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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Eleanor Roosevelt Stumps for Middle Schoolers' Visions of Peace

Sometimes it takes a gimmick to get across a simple message. My sideways slide into inviting more adults to create peacemaking postcards for Oprah's 1,000,000 project was particularly delightful fun on May 15.

For years I have studied the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, a relative of mine. Quite distant...but nevertheless, an inspiring woman to claim! Former students researched such heroes as the U.S. Peace Nobels in more recent years and other famous people ranging from Attila the Hun and Malcolm X to Marie Antoinette previously. Because they wanted me to suffer with them, I was long ago challenged(coerced) to join the kids by studying and "becoming" someone also. I agreed to give a first-person speech in costume just as they had been directed to do. It was a hit the first year; many kids didn't recognize me as I talked in an assembly.

From that first performance, I have collected scads of books written by Eleanor, her friends and family, scholars and even her official biographer, Joseph Lash. I keep adding more facts to my routine and deleting others. In April, I almost attacked a lovely older lady at the annual library book sale because I noticed at the check stand that she had bought a book of Eleanor's letters. On the way out of the Convention Center, I followed her mentioning casually that she had a book I wanted. She said I could have it if I really wanted it. I should have just paid her the $1.50 and smiled, but I was effusive in my thanks. I rattled on and on that I was thrilled because I became Eleanor.

I've enjoyed speaking at a couple of conventions...Delta Kappa Gamma and the State Garden Club as Mrs. Roosevelt, so taking the peace quilt to an A.A.U.W. Spring Luncheon seemed an appropriate venue. It was pure enjoyment to dust off Mrs. Roosevelt's clothes and reread portions about her life from my constantly growing library.

For example, I was reminded for this speaking occasion that although she was First Lady of the U.S. for 13 years, her work with peace after Franklin's death was more important than any other of her myriad of progressive causes or pleasurable activities in her lifetime. Her efforts brought yet another title: "First Lady of the World." 68-year-old Mrs. R. tirelessly led an 18-member committee of world delegates in the United Nations to draft the International Universal Humanitarian Bill of Rights in 1948. Truman had asked her to represent the U.S. at the very beginnings of this newly forming institution, and as an outcome, on December 10 at 3:00 A.M. the General Assembly voted for the adoption of the document that supports the basic rights of every single human being on earth. Basic freedoms of speech, health care, clean water, education, etc. were spelled out and supported by small and large nations together. All stood to salute the lady of peace who spent 14-16 hour days negotiating and wording "visions of peace" and who had urged others to work as hard also in expressing theirs. During that wee hour in the day, the nation's delegates stood in mass to honor her. Everyone. The only time any delegate before or since has received a standing ovation.

What a treat it was take the peace quilt to its 42nd stop in Lake Oswego, Oregon. I chuckled at being greeted by the chef of the Country Club in a golf cart as my friend Betty Barber and I trudged up the steep driveway. We had parked across the highway because the lot was full. We probably looked pathetic. I had already dropped most of Eleanor's "costume" in the middle of the road, and we had been laughing uproariously to see my feathered blue hat, rayon red dress, fur, navy long gloves and large black plastic glasses tumble to the ground out of a large hatbox. It seemed rather ironic for the cheerful man in the poofy chef's hat to suddenly appear. He offered to deliver my Eleanor in a large Nordstrom's hat box straight to the luncheon's dining room. Betty and I continued trudging behind on foot arriving later. But when we did find the room and walked down the staircase, the program chairman proclaimed, "Eleanor has arrived, everyone!"

The American Association of University Women welcomed Eleanor's message, a first person account of her life from beginning to end. It was gratifying to receive a standing ovation after Eleanor talked for an hour. She ended with her powerful support for the traveling peace quilt and the visions of peace that children had written. She read a few post card visions attached to the quilt and marveled how kids inspire adults to make a difference. Blank cards were passed out for the women to fill out also, of course.

At 126 years old(she really died at 78,) the imaginary Mrs. R.'s advice was timeless. "Get involved. Get busy. You must do the thing you think you cannot do...for it isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." You, go, Eleanor!

Postscript musings: Truthfully, if Eleanor had been alive when this project first began, she would have been a better choice than Oprah for the receiver of the 1,000,000 visions of peace. I believe that she would have noticed the cards and responded with action of some sort. She was somewhat of a media star herself--had a radio program and a television program for awhile where she interviewed Einstein and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as a couple of her famous guests. She even made a commercial for Good Luck Margarine for the fun of it. Plus, some of her happiest moments were when she was teaching at Todhunter Private School in N.Y.C. and when she entertained children with hot dog picnics at Val-kill, her stone cottage on the Hyde Park Estate in New York. She would have listened to the children's visions.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Would Eleanor Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey and Jody Williams like the Peace Quilt?

What do Mrs. R. and Ms. W. and another Mrs. W. have in common?

Love of peace, education and activism.

I'm preparing to take the peace quilt to Lake Oswego for the Spring A.A.U.W. luncheon on May 15. Eleanor Roosevelt will be the guest speaker, or at least, I will try to enact her persona once again. Previously, I've taken my Eleanor routine into my classroom and beyond to a state garden club meeting and a national DKG convention. This visit will be different. I'm going to have Eleanor, my 6th cousin, once removed, share the butterfly peace quilt. She would have enjoyed the symbolism of the butterfly quilt if she were still living, and she would have added her vision of peace on a postcard to Oprah. I know it.

As people continue to send cards to Oprah Winfrey, my travels to schools, churches, civic groups, and small groups continue also. Goal: Send 1,000,000 vision-of-peace postcards to Oprah. Five months of travel left. The peace stories of change in individuals mount as they listen to children's visions of peace calling for active involvement in making the world a more peaceful place. Would Oprah want to add her vision of peace to the peace quilt? Surely?

Remember Marge from Spokane, Washington? She took 100 completed postcards gathered from her friends, her neighbors, strangers, and contacts in Croatia to the Oprah Show on April 23. Did they actually reach Ms. Winfrey's hands? Nope. The cards were taken out of Marge's purse although later returned after the show. (At least somebody saw them.) Did that dash Marge's hopes? Absolutely not. She brought them home with a renewed purpose. She will engage others to help with postage so that each one can be mailed individually. She will also find 200 more people to fill out postcards because Kinkos generously donated extras just for the fun of it. As Marge came to recognize, this whole peace vision thing wasn't as much about getting those cards to Oprah as about working on her own peace vision: "People need to listen to each other." A hundred more peaceful ways are fluttering like butterflies to Oprah's mailbox because people listened.

I'm reminded of a fabulous talk I heard two weeks ago when Jody Williams, U.S. Nobel Peace Prize winner, spoke in Corvallis. I sat on the second row listening to her public talk before an upcoming Peacejam event for young people over the week end. Although jet lagged, she passionately reviewed the history behind the winning of her award for helping to ban landmines in 1968. She added details about her present vision of peace concerning gender inequities around the world. She had just come from Mexico where she had joined with other world women Nobel winners to continue her activism. (As she jokingly commented, "You can't retire from being a Nobel Peace Prize winner.")

...And then with a significant verbal punch, she reminded us that by living in the United States, most of us are privileged. Because of that very fact, we have no excuse to practice inertia. We can do something about a vision of peace we care about that will make a positive difference in the world.

" Find that passion. Volunteer an hour a month. Everyone can do that. No excuses, " stated Jody.

Marion Little, a friend who listened to Jody that evening, came away thinking a lot more about the plastic accumulations in the bottom of our oceans. I will write Jody about the peace quilt journey. She'll like it.

I also enjoyed an Arlo Guthrie concert last week. What an ending gift he gave to the crowd and unknowingly to me. He sang the unrecorded Woody Guthrie song my class often listened to on YouTube: My Peace. "My peace, my peace I give to you. It's all I really have...It's all I ever knew...It's all I can give to you." Would Arlo have understood the importance of spreading peace in song or quilt? Yup.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Kindergarteners KNOW Peace. Listen.

"Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war." Maria Montessori

Quilt Stop Number 41: Ridgeline Montessori School in Eugene, Oregon on April 26,2010

Children's visions of peace read like a page out of Rabbi Kushner's once-popular book, Everything you Ever Needed to Know, you Learned in Kindergarten.
Both Montessori and Kushner would have been delighted by the heart-felt words and picture postcards created by these wee wise ones on Monday, April 26, in Eugene, Oregon. Five and six-year olds eagerly shared their ideas about making the world a peaceful place before designing cards to mail to Oprah. In Diana Fitzer's classroom, 29 children presented their visions-of-peace postcards to clip to the quilt.

Earlier, they had carefully prepared by thinking about their peace ideas for making the world a better place at home, at school and on the seven continents. Rough drafts were written on long strips of lined paper. Of course, they could revise later during the quilt visit with "the peace lady." Me.

By the way, I LOVED counting from one to forty-one with the children. It seemed important for them to know that they were a part of big numbers: The 41st stop on the butterfly peace quilt's trip around the world to gather 1,000,000 visions of peace.

It became obvious during this classroom visit that children and adult helpers understood the importance of spreading peace and of being peace doers.

Tender Peacemakers

Peace-filled butterflies
flutter on childrens' shoulders
guiding hope-filled thoughts.

Even though I've been immersed in this peacemaking venture of sharing children's visions of peace for seven months, I recognized a quiet truth last Monday. At every corner, in every stop, at least one serendipity (something wonderful out of my personal control or expectation) happens. Always!

For example, small Jayden particularly understood the importance of peacemaking. Cheryle M., a Ridgeline Kindergarten mom, e-mailed me these words after the quilt visit: "Jayden is sensitive to the hardship of others, and so she really connected to spreading peace."

Also, when 5-year old Tovi hung around before lunch and after sharing time on April 26, I marveled. He wanted to fold and to touch the mini quilt. Tenderly, he cradled the baby quilt, while we talked more about peacemaking. He asked to touch the mama quilt and to compare the two, the backs and fronts. Happily, he read the words: "Meet Me at the Peace Park" on the big and little cloth images of peace and beamed.

I salute this small guru who loves peace and notices the fine details and Jayden who seeks peace for others. Thank you, Teacher Diana Fitzer. You are one of those unsung heroes who are "carefully teaching."

A Few Children's Postcard Visions to Ponder:

"My vision of peace is quietly reading in bed and playing in my backyard." R.W.

"My v. of peace is that everyone would have a doll of their own." H.R.

"My v. of peace would be a world full of heart bubbles." O.M.

"My v. of peace is that picnics are better than fights." D.W.

"My v. of peace is walking to the park with Keely." A.S.

"My v. of peace is quietly holding and massaging my pet rat Sniffers." A.T.

"My v. of peace is that we would respect the class works by handling them carefully." M.T.
...and so many more wonderful ones have been mailed to Oprah! Butterflies in action.

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