Over 200 Oakland residents of all ages crowded onto the main floor of the Scottish Rite Center Friday night to kick off the two-day “Voices for Peace” festival with singing, dancing, and messages of nonviolence. The festival, a benefit for Oakland’s Urban Peace Movement, is part of a three-month “Summer of Peace” global celebration that features youth outreach programs, weekly online “telesummits” and multicultural events.
On Friday night, there were performances from folk-blues singer Maria Muldaur and Friends, Country Joe McDonald, the Vukani Mawethu Choir, and a slew of other performers. A conference continued at the Scottish Rite Center the next day, with peace advocates Marianne Williamson, Barbara Marx Hubbard, and James O’Dea present to address peace-building efforts.
“It’s not enough that we just pray for international peace or social justice,” said O’Dea, the former director of the Washington, D.C. office of Amnesty International. “Peace is something you that you have to be proactive about, and that’s why we’re having this event. We are looking for new ways to connect activists, and to keep peace-building in the global consciousness.”
The concert was hosted by master of ceremonies and comedian Frank Olivier, who kept the audience laughing with practical joke routines in between the musical sets. Audience members were encouraged to dance during the performance by socially conscious hip hop group Earth Amplified, whose songs included messages about global warming, conservation and protesting injustice. The Vukani Mawethu Choir, a nonprofit multiracial choir which performs freedom songs from Southern Africa, received a standing ovation for their performance of the traditional spiritual “Were you There.” The choir members’ voices echoed through the grand performance hall of the Scottish Rite Center.
“This is my first time at a Voices for Peace event, and it was definitely worth coming out,” said Richmond resident Victoria Sawyer, who attended the performance. “I’ve been fighting for peace since the Vietnam War, and this is another opportunity for me to learn new methods of working towards peace in our communities.”
Some of the activities offered at the conference included seminars on nonviolent communication and panel discussions about social justice issues in the Oakland community. Those who want to participate even though the Oakland event is over can view the concert series on a webcast throughout the summer , and call in with their thoughts and questions. Each week, the “telesummit” during which people can discuss issues online, will focus on a different theme such as education, arts and culture, and even peace in the military.
“I came out tonight to see Maria Mulduar—she is such an inspiration to me,” said Oakland resident Barbara Cohen of the festival. “It also says a lot that the audience at the concert is diverse and multicultural. I think that says a lot about the culture of Oakland.”