A Beautiful Day at the Peace and Nonviolence Festival

by Matt Glynn, The Buffalo News

September 21, 2014

The atmosphere was lively, but the underlying themes were serious at the Peace and Nonviolence Festival in Delaware Park’s Rose Garden.

Amid the music, hula-hooping and facepainting on a pleasant late-summer Sunday afternoon, participants were trying to spread a message of peace.

From shootings on Buffalo’s streets to conflict in Iraq and Syria, violence is a persistent adversary. But groups at the festival said they take heart in seeing so many others sharing their commitment. More than 60 groups were co-sponsors.

“Part of this whole movement is to connect the dots between the causes of violence,” said Tom Casey, regional director of Pax Christi of Western New York and a festival organizer. “Martin Luther King, before he was killed, and many others have said, it’s impossible not to correlate the violence in our streets with the rampant violence in our media and in our country, as far as war, after war, after war.”

While those are big-picture ideals, Casey said the message plays out in the work of the Buffalo Peacemakers, who try to keep young people on a peaceful path.

Murray Holman, executive director of the Stop the Violence Coalition, said he used to get discouraged by the violence he sees, “but now I just try to find ways to help the community, with the kids in high school and elementary school.”

Coalition members are at the intersection of Delavan Avenue and Grider Street on school days at 2 p.m. to prevent fights. “The kids are more receptive to us now,” Holman said. “They call us by our names, being respectful, asking for jobs. It’s working. The kids are listening. I can truly say I’m not discouraged with this new group of kids now that’s listening, especially the freshmen and sophomores coming through school.”

Holman said he would love to get members of the Buffalo Bills actively involved in the coalition’s work, especially the players with hometown ties. “When are these guys going to step up and give back and be not a role model, but just a Buffalonian? That’s what I’m looking for.”

Victoria Ross, a festival organizer and a peaceful conflict resolution consultant with the Western New York Peace Center, said groups have been working all along to promote nonviolence.

“It’s just that the big money is not in the nonviolence,” Ross said. “The big money is actually in the violence, and of course, the violent enterprises somehow get the money so much more easily.” Rather than spend so much on the military, Ross wants to see more resources devoted to health, education, welfare and sustainable energy.

Heron Simmonds-Price, who teaches social and political philosophy at Canisius College, gave a talk on police misconduct and how to prevent it. He envisioned a process involving citizen review of police behavior. “I don’t think it’s sound to leave the policing of the police solely to other police officers.”

Simmonds-Price also believes service to the community ought to be a factor in officers’ promotions, “so there’s some kind of incentive for the police themselves to culture themselves to be servants of the community, rather than what we see, which is a growing division.”

The festival was one more than 200 events nationwide tied into Campaign Nonviolence, which aims to abolish war and end poverty.

Organizers hope to turn the Peace and Nonviolence Festival into an annual, larger event. Planning for this year’s edition started only in July; preparation for next year’s will start in early 2015, Casey said. Organizers are considering a number of locations for next year’s festival – possibly including a march – and they hope to move the event around each year.

Casey wants to see the festival grow to demonstrate just how many groups are working to eliminate violence.

“It’s a hopeful thing,” he said. “For some people, it’s a spiritual thing. And for many people, it’s just a deep, deep commitment to make a better world for our children and to teach our children that if somebody doesn’t get along with you, whether it’s on Sycamore Street or in Iraq, you don’t kill them, because it leads to more killing.”