When the United Nations declared every Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace, they asked us all, governments and people alike, to put down our guns for the day. The UN called for a global cease-fire and an observance of nonviolence for just one day, 24 short hours. Will we be able to do it?
It depends on who the "we" is. A Web search indicates that organizations, individuals and religious institutions throughout the world will observe the day by holding vigils, prayer sessions and cultural events. In several places around the world, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will use the day to directly address the violence in their own countries. For example, in Sierra Leone an organization will hold an open forum on the need to sustain their hard earned peace. In Jammu Kashmir, the disputed region between India and Pakistan that has witnessed bloodshed for last 17 years, an organization is encouraging a solution of dispute through peace and dialogue. Scotland will host a global youth conference with the theme of Christian, Muslim, white or black, we are all one. A Palestinian-Israeli group will announce its yearly presentation of the "Reconciliation Award" to people and organizations whose activities embody reconciliation.
But is it enough to attend a peace vigil or spend a day in prayer? What can we do for 24 hours to demonstrate our commitment to peace? We could hold teach-ins in public schools, community centers and businesses about conflict resolution, nonviolence training and communication. We could stop the recruitment of one more person into the military by helping blockade recruitment centers. And we could fully fund the organizations that focus on counter-military recruitment issues daily. We could stop paying our taxes that fund the military and join military tax resistance organizations, to name a few. But that's just what we the people can do. Isn't there a role and a responsibility for governments to play in the International Day of Peace? It is governments that start, fund and perpetuate wars.
What could our government do for one day? We could conduct a cease fire in Iraq and Afghanistan. We could begin sincere negotiations and make goodwill gestures toward our enemies by listening seriously to their criticisms and addressing their concerns. We could stop threatening other nations with our military and our weapons. All of these suggestions could help shift the paradigm, help us to begin to see the world in a different way and live up to the U.N. declaration.
To be sure, one day isn't enough to change the world and move it from violence and threats to cooperation and compassion. But what do we have to lose by trying?
I'm not sure if we will be able to stop killing each other for one day. But I do know that if we the people don't demand it, then the government will never even try. Don't we the people deserve a day, 24 short hours, without violence and war?
Karen Topakian is the executive director of the Agape Foundation Fund for Nonviolent Social Change, which commemorates this day by awarding cash prizes to two Northern California peacemakers.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle