Monday, August 24, 2009

New Bloggers Wanted

It's been just a wee bit quiet here for the past few months. Turns out some of our original crew got pulled hither and yon into new projects, and our little blogging experiment fell subject to, well, life.

A few of our friends have decided to focus more on other projects, but we all still think this is a worthwhile project, and that's where you come in.

Here's what we need: A dedicated peace-type with both feet planted firmly on the ground. Someone committed to making the world a better place, but who realizes that lots of dancing, singing, and hand holding won't fix things on its own. Someone confident in their own voice, willing to be a fierce advocate for a more peaceful, just world, and with brilliant ideas on how to get there. You don't have to be some revered sage of the field, just have the knowledge and background to add to the peace conversation.

Here's what you would do: We ask that each contributor write one 500-700 word post per month, and agree to a self-determined schedule (we use a shared Google calendar for this purpose). In addition, we need someone to do a The Week in Peace digest of news in the peace/conflict resolution/human rights world that may not have gotten a lot of attention, but is worth noting. If you want to help out just periodically, then the Peaceniks Forum is a great place to launch a conversation.

Here's how you apply: Hit the email button at the top of the page and drop us a note that includes a brief bio, a writing sample (or link thereto), and a rundown of what topics you might like to cover. If you want to know more about the blog, then visit the About page (which will of course be refreshed once we've got a new group assembled). We're excited about getting some new voices involved!

We really hope to hear from you (especially regularly on this here website), and please do pass this onto your friends. :) Thanks all!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Progress for Peace?

Looking back at the first month of 2009, I’m feeling pretty good about the progress that has been made on several fronts towards peace. Sure, all of a sudden it’s en vogue to be hopeful thanks to Obama, but I’ve long considered myself an optimist. However as a practical peacenik, its also my job to look at the situation on the ground and the real prospects for peace, not just to hope it will be so.

2009 started off pretty rough with the escalation of conflict in the West Bank. And things are still very tenuous in the region. But despite the lack of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, I believe the engagement of the Obama administration from day one through their envoy George Mitchell is incredibly important. I don’t think that the US can fix the situation, nor that its our place to do so. The situation is far too complex for the US to believe it can swoop in and broker peace in the Mideast. But even Obama’s rhetoric is an important sign that the US is committed to being engaged in the peace process in pragmatic way. According to yesterday’s editorial in the Washington Post, “Obama has already recognized that closing an Israeli-Palestinian deal on a two-state settlement is not a realistic aim for now; instead, he has spoken of providing "a space where trust can be built." Even the ability to understand and speak about the nuances of the situation is an important sea change.

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, Rwanda finally arrested General Laurent Nkunda, Tutsi soldier who has been central to the atrocities in Eastern DRC. This weekend at a pre-African Union Summit conference, national leaders from the Great Lakes region hailed the arrest of General Nkunda. And described his arrest as a positive contribution to regional peace. Leaders also indicated that Lord's Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony is the next target. The improvement of relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo is critical to bringing peace to Eastern DRC and addressing the devastating impact of the conflict on people in that region.

Provincial elections were held in Iraq on Saturday and, according to the New York Times, “something has changed and that whatever happens next, Iraq will not return to the way it was.” The hope is that these elections will provide “a more peaceful approach to settling disagreements among factions about the shape of the country.” While I am skeptical about elections in a country still at war, the fact that these elections seem to have caused insurgents on both sides to quell the violence and participate in the elections is a very good sign. At a time when President Obama is looking to draw down US troops, a move that I agree with, peaceful and legitimate elections were critical.

What else has happened this month that has promoted or postponed peace?... We’d love your input

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

You be the Judge

This is the 1st of a series on judgment, perception, and media.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we all judge even without the presence of all the facts surrounding the person, event, or situation. An (immediate) judgment causes an individual to react in two ways: accusation or exculpation (seeking goodness). We judge based on our perception of others such as in situations when we go to work, waiting in the grocery line, or deciding on who is the better candidate. We judged Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Today, we judge President-elect Barack Obama.

Lately I have been watching my own judgments and wondering how my biases influence my attitude. Where did this inclination develop from – childhood, college, media? How does that affect the supposedly educated decisions I make on a daily basis? Does my judgment limit my decisions?

It is an exciting moment to witness the inauguration of the first black President, Barack Obama. I can see how he has truly inspired many individuals to want to “change” their actions and attitudes to become a better American, particularly today as we celebrate the life of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, Rev. King’s message is so much more alive. However, I am noticing that there are still many people who are missing Rev. King’s message as it ties in significantly in today’s U.S. Presidential Inauguration. Simply put, Rev. King’s message emphasized a non-violent approach for global equality.

The Iraq War has shattered our world power image. The U.S. has to decide whether we should remain a world power (by overshadowing our global partnerships) or become a world player (by engaging the global community). President-elect Obama understands the importance of the latter through various avenues such as consensus building with both friends and foes. However on a local level, I am witnessing how certain acquaintances, colleagues, and media opinions are judging this initiative. Comments with overarching themes from having little faith with a black man’s contribution to society to his eagerness to create a socialist America astound me. Why do they have this perception? What is their judgment based on? Did they not see the need for global partnerships or the active engagement of President-elect Obama’s initiatives so far? However, after reflecting on these judgments, I wonder if fear plays a huge hand in response to change.

Fear of the unknown practically paralyzes ones ability to actively listen to various viewpoints. Fear limits are ability to listen and to take the time to ponder. Do these limitations reflect the lack personal inexperience/interaction (with a minority community) [or the lack of understanding of economic theories of social organization (‘socialism is not communism’)]? Do they not take the time to think about their judgments? Is life so “fast-track”, that we do not take the time to ponder? So I wonder, how will we judge Obama as a black man, Obama as our President, or will we simply take the time to look at his decisions? Will we consider the circumstances or be quick to react? You be the judge.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Required Reading Alert

As those of us in the United States prepare for a long weekend that marks a national day of service, the commemoration of a fallen civil rights leader, and the inauguration of a new president, I encourage you to take five minutes to read this piece, no matter what country you hail from. The author was killed, very much in the way he described, just a few days before it was published.

Hat tip: wronging rights.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Choose Your Own Peacebuilding Adventure

Over on the Peace and Collaborative Development Network, Craig Zelizer posted 10 Actions for Peace in 2009. In general, I think his list is a bit... academic. Nonetheless, his item number 10 was, basically, create your own, so here goes.

Assuming we're talking about positive peace, with its implicit reduction/absence of structural violence, and bearing in mind that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," we can start to think of promoting peace in much more activist terms. Regardless of where we are in the world, most of us can probably walk down the street or drive down the road and see signs of injustice right around us. Those could include the shoddy state of schools in poor areas, veterans panhandling on the street, prisons full of men of color, referenda held on the rights of particular groups, watching the news and seeing civilians being killed by advanced armies, or companies where white men take the offices while women and people of color fill the cubicles and the production lines. So what, then, can we do?

Though this blog and my own interests remained focused largely on international issues of peace and justice, we should be mindful not to ignore the injustices we encounter in our own backyards. As Martin Luther King pointed out throughout his career, we cannot have peace locally, nationally, or globally, when unjust structures and systems are holding somebody -- anybody -- down. If we sit and think about it for a moment, that makes the absence of peace in this world seem massive, and it is, but rather than be daunted by that, we must instead rise to the challenge it presents.

In my day job, we discuss and promote the international exchange of students and scholars, and I believe strongly that promoting the international exchange of ideas is important to promoting international peace and understanding. Yet at the same time, discussing national policies and their international impacts seems a bit stratospheric. It's sometimes hard to feel connected to the effects of your work when you're merely a ripple in an ocean. Thus over the summer I started to get involved in activist work to ensure that the DC government complies with and enforces its own human rights law, which is one of the most progressive in the nation. My particular efforts, with many friends and seasoned activists young and old, have been around ensuring that the law is respected as it applies to transgender inmates in the DC jail. This issue is leaps and bounds away from my day job, but it's important. It's an "injustice anywhere" kind of issue, and it matters to world peace, even if you can't immediately see the connection (and I assure you, it's hard to make the mental jump).

Over the holiday, I read Lisa Schirch's Little Book of Strategic Peacebuilding (an even shorter introduction to her concepts can be found here), which was a helpful reminder of how big building peace really is. In the book, she describes the concept of justpeace, which assumes that peace cannot exist without justice, and that if justice is pursued through violent means, it undermines peace. She goes on to describe how maximize resources and foster collaboration to ensure a successful peacebuilding process.

I've often thought of building peace as being similar to building a house. You draw a plan, prepare the land, lay the foundation and work up from there. It's not a small undertaking, and it can't be done singlehandedly, but each of us can find a way to help a friend build a house, just as we can each find a way to build peace in the world. The size of the task is sometimes incomprehensible, but collectively, we have the means to finish the job.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It Begins Now

Tonight I went to watch election results with some friends, but started to walk back home as we were nearing time for California and the rest of the West Coast to be called. I knew when all was said and done when seemingly in unison, whole apartment buildings started screaming. Fireworks started going off. There was literally singing on the streets. Cab drivers were going up the street honking their horns, pedestrians were cheering each other on. It was a beautiful sight.

Eight years of misrule were repudiated tonight right here in the streets of DC. As I walked the mile or so from Woodley Park to Adams Morgan where I live, the wave of joy continued to overtake me and all those around me. As I neared the busy intersection of 18th and Columbia, I could literally hear a roar of excitement. People were walking down the streets singing the "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours!"

This night is historic on so many fronts that I don't even know where to begin, and don't think I will. President-elect Obama (!!!!) hasn't gone on stage yet, but we've already heard an exceptionally gracious concession speech from Senator McCain, and I truly wish we had heard more of that John McCain during the campaign than we did.

Yet the hard work now lies ahead of us, in spite of the hard work of the past two years. Electing Barack Obama as President of the United States is the first step towards correcting this country's course, not the last. We'll need to fight to hold this president accountable, just like all the others.

But for now, we celebrate. This is our time, and this is our future. If nothing else, we've already seen tremendous progress based solely on the fact that some 100 million Americans are believed to have voted in this election. That's a damn site better than we've had before, and that's a tremendously good sign. Now let's keep up the momentum, and push ourselves to greatness.

I've been repeating this all week, and perhaps it's trite, but hard work like this is how we grant ourselves peace.

Kids Vote

I voted first thing this morning. All told it took about an hour and felt sooo good. Ah democracy. Don't fail us now.

Then I went back to middle school. No, really. I'm spending the day with some 8th graders at a Middle School in Minneapolis talking about global citizenship. I'm making the connection between the right and responsibility to vote and the responsibility to understand issues beyond our borders and take action to resolve global issues or respond to injustices.

At the beginning of class, the students get to vote and the comments I've been hearing have varied. Some highlights include, "do I have to?" (teacher's answer: no - its your right as a citizen to abstain from voting), "what are these other categories?" (of course, people know about the presidential race, and maybe the senate races, but not much beyond that), "it's stupid just to vote based on race" (there was an interesting discussion/argument about this in the largely African American class) and "all these people are running for president?" (this girl was appalled that she hadn't heard of them...which I can understand. The teacher said it was their fault that they hadn't gotten their name out there more...which is a pretty oversimplified explanation, but it wasn't really the time to go into party politics). Anyway, it's been an interesting morning. (Oh and in case you're's lunchtime:)

And just to make the connection between peace and this election, I just want to point out how lucky we are that we don't have to fear a military coup, rebellion or violent uprisings at the end of the day. Sure some people may not be happy with the result. But even 8 years ago when we didn't have a clear winner there was no mass violence. We don't hear about everything, and I'm sure there have been some instances of intimidation, but when you compare our election to so many others, I think we should all feel pretty lucky that our election is so peaceful. Even if it is long as hell.

Secret Ballot

Often when someone asks me who I voted for I say, "None of your business." I truly believe in the secret ballot yet with this election I find myself asking people who they are voting for and am regretting it later. I regret it because I find myself judging them.

Once the nominees were narrowed down to Obama and McCain my parents were hassled by both me and my brother to vote for one or the other. I was putting the Obama pressure on while my brother was canvassing for McCain. My mother felt most of the pressure since she was more undecided than my father and yesterday when I asked who she voted for she refused to answer, yet I continued to prod with psychological games. I blatantly disrespected her right to choose. Even now I am assuming she voted for McCain because she won't tell me.

To think she voted for McCain angers me for no good rational reason. My mother isn't the only person in my life who I have reason to believe voted for McCain and it all because I've asked that damn question, "Who did you vote for?" So, to save myself some anger and to practice a little patience I am vowing not to ask anyone else this question!

In the the end this will probably make me a more peaceful person. :)