It is an honor to be with you today. I am intimidated by the talent and sheer will power represented here to increase the peace. You are doing God’s work, but in many ways, peace is a job for human beings. We are the violent ones. We are the conflicted ones.
And, to be clear, there is no peace without conflict.
Peace is not the absence of conflict so much as it is the absence of violence: absence of physical violence, absence of psychological violence, of emotional and spiritual violence.
But conflict? That is essential to peace.
The conflict I am talking about is the struggle for all of those things people need in order to have a decent life.
Things like healthy food and clean water and breathable air. Things like shelter and personal security. Then there is family and community, we need those for survival, too. And creative artistic expression of all kinds is essential to our lives as well.
When faced with a threat to any one of these basic needs, tension rises, with stress, fear, anger and confusion all mixed together, and suddenly our minds are racing for solutions.
The easiest and quickest solution is violence. Take what we want and the hell with it. Live first, and let God sort out the consequences.
It is so much more difficult to negotiate our way through a high-pressure moment, no doubt. It is risky. It takes patience, it takes time and a willingness to understand the other person’s point of view, and it requires that we stay focused on solving the immediate problem so that violence is avoided.
Yet, the easy, violent route leads to a rough road which is hard to travel. Systems based on threat are high-maintenance and expensive.
In America, we work for a living under the threat of being fired. School children try to learn under the threat of failing a test. African Americans, Latinos and other human beings marginalized by the system walk the streets under threat of arrest or even death.
However, when conflict is negotiated and threat is put in its place, those same systems become user-friendly. For example, an employee who shows up for work just to keep from getting fired is going to do a mediocre job at best. But give that same employee a sense of inclusion in the company, a living wage and some respect, and you have a motivated person doing quality work. Students who are taught how to learn and why they are learning instead of being taught how to pass a test, those students become active learners because someone has done the very difficult work of communicating and negotiating with the students, listening to the students, and working to get to where learning is the goal and test-taking is just a tool, and the threat of failing is no longer the reason for being in class. And law enforcement officials who sincerely live the code of “Protect and Serve” for everyone equally? They create safe, cooperative neighborhoods where people can come and go without fear, and where the police themselves feel safe walking those same streets.
The peace of government should be negotiated in the conflict arena of public opinion. When a democracy is functioning properly, the politicians truly work for the people. That is not and has never really been the case in America. But in many ways our dysfunctional government today is the people’s fault, the people’s responsibility. During the last presidential election in 2012, only 6 of every 10 registered voters bothered to vote. And last year’s national elections? Only a few more than 3 of every 10 registered voters in America spoke out. No wonder the politicians do not care about the needs of the general population. Political campaign money comes from the wealthy one percent. The rich have the politicians’ attention. We the people who are in need of good roads, health care, quality education, and a truly just justice system are not even showing up to vote. Why would the politicians concern themselves with us?
Still, pause for a moment and imagine if voters did get involved in the political conflict like you have gotten involved here today. Imagine if 9 out of 10 registered voters voted. No matter how much money was poured into the election, the voice of the people would still be heard. If 9 out of 10 people voted, politicians would see their bosses everywhere they went: in the stores, in the streets, in the schools, everywhere. And if the people demanded health care that worked, they would get it. If the people demanded schools that served all children equally, the politicians would allocate our tax money toward education. If the people wanted accountability in the justice system, there would either be accountability in the system or there would be accountability in the next election. Our vote is an act of conflict to increase the peace. The voting booth is where the national peace can be won and maintained. I would remind you that there is an election coming next year. Please show up in that voting booth. And bring someone with you who may not have voted last year.
But for now, you and I and the rest of America who are not crazy rich, we are busy working jobs, paying bills, raising children, maybe taking in a movie or going out to eat once a month if we have a few bucks left. We are doing what we can and that feels like a full plate. Which is why it is so amazing that you are here today with Keshia, who teaches children and young adults, and Leroy, who sweats the words and reminds us “Let’s Get It! Let’s Go!”, and Javier, who spins all kinds of vibes, musical and beyond, and so many other good people, great performers and organizations who have made the time today to increase the peace; that is a super human effort, that is heroic and noble. This is the model the world needs to see and hear about, good people working every day to sustain a system that does not put us all under threat, but instead shows us how our voices matter and how our efforts can change the direction of the world, little by little: one day without violence, one conflict negotiated, one child saved from threat. One less riot. One less war. This is the conflict that maintains the peace and opens up a future we have yet to experience.