What if Peace Were Popular?
by Reba Parker
Some of you may be thinking that peace is too important to popularize. I would beg to differ. In the fall of 2011, Charleston Peace One Day, a non-profit located in Charleston, South Carolina took on a strategic mission to do just that. The campaign was called PEACE HAPPENS, setting forth a Call to Action asking people to “do something for peace.” During peace week, September 14-21, 2011, over 80 groups planned their own unique initiatives for peace. Recall that Charleston is where the American Civil War started (we just celebrated our Sesquicentennial) and is currently ranked forty-second on the U.S. Index of Peace. Most would think we have a long way to go, but nothing is holding us back — except maybe old, outdated images and definitions of peace, and a bit of lingering intolerant history.
As a sociologist, I propose that if we are to move from a culture of violence to one of peace, we need to rethink the way we deliver ideas of peace, conciliation, cooperation, and tolerance. Images of peace always seem to pop up as resisting, passive, weak, and/or countercultural. Counterculture is often taken as “the culture and lifestyle of those people, especially among the young, who reject or oppose the dominant values and behavior of society.” This begs the question, how can a culture of peace become the new model for the dominant culture? In a culture where violence seems to be the default, how can that paradigm be reversed? Is re-socialization possible?
First of all, the definition of peace that I’m proposing would go something like this: “the artful continuation of the existence of humankind.” In other words, it comes from ideas of sustainability except that we are adding people to the equation. How can we take good care of the earth and its people for the long run? This definition is visionary, but at the same time extremely practical. Sustainability, which is global in context, is asking ordinary citizens to rethink the way they live and consume, and how they see their responsibilities to the earth as a global citizen. Why not use definitions of peace in the same way? Our Peace Happens campaign asked those very same questions: “Who are you in relationship to this planet, what are you good at, and how can you use those gifts to give back to the whole of life?”
This year, South Carolina had the largest positive peace initiative in its history, and next year promises to double those efforts. While focused on the community level where businesses, schools, circles of faith, and the local government become aware of a culture of peace, they then are challenged to create actions to pursue those goals, which get more innovative and defined each year. This is the process of re-socialization, an internalization of the message with an action that is particular to one’s own group identity, hence owned. Imagine if every community in the world had a campaign for a culture of peace? You know there will be significant change when companies begin contending for the best ways to include practical peace in their long term strategic plans, schools have peace education curriculum, our governments begin passing Department of Peace bills, and ideas of violence become as outdated, inefficient, and amateurish as the bulky VCR tape. We have not reached that mark yet, but we are capable of changing culture. The question is how…
Getting the attention of people and focusing on their relationship to positive peace would be the first step. What kind of image could be displayed that depicts this new messaging for peace that would attract our local and global audience? If the logo or image doesn’t grab the attention of the audience, they won’t take the time to consider its message. Many see the peace movement as outdated, weak, or radical. There actually may be some truth to that, especially in the United States, but what can we do to change that perspective? With the thousands of images seen daily, this new image needs to be clean, simple, relevant, memorable, and, most importantly, inspiring. You may think I’m trying to sell peace — well, at least that would then make people consumers of peace, which is perhaps not such a bad thing. However, this re-messaging is really more about piquing the interests of a creative human population, calling for a response that would bring forth a tipping point, where a more just, peaceful, and sustainable society becomes the emerging outcome. Our youth are ready, equipped, and creative enough to start this process, but we aren’t providing palatable images or models for them.
I’m a professor at the College of Charleston, and in 2009 founded a non-profit, Charleston Peace One Day, whose mission is to create awareness about the International Day of Peace and to help facilitate the process of moving our communities toward a culture of peace. The first thing we did was to come up with an attractive logo. How does one do that? You hire the best graphic designer in town. Our logo has not only become recognizable, but was chosen to be in the international text, The Best of Letterhead & Logo Design, Volume 12. Our annual peace festival posters were winning Addy Awards, which not only meant that our poster was smart and attractive but that the entire professional design field in our region was seeing and hearing about our work. And by the way, our work is more than smart and attractive — it’s life-changing, and our festivals drew over 4000 people in the last three years. Your designer must sign on to this new idea of peace, so be prepared to pass your story on with passion, purpose, and clarity. When they get your message, it becomes their message. Remember, your image must hold true to the message yet must also draw attention.
If attention draws people, what helps to make that “drawing” stick? As in any social movement, the first step is defining your mission, hence spreading awareness. The story needs to be relevant to the lives of the people and communicated in such a way that resonates with their needs. As a teacher, I see so many young people that are looking for ways to give back to their community, using their own creativity in the process. Awareness leads to action, and most social psychologists would agree that this awareness should not be based on fear tactics, overwhelming statistics, or humor, but on real, practical solutions.
Action is the doing of the peace. The best way to make peace happen is to ask your community to internalize the message by creating actions that incorporate their gifts and talents. For example, we had a local hair salon selling blue/white hair extensions, symbolizing global peace. Of course they had our Peace Happens stickers on their front door, and passed out Peace Happens awareness cards which told the story of peace actions both locally and globally. The Jazz Artists of Charleston used social media to post video clips of musicians sharing their favorite “peaceful” songs, a movie theater highlighted films of peace, school children were planting peace poles, yoga centers were meditating, sandwich shops sold peace cookies, and intercultural activities were springing up from unexpected places. Many of my students went on guerrilla chalking missions, where periodically one would see small peace signs chalked in random places on sidewalks and steps. One group of students held up signs that said “Smile, It’s Peace Day” on busy thoroughfares. At the end of the week, all participants got PEACE HAPPENED stickers. You can image the conversations that followed. We actually had entire schools celebrating positive peace for the week, incorporating concepts of tolerance and cooperation within multiple disciplines, displaying the Peace Happens logo on every smart board in the school. One local high school, which is typically seen as the school falling behind and drawing negative attention, was proud of their steps toward peace — and now wants to do peace initiatives year round. These examples are merely a small sample of what actually took place that week.
Change is inevitable when enough people understand the message and feel compelled to add their own creative footprints to the process. In this manner, peace can become the “artful continuation of the existence of humankind.” This new, doable peace can bring back ideas of hope and cooperation, and thus become the “new normal.” If you think this reimaging is impossible, think back to where the message of sustainability was just a few years ago. The peace movement in South Carolina is now growing so fast that a full-time, trained staff is going to be necessary, just to keep up with the demand for peace. Now that’s change!
Can actions of real peace become the new norm, the thing to do, the default position, and hence a part of our everyday lives? I would respond with a resounding YES! With a reimaging and re-messaging that draws attention and awareness, action and change are soon to follow. These actions are a real way of living life that makes sense, which becomes a viable solution for a sustainable, caring world. From the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “In this world we have dreamers and doers; what we really need are dreamers that do and doers that dream.”
Listen to the voices of the people around the world right now, voices crying for fairness, cooperation, a respect for humanity. If you take a real close look, what they are really wanting is a culture of peace. Can peace be regarded with favor, approval, or affection by people in general, and hence popular? You know what I think.
Reba Parker is an Adjunct Professor at the College of Charleston and Founder/President of Charleston Peace One Day, a non-profit raising awareness and creating action around ideas of a Culture of Peace. She has recently been published in the Journal for the Study of Peace & Conflict, and speaks regularly on the idea of re-messaging peace on the community level. For more information, visit www.bepeaceful.org or email her at: [email protected].