Franklin County Peacemakers Award Celebration

Stoneleigh Burnham School ~ Greenfield, Massachusetts ~  May 18, 2023

See Greenfield Recorder article here

Hello PEACEMAKER award recipients! And, hello to your familyand friends. Greetings to everyone here tonight in our beloved community.

It is an honor to be here to celebrate you—Peacemaker Award recipients for 2023! 

Before I start, I want to acknowledge the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and the Interfaith Council of Franklin County for making this gathering possible—and for having done for so long, since 2000. Thank you.

You, Peacemakers, give us hope. Hope for today; hope for tomorrow; hope for the next generation.

I have five grandchildren from 1 to 10-years-old and I hope they will grow up to be like you. I hope they will be inspired by you, just as I am tonight.

In the issues you are working on—preventing the climate emergency from worsening, speaking up on behalf of transgender and nonbinary people, acting with kindness toward children without homes on their birthdays, and your efforts to train students to be active bystanders—you are covering a lot of ground. Thank you.

Thank you for leaning in, for putting your strong shoulders to the wheel of social change. I know that you’d be doing what you’re doing regardless of whether or not you’d be recognized for your work. Still, I hope that in receiving the Peacemaker award, you’ll be inspired to redouble your efforts. We need you. We need peacemakers. Especially now.

Injustice is everywhere. 

Banning books. Curtailing reproductive rights. 

Preventing transgendered people from seeking healthcare. 

Erasing our country’s history of racism from textbooks. 

Fanning the flames of antisemitism and Islamophobia. 

Demonizing immigrants.

And then there are wars: the ones we hear about (where the combatants are white; and the ones we know too little about (where the combatants are people of color.)

There are so many issues, and we need so many shoulders to push the wheel of social change forward. 

You’ll be the ones outside, protesting in the streets, and inside, casting ballots in the voting booth.

You are the ones who will be speaking out against white supremacy and speaking up for the marginalized and disenfranchised.

You are the ones who will advancing gender equality and challenging bullying and abuse.

You are the ones who will be standing up for democracy and pushing back against authoritarianism. Yes, there’s so much to do. You have demonstrated that you are up for the task.

Please remember how inspired I am by youand your generation.

I’m inspired by Greta Thunberg, who at 15, was at the forefront with other young activists igniting a global climate emergency youth movement.

I’m inspired by David Hoag who, after the mass shooting at Margery Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, was among those who helped launch the March for Our Lives.

I’m inspired by Tennessee state reps Justin Smith and Justin Pearson, eloquent new leaders in the growing gun control movement.

I’m inspired by Amanda Gorman, the powerful young poet whose stirring words moved the nation at President Biden’s inauguration.

I’m inspired by Talvin Dhingra, a junior at Amherst Regional High—and editor at the school newspaper—who broke the story about transgender bullying at the town’s middle school. 

I’m inspired by you…by your determination, commitment, focus, and your unwavering belief that a better world is possible.

I’m inspired to learn more about what is ahead for you as you walk the path of peacemakers.

The idea for the Peacemaker award grew out of a tragedy—the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Out of the darkness of that moment, the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and the Interfaith Council of Franklin County were still able to see enough slivers of light to inspire them to create this event.​​​​

Like a lot of the older people here tonight, I have an activist background, going back to the anti-Vietnam war movement in the 1960s, the anti-nuclear power movement in the 1970s, the disarmament movement in the 1980s and, since the 1990s the anti-sexist, profeminist men’s movement. ​​​​​​​​​​​A lot of us have been putting our shoulders to the wheel of social change for a long time. But it is youand those like you around Franklin County, the state of Massachusetts, the nation, and the world!—who are moving that wheel of social change forward now.

Do you know this verse from a song?

Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land

Don’t criticize what you don’t understand

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command

Your old road is rapidly aging

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand

For the times, they are a-changin’.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Bob Dylan was 22 when he wrote those words.

You are the ones on that new road. You are the ones who know in your hearts, your souls, your guts, that the times are a-changing.

And the rest of us here tonight? We want to lend a hand.

We’re inspired to walk the new road with you.

Angela Davis, the activist-writer, once said: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept. Preparing for tonight, I read her words as a call to action. I thought they would make a good motto for the 2023 Peacemakers. They would. But then another potential motto popped into my head, a message on a sign I saw at a climate demonstration. It simply said: Like the sea level… we rise! 

Like the sea level, YOU rise!

Thank you, Peacemakers, for rising.

Rob Okun is the editor of Voice Male magazine and a former executive director of the Men’s Resource Center. His anthology VOICE MALE: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement tells the story of antisexist men working to transform masculinity.

A syndicated columnist at Peace Voice, his commentaries on culture and social change have appeared in newspapers across the country, including the Dallas Morning News, San Diego Union Tribune, Houston Chronicle, The Telegraph in London; and Ms.magazine, among others.

​Formerly an editor at New Roots, an alternative energy/anti-nuke magazine based in Greenfield, he also worked at the Peace Development Fund in Amherst. But, he says, his most treasured identity is as a father of four, and grandfather of five.