Peace Advocacy: Local and National

Helen Hudson, founder of Mothers against Gun Violence

In June 2005, Helen’s stepson was killed, in a year that would see 25 local homicides. In an attempt to make a difference, Helen gathered a group of mothers of similarly bereaved families, to extend love and caring to the young adults who are most at risk. Each one of its members has been affected on a very personal level by violence and each one shares a vision of Syracuse as a peaceful and safe place for everyone, especially our youth. They talk to youths on street corners, networking and making connections with those who feel lost and unloved. They found that the young people responded to this mothering, and show themselves to be respectful and bright but lacking in the sense that people care about them. The group continues to mentor youth while working with the mothers and families who continue to lose their children to violence. 

In June of this year Helen’s daughter-in-law notified her that her son had been shot. She attributes his survival to luck (the bullet just missed his heart) and the prayer circles generated by Mothers Against Gun Violence and the 22 MAGV members who came to the hospital to support her family. 

Helen’s niece, LaKesha Martin, joined her in this mission and accompanied her to our meeting. She thanked WTB for their concern and the opportunity to share. She praised Helen’s warmth and love. 

In the beginning the women didn’t know what to do and were warned that they were putting themselves in harm’s way and wouldn’t be received. Feeling that something had to be done, they went out with homemade signs reading “We Love Our Children.” It was remarkable how many people responded. When LaKesha feels overwhelmed by the problems and thinks “I can’t do this anymore,” Helen is her strength. 

Helen feels that the only solution is caring, convincing angry young men that they are loved and that revenge is not an answer. Caring actions that seem insignificant are so appreciated by those who are hurting from tragedy, assuring them that they are not going through their pain alone.

Helen distributed a fact sheet with homicide statistics. In the city of Syracuse there have been 205 homicides between 1996 and 2007. This includes 16 children up to the age of 7, 91 young adults aged 13 to 25, 41 adults 26 to 35, 22 adults 36 to 45, and 25 elders aged 46 to 71. Two hundred and five people have met violent deaths, but countless futures have been impacted.

During our discussion, members pointed out the importance of the personal approach, and giving others the sense that they are not alone. The Clinton Square vigil organized by Mothers Against Gun Violence was attended by many young people. Helen stressed that this is not a racial issue, the deaths cross all boundaries. “No child left behind” becomes meaningless in the reality of violence.

When asked what WTB could do to help WAGV, LaKesha explained that after a murder, on the next Sunday at 5pm, the group meets at the site of the violence. WTB member attendance would be appreciated. Helen added that we need to work together as a community. Peace and Big Brother and Big Sister programs have a waiting list of 135 kids looking for mentors. Or WTB members could adopt a school, carrying the message “You don’t know me but I love you.”

Danya Wellmon and Gay Montague, coordinators of Central New Yorkers for a U.S. Department of Peace

This is one of many groups who are working on the campaign for a U.S. Peace Department under the Peace Alliance. Gay began by reminding us of current significant dates: 9/11 is not only the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. but the anniversary of Gandhi’s first non-violent action, 9/13 was World Day of Prayer, and 9/21 will be the International Day of Peace; this week, representatives of 40 countries will meet in Japan, looking at how they can establish a Peace Department. Gay called attention to the patchwork cloth on a table in the center of our discussion circle. It is a part of the mile long cloth that was wrapped around the UN building on International Peace Day in 2000; it was then displayed at the Capitol and at the Pentagon.

The idea of a cabinet-level Department of Peace was first introduced in 1792 by Benjamin Rush and Benjamin Bennaker as a counterpart to the Department of War (renamed the Defense Department). Gay and Danya attended a February conference in Washington where they learned more about the legislation, its history, and its ramifications. They became convinced that peace has to be a priority in our government, and this is an achievable solution to decreasing violence. Danya had originally felt that a Department of Peace would be just another bureaucracy, but the bill actually offers sound, detailed solutions to world problems.

Gay and Danya played five minutes of a video that began with images of violence and poverty. A US Department of Peace will work at an international as well as on a domestic level to address issues of violence. A speaker told us that 30% of kids are attracted to gangs, partly because of the emotional conviction that gangs offer. We must become as convicted behind peace and love as some are behind hate. A Department of Peace will incorporate non-violent conflict resolution strategies into all school curriculums, grades K-12, so that every child will receive such training. Developing emotional maturity and moral imagination to empathize with others must be a priority. We already have sophisticated, expert analysis of the requirements to wage war; a Peace Department will enable us to utilize the expertise of those skilled in “best practices” to do what is necessary to preserve peace. Peace experts will identify areas of potential conflict and work for changes to preclude violence from escalating. Establishing a US Peace Department. will help us to avoid the misjudgments and miscalculations that have so often allowed us to slip into war.

The Department of Peace will draw on local, regional, and national expertise to develop plans and programs for addressing the root sources of conflict in troubled areas. Gay and Danya urged us to read Over 300 universities already have peace studies programs so the expertise required for the Department of Peace is available. A national Peace Academy will be established as a sister to the current military academies. 

For those worried about the cost of another cabinet-level department, the Peace Department budget is expected to be 1% of the federal budget. The expenditures for the war in the Middle East are not even included in the budget, but far exceed 1%. Currently issues related to domestic violence consume about 80% of most police budgets. Domestic violence alone is calculated to cost $300 billion annually when police and prison costs are included. Incorporating a pro-active approach to decreasing violence in our cities, communities, schools, prisons and homes is at the forefront of this movement. 

Gay ended with words from Albert Einstein, “Imagination is better than Knowledge.” She asked us to envision a world at peace and to become a constituency of peacemakers.

After the presentation, discussion turned to local issues that could be affected by a Department of Peace. Helen Hudson would like to see programming with local grass-roots organizations to change young people’s mind sets. Gay and Danya would like to bring local initiatives under one umbrella, where national and international sharing would bring new ideas to world-wide problems. Recently delegates from Northern Ireland met with Iraqi factions, sharing their experience in dealing with ethnic and religious differences.

Following the presentations and discussion, audience members stood to read scriptural quotations concerning peace. We then broke into smaller groups to share our answers to these questions:

– what does peace mean to you?
– what do you do to promote peace?
– what would it look like if the world was at peace?

After the groups shared their responses, we all stood in a circle and closed with a Buddhist meditation on peace.