Community Activism at Work in Ottawa
My full time job this summer is organizing a big event in Ottawa City Hall – the 11th annual Friends for Peace Day. This has been my job for over a decade. This year the event is held in Jean Pigott Place, inside City Hall, on Saturday September 28 from 11am to 5pm. https://www.facebook.com/events/518359988213050/
It all started on a bitterly cold winter evening ten years ago, as the Iraq war loomed. I received notice that a Peace Song Circle was happening on Parliament Hill. So I went, accompanied by my wife Carolyn and our dog. No-one else turned up. I remarked to Carolyn, “This is a good idea – it just needs to be organized.” She replied, “Let’s do it.” And so we did. It was Pine Gate Sangha that created the nucleus for Friends for Peace Canada. It quickly grew to a loose coalition of 50 organizations and we asked them to begin the peace process first of all with themselves, then to the community and the world. Our mandate evolved so that we gave annual Peace Grants to local and international organizations making a real difference, as well as working in concert with other coalitions in the city for environmental and social justice issues. I also decided at that time to concentrate my energy and efforts locally, feeling that these efforts could infuse global networks from the epicentre created there. I had received many invitations to be a global speaker and teacher, yet felt that a concentration on my home city of Ottawa was the primary focus. I responded to the many international invitations with a gracious decline. Though my ego was certainly miffed by the prospect of lost opportunities, I was inspired to devote my time and energy to moving things just a little bit in my city, so that more good things could begin to happen spontaneously. As I soon discovered, there were many good friends across the city more than happy to make this possible.
We organized 5,000 participants at the Peace Song Circle on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, held on a miserably wet, cold spring day in 2003. A sea of multi-coloured umbrellas on a rain swept morning welcomed all those gathered. As other peace protests joined us and sang “All Within Me Peaceful,” the crowd covered the grounds of Canada’s seat of government, all meditating at the end in total silence as the rain poured down on our heads. The pouring rain was strangely welcome, for it symbolized the tears of Iraqi children, my tears, your tears – transformed into hope through singing for peace with one another and experiencing deep peace. There was a transformation of anger, anguish and violence into a determined clarity to be peace and to oppose war. From there we know the wise actions to take. Those who are waging war would do better if they knew better; but they don’t know better. We, however, do know better and must take the steps to communicate our understandings to political decision makers. It is our developed consciousness, which allows us to know better. It is the meditative work we do on ourselves every day of our lives to come to terms with the inner struggle, turmoil and trauma – the inner war which we must learn to identify as our own; to find ways to transform our often raging thoughts.
Every year since the relentless rain on Parliament Hill, the annual Friends for Peace Days have been memorable. We got rained and snowed on for several years on Parliament Hill, thunder and lightning at Alumni Park of Carleton University – before we moved inside to Jean Pigott Place in Ottawa City Hall. The response to this community activism has blown everyone away, as it went beyond any of our expectations!! Some Highlights:
*Peace Award recipients Bonnie Cappachino (2004) and Bruce Cockburn (2006) in their Vision Speeches ripped into government foreign policy. Dr. Peter Stockdale (2010) held City Council to account for inter-ethnic violence and neglect in Ottawa.
* In 2010 Clive Doucet, candidate for Mayor, not only danced a great number with Big Soul Project, he gave a stirring speech on Cities of Peace – a vision for Ottawa. I asked the crowd if their light was fierce and were they ready for tomorrow’s child, not yet born. This child has difficult questions – “What did you do when there was still time to create a sustainable world?” “On your watch, was there intelligent life in humanity’s leaders and decision makers?” A resounding affirmative was delivered by the diversity gathered on this day.
* Mayor Jim Watson had this to say in 2011: “Friends for Peace is an outstanding organization that does very important work, promoting, strengthening and maintaining peace, planetary care and social justice within our communities and the environment.”
*On the 10th anniversary in 2012, MP Olivia Chow received a posthumous Peace Award on behalf of her late husband Jack Layton. The onstage performers were outstanding, highlighted by the world premiere of “To Young Canadians.” A tribute to Jack Layton performed by Orkidstra, who commissioned composer James Wright to create a song from Jack Layton’s letter to the nation. They enjoyed a prolonged standing ovation. Watch this glorious song by Orkidstra at the 10th Friends for Peace Day in Ottawa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NsVb2a2cbE&feature=youtu.be
Peace Awards are given annually to outstanding citizens. Grandfather William Commanda, Max Keeping, Bruce Cockburn, Dave Smith, and Elizabeth May to mention only a few. Our mandate for peace, planetary care and social justice was solid throughout the day – at the Welcome and Community Tables, the Silent Auction, Connection Centre and Servery. People left at the end of the day feeling uplifted, confident and connected.
* This year 2013 – there will be music, speeches, dancing, fabulous food at the Servery, and a chance to learn and connect. The day opens with Orkidstra followed by the Dandelion Dance Company. These young people signal that we have a future. Peggy Taillon will talk about the Hera Mission in Kenya. And all-time favorites, Big Soul Project, close the morning program by raising the roof with their exuberance and joie.
The Lunch Break is an opportunity to browse the Silent Auction, visit the community tables, check out the Connection Centre and enjoy the country bazaar nature of the event. The afternoon program begins with a First Nations theme – Asinabika Drum Circle and Idle No More. The 2013 Peace Awards will be presented to architect and visionary Douglas Cardinal and to curator Dr Amber Lloydlangten and her team at the War Museum for their magnificent Peace Exhibition. From Montreal – a great band with Sonja Ball and Friends, followed by Lucille Hildesheim on Celtic Harp. Samba Ottawa close the day with their rhythmic magic. Get there early for the opening with Orkidstra. Doors open at 10.30am.
Entrance is by donation. All funds raised enable Peace Grants to be presented every year to organizations making a difference in our city and internationally. The intent is to create a different form of peaceful expression that appeals to a wide cross section of Canadian citizens who want to create infrastructure in our institutions that value peace and planetary processes.
The Friends for Peace Day is an awesome, diverse, unique Ottawa experience. It is made possible by the generosity of volunteers and supporters and the diversity of Ottawa who show up to have a good time, be educated and inspired. The Friends for Peace Day creates an epicentre of intent and action – intense at times as people are moved to both tears and laughter. It is fun, poignant and direct. The intensity and joy ripples through the diversity – all generations, faiths and cultures in our northern city. The force of the epicentre roars through the community and activist tables, Muslim families, Asian groups, elders, young folk and the volunteers. The diversity of Ottawa gathers, listens, dances, laughs, cries – and takes home an unforgettable experience of hope and confidence. The family grows bigger each year. All Nations, All Traditions – A Circle of Friendship www.friendsforpeace.ca
I love my summer job. It is such a rewarding experience.