The International Day of Peace, Wednesday, Sept. 21, was commemorated in Fort lee and Leonia by peacemakers who gathered to pay homage to the cause in various ways, including a walk, readings, performances and a candlelight vigil.
The events, organized by The Leonia Peace Group, and co-sponsored by The Fort Lee Vigil and The Teaneck Vigil, launched in Fort Lee with a walk that began at 4 p.m. at the corner of Lemoine Ave. and Bruce Reynolds Blvd. and ended about 40 minutes later at the United Methodist Church in Leonia, before the peace pole, where The International Day of Peace has focused its tribute in Leonia for the past 10 years.
Among the Fort Lee walkers for peace were two high school students, an ESL teacher, a substitute teacher, two retired teachers, an EMT volunteer, a painter and an editor. The group walked single file down Lemoine, and took a right on Main St., displaying posters that read, “Give Peace A Chance,” “Bring the Troops Home Now” and “Peace Should Be Top Priority.”
The events highlighted the diverse nature of the participants, which ranged from teens to seniors, but also focused on the oneness of spirit and motivation. This year, The International Day of Peace celebrated its 30th year. It was established in 1981 by a United Nations Resolution to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly, and has been commemorated on the 21st since 2002. The special emphasis this year was on forging a personal peace. Indeed, more than one speaker addressed the importance of creating peace within before attempting to achieve it in the world at large.
While the mood of The International Day of Peace events in Fort Lee and Leonia was light and celebratory, The Fort Lee Peace Vigil has during its five years of existence – it launched in June 2006 – focused on the terrible effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, aiming to raise consciousness about the loss of lives and the enormous cost of the wars. America has been engaged in what many perceive to be the habit of war, a continual state of conflict that is wreaking havoc on our moral lives and our economy.
According to costofwar.com, a Web site dedicated to up-to-date assessments of the financial burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total cost of the wars through the end of the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2011, is $1.26 trillion, with $797.3 billion in military and non-military spending going to Iraq and $459.8 billion to Afghanistan. Activists feel that the trillions being spent abroad could be better utilized at home, helping to renew the economy and improving our health care system, social security and supporting jobs and education.
More horrifying than the cost of the wars is the devastation of human loss. To date, there have been 2,711 U.S. and coalition casualties and 14,094 wounded in Afghanistan, where the conflict has been worsening. Since 2003, there have been 4,798 U.S. and coalition casualties and 32,194 wounded in Iraq. The wars have caused 320,000 brain injuries. Additionally, vets commit suicide at a rate of 18 a day, with 12,000 attempts recorded yearly. Although information regarding the levels of trauma and devastation to troops is often hard to come by, it is there, and the facts are available. Peace activists in Fort Lee are on a mission of truth as well as action for their cause.
Among those walking with The Fort Lee Peace Vigil participants on the event of The International Day of Peace was Judith Arnold of New Jersey Peace Action, a peace organization that is more than 50 years old and lobbies for change in Congress.
Arnold said NJ Peace Action wishes to recognize The Fort Lee Peace Vigil site as an official peace site with a certificate. The organization is awarding the certificate to groups that have dedicated themselves to the cause of peace through specific actions over a period of time. A date for the occasion of the presentation of the certificate has not been set. The Fort Lee Peace Vigil is one of 31 sites that have been chosen in New Jersey, said Arnold.
Text by Arya F. Jenkins, co-founder of the Fort Lee Peace Vigil; video by Donna Brennan.