I started doing leadership classes in Los Angeles and my community peace project was volunteering for Congressman Dennis Kucinich. I wanted to evolve the conversation of peace from an out there, overly large, impossible endeavor by creating an attractive creative tool of engagement. I remembered all these fun activities and attention around Earth Day, and the Dance-A-Thons and Walk-A-Thons combatting AIDS and wondered why there wasn’t something dynamic and productive like that around Peace. Something to pull into our lives and communities; making peace practical, fun, doable, achievable and viewable on a global scale.
So I started by creating a peace themed Valentine’s Day – taking a holiday about love and making it mean something for peace via visibility and reflection and the idea grew from there.
What interests you most about what you’re doing now?
Volunteers and I took to the streets and passed out thousands of poems and peoples’ thoughts about peace wrapped around carnations and roses. Through that, I gained a foothold into the international flower industry, developing relationships to build a win-win situation for everyone – create the peace visibility I want, evolve a rather conservative industry and fulfill the promise of the current expanding social enterprise movement by launching an effective business for good – building ethical trade, bringing peace poetry into gardens everywhere and making the conversation of conflict resolution as immediate as a bouquet brought into the living room. That’s what I’m building towards.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment starting the Valentine Peace Project (VPP) is seeding a community activity for schools and community centers – getting committed schools and programs to reflect on peace each February and take students or participants out into the community to share these reflections and poems with flowers as a community valentine action which has grown over five years in places as varied as Antwerp in Belgium, to Australia, the US, Wales, Holland and areas in Africa and South America – giving away thousands of peace poems, roses, carnations, paper flowers or other items students or participants have made and starting peace poetry gardens.
I’m working now to bring that same energy to the International Day of Peace in September – which is the heart of the tulip and bulb-planting season.
My challenge is becoming a businessman after being a theatre artist since I was seven! The trick is to fuse my extensive theatrical background with my community valentine activities and become a peace artist businessman. My first friend in college who was a passionate rainforest activist told me, “You are a Renaissance man, is who you are!” In present practical steps, I am transforming
My project into a social business working with the Dutch tulip industry and furthering the Fair Trade movement to build products working for peace – starting with an original Valentine Peace tulip – working towards tulip bulbs as fundraising and visibility tools for peace orgs, designing dynamic posters and cards on historical and present ‘flower revolutions’ and cultivating and expanding Fair Trade flowers–particularly out of conflict areas. There has been a lot of publicity lately about Kony’s child soldiers in Uganda and Mugabe’s atrocities in Zimbabwe – these are both rose growing countries with hundreds of farmers trying to build a better life for their people and country.
With my background in performance art, it’s taking a while for me to get the connections I need in the business community and gain investment in these stringent times. I persevere – shopping around my business plan showing how we can connect flower products to the work and artistry of peace in inspired and effective ways.
Who or what inspires you?
I’m inspired by other populist peace projects birthing now – recent ones I’ve come across next to Peace is Sexy 🙂 is MasterPeace and World Peace is Possible in the Netherlands, and MePeace out of the MiddleEast. Also enjoying the growing evolution of the US Peace Alliance and the new National Peace Academy. It took a lot of guts for authors Nathan Otto and Amber Lupton to write a book called World Peace in Five Years (who now run safeconflict.net.) Building upon the passion of American self-help as represented by Oprah and honing it to be a force for stopping war is very powerful. I’m also inspired when I read about non-violent communication in practice or individuals that were gang members working to be a better example. And the women peacemakers profiled by Peace Direct here in London in their Insight on Conflict newsletter is a great global overview in a grassroots manner.
Why is peace sexy to you?
Because it’s challenging, provocative and forward thinking to imagine a virile world without war as a form of conflict resolution and a society that responds with restorative justice with greater access to its higher spiritual yearnings. That’s hot.
I’m gay and it took courage, perseverance and strength when I was nineteen to come out to my parents and community. And friends of all genders and orientations have ‘come out’ in their own ways – challenging societal expectations whether that’s changing genders, embarking on a spiritual or artistic path, joining Occupy or as Barbara Marx Hubbard says ‘coming out whole’. Building businesses for good via the social enterprise movement is inspiring me here in London. Taking a stand for a better world is what standing for peace is – saying we can do better and then being a leader for that. What’s sexier?
What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you?
Well one thing that attracted me to the Peace in Five Years campaign was this idea of making peace fun. Making peace work less ‘angry’ gives new energy and wider possibility to the movement. It’s a balance of course because anger is great rocket fuel. Locating and celebrating that balance is what is sexy and fun to me – the tension between opposites – which is supposed to make the best relationships! So we can have a future where a film about peace can make just as much money as a film about war. My playwriting teacher said drama is conflict – how we deal with it and come out whole is the best drama of all. I think what you’re doing – re-branding the conversation is key. That’s what I’m planning via a creative flower brand for peace. Who doesn’t love flowers? Who doesn’t want more peace?
What is a simple thing you do to create peace?
Mother Teresa said peace begins with a smile. “Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing”. I remember this when I’m on the London tube at rush hour! Trebbe Johnson, who wrote The World is a Waiting Lover, sent me an email recently that said listen with compassion to those you disagree with and don’t be afraid to confront those you always agree with. Don’t coddle. Make your day challenging!
What is something you do everyday?
I meditate for fifteen minutes each day – while I do occasionally miss a day it might be easier for me now as I just moved in with a Buddhist! I definitely gather my thoughts and presence in the morning before I leave the door and at night go through my day and what I’m grateful for.
How would you like Peace is Sexy to make a difference in what you are up to?
Broadcasting my ideas and everyone else’s that peace is possible – it’s possible to have a global treaty and make documents like the Earth Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights potently mean something for everyone, to get beyond the ‘war on terror’ and to see what technology is doing for us. Underlining the peace that’s all around – expanding it.
Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years?
I need to get my enterprise further off the ground! It’s a community project now which needs business investment to release our first tulip bulbs – then after two years we build to cut flowers and then unleash the creativity. So that in less than ten years people can feel they are making a difference for peace buying a VPP flower product. I plan to get some good artists together to build my poster series – VPP Flowers of Independence, Revolution and Identity. Get peace poetry gardens going worldwide and ethical agricultural products really making a difference for the hardest-hit areas. That’s my global domination dream. And the tenderness of a heart-felt poem traded digitally around the world via a designed virtual flower of your choice. Hope I can make that happen before the next 20 years! And of course before the next 100, that we have indeed achieved a stable and safe global community – enriched by our global and local neighbors – with our own deep human self-knowledge – nothing less than a renaissance of beauty, knowledge and power. So many people are suffering now – it’s time for all of us to flip the script. We have the knowledge now – we just need the imagination. Global imagination. We can do it because we already are.
Is there anything else you want to tell us?
I want to point out that the work of peace is not only about how we deal with conflicts in our own lives and calling out what politicians are doing but the way commerce is played out – with everything from fast fashion to flowers – there is injustice everywhere in how supply chains are set-up which we can’t ignore or feel hopeless about. To bring more consciousness into how we are all connected via the products we trade – somebody made it somewhere – do you know who?