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.