Sept. 23 2015 12:54 AM

Potter Park rally reflects new energy and old ideals

On Sunday, many hundreds of Mid- Michigan peace activists will march at Potter Park Zoo to celebrate the International Day of Peace. Among the activities will be the planting of a “peace pole,” the signing of petitions, singing, yoga and the showcasing of peacemakers’ accomplishments.

The activities coincide with Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, the successful adoption of an international agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.

“We hope that this event will bring together people of all ages to show their commitment to working towards peace,” said Lynn Bartley, a retired educator who is the president of the Greater Lansing United Nations Association, the march’s co-sponsor.

The Lansing peace march is one of hundreds of events being planned around the nation this week that will focus on nonviolence, racism, gun violence, police brutality, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction. Near Las Vegas, a group will protest drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Salt Lake City, there will be a birthday party for Mahatma Gandhi. In Little Rock,. there will be a peace vigil and a discussion about the pope’s encyclical on the environment.

“The peace movement is re-emerging with a whole new group of young people becoming involved,” said Candice Wilmore, a long-time peace activist who has taught a class on peace issues at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing. “The peace movement has been dormant for awhile but now is re-surfacing in new ways with people using social media to connect with people from all around the world.”

Two recently formed organizations involved in the peace march are the Michigan State University United Nations Association and the Haslett High School Model United Nations Club.

“A lot of young people want to get involved in peace activities,” said Shreya Srivistava, 16, president if the Haslett club. “They are just trying to find out the best way to do it.”

Srivistava and other Haslett students are creating signs of peacemakers, such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, John Lennon and Malala Yousafzai, the18-year-old Pakistani activist who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Srivastava, who designed the peace march flier, hopes to work for the United Nations, Doctors Without Borders or a similar humanitarian organization.

Monica Watt, 21, is the co-president of the MSU United Nations Association, a group formed earlier this year to educate MSU students about international disputes, such as the international refugee crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The MSU organization, which has about 40 members from many nations, will help create “pinwheels for peace” at the march.

Terry Link, a retired MSU librarian who co-chairs the Peace Education Center, another co-sponsor of the march, said the peace movement “ebbs and flows.” But he said the Iran treaty, which the center’s members actively lobbied for, has brought new awareness of the peace movement. The increased use of social media and expansion of international travel have also increased interactions with people from many nations, he said.

“The peace movement brings together people interested in social and economic justice, nonviolence, food, climate change and international conflicts,” he said. “We are all coming together to build a sustainable planet. If we don’t have a livable planet, we have nothing.”

Phil Ballbach, 76, has been involved with the peace movement in Michigan since 1967, when he led protests against the Vietnam War. He attends weekly peace vigils at noon Fridays in front of the Capitol and is involved with a discussion group on the cost of militarism at Everybody Reads bookstore, 2019 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing.

“There are signs of optimism that the peace movement is growing again,” he said. “Interest in Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign makes me more hopeful. But there is still a lot of work that needs to be done."

The march will start at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tiger’s Den Pavilion adjacent to the parking lot at Potter Park Zoo, 1301 S. Pennsylvania Ave. A peace pole will be dedicated at 3 p.m., following a one-mile walk along the Lansing River Trail. Wheelchair and strollers are welcome and participants are encouraged to wear attire that shows their affiliations with religious groups, nationalities, schools or other organizations. The march will be held rain or shine.

Other activities at the march will include yoga, singing, brief talks by religious and political leaders, petition signing, face painting and coloring for kids.

Both Bartley and Link said they hope the peace march will become an annual event and expand in future years. “People from many countries will be involved in this event,” Bartley said. “It will be a great opportunity to meet people from around the world.“

Other co-sponsors of the march include Edgewood United Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, the Zonta Club of Michigan Capitol Area, MSU Peace & Justice Studies, MSU Outreach and Engagement, MSU Student Housing Cooperative and MSU International Studies and Programs.

Food will be supplied by the Grand Traverse Pie Co., Insomnia Cookies, Bell’s Pizza, Foods for Living, Meijer, Tasty Twist and other businesses.

There is no charge to participate in the march but people are encouraged to register in advance at registration . Parking at the zoo is free before 9 a.m. and costs $3 for Ingham County residents and $5 for non-residents after 9 a.m.

(Jim Detjen is the Knight Professor of Journalism Emeritus at Michigan State University and founding director of MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.)