Saturday, September 20, 2008

Let's Do What We Can Do Together

Peace Within, Peace Without
Taken 9-14-08 in Missoula Montana
by Kevin G. Kerr

Note Please: All links open in a separate window, and all pictures can be viewed full screen in a separate window by double clicking on the picture itself. A selection of the pictures Kevin and I took can be found on-line at my Picasa web site here.

Livin’ in this crazy world
So caught up in the confusion
Nothin’ is makin’ sense
For me and you

Maybe we can find a way
There’s got be a solution
How to make a brighter day
What do we do

--Ziggy Marley

In 1916, the people of Montana elected the first woman to serve in any western nation’s national legislature. Jeannette Rankin, born in 1880 in Missoula, Montana, took her seat in the US House of Representatives on March 4, 1917. Four days later, she made history again by voting against US entry into World War I. As she cast her vote, she said “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.” She was not re-elected in 1918.

A single term in Congress was not unusual in Montana history. Since becoming a state in 1889, Montana had elected nine congressmen prior to Ms. Rankin, four of whom served only a single term and two more served just two terms. What is remarkable is that in 1940, Montanans sent Jeannette Rankin back to Congress where she cast the only vote against US entry into World War II. This time she said, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Her position caused her to be vilified, and again, she served only a single term. After leaving Congress in 1943, she spent the rest of her life working for peace. In 1985 Montana sent Ms. Rankin back to Congress, this time in the form of a statue to be placed in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. Today her statue can be found in the House corridor, first floor. (Statuary Hall allows each state two statues. Montana's other statue honors Charlie Russell--the only artist to be found in this national collection.)

In 1986, a group of Missoula area activists came together to found the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center. In the twenty-two years since, they have built an organization that is making a difference world-wide. In Missoula they operate a store and library downtown, and sponsor several activities throughout the year. They have acted as fiduciary agent for various peace and justice organizations, including the Western Montana Gay & Lesbian Community Center which was formed ten years ago. One of the principal fund-raisers for the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center is their annual Peace Party, held this year under the big tent in Caras Park on Sunday, September 14th.

The Missoula Gay Men's Chorus
Taken 9-14-08 in Missoula Montana
by Kevin G. Kerr

Members of the Missoula Gay Men’s Chorus were asked to show up at 2 pm sharp for a sound check. We joined the women of the Missoula Women’s Chorus, and ran through a couple of numbers. The festivities were scheduled to begin at 4:30 when the children of the Lewis & Clark Grade School choir would take the stage to sing a song they had written themselves. The men and women would sing along on the chorus with the children.

The event actually began with men, women and children forming a circle and dancing several dances from various traditions in what has come to be known as the Dances of Universal Peace. I had heard of this activity, which in Missoula happens on the third Friday of every month, but I had never participated. Nonetheless, when the audience was invited to join in the dance, I gladly entered the circle. Dancing has always been one of my great loves. I had no idea that I was becoming a part of an international movement that meets not only in Missoula, but in four other Montana communities, twenty-two California communities (both large and small), and countless other places around the country. There are even two groups dancing in Wyoming and one in West Virginia.

A Dance of Universal Peace
Taken 9-14-08 in Missoula Montana
by Kevin G. Kerr

After dancing and chanting prayers in English, Sanskrit, Arabic, Hebrew, and I don’t remember what all else, the children took the stage and the men and women singers joined them. Throughout the evening, the men and women returned to the stage numerous times to perform together and separately. We men sang five pieces in total, two by ourselves, two with the women, and the opening number with the women and children.

The Missoula Women's Chorus
Taken 9-14-08 in Missoula Montana
by Kevin G. Kerr

In addition to our singing, the Peace Party included dinner, a silent auction, a live auction and several items which were raffled off. Many of the items in the live auction were dinner parties hosted by prominent Missoulians. The one that really caught my attention was an Ethiopian dinner for six at Granite Hot Springs, but that one went for over $100 a plate. Kevin, knowing how much I love exotic food, bid for (and won) a Persian dinner for eight which we will enjoy on Friday, April 24th, 2009. We quickly found six friends to join us at $55 a plate.

While I don’t know just how much money the Center raised, I know that the participants enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Each table had a jar for pennies, those jars going to build schools through one of my favorite organizations, The Central Asia Institute, which I wrote about back in January. Once again, I urge you to read Greg Mortensen’s book Three Cups of Tea and then to do whatever you can to support this worthy organization. The children of Missoula have collected over $5,000 in pennies to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and have set themselves the goal of collecting $50,000 so that they can pay for a complete school.
Pennies for Peace supporting the Central Asia Institute
Taken 9-14-08 in Missoula Montana

For us, the evening closed with the men and women on stage singing Ziggy Marley’s “Give a Little Love,” after which we packed up and left the volunteers to take down the displays and empty the tent. Five of us piled into the Volvo and headed out to Lolo Hot Springs for their clothing optional swim night. A fun time was had by all.

Seriously, though, ask yourself “What can I do to promote peace at home, in my community, in my country and around the world.” As Ziggy puts it:

We got to give a little love, have a little hope
Make this world a little better
Try a little more, harder than before
Let’s do what we can do together

The Men and Women's Choruses of Missoula
Giving a little love
Taken 9-14-08 by Kevin G. Kerr

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