Creating a Peace Walk in Washington, D.C.

In early 2010, a local hotel contacted me to devise the itinerary for a "Peace Walk"—a walking tour of sites in Washington, D.C., related to peace and peacemaking—for a proposed "Peace Weekend" package. This job came to me because I am a licensed local tour guide and have worked on other such specialized walking tours.

I had heard of Ski Weekends and Wine-Tasting Weekends, but a Peace Weekend was not intuitive. When I asked what the package would include beyond my walk, the hotel told me that guests would get a Peace Cookie (it has the peace symbol on it) upon arrival and chocolates on their bed would be arranged as the same peace symbol; the hotel had no further ideas.

I proposed a walk, but the hotel was very unsatisfied with it and later used an itinerary devised by someone else. Despite this outcome, such an interesting assignment had given me the incentive to consider deeply the meaning of peace and peacemaking focused through the specific requirements of a walking tour.

What Constitutes Peace?

For the walk, I defined peace (the goal) and peacemaking (the means) as the bringing together of parties that for some reason—sometimes simply tradition, but more often because of apparently differing interests— are at odds with each other. I see this as different from conflict resolution, a specific process. You will see that the concept of "inner peace" is excluded, not because it is illegitimate but because it cannot easily be demonstrated on a walking tour, and because it frequently bleeds into narcissism.

What are the Parameters of Peace and Peacemaking?

They are:

  • both international and local, including peace among individuals
  • both intentional and coincidental (some of the best peacemaking, like the best dates, are not planned)
  • from active peacemaking sites to symbolic sites (a soup kitchen actually produces peace; a statue only reminds us of a worthy person)

The Criteria for Sites

Having defined what peace is and having determined what types of sites demonstrate this, I addressed the question of where in the city I could find a sufficiently compact collection to walk from one to another, since the hotel specifically wanted a walking tour. Because of this limitation, I devised a walk that was placed in the Dupont Circle/Lafayette Park area near downtown D.C. and so necessarily left out many obvious sites (the Lincoln Memorial, the Emancipation Statue, the large statue of Jesus Christ near Catholic University, etc.); I did offer the more spread-out sites as part of an alternative driving tour and suggested a list of social service agencies in the city that could be visited by guests to see active peacemaking.

Unlike the fairly objective standard tour ("Here is the Lincoln Memorial, and it was built in 1922"), this walk is inherently subjective and reflects my personal views, which may differ somewhat from the approach of other Quakers. The kinds of sites that made the cut are:

  • agencies that demonstrate peacemaking mechanisms—often but not always successful—that have been developed to settle recurring disputes (for example, embassies)
  • organizations that were formed to promote international peace and have become effective programs (for example, the Peace Corps)
  • groups that actively create peace in our community through their on-going programs (for example, a socially active church)
  • sites that are symbolic reminders of earlier peacemakers (for example, the Gandhi statue)

A special comment is needed about demonstrations. Lafayette Park, in front of the White House, has been the site of many demonstrations that have peacefully advocated various causes. In my opinion, for a demonstration truly to be called a peacemaking effort, it must incorporate three elements: the actual right to demonstrate (which we have in this country); peaceful conduct of the event itself—no hateful speeches or window breaking; and a worthy cause (after all, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated here quite peacefully in 1928). For this walk I researched demonstrations held in D.C. from 1963 to 1965. The variety is amazing: from anti- and pro- Vietnam War efforts to demands for higher pay for postal workers, support of Soviet political prisoners and of Senator Adam Clayton Powell, protesting the Greek military government, protesting the racial policies of the Democratic Party, protesting the proposed clearing of starlings from the park, and spontaneously protesting unspecified "world conditions" by a church group. It’s a truly remarkable record of issues brought to the forefront by peaceful and positive demonstrations that were allowed and facilitated by our government.

Here are some requirements for getting onto my list.

  • Events must have been conducted in a peaceful manner.
  • Events must have promoted something positive rather than just having negatively deplored something. (An event must say what it wants and how to achieve it, not simply what it doesn’t want.)
  • A site must actually have produced some sort of peace rather than simply advertising the word Peace. (A community garden produces peace; many peace exhibits and peace conferences produce no discernible results.)
  • A site must be nonprofit rather than commercial. (A church shelter can be included, but not a yoga studio.)
  • Peacemaking must bring together people from a variety of perspectives, not just those who already agree on some point. (The first has the possibility to be truly productive of peace, while the latter seldom does.) And some miscellaneous notes:
  • Churches were included only if the church participates in peacemaking outreach beyond the usual.
  • Think tanks, academic institutions, and galleries must have achieved the exceptional to be included.
  • "Negative example" sites—a war memorial, for example, saying: "Isn’t war terrible?"—were not included.
  • After some consideration, I decided to eschew the concept of war as a peacemaking venture (for example, the ouster of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army), even though I personally believe it could be well argued, simply because this controversial position would muddy the issue too much.
  • All sites chosen had to be grounded in actual peacemaking—not "Here’s a long stretch with nothing to talk about; which of these buildings can I include?" To test questionable sites, I simply asked, "How much peace has this place produced lately?"

The Walk

The itinerary and a map are available at William Penn House and Friends Meeting of Washington (both in D.C.) for those interested in going on the walk themselves.

(* means walkers might want to go inside and talk with people about an institution’s programs. All addresses are in NW Washington. )

*Peace Corps Headquarters (1111 20th Street)—A highly successful international government and personal peacemaking program.

*Church of the Pilgrims (2201 P Street)—This church has an especially active social work program; enter at left rear.

Embassies (21st to Sheridan Circle on Massachusetts Ave.)—Embassies represent a mechanism for peaceful resolution of international disputes.

Gandhi Statue (2107 Massachusetts Ave.)—Gandhi developed a philosophy and a method of peacemaking, and put them into effect.

Letelier Memorial (Sheridan Circle at Massachusetts Ave., left-hand side)—In peacefully opposing the military takeover of Chile, Letelier reminds us that peacemaking requires courage and, indeed, sacrifice.

*International Student House (1825 R St.)—This fine organization is one of the most effective examples of continuing peace work in D.C. It can accept about 130 residents, usually representing over 35 countries, all interacting and forming international friendships.

*Portable ark in the basement of the Jewish War Veterans Museum (1811 R St.)—This extraordinary item—a liturgical kit made entirely from items of combat—is a working example of the often seen "swords to plowshares" device.

German Marshall Fund (1744 R St.)—This organization effectively supports international cooperation and aid.

Dupont Circle (notice chess tables, Metro exits, vendors of the newspaper Street Sense, which offers economic opportunities for homeless people)— The best peacemaking is often unrecognized and made possible by thoughtful planning; L’Enfant’s provision of public spaces in the Washington city plan permits the wonderful mix of people of all classes, races, and ages that we always find in the Circle.

Stead Recreation Center (1625 P Street)— A bequest of the Stead family made this recreation center possible. It attracts poor and rich, and black and white; philanthropy can be a powerful peacemaking tool.

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations Headquarters (16th and I streets)—Like embassies, this represents a mechanism for peaceful resolution of recurring disputes, in this case labor/management.

St. John’s Parish House (next to the church, 16th and H streets), and Department of Treasury (15th Street and Pennsylvania Ave.)—U.S. citizen Daniel Webster and Britisher Baron Ashburton negotiated the treaty that established the Canadian-U.S. border in the house (where Ashburton lived) and signed it at Treasury (there is a plaque on the 15th/G Sts. corner); this border remains a landmark of peace between nations.

Lafayette Square (notice Protest Lady in her tent)—Remember here that a consciously built structure (freedom of expression, embedded in our Constitution) creates the mechanism for peaceful interaction and expression, including demonstrations; good planning and intentions are part of peacemaking.

White House—The U.S. Constitution and U.S. society provide the mechanism for the peaceful transition of power, something not universally seen.

Hayden M. Wetzel

Hayden M. Wetzel, a member of Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C., is a licensed D.C. tour guide and active in local historical and preservation efforts.