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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Transformation from the bottom up

Our culture of domination begins at the top. As long as we extol our military might and its agents, violence will pervade society. Kids play war games on their digital devices. White supremacists play war games in the woods. Americans own more than 3 million military-style assault rifles. Men beat their wives and children, but not to the extent that servicemen do. Children living near Fort Bragg and Fort Lejeune are twice as likely to be murdered by a parent as those living elsewhere in North Carolina.

As I asserted in last Saturday’s column, a demonic spirit — power reveling in its own power — controls our national government. It’s worth trying to elect a president who isn’t willingly possessed by that spirit, a Carter rather than a Nixon, say, or a Warren rather than a Trump. But we can’t transform our culture that way. Buttigieg can get political mileage by saying that assault rifles don’t belong in civilian hands. He’d sink his candidacy if he said they don’t belong in any hands.

Two Saturdays ago, the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission held a conference it called “You Are the Flame.” The keynote speaker was Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and the founder of the Global Movement of the Culture of Peace. During the Q&A he was asked to identify the main obstacle to creating a culture of peace. His answer was national governments.

The ambassador told the assembly how gratified he was to see his vision, as outlined in the 1999 U.N. declaration, taking form in our community. While we must work for peace at every level of social organization from the interpersonal to the international, cultural transformation in the U.S. will have to arise from the grassroots.

So, what did Ambassador Chowdhury witness that confirmed his hope? He witnessed how deeply into the Ashland community the intention to create a culture of peace has penetrated — from Mayor John Stromberg to the students at Ashland Middle School who keep the Peace Flame at the Thalden Pavilion perpetually burning. Perhaps more importantly, he heard people representing many sectors of the community speak with deep understanding of the ways they build peace in the ordinary course of their work.

For me as well as the ambassador, listening to Sandra Slattery of the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, Sheila Clough of Asante Community Hospital, Amrita Ramanan of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Tighe O’Meara of the Ashland Police Department, and other community leaders portray the institutions they lead as peace organizations confirmed the faith I had when I worked with Ellen Berman, Irene Kai, Patricia Sempowich, Eric Sorotkin, and David Wick to found the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission. We believed we could move peace-building from the periphery of the community to the center if we could convey the awareness that every interaction among Ashland’s residents, and between them and the environment on which they depend, is an occasion to affirm the spirit of mutual care and respect that characterizes a culture of peace.

Going forward, here is our agenda as I see it. As individuals, we make it a habit to inform our daily interactions with that spirit. As individuals, groups and a community, we bring attitudes and skills of peace-building to conflicts when they arise (as they inevitably will). All of us find ways to extend our culture of peace throughout Ashland and beyond. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Ashland Tidings every Saturday.