by Ruth Ann Angus // Part of the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions
On September 11th the mayor and city council of Morro Bay and I issued the peace proclamation for our city. It was an auspicious day not only because it was 9/11 but because that council session was facing a hostile audience on a very contentious issue that was being decided that evening. So we opened it with the proclamation to try to put people in a better nonviolent frame of mind! I had the event filmed, and the video can be seen below.
Saturday, September 15th saw approximately 200 people gathered at the Morro Bay Community Center to participate in the Summit on Human Trafficking. Keynote speaker Opal Singleton painted a powerful picture for the audience as she explained the scope of the problem which is rampant in the state of California. Singleton, co-founder and director of www.MillionKids.org and author of books, “Seduced” and “The Grooming of America’s Teenagers” showed explicit photos in her presentation as well as delivering a riveting speech.
Human Trafficking is now the primary source of income for gangs exceeding what is brought in for them by dealing in drugs. The sale of human beings is a lucrative business. The frightening aspects of this issue is how children, some as young as six years old can be lured into cooperating with these perpetrators. Singleton pointed out how insidiously dangerous video games are and how young people participate in virtual reality often performing suggested sexual acts. “They think it is okay to undress and send their naked pictures because it isn’t actually real,” Singleton said, “what they don’t realize is that those photos go directly into a sexual trafficking website.”
Two panel discussions with District Attorney, Dan Dow, who created and chairs the SLO Human Trafficking Task Force, Assemblyman, Jordan Cunningham, Sheriff Ian Parkinson, Commander Jody Cox, Commissioner Jim Brabeck, Mimi Feliciano-Hix, Director of Foster Care and Kinship Care Education Program, and CSEC Program at Cuesta College, Deepa Willingham, Past Rotary District 5240 Governor, Sandi Schwartz, District Governor 5240, Leonard Moothart, Past President Los Osos Rotary, Becs McVay, Director of Freedom Calling and Christina Maricic, a survivor of sexual trafficking discussed the complex issues and answered questions from the audience.
Maricic, who grew up in foster care and became a runaway and was caught up in human sexual trafficking told of her ordeal. She identifies herself as a former foster youth, incarcerated youth, homeless youth, and sex trafficking survivor of Los Angeles. She is a strong young woman of 24 years who has pulled herself up out this quagmire and now is a strong advocate for the unrepresented youth communities, serving foster, refugee, homeless, formerly incarcerated, low income, sex trafficking, at risk children and families. Aside from Opal Singleton’s address, nothing was more riveting than listening to this young woman tell her story.
San Luis Obispo California saw its share of peace activities during Peace Week. On September 20th people gathered at the United Church of Christ Congregational for the Right to Peace Rally put on by People of Faith for Justice and Yes We Can Peacebuilders.
Moderator Ruth Ann Angus opened the rally with a question for the audience. “Do you think we have a right to have peace?” she asked. All hands shot up in unison and agreement. “Do you think we have peace?” she continued. All but one indicated no and Angus stated that she didn’t think we have peace as long as there are people who are not allowed to be equal, as long as there is poverty, as long as we continue to ruin the environment, and as long as there is no true justice for everyone, and as long as we have war.
The theme of the United Nations International Day of Peace this year was “The Right to Peace” thus each speaker was asked to answer the question, “What does the right to peace mean to you?” Speakers included Beberly de Leon, an immigrant from Guatemala who is here asking for asylum in the United States and who, of late, is thinking that perhaps this is not the right country for her to ask for protection. Racial and Peace activist Patricia Rodgers Gordon spoke of the racial tensions in the country and of the inequalities in our justice and prison system. Eleven year-old Garrett Ferguson spoke of our history and his longing for peace among people regardless of race. Garrett mentioned his heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Barack Obama and his admiration of them and how he is trying to follow in their footsteps. Was the audience seeing a possible future President in the making? We like to think so.
Dara Stepanek and Michael Mazzella introduced the audience to a new educational institution, the Peace Academy of Science and Arts in San Luis Obispo, California. This school is offering young students a chance to study peace rather than a memorization of the litany of wars taught in regular schools. This fall they offer a full 12-week session based on the United Nations 30 Basic Human Rights and they do so in conjunction with the Tri-Counties Youth for Human Rights Organization. Teaching peace instead of war is catching on here. A collaboration between the Peace Academy, Youth for Human Rights, and peace activist Paul K. Chappell’s curriculum of peace is in process through Yes We Can Peacebuilders and everyone looks forward to a day when these curriculum are offered throughout the California public school system.
The Right to Peace Rally ended with everyone joining in song along with the Peace Choir of the Central Coast singing “Assalam Aleikum, Shalom Aleichem, and Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Peace Forevermore!”
A small but determined group of people came together on the evening of the International Day of Peace to gather around the peace pole at United Methodist Church in Morro Bay, California. With lighted candles, they sang songs and recited sayings by Gandhi, Black Elk of the Oglala Sioux, John Dear, Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and Richard Rohr. A youngster holding his candle and clutching a paper with the peace sign, said peace for him is when people are good to each other. He learned that in Sunday School. Pastor Paula spoke of some of the hard times and everyone shared some difficulty they were facing, a husband with a health issue, a frustrated writer, a neighborhood that needs prayer. One person said they felt that people were descending into despair. Despair would mean there is no hope and as the group looked at each other they knew that there is hope and we cannot give in to despair. A person mentioned how many of the victims of the recent wildfires in California, who had lost their homes, all said they would build again. There is always hope! Whatever is torn down can be built up again!
So in the words of Black Elk, “The first peace, which is most important , is that which comes within the souls of people, when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third peace is that which is made between nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace is within the souls of men.”
The Disciples of Christ, First Christian Church of Morro Bay celebrated International Peace Day with a walk around church property to candlelit stations that bore signs with each of the Beatitudes of Peace.
The group gathered in the Peace Meditation Garden where a new plaque is being installed with the words, “They Will Inherit the Earth” that signifies this church as a Green Church with an Earth Care Ministry. Pastor Rich read the sermon on the mount according to Matthew with the traditional Beatitudes beginning with the words, “Blessed Are.” However, this peace celebration has adopted the Beatitudes of Peace version that begin with the words, “Arise and Go Forth” to indicated that the blessings will not just descend upon the meek, the poor in spirit, the grieving, those suffering injustice, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted but that each of us must act and work for peace and not give up.
This new wording was recited by the group as they visited each station and meditated on the meaning. A communion service was offered for all who wished to participate and song of peace rang out in the church sanctuary. For Disciples of Christ in Morro Bay, a wonderful and peaceful celebration!
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