At the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights [© Michael Sunderland]

I am a writer and editor by trade and a social justice activist by instinct. I am grateful that the profound power of my 21-year Buddhist practice has led me to the right place at the right time for best using my determination and my capacities to help create a fairer world.

I’ve been privileged to be part of two community-based, justice-seeking initiatives that started in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and grew to be important catalysts in fostering major systemic change at either the national or local level.

On July 3, 1986, I was one of 21 lesbians and gays gathered in a downtown home who had decided to form Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) to seek sexual orientation protection in the Canadian Human Rights Act. That accomplished (it took 10 years), the nationwide group increased its equality-seeking advocacy work, expanded its mandate to include transgendered persons and changed its name to Egale Canada. 

Responding to Hate Crimes

The murder in 1989 of a young man who was perceived by his murderers to be gay led to the gay and lesbian community organizing and demands for the Ottawa police to do crime prevention work with the targeted community. Dialogue led to the establishment of the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Communities which I worked with for many years, and action plans to work on community-identified problems. This has transformed community fear and mistrust (based on past harassment) into trust of progressive leadership based on a genuine willingness to work in partnership on hate crime, school bullying and other concerns.

My Buddhist practice was invaluable in helping me to keep my cool and keep going.

Hate crimes do not occur in a vacuum. As a result, they are one of the easiest crimes to prevent—through education and strong community standards concerning prejudice. A hate-crime approach exposes the root cause (motivation) of an incident and challenges the community at large, including schools and the mainstream media, to work on solving the underlying problem of prejudice.

My Buddhist practice was invaluable in helping me to keep my cool and keep going whenever the progressive work was under attack from individuals either within or without the police service (including the media).

A Dialogue-based Process

Now I am involved in a community group that is seeking an expanded mandate for the new Canadian War Museum, scheduled to open in downtown Ottawa in May 2005. We want the museum to add examples of efforts to resolve conflict without violence.

related article Creating a World Where All Belong Creating a World Where All Belong by Sinéad Lynch Sinéad Lynch from Ireland talks about how her inner transformation enabled her to realize a dream of working for peace and inclusivity. The heart-to-heart connections which are at the core of the nonpolitical, multi-faith Committee for an Expanded Mandate of the Canadian War Museum ignited spontaneously following a February 23, 2004, dialogue on “An Inclusive Vision of Peace” attended by about 100 people.

Our year-old, volunteer initiative now has cross-Canada support and an advisory board. Our dialogue-based process itself demonstrates the type of human interaction necessary to foster genuine peace. Immediate next steps include a website (which will make it easier to tap into the country’s strong peace pulse); a workshop on creating disarmament and other exhibit proposals for the temporary exhibit area in the museum; and a public meeting.

Each achievement fosters hope, countering oft-prevailing feelings today of hopelessness and inertia.

In all of this work, I am mindful of another grassroots-led project that produced the inspirational Canadian Tribute to Human Rights in Ottawa which was unveiled in 1990. (I was a community relations worker with the project.) Architect Melvin Charney designed the Tribute to be in dialogue with the nearby National War Memorial, both of which are on the same downtown Ottawa street. Figures that are bent over and struggling in the National War Memorial are upright in the Tribute, raised arms holding granite plaques proclaiming “Dignity,” “Equality” and “Rights.”

Which way will we go from here? The outcome rests with us.

Community initiatives that lead to shared problem solving, accountability and trust (as in the police service work) are crucial to achieving the dignity, equality and rights that define peace. Each achievement fosters hope, countering oft-prevailing feelings today of hopelessness and inertia.

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