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Peace in Ashland

On Monday, the United Nations International Day of Peace, a group of area residents launched the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, a nongovernmental body that seeks peaceful resolution of conflicts and hopes to gather skills and knowledge to become a role model for other towns and organizations.

“We’re creating an infrastructure for peace to bring together our collective wisdom, while living in a global culture of violence, unfortunately,” said David Wick, its executive director. “It’s a model and an inspiration we can bring to other cities.”

The 15-member commission includes City Councilor Pam Marsh, as city liaison; Ashland School Board member Deneice Zeve and Ashland Police Chief Tighe O’Meara.

“It’s an infrastructure for peaceful communication," O'Meara said. "It’s important and beneficial to the community to have that in place.”

Ashland may be considered a peaceful community already, said O’Meara, “but there are moments of contention. We’re not so evolved and free of bigotry as we think we are.”

The commission will “identify the pressure points in the community (and use) people with nonviolent communication and compassionate listening skills,” said Eric Sirotkin, a peace mediator and human rights lawyer who was an observer in South Africa’s first post-apartheid election. He is legal counsel for the group, which shares his office in Ashland.

The group will “build relationships,” for example, in helping a resident bring an issue to the City Council, narrowing and focusing the matter to best communicate it, he said.

The group held its big “coming out” gala Monday at the Ashland Elks club, with people at a dozen tables communicating skills they can contribute to the effort. Organizations participating included Peace House, Rose Circle, Boys to Men, The Edge, Inner Peace column, Rogue Valley Peace Choir, Southern Oregon University’s United Nations Club and Ashland police.

A highlight of the gala was the lighting of Ashland’s peace candle from a candle that was lit from the World Peace Flame in Wales — which, in turn is traced back to Mahatma Gandhi in India and now burns in all nations on Earth, said Irene Kai, who brought the candle to Ashland. Kai, an Ashland artist and activist, created the Peace Dove that is used as the signature image of the United Nations-designated Culture of Peace Initiative.

“People in Ashland are here looking for community and belonging in peaceful co-existence,” said Ray Barry, representing the business community on the commission. "It already exists here, people helping people. We’re a diverse community that can set an example of how it really works here."

Joe Charter, a commission member and Jackson County justice of the peace, said, “You create peace by being peace, showing up with kindness and patience.”

The potential for peace becomes lost when, as in many communities today, he said, the system “criminalizes poverty” judicially, by fining, jailing and revoking licenses among people who can’t pay the fines.

Wick pointed out the potential in tourist-oriented Ashland for “peace tourism,” drawing people to peace-oriented conclaves and events here.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Irene Kai lit the peace candle in Monday's ceremony, transferring to Ashland a flame that originated with Mahatma Gandhi and that now burns in every nation in the world. Photo by John Darling