Speak Your Peace

Some very Nobel intentions pay off.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu rocked the house when he came out on stage Sunday morning. The thousands of kids gathered in Magness Arena cheered as he danced, waved the scarf that the Dalai Lama had presented him with the afternoon before, talked about how the story of Jackie Robinson inspired him when he was growing up in South Africa "even though I didn't know baseball from Ping Pong," danced some more, and gave his advice on how to become a Nobel Peace Prize winner:

Have a big nose.

Have an easy name -- "like Tutu."

Have sexy legs.

The youths ("Kids are goats," fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams had explained earlier) soaked up every word. "Some of God's best collaborators, some of God's best partners, have been young people," Tutu told them, and then proceeded to offer a knock-knock joke about how the Virgin Mary -- complete with a high-pitched girly voice -- learned she would become an unmarried mother. And if she hadn't, "We would be in a real pickle."

As Tutu's words and spirit filled the room, Denver seemed pregnant with possibilities.

PeaceJam is the odd concept that admittedly oddball artist/ musician Ivan Suvanjieff came up with during the city's so-called Summer of Violence, when he discovered that neighborhood kids in gang-ridden northwest Denver didn't know much about the President of the United States but knew all about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. The notion of pairing teenagers with Nobel laureates led to India, where he and co-founder Dawn Engle shared their idea with the Dalai Lama (after going into hock to do so), and then to South Africa and Tutu (ditto), and then around the globe as they ultimately signed up a dozen Nobel winners to work with kids to promote peace. And just as they promised last fall ("A Peace of the Action," November 10, 2005), they brought ten of those Nobels, as well as almost 3,000 kids who'd participated in PeaceJam activities around the world, to Denver last weekend for a tenth-anniversary celebration and the unveiling of a Global Call to Action that calls for "a billion acts of peace over the next ten years."

Thousands were on display through the weekend. "The effect of prayer is limited," the Dalai Lama pronounced at one point, looking straight at Tutu, his willing partner in a continuing comedy routine. "So this is a call to action. Global action for human life, all the life of the planet." At Saturday morning's kickoff, the Dalai Lama invited participants to ask him questions; the third, from a girl from Kalamazoo, was about the Simpsons episode that portrays the Dalai Lama as the superhero of peace. "Don't make hero through violence," he replied. "That's silly."

Tutu's Sunday-morning gig was another wake-up call. "There is a great deal of evil in the world, but there's also a great deal of good in the world," he said, as he asked PeaceJammers to come up on stage and share something that inspires them, then light a candle.

A song from The Princess Diaries.

Rudy, that morning's emcee, a kid from Pueblo and northwest Denver who turned to PeaceJam instead of gangs.

The Special Olympics.

The saying on a card that one girl's father gave her when she turned fifteen: "Only dead fish go with the flow."

Visiting an orphanage in Korea when, as a teenager, one girl who'd been adopted from that country found herself filled with rage at the thought that she'd been thrown out like trash.

Modest Mouse.

And then four boys from Tibet -- among the 200 kids from thirty countries who'd made it to the United States for this event -- stood before the microphone and sang their favorite song from Raffi (or so they thought), delivering the American traditional "This Little Light of Mine" in completely unaccented English.

Among all that was so sublime, there had to be ridiculous moments, of course. That evening, after two solid days of talking with the kids, talking with each other and, when they couldn't avoid it, talking with the press ("If this media gets in your way, let us know," Rudy told the PeaceJammers. "We'll make them bow down to you"), the five female Nobel Peace Prize winners gathered on the stage of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, which was set up like an "international cafe" where former ambassador Swanee Hunt pretended to pour coffee and ask them questions. The only thing missing from the embarrassing shtick was a request for Rigoberta Menchķ Tum, the 1992 winner for her work with the indigenous people of Guatemala, to clear the dishes.

But the messages triumphed over the medium. Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 winner, got to deliver her piece -- her peace -- for the first time that weekend, via a video filmed in Burma, where she is under house arrest. She's been under house arrest for most of the past fifteen years. Shirin Ebadi -- awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work pushing women's rights in Iran, where she was a judge before Khomeini took over and was then reduced to clerk -- barely made it to Denver; she's been jailed before and has been threatened with jail again.

"Peace is hard work," Jody Williams, the 1997 winner for her campaign to ban land mines, told the audience at the Ellie, repeating a line -- a good one -- that she'd already uttered several times. "Peace is not a dove, a rainbow, ŒKumbaya' and bad poetry. Lots of bad poetry."

Peace is hard work. And last weekend, it was even front-page news. Suvanjieff had wondered what it might take to put peace there, and he got his answer: ten Nobels who weren't above acting out with hugs and wisecracks (when they weren't cracking George Bush's head over Guant´namo), and thousands of kids who listened to every word. "We want to commend Ivan and Dawn," Tutu said at the press conference that launched the event. "When they started, people must have said, ŒYou are crazy.' Ten years later, you have done it."

Yes, they have.

"There's only one way to eat an elephant," Tutu concluded Sunday morning. "One piece at a time."

One PeaceJam at a time.

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