On May 21st, 2010, the American Friends Service Committee’s Middle Atlantic Region hosted its first Peace on Purpose conference at Stony Run Friends Meeting House featuring workshops from various Middle Atlantic Region (MAR) programs and partnering organizations that confront and work to resolve issues of conflict, war, and indignities in the United States.  Starting off the conference with a jolt, the Maryland Peace with Justice Program barely began delving into their work facilitating theater workshops in Maryland prisons when a verbal confrontation broke out between two Nu World Art Ensemble actors. After the couple, who said they stumbled upon the event while surfing the web, held their shouting match and chased one another out of the room, the facilitators, Dominique Stevenson and Bashi Rose, waited a long couple of minutes before informing the other attendees that the conflict was staged. This staging mirrored outbursts performed in the middle of Maryland Peace with Justice prison workshop sessions.  The program uses this technique to work with men on conflict resolution strategies; outbursts are meant to engage other participants and let them reflect on their own reactions and emotions in tense situations.

                As the day progressed, other workshops found participants role-playing, watching short videos, participating in open forum discussions, and reflecting on personal experiences with peace issues. Representatives from the AFSC’s Empowering Voices for Peace and Justice Program in Pittsburgh, Janet Seltman and Debby Hollinsworth, recruited the audience to read aloud the words of military personnel and their families as they reflected on the US occupation of Iraq, personifying the chaotic mixture of emotions soldiers and their loved ones undergo as a result of the war. People of different generations, colors, and backgrounds shared their own interactions with the Iraq War, from objections to experiences of having loved ones deployed.

In another session, a representative from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) and member of Stony Run Friends Meeting House showed a video and led a discussions about torture in the US and human rights.  The diverse audience shared their reflections on treatment of accused terrorists.  Many were surprised by the depth of the issue.  A seventh grader from the Baltimore Civitas School stated, “If the US does that to the terrorists, I think they are just as bad as them.”

Jean-Louis Peta Ikambana, from AFSC’s DC Peace and Economic Justice program, led a workshop on Youth and Human Rights.  Students watched a video highlighting the United Nation’s mandate on human rights and reviewed different case studies to see if their rights were violated.  The students were enlightened and empowered by the information.

                Throughout the day conference participants discussed and learned about peace issues from different ends of the spectrum, touching on war, prisons, and everyday conflicts. AFSC was able to bring together groups from different walks of life so that participants shared and heard a variety of perspectives, from those whose involvement in peace and conflict issues has lasted years to those who had just learned about the issues for the first time in the workshops they attended.  The event ended with performances by regional performers and peace advocates, Marc Evans, Jamma*Wun and Sun Star Da Rebel, that reaffirmed and celebrated work for peace and justice.

By: Alex Vizzi, Peace on Purpose attendee