WESTERLY — The work of a group of local activists over the course of years has led to Westerly being named as an International City of Peace.
Locally, Westerly resident Frank Thacker was one of the key people behind the town becoming the 200th City of Peace in May. Pawcatuck also is covered by the designation, he said.
The idea to pursue it originated from the Westerly-Pawcatuck Peace and Justice Group, Thacker said.
“One of the foundational beliefs in becoming a City of Peace is that change needs to come from the bottom up,” he said.
So, what is an International City of Peace?
It’s “an association of citizens, governments and organizations who have by proclamation, resolution, or by citizen advocacy established their communities as official Cities of Peace,” according to the website internationalcitiesofpeace.org, which touts “a vision for a global community.”
“Every community has a legacy of peace, whether it is by a historical event or by a local peace heroes or groups who have contributed to their citizen’s safety, prosperity and quality of life,” the association said.
Communities of all sizes and locations are on the list of 212 municipalities, which began with Dayton, Ohio, where the effort started. The first international city on the list was Number 4: Coventry, England. Countries as distant as Nepal and New Zealand also are represented.
The designation is a first step in an ongoing process.
“No city is 100 percent a city of peace, rather all are on the path to ‘becoming’ a more peaceful city,” the group said. “Establishing a community as a peace city recognizes past achievements, encourages current initiatives and inspires future generations for practical peace building.”
Thacker said that in 2004, some members of Christ Church created a Peace and Justice Committee.
“Over the years non-church members joined the group and it became the Westerly-Pawcatuck Peace and Justice Group. One of the projects we decided to work on was becoming an International City of Peace,” he said.
Early this year, the group submitted its application, which includes the Westerly-Pawcatuck group’s record, or “peace legacy” of acts it has taken to achieve its goals.
These actions include yearly “Summer of Peace” proclamations by Westerly since 2012, displays of books on peace at the library, providing ongoing nonviolence training and organizing meditations and prayer vigils for peace.
The group aims to provide programs, workshops and activities that “teach nonviolence as a way of life, how to resolve conflicts peacefully and fairly, how to care for the environment and how to treat all beings with respect,” part of its mission statement says.
Benefits of the new designation include access to exhibits and teaching tools, funding opportunities and online learning resources.
It’s also good publicity for the town, Thacker said. The local group plans to ask the Westerly Town Council to issue a proclamation recognizing the town’s new status, he said.
The group is also looking into setting up a Peace Pole in town. The poles, which are a worldwide phenomenon, are decorated with images and words of goodwill.
“There’s so many things people can do to create a culture of peace,” Thacker said.