It’s perhaps a strange coincidence that the familiar little peace symbol was unveiled on an April 4, some 50 years ago, at a “ban the bomb” rally in England. Forty years ago on that same date, April 4, came the death of one of the greatest proponents of peace, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The peace symbol came to represent opposition to many of the worst social ills in America, such as racial inequality, and bias based on gender or sexual orientation. It was seen almost everywhere during the Vietnam War, when Americans realized they could, and must, oppose senseless policing actions in remote locations of the world. Now, 50 years later, when we so desperately need a symbol to rally us against another senseless police action, the three simple lines within a circle are nowhere to be found.
As I look around Schenectady, the peace symbol seems lost and forgotten. It has been replaced by threatening and territorial gang slogans, or ugly graffiti. Sometimes, in its place we see swastikas, ethnic slurs, even symbolic nooses, or anti-racial images. People are shooting others at an alarming rate, and violence against women has escalated, as seen in current rape trials.
Where have we gone wrong? Has the senseless blood-letting, the deaths of 4,000 Americans in Iraq, made us nonbelievers in peace? Has working together for a common good been replaced by a me-first, me-only attitude? Can peace ever really exist? Or will myopic, ineffectual leaders like George Bush forever harden us against the very idea of peace in our time?
Priorities out of whack
In our city, political leaders are more intent on reinventing downtown rather than creating new jobs or helping the poor and homeless. For them the peace symbol has been replaced by the dollar sign — and the majority are suffering for it.
How sad that now, as it was 50 years ago, it is the neediest who suffer from the mistakes, even disasters, of our leaders. The glittering marquee of Proctors will not pay the outrageous power bills of those living paycheck to paycheck. The chic, after-hour cafes the mayor loves so much will never feed the hungry. And the removing of services to the poor, from downtown, will not erase poverty and homelessness; it will only force fragile neighborhoods to deal with more economic instability.
Better life achievable
I can only hope we, as residents of Schenectady and as Americans, have not given up on the idea of peace. If ever we needed a new direction, now is the time. If ever we needed to reinvent that little symbol, today is the day.
Less crime, better living conditions and more economic stability can be had if our leaders dedicate themselves to people, and not to empty facades and half-realized dreams. Peace is out there, waiting to be established as the policy of a brave new world. It can start with one little peace symbol, and all that it means for America.
Katherine Delain lives in Schenectady. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.