Campaign for Conscience, a new student group at UC Irvine, raised 1,000 flags in Aldrich Park to raise political awareness of global conflicts as the main attraction of its 2008 UCI Peace Flag Project, which ran from May 19 to May 24.
The event was the brainchild of Campaign for Conscience founder, Rebecca Westerman, a fourth-year art history major. According to Westerman, she first devised the project as a proposal for the Dalai Lama Scholarship and since that time the effort has taken on a life of its own. Dating its origins back to May 2007, Westerman and her team have worked throughout the year to make the project a success.
“In September when school started I started a new student organization called Campaign for Conscience and I got sort of a group together … that [group] then went out to other [student organizations] … and asked them to participate and so we spent a few months going and getting people interested,” Westerman said.
To celebrate the event being kicked off, the week began with different groups raising their flags in a practice that allowed onlookers to appreciate the individual efforts of each student organizations. This was accomplished by allotting time in which 90 flags were raised every 30 minutes.
An opening ceremony was also held in which Chancellor Michael V. Drake and the Venerable Lama Chodak Gyatso Nubpa – a celebrated teacher of Tibetan Buddism in the Los Angeles area – spoke. During his speech Drake remarked that he would never be able to see Aldrich Park in the same way again after observing the various flags and the messages they contained.
“The primary goal was to transform the park … to transform that experience of walking around campus into an encounter with global issues and I do feel it was really successful because the flags in the park were really an interruption in the mindless walking to class,” Westerman said.
Other events included a meditation session held by the Association of University Meditators on Wednesday and a teach-in on Thursday. The teach-in, which was led by history professor Jon Wiener was entitled “Give Peace a Chance: A Song and a Strategy” and focused on how works such as John Lennon’s song “Give Peace a Chance” blend art and social change.
Still, as far as aesthetics go the flags flying in Aldrich Park were the focal point of the week. Created by roughly 30 groups, the flags showcased a variety of messages ranging from the Armenian Genocide to the United States War in Iraq.
Adrian Tripp, a Flying Samaritans member and fourth-year biological science major, explained how his group chose to focus on the conflict in Peru for their flag designs.
“I had been to Peru through a medical mission and I had actually seen some protests … I wasn’t really too aware [of] at the time … I saw the conflict listed as one of the possible choices and … to satisfy my personal curiosity, I started researching it a little bit more, and we kind of went form there,” Tripp said.
Although the event was pulled off seamlessly, a lot of work went into preparing the flags themselves prior to their exhibition. Jessica Wearing, the vice-chair of Campaign for Conscience and fourth-year psychology and social behavior major explained the logistics of the event.
“There was just a lot of weird administrative stuff … ordering the fabric and ordering the pins and testing out a bunch of different pins on the fabric and seeing if [the flags] were waterproof. Finding out how to get the poles and how to string the flags up on the poles and [getting] a lot of permission … from all sorts of different student organizations … there was a lot,” Wearing said.
Campaign for Conscience’s meticulous planning proved to make participation relatively easy for several groups. Secon-year international studies major Emily Hetu, a member of Invisible Children, which raises awareness about education in northern Africa, emphasized how simple it was to participate in the group effort.
“The club that put it on, Campaign for Conscience, made it fairly easy just in terms of picking up the fabric … we worked as a team to put them up together so it wasn’t too challenging, it was more fun,” Hetu said.
Still, though it may have been attention-grabbing and easy to participate for student organizations involved, there are doubts that the UCI Peace Flag Project will be an annual event.
“It might happen again in the future, but I really doubt it would be an annual event. It’s a very expensive, very time consuming and very involved process,” Wearing said.
Westerman added that she was impressed by how many groups and individuals were willing to take part in the event and raise their level of political awareness.
“There are so many people in our community … that came together with hope for peace and that was a really moving thing to see,” Westerman said.