Education for Peace
by Sister Valerie Heinonen, osu, Director of Shareholder Advocacy, Mercy Investment Services
On September 21, the United Nations recognizes the International Day of Peace. For more than 30 years, the UN has dedicated one day in September for its members and people around the world to observe our progress toward peace and renew our efforts to create a peace-filled world.
When the first International Day of Peace was observed, I was responsible for directing militarism issues as a staff member at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. I worked alongside socially responsible investors – including the Sisters of Mercy – engaged in the peace movement through vigils and resolutions addressing nuclear bomb manufacturers and those companies that delivered them. At the same time, I was engaged with the St. Louis Economic Conversion Project, which was conducting its own research with academics on the resolutions, Mercy and others filed with companies such as Grumman and McDonnell Douglas. As part of our efforts, we convinced Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Chaplain at Yale; Sister Rosalie Bertell, GNSH, PhD; and Columbia University Professor Seymour Melman, PhD, to accompany us to a dialogue with General Electric. At the meeting, the day that Oscar Romero was murdered, Rev. Coffin said, in effect, that it was appropriate for the conversation to occur on the day that we now have a martyr to the U.S. weapons industry and sales to countries like El Salvador.
Thirty years later, we still see so much violence in our world – from acts like the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. to the civil war in Syria. We are so inundated with news of violence and its causes that it is difficult to Keep Space for Peace or to be Teaching Tolerance. And yet, many of us stay in the struggle grateful to those who share good research and help organize us.
The Sisters of Mercy remain active shareholders dedicated to using its voice to call on companies to bring peace to our world. After an August New York Times article Mercy Investment Services engaged Starbucks, expressing our concern about the impact of open carry laws on the health and safety of the company’s customers and employees: “Starbucks stores are popular and often very crowded; we see risk in allowing people to carry weapons into the stores. We believe that prohibiting open carry would be consistent with Starbucks’ policy of supporting public health – as it does in banning smoking in and near its stores.” Just days after we sent the letter, Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz announced that the company was now requesting that customers not bring weapons into their stores.
As faith-based investors, communities and individuals, we file resolutions, write letters, march with our banners, stand with our signs, sign petitions and make calls to companies whose stock we hold and to those whom we elected to act for the good of the nation, the benefit of all people and the well-being of our environment. On this International Day of Peace, we pray for an end to violence and for peace in our world.