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Jeremy Gilley: One day of peace

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I was basically concerned about what was going on in the world. I couldn't understand the starvation, the destruction, the killing of innocent people. Making sense of those things is a very difficult thing to do. And when I was 12, I became an actor. I was bottom of the class. I haven't got any qualifications. I was told I was dyslexic. In fact, I have got qualifications. I got a D in pottery, which was the one thing that I did get -- which was useful, obviously. And so concern is where all of this comes from. And then, being an actor, I was doing these different kinds of things, and I felt the content of the work that I was involved in really wasn't cutting it, that there surely had to be more.

And at that point, I read a book by Frank Barnaby, this wonderful nuclear physicist, and he said that media had a responsibility, that all sectors of society had a responsibility to try and progress things and move things forward. And that fascinated me, because I'd been messing around with a camera most of my life. And then I thought, well maybe I could do something. Maybe I could become a filmmaker. Maybe I can use the form of film constructively to in some way make a difference. Maybe there's a little change I can get involved in. So I started thinking about peace, and I was obviously, as I said to you, very much moved by these images, trying to make sense of that. Could I go and speak to older and wiser people who would tell me how they made sense of the things that are going on? Because it's obviously incredibly frightening.

But I realized that, having been messing around with structure as an actor, that a series of sound bites in itself wasn't enough, that there needed to be a mountain to climb, there needed to be a journey that I had to take. And if I took that journey, no matter whether it failed or succeeded, it would be completely irrelevant. The point was that I would have something to hook the questions of -- is humankind fundamentally evil? Is the destruction of the world inevitable? Should I have children? Is that a responsible thing to do? Etc., etc.

So I was thinking about peace, and then I was thinking, well where's the starting point for peace? And that was when I had the idea. There was no starting point for peace. There was no day of global unity. There was no day of intercultural cooperation. There was no day when humanity came together, separate in all of those things and just shared it together -- that we're in this together, and that if we united and we interculturally cooperated, then that might be the key to humanity's survival. That might shift the level of consciousness around the fundamental issues that humanity faces -- if we did it just for a day.

So obviously we didn't have any money. I was living at my mom's place. And we started writing letters to everybody. You very quickly work out what is it that you've got to do to fathom that out. How do you create a day voted by every single head of state in the world to create the first ever Ceasefire Nonviolence Day, the 21st of September? And I wanted it to be the 21st of September because it was my granddad's favorite number. He was a prisoner of war. He saw the bomb go off at Nagasaki. It poisoned his blood. He died when I was 11. So he was like my hero. And the reason why 21 was the number is 700 men left, 23 came back, two died on the boat and 21 hit the ground. And that's why we wanted it to be the 21st of September as the date of peace.

So we began this journey, and we launched it in 1999. And we wrote to heads of state, their ambassadors, Nobel Peace laureates, NGOs, faiths, various organizations -- literally wrote to everybody. And very quickly, some letters started coming back. And we started to build this case. And I remember the first letter. One of the first letters was from the Dalai Lama. And of course we didn't have the money; we were playing guitars and getting the money for the stamps that we were sending out all of [this mail]. A letter came through from the Dalai Lama saying, "This is an amazing thing. Come and see me. I'd love to talk to you about the first ever day of peace." And we didn't have money for the flight. And I rang Sir Bob Ayling, who was CEO of BA at the time, and said, "Mate, we've got this invitation. Could you give me a flight? Because we're going to go see him." And of course, we went and saw him and it was amazing. And then Dr. Oscar Arias came forward.

And actually, let me go back to that slide, because when we launched it in 1999 -- this idea to create the first ever day of ceasefire and non-violence -- we invited thousands of people. Well not thousands -- hundreds of people, lots of people -- all the press, because we were going to try and create the first ever World Peace Day, a peace day. And we invited everybody, and no press showed up. There were 114 people there -- they were mostly my friends and family. And that was kind of like the launch of this thing. But it didn't matter because we were documenting, and that was the thing. For me, it was really about the process. It wasn't about the end result. And that's the beautiful thing about the camera. They used to say the pen is mightier than the sword. I think the camera is. And just staying in the moment with it was a beautiful thing and really empowering actually.

So anyway, we began the journey. And here you see people like Mary Robinson, I went to see in Geneva. I'm cutting my hair, it's getting short and long, because every time I saw Kofi Annan, I was so worried that he thought I was a hippie that I cut it, and that was kind of what was going on. (Laughter) Yeah, I'm not worried about it now. So Mary Robinson, she said to me, "Listen, this is an idea whose time has come. This must be created." Kofi Annan said, "This will be beneficial to my troops on the ground." The OAU at the time, led by Salim Ahmed Salim, said, "I must get the African countries involved." Dr. Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace laureate, president now of Costa Rica, said, "I'll do everything that I can." So I went and saw Amr Moussa at the League of Arab States. I met Mandela at the Arusha peace talks, and so on and so on and so on -- while I was building the case to prove whether this idea would make sense.

And then we were listening to the people. We were documenting everywhere. 76 countries in the last 12 years, I've visited. And I've always spoken to women and children wherever I've gone. I've recorded 44,000 young people. I've recorded about 900 hours of their thoughts. I'm really clear about how young people feel when you talk to them about this idea of having a starting point for their actions for a more peaceful world through their poetry, their art, their literature, their music, their sport, whatever it might be. And we were listening to everybody.

And it was an incredibly thing, working with the U.N. and working with NGOs and building this case. I felt that I was presenting a case on behalf of the global community to try and create this day. And the stronger the case and the more detailed it was, the better chance we had of creating this day. And it was this stuff, this, where I actually was in the beginning kind of thinking no matter what happened, it didn't actually matter. It didn't matter if it didn't create a day of peace. The fact is that, if I tried and it didn't work, then I could make a statement about how unwilling the global community is to unite -- until, it was in Somalia, picking up that young girl. And this young child who'd taken about an inch and a half out of her leg with no antiseptic, and that young boy who was a child soldier, who told me he'd killed people -- he was about 12 -- these things made me realize that this was not a film that I could just stop. And that actually, at that moment something happened to me, which obviously made me go, "I'm going to document. If this is the only film that I ever make, I'm going to document until this becomes a reality." Because we've got to stop, we've got to do something where we unite -- separate from all the politics and religion that, as a young person, is confusing me. I don't know how to get involved in that process.

And then on the seventh of September, I was invited to New York. The Costa Rican government and the British government had put forward to the United Nations General Assembly, with 54 co-sponsors, the idea of the first ever Ceasefire Nonviolence Day, the 21st of September, as a fixed calendar date, and it was unanimously adopted by every head of state in the world. (Applause) Yeah, but there were hundreds of individuals, obviously, who made that a reality. And thank you to all of them. That was an incredible moment. I was at the top of the General Assembly just looking down into it and seeing it happen. And as I mentioned, when it started, we were at the Globe, and there was no press. And now I was thinking, "Well, the press it really going to hear this story." And suddenly, we started to institutionalize this day.

Kofi Annan invited me on the morning of September the 11th to do a press conference. And it was 8:00 AM when I stood there. And I was waiting for him to come down, and I knew that he was on his way. And obviously he never came down. The statement was never made. The world was never told there was a day of global ceasefire and nonviolence. And it was obviously a tragic moment for the thousands of people who lost their lives, there and then subsequently all over the world. It never happened. And I remember thinking, "This is exactly why, actually, we have to work even harder. And we have to make this day work. It's been created; nobody knows. But we have to continue this journey, and we have to tell people, and we have to prove it can work."

And I left New York freaked, but actually empowered. And I felt inspired by the possibilities that if it did, then maybe we wouldn't see things like that. I remember putting that film out and going to cynics. I was showing the film, and I remember being in Israel and getting it absolutely slaughtered by some guys having watched the film -- that it's just a day of peace, it doesn't mean anything. It's not going to work; you're not going to stop the fighting in Afghanistan; the Taliban won't listen, etc., etc. It's just symbolism. And that was even worse than actually what had just happened in many ways, because it couldn't not work. I'd spoken in Somalia, Burundi, Gaza, the West Bank, India, Sri Lanka, Congo, wherever it was, and they'd all tell me, "If you can create a window of opportunity, we can move aid, we can vaccinate children. Children can lead their projects. They can unite. They can come together. If people would stop, lives will be saved." That's what I'd heard. And I'd heard that from the people who really understood what conflict was about.

And so I went back to the United Nations. I decided that I'd continue filming and make another movie. And I went back to the U.N. for another couple of years. We started moving around the corridors of the U.N. system, governments and NGOs, trying desperately to find somebody to come forward and have a go at it, see if we could make it possible. And after lots and lots of meetings obviously, I'm delighted that this man, Ahmad Fawzi, one of my heroes and mentors really, he managed to get UNICEF involved. And UNICEF, God bless them, they said, "Okay, we'll have a go." And then UNAMA became involved in Afghanistan. It was historical. Could it work in Afghanistan with UNAMA and WHO and civil society, etc., etc., etc.? And I was getting it all on film and I was recording it, and I was thinking, "This is it. This is the possibility of it maybe working. But even if it doesn't, at least the door is open and there's a chance."

And so I went back to London, and I went and saw this chap, Jude Law. And I saw him because he was an actor, I was an actor, I had a connection to him, because we needed to get to the press, we needed this attraction, we needed the media to be involved. Because if we start pumping it up a bit maybe more people would listen and there'd be more -- when we got into certain areas, maybe there would be more people interested. And maybe we'd be helped financially a little bit more, which had been desperately difficult. I won't go into that. So Jude said, "Okay, I'll do some statements for you."

While I was filming these statements, he said to me, "Where are you going next?" I said, "I'm going to go to Afghanistan." He said, "Really?" And I could sort of see a little look in his eye of interest. So I said to him, "Do you want to come with me? It'd be really interesting if you came. It would help and bring attention. And that attention would help leverage the situation, as well as all of the other sides of it." I think there's a number of pillars to success. One is you've got to have a great idea. The other is you've got to have a constituency, you've got to have finance, and you've got to be able to raise awareness. And actually I could never raise awareness by myself, no matter what I'd achieved. So these guys were absolutely crucial. So he said yes, and we found ourselves in Afghanistan.

It was a really incredible thing that when we landed there, I was talking to various people, and they were saying to me, "You've got to get everybody involved here. You can't just expect it to work. You have to get out and work." And we did, and we traveled around, and we spoke to elders, we spoke to doctors, we spoke to nurses, we held press conferences, we went out with soldiers, we sat down with ISAF, we sat down with NATO, we sat down with the U.K. government. I mean, we basically sat down with everybody -- in and out of schools with ministers of education, holding these press conferences, which of course, now were loaded with press, everybody was there. There was an interest in what was going on. This amazing woman, Fatima Gailani, was absolutely instrumental in what went on as she was the spokesperson for the resistance against the Russians. And her Afghan network was just absolutely everywhere. And she was really crucial in getting the message in.

And then we went home. We'd sort of done it. We had to wait now and see what happened. And I got home, and I remember one of the team bringing in a letter to me from the Taliban. And that letter basically said, "We'll observe this day. We will observe this day. We see it as a window of opportunity. And we will not engage. We're not going to engage." And that meant that humanitarian workers wouldn't be kidnapped or killed. And then suddenly, I obviously knew at this point, there was a chance. And days later, 1.6 million children were vaccinated against polio as a consequence of everybody stopping. (Applause) And like the General Assembly, obviously the most wonderful, wonderful moment.

And so then we wrapped the film up and we put it together because we had to go back. We put it into Dari and Pashto. We put it in the local dialects. We went back to Afghanistan, because the next year was coming, and we wanted to support. But more importantly, we wanted to go back, because these people in Afghanistan were the heroes. They were the people who believed in peace and the possibilities of it, etc., etc. -- and they made it real. And we wanted to go back and show them the film and say, "Look, you guys made this possible. And thank you very much." And we gave the film over. Obviously it was shown, and it was amazing.

And then that year, that year, 2008, this ISAF statement from Kabul, Afghanistan, September 17th: "General Stanley McChrystal, commander of international security assistance forces in Afghanistan, announced today ISAF will not conduct offensive military operations on the 21st of September." They were saying they would stop. And then there was this other statement that came out from the U.N. Department of Security and Safety saying that, in Afghanistan, because of this work, the violence was down by 70 percent. 70 percent reduction in violence on this day at least. And that completely blew my mind almost more than anything.

And I remember being stuck in New York, this time because of the volcano, which was obviously much less harmful. And I was there thinking about what was going on. And I kept thinking about this 70 percent. 70 percent reduction in violence -- in what everyone said was completely impossible and you couldn't do. And that made me think that, if we can get 70 percent in Afghanistan, then surely we can get 70 percent reduction everywhere. We have to go for a global truce. We have to utilize this day of ceasefire and nonviolence and go for a global truce, go for the largest recorded cessation of hostilities, both domestically and internationally, ever recorded.

That's exactly what we must do. And on the 21st of September this year, we're going to launch that campaign at the O2 Arena to go for that process, to try and create the largest recorded cessation of hostilities. And we will utilize all kinds of things -- have a dance and social media and visiting on Facebook and visit the website, sign the petition. And it's in the six official languages of the United Nations. And we'll globally link with government, inter-government, non-government, education, unions, sports. And you can see the education box there. We've got resources at the moment in 174 countries trying to get young people to be the driving force behind the vision of that global truce. And obviously the life-saving is increased, the concepts help.

Linking up with the Olympics -- I went and saw Seb Coe. I said, "London 2012 is about truce. Ultimately, that's what it's about." Why don't we all team up? Why don't we bring truce to life? Why don't you support the process of the largest ever global truce? We'll make a new film about this process. We'll utilize sport and football. On the Day of Peace, there's thousands of football matches all played, from the favelas of Brazil to wherever it might be. So, utilizing all of these ways to inspire individual action. And ultimately, we have to try that. We have to work together.

And when I stand here in front of all of you, and the people who will watch these things, I'm excited, on behalf of everybody I've met, that there is a possibility that our world could unite, that we could come together as one, that we could lift the level of consciousness around the fundamental issues, brought about by individuals. I was with Brahimi, Ambassador Brahimi. I think he's one of the most incredible men in relation to international politics -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq. He's an amazing man. And I sat with him a few weeks ago. And I said to him, "Mr. Brahimi, is this nuts, going for a global truce? Is this possible? Is it really possible that we could do this?" He said, "It's absolutely possible." I said, "What would you do? Would you go to governments and lobby and use the system?" He said, "No, I'd talk to the individuals." It's all about the individuals. It's all about you and me. It's all about partnerships. It's about your constituencies; it's about your businesses. Because together, by working together, I seriously think we can start to change things.

And there's a wonderful man sitting in this audience, and I don't know where he is, who said to me a few days ago -- because I did a little rehearsal -- and he said, "I've been thinking about this day and imagining it as a square with 365 squares, and one of them is white." And it then made me think about a glass of water, which is clear. If you put one drop, one drop of something, in that water, it'll change it forever.

By working together, we can create peace one day. Thank you TED. Thank you.


Thank you.


Thanks a lot.


Thank you very much. Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 21 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Producer: TEDTalks
Views: 818
Posted by: tedtalks on Aug 9, 2011

Here's a crazy idea: Persuade the world to try living in peace for just one day, every September 21. In this energetic, honest talk, Jeremy Gilley tells the story of how this crazy idea became real -- real enough to help millions of kids in war-torn regions.

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