August 5, 2015 marks the 31st anniversary of Universal Peace Day, which commemorates the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (August 5th in the USA and August 6th in Japan). The goal is to connect with people around the world to transform the remembrance of horror into a rededication of life.
In 1984, the first Universal Peace Day was organized by Art For The People at a wonderful event in the Rambles of Central Park, New York City, starting with a sunrise Crystal Meditation. Throughout the day, artists, singers, dancers and poets shared messages of peace. At 7:15 PM, the exact moment of the Hiroshima bombing, a candle lighting ceremony took place. This was followed by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary) singing to end a magical day.
Over the years, artists, performers and speakers have participated in creating Universal Peace Day at different locations around New York City. Participants have included Pete Seeger, Richie Havens, Odetta, David Amram, John Hall, and Chief Jake Swamp of the Mohawk Nation, who planted a Tree for Peace. In 1986 the Mayor of Vancouver dedicated August 5th as Universal Peace Day. In 1987, there was a computer hook-up allowing people to share their visions of peace and the Mayor of Hiroshima made a dedication for peace by an amplified telephone at the exact moment of the bombing.
In 2005 Universal Peace Day commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. The original founder/members of Art For The People reunited as the Universal Peace initiative and joined with the New York Buddhist Church and The Riverside Church to create an event in NYC. It started at the New York Buddhist Church with performances, a ceremony led by Rev.TK Nakagaki and a candle light at the exact moment of the bombing. Rev. Nakagaki led a very moving Silent Peace Walk to The Riverside Church. At the church, there were performances, and an interfaith service as well as Hiroshima survivor, Tomiko West, Peter Yarrow and the legendary Pete Seeger. The event was broadcast live on WBAI Pacifica radio.
In 2006 and 2007 we continued our collaboration with the New York Buddhist Church and The Riverside Church to create day-long events. The ceremonies and music were held at Riverside Park (2006) and Central Park (2007). They were followed by a service and candle lighting ceremony at the New York Buddhist Church and a Silent Peace Walk to The Riverside Church. At the church, there was an interfaith service, speakers and performers from the US and Japan, including Shinji Harada, Koji Kobayashi (Hiroshima survivor), Peter Yarrow and a message from the Dalai Lama. In 2007, we received a grant from The Riverside Church and also began A Peal for Peace Bell Project in which church bells around the world ring at the exact moment of the Hiroshima bombing.
In 2008 there was a greater international recognition of Universal Peace Day in which members of the United Nations participated and church bells rang from the United States to Japan. Also the traditions of the candle lighting ceremony, Silent Peace Walk, interfaith services and concerts at New York Buddhist Church and The Riverside Church were continued. Highlights of the night included founder and president of the Tibet House, Robert Thurman, congressman Charles Rangel, jazz saxophonist, Lew Tabackin, Hiroshima survivor, Koji Kabayashi and Japanese singer/songwriter, Shinji Harada.
2009 was the 25th anniversary of Universal Peace Day. In New York City, it took place at the New York Buddhist Church and the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew with a 10 day film festival, an ARTpeace exhibition, a tree planting for the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki as well as concert and A Peal Peace bell ringing ceremony.
The last few years, we have gathered in front of the Gandhi Statue at Union Square Park with artists, poets, performers sharing their Visions of Peace. At 7PM, Deborah Moldow of the World Peace Prayer Society gave a moving Peace Flag Ceremony and at 7:15PM, the exact moment of the Hiroshima, bells were rung. A Peace Walk lead the participants to St. John’s Lutheran Church on Christopher Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. An interfaith ceremony for peace opened the evening concert followed by a wonderful array of dancers, poets and performers including Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, David Amram, Guy Davis and Spook Handy.
This year we will gather at 6:30PM by the Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields to ring bells, prayer for peace and sing Imagine. All are invited to participate wherever you are.