San Francisco, CA, June 2nd, 2010 - If there is ever an unlikely trio to encounter Josh Stieber, Salam Hassan and Conor Curran would embody it. These three men, in different circumstances, may have been firing guns at each other, but after stepping away from violence these Iraq War veterans and their Iraqi refugee friend have joined forces to spread a message of peace.
Their cross-country journey dubbed, "The People's Journey," is a continuation of a trek Stieber completed last year which he called, "The Contagious Love Experiment."
A soldier turned conscientious objector, Stieber, 22, decided since he believed war creates more problems than it solves, he would embark on a journey to learn about, promote, and invest his military pay in peaceful alternatives. His trip began in early summer 2009 in Washington D.C. and for 3000 miles, Stieber used his own body-strength to reach San Francisco by both foot and bicycle.
While Stieber was passing through Ohio he met Curran, 26, a former Marine and fellow Iraq War veteran. The two decided to complete the remainder of the trip together. It wasn't until their last stop that the two veterans met Hassan, an Iraqi refugee, who hosted the men at his house during their stay in San Francisco.
"At Salam’s house we were sitting together in a circle smoking tobacco hookah (a custom the men picked up in Iraq), and we just started laughing, thinking that only few years ago we might have been shooting at each other," says Curran. "We became such good friends right off the bat that it was just laughably absurd to think that at one point we had been out to kill each other."
The message these men are spreading may be a bit surprising, as they have certainly surprised some peace groups they have spoken with along the way.
Stieber blogged about an experience at an anti-war rally where a Dick Cheney effigy was beheaded, "Disgusted, I grabbed my girlfriend’s hand and stormed away from the entire march." Instead of perpetuating a cycle of hate, the goal of Stieber and the People's Journey is to move beyond returning violence with more violence and hatred. They wish to identify opposing world views which keep mankind apart. They aim to constructively stir-up a compassionate spirit in people--to promote understanding, cooperation and compromise in place of divisiveness, violence and fear.
The Peoples Journey brings together a contemporary group of first-hand witnesses of war to travel and speak across the U.S.. Each member of the group offers important perspectives regarding the state of our world today. Stieber deployed in the Army unit which made international headlines in the Wikileaks, "Collateral Murder," video and has been actively speaking on his experiences. Hassan shares the perspective of an Iraqi living under both Saddam's regime as well as the U.S. occupation. Curran's journey regards his diagnosis with PTSD and his path to healing. Along the way, these men will be joined from halfway across the world via Skype by, “Our Journey to Smile,” a group of Afghan youth campaigning for peace, oftentimes through YouTube. Halfway through the trip two adolescent girls from the Gaza Strip, Salma Shawa and Laila Samahadana and their American chaperone, Pam Bailey, plan to join the tour to tell their stories.
Stieber’s blog of his previous experiences and details on The People's Journey can be found at: http://contagiousloveexperiment.wordpress.com/the-peoples-journey/
The eclectic group will begin their journey in San Francisco at the start of June, circling the country and speaking in major cities thru the month of July. The Peoples Journey will hold a potluck dinner and discussion on Wednsday, June 2nd, at the Sacramento St. Co-Housing Community on 2220 Sacramento St. @ Allston in Berkeley, CA 94702 (four blocks from North Berkeley BART). The dinner and discussion will take place from 6:00 to 8:00 in the evening and is open to all, and it is greatly appreciated for those attending to bring a dish for the potluck.
For more information, visit: http://contagiousloveexperiment.wordpress.com/the-peoples-journey/