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The Slippery Slope from Kosovo to Littleton
This article written by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1
Newspaper on April 28, 1999. All rights reserved.
The best laid plans are never more than that. "Crisis
in Kosovo: An MSNBC Town Meeting," to be hosted by NBC anchor
Tom Brokaw, was to have been broadcast live from Princeton University
last Tuesday evening, April 20, with a panel of experts commenting
on the subject and fielding questions from an audience of faculty,
students, and community members. The advance TV team and the big equipment
trucks were already in place, and our plan was to talk to one of the
town meeting’s invited guests, Reverend Robert Moore, executive director
of the Coalition for Peace Action, the following day. The conversation
could embrace not only his organization’s "Concert for Peace,"
featuring Nigerian drum master Babatunde Olatunji, set for Saturday,
May 1, at 8 p.m., at Nassau Presbyterian Church, but also his experience
of participating in the nationally televised broadcast.
But the televised town meeting on violence in Kosovo was pre-empted
by violence closer to home: the murder of 13 students and teachers
by two teenagers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
Canceled less than five hours before the scheduled broadcast, Brokaw
appeared instead on NBC-TV hosting news coverage of the Colorado murders.
This was the nation’s sixth multiple-victim school shooting in the
past 18 months. A conversation with Robert Moore about violence could
hardly have been more timely.
Moore, the son of a Naval officer, has led the Princeton-based Coalition
for Peace Action since 1981, and is already looking forward to the
organization’s 20th anniversary interfaith service and conference
this fall, Sunday, November 7, at Princeton University Chapel. The
organization today boasts an extensive group of sponsors that includes
former assistant secretary of defense, Paul Warnke, musician and producer
Harry Belafonte, and Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense
Fund. It sponsors an annual vigil for peace on the anniversary of
the bombing of Hiroshima. And on Tuesday, April 20, the group went
ahead with a picket line at the university calling for a halt to NATO
bombing and supporting the United Nations in resolving the Balkan
Moore expressed disappointment that the Kosovo debate
had not taken place, but realistic about the impact of the worst high-school
violence in the nation’s history. "I understand from the news
organization’s viewpoint that this shooting is something suburbanites
can identify with," he said, at the outset of the conversation.
"And my feeling is that those two forms of violence are related
to each other in some ways. Not as a direct causation, but certainly
in terms of the broader context — the legitimization of violence
as a way to deal with conflicts and frustration.
"I find it ironic that the President came on television in the
aftermath of the Colorado shooting and told a national audience that
we need to teach our children through example to not deal with our
conflicts violently although our country has led the bombing of Yugoslavia.
It was as if it didn’t dawn on him that someone might look at what
our government is doing right now an not see a contradiction there."
Moore says the Coalition’s conflict resolution activities date back
to 1987. "Our 12th annual fair took place this month for 1,000
children and parents and grandparents. We focus on 100 ways to create
peace in the world. Children not only begin to be exposed to new ways
of dealing with conflict, but they can actually experience those for
at least one day."
The organization’s Peaceful Toys Fair makes its fifth annual appearance
this fall. "The way our children play does influence the way our
children behave in real life," says Moore, who notes that the
toy fair includes peaceful activities such as crafts and cooperative
games, geared to grade school and pre-school age children.
"One of the things that is striking to me about the children involved
in these school shootings, and I have looked at the backgrounds on
each of them, is that there is a common thread of heavy involvement
with violent video games. These games glorify violence in an extreme
way, and they also insulate the children from the real consequences
The Coalition for Peace action’s third major program is specifically
designed for teens and relates most closely to the tragedy at Columbine
High School. Help Increase the Peace — which goes by the acronym
H.I.P. — is a training program for teenagers in peaceful conflict
resolution. Now four years old, it is run collaboratively with the
American Friends Service Committee and has already trained more than
300 teens. Programs take place in schools, in community groups, and
at regional training sessions at the Quaker conference center in Burlington.
Participants may volunteer or be selected to participate by their
school or community group.
"We encourage teenagers from all backgrounds to take the training,"
explains Moore, "from inner city teens who have been in trouble
in their schools to suburban kids of all ages and races." There
are three training levels for a total of 20 hours of workshop time
that enables participants to experience the concepts in depth. "Our
goal is to help instill the skills — an orientation toward life
— so that you nip these school community problems in the bud,"
"One of the most exciting things about H.I.P. is that empowers
the young people themselves to become part of the solution. We have
25 kids who have gone through all three levels of training and are
now apprentice trainers in their own right."
Peaceful conflict resolution requires no heroics from its teens. Its
intent is to positively impact the school community over time. But
it is not appropriate to a situation where violence has already broken
out. "We don’t encourage any of our teenagers to physically intervene
in a highly volatile situation," says Moore. "We would simply
want them to dial 911. We certainly don’t want them to put themselves
in danger." The program aims to intervene early, when students
are verbally harassing or stigmatizing other students. "If there
was taunting going on, our teens would start to speak up, to engage
early on and set a tone that encourages diversity."
Moore says that in order for this peer pressure to have a positive
effect, a critical mass is required: ideally at least five percent
of the school population would be trained in conflict resolution.
"The more youngsters who have had the training, the more likely
it will be that there will be a whole group to speak up and say, `We
don’t find that acceptable,’" he explains.
"We also train the youngsters in how to affirm each other for
who they are, including their difference. In one of our self-affirmation
exercises, you pick an alliterative, affirming name. Mine is `Beautiful
Bob,’ for example. It may sound funny at first, but when you say it
often enough, you begin to internalize it."
The Coalition for Peace Action also works closely with New Jersey
Cease Fire on gun control. "Most recently we’ve been working very
hard on the childproof handgun bill, which is currently bogged down
in committee. We also worked on preserving New Jersey’s assault weapons
ban and on the Brady Bill. It’s terribly ironic, because clearly a
piece of this school crisis is the easy access to guns. When I was
growing up in Los Angeles, you’d have a rumble or a fist fight. But
you would never have this kind of mass killing."
Returning to the topic of violence and international politics, the
upcoming Concert for Peace is not so distant in spirit, and its proceeds
benefit the Peace Action Education Fund. The concert’s star performer,
Nigerian-born drummer Babatunde Olatunji, first came to the U.S.
in the 1950s to pursue a career in the diplomatic service. At New
York University, he created a small drumming and dance group, but
as he met more and more Americans, both black and white, he was appalled
at their misconceptions and ignorance about Africa. Eventually, he
concluded that the best way to enhance understanding of his country
was to expose the world at large to its culture through music and
Abandoning his studies, Olatunji established a Center for African
Culture in Harlem to share African dance, music, language, folklore,
and history. His 1959 recording, "Drums of Passion," became
an unprecedented smash hit, the first album to bring African music
to Western ears. And his long career has paved the way for many of
today’s popular African musicians.
Moore acknowledges that Kosovo today represents a difficult situation
that has defied diplomatic solutions. "At the same time, I think
there were opportunities lost," he says. "Our ambassador to
Yugoslavia was telling a year ago, we need to get Russia involved,
but the impeachment thing was all that was on everyone’s mind. When
you have a situation of genocide against an ethnic group, you cannot
"At the same time, NATO bombing seems to be taking a bad situation
and making it worse. It has escalated the violence, causing thousands
of deaths and tens of thousands of refugees, it has intensified the
ethnic cleansing campaign, and destabilized the region.
"We aren’t taking a pacifist alternative to this, although we
emphasize using diplomacy and settlement, using Russia and Greece
in the process. We’re saying that the United Nations should be the
proper instrument for dealing with this crisis."
— Nicole Plett
Presbyterian Church, Nassau Street, 609-924-5022. Babatunde Olatunji
with Jennie Avila. Sponsor tickets are $100; patron tickets are $60;
concert admissions are $20 or $30. Saturday, May 1, 8 p.m.
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