by Kate Greenough Richardson
Friday started early, with morning observances from 7-8am. I didn’t manage to get to the Peace Drum Initiative session with Buyondo Micheal from Uganda, who had stopped by the EarthSpirit table on Friday and stayed to chat about drumming, involving youth, and working for peace. Instead I stayed at the sacred fire tended by Native Americans at the main entrance. A Mayan elder from Guatemala was doing a blessing of the four roads, including explanations of colors, directions, and numerology involved in the Mayan calendar. He ended by invoking ancestors and involving everyone present in making offerings to the fire.
Back to the booth for the morning. I hoped to spend some time choosing programs to attend for the day. If you think choosing workshops at Rites is hard, you have not seen anything. Not only are multiple presenters speaking on topics at any given time, but there is a cultural hall, many displays, a labyrinth, and of course the exhibition hall filled with booths where people stand ready to speak and exchange with such open hearts and minds. As I write this, there has just been some spontaneous drumming and dancing by “sikhs being distractingly joyful”, as Tiffany put it. In their booths, Sikhs are wrapping turbans on anyone who wants to try it out. Around the hall people are shopping (lots of pretty shiny stuff, much is Tibetan and Native American) or having earnest conversations. You could have a whole weekend’s worth of stories even if you never left the exhibition hall!
I left the booth for a while for a rehearsal of a 10 song cantata that is being performed Monday by a pickup 150 voice chorus. Written by Mary Lou Prince with words by Patty Christiena Willis, the songs evoke seasons and ancestors. On the way back, I stopped a while to listen to some amazing Indian singing and tabla playing going on under an outside tent, with people spontaneously dancing to the infectuous beats. I found a long hallway lined with banners with colorful depictions of many deities, I could have spent a half hour just getting through it.
The main event today was the Emerging Leaders Plenary in the evening [video part 1 and part 2]. Isobel was very involved in planning the program, which was stirring and diverse. Music and dance alternated with rousing speakers, people under 35 talking about their work and calls to action in the world. There was a group of very young whirling dervishes, Honey and the Sting performed a couple of songs, and a phenomenal group of lion drummers with a singer and a sword dancer. The projects described include “Rebuild With Love”, a Muslim initiative to rebuild Black churches destroyed by arson, and AFL Peace Team, an Australian Football (“Footy”) team from Jerusalem that is half Palestinian and half Jewish. There were speakers whose family members have been recently killed by hate crimes, speaking out for spreading peace and love, and defying the hatred that is so commonly being sown. Toward the end, all audience members younger than 35 were asked to stand and pledge to go out and do the work to change the world for the better. Then those over 35 stood and pledged to support and respect and publicize the great work that these young leaders are doing.
I think we all left the hall tired but energized. Another rich and full day, spent full of friendly curiosity, being moved to tears by reports of pain and injustice, being lifted by hope and charged by the determination to take the needed actions to heal the world, in the company of so many different and diverse people working for the same ends.