Peace Prize Forum ’94 draws distinguished guests to St. Olaf

by Janet Havens, staff writer

Featuring Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Guatemalan Indian activist and author Rigoberta Menchu in a free public address in Skoglund on Saturday, the Peace Prize Forum opens today at St. Olaf, continuing through Sunday. “Striving for Peach: Sowing the Seeds of Global Justice” is the theme. The program, includes workshops, seminars, and speakers such as The Reverend Bernice King (daughter of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), Habitat for Humanity Chair Edgar Stoesz, Norwegian Nobel Institute Director Geir Lundestad, and Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone.

It emphasizes making effective change within a community, according to Forum committee-member Susan Thurston-Hamerski.

Scheduled speakers also include the recent addition of Terje Rod-Larsen and Mona Juul, both members of the Norwegian negotiating team for the September 1993 Middle East Peach Accord.

“We wanted to students to leave feeling capable and empowered within community,” said commitee-member Mary Carlsen. “Hearing big, important people get together [to discuss world issues] is an overwhelming concern – people feel immobilized. Grass roots means working from the ground up.”

All the speakers “embody a regular person who sees a need, and commits time, energy, and other resources to make a difference in peace and justice issues,” said Carlsen.

The forum, held on a five-year rotational basis along with Augsburg, Augustana (Sioux Falls), Concordia (Moorhead), and Luther, began with an interest in having an event of educational value having to do with peace issues, according to Associate Dean of Special Programs Lee Swan.

Approximately 500 St. Olaf participants will attend, with a total of 1,320 registrants from the other colleges and general public.

Carlsen said this year‘s forum is unique in its focus on accessible, community-based action. “This [theme emerged] as an outgrowth of hearing from high-level administrators [in earlier forums]. In light of those efforts, we wanted students to see how they would fit.”

“All the forums had a focus on peace; we expanded that to include justice,” said Carlsen. “Part of being [an active peace-maker] means making sure concerns are heard.”

Carlsen, Thurston-Hamerski, and Swan all agreed that a grassroots theme holds importance for today’s world. “Decision-making now involves previously disenfranchised folks, who haven’t normally been a part of discussion,” said Carlsen.

Decision-making now involves previously disenfranchised folks, who haven’t normally been a part of discussion

Mary Carlsen

“Indigenous peoples—Indians in Latin America and Native Americans here—are [nor comprising] an enlarging number of people involved in [global] conversation. It also includes women, people of color, etc.”

Upon arrival at St. Olaf, students will divide into smaller groups, with the speakers rotating for an informal, one-on-one question-and-answer atmosphere. The College provided preliminary material so students could ask well-informed questions.

Twenty-eight participating college faculty and outside leaders will conduct the Saturday Seminars, with titles such as “Activism in everyday life,” “Learning how to resolve conflict nonviolently,” and “Grassroots activism with the homeless.”

According to Carlsen and Thurston-Hamerski, the seminars provide a hallmark for gathering people together. “Our ultimate hope is that [participants] leave feeling they can do something,” said Carlsen.

The Forum also features performances by the St. Olaf Gospel Club, the St. Olaf dance company, and a Friday evening festival – “an extravaganza of music, sights, and sounds,” said Thurston-Hamerski. The festival will center around a “common table” of Thai, Vietnamese, Native American, and Middle Eastern food.

The aim of the festival, said Carlsen, is to act as “a small festival of nations, with participants free to walk, eat, listen, and talk.” Performances will include Hmong folk-dancing, Native American drum, and Andean folk music, as well as St. Olaf performers Zebra Patch and international dancers Veselica.

Planning for this year’s forum took over a year, according to Swan, and included student, faculty, and administrative input. “We put student interests and learning as primary,” said Carlsen.

Scheduled speakers also include Peace Prize Forum Committee chair Reverend David Preus, St. Olaf history professor James Farrell, and St. Olaf President Melvin George.