Small (Local) Bites: Creating Regional Chapters of Writing for Peace
By Mary Carroll-Hackett
I’ve had the privilege of working with the national organization Writing for Peace for the last four years, an organization dedicated to employing the skills, talents, and energy of writers toward the goals of promoting empathy and peaceful activism. The dream of one woman, Writing for Peace was started in Colorado by our founder Carmel Mawle, with its initial goal of particularly reaching out to young writers, through an annual Young Writers’ Contest. The dedication of this organization, to writing, to working to create real social change, to the belief that art can be and is a powerful tool for changing hearts and minds, and especially the organization’s dedication to young people, mirror in nearly every way the beliefs that drive my own writing, my own teaching, so I was thrilled when asked by Carmel to join the team of Writing for Peace advisers.
Writing for Peace continues to grow under the direction of our new President, Andrea Slack Doray, and an excellent board, all committed to the mission Carmel first set out years ago.
I introduced the organization and its mission to my own students, young poets, essayists, and fiction writers, in the classes I teach at Longwood University, and they loved it. They loved how the goals aligned with their own desire and passion for activism and social justice, loved that it embodied what they saw as the vital role of artists in creating real change in the world. From this initial introduction, we created the Online Youth Summit, an educational venture featuring keynotes from young activists from all over the world, creating a safe space for young people to engage, and fostering discussions of social justice and change, as well as celebrating their own creative work.
But Colorado’s a long way from the rolling rural farmland of central Virginia, and while we share so much in common, no matter where we live, every community and region faces its own unique needs and challenges. One question that kept arising among my students was How do we bring what matters about Writing For Peace home?
So, as is my habit, to promote and make space for autonomy and ownership, (and because I learn as much from them as I’ll ever teach them), I answered my students’ question with a question. I sent a message through an online thread to a list of twenty or so of my current students and alums, asking, “How do you see us bringing Writing for Peace here to Virginia? What would a regional chapter of WFP look like to you?”
The thread exploded, with the energy and enthusiasm and wisdom young people can bring, and the idea of WFP Regional Chapters began to grow, including community activists in our area, and supporters of the arts, as we developed the proposal, sought board approval, and began the steps to making a first chapter of Writing for Peace a reality here in Central Virginia.
This past Sunday, using the magic of online video conferencing, we gathered, a small group of like-minded collaborators, for the first meeting of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace.
Writers of all backgrounds and ages, supporters of the arts, community activists, we, as a chapter, along with anyone who wants to join our efforts, have come together to do what we can and use the skills we have to make our own communities and region better, stronger, more peaceful places for all who live here. We believe, too, that one of the most effective roles we can play is in acknowledging, assisting, and providing support to other activists and organizations already doing good work on the ground where we are.
We envision the work we will do together arising from three primary goals:
Awareness. Education. Action.
In every day real-world terms, we envision chapters affecting change through projects we develop as a group, through the support we extend to efforts already in place in our communities, and through our own writing, using our voices right where we are.
I tell my students when they’re overwhelmed, as so many of us are these days:
Take small bites. We can’t run to the UN and create world peace all by ourselves. But we can, each day, in our daily conversations, promote peace and be willing to listen, even to those with whom we don’t agree. We can’t run to the White House and single-handedly stop the onslaught against the civil rights of American citizens. But we can show up for our own neighbors, our colleagues and peers, doing whatever we can to defend and protect their rights, and to let those in endangered populations, through real presence and action, know that we stand ready as allies, that we are truly there for and with them. We can’t cure world hunger, or solve homelessness, or rescue every child caught in domestic violence or fostercare. But we can work at food banks, distribute coats and blankets to the homeless, or come together to raise funds in support of domestic violence shelters.
I recently opened a small food bank in my office, so that any student who struggles with hunger on our campus can come in and be helped. When they show up in my office for food, I don’t ask their politics, don’t ask how they voted. In that moment, in my community, on the local level, politics don’t matter. In that moment, in my community, on the local level, I can make a real-world difference. And in that small act, both of us, the student helped, and I, can move a little more peacefully through the rest of our day.
Doing what we can, where we are, with what we have, to help—that’s what matters.
This is the heart of Writing for Peace, at the national and international level, and now, at the community level as well. So Writing for Peace chapters were born.
For anyone who is interested, or wants guidance, in starting a chapter, the Central Virginia Chapter stands ready to help in any way we can. For more information, check out our page on how to start a chapter here.
We hope that this inaugural chapter will inspire others to do the same, to come together to create Writing for Peace chapters across the country, across our beautiful planet.
This, we believe, is how real change happens. This is how we work together, boots on the ground, to make the world safer, kinder, more peaceful for all of us.
Member, Central Virginia Chapter
Regional Chapter Liaison
Board Member, Writing for Peace
Mary Carroll-Hackett is the author of The Real Politics of Lipstick, Animal Soul, If We Could Know Our Bones, The Night I Heard Everything, Trailer Park Oracle, and A Little Blood, A Little Rain. Her newest collection of prose poems, Death for Beginners, will be out from Kelsey Books in September 2017. Learn more about Writing for Peace Adviser Mary Carroll-Hackett and her work here.
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