A group of about 30 people are gathered, dressed in jackets and layers to ward off the morning chill. They huddle close together, their bodies swaying back and forth, moving in relative sync. They either hold signs high, or bow down with their head in their hands. There is no music and they do not chant, but remain close together. It is a solemn demonstration and their presence is statement enough. Soon, the protesters put down their signs and gather in a circle for a few moments of silence to honor those lost in the Iraq war. This is an anti-war statement, a call against government action, a call for peace. This scene takes place every Friday in front of the Lansing state Capitol building.
A group of people gather on the side of Grand River to protest the war.
However, on Friday, Sept. 21, there will be a different gathering of sorts in Lansing. It will not rail against the government, it will not call to end the war and it will make no statement. It will not be a protest, nor will it be a demonstration. It will be a celebration: a celebration of peace and non-violence for International Day of Peace.
Created in 1981 by the United Nations to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly, International Day of Peace seeks to honor and strengthen the vision of peace and non-violence among nations and peoples. “It’s a grassroots event without religious or political emphasis,” said Lee Ann Kinnee, Greater Lansing United Nations Association (GLUNA) Coordinator and Peace Education Center (PEC) member. “We want to uplift. Everyone knows what’s going on in the world, but there’s also something very beautiful going on which is each human being, so it is a celebration.”
International Day of Peace has been celebrated for 25 years, but during that time it has undergone some transformations, thanks in no small part to Jeremy Gilley, who is responsible for introducing the idea of a global ceasefire as part of the peace day. Until 2001, International Day of Peace was celebrated every third Tuesday in September to accompany the opening of the General Assembly. Gilley greatly supported the idea of a peace day, but wanted to take the idea a step further by creating a day of global ceasefire. For years, Gilley traveled around the world imploring government leaders to create a day of global ceasefire and nonviolence. Rather than working to create an entirely separate day of peace, Gilley approached the UN and proposed that International Day of Peace include a global ceasefire as well. Consequently, the UN member countries unanimously adopted a UNGA resolution declaring that International Day of Peace was to be celebrated annually on Sept. 21, and that a global ceasefire was to be included as part of that celebration.
Gilley’s success with the UN keeps with a grassroots philosophy of peace movements. Candice Wilmore, volunteer and public relations officer for Peace Partners Coalition, stressed the importance of Gilley’s work. “What Jeremy did has widened this [peace movement] to a global audience,” she said. “And as a result, last year on September 21, 27.6 million people from 200 countries did celebrate that day in some way, shape or form. That’s the beauty of what he did: he made it very personal.”
Gilley’s accomplishment also represents a key aspect of what Wilmore said peace is really about. “We want to celebrate that peace starts with individuals. That’s really our focus: individual responsibility for bringing peace to the world and making the world a better place,” she said. Because peace is something that exists within all people, individuals as well as institutions have the power to contribute to changes in society and make peace possible, Wilmore said.
The idea that the Lansing community should participate in this celebration came about during a GLUNA meeting in which it was decided that a peace coalition would be created out of local peace groups in the Greater Lansing area.
“When I first met with the coalition, we talked about how we didn’t want this to be an anti-war event or a religious or political event,” Wilmore said.
Mary Hanna, Michigan Peace Team and PEC Coordinator and future event participant, said the coalition makes a point to avoid any religious undertones so that it appeals to all people. “It might be what you might call a reverence for life, but no one refers to God,” she said. “It’s more along the Quakers’ way, to listen to whatever strength you call upon and you do that internally.”
Education freshman Stephanie Soisson said the lack of agenda in International Day of Peace is a refreshing change. “To be honest, I think it’s kind of a breath of fresh air that there is no specific focus,” she said. “I think it makes it more relatable. People are able to focus more on how it affects themselves home, rather than just people across the world.”
Soisson also said some of the issues which are oftentimes associated with peace movements, such as the war in Iraq and the genocide in Darfur, have received almost too much coverage, and as a result people have been desensitized to the violence.
“Not to sound bad, but I think with Darfur and Iraq, it’s a little over-covered,” she said. “I think we’ve created a little bit of a thick skin, and by not covering those issues [on International Day of Peace], it can bring in more people.”
Finance sophomore Steffon Jones, however, isn’t so sure. “I think it’s good to make the focus more broad, but it’s also a catch-22,” he said. “Because there might be more interest in it if people knew specifically what they were getting together for. Some people need a specific focus.”
Currently the coalition, named The Greater Lansing Peace Partners Coalition, is made up of eight participating groups. Members include GLUNA, Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice, PEC, Words of Peace Michigan, Lansing Community College Students for Social Change, The Red Cedar Friends, The Shalom Center for Justice and Peace and Everybody Reads. The coalition intends to achieve awareness of the International Day of Peace and celebrate it through a series of community events.
“The first step in this day is to bring awareness to people and to have people start bringing peace into their life and that’s our primary goal for this celebration,” Kinnee said.
The festivities are set to take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Lansing City Hall Plaza, and will include an opening ceremony with church bells and a moment of silence, songs of peace performed by singer Pat Madden, tables set up with exhibits and information, a peace reading by guest speaker Brad Rutledge and the dedication of a peace pole to the city of Lansing.
The dedication of the peace pole is anticipated to be one of the highlights of the day. It will be part of the Peace Pole Project started by the non-profit organization World Peace Society, which carves its motto, “May peace prevail on earth,” into wooden poles in 12 different languages to promote world unity. The peace poles are made in Northern Michigan and since 1985, more than 200,000 of them have been dedicated in more than 190 countries. Lansing’s peace pole will be received by the coalition on Monday, Sept. 17, along with a proclamation signed by both Governor Jennifer Granholm and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, which will formally recognize Sept. 21 as International Day of Peace in the state of Michigan. The coalition is donating the pole and paying for its installation when it is presented in City Hall on Sept. 21. The dedication will be part of Lansing’s first organized celebration of International Day of Peace.
Wilmore has high hopes for the day’s success. “Our coalition hopes to make this an annual event and to grow bigger and bigger every year and include more diverse groups throughout the Lansing area,” she said. “Because again, it’s not about an anti-war statement: it’s about domestic violence, it’s about taking care of children, and it’s about everything to do with living in a society with other human beings. When we all come together, there is such strength in that.”
Although International Day of Peace has not been celebrated in Lansing before, it has been widely celebrated in other parts of the world. According to the International Day of Peace NGO Committee at the UN, in 2006 more than 3,500 peace day events took place in 200 countries. On peace day in 2004, 300,000 participated in a vigil in Sri Lanka alone.
But have these celebrations succeeded in bringing awareness to the cause?
Wilmore thinks so. “There’s no doubt in my mind,” Wilmore said. “This year there is a big, big concert in the UK at Albert Hall with Annie Lennox, Jude Law, all these big stars, so this is a huge, huge thing and it has brought a lot of media attention to the topic of peace. It’s going to take some time, but every year it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Pre-medical freshman April Orsini said having an event in Lansing could help draw in a younger audience. “I think it’s a great way for people our age to get to discuss things like this,” she said. “It’s not something a lot of young people know about, and by having a big celebration here [in Lansing], it will definitely create some awareness. I would definitely go.”
Jones also said he is likely to attend. “It’s something I’d be interested in going to. It’s for a good reason,” he said.
But for Hanna, the day isn’t all about awareness. She said it’s also about getting people to think differently. “It is sort of about bringing to attention that the past ways of solving problems do not work. When all this time violence hasn’t worked, what is there to lose in trying nonviolence?” she asked. “What are you risking by trying something different?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *