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COMMENTS BY WERNER

Speech given at the Prairie Peace Park on June 14, 2003

How can we promote peace at the local level?

Peace starts at home. Until people obtain social justice, equality and a quality of life that provides for their basic needs, then the broader picture of world peace is impossible.

We as a community must provide for a safe and clean city. We must provide well paying jobs, good schools, areas to recreate and efficient public transportation. How can we expect people to have jobs if they cannot even get to those jobs?

We must design our cities so that people can have social interaction. Our cities today are designed so that people do not even get to know their neighbors. They drive into their garage and enter their house without seeing anyone. We design housing developments with wide streets and no front porches.

We must also design our cities with consideration of the needs of our children. Is it safe for children to play and interact with adults in our gathering places, in our markets? Our cities are obligated to provide public gathering places that allow for freedom of expression in a democratic society.

I don’t know if you remember during the Iraq war when two teenagers were kicked out of a shopping mall for wearing antiwar T-shirts. A mall is a private place. People in a free society need to be able to express themselves in public. In Europe the older cities had large public squares, often part of the marketplace. This is where people would gather to do business, to socialize, to care for their children. It is also where events would take place. After 9-11, people in Europe went to the squares to express their concern. It was Union Square in New York City where many people gathered to grieve.

A city's environment is key to having a city of peace.

Of course, the physical care of our citizens is essential. We must provide food, jobs, housing and health care for everyone. This is difficult in a city budget when our priorities tend to be building streets and pouring more concrete. And as in a city it takes a village, we are a not an island. Our village must include our state and national government and we must acknowledge our role in the world.

The design of a city, the priorities of a city, the vision of city leaders and the concern for its citizens well being are basic to the larger peace issue. Let me give you some additional examples of what a city can do to promote social justice and peace.

Do you know that according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition that a person in Lincoln, Nebraska working for minimum wage must work 84 hours a week to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment? A fair housing wage in Lincoln is $10.85 per hour. My studies have shown that a ‘living wage’ in Lincoln is in the $12.50 per hour range. This is a living wage, a subsistence level wage. Not a wage that allows one to save for the ‘American Dream’ of a new house and an automobile.

Cities must pass ‘Living Wage’ ordinances that require at least at the city level, to pay employees a living wage. In Santa Fe, New Mexico the City Council passed a Living Wage Ordinance that requires all employers to pay a minimum of $8.50 an hour. Our government has always required a minimum wage to protect workers at the very lowest level. Unfortunately our federal government has not moved to increase the minimum wage in years. The cities must begin to do the right thing to protect workers in our country.

The Living Wage Ordinance is but one of many steps a city can take to promote a more equitable society. We must monitor and prevent racial profiling by our police department. We must monitor and prevent utility companies from charging outrages prices to our elderly and fixed income people. We must provide for our citizens in all the areas I just mentioned.

Additionally, at the local level we can pass non-binding resolutions on state, national and international issues. What is done at other levels directly affects our cities? The war in Iraq and tax cuts for the rich have decimated state, city and school budgets. It is important that we conduct local dialogue that sends messages to other governmental entities. If we do not debate issues at the local level, how will people become involved in the process?

We can pass resolutions, such as the moratorium on the death penalty that sends clear messages to other parts of government. When Lincoln’s City Council held public hearings on a Death Penalty Resolution, one that called for moratorium on executions until it can be implemented in a fair and just manner, we had the largest citizen input since I was on the council. This public hearing facilitated intelligent discussion. An issue by the way that directly affects Lincoln because the executions are held in our city. I believe it promotes hate and violence. I do not want it in my city and in my name.

Other areas of discussion and opportunity for resolutions would include the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, and the Patriots Acts one and two. These examples of other parts of our government impacting us must be debated at the local level. If we do not do it at the local level then we are relying on the media to control the debate and opinions of ordinary citizens.

A third, and very important area where cities can become involved in the peace issue, is by electing public officials that are willing to speak out. We must elect people who are willing to take a stand to promote social justice and equality.

Finally, in closing, it takes people like all of you who are willing to get involved at every level by becoming knowledgeable on the issues and expressing yourself. It takes people like all of you to step up and run for public office.

Thank you for inviting me here today.

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