Robert Moore

Help Increase the Peace

New Jersey Cease Fire

Babatunde Olatunji

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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.

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Robert Moore

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

crisis.

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

of violence."

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.

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Help Increase the Peace

"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,"

says Moore.

"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."

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New Jersey Cease Fire

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."

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Babatunde Olatunji

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

dance.

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

do nothing.

"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

Concert for Peace, Coalition for Peace Action, Nassau

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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