Tuesday, January 4, 2011

OMNI: Opposing a Culture of Violence, Seeking a Culture of Peace

By Dick Bennett

The OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology began in 2001 to protest and to affirm. Recognizing the war-nurtured identity of the United States--from the two hundred years of Indian wars to the many invasions of the last fifty years (from Vietnam and Guatemala, to Nicaragua and Panama, to Afghanistan and Iraq)--the founders of OMNI sought to oppose the causes and relieve the consequences of violence locally and nationally. We were only a few people in one small town, but our conviction was that a small beginning might accrue large results—and silence and passivity were not an alternative. Obviously, since such a national history would not be changed in our lifetimes, we tried from the beginning to create lasting structures of resistance against the ancient, entrenched structures of violence.
One of those structures, inseparable from the imperialism, is militarism. Former Senator J. William Fulbright was one mentor. In The Pentagon Propaganda Machine he describes our "chronic state of war" in which "patriotic militarism" has become "a monster bureaucracy" that replaces legitimate government and human needs and with its emphasis upon patriotism suppresses dissent.
Believing that local and national violence feed each other (school shootings and air war), our motto is "think and act globally and locally." From the beginning we supported local anti-violence/abuse organizations, such as the Arkansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Project for Victims of Family Violence, and we sought connections with national and international peace, justice, and ecology organizations.
Some of the programs we have initiated to oppose the war of humans against humans and against nature have included: monthly anti-war play readings, annual August commemoration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and other victims of war, rallies and forums opposing the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, an annual United Nations Day Celebration, Peace Poles (at school, church, and park, and over 1000 mini-poles), World Peace Gardens, celebration of nonviolent heroes, annual PeaceWriting awards for unpublished books, book forums, celebration of the Bill of Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a Teen Leadership Corps, Womens Empowerment Group, alternative careers information at aHigh School, a conference on "Faith Communities, Peace Traditions," a Climate Change Task Force, and an e-newsletter 350 PPM. Many of our activities of protest and affirmation are inseparable, such as OMNI’s monthly Open Mic for Peace and Justice, where people sing and read in protest and celebration. We also network with many like-minded area groups who work for sustainability and justice, though we find that work for world peace is ignored by most others. Omni provides several endowments at the University of Arkansas for student and faculty development (for example, for nonviolence education, diversity and toleration, refugee students). And OMNI has purchased its own building.

OMNI is above all a group of people who affirm values they believe will create a more just and peaceful world. If the present culture has been made warlike, a future culture could be peaceful. What is a Culture of Peace? A peace culture, according to Elise Boulding, “promotes peaceable diversity" through "institutional arrangements" for "mutual caring and well-being as well as an equality that includes appreciation of difference, stewardship, and equitable sharing of the earth’s resources among its members and with all living beings."

This essay will be published in the Japanese magazine, MUSE, and placed in the website of the Center of Tokyo Raids and Damage.

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