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Activists praise Gandhi, make plea for nonviolence

Hope and optimism filled the air as people of many nationalities mingled and laughed together Friday night at the state Capitol.

Conversations were filled with the words "love" and "peace." The responsibility of each individual in helping the world achieve peace was the plea at Utah's "A Season for Nonviolence" inaugural event held in the Capitol rotunda.More than 100 gathered for the event. Lt. Gov. Olene Walker read a proclamation from Gov. Mike Leavitt designating Jan. 30 through April 4 as "A Season for Nonviolence."

"Every person can move the world toward peace through everyday practice of nonviolence," Leavitt's proclamation said.

Leavitt's statement came on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the death of Mohandas Gandhi, the Indian spiritual and political leader known the world over for his philosophy of nonviolence and religious tolerance.

Earlier Friday, a press conference held at the United Nations proclaimed the 64-day nonviolence event on a global scale. "A Season for Nonviolence" celebrates the lives and work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. April 4, the last day of the campaign, marks the 30th anniversary of King's death.

Walker quoted King as she emphasized individual responsibility for moving the world toward peace. "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve."

The lieutenant governor then localized the "Season for Nonviolence" campaign.

"Violence often begins in the homes around our state," she said. "Each one of us has an obligation to make our homes and our neighborhoods safe, and that takes a commitment.

"May we all respect the rights and dignity of every individual because if we could do that we can have peace in the world," Walker said.

The "Season for Nonviolence" was inspired by a written appeal from Nobel Peace Prize laureates to the heads of state via the United Nations. Titled "For the Children of the World," the appeal called for a "decade for a culture of nonviolence" in the years 2000-2010. It was signed by laureates such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev and Yasser Ara-fat.

Dallin Wall, a "Season for Nonviolence" committee member who helped at Friday night's event, said the state proclamation was an early kickoff of that "decade for a culture of nonviolence."

"The importance of (the proclamation) is education, awareness and creating a different way of looking at things," Wall said.

The inauguration of the nonviolence season was organized by the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, the Martin Luther King Center, the Association for Global New Thought, and the Unity Spiritual Center of Salt Lake City.

Mike Fotheringham, senior minister of the Unity Spiritual Center was the main speaker. The center is a quasi-religious group that "strives to put the unity back in community," according to Fotheringham. "It's a way of living practical Christianity."

"I believe the peacemakers are stronger than ever," he told the audience. "There are more people for nonviolence than for violence out there. It takes you and I being willing to be leaders in our homes and communities. We've got to decide what we are and then be it - a being of peace. That's a being of love. We need to take a stand," Fotheringham said.

"I believe peace begins in our thoughts, that is where we begin to make the difference."

He finished by expressing faith in the goals of Gandhi and King. "Good always wins out; love always counts," he said.

Several musical numbers complemented the speakers throughout the evening. Brad and Don Kitto, Rick Givens and Kirk Davidson sang "Prayer for the Children." The song was written by Utah composer Kurt Bestor.

Desert Wind, a Salt Lake group, performed several songs with a Middle East flavor. They concluded the program with Kenny Loggins' "Conviction of the Heart."

Representatives from several groups attended the night's activities. Among the groups were the Rape Recovery Center, the Utah Federation for Youth, West Valley's Victim Advocate Program and the Salt Lake Area Gang Project. Brandy Farmer, the domestic violence program coordinator, represented the Utah Attorney General's Office.