Kristofer Young: Living Peace in Ojai

Living Peace in Ojai logoWhatever happened to “Living Peace in Ojai“? If you’ve lived in this valley for at least the past few years, you know that there’s usually a big to-do on a weekend near the International Day of Peace, September 21st. This has taken the form of workshops on nonviolent conflict resolution in Libbey Park, film screenings at the Ojai Playhouse, ceremonies and other gatherings both indoors and out, public art projects, massive interfaith services in Libbey Bowl, and more. Hopefully you remember the bright colors, the impassioned music, the solemn silences…hopefully you felt like you were Living Peace during that event…hopefully you left with resources to do it elsewhere and more often.

But what happened? Here we are on the weekend after the International Day of Peace with no festival, no flyers, no uplifting messages and images chalked onto our sidewalks and public spaces. Well, i’ll tell you that the nuts-and-bolts reason that there’s no weekend-long celebration this year is that the annual event called Living Peace in Ojai is coordinated by an extremely small core group of people, and a volunteer force that’s created anew each year. i have been so honored, excited, exhausted, and gratified to be an organizer at various levels of that annual event over the past several years. We have often noted that, just like the act of “living peace”, putting on the event takes tremendous creativity, energy, and time. It cannot be sustained at a fever-pitch each year, and so it must ebb and flow in scale.

The metaphysical reason that the LPIO EVENT seems absent this year is because Living Peace in Ojai is just that: it’s something we DO. It’s not an event…it’s barely even an “organization” in any traditional sense…and it’s why this year’s modest expression is even more appropriate.

Noble Peace Prize medalFor each of the past four years, the Ojai Peace Coalition has given an award to one local peacemaker or org. We call it the NOBLE Peace Prize – an obvious play on words – and the intent is to shine a light on the work being done all around us, all the time, that furthers the cause of a more healthy and connected world. The organization and the award leave “peace” to be openly defined in the broadest sense, and consider any work of integrity to be noble in nature. The philosophical understructure of giving an award, a concept which grates at many a peacemaker’s senses of hierarchy and “value over”, is that whom we hold up as s/heroes, whether real or legendary, is one of the building blocks of what we call CULTURE. The broadest pursuit and value of the Ojai Peace Coalition is to explore and implement what it means and takes to grow a CULTURE OF PEACE, so acknowledging and lifting up those that are already living such a culture is one of the ways that we’re doing that.

The process of choosing an honoree is evolving each year, to accommodate broader community, greater scale, and increased legitimacy and transparency. The nomination and voting periods are completely open to the global public, although eligible nominees must live in and/or do their primary peace work within the Ojai Valley.

This year, from a pool of five nominees, the voting public resonated most with the work of Kristofer Young, for whom the nomination text read:

Kris embodies everything this prize seeks to reward and more. From Peace Corp in the 70s to CPR today (and a lot in between), Kris is like the energizer bunny of peace politics activism, human care through integrative medicine, sustainable local food production and consumption, personal solar energy production, … labels are too constraining. All who know him know his tireless passion for making a difference in the lives of all he can reach. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this recognition more than Kris.

Indeed, it is this “energizer bunny of peace” element that makes it okay that giving Kris this award comprises the entirety of the Living Peace in Ojai “event” for 2011, because Kris is DOING precisely that. He has left peace so open that it can be found within every facet of life, and has integrated it into his so deeply that it’s ever-present. Kristofer Young IS living peace, and he is certainly noble about it. See, “peace” is a powerful concept and practice because it’s huge; you don’t even have to call it by name to be operating toward its fulfillment. Kris’ care for the health of other humans and his care for the health of our earth are just two examples of that. Peace is also dangerous because it’s huge; it encompasses so many values and strategies that it is too often a vague and politicized term, threatening to mean little…and yet Kris isn’t afraid to keep using that very word. “How many times do I have to say ‘peace’?” he requoted to me last evening, “As many times as it takes.”

Kris Young & evan austinAnd he’s been doing just that for a long time: a few of his efforts toward a more peaceful world include Peace Corps service in the 1970s, raising children that continue to seek his counsel and honor his wisdom as adults, and serving currently in his 9th year on the executive board of Ventura-based Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions. You may have seen him at vigils to mourn troop deaths in Iraq, at rallies in support of universal healthcare, leading town hall meetings and gatherings at Representative Elton Gallegly’s Thousand Oaks office, standing alone in Casitas Springs with a giant handmade sign reminding you to vote, and much more. You may be a patient of his at Ventura Chiropractic & Massage, Holistic Center for Healthy Living and been treated to greater comfort, empowerment over your own health, and judgment-free invitation to explore what it means to be health-full. You may have even been on the receiving end, as i have, of a phone call to say literally nothing more than “I love you”.

At the gathering in Ojai’s Libbey Park on the International Day of Peace (Weds Sept 21, 2011), with an intimate, candle-lit group of about 40 people, Dr. Young shared some of his greatest peacemaking tools (Nonviolent Communication) and a selection of personal poetry spanning several years. The piece he wrote on October 15, 2002 was my favorite:

Years have taught me that fear is built into us.
How easy is conflict.
How effortless misunderstanding.
No energy is required to slip out of loving connection with others.
Dis-ease arrives uncalled.
I openly ask for your help in creating and maintaining love, peace, balance, and harmony in my life and in the world.
Without request, I give my energy to you and to the world toward that same love, peace, balance, and harmony.

May it be so for each and all of us, for as my friend Kris noted at the end of another poem,

humanity lives and travels as a group
nourished by compassion, we make our way awkwardly through time

Ojai Peace Vigil Changes to Summer Hours

from Clive & Marion Leeman:

Dear Peace Friends,

The Ojai Peace Vigil is changing its starting time to 6 p.m. next Friday, July 23, because of the summer heat.

Vigil for Peace: 1,000 U.S. Dead in Afghanistan

Tonight, just like nearly every Friday night since George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, a tiny and committed group of Citizens will gather under the Pergola in front of Libbey Park for one hour beginning at 5pm, to vigil for an end to War.  Tonight’s vigil carries an extra message: we mark the grotesque milestone of 1,000 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan. (1,007 as of today, according to icasualties.org).

Armband image to mark 1,000 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan

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