On Thanksgiving Day in 1983, Sesame Street aired one of its most memorable episodes, acknowledging the passing of actor Will Lee. For many kids of the ’80s, it was their first lesson about death. Here’s the full episode with commentary.
One of the core beliefs of Music in the Key of Peace is that grassroots organizing is fundamentally important in any sort of peace-directed work. Politicians and governmental bureaucrats are well-known for being out of touch, or at the very least politically unable to afford to be completely in touch, with the people affected by their policies who are just trying to live their own lives in peace. One example of this happening right now in the Israel/Palestine conflict is the cut in funding that will prevent Sharaa Simsim (a.k.a. the Palestinian production of Sesame Street) from being able to air any episodes this year.
Now, no one (to my knowledge) made a deliberate decision to specifically stop Sharaa Simsim from being produced, and I am not going to state an opinion in any way on the actions and decisions that led to that happening. Essentially, after Palestine submitted a bid to the UN for statehood, the US congress stopped sending funding that it had sent in the past. This funding was the reason that Sharaa Simsim was able to be produced. Regardless of anyone’s feelings on the Palestinian statehood bid and the United States’ reaction, I think that most people can agree that as far as unintended consequences go, children’s educational programming being canceled is pretty bad.
This whole event—national political moves decided on by those in positions of power ending up having an unexpected negative result for completely uninvolved children—is another reminder of why grassroots efforts are needed. Again, no matter how you feel about the events that led to this on either side, it’s still sad and unfortunate that the fallout included children losing out on educational programming. This is why there is such a need for smaller, more focused programs which are specifically geared toward children and education, and aren’t completely dependent on governmental whims to keep going. Government funding can be very nice, but if it’s all a program has to keep going, it can leave them in a bit of a bind; they’re not just beholden to their communities and those they solve, they also have the government to answer to. And, as this event shows, they can feel the impact of decisions made by politicians they’re not affiliated with at all.
Music in the Key of Peace is committed to supporting and raising awareness of nonprofit organizations working for peace, especially those involving children. One of the programs we partner with is Ein Bustan, an Arab-Jewish Waldorf school. All children deserve an education, and they deserve one free of bias and prejudice. At Ein Bustan, children who might otherwise never have interacted (despite living in the same town) play together and are taught in both Hebrew and Arabic. If there is to ever be peace between Arab and Jewish Israelis, or Israelis and Palestinians, programs like that are where it starts.
When programs are helped by grassroots efforts and individual donations, it’s easier for them to stay true to their original ideals instead of catering to or being at the whim of a bureaucracy. Of course, government funding is often helpful and sometimes necessary, but it’s still worth working toward not having to rely on it to survive.
Children are not symbols, they are not political pawns, they are not tools to score political points. They are children, full stop. Educating children well and deliberately teaching them not to hate or judge others is a huge step in moving toward ending conflicts such as the ones between Arabs and Jews, or between Israelis and Palestinians. But too many organizations that exist to serve children are dependent on large bureaucratic forces outside their control to do such vitally important work. And programs that fund them are too preoccupied with larger-scale, national matters to be able to concern themselves with the individuals and smaller programs their actions are affecting. Those who want to do work to help children and work for peace are often able to do much more when that is all they do, as opposed to organizations who fund such work in a trickle-down way almost as an afterthought.
One group of politicians tried to do something and some other politicians didn’t want them to, so they took away some money they had previously been giving them. This is of course a massive oversimplification, but the details of the motivations and actions taken aren’t the issue here. The issue is that because of political machinations and disagreements, children are losing out on a program that provided them with education and showed them how to treat each other with kindness. This is yet another reason why smaller, grassroots organizations whose funding is intended solely to go to programs that benefit children—organizations like Music in the Key of Peace and our partners—are so important in movements for peace.