Greenfield Recorder, January 3, 2022

by Pat Hynes

In the last days of Sept. 2021, I discovered a few small gems along my path — unsought, saved and savored. Each month since, more have appeared.

My first was learning that it is custom in Australia, in meetings big and little, and on the masthead of local and national print media — conservative and liberal alike — to respectfully acknowledge the first peoples — the Aboriginals — of the land. Called a Land Acknowledgement, it thanks them for caring for the environment and ecosystems both in the region and throughout the country of Australia.

For the ten of thousands of years that more than 200 bands of Aboriginal Australians lived across the expansive country, a well-established peace system existed with rare exceptions, according to anthropologist Douglas Fry. Their “nuances of kinship,” “richness of spirituality” and “rich set of social and legal mechanisms” to resolve conflict among individuals and groups fostered the general prevalence of peace. Moreover, the peoples of the Western Desert had no words for feud or war.

Isn’t it time for our local print and other media, to do the same — a respectful Land Acknowledgement, given the Native American history we are steeped in here in Franklin County?

That same month, The Recorder carried the story of Mark “Pres” Pieraccini, 73, who nearly drowned as he fought off a beaver attack while swimming in a remote Franklin County pond. Deeply cut and gashed from head to toe, a few more minutes of fending off the beaver and swimming to shore would have killed him. Once on land, he “crawled onto his bike,” rode a mile and a half to his car, and drove himself to the ER, managing by luck not to bleed to death en route.

The gem lay within Pieraccini’s response to his gruesome experience: “This isn’t a story about a crazy beaver … This is a story about the natural world. This is a story about human beings being a part of it, not different from it, not apart from it. Our presence degrades it, unfortunately, because we don’t pay attention to our effect on it. So let’s inform people about the world around us.”

He chose not to disclose the secluded place he has biked, swum and meditated in for a half-century in order to preserve the natural sanctuary. His is a consciousness lost at our peril that nature can survive without humans, but humans cannot survive without nature.

In the early 1980s, my sister Margaret traveled to the Yokohama, Japan YMCA from the Newark, N.J. YMCA, in their Young Professional Abroad Program, to teach fitness and aerobics, in what grew to be a highly dimensioned cross-cultural experience for her. She wrote many news reports, among them one about an International Sister-City Youth Forum in October 1984, that convened 45 youth delegates from across the world and from 14 Japanese cities. The theme being “Toward peace — our commitment and initiative,” the delegates were taken to memorials in Nagasaki and Hiroshima with talks by Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors), peace museums and resettlements for refugees from the American war in Vietnam. They were challenged to accept responsibility as young people to work on behalf of world peace.

The gem for me in re-reading this report last month is the opening conference words of the governor of the Kanagawa Prefecture. Tracing the devastating history of wars in the 20th century, the vast post-war technological changes and creation of a worldwide mass culture, he challenged the youth gathered, “Are we to be a planet controlled by a mass society or will we choose to be Human Beings committed above all to the preservation of life on this planet. … Will we choose To Have or To Be?”

My most recent gem is the life of African American activist Fannie Lou Hamer, as told in “Until I Am Free”— a woman who chose not “to have” but “to be.” The youngest of 20 children of dirt-poor sharecroppers in Mississippi, she dropped out of grade school to pick cotton with her family. At the age of 44, she learned she had the right to vote. Every moment of her waking life ever after was filled with inexhaustible organizing, while facing constant threats of white supremacist violence: registering African American voters, founding the Mississippi Freedom Party, running for state office, giving fiery speeches including an unforgettable one at the 1964 Democratic Convention, and founding a farming cooperative for poor African Americans. Of her it was said, she was “a woman … who would not belittle herself by hating, who discovered her capacity for loving was boundless.”

Pat Hynes, a retired environmental engineer and Professor of Environmental Health, is a member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). Her forthcoming book, ”Hope But Demand Justice,” is being published by Haley Press, Athol.