On Sunday Sept. 21, the United Nations and others around the world will be honoring the International Day of Peace, a 32-year-old yearly tribute, recognition and call for peace worldwide. Just as last year, Rev. Patrick McCollum will be attending multiple events in New York City. He was asked to bring his World Peace Violin for an evening vigil in Manhattan’s Central Park, and he was also asked to bring a youth delegate to represent Paganism.
The U.N. has long sponsored youth outreach programs. This year will mark the first time a Pagan youth delegate is present at the organization’s World Peace proceedings. To find a candidate, McCollum turned to Mills College in Oakland, California, which boasts an active Pagan student association. After giving a workshop for the group, McCollum spoke with its president about the Peace Day opportunity.
Rowan Weir, a junior studying biopsychology and the current treasurer of the organization, was quick to apply for the job. After the application process was complete, Weir was selected to be the U.N. Pagan youth delegate. She is now making her final plans to attend the U.N.’s World Peace conference, which has included a crowd funding campaign to pay for the trip. We caught up with her morning last week before class.
A native of San Diego, Weir is not at all new to Paganism. While her mother never used the term Pagan, she grew up with a definite “earth-centered” spiritual understanding. For example, Weir’s family has always held a yearly Winter Solstice ritual; her grandmother would, on occasion, refer to herself as a witch; and her mother regularly talked about their inter-connectivity with nature.
Although the family didn’t identify its religion using the word Pagan, Weir now sees a connecting Pagan theme in her family’s ethics and beliefs. Weir says, “The solstice ritual was a recognition of the transition of the year and as a kid it was an interesting thing to observe.” She still returns to San Diego yearly to attend that family ritual.
Now a college student in Oakland, Weir labels herself as simply a Pagan. She feels that she is still learning and growing spiritually. That education is being nurtured through her involvement with the Mills Pagan Alliance (MPA). The group sponsors workshops with leaders and elders from the area, field trips, seasonal rituals and school events. Through attending and helping to organize MPA functions, Weir is able to, as she says, “learn all the different forms that Paganism can take.”
Weir’s role as a U.N. youth delegate is an extension of that religious learning. She says that she “loves to make connections” and hopes that the majority of time spent in New York will be doing just that. She looks forward to engaging in conversations with people very different from herself. She says, “It’s all about the learning.”
At the present time, Weir has not received the specifics of her schedule or duties as a delegate. There was a call put out for presenters but Weir didn’t apply. She felt that she didn’t have anything specific to present and that she would better serve her community as an observer. She explains, “I feel very strongly that the majority of my opportunities will come from connecting with people on a personal level.” That, she adds, will be the most fulfilling.
Weir also hopes to learn more about the many “new aspects of the peace process and global social justice.” She wants to take that information back with her and figure out where her role is within that dynamic. She asks, “Where can I fit myself in? What can I give? What does the world need of me?”
While these questions won’t be answered in full at the peace conference, Weir hopes to get glimpses of the possibilities. As a U.N. youth delegate, she will have the opportunity to discuss social justice within a global context and to see the Earth as one social unit. This is what she is most interested in doing. She says, “This experience will expand my viewpoint and show me the bigger picture and then I can bring it back into my personal work.”
One way in which Weir will “bring back” the international conversation will be through a blog. She says, “I will be writing about my experiences through the blog to make sure the [Mills College] club can see [the event] through my eyes and stay involved through me.”When asked if she was nervous or fearful about possible negative reactions to her presence or conflict, she said that hadn’t really considered that. She explains:
I grew up in a sheltered community. Everybody I’ve met is liberal. My only exposure to opposition has been in the form of protestors at events. I haven’t been forced to engage in that kind of very direct opposition personally.
However, she adds that she is ready for anything because of her “strong sense of self” and her connection to her family and her community at Mills College. She says:
I always felt as though I carry them with me. I carry with me their positive intentions and their protection. My community will help me to a engage without reservation or being held back by fear.
While Weir isn’t clear on what the youth delegates will be doing, she does believe that the U.N. is very conscious of the need to connect with younger generations. She, herself, sees a very marked benefit to combining the energy and proactive nature of youth with the experience and learned wisdom of age. She believes that having the generations work together is the key to accomplishing more and better things. She says:
Paganism has always relied heavily on the connection of young and old. Traditions are passed down. The passing down of these traditions is a type of transformation.
However she did acknowledge that there are serious barriers to overcome in that work. Both generations often feel alienated from each other. Weir believes that it is the responsibility and burden of the older generation, the current leaders, to break that barrier. She says, “Extend [to youth] an invitation to the table; to the conversation … Youth want to connect and want to see as many news things as possible. But it is difficult to know how to approach older generations.”
She also has a message for other young Pagans. She says, “Keep asking why?” She explains:
I know youth are already predisposed to asking questions, but it is perhaps not yet often enough, or it may be they do not see the resolution of their query through to it’s ultimate resolution. I try to incorporate this idea into both my daily life and deeper philosophies, as an aspect of personal development as well as social investigation. Pagans are natural protectors and activists, what they consider to be absolute truths are often the very things we must pursue if we want to better our relationship to the earth, and to each other. But the first step in translating ideals into actions is the asking of why. Why do these issues exist? And asking it again: why do they not improve? You continually delve deeper into the very essence of human suffering, of international conflict, of ecological devastation, and you discover your personal relationship with. It is imperative also that you apply a similar system of analysis to deconstructing the self. Young pagans want to know where they fit and what part they can play in change, but they need to know themselves implicitly, to pursue introspection as a path to inner strength, so when they approach that change, it is from a foundation of solidity and security. In addition, I implore young pagans to connect, in whatever ways are available to them. Our greatest resource is each other, and it is together that we will attain our greatest triumphs. We are a circle, we are open, we are unbroken.
Weir sees the U.N.’s youth delegate program for World Peace Day as this type of invitation or barrier breaking. She sees the time that she will spend with Rev. Patrick McCollum as a valuable connection between two generations. With all of that sitting before her, she is both overwhelmed and excited to be included to the world table and to an international conversation about achieving global peace.