Last week students and staff gathered at Liverpool Guild of Students to celebrate International Peace Day, a worldwide movement to promote peace and understanding.
Students were welcomed by deputy president Tom Bee and vice president Maggie Hayes, who said the day was to “celebrate humanity”.
Gee Walker, founder of the Anthony Walker Foundation, spoke of how she “chose to forgive” after the death of her son and the inner peace this gave her. Quoting Abraham Lincoln – “commitment is what transforms a promise into reality” – she discussed her commitment to “keep celebrating life” rather than becoming angry or bitter.
Professor Jon Tonge gave a brief introduction to the Northern Ireland peace process. He claimed some of the biggest issues are how to bring about compromise and the question of “how do you re-integrate people into society?”
Questions on aggression versus defensiveness prompted a discussion on reoffenders, with Professor Tonge asserting that only 2% of those released have reoffended, suggesting they would not have acted as they did outside of conflict. The recent spike in incidences can in some ways be put down to economic stability, although Professor Tonge reminded listeners that it is “reductive” to assume this is the only cause, and the trend for historic commemoration and the lack of a state mechanism for forgiveness were also discussed as potential catalysts for continuing conflict.
STAR, Student Action for Refugees, spoke of their role as a campaigning, fundraising and volunteering organisation. The idea of a city of sanctuary allows Liverpool students to see the wider community as part of their time here at Liverpool. “Peace and freedom” were intrinsically linked with refugees given that they are often fleeing war and persecution.
A Zimbabwean refugee gave an account of his experience that was visibly moving to the audience, and discussed the “inner peace” he has begun to gain from “activities that help others”. STAR also discussed some of the myths surrounding asylum seekers, the main one being the high numbers living in this country. In Liverpool there are approximately 1000, “enough to fill just 1/40 of Goodison Park.”
Stephen French, a peace campaigner aiming to “get guns gone” again raised the issue of forgiveness, and told of the inspiration Gee Walker gave him. French claimed we could all make a difference at the “grassroots level to make social change.”
Students prepared postcards to send to the UN and signed a peace pledge before taking part in a candlelight vigil.