Memorial peace bench makes space for connection and dialogue
The Greater Tacoma Peace Prize honors peacemaker Bill Lincoln
The Norwegian American
In the firm belief that peace begins locally, the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize recognizes, supports, and advances peace-building and peacemaking for local residents and institutions, and for those they impact, in order to further promote, achieve, and sustain peace, justice, and reconciliation at home and abroad.
— Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Mission Statement
Along the Puget Sound waterfront in Tacoma, Wash., with a view of Mount Rainier, will soon stand a bench, slightly curved and with narrow ends. Called a “peace bench,” it is meant to be “a tangible symbol of dialogue and diplomacy, a place where people can meet, connect, and communicate with each other.”
The bench is sponsored by the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize (GTPP) in honor and memory of William (Bill) F. Lincoln, an internationally known peace advocate and trainer and a longtime Tacoma resident. Lincoln was the second Peace Laureate of the GTPP program, winning the honor in 2006. He also served on the board of directors for GTPP from 2015 until his death in March 2020.
Lincoln was well known for his contributions to peacemaking. When he was awarded the Greater Tacoma Peace Prize in 2006, he was working as president for the Lincoln Institute for Collaborate Planning and Problem Solving and as executive director of the Conflict Resolution, Research and Resource Institute, both organizations he founded in the late 1980s. He worked on many international mediation cases, including with the parties involved in the Guatemalan Peace Process, with Islamic and Christian factions in Sudan, and with former warlords in Afghanistan.
The design for the peace bench was carefully chosen as a symbol for peacemaking. Known as a “cleat bench,” it has a curved shape with narrow ends, encouraging people to sit closer together in the center, “to meet in the middle,” said Clare Petrich, a member of GTPP’s board of directors. It represents one of Lincoln’s core beliefs about peacemaking: that it begins with talking with one another. The bench offers people just that: a place to sit together and talk.
GTTP has deep roots in the Norwegian-American community in Tacoma. It was founded in 2005 by Tom Heavey, who at that time was the president of the Norden Sons of Norway Lodge and a recent veteran of the Iraqi War. The year 2005 marked the 100th anniversary of the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway, which made Norway an independent and sovereign nation. Members of the Tacoma Norwegian-American community wanted to honor this anniversary by celebrating one of the core characteristics of Norway: its commitment to peace. Heavey advocated for a peace prize inspired by the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in Oslo each December. On Syttende Mai 2005, the first Greater Tacoma Peace Prize was awarded to George F. Russell Jr.
Since its inaugural award in 2005, GTPP has named 16 laureates, all nominated by the local community and selected by the GTPP Board of Directors.
“We look for a person or organization who has a personal connection to the greater Tacoma area, with a verifiable and documented record of somehow and in some way working for peace,” explained Board President Janet Ruud. “If you look at past laureates, you’ll see a diverse and eclectic group of people who have approached peacemaking in myriad and diverse ways and who represent a wide range of interests, training, education, methodology, and experience.”
Each laureate has the opportunity to travel to Norway in their award year to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and meet with the organization’s Norwegian partners including the Norwegian Nobel Institute, the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue, and the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights.
This year’s laureate is Marilyn Kimmerling, an advocate for worker rights, minority rights, human rights, and climate justice. Due to the pandemic, Kimmerling was unable to go to Norway, instead meeting with the organizations partners via Zoom. With so much of the normal programming for the laureates put on hold this year, Kimmerling will continue to serve as the GTPP laureate through 2021.
The peace bench is expected to be installed and dedicated this spring. The GTPP team is still accepting donations for the bench; those who would like to donate may do so at www.tacomapeaceprize.org/get-involved/donate.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.