PeaceJam speakers left their mark on many
A police dog walked sniffing the floor under the watchful eye of a secret service agent. Wearing impeccable dark suits and the characteristic wire on their ears, other agents carefully inspected the stage, the seats and the hallways of the basketball stadium at the University of Denver.
From the press room located on the second floor, I watched the most impressive security display I have ever witnessed in a country in peace. The reason for such a display? Nine peace Nobel laureates “including the Dalai Lama and U.S. activist Jody Williams ” were about to speak to roughly 7,000 people.
The laureates were at DU attending a three-day international conference on September 15-17. The event reunited 3,000 teenagers from different countries to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PeaceJam Foundation, a non-profit organization that trains students to promote peace.
“These are some of the most amazing people in the world”, said PeaceJam co-founder Dawn Engle when introducing the laureates before their speeches on Saturday afternoon. What came later confirmed that they are also brilliant speakers. Not even a fire alarm that interrupted the Dalai Lama presentation was enough for the audience to leave. Everybody remained glue-stuck to their seats just to confirm it was a false alarm.
Love and hugs
“The only thing that we have that is really, really important, is love,” said Mairead Corrigan Maguirre, in a tender tone. She was the winner of the Peace Nobel Prize in 1976 for her work to promote a nonviolent solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
That transcendent truth, with different words, was present in all the speeches. The Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989, reminded us that love is one of the core values in all religious traditions.
“Love is what must save this world!” added Adolfo Perez Esquivel, a poet and leader of the Latin American nonviolent movement for human rights who received the award in 1980. “Only through love we can build a more just, more humane and more fraternal society for everybody, not for some people, but for everybody,” Perez Esquivel said, in Spanish.
Another laureate began her presentation with an unexpected request. “Give each other a hug!”said Betty Williams, the woman who in 1976 was awarded the Nobel Prize along with Corrigan Maguirre for her efforts to end violence in Northern Ireland. I shared hugs with an elderly couple on my left side, and with two guys on my right. By then, most people were smiling, and the air was filled with friendship.
The nonsense of war
But the Nobel laureates did not focus only on what some people consider abstract issues. They also talked about concrete realities, like the war in Iraq, and the real threats to international security.
“On September 11, 2001, the United States lost 3,000 lives because of Osama Bin Laden,” award winner Oscar Arias said. “That same year, the world lost over 1.6 billion lives because of tuberculosis, and yet the United States spends more than half a trillion dollars a year on its military, and only, as you all know, a tiny fraction of that on humanitarian needs.”
A doctor in political science from the University of Essex in England, Arias used abundant statistics to make his point. He said, for instance, that the 7 billion dollars the United States plans to spend on building a wall along the border with Mexico would be enough money to provide access to clean drinking water for the 1 billion people on the planet who do not have it.
“As scary as terrorism is, there are far scarier threats to our human security that receive only a fraction of the attention,” Arias said.
Betty Williams was even more specific. She said that among the crowd there was an 11-year-old girl who has taken on the job of ending hunger in an orphanage in Peru. She asked the girl to stand up. Everybody clapped. “A child of 11 has more intelligence than the President of the United States,” Williams said.
Another woman who received the Nobel Prize for her work to ban and clear land mines, Jody Williams, also invited us to embrace a radically different concept of security.
“Unless we deal with the root causes of injustice we will always have armed conflict,” she said.
Williams also made a call to action. She said that peace is not a dove, a poem or anything like that. Peace requires hard work every day.
But what to do, concretely? Perhaps that’s the first action to take: looking around, deciding how we can better contribute to the cause of peace, and then getting to work.
Omar Cabrera is a reporter for La Tribuna newspaper in Glenwood Springs.
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