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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sitting down with Aaron Voldman

Published: April 20, 2007
Section: News

Aaron Voldman 09, founder of the Student Peace Movement and a co-founder and member of Brandeis Students Peace Alliance, spoke with the Hoot about his involvement in the movement for a Department of Peace.

David Pepose 08: Can you explain how you got involved with this movement?
Aaron Voldman: I first became involved with the Department of Peace when I was a high school senior. I was working with a nonviolent organization, and a woman came to speak about the Department of Peace. We heard of the Department of Peace campaign, and it really appealed to me because it supported a broad spectrum of peace initiatives in a holistic manner, which I thought was a very appropriate, and a needed way to build peace in our nation and our world. And so I worked locally in support of the campaign and the initially was very successful. We successfully lobbied Senator Jeffords of Vermont to support the bill. And when I came to Brandeis, we thought it was very important to set up a student activity here. The Department of Peace was originally a part of Positive Foundations, and then it started a Students for Peace organization here at BrandeisMarch of 2006 we started a national organization here at Brandeis. Since then weve been organizing all over the country, just building relationships within the peace studies community, and different communities around the country, utilizing different electronic organizations such as Facebook and Myspace and speaking at different schools and providing a space for different students to build a student movement in support of a Department of Peace. The Peace Alliance is the national campaign for the United States Department of Peace and the Student Peace Alliance is the student branch of the Peace Alliance. And so we work in partnership with them to advocate and organize the support of the Department of Peace legislation.

DP: What has been the most difficult aspect of this for you?

AV: Just trying to balance being a second-year student in college with my passion for organizing. Its such a I love being able to participate with the Student Peace Alliance in such a meaningful way, and being able to contribute where I can. We got a lot of work at Brandeis, so it can be challenging at times to finish the schoolwork on top of everything else. Its great for me because I feel that I have a real, this movement gives me a real reason to study and in turn by studying Im more moved to take action as well. I think its great to be involved with student activism because I feel that my activism and my studies really feed off of each other.

DP: What has been the most satisfying part of this for you?

AV: Just being about to participate in a movement that I feel has the power to transform our lives and fill so many peoples lives in so many different communitiesworking with students and watching them really come to realize their power as citizens and as members of this nation and their ability to take action in a really meaningful way.

DP: So what made you decide to come to Brandeis?

AV: I decided to come to Brandeis because of its history of social activism, and I had a feeling that a community that was so passionate about social justice was a community that I would love to be a part of. I have been extremely fulfilled by my experience here.

DP: Why are you involved in the sort of field youre in?

AV: I think weve all been really affected by issues of peace and issues of violence in so many different ways. I had experiences that really kept me goingI worked in a refugee camp when I was 16-years-old, and my grandfather was a holocaust survivorhe was adopted and most of his family didnt survive. And you know, the first funeral I ever went to was for a soldier who was killed in Iraq. Ive had a lot of these personal experiences where watching the impact of violence on so many different people and my own life, and Ive seen the power of peace and how much can be done if we worked to build peace, that the breadth of initiatives across the United States and globally provides such a pool of expertise and knowledge we can really use and it makes so much sense that we really need to start prioritizing peace building within our Federal government.

DP: So, for the laypersonyouve mentioned a lot of different things that a Department of Peace would do: support programs against gang violence, domestic violence, child abuse, would support a Peace Studies Academy, and would work to promote peace-building. So, could you explain this to me: What is peace-building?

AV: Peace-building is a field that recognizes that peace is not the absence of violence but it is something that must be worked for and it recognizes that violence is different than conflict. The field works to understand why and which conflicts exist, and works to prevent intervene and transform conflicts in a way that serves the common good. The field of peace-building covers initiatives that range from conflict resolution in our homes to programs in our schools through and up to the international setting as well.

DP: Whats next for your organization?

AV: Our organization is planning to continue to build a movement to build a Department of Peace, and organizers across the country are speaking out and calling for this legislation, and calling for a culture of peace. And specifically the student movement is going to have its national conference here at Brandeis University in October, and so we continue to work to build a network and share resources and work together to make peace and organizing principle in society.

DP: So how did you hook up with Marianne Williamson?

AV: I founded the Student Peace Alliance and she founded the Peace Alliance. So Im a staff member of the Peace Alliance and Marianne is the chairwoman of the Peace Alliance, so were both members of the organization of the Peace Alliance.

DP: What else do you think Brandeis needs to know?

AV: That at a time when our generation has been called to act, it is crucial that we have every single resource available to solve conflicts at all levels, and that while the Department of Peace is not the answer, it is an answer, and it is something that we need to work to effectively build peace.