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Civil Society Peace Forum at New York's Cooper Union Focuses on Abolishing Nuclear Weapons

September 8, 2007

On September 8, 2007, a Civil Society Peace Forum titled "Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: What Can Each of Us Do?" was held at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, USA. A new SGI exhibition, "From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit," was on display at the same venue. More than 150 people attended the event, which also commemorated the 50th anniversary of second Soka Gakkai President Josei Toda's 1957 declaration before 50,000 youth in Yokohama in which he staunchly condemned the use of nuclear weapons as an absolute evil under any circumstance. The SGI, Global Action to Prevent War and the World Federation of the United Nations Associations were the event sponsors.

From left to right: Michael Spies, Ray Acheson, Kathleen
Sullivan, Tony Jenkins and Rhianna Tyson

The forum featured a lively discussion, with a panel of experts on nuclear disarmament offering insights based on their work in law, education and public policy. The moderator was Kathleen Sullivan, a disarmament educator and consultant to the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs in New York. Ms. Sullivan introduced the panel, the majority of whom are in their 20s and 30s. They were: Tony Jenkins, codirector of the Peace Education Center at Teachers College, Columbia University; Michael Spies from the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy; Rhianna Tyson, program officer of the Global Security Institute; and Ray Acheson, associate of the Reaching Critical Will Project, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

After reporting on the stark reality of the current existence of nuclear weapons, the panelists motivated the audience to action. They reasoned that since human beings created nuclear arms, their abolition is attainable through sustained effort and social change. The panelists agreed that one-on-one dialogues, rather than large demonstrations, are more effective in working toward abolition. The presenters advocated for ordinary citizens to create a culture that rejects nuclear weapons and never justifies their existence. Mr. Jenkins stated, "It all comes down to changing people's awareness. Peace education is not about forcing conclusion. Creative and overall transformation of thought in the deepest dimension is indispensable for nuclear abolition."

The SGI exhibition, "From a Culture of Violence to a Culture of Peace: Transforming the Human Spirit"

Guests at the event included former UN Under-Secretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Ambassador Hilario G. Davide, Jr., Philippines permanent representative to the United Nations, Paulette A. Bethel, Bahamian permanent representative to the United Nations, and Michael Cassandra, chief of Monitoring, Database and Information Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. SGI Vice President Hiromasa Ikeda also attended and spoke on behalf of all the organizers of the public event.

In his remarks, Mr. Ikeda shared with the audience that youth representatives from 55 countries were gathered on the same day in Yokohama also to address the abolition of nuclear weapons. "I hope we take courage from the fact that there are young people throughout the world who are dedicated to this important issue." Mr. Ikeda also shared a message from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda in which he called on ordinary citizens to free themselves of the notion that nuclear weapons serve as a necessary evil to deter conflict or war and that it is not possible to build happiness and security on the fears of others. Stating that "the greatest single force to achieve [nuclear abolition] on a global scale is the power of dialogue," the SGI President elaborated:

" Dialogue starts from the courageous willingness to know and be known by others. It is the painstaking and persistent effort to remove all obstacles that obscure our common humanity. Genuine dialogue is a ceaseless and profound spiritual exertion that seeks to effect a fundamental human transformation in both ourselves and others. Dialogue challenges us to confront and transform the destructive impulses inherent in human life. I earnestly believe that the energy generated by this courageous effort can break the chains of resignation and apathy that bind the human heart, unleashing renewed confidence and vision for the future. "

Mr. Ikeda (left photo: 2nd from left) and Mr. Chowdhury (right photo: 2nd from left) engage in candid discussions during a group break-out session

Following the event, many in the audience remarked on the youthfulness of the panelists as well as their experience and expertise. In turn, the panelists were encouraged by the ethnic, social and cultural diversity of the audience. Moderator Kathleen Sullivan shared her impression of the forum: "Even though the conference dealt with a serious theme, it was a great conference with a cheerful atmosphere. The key to continuing a peace movement may lie in having a sense of purpose and a compassionate heart, focusing on the human being." Ambassador Chowdhury remarked, "I love to see the culture of peace prevail throughout the world!" He and the other ambassadors spoke highly of the forum's focus on youth as the leading players in the peace movement.

[Adapted from articles in the September 17, 2007 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, Soka Gakkai, Japan, and the September 28, 2007 issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photos courtesy of Danny Sze]


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