By Michael True
In praising Gandhi, recently, President Barack Obama said that the effort to remain nonviolent in a polarized world “is still a work in progress.” Worcester’s new Center for Nonviolent Solutions, recently announced at the Saxe Room, in the Worcester Public Library, has committed itself to that effort.
The Center opened an office at 901 Pleasant St. in late October. It will cooperate with other local organizations devoted to de-escalating violence and building a peace culture, It will encourage public understanding of nonviolence as a way of life that rejects the use of violence by developing skills to construct peace in the family, the neighborhood and the schools.
Colman McCarthy, former columnist for the Washington Post, a popular lecturer and author, addressed the gathering October 17 at the Worcester Public Library. Congressman James McGovern introduced McCarthy, his undergraduate teacher ad American University in Washington, DC. An informal reception preceded the presentation.
Through its resources – films, books, speakers syllabi and staff – the Center will contribute to public discourse on issues of peace and conflict. In the process, it will call attention to and cooperate with other local organizations already engaged in building a peace culture: the YWCA, Social Justice, Catholic Workers, Peace and Conflict Studies programs at Assumption and Holy Cross colleges and Clark University. One of its goals is to encourage the revival of student mediation programs in area schools, with links to curriculum, such as the history of nonviolence and biographies of peacemakers past and present.
“There are a remarkable array of successful experiences with nonviolent strategies to address problems of violence,” according to William Densmore, Secretary of the Board. Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, another Board member, agrees: “The Center is something for my children, the next generation, which takes substantive action right here in our own city. This is a real opportunity to make a difference.”
It is common knowledge that violence in local communities results in death, disruption of family life, the paralyzing of schools and education, and fear and chaos in neighborhoods. Although people often believe that war and violence are inevitable, extensive research and successful nonviolent campaigns over the past several decades have demonstrated (1) that conflict in human affairs is inevitable, but violence is not; and (2) that teaching and learning skills in nonviolent communication can lead to the transformation of conflict.
Members of the Board of the Center bring a wide and diverse experience in peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies. Carol Balderelli, for example, formerly directed the mediation program at Burncoat High School and the Community Action Council. Michael Langa, a specialist in cross-cultural conflict resolution, worked with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the South African Peace and Reconciliation Commission. Joseph de Rivera, professor of peace studies and psychology at Clark University, recently published “Handbook for the Culture of Peace,” identifying 10 essential components of a peace culture, based upon the UN Decade for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World passed by 189 nations in the General Assembly in 1999.
The men and woman initiating the Center are well aware of the rich tradition of nonviolent activists in the Worcester area. Since incorporation 250 years ago, Worcester and the region have been home to many remarkable justice-seekers and peacemakers. They include Abigail Kelley Foster, for whom Abby’s House is named; Lucy Stone, the great feminist, and Adin Ballou, who believed “all war to be inconsistent with the spirit of Christianity and destructive to the best interests of mankind.”
Throughout the 20th century as well, Worcester residents maintained their commitment to resisting injustice, resolving conflict, and bringing about social change without harming people. The former Worcester County Ecumenical Council regularly brought peace and justice issues – including nuclear disarmament – to the attention of the wider community.
During the Civil Rights movement, members of the local NAACP participated in the March on Selma, and others initiated a forum for social justice at 65 Main Street. In the spirit of the civil rights legislation, the city established a Human Rights Commission, involving Shirley Wright and Fran Manacchio, among others. During the 1960s, Clark University served as the nerve center for the movement against the war in Southeast Asia. This commitment to peacemaking continues at local colleges through academic programs in peace, conflict and nonviolence studies at area colleges and universities.
At the present time, Worcester Peace Works maintains a program of education and action to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. YWCA/Daybreak sponsor walks, panel discussions and other programs focusing on women’s issues and addressing issues of racism. Catholic Workers have risked arrest for resisting weapons of mass destruction and risked their lives, as peacemakers, in attempting to transform conflicts in Iraq, Israel/Palestine and Yugoslavia.
“The desire for peace unites people in Worcester with people all over the world,” said John Paul Marosy, the Center’s treasurer. Working locally, the Center for Nonviolent Solutions will reach out to individuals and organizations to help construct global civil society, primarily by strengthening a peace culture here in Central Massachusetts.