperation and consensus-building with citizens, colleagues, communities, and the Congress); tact (avoiding public potshots directed toward others); organizational ability for the benefit of the public; responsibility (ethical, moral and legal); and youthful energy (not necessarily reflected in a candidate's age). Together, the first letters of these criteria, in order, spell "victory"--for all of us in our mutual quest for peace.’
The final presenter was Dr. John Pearson, who is retired Chief of Pediatrics and Pediatric Neurology, Clinical OHSU Professor of Pediatrics and a member of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility. He spoke on UNIVERSAL PEACE, which refers to our relationship with the environment.
Pointing to the state/corporate sponsored violence against the environment, he pointed out the urgent need for people to develop a sustainable and respectful relationship with the environment. He emphasized the importance of making some fundamental changes in our goals and our values. We cannot continue to idolize wealth and the accumulation of wealth. We should instead use our environment to provide what is enough rather than what we desire or have been convinced we need.
The presentations were followed by an animated discussion, which was facilitated by Peter Bergel, who has devoted 58 years of his life to public interest activism on issues like nuclear energy, wars and conflicts, and human rights. Also he has been editor of PeaceWorker, since 1988, Executive Director of Oregon Peace Works for 12 years, and a key member of the Salem Peace Lecture Committee for many years.
Another question; another response: the process continued for quite a while.
After the general discussion, Peter Bergel asked the members of the audience, what each one can and will do to promote peace. Each person shared his/her idea with another member of the audience. It turned out to be a very productive part of the program.
Enthusiastic participation in discussions made up for short number of people in the audience.
Then Angela Wanak led the audience in the singing of “Let There Be Peace.” And informal discussions between participants continued for quite a while, while people enjoyed refreshments provided by Association for Communal Harmony and organized by Kundan Rohila and Jim Gray. Sharron Apple had kindly decorated the refreshment service area.
I am grateful to Pastor Charles Mantey, for hosting our peace programs at St. Mark Lutheran Church for the last several years. Without his blessing and support this program would not have been possible.
All in all it was a good program. I am grateful to all the talented, distinguished individuals who played a role in the program. I appreciate all the people who showed up to make their presentations, to participate as members of the audience, and to display materials for their peace, justice and diversity organizations. Thank you.
But, like others, I was disappointed, that there were only a few people in the audience. As some people pointed out, Saturday evenings are not good for this kind of programs. Also lack of cooperation from some of our usual venues of publicity had a lot to do with it.
There were a few other problems that evening. It would have been better if the speakers and the moderator had access to two mikes, and if they were seated behind a table. Seating for the audience could also have been improved, by arranging chairs in semicircular fashion, rather than in classroom setting. Posting of signs directing people, outside and inside the building, could have avoid confusions some people faced.
Most importantly, involvement by me of others in the planning process at an early stage, allowing more time for the set up on the day of the event could have helped.
These problems were due to my shortcomings. I promise to do better in the future.