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“...I cried out in a song …why does good change take so long?” Greg Brown in his song “The Poet's Game.”
This week I revisit and update two stories from past articles. Both are efforts to create good change.
The Golden Rule Voyage I
n September 2022, Duluth was the kickoff of an extraordinary voyage for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Three members the Golden Rule crew came to Duluth to hold the first public events in an 11,000-mile journey to raise awareness of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The trip began in Minneapolis and ended on Sept. 17, 2023 in Chicago.
The Golden Rule is a 34-foot sailboat which, in 1958, attempted to sail to the South Pacific to oppose U.S. nuclear weapons testing. The voyage was unsuccessful (the crew members were arrested in Hawaii) but it helped create pressure for future nuclear testing and disarmament treaties. The boat was restored by members of Veterans For Peace in California and, since 2015, has been sailing for peace and to promote abolition of nuclear weapons.
During the last year the Golden Rule visited more than 50 cities along the Mississippi, Gulf and East coasts, including a stop in Havana, Cuba. Along the way there were hundreds of public events. New York was a highlight when the boat and crew made an uninvited “guest appearance” at the Navy's “Fleet Week Parade of Ships.”
The Golden Rule's peace sign sails were a stark contrast to the Navy’s war ships and weapons of mass destruction. Mexico hosted a meeting with representatives of 13 countries at the United Nations. The representative for South Africa (the only country to have voluntarily eliminated its nuclear weapons) told the Veterans for Peace delegation, “It is a breath of fresh air to be talking with citizen activists. I was struck by the images of you sailing by the warships. It really is David and Goliath. We are doing diplomatic work but you are the ones doing the heavy lifting...We thank you very much.”
After visits to New England they sailed up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal and into the Great Lakes. Beginning with Toronto, Canada, they visited 18 ports in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The words of Albert Bigelow, the original Golden Rule captain, inspired the crews and should motivate us today. “I am going because it is time to do something about peace, not just talk about peace...I am going because, like all men, in my heart I know that all nuclear explosions are monstrous, evil, unworthy of human beings...I am going because war is no longer a feudal jousting match; it is an unthinkable catastrophe for all men...I am going because it is now the little children ...who are the front-line troops...I am going in the hope of helping change the hearts and minds of men in government....quit this waste, this arms race...stop competing for evil, compete for good.”
To help support this good change go to www.vfpgoldenruleproject.org.
Honoring the Peacemakers
In 2016, I wrote about the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation (uspeacememorial.org ). The Foundation was created to honor peacemakers by building a memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. Dr. Michael Knox, the founder, says “Our society should be as proud of those who fight for alternatives to war as it is of those who fight wars.”
All across our country there are many monuments honoring the sacrifice of those who served in the military and fought in our many wars. But rarely do you find memorials for those who sacrificed to promote peace. The foundation is working to “promote a culture where our traditions and rituals not only pay tribute to those who fight for our freedom, but also honor those who exercise this freedom by seeking peaceful alternatives to war.”
You honor and reward what you truly value. A broader view of patriotic service would include all the people who have worked for peace, freedom, justice, equality and democracy. Many people sacrificed (and died) to defend and expand these ideals throughout our history. These struggles were fought in the legislatures, courts and the streets of America and not on foreign battlefields. But the peace activists have not been recognized for their service to our country. More often they have been denigrated as unpatriotic. But peace is patriotic and working for alternatives to the violence, destruction and suffering of war should be honored.
President John Kennedy once said, “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”
The proposed U.S. Peace Memorial is a long overdue “thank you” for the many people advocating better conflict resolution than war. It is a step toward changing our national culture of militarism. Honoring peacemakers sends a clear message that cooperation, negotiation, diplomacy and respect of international law are patriotic, honorable and socially acceptable activities in a democracy.
Since 2009, the foundation has awarded the U.S. Peace Prize to recognize and honor outstanding American antiwar leaders. These courageous individuals and organizations have publicly opposed military interventions, the use of military force and threats of war in our foreign policy. The 2023 prize was awarded to the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth which works to counter misleading military recruitment in schools and the growing militarization of our schools.
The foundation also honors ordinary Americans by publishing the U.S. Peace Registry. One doesn't have to be a celebrity or well-know peace activist to make the list. People taking simple actions like contacting their elected officials, writing letters-to-the-editor, attending marches or being a member of peace organizations are also honored. One of the purposes of the Peace Registry is “normalize” working for peace and show that many ordinary people have acted to oppose war. So, don't be shy or modest. If you have played even a small role in the peace movement you should submit yourself for the registry.
As with every effort for “good change” it is citizens that must push progress from the bottom up. We can all help by supporting these two organizations and their efforts to promote peace and create a better world.