Monday, October 17, 2011

Forcing the violence out of our institutions

"A true peace would eliminate the overt and structural violence."
--Kent D. Shifferd (2011, p. 103)

What Dr. Shifferd means by this statement is that peace is a misleading word unless it means nonviolence. Seeking peace by threatening to arrest or otherwise harm someone seeking justice by nonviolent means is part of structural violence. When the structures of society enforce inequality and disparity, those institutions will be challenged, even if they are challenged in a rudimentary fashion.

I was an inmate in the Washington DC jail (not a recommended experience for anyone feeling entitled to decent treatment--it was by far the worst jail I was ever in). I had a cellie named Shorty, an African American man with six children. He was a self-employed bricklayer. It was mid-winter and Shorty had been out of work for several weeks. He was in jail for shoplifting about $5 worth of food from Safeway, he told me, and the corporation was pressing charges. Shorty had been in this fix before, he said, so this time might mean several years in prison. I call this structural violence. Shorty was simply trying to feed his family. "I can't get unemployment because I work for myself," he told me. High-paying union bricklaying jobs with unemployment insurance and other benefits for an African American man in his 40s were scarce. Shorty did his very best, never harmed anyone except a massive corporation a very very little bit, and was arrested at gunpoint and locked in a cage (with a peace hippie) and would be tried and likely sent to another cage for a long time.

When everyone has enough to eat, health care and housing, we will be much closer to real peace.

When laws exist to protect people first and corporations second, we will be much closer to true peace.

When laws are enforced with nonviolence instead of guns, we will almost be there.

Positive peace, or true peace in Shifferd's terms, is peace and justice by peaceable means.

That means we fight using nonviolence. Nonviolence is a peaceable method of fighting for justice. Conflict is forever. Justice is something we can disagree about and fight for--and when we do that using nonviolence we engage in collaborative learning, which is to say, we all educate each other. We learn to look forward to constructive conflict as creative and as a way to problem-solve together, to work toward understanding our disagreements by appreciating and validating each other's experience and processing all our knowledge together. Is this easy? No. Is it fast? No. Is it efficient? Well.....yes. It means that we take the time to really 'get' each other and we come to conclusions and solutions that are richly informed and sustain much longer. This takes planning, education, and training.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

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