By Michael True
Civil wars and drone attacks dominate the news, as negotiations to end hostilities in Afghanistan and Israeli/Palestine collapse. In Syria, the government victimizes its own people, including children, in an archipelago of torture chambers.
At the same time, peace activists and organizations transform conflict, and work to build a global civic culture. The popular media, however, provides few accounts of caregivers such as United Nations advisers and Doctors Without Borders who daily risk their lives to heal and to support vulnerable populations. Similar initiatives involve Peace Brigades International and Christian Peacemaker Teams who accompany workers and ordinary citizens to protect them from war’s violent network.
Over the past forty years, four hundred colleges, universities, and research centers are engaged in studying and developing theories and strategies essential to peacemaking, including conflict transformation, respect for human rights, and nonviolent intervention.
Activists and organizations in the Worcester area provide aid and services to victims of violence, and teach peacemaking skills. At Clark University, Assumption and Holy Cross colleges, courses in peace and conflict studies focus on the history of successful nonviolent campaigns over the past century that led to the overthrow of dictatorships in the Philippines, Yugoslavia, Egypt, and Libya.
The Center for Nonviolent Solutions, initiated in 2009, sponsors free workshops for students and teachers in the Worcester Public Schools. Last fall, through a grant from the Massachusetts Humanities and in cooperation with Clark University’s Jacob Hiatt Center for Urban Education, the Center sponsored a Teachers Professional Development Institute on Nonviolent Movements in the Modern World, which provided free graduate credits for teachers in the Worcester Area. At the concluding session, teachers from grades fifth through twelfth reported on how they incorporated aspects of the course in history and literature classes on the Troubles in Ireland, the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., and nonviolent resistance to the Nazis.
In a summer program at University Park Campus School, students will learn skills in mediation and cooperation preparing them to become peer mediators. The goal of the a Summer Academy for ninth graders is to “increase the peace” in school, at home, and on the streets as they in turn work with middle schoolers. The curriculum includes games, activities, and discussion related to the following questions: (1) How might we express anger in healthy ways? (2) How can we speak up against bullying and discrimination? (3) How could we become better peacemakers in our families and the community? The Center is also providing a Peer Mediation training for tenth graders from University Park Campus School.
Through its Community Mediation Services, the Center for Nonviolent Solutions sponsors thirty trained and experienced mediators available to assist people in transforming conflict to reach their own mutually acceptable agreements. Any case, with the exception of court-appointed or divorce, is welcome. More information is available on the Center’s website: www.nonviolentsolution.org
With support from local foundations and individuals, the Center also affirms and cooperates with local organizations that share its mission and provide help to people in times of crisis, including 1. YWCA and Daybreak, committed to empowering women and combating racism.2. Abby’s House, providing hospitality and counseling for women in need.3. St. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker, offering hospitality to homeless people as well as education and internships on issues of justice and peace.
4. Dismas House, a half-way house helping former inmates return to full citizenship.
5. Goods for Guns, Injury Free Coalition for Kids, and the Men’s and Women’s Anger Management Program at University of Massachusetts Medical School, in association with city agencies, cooperate in sustaining peace in the community.
Throughout the U.S., various organizations construct peace through on-the-ground community-building and legislative lobbying. Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) with a national office in Nyack, New York, and a regional office in Connecticut, for example, have been active for almost a century through Children’s Creative Response to Conflict (CCRC) and workshops and training sessions in nonviolence.
In recent years, School of Americas Watch, Ft. Benning, Georgia, and Voices in the wilderness, Chicago, have devoted themselves to resisting injustice and militarism, working “to build a new society in the shell of the old” and to offer alternatives to violence in particular settings. Similar commitments inform communal efforts involving members of the following organizations:
1. The Catholic Worker Movement, through over 100 houses, farms, and homeless shelters in the U.S. alone, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, and engages in nonviolent resistance to war, militarism, and injustice. Several members have endured years in prison for civil disobedience against the manufacture and distribution of nuclear weapons. As a result of recent protests against drone attacks in the Middle East that kill innocent civilians, members from Ithaca, New York, spent time in prison; as did other members at the NATO summit in Chicago, for demonstrating against ”the militarization of the globe at the expense of human and environmental needs,” Newsletters from Houses of Hospitality in Los Angeles, Hartford, Des Moines, and Lower Manhattan document their commitment to healing the social order and working, as their co-founder, Peter Maurin said, to build a society “where it is easier for people to be good.”
2. Pace e Bene, Oakland, California, co-founded by a Franciscan monk, leads nonviolence training sessions recently for national protests in Chicago during a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NAT)). The organization publishes a manual for nonviolence training, supports Vietnam Veterans Against War, and maintains offices in Chicago, Las Vegas, and Montreal.
3. War Resisters League (WRL), New York City, has maintained active programs and provided rich resources since 1921, including its annual leaflet, “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes.” The latter flyer points out that in 2013, 47 % of the national budget will fund U.S. military appropriations larger than all military budgets in the world combined. WRL also supports war tax resistance, organizes demonstrations against wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and publishes information on events and activities important to the history of nonviolence in the U.S.
4.American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Philadelphia, a Quaker organization, maintains regional offices in Northampton, MA and Concord, NH, as well as in other parts of the world. Founded in 1917 and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, AFSC a model for other peacemakers, through its programs and legislative lobbying to halt discrimination and to promote economic justice. An AFSC exhibit in Providence, now through August 25, 2012, “Windows and Mirrors: Reflections on the War in Afghanistan,” includes free exhibits, programs, and films at the University of Rhode Island Providence Campus, 80 Washington St. More information at email@example.com
5.Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA), Prescott, Arizona, involves academics from throughout the U.S. and Canada, including peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies programs at Notre Dame, Berkeley, George Mason, Tufts and Brandeis universities, as well as the three local institutions mentioned above. Since a Pastoral Letter of American bishops, “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response,” 1983, encouraged Catholic institutions to become centers for peace research, Catholic institutions such as Georgetown, St. John’s and St. Benedict’s, University of San Francisco, and many others have developed sophisticated programs. Traditional peace churches, Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren, which sponsor Swarthmore, Goshen and Manchester colleges, respectively, were among the first institutions to initiate peace and conflict studies. The International Peace Studies Association (IPRA), co-founded by Kenneth and Elise Boulding, Johan Galtung, and other scholars from around the globe
has grown substantially since 1965, ,preparing students for internships and professional appointments at the United States Institution of Peace, Washington, D.C., and other agencies involved in peacekeeping initiatives.
Through UNESCO, UNHCR, and UNICEF, the United Nations is responsible for peacekeeping around the globe, with teams involved in dangerous areas on the verge of war and others involved in rebuilding civil society after a war.
Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP), Minneapolis and Brussels, pays experienced peacemakers from many countries to intervene in dangerous environments, such as Sri Lanka, Mindanao, Guatemala, and Sudan. Its training for staff has received wide recognition for its effectiveness. The goals of the Nonviolent Peace Force include creating a space for fostering lasting peace between warring factions, and protecting civilians made vulnerable because of deadly conflict. Nobel Laureates, activists from every continent, and women’s religious orders, whose nuns work among vulnerable populations in the Philippines and Africa, have been particularly supportive of Nonviolent Peaceforce since it began in 1999. A recent initiative is “Unarmed Civilian Peacemaking: Being There When It Matters Most,”
A noteworthy characteristic of the organization is the modesty of its claims. “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once,” according to one member,” but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
Other agencies with particular missions and responsibilities operating internationally include the following:
1. Albert Einstein Institution (AEI), Boston. AEI is a major research center devoted to reducing reliance on violence as an instrument of policy. Founded by Gene Sharp, its publications on the strategic use of nonviolent action in diverse conflicts are available in forty languages, many of them free on the internet at www.aeinstein.org AEI’s scholarship and research, in films, such as “How To Start a Revolution,” publications, and consultations has been widely effective in promoting and sustaining movements to promote and to sustain democratic governance. Its insights nonviolent theory and strategy have been successfully applied in bringing down dictators in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and in resisting injustice, oppression, and genocide in many other countries.
2. International Peace Research Association Foundation (IPRAF), Atlanta. IPRAF provides small research grants and fellowships for Third World Women to gain graduate degrees at major universities throughout the world in peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies. In association with the International Peace Association Foundation (IPRA) and the United Nations, it supports a bi-annual conference of scholars, researchers, and activists, including its Nonviolent Commission, to benefit the educational needs of faculty and students around the globe.
3. Doctors Without Borders/Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF), Geneva. MSF, with five European operational center and nineteen national offices, has 26,000 physicians working in seventy countries upholding people’s rights to medical care regardless of race, color, creed, or national borders. Providing care in particularly acute crises, it also promotes international awareness of potential humanitarian disasters. It received the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize. A number of its members have sacrificed their lives in ministering to vulnerable and endangered populations, as it sustains programs in its outreach to other countries and regions.
4. Amnesty International (AI), London. Initiated in the 1960s, with members in 150 countries, including national centers and local groups, AI received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 “for its contribution to securing the ground for freedom, for justice, and thereby also for peace in the world.” Regarding people jailed for their religious and political beliefs as “prisoners of conscience,” AI has been responsible for the release of thousands of prisoners. Opposing the use of torture and the death penalty, it upholds the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and similar international agreements, and also recognizes gay men and lesbians imprisoned for their choice of sexuality as “prisoners of conscience.”
5. Human Rights Watch (HRW), New York City. HRW, initiated in the 1970s, opposes capital punishment and advocates freedom of religion and the press and basic human rights. Its reports draw international attention to abuses through fact-finding missions exposing social and gender discrimination, torture, military use of children, political corruption, and abuses by criminal justice systems. Its stories of successful interventions are powerful reminders of the importance of witnessing to incidents of violence, as a preliminary means of addressing and correcting injustice. Among its sponsors are the George Soros Foundation.
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In a world where violence threatens the lives and fortunes of people in neighborhoods, communities, and nations, professionals, activists, and ordinary citizens often risk their lives to construct peace cultures in violent contexts. Although occasionally recognized for their courage and effectiveness, they deserve wider recognition, through student initiatives, projects, and events essential to the common good. Their challenging and inspiring stories demonstrate the complexity of building, constructing, cultivating peace.
Through education and action, they encourage resistance to injustice and humiliation, resolution and transformation of conflict, and nonviolent social change, without killing or harming people. In doing so, they affirm the eight components of peacemaking cited in the UN document “Building a Cultures of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World,” which was adopted by 189 nations in the General Assembly in 1999.
Slowly, yet purposefully, we are trying to learn a new language that redefines the nature of peace, not as a “void” or “absence,” but as a “presence” or, in the words of Denise Levertov, as “an energyfield more intense than war.” This is the good news, amid the bad news surrounding us in a violent culture.”