If You Grill It, They Will Come! Peace Picnic 2006
By Craig Wiesner
A funny thing happened at a park in Palo Alto the other day...... a rag-tag group consisting of the wild diversity of our creator's creation gathered together, shared food, told stories, laughed, performed acts of spiritual cleansing, played board games, painted faces, and most of all, made new friends. Such were the activities of Multi Faith Voices for Peace & Justice (MVPJ) and American Muslim Voices' (AMV) second annual peace picnic.
Having reserved the area of the park, but knowing that folks without reservations grabbed the spaces early, we sent our resident park-bench monitor to the park very early on Monday (Memorial Day). Sadly, a few people tried to snag the space anyway, and when told it was reserved, shared a few choice and unprintable words and phrases with Sheriff Eric.
Fortunately, those were the last unkind words heard for the rest of the day!
Soon afterwards, but still before the official picnic start time, a small group of folks showed up who had heard about the picnic at the homeless drop-in center. "Hi there Staff Sergeant Wiesner" yelled one of the men who knew me from a meal we serve at First Presbyterian Church. He calls me that because he also served in the Air Force. "Can we come to the picnic?" another man asked. "Is it really free?" another woman wondered. The interchange reminded me of the story Jesus told (Luke 14) of the rich man who invited people to a grand party at his house. When he sent his servant to let the invited guests know that all was ready for the banquet, each one made an excuse as to why he could not come. "I've just bought a new field and I have to go see it." one neighbor said. "I've just bought some oxen and have to tend to them." said another. "I've just gotten married." said yet another.
When the wealthy man heard of all the excuses he told his servant to go out and invite all the poor and disabled people of the town to come and enjoy the feast. But still, there was room left at the banquet. Finally, the servant was sent out to the roads leading into the town to invite any strangers passing through to come and enjoy the wonderful party.
The picnic hadn't even started yet, but with that story in mind, we already knew that the right folks were already starting to show up! And starting at noon, so many did! We had members of the Raging Grannies, folks from the Muslim community, Baptists and Catholics and Presbyterians, and Unitarians, and Episcopalians, and Methodists, and Jews, and Spiritual Healers, every color and ethnicity, rich and poor, young and old, a virtual cornucopia of diversity!
The whole idea behind the peace picnic is to provide an opportunity for people of all shapes, stripes, colors, and sizes to come together to recharge our activist batteries. Yes, we all carry with us the memories of those lost in wars past and in today's terrible wars. Yes, we're all committed to working to bring an end to war and an end to the injustices that lead to war. And yes, that is exactly what Memorial Day should be about. But, we can't do anything if we don't have community and we don't give each other support, love, laughter, food and music.
MVPJ provided about 125 hot dogs, 24 veggie burgers, gigantic pots of Pakistani food (lentils, rice, veggies, and ohhhh soooo good -- thank you Samina). MVPJ and American Muslim Voice also provided tons of soft drinks and bottled water (thanks Eric!!). The miracle, though, is ALL the food that simply showed up, brought by the nearly 175 people who graced us with their participation.
But, that wasn't the only miracle!
Samina Faheem (AMV) had mentioned that the one thing missing at the event was music. We had not arranged for anything. About a half hour after Samina's lament, I suddenly heard a beautiful flute playing what sounded like some kind of indigenous music. Turns out that one of the folks who planned to come to the picnic invited her friend, who played Native American music, to come along and play!
Sydney Brown, local activist and steering committee member, summed up how we all felt at the end of the day when she said how wonderful it was that we just threw together a picnic, did a little bit of publicity (truly, not much), and still 175 folks showed up, tons of food appeared, music materialized, and everyone had a wonderful time. OK, some of us worked really hard to make it all happen, but by the end of the day, it really didn't feel like that much. Why? We felt the energy of this wonderful group of people, coming together from all walks of life, and some of us older folks got the pleasure of seeing some of the youngest folks taking their first activist steps, painting road signs on the path to peace. (June 2, 2006)