By Caterina Giulianini
Earlier this year on June 10-11, three hundred people from various organizations spanning 32 countries in the world met in Vienna, Austria for The International Summit for Peace in Ukraine. The summit issued a call for people worldwide to join in a week of Global Mobilization for an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations to end the war in Ukraine. This mobilization week took place from September 30th to October 8th.
On Saturday September 30, 2023, activists began the week of mobilization for peace in Boston with a rally at the Boston Common right by the Park Street station. Speakers, musicians and performers passionately projected their message into the crowd and through the thick city traffic, calling for negotiations, diplomacy and an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine. While the uncertain weather conditions slightly reduced the rally’s turnout, the active participants were joined by some passersby for a total of about 75 people showing support for de-escalation of this war through peace talks. Tour buses and the general traffic saw the banners, signs and giant dove puppets being waved in the air and heard snippets of the speeches that echoed out through the speakers.
The event’s MC was Massachusetts Peace Action’s very own Paul Shannon, who began the rally with a clear statement of its cause: that cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions will not lead to peace, but rather cause more devastation and death. He declared the immediate need for a mutual ceasefire and negotiations without preconditions to end the war. Furthermore, he asserted that a peaceful resolution to the war is necessary to save the planet from climate catastrophe , and addressed this message to Russia, to NATO, to President Biden, to the US congress and to the media.
Benjamin Grosscup, the executive director of The People’s Music Network for Songs of Freedom and Struggle acted as the movement’s troubadour as he opened the rally with a few spirited songs about peace such as “Study War no More” by Pete Seeger. He kept the energy of the group high with other numbers he performed throughout the rally amongst the lineup of speakers, including his original comical piece called “Uncle Sam sees a Shrink.” Other musical performances were interspersed throughout the program.
Massachusetts Peace Action intern and recent Boston College graduate, Nina Giulianini, sang the acoustic versions of “Imagine” by John Lennon, as well as a lyrically modified “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan to specifically fit the rally’s cause. Finally, towards the end of the rally Lucretia’s Daggers, a small band based out of Watertown, drew in quite a few observers with their unique sound, style and fiery energy. The lead singer Lucretia herself introduced them as a sociopolitical dark lyrical electro rock band.
The first speaker of the rally was Reverend Vernon Walker, former staff person for the Better Futures Project and current candidate for Cambridge city council. As a champion for social justice, Vernon’s speech highlighted the devastating effects of the war thus far, including the 200,000+ casualties, the 14 million displaced people, rising prices worldwide, global hunger and increasing poverty rates. He denounced the war as an unjust conflict whose path to peaceful resolution is not through military might but through negotiations and mutual understanding. He ended with a call to choose the way of love.
Peace and disarmament activist Joseph Gerson spoke next. He is the President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security, and he attended the conference in Vienna this past June 10-11th. Joseph discussed the realistic possible outcomes of this war’s continuation, citing that the greatest danger would be if Kiev threatened Moscow’s hold on Crimea, claiming that such a provocation could push Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. He fervently argued that the war is stalemated, and that it is in Ukraine’s (and the entire world’s) interest to reduce its peace terms, as much as it is unpleasant to consider. He emphasized that time is not on Ukraine’s side and reiterated NY Times columnist Tom Friedman’s words: “Whether we like it or not, it can only end with a dirty deal.”
Gerson’s speech was followed by comments from Chris Chanyasulkit, president of the American Public Health Association, who emphasized the need to focus on the health of humanity rather than on senseless and immoral wars. Subsequent speakers included Pastor Christopher Ney with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the War Resistor’s League, and Tony Palomba from Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment, who emphasized the false dichotomy between more military aid to Ukraine or capitulation to Russian aggression and the ecological disaster posed by the threat of nuclear war, respectively.
The group was very lucky to have had representative Erica Uyterhoeven from the Massachusetts State House join the movement. Referencing Howard Zinn, she declared that “war poisons all” and elaborated on how she has experienced this firsthand. She mentioned the racial discrimination of Japanese Americans (like herself), which has been passed down since World War II. She also described the generational trauma she has carried as her own grandfather fought in the imperial army, causing senseless violence in China and then bringing that home into the household. She spoke for the love of all humanity.
Amongst the compelling and informative talks, two sophomores from Boston College, MAPA intern Julia Franco and Zoe Liu took the stage. They put on an evocative skit to personalize the war. Their depiction of a Ukrainian American whose family is stuck in a warzone homed in on the emotional toll this war has had on people in Ukraine and abroad.
Boston Globe journalist and historian Steven Kinzer dug into the roots of this war and exposed the large role that the United States played in provoking the conflict. He said that it could have been prevented had the U.S. president uttered one simple phrase: “Ukraine will not join NATO.” Kinzer claimed that the war was brought about largely by America’s innate need for enemies, “going on mainly to satisfy the lust of people in the West to bleed Russia.” Much like many small nations who took the brunt of the conflict back in the decades of the Cold War, today Ukraine is a pawn in a larger geopolitical struggle between the U.S. Russia once again.
Rounding out the rally were speeches by Eileen Kurkowski, a leader in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), who shared a letter she wrote to her legislators protesting the use of depleted uranium in the war, and Graham Aiken, a MAPA intern, that urged his generation to get involved in the peace movement, as their futures are contingent on this war. Between these two speeches, poet Mark Lipman, founder of the Vagabond Press, took the mic. His pacifist poems were theatrically delivered with passion. He waved his hands around and gestured as he recited,“only the guilty would place their children beneath our bombs bursting in air and the rockets’ red glare that is there to entertain us and distract us from our own humanity…”