DENVER – It was like a 1960s Stones concert, and they were the Stones themselves.
A true rock-and-roll circus.
Metal detectors met the throngs of patrons waiting to get into Magness Arena, causing lines to spill around the block.
Denver resident Roy Eberly even bought his ticket from a scalper on the street minutes before the event.
“He asked me if I wanted a ticket and I said, ‘Hell yes!'” he said.
Everyone was eventually seated and excitement floated in the air. The mob broke into chants of “Peace Jam! Peace Jam!”
The rock stars of the weekend finally filed into the room and the crowd went wild.
They weren’t real rock stars. Not musically, at least.
But in terms of devotion of their “fans,” Mick and company don’t come close.
The ten leaders – five men and five women – are some of the most recognizable advocates of world peace still around today.
And they were all in Denver over the weekend for the Woodstock of peace intellectuals: The 10th anniversary celebration of the PeaceJam Foundation, where they issued a “global call to action.”
It was the largest gathering of Nobel laureates on U.S. soil ever.
Denver mayor John Hickenlooper called them “ten of the greatest people on Earth.”
The revered lot – 10 Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu – mingled with thousands of youngsters on Saturday from around the world at the University of Denver.
As the mayor delivered his introduction of the giants of peace, the Dalai Lama sat cross-legged and Tutu looked minute compared to the lanky Hickenlooper.
“Today we all have a front seat for a global discussion of peace,” the mayor said. “Change can happen in a lifetime.we can make it happen.”
Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica during the 1980s and a 1987 Nobel Peace laureate, was invited to a gathering of some 50 heads of state in Cuba, but declined so he could be in Denver for the conference.
“When these so-called non-allied countries gather, it is usually a platform to criticize the U.S.,” the former president said. “To be very honest, I am critical of Cuba’s regime. As a Latin American and a true democrat, I am very happy that we have been able to get rid of all dictatorships in Latin America except one.”
But if Arias wanted to avoid criticism of the United States, or at least its head honcho, then PeaceJam wasn’t exactly the place to be.
Betty Williams who, along with fellow PeaceJam-ite Mairead Corrigan Maguire, won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for her work toward an end in violence in Northern Ireland, told the story of an 11-year-old girl who tried to end hunger in an orphanage in Peru.
“A child of 11 has more intelligence than the president of the United States,” Williams said, causing uproarious audience approval. “Take your country back. Believe you can do it and you can do it.”
Ending world hunger was a thread throughout the weekend.
Adolfo Perez Esquivel won a Nobel Prize in 1980 for his human rights work in Latin America. He called on Americans to reject war, torture and the invasion of other countries, another clear jab at recent American foreign policy in the Middle East.
“Rather than wasting money on arms, we should use those resources to combat hunger,” he said. “How much does a fighter bomber cost? How many schools and hospitals could that build?
“How much could we spend on life if we didn’t spend on death and destruction?”
Rigoberta Menchu Tum got her Nobel Prize in 1992 by working as an advocate of native Indian rights in Central America and for her leadership among indigenous populations worldwide.
She said those who can must stand up for the rights of those who can’t.
“Millions of people suffer hunger, millions of people die from car accidents, millions don’t have water, millions don’t have a voice,” Menchu’s translator echoed. “There are others who must speak on their behalf.”
Like other speakers, Tutu called on Americans to free their country from the grasp of its leaders. The 1984 Nobel Prize winner who battled apartheid in South Africa praised Americans for their moral support in the fight against apartheid.
“You people of the U.S. are wonderful people,” he said. “Here we are now, free, in a democratic society and you helped us.so how come you permit Guantanamo Bay?”
Derry Dodd, 55, of Denver, walked out of the theater at the end of the discussion with a big smile on her face. She said people must learn to understand other beliefs.
“Basically what Tutu said is that the U.S. used to be this wonderful beacon of light to the oppressed and now we are seen as ruthless tyrants; gun-toting cowboys who don’t give a damn,” she said.
And even Arias doled out some criticism of the U.S.
“The U.S. spends almost a half trillion on military and only a fraction of that on human aid,” he said. “We need security not just from bombs and guns but from disease and hunger.”
News managing editor Vimal Patel contributed to this report.
Staff writer Kevin Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.