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Home   »  Resources  »  Archives  »  Event Reports (Pre-Invasion -- ...  »  'People's Congress' eyes paths to ...

'People's Congress' eyes paths to peace

by TOBY HENRYBrattleboro Reformer (VT)
November 25th, 2002


BRATTLEBORO -- Espousing peaceful solutions ranging from developing and sharing sustainable agricultural technology to ending trade embargoes, the first meeting of the Vermont People's Peace Congress brought forth scores of solutions intended to help end the Western nations' longstanding problems with Iraq and other nations.

Organized by the Putney-based organization "Seeds of Peace" and held in the School for International Training's William Rotch Center on Saturday, the Peace Congress was called together, in part, by the recent United Nations resolution allowing the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq said Jon Schottland, the coordinator for Seeds of Peace. By looking at the issues of terrorism, cultural misunderstandings, hunger and the need for education in a holistic manner, Schottland said, the more than 60 peace delegates in attendance hope to eventually solidify proposals for presentation before local and national politicians, and eventually, the U.N. itself.

"It's a form of democracy and citizen participation, people coming together and trying to solve problems by developing and encouraging peaceful solutions," Schottland said.

Brattleboro resident Michael Gigante, a presenter at the peace event, agreed.

"The purpose of this is to get a group of people together from the state of Vermont in order to stem the tides of war," Gigante said.

Much of the four-hour congress consisted of delegates working in groups to address specific points. These smaller subtopics included developing a resolution for American citizens to show their support for the people of Iraq by opposing the United States' anticipated military action against Iraq, ways to achieve extended disarmament beyond Iraq and methods to reverse the trend of the dehumanization often employed against people of the Middle East. Before the brainstorming began, Schottland reminded participants of the overall purpose of their discussions.

"One thing we have to remember today is that we are peace delegates, a peace caucus, like the political parties that have a caucus," he said. "What is the understanding that has to exist in the hearts and minds of people in order to have peace?

"In a way, this is our time to say 'We hold these truths to be self-evident,'" Schottland continued, quoting a phrase from the Declaration of Independence. "What are these truths?"

From a standpoint of global representation, the collective group functioned much like a United Nations in miniature. One group working together on a framework consisted of New York City resident Gordon Kindlon, Paula V. Castillo of Venezuela, Ruth Ann Dunn of Londonderry, Richard Dror of Marlboro, Wendy Webber of Great Britain and Brattleboro resident Christian Sinclair. Together, the six identified the objectives for a their own template for peace.

Kindlon quickly noted that peace should be based on a universal notion of truth, but added that truth is often subjective, based on one's own unique values.

"All people have equal worth, so all points of view should also have equal worth," he said.

Webber concurred, but added that the path toward the truth is often a system of trial and error. Building on Webber's observation, Castillo expressed the idea that the framework for peace would need to be clearly defined from its outset. The dehumanization of the group of people seen as "the enemy" in any given conflict is a powerful poltical tool, Castillo continued, and efforts must be made to counteract this concept. Kindlon observed that even the phraseology used by the media and the military becomes part and parcel of the dehumanization process.

"A classic example of this is (the phrase) 'collateral damage' to describe civilian casualties," Kindlon said. "It really takes the humanity out of the conflict."

Working from a single general statement, the group seemed to agree on the idea that poverty must be universally eliminated in order to establish a global peace framework.

"Physical hunger, deprivation and ignorance -- these are the hindrances to peace, when basic needs are not met," Webber said.

Expanding upon the idea, Dror said that much could be done on a national scale if an emphasis on nonviolent resolution were part of school curriculum in much the same manner as history and mathematics.

"The educational system doesn't teach cooperation," he said. "All the things that go wrong in our schools are the same things that go wrong in society. We don't have to hurry, but if we could get to the students, we could change everything in three or four generations."

After the dialogues, representatives from each group presented their peers' statements and findings. Among the informal proposals put forward were to send representatives to local and national demonstrations, to extend the circle of support by spreading the word with friends and family, and the possibility of constructing a Vermont peace academy to continue future discussions and hypotheses on the subject. Perhaps the most radical sentiment expressed came from the group working on a resolution in support of the people of Iraq, presented by Tom Cowan of Keene, N.H.

"We, the Vermont People's Peace Congress, call upon the United States to leave Iraq alone," he said, to a burst of applause. "If they want to dialogue with us, they can ask. The people of the United States have no conflict with the people of Iraq, and we want to work with global communities to rebuild Iraq's civilian infrastructure, pursue justice and help Iraq to transition into the greater global community."

At the conclusion of the event, many of those in attendance expressed the feeling that Vermont's Peace Congress is destined to continue their collective quest for peace.

"It think it was a very good start, in bringing people together to discuss peace with a common voice," said Walople, N.H., resident Robert Riversong.

"These are things that can be done right now," said Athens resident Timothy Stevenson. "There's no reason why we have to wait for someone to do something for us. When we, the people in this room, are acting on these proposals, that principle of activism has to be part of the process."

UnitedforPeace.org is a nonpartisan resource for anti-war and social change activists. The information and events on this site are not necessarily endorsed by members of United for Peace and Justice. Please see our editorial policy for more information.


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