Monday, September 20, 2010

A Day for Peace


Ever since creatures balanced themselves on two legs and discovered blunt instruments, humans have committed violence on each other, whether individually, in groups, in warfare or in many forms of savagery. Could homo sapiens ever mature to the point where peace, even temporary peace, is possible?

You can believe it after seeing British filmmaker Jeremy Gilley’s film The Day After Peace, shown around the world on September 21 (and locally at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville). The film is only one facet of the worldwide phenomenon known as Peace One Day, which has curiously been less visible in the United States than in Europe, Asia, or Africa.

Gilley convinced the United Kingdom and Costa Rica to propose a United Nations resolution, urging international non-violence on the day the UN had symbolically chosen in 1981. UN’s Secretary General Kofi Annan was highly enthused about the project, preparing the formal announcement of approval by all 192 nations of the General Assembly. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for ….. 10 am on September 11, 2001.

During the following years of global rancor, Gilley traveled to many countries, wrote to all Nobel peace recipients and achieved minor agreements and tentative covenants. He even scored a meeting with the Dalai Lama, who said that “whether in our lifetime or not, we must make the effort.”

In a bitter failure, some in the League of Arab States dismissed his idea only because he had met with Nobelist and Israeli Shimon Peres---though Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had refused to see him. But Gilley continued to ask the impossible, refining a trait that eventually began to be rewarded.

Many diverse groups around the world began to participate in related educational activities and sports. Ice cream mavens Ben and Jerry funded 70 detailed activity plans, allowing teachers from grades six to 12 to involve students in projects emphasizing tolerance, understanding and non-violence.

Though he had received support from many major personalities, including tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Gilley realized that he needed the help of famous names to widen awareness of Peace One Day. The film shows a nervous Gilley meeting actress Angelina Jolie, who first expresses a wish that worthy projects wouldn’t need celebrities. She then immediately calls her agent to block the evening of September 20, and to schedule an early end to her shooting on that day to publicize showing of the film.

One of the film’s astounding sequences is Gilley’s friendly meeting with actor Jude Law. Gilley mentions an upcoming visit to Afghanistan, and is stunned when Law asks the dates. Eventually, Law spends eight days with Gilley in remote Afghan villages, and the result is a signed pact from the Taliban leader promising no attacks toward humanitarian aid on Peace Day. Thanks to that window of safety, UNICEF workers poured in and vaccinated over a million children on that one day.

Gilley also took advantage of the overwhelming international popularity of football, the most played game in the world. The program called “One Day One Goal” supports hundreds of games all over the world on that day, with players who are normally adversaries or separated socially sharing a common experience. Competitors Puma and Adidas have both agreed to support this program in supplying equipment.

Local schools all over the country are involved in this day of unity; for instance, Germantown Friends School, with a dedication of community involvement, has invited youngsters from public and neighboring schools, plus kids from the Police Athletic League, to play together at their four fields on Tuesday. The YouTube video of “One Day One Goal” is a stunner, with the finale of the short clip showing football players celebrating in all UN countries.

A wealth of Peace One Day websites and YouTube videos demonstrate an embrace of many different facets of the September 21 celebration. One example is Jane Goodall, a UN peace ambassador and famed naturalist, who is involved with environmental problems with her Roots & Shoots program.

Eventually, it comes down to this: If one person with a dream of hope for the world can make such a huge global difference, and touch that many people, could a world of non-conflict really be possible?

If there can be Peace One Day, why not peace… one day?

Tom Di Nardo is a free-lance writer in Philadelphia.

Bryn Mawr Film Institute will be showing The Day After Peace tomorrow, Tuesday, September 21 at 5:00 pm.

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