Students at Vergennes Union High School learned a lot more than just how to speak in public and how to organize an event around an issue during this year’s Peace One Day rally. They also learned the meaning of public activism.
Most importantly, they learned how to do it well.
By “well,” we mean their general approach to the issue of peace. “We may not be able to control what other states or countries are doing, but we can control the world around us or at least our part in it,” said Kelly Burkett in today’s issue of the Addison Independent. (See story Page 3A.) The comment reflects the students’ emphasis on support of peace at all levels or society, rather than a protest against America’s involvement in the war in Iraq.
VUHS Principal Ed Webbley, an advocate of the Peace One Day rallies that have been held at the school for the past three years, has supported the program because it is not a protest and it is organized and run entirely by the students. His response to this year’s rally reflects well on the VUHS student body. Said Webbley: “I’ve never seen a peace rally where I’ve seen more patriotism. The kids were super positive about our troops. Nobody took any cheap political shots. It was just a bunch of kids who were truly focused on peace. From the halls of the school to international politics, the positive focus was truly breathtaking.”
In encouraging messages, students spoke of peace and kindnesses on the home front as well as on the international stage: “Just for one day can we really stop all the violence, all the arguments and all the hateful looks and gestures,” asked junior Sarah Lucia. “Maybe. One person can start it by helping someone else … carrying their things, or even just telling them they look nice. If everyone on the planet could do one nice thing for someone else, wouldn’t we be that much closer to our ultimate goal?”
Adults could learn much from these students.
In addition to these broader lessons of peace, the students also learned about the power of public rallies. Such street power hit its zenith in the late 1960s and early 1970s during the civil rights marches, the women’s rights movement and as the Vietnam War became increasingly unpopular. Because the national news covered the events, those causes garnered the nation’s attention and staged on center stage.
In today’s world of the Internet too much of the political activism goes unseen. The Internet works well to make like-minded citizens aware of important issues, but in most cases these messages are preaching to the choir. It’s not until people take to the streets — the rallies around the Jena Six in Louisiana last week is a recent example, and even the global warming march held last Labor Day weekend that began in Ripton and ended in Burlington with a 1,000-plus marchers — that the broader audience (those who may have no interest in the issue and therefore are out of the Internet loop) realizes how many residents are upset about the issue and are advocating for change.
One lesson the VUHS students have learned is that it’s not necessary to demonize a foe to make a point — a particularly good lesson to practice when the setting is an institution representing people with many differing views. The other lesson learned, hopefully, is the positive feedback students and activists receive when they espouse messages of hope in a respectful way and the ability of that message to affect change.
VUHS deserves high marks for encouraging its students to participate in the Peace One Day rally and serves as a model for other schools in the county and throughout the state.
Angelo S. Lynn