The 501c3 Files

By: Adam and Sophia Bogle

Ashland Culture of Peace Commission (ACPC)

“An enemy is a person whose story we have not heard.” 

Gene Knudsen Hoffman (founder of Compassionate Listening)

This last summer, if you were walking by Chautauqua Square (in front of the Black Swan) you may have noticed a “circle” of chairs.  On and around those chairs were several people trained in compassionate listening, compassionate speaking, and implicit bias.  These are ACPC Peace Ambassadors, and they call this process: “Circling on the Square.” No, they weren’t preaching. Twice a week, they would make themselves available to the public to listen to passersby’s answers to “What does a culture of peace look like to you?”  Also on their sign was the related question, “How are you contributing to a culture of peace?” People from all walks of life would stop and share what was on their hearts and minds.  At times, theatre goers and actors, merchants and shoppers, local students and unhoused families would find themselves sitting together discussing the obstacles to and the values underlying peace.

Peace Ambassadors are just one of the teams that comprise the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission, explained the ACPC Executive Director, David Wick, when we recently sat at the Bloomsbury Coffee House along with Joyce Segers (One of their Peace Ambassadors).  The ACPC listens to all sides of issues, networks, and, like “Circling on the Square”, it brings diverse people together to hear each others’ views. Wick described how the Peace Ambassadors knew they were making an impact. “Some people would pull their car to the curb, hop out and explain that they’ve been noticing the circle and awaiting a moment when they had time to stop; others would make return visits.” Their personal stories would unfold: A local professional talked about how they feared potential aggressive actions toward their business; a former attorney lamented that his economic views fell on deaf ears; a young married father was distressed about rent to income ratios. The Peace Ambassadors have found that listening is a powerful tool as it allows people to connect, to hear their own voice, and to get in touch with their own wisdom. Some business people have mentioned that this active listening seems to have added an element of respect and has perhaps contributed to the reduced aggression between housed and unhoused people”

The influence of the Ashland Culture of Peace Commission is widespread. From one on one talking to encouraging political change. In early October, the ACPC held a forum for mayoral and city council candidates.  The values of accountability, inclusivity, and authenticity guided candidates to address solutions to problems instead of attacking opponents. During their Eleven Days for Peace (September 11 through 21), the ACPC held nightly vigils on the Plaza, each one addressing a shadow side of peace (addiction, racism, sex trafficking, etc.)  The speaking format set the stage for transmuting frustration and helplessness into compassion.  The energy of these public gatherings was electric; even without the benefit of being indoors, safe space was maintained. Both locals and visitors were magnetically drawn to the circles, one elderly gentleman even separated from his extended family as his curiosity and interest was so piqued. Some folks who remained outside the circle were moved to tears.  One participant whose anxiety was intensified by the vigil, engaged in distracting behavior.  As with all ACPC activities, compassion for this person’s angst was expressed.  Then the participant sang a most touching song and became calm.

Wick clarified that the ACPC is not a city commission. It is a public, citizen-run commission which has the flexibility to take on roles that the city and other NGOs can’t do.  Yet the ACPC is endorsed by the City Counsel, and some people with the ACPC meet weekly with Mayor John Stromberg discussing the development of a culture of peace.  The ACPC has roots in Pathways to Peace and the United Nations designated “Peace Messenger Initiative”.

If your own curiosity is piqued, consider attending an ACPC community meeting: 4 pm Wednesdays or the free Talking Circles at 11 am Tuesdays, all of which take place in their office at 33 First Street, Suite 1, Ashland (across from the Post Office).  For more information, go to www.ashlandcpc.org.