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Tillman Chapel, July 3rd, 2012
This morning, I headed straight from Pennsylvania Station, my gateway to the city, to the North Lawn Building of the United Nations. Badge in hand, I entered the area restricted to tourists to attend a high level policy dialogue on the current developments of the world economy. This was my third meeting of such caliber, where country representatives and their aides, as well as members of various NGO’s, gather to listen to moderators and panelists discuss important global issues. Still, I felt, as I have in similar situations, inconsequentially small: I’m just an intern, only halfway through my undergraduate degree; how could my presence possibly make a difference? However, these thoughts – which were intermingled with attempts to digest the information being mechanically related to me through earphones – were soon broken as I prepared to leave for the “Standing in Solidarity” service later that morning. And immediately, as I crossed the street and walked into Tillman Chapel in the Church Center, I noticed a great difference between the place I had just been, and the place I had entered.
Yesterday, July 2nd, marked the beginning of the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, where negotiations on “conventional” arms regulations between all the world’s governments will take place. Now, I may be wrong, but if discussion on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is conducted similarly to the few other high level policy dialogues I have attended, I believe a very fundamental and human element will remain absent from those conference rooms; this morning’s service affirmed that for me. Instead of the sterile, sometimes impersonal, and statistic-oriented atmosphere of “official” UN business, the chapel – and the people in it – offered a sense of purpose and willful intent. Rev. Kathleen Stone’s words, paired with a powerful video and interpretive dance performance, resonated with urgency for a global, responsible, moral ATT, a sentiment I have yet to encounter in the building across the street. Here we were, a group of small individuals – members of NGO’s, citizens, interns – standing together for something we knew needed to be done. Unlike pushes for more just, fair, and responsible global policies at some high level UN sessions, our solidarity was not based solely on an intellectual or objectively moral level, but on a more emotional and human one.
Standing in the chapel, reading the Interfaith Declaration with the others as we faced the UN building across the street, I felt more empowered than I had at the UN meeting just a half hour before. And it was that human connection – that feeling of solidarity and optimism – that made me realize again why the work of NGO’s like Loretto is so important: because without the human perspectives to accompany the sometimes politically-minded “oughts” crafted by member States, the protection of basic human rights will never be treated with the urgency it deserves.
All this month, organized by the World Council of Churches, various NGO representatives and members of civil society will stand outside the UN for just fifteen minutes each weekday to show their support for responsible and morally grounded ATT negotiations. When my fifteen minutes come, I admit, I will be small; but I will also be a human presence standing up for a human issue, and that right there might yield an impactful message that doesn’t require a microphone to be heard.