PeaceJam Revs Up Its Billion Acts for Peace Campaign

The Dalai Lama with PeaceJammers.
The Dalai Lama with PeaceJammers. PeaceJam
Give peace a chance, and you just may win a 1968 Corvette, the vehicle revving up an online Peace and Kindness Challenge to promote peace and civility across the U.S.

If that sounds too good to be true, it's not. It's part of the One Billion Acts for Peace campaign started by PeaceJam, an international success story rooted in Denver. Today founders Dawn Engle and Ivan Sujanjieff travel the globe, setting up events and activities with the Noble Peace Prize winners who make up the board of PeaceJam, making movies, hobnobbing with royalty, getting nominated for the Nobel Prize themselves, and, yes, raffling off cars. "We have never done anything like this before, and we are thrilled at the response," Engle says.

"Ivan and I are from Detroit — we know our cars — and we were really excited when Angels Garage in Detroit picked PeaceJam as the charity that will benefit form this classic car! It is only the third time they have done something like this. We need to be able to restore some kind of common ground, some way that we can all start talking to each other again. So many of us love these sweet old classic cars. So we decided to call it our 'Vehicle for Peace'."

click to enlarge Vehicle for Peace: a '68 Corvette - PEACEJAM
Vehicle for Peace: a '68 Corvette
They've come a long way.

Back in 1993, artist/musician/very short-time (87 days for the Rocky Mountain News) society columnist Suvanjieff was living in a loft in northwest Denver (an area yet to be nicknamed "LoHi") — $500 a month, no heat, asbestos hanging from the ceiling. During Denver's so-called Summer of Violence, he started chatting with a couple of neighborhood kids who were dealing drugs. "You have to be pretty smart to run a business," he told them. "Who's the president of the United States?" None of them knew. Suvanjieff kept talking, getting into apartheid, and discovered that while these kids didn't know the U.S. president, they knew all about Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

He and Engle were working on an Allen Ginsberg project at Naropa at the time, she recalled when I chatted with both in advance of PeaceJam's tenth anniversary, and Suvanjieff "came up to Boulder the next day, and he was on fire: 'Nobel Laureates, they're the ones who can speak to these kids.'"

Engle mentioned that she knew the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize. "And I said, 'Bullshit. No person from Detroit knows the Dalai Lama,'" Suvanjieff remembered. But Engle did: She'd met him when she was working as a Republican congressional aide (the youngest ever) and doing volunteer work for the Free Tibet campaign. Somehow she managed to wrangle an audience with the Dalai Lama. Even more miraculously, the pair came up with the cash for plane tickets to India. "We took that meeting," Suvanjieff recalled. "The Dalai Lama was great. He looked me in the eyes and said, 'You're not Buddhist, are you? At least you're not crazy.'" The Dalai Lama told them that he'd like to help inspire a new generation of peacemakers, but that they would also need to sign up other Nobels, like Tutu and Oscar Arias, the 1987 prize winner. Engle and Suvanjieff were jamming — PeaceJamming — but soon realized they'd forgotten to ask for contact information.

So back in that unheated loft, wearing coats and long underwear, they dialed Capetown information. They finally reached Tutu, who invited them to South Africa. They scrounged up more airfare and kept calling. "We had no idea how impossible this was," Engle remembered. "This is the only organization in the whole world where the Nobel Laureates work together. We didn't know it. When we approached them about working with youth, they all said they wanted to. They're now our board of directors."

The first PeaceJam event was held in March 1996 at Regis College, then PeaceJam's home base. Betty Williams, who shared the 1976 Nobel Peace Price with Mairead Corrigan Maguire, offered the keynote address. Since that initial gathering, there have been 360 PeaceJam conferences. On its tenth anniversary, celebrated at the University of Denver, PeaceJam launched a campaign to create a billion acts of peace; by its count, it's now over 52 million.

As part of that campaign, it's raffling off a Vehicle for Peace on September 21. To enter the raffle, you must make a $10 donation for peace here, and post a video of how you will be a #VehicleforPeace. The car will be raffled off on International Peace Day on September 21 at a United Nations event in New York. Engle promises that she and Suvanjieff will be there, along with a big contingent from the PeaceJam headquarters in Colorado.

Update: This story was updated at 2:30 p.m. September 4 to reflect the fact that the Vehicle for Peace, which was originally slated to be at Civic Center Eats on September 5, may not reach Denver until mid-month.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun