Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Amit Basole, left, Rajani Kanth, Amy Fielding, Tung-Yi Kho, Berce Abplanalp, Kathy Hawkins prepare for conference on world peace.

Sure it sounds implausible, but maybe world peace started this week in Kathy Hawkins' dining room in South Jordan.

Hawkins is chairwoman of the Congress of Planetary Initiatives, a conference of international peace activists and academics that begins today in Salt Lake City. As the name "Congress of Planetary Initiatives" might indicate, the group is not timid about its scope or its goals. More than just global, though not quite galactic, the name suggests that if we could view ourselves from above we'd see that all of us — President Bush and Osama bin Laden and the rest of us — are on this whirling sphere together.

The group's press release sums it up this way: "The Object is to locate all possible Areas of Agreement that can serve to foster a World-Wide Affiliation of Peoples who can, while maintaining and respecting Difference, sincerely find Common Cause that will sustain the continued existence of Planetary Life forms under threat today by both Violence and Greed."

The Congress of Planetary Initiatives, which runs today through Sunday at the Marriott University Park Hotel, will include remarks by Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and Bollywood actress and social activist Shabana Azmi, as well as 14 panels on the relationship of world peace and economics, bigotry, the environment, politics and a dozen other topics.

It is the conference's wide mix of ideas, Hawkins says, that sets it apart from other conferences about world peace — as well as its emphasis "not on ideology but on process."

At 46, Hawkins is the mother of 14 (including four adopted children), president of Charity Title Insurance Agency and chairwoman of the board of the Second Chair Foundation. Like the Congress of Planetary Initiatives itself, Hawkins has one foot in the real world and another in utopia.

Sitting at her dining room table earlier this week, as steering committee members from India and Singapore helped make conference name tags, Hawkins explained the congress's goals with a metaphor she knows well: child-rearing.

"Let's just say your whole family is fighting," she began. "If you get them talking, that won't mean they won't ever fight again — but if you don't get them talking, the fighting will never stop."

The congress works on the principles of dialogue set forth by the late physicist David Bohm, who postulated that conversation between people and nations requires confronting our own prejudices and fears, and then working together to create a shared idea. At this weekend's conference, participants will dialogue in small groups and eventually vote on action plans. All that dialoguing will later be put on the group's Web site (www.congress2007.net) so that people around the world can also vote on the initiatives.

Impetus for the congress began with Rajani K. Kanth, a professor of political economy and social anthropology at the University of Utah who is currently a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. "I think our governments have failed us," says Kanth. "So maybe we have to figure out a way to do it ourselves ... not just (non-governmental organization) to NGO but individual to individual."

His hope, he says, is that the people who attend this weekend's conference — a Bolivian, a Maori, a Pakistani, several Utahns and many others — will take the process to their own governments, which might eventually "remove war as a tool of policy."

The congress will also honor Salt Lake entrepreneur Dinesh Patel, who has helped sponsor the conference, and Salt Lake art gallery owner Bonnie Phillips, who is creator of the Golden Rule Project.


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