On a pleasant evening in downtown Austin last Saturday, Sept. 19, about 80 Southwestern students and community members gathered to participate in the third annual Walk for Peace. At 5:30 p.m. participants holding signs and chanting encouraging words of peace started the mile long walk from the state capitol building on Congress Avenue, arriving at Austin City Hall on Cesar Chavez Street at 6 p.m. Once at City Hall, several speakers talked to participants about various forms of peace and protested against violence of all kinds. The Hunters and Gatherers, a local Austin band that has played on occasion at the Kappa Sigma House, concluded the event by putting on a show for the walkers.
Though Walk for Peace lasted a little over an hour, members of the Southwestern University Student Peace Alliance, started preparing to host the walk a month in advance.
Sarah Wiggins, senior and co-president of SPA, said, “In the past, the Walk for Peace has been hosted by the Texas State Organizers for the Peace Alliance. The Peace Alliance is the national organization working to establish a U.S. Department of Peace – they’re pretty much the adult movement to our student movement. We were informed about a month ago that they were unfortunately unable to host the event this year, and embraced the project. If we had not, the walk would not have happened. The Walk for Peace has been a milestone for the Student Peace Alliance here at Southwestern and was an event that our founder and late friend Rob Atkinson cherished and wanted to see flourish.”
Student Peace Alliance members who worked hard to make the walk a success include Sarah Wiggins, Shireen Tabrizi, Maryam Fazal, Martin Fergus and Rebecca Eisenberg. They reserved Austin City Hall; called the Austin Police Department for authorization to walk and to provide protection from traffic while walking down Congress; organized co-sponsors, which included several University of Texas clubs as well as Southwestern’s Allies and Students for Environmental Activism & Knowledge; and invited the speakers and the band, among many other necessary tasks. Members also extensively advertised the event across campus with fliers and a Facebook event, and ended up renting a Georgetown ISD bus that transported about 40 students from Southwestern to Austin.
Commenting on the turn-out of students, Wiggins said, “I am extremely impressed at the numbers we were able to gather from SU. We have increased our numbers every year and hopefully next year we can continue the tradition. Southwestern definitely has a strong support base for peace.”
This year’s Walk for Peace had a special cause attached to it: the Youth PROMISE Act. Fergus, National Field Organizer of the Student Peace Alliance and senior at Southwestern, spoke to Walk for Peace attendees about the legislation at City Hall: “The Youth PROMISE Act is in the U.S. House of Representatives right now, authored by Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia. The PROMISE Act allocates funds and resources to gang and youth violence prevention programs across the United States. It doesn’t direct how we should handle youth and gang violence prevention though. Local communities know better than anyone else so they will have the funds to set up whatever preventative programs they deem necessary in relationship to their community. They’re going to set up local PROMISE Councils all across the United States that will involve local teachers, law enforcement, and social workers that will have a local budget and working resources from the federal government to prevent local people from being incarcerated. Youths cost about $20,000 a year to keep in jail, whereas small, but very effective programs keep youth from ever going into the jail system. Essentially it is a stimulus package as well as a moral piece of legislation.”
In addition to promoting the Youth PROMISE Act, Walk for Peace encouraged other peace activists’ voices to be heard. Speakers included vice president of SEAK, Paige Menking, vice president of SU Allies Quentin Greif, and Students for Gun Free Schools Representative, former Virginia Tech Student and UT Student Government Representative, John Woods. Each speaker touched on the ways in which peace related to their causes and called upon Walk for Peace participants to recognize the ways in which they can contribute to a more peaceful society.
Menking, a junior at Southwestern, said, “In my speech, I gave an overview of global environmental justice movements and why it’s important to link social justice to environmentalism.” Greif spoke about violence against the GLBT community and Woods discussed gun violence on college campuses.
At the end of the day, Walk for Peace was a success. Tabrizi, junior and co-president of SPA, said, “We convinced a guy we passed sitting on a bench at the Capitol to walk with us and he ended up sticking around all the way through the band. This makes you realize that ultimately the majority of people would like to live in a more peaceful world. It’s just a matter of motivating them by making them realize that it’s not just an idealistic concept, but that there are actual pieces of legislation, like the Youth Promise Act for instance, that can institutionalize these very ideas.”
Maryam Fazal, sophomore and Walk for Peace organizer, summed up the event. “I think the point of this walk was to turn heads to the specific goal in mind and I think we did just that. As we were walking, I could tell we were getting attention from the people and cars on the street. People stopped to look up at us; they noticed us. They realized that there are people who still care about peace and are willing to make an effort to spread it. This was one small step to make a more peaceful society and I think it was just what we needed.”