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The Chicago Spring: Peace instead of protest

by Dana Ballout
Jan 26, 2012

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he wanted to showcase Chicago to the world, he meant it. But with all the talk of possible G-8 and NATO protesters invading the city, little attention has gone to a much more peaceable gathering. 

Coming from Rome to Paris and last year, Japan, the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates’ next stop is Chicago.

For the first time ever in North America, leaders and organizations internationally recognized for their efforts in peacemaking will come together for their annual world summit at the University of Illinois at Chicago from April 23-25 – less than a month before G-8 and NATO leaders arrive.

“The decision to host this event in Chicago reflects the profile of our city as an international leader in civic dialogue and community involvement,” Emanuel said at a news conference announcing the summit in November.

“While the summit is a global event, it will have a local impact and leave a lasting legacy on our city,” he said.

Like the G-8 and NATO summits, the event is expected to attract thousands of people to the city. Expected attendees include around 12 Nobel peace laureates and numerous Nobel laureate organizations, said Cheryl Hughes of The Chicago Community Trust and project manager of the summit. One event, featuring the Dalai Lama, is expected to attract over 2,000 people, she said.

But this year the summit is unique in more ways than one. In addition to being held in the U.S. for the first time, the summit has a new focus -- youth.

Beginning in November 2011, the Chicago Public Schools and Chicago+- Teachers Union, along with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, launched a series of workshops entitled “Speak Truth to Power”, where teachers are being given 32 lesson plans on issues such as slavery, religious freedom and political participation to teach in Chicago classrooms.

“These are the Martin Luther Kings of their countries and they’re coming to Chicago to speak specifically to young people about what one person can do to make a difference,” Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter and president of the RFK center, said last week.

The Nobel laureates plan on touring participating Chicago high schools to speak with students about international peace and activism.

“Having the laureates here to talk about their experiences and journeys, it’s gonna be really inspiring,” said Hughes. “One person can make a difference and we all have a responsibility to do it.”

Unlike the G-8 and NATO summits, the three-day conference is  not expected to attract protests and instead is free and open to the public. The talks will also be streaming live to 45,000 schools across the U.S.

The summit is planned in partnership with the Permanent Peace Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, The Chicago Community Trust, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, World Business Chicago, the City of Chicago and the mayor’s office. Sponsors of the summit include Grosvenor Capital Management, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and BMO Harris Bank.

Details on transportation rerouting and road blockages are yet to be announced as the summit is still in the planning stages.

And since April and May are now occupied with their own global events, Emanuel announced Tuesday that in March, Chicago will also be hosting the annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Roundtable of Mayors and Ministers. Participants will discuss international economic recovery.

Brace yourself Chicago, it’s going to be a busy spring.