The Summer of Peace in Westerly, Rhode Island
By Frank Thacker
I first encountered the Summer of Peace in 2012. What follows is a humble sharing of what we have been able to do here in the small town of Westerly along with some ideas and suggestions that others might find helpful as we all work to create a lasting culture of peace.
During the past five years my involvement with the Summer of Peace movement has varied in its intensity. It has been a process of learning as the years went by. Three key issues I have struggled with are identifying my audience, deciding what it is that I want to accomplish, and then how to best do this.
My audience is the citizens of my home town, Westerly, Rhode Island, which has a population of about 22,000. That number doubles during the summer as Westerly is on the Atlantic Ocean and has beautiful beaches. I would add that it has its own daily newspaper, The Westerly Sun, its own radio station, WBLQ, its own library, its own hospital and its own YMCA.
If you decide to create something for the Summer of Peace I would strongly suggest you first identify your audience. The possibilities are enormous Do you have a yoga studio? Hold a weekly Yoga for Peace session. Are you part of a music group? Do some gigs for peace. Have your local library set up a special section for books on peace and nonviolence. Bottom line, if you are energized to do something It sounds like identifying your audience should be a given, but it took some reflecting for me to zero in on who my audience was.
I also learned that it’s very helpful to clarify what it is you wish to accomplish by your local endeavors. When I first was inspired to do something locally with the Summer of Peace, I was very much focused on nonviolence. I am a certified nonviolence trainer and I believe that "the road to peace travels through nonviolence." I was very biased about nonviolence as the key ingredient to fostering a peaceful culture as you might imagine. So my first local Summer of Peace endeavors were all about nonviolence for daily living. I soon learned that this was not where most people were. We tend to see violence as something akin to assault or smashing car windows rather than castigating the "other" or seeking revenge for a perceived disgrace by someone. Thus I realized, somewhat slowly, that I needed to change my focus
After some inner reflection and extremely insightful feedback from my wife, I realized what I really desired was to get people interested in creating a culture of peace, I wanted them to understand what a culture of peace is, how nonviolence is a major part of a creating a culture of peace, the power each of them has in creating such a culture, and how to support them in these endeavors.
Having identified my audience and decided what my focus was, I started to reflect on how I could best achieve this. As I mentioned above, the town of Westerly has a number of excellent resources. I am also retired, thus I have a lot of time I can devote to local Summer of Peace endeavors.
So, given my above stated goal and having an image of scattering the seeds of "how you can create a culture of peace", and hoping some fall on fertile ground, here is what has been happening here in Westerly during the Summer of Peace 2017.
Our first and probably most important step was to create a website. With the help of a very good friend and web designer, Mark Gordon, we launched the SummerOfPeaceWesterly.com. The site has a resource page with a number of very good resources including videos, articles, and links to appropriate sites and other helpful information. People are encouraged to visit the site and use anything they find helpful.
Once the site was up and running, we began efforts to gather support from community resources. The editor and copyeditor of our local daily paper, The Westerly Sun, have been very helpful and supportive in our past years with our local Summer of Peace efforts. They agreed to write an introductory article about the Summer of Peace followed by four guest commentary columns focused on creating a culture of peace.
The local radio station, WBLQ, will have a couple of interviews with me about the Summer of Peace. The Westerly Library has agreed to have a special section for books on peace during July and August. A person familiar with Jyoti Meditation will be holding by-weekly meditations focused on inner and outer peace. A local coffee business, Wakin' Up Waggin', will have Peace Pledges available in the coffee café at the local bookstore.
Also, Summer of Peace is a sponsor of Tunes on the Dunes, which is a series of free concerts at the town beach. Because we are a sponsor, we are allowed to display a Summer of Peace banner. There are also some other activities in the works. My experience over the years has been that most people, groups and organizations have been very supportive and helpful with our endeavors.
My experience with The Summer of Peace over the years has been most rewarding and I’ve learned a lot.
Frank Thacker is a retired clinical social worker, a Level II Certified Nonviolent Trainer, and a graduate of the Peace Ambassador II program. He has been involved in peace and justice work for close to 50 years. He has given many workshops and classes on nonviolence and creating a culture of peace.
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This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 14: Inspiring Positive Social Change