“Peace in the world would free up national resources – human as well as non-human – for investments in projects designed to improve the life of people,” says Pritam Rohila, Ph.D., founder of Oregonians For Peace.
Rohila and other area peacemakers have organized a “34-Days for Peace” event again this year. A celebration and examination of peace, 34 Days for Peace began on September 21 – International Day of Peace – and ends on October 24, United Nations Day.
Programs available to all, and usually at no charge, include peace vigils, a nonviolence book club, a meditation on Work as a Form of Worship, the screening of a film about gun violence and lectures by Oregon PeaceWorks’ Peter Bergel on both Gandhi’s Nonviolence in a Turbulent World Today and The Current State of US – Russia Relations.
“For 20 years I was busy promoting peace and harmony between the peoples of India and Pakistan,” Rohila says. “Besides other things, my work included four Peace and Goodwill Missions to the two countries… It was not until 2014, that I figured that we needed peace and harmony here in the Salem area also.”
With the object of the 34 Day event “to promote peace, communal harmony, appreciation of diversity, and sustainability,” a variety of international music and dance presentations are offered to enrich attendees.
One was a Concert for Peace by Jan Michael Looking Wolf, on Saturday, October 8. Looking Wolf is an internationally renowned Native American flute performer and recording artist with over 50 national award presentations. His message of One Heart is a “recognition of Unity through Diversity,” Rohila says, and “sends a message of Hope for oneness of humanity.”
Since their founding, Oregonians For Peace have questioned the death penalty in the strongest terms. On October 17, one month after his article, “What I Learned From Executing Two Men” was published in the New York Times, Frank Thompson, former superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, will speak about his profound change of heart after supervising the execution of two inmates in Salem. Thompson is a nationally recognized speaker opposing the death penalty and an outspoken advocate for more rehabilitation programs for the addicted as well as better and more available mental health services, more robust support for murder victim family members and greater effective intervention into abusive households. He has addressed the legislatures of Maryland and Nebraska and conferred with the governors of Colorado and Oregon.
“Besides being inhumane,” Rohila says, the death penalty “closes the door on redemption and reformation. People can and do change. But that change is possible only if the prisoner is alive. Besides, poor and minority people, who do not have the financial resources, have a hard time defending themselves… and court-appointed attorneys do not take enough interest in their cases.”
Ron Steiner, of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, supports Thompson’s message. As an organization, OADP joins victims’ survivors, attorneys, religious leaders, teachers and others to increase the effectiveness of Oregon’s response to violent interpersonal crime by removing the death penalty, a “failed public policy,” off the table.
“Replacing the death penalty with service and programs that deter violence and crime and murder, is a giant step toward peace,” Steiner believes. “The citizens of Oregon are spending over $28 million annually to keep it on the books…. and we have only used it two time in the past 53 years.”
One of the most unexpected programs in the 34 Day lineup will examine a unique collaboration that occurred during the Vietnam War, when Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh connected with Martin Luther King and Catholic social activist Thomas Merton to discuss ways to bring about peace. King was so impressed with the humble Buddhist leader’s efforts to enact nonviolent social change that he nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The discussion about this alliance will be presented by Dharma Teacher Jerry Braza, who will explore how the three spiritual leaders worked across spiritual traditions to promote a peaceful world, and how ordinary people can, in our own lives, work to bring about peace and compassion. His presentation will be framed by music by River Sangha and readings.
For those interested in learning how to shift from a paradigm of domination to one of cooperation, the nonviolence training workshop by veteran Oregon peace activist Peter Bergel, Shifting Into Peace Gear, is an essential experience. The event will be held on Saturday, October 15.
To wrap up the 34 Days, on Monday, October 24, the festival will bring the global to Salem and engage Salem people in the larger world, with a talk by Prof. James A.R. Nafziger on The United Nations: Looking Ahead with the Aid of a Rear-View Mirror. Nafziger is Thomas B. Stoel Professor of Law and Director of International Law Programs at Willamette University Law College, Honorary Professor of the East China University of Politics and Law, and has been a member of the law faculties at numerous universities in the United States and internationally.
The many experiences curated by the 34 Days of Peace organizers are designed to occur throughout the Salem community in churches, at Willamette University, the 50+ Senior Center and at a Friends meeting house. Anyone interested in participating in this series of interactive celebrations should go to Oregonians for Peace’s Facebook page to learn more.