Day of Peace observes those displaced by war
What: 2017 International Day of Peace
When: 6 pm Thu., Sep. 21
Where: ^he Majestic (1027 North Forest St.)
Cost: Dinner, $5-$20
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
“Peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
― —Martin Luther King Jr.
As almost 400,000 refugees flee ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, world leaders at the United Nation’s General Assembly this week acknowledged that they have not only failed on promises to take in more refugees, but refugee rights have been dismantled in many parts of the world.
The UN marked the International Day of Peace with the annual ringing of the peace bell and calls for combatants worldwide to lay down their arms and observe a day of ceasefire and non-violence. But this year, displaced millions come into focus on a day more typically reserved to commemorate the hundreds of thousands lost in war and conflict.
A year on from the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in New York, where leaders pledged to take in more refugees and help vulnerable people forced to flee their countries, global refugee numbers are increasing year after year as conflicts spiral out of control.
“The horrific situation in Myanmar is exactly why we need more than just a sticking-plaster approach to helping those fleeing war and persecution. After being subjected to horrific violence, including killings and having their villages burned to the ground, these Rohingya refugees are now facing a humanitarian crisis as Bangladesh struggles to support them,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
This year’s UN observance was especially dedicated to the more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes to escape conflict and persecution.
“While militarization and persecution are typically understood as primary forces of migration, forces of economic violence, climate change and gendered violence are all also causing displacement,” notes Vancouver author Harsha Walia, cofounder of the migrant justice group No One Is Illegal. Walia characterizes the whole as border imperialism, an interlocking pattern of capitalism, labor exploitation, settler colonialism, state building and racialized empire building among wealthy nations.
A recent study by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists found that over the last decade, World Bank-funded projects physically or economically displaced 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods. According to statistics by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, by the year 2020 there may be as many as 50 million climate refugees.
“Immigration detention centers are the most visible sites of border enforcement policies,” she notes, “with migrant detainees forming one of the fastest growing prison populations around the Western world.”
“When more and more doors and minds are being closed to refugees, let us show solidarity,” Secretary-General António Guterres said at the UN ceremony. “Those of us fortunate enough to enjoy peace and prosperity should do everything we can to allow others to enjoy it as well.
“To avoid war, we need to be able to build bridges, to combat discrimination, to struggle for justice and human rights for all, to make people respect each other, to make people see their identities respected but at the same time feel that they belong to the larger community where they are integrated,” he said.
• • •
Bellingham City Council took steps to acknowledge some of these concerns last week. They affirmed the city’s continued support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era immigrant program that provides security to children brought into the United States from crisis-ridden parts of the world. They also joined cities around the world in officially proclaiming Sept. 21 as the 2017 International Day of Peace, with a special recognition that this year marks the 15th Anniversary of the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center.
The day was established in 1981 by the UN General Assembly. Two decades later, in 2001, the Assembly unanimously voted to designate the day as a period of nonviolence and ceasefire. The day is observed through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.
Whatcom Peace & Justice Center (WPJC) coalesced in 2002 from earlier peace initiatives, including the Bellingham Peace Vigil, the nation’s longest-running weekly peace vigil that began in 1966.
Included in the organization’s pedigree is the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, established to promote and protect an individual’s right to be treated with dignity and to live without fear of violence, intimidation or discrimination based on group identification or personal characteristics. The Task Force was initiated 17 years ago as the Whatcom Civil Rights Project. Since 2011, WHRTF has operated within and in conjunction with the WPJC.
The Whatcom Peace & Justice Center works to create a voice for peace and social justice in Whatcom County through partnerships with local community and religious organizations, direct action, public witness and education on alternatives to violence and war.
The pedigree and commitment to social justice in Bellingham goes even deeper than that, though, beginning in 1966 with the downtown Peace Vigil, which celebrated its 50th year last December.
“It’s true the first vigil held in downtown Bellingham back in December of 1966 was a silent one, organized by local Quakers and other peace activists of the time,” Jaime K. Donaldson recalled of demonstrations she attended. “It was a powerful protest against the Vietnam war, made solely with a quiet presence on Railroad Avenue near a Christmas tree display.
“The first participants pledged to stand in vigil weekly until the war was over, and moved to the corner in front of the Federal Building,” Donaldson related. “Today, the vigil may still be a form of devotion for some, a principled practice like yoga or mediation for others, but it is no longer silent. It’s often boisterous, and always colorful with stenciled and handmade signs plus a sea of flags waving in the breeze. Drumming and other percussion can break out, too.”
Donaldson would continue on to become the founding executive director of the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center. In 2015, she received the organization’s Howard Harris Lifetime Peacemaker Award for her dedication to peace and justice.
Peace is not an easy thing, and it cannot exist without social justice, Donaldson noted.
“Most of us are involved with other organizations such as Veterans for Peace, Occupy Bellingham, the Bellingham Racial Justice Coalition, as well as social justice committees of local church congregations.”
This year’s recipient of the WPJC lifetime achievement award is Rosalinda Guillen, executive director of Community 2 Community, a place-based, grassroots organization committed to creating alliances in order to strengthen local and global movements towards social, economic and environmental justice, another of the interlocking organizations dedicated to human rights and social justice in Bellingham.
“Bodies battering onto the shores and blistering in deserts may invoke sympathy and international discussions on how to ‘manage’ the fatalities, but rarely do they invoke our collective sense of complicity and responsibility for migrant displacement and death,” Walia notes.
“It is not a coincidence that migrant deaths are increasing every year, or that they happen at all. Migrants are dying at borders and in detention centers precisely because militarized borders and exclusionary immigration policies are intended to make their bodies, journeys and humanities vulnerable and expendable.”
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