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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Student activist and author advocates Department of Peace

Published: April 20, 2007
Section: Front Page

Aaron Voldman 09, founder and director of the Student Peace Alliance, spoke Wednesday alongside author Marianne Williamson to an audience of over 115 people to advocate for a U.S. Department of Peace.

We dont just need signatures from your congresspeople, said Voldman. What we need is a movementa U.S. movement, and we have that.

Voldman explained that todays students are a generation that stood together in 1999, when the Columbine Shootings occurred we are also the generation who watched 9/11 occur[and] we saw the effect when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Voldman added, we did not start this issue of violence. In many ways, we inherited it from a long, long time ago.

Urging students to bask in the rays of hope and creativity, Voldman spoke of several youth-targeted initiatives, including the Dorchester Youth Center and the Safe School Ambassadors Program. According to Voldman, 450 fewer students were suspended in Montgomery, Alabama, after the Ambassadors program was implemented.

Despite these programs successes, however, after 9/11, their funding was dramatically cutwe recognize that these programs work, and at the time we need them most, we cant give them the resources they need.

According to Voldman, a Department of Peace would not only work on non-violent solutions to international conflict, but would also help support domestic programs that battle gang violence, child abuse and domestic violence. Furthermore, the Department would create a Cabinet-level position as well as Peace Studies Academy, which would implement cutting-edge peace-building techniques.

It is not enough to stop the violencewe must also build peace, said Voldman. This movement is about investing in each other, and investing in ourselves.

Following Voldman was author of the New York Times bestseller A Womans Worth, Marianne Williamson. Williamson began her lecture by telling the barely-diminished crowd, I want to talk to you tonight about love and politics.

Likening todays society to the dinosaurs because they were so big and moved so slowly and couldnt adapt to the times, Williamson said that we as a generation have a moral challenge that no other generation has ever had.

Adding that the bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are like pinpricks compared to the nuclear weapons of today, Williamson told the audience that our generation is not to end one warour generation is to end war. She urged audiences to challenge the belief that war is inevitable. Comparing societys paradigms to allopathic medicine, she claimed that the country needed to pursue different methods to promote peace: Health is more than an absence of sickness, its a positive feeling.

Students felt positively about the event.

Adam Schwartzbaum 07 agreed. I thought it was a wonderful event which every Brandeis student should have seen. Aaron and Marianne perfectly complemented one another. Aarons calm, direct manner made everyone in the room understand why the specific programs the Department of Peace would oversee make sense for our country, and Marianne provided the ideological reasoning for why our country so desperately needs a new paradigm for preventing conflict in America and abroad. I was powerfully moved by the event.

Ari Fertig 08, while saying that I dont buy a lot of the spiritual stuff that Marianne Williamson attempts to sell [and] I think this is just as much a left-wing spiritual movement as much as anything else, felt that Voldman was an inspiration to all students on this campus. There are those who frequently complain that Brandeis students do not participate in our civic societythat the culture of activism is relegated to a few die hard activists who are by and large ineffective.

Fertig added that Aaron is a testament that this is just not true. He reminds us all that peace is not the absence of war, but a positive goal for all of us to work for.

Still, he voiced some concerns about the initiative: In terms of prevention programs and so on, the overall cost to the economy as a whole would — in the long run — outweigh the initial costs. But thats the economy as a whole. Frankly, the US just doesnt have the financial resources to pay for such a major department. The US DOP campaign actually has the same problems that the environmental movement hadlong term economic costs go down when you invest in cleaning up the environment, but the immediate financial costs are extremely high. The difference is that the environmental movement has found new and innovative ways to deal with those initial costs, while the DOP movement seems to not have solved these problems whatsoever to my knowledge.

I thought it was wonderfulI thought it was so multidisciplinary in regards to incorporating sociology, medicine, history, personal factsit was appealing to anyone, said Lauren Becker 08. Anyone could find something they could connect withthe lens was very, very wide.