On Saturday, Sept. 21, International Day of Peace, the first annual Mercer Island Walk for Peace will take participants on a walking journey from peace pole to peace pole.
The free event, organized by the Rotary Club of Mercer Island, begins with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. at Rotary Park. Mayor Debbie Bertlin will be present. Doves will be released and walkers can begin on their choice of one of three routes.
One trek is 3.5 miles long, one is 2.5 miles, and one is 1.8 miles — altogether, the walks feature 18 of the island’s 20 peace poles. At each pole, volunteers will distribute sheets with a different peace quote.
Each pole is made of plank cedar and they read, “May peace prevail on Earth” in eight different languages.
“The poles stand as a symbol of the belief and the hope that we all have that, at some point in our lifetime, our world will actually experience worldwide peace,” said Beth Baska, chair of the rotary’s 14-member Mercer Island Peace Committee.
Baska said she wanted to take a stand, not just for Mercer Island but also for the northwest.
“Just think about all of the terrible things that have happened in this world, all the thousands of lives that could have been saved had our focus been more on peaceful resolutions or more on loving and appreciating each human being and the value of human life,” Baska said.
The hope is that thousands of people will walk for peace on Mercer Island, and so far Baska said she knows of several hundred people from all over the northwest who plan to participate.
Baska said the event could not have come together without the entire committee, particularly Carol Friends because of her urban planning background and how she spearheaded the coordinating with the city.
Friends worked closely with city staff to ensure the poles would be planted in locations and in ways that would ensure the walking paths are safe and easily navigable. She said she was struck by how many people came together in one collaborative effort to make the event happen as a whole community.
She also said there was much discussion among committee members as to what the take away for the event would be, what call to action people would leave with. She said that, to her, the main takeaway is empowering attendees with three steps for peace.
“First you need to respect everybody. You may disagree with them, you may not like them, but they need to feel — they need to get — that you respect them. So that’s the first action,” Friends said. “The second action is that you listen to them. You may not agree with them, but if you listen to them you’ll get where they’re coming from, and that gives you some way to negotiate. And the third one is that you form a collaborative effort. It becomes an agreement with the person you disagree with or the person that you don’t like to figure out a collaborative effort that works for everybody.”
Each participant will leave with an envelope to keep their peace quotes in, as well as a walk certificate of completion that lists the three steps. The goal is that these can serve as an ongoing reminder that each person can stand for peace in their own community.
“When people talk about peace, they want other people to be peaceful, or that they want peace to happen somewhere else, or they say platitudes,” Friends said. “But really, peace is now and it’s in our actions and it’s in this community. It’s how we treat each other, how we respect each other and how we work together. That’s what I want to get across — that it’s right here and it’s right now.”
Walk participants, as well as passersby, are encouraged to post a selfie standing with one of the peace poles to social media.
More information, as well where to register, can be found online at www.mercerislandwalkforpeace.org.
“Everybody’s welcome to participate in this event with us, and it’s going to be absolutely lovely. Kids are welcome, everybody’s welcome,” Baska said. “The releasing of the doves will be a wonderful, beautiful symbol of what it can mean and should mean for our world to be at peace.”
The event is paid for directly by the Mercer Island Rotary Foundation’s Memorial Fund. While it is free to attend, people can choose to donate to the rotary club, which runs many community programs and events.
Baska and Friends say the peace committee is currently discussing similar events for the future.