Spreading the International Day of Peace: A Grassroots Effort
By Ben D'Alessio
The miniature television screen in my office building elevator tells me first-thing-in-the-morning that last night North Korea tested a missile capable of reaching the United States--ironically, I’m ascending to an organization named “Nonviolence International”. I habitually check Facebook as I wedge into the corner of the common area: Iraqi Army battles ISIS forces in streets of Mosul--scroll--Saudi Arabia is the largest funder of global extremism--scroll--Top Advisor to Pope Charged with Sexual Assault Offenses--scroll--protesters in Venezuela attack lawmakers--scroll--Turkey Arrests Eight Human Rights Activists--scroll--More Than 100 Shot in Chicago During Holiday Weekend. The general consensus is that worldwide violence is down and more concentrated than ever, but it sure doesn’t seem that way when I’m informed on every violent crackdown, suicide bombing, and missile launch before I’ve had my (2nd) coffee.
For many of us, peace is taken for granted; a mere altercation with a stranger could throw us into a funk and have us questioning our surroundings and perceived “safe spaces”. But space is not inherently peaceful and peace takes effort, as uncomfortable as it may seem. Think-tanks like the Institute on Economics and Peace (IEP) create detailed, empirical studies and indexes with a focus on promoting positive peace and how to build peace at the foundational level. The United Nations Peacebuilding Commission (UNPBC), the organ of the UN committed to implementing peacebuilding practices throughout the world, has adopted a more proactive approach to peace in place of the original “peacekeeping” tactic solely deployed during times of violence and unrest.
But most of us don’t research for global think-tanks or get deployed on peacebuilding missions to the Central African Republic of Sierra Leone. While we may feel connected to the atrocities taking place halfway across the world, our real collective power and influence comes from our ability to reach out to our local communities, especially the newcomers, and create a better understanding of peace through cross-pollinating dialogue.
Every year since 1981, the United Nations has deemed September 21 the “International Day of Peace”. Activities for the International Day of Peace have included moments of silence, meditation and prayer, feasts, festivals, flag ceremonies, marches, parades, interfaith dialogues, and numerous other activities that are all fantastic at promoting peaceful messages. However, these activities are usually orchestrated and participated by members of NGOs or students forced to participate by good natured teachers.
I plan to contribute to the International Day of Peace by literally walking the streets on September 21st and asking (unsuspecting) people: “What does peace mean to you?” I plan to start a #hashtag that hopefully will trend across all platforms: #PeaceToMe ? #DiversePeace ? #InterDayOfPeace ? (still working on it and open to suggestions). What I’m hoping (and expecting) to find is that there is diversity in definitions and expressions of peace and that should be celebrated--the idea of peace to a newly resettled refugee is likely to differ from an established family from the middle class.
Peace is the foundation of stability, tolerance, and social cohesion, and at a time when more and more of us retreat to our respective camps, it is becoming as important as ever to openly discuss and celebrate the one value that keeps all of this from descending into chaos.
My call to action is to follow me on September 21st and take to the streets and to all social media platforms and ask the question: “What does peace mean to you?” And don’t forget to answer yourself.
I want this to go global.
I want the International Day of Peace to be as recognizable as Flag Day, Presidents’ Day, Veteran’s Day, until it has become so woven into the fabric of our society that furniture stores and car dealerships start having clearance sales the whole week leading up to it.
I’ll be walking the streets of New Orleans, asking residents and tourists alike this very question. Can’t wait to see what I find.