Friends for Peace
It all started on a bitterly cold winter evening years ago, as the Iraq war loomed. I received notice that a Peace Song Circle was happening on Parliament Hill to protest the bombing of Baghdad. So I went, accompanied by my wife Carolyn, a friend and our dog.
No-one else turned up, as it was so cold. I remarked to Carolyn, “This is a good idea but it needs attention to detail and organization.”
She replied, “Let’s do it.”
And so we did, creating the nucleus for Friends for Peace Canada. It quickly grew to a loose coalition of over fifty organizations in the city and we asked them to begin the peace process first of all within themselves, then to the community and out to the world.
Our mandate evolved from peace advocacy to projects on the ground. We gave annual Peace Grants to local and international organizations making a real difference, as well as working in concert with other coalitions in the city for environmental and social justice issues.
We organized five thousand participants at the Peace Song Circle on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, held on a miserably wet, cold spring day in 2003. A sea of multi-coloured umbrellas on a rain swept morning welcomed all those gathered. The pouring rain was strangely welcome, for it symbolized the tears of Iraqi children, my tears, your tears, transformed into hope through singing for peace with one another and experiencing deep peace. From there, we knew the wise actions to take.
The Friends for Peace Day became an awesome, diverse, unique Ottawa experience. It is made possible by the generosity of volunteers, supporters and the diversity of Ottawa who show up to have a good time, be educated and inspired. It creates an epicentre of intent and action, intense at times as people are moved to both tears and laughter. It is fun, poignant and direct. The intensity and joy ripples through the diversity, all generations, faiths and cultures in our northern city.
It has all grown in ever increasing concentric circles. The foundations of mindfulness through the fifty organizations we partner with have taken root in our northern city. All adhere to some form of the Friends for Peace mandate: peace, planetary care and social justice.
I felt that these efforts could infuse global networks from the epicentre created in my home city
I had received many invitations to be a global speaker and teacher, yet realized that a concentration on my home city of Ottawa was the primary focus. I responded to the many international invitations with a gracious decline.
I was inspired to devote my time and energy to moving things just a little bit in my city, so that more good things could begin to happen spontaneously.
As I soon discovered, there were many good friends across the city more than happy to make this possible.
Dr. Ian Prattis is Professor Emeritus at Carleton University in Ottawa, Zen teacher, peace and environmental activist. Born in the UK, he has spent much of his life living and teaching in Canada. His moving and eye-opening books are a memorable experience for anyone who enjoys reading about primordial tendencies. Beneath the polished urban facade remains a part of human nature that few want to acknowledge, either due to fear or simply because it is easier to deny the basic instincts that have kept us alive on an unforgiving earth. Prattis bravely goes there in his outstanding literary work.