Mountain Xpress has a policy of printing only those guest commentaries “that promote thoughtful dialogue and enhanced understanding of local issues” (emphasis mine). That’s a good policy, given that Xpress has a local readership interested in local news and events. But what are the boundaries of “local” issues?
When hundreds of local people gather in an Asheville park to celebrate solidarity with humans across the world and with the planet itself, is that a local issue? When diverse local nonprofit organizations working on regional, national and international problems recognize their common ground and co-sponsor a local event, is that a local issue? When local faith communities join them in a shared experience of universal spirituality—acknowledging the sacredness of all life—is that a local issue? When the mayor of Asheville officially proclaims a day commemorating an event that occurred in South Africa a century ago, is that a local issue?
Local people, far-reaching concerns. But are these global concerns not local as well? Any effort to improve the human condition anywhere, or to begin to heal the wounds inflicted on the natural world, must start in a local community somewhere. Mayor Terry Bellamy shares this view in her proclamation designating Sept. 11 as Peace on Earth, Peace with Earth Day in Asheville, which states in part:
“It is clear that the cultural healing and transformation that we need globally must begin locally, since the issues affecting the city of Asheville, Buncombe County and the region of Western North Carolina are inextricably linked to the wider communities of human life and planetary life.”
All issues are interconnected, just as all creatures in an ecosystem are. The activities of one organism influence others whose actions, in turn, affect yet others. Human beings are interconnected with one another and with all other creatures. Human institutions—economic systems, governments, cities and the like—are interconnected too: planet, nation, state, county, city, neighborhood, family, self, all interlinked.
What happens here in Asheville ripples outward. Last year’s Sept. 11 Peace on Earth, Peace with Earth Day celebration in Pritchard Park attracted national media attention. (Interestingly, some national media chose to ignore the event, because they said it was a local affair.) And this year, other cities are conducting similar observances and celebrations.
What happened in Asheville that made people in other cities want to emulate it? Here’s what Asheville resident Susan Oehler wrote to Mountain Xpress last year:
“This past Sept. 11, I participated in a wonderful event in Pritchard Park called ‘Peace on Earth, Peace with Earth.’ It was attended by an estimated 700 people, who were writing a new story for human presence on Earth. It marked and celebrated the work and the life of Gandhi.
“It was an awesome event. I heard so many voices … that spoke to our deepest longings for peace, justice and stability in our world. This celebration of diversity and the mystery of life itself included spiritual rituals from a couple of different faith backgrounds. From the proclamation by Mayor Bellamy to the many voices raised in song, it was a unifying experience.
“This was a gathering of people who know that when consumption outstrips local resources, it causes great harm to our brothers and sisters around the world and great harm to our planet. This was a gathering of people who understand that violence to others is violence visited on our own souls, and that we cannot harm others without harming ourselves. This was a gathering of people who needed to stand united and to speak the truths we know.” (See the full text at mountainx.com/opinion/2006/1004letters.php.)
This year we’re doing it again. More than 40 local environmental, peace and justice advocacy groups and faith communities will come together to commemorate the anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi’s first nonviolent direct action against injustice in South Africa, which took place on Sept. 11, 1906. The program will include musicians, poets, performers and inspirational speakers. This year’s theme is “Be the Change.” Afterward, there will be a vegetarian potluck at the First Presbyterian Church.
This event is intended to raise awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence: All our work as activists in our special areas, and the spiritual grounding we seek in our faith communities, are inextricably linked. We also aim to create a more positive, uplifting and hopeful association with the date Sept. 11—one that brings out the best qualities of the human spirit.
When groups with specialized interests—the WENOCA Group of the Sierra Club, the Asheville Branch of the NAACP, Veterans for Peace, Quality Forward and Circle of Mercy, to name but a few—take time to recognize what they all have in common, it’s significant and newsworthy. All are working for harmony in the world, recognizing that human betterment and ecological integrity are inseparable concerns.
This sense of solidarity is something very special about our local people. And the participating local groups hope it will spread from here, so that we can achieve “the cultural healing and transformation that we need globally.”
[Kim Carlyle is coordinator of the WNC Chapter of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, which is organizing the Sept. 11 event.]
The Peace on Earth, Peace with Earth Day celebration happens Tuesday, Sept. 11, in downtown Asheville’s Pritchard Park, starting at 5:30 p.m. For more information, see “Sept. 11 2007 Celebration” at www.spiritualprogressives.org/index.php?topic=wnc, or call 626-2572.