Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fundamental problems

"As Afghan and Western governments explore reconciliation with the Taliban, women fear that the peace they long for may come at the price of rights that have improved since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001" (Rubin, 2010).

As usual, warmakers have fought their way straight into a pickle. They invaded Afghanistan rather than negotiate for the arrest and extradition of Osama bin Laden to face charges of terrorism after 9.11.01. This invasion was done by armed force, killing thousands of Afghans and driving many into the insane embrace of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. The Americans--who had shown zero interest in women's rights in the 1980s, when they were funding the precursor mujahedeen factions to both the Taliban and al-Qa'ida--were now claiming that their invasion was really justified in part by how many wonderful rights they were bringing to Afghan women.

At this point, if they could have, Afghan women would have been best off distancing themselves from such 'liberators.' As Arundhati Roy said at the time, "Are we to believe that the American Marines are invading Afghanistan on a feminist mission?" It's not as though the Bush regime had expressed a single thought on the status of the women and girls of Afghanistan before 9.11.01, even though the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan had been trying and trying to get the world to notice their plight ever since the American-funded muj had driven out the Soviets in the 1980s (who also used women's liberation as their raison d'guerre and as one justification for their occupation, carrying on in the tradition of the previous imperial occupiers, the British, whose line about women in the Middle East and Central Asia was always that they were helping women to advance).

Women in Afghanistan seem to be either the chattel of their men or the hastily inserted casus belli for various invaders. So the empires East and West are forever prescribing women's rights for Afghanistan at the point of a gun, and guess what? That works about as well as installed democracy at gunpoint. Not well at all. Invariably, as soon as the occupying empire is kicked out--and they all are--women suffer an even worse backlash, shoved back into their homes in slavery to their King Kong men, and if they absolutely must go out they need to suit up for it in yards of canvas and netting, like a human tent.

So, wonders the meddling bleeding hearts, how do we get rights for the women of Afghanistan? Answer: we don't. They will get them for themselves once we get out of their way. Once others stop emasculating their men, their men can relax and stop proving that they can rule over something, even if it's only their women and children. Once we engage Afghan men and women with nuanced communication and make reparations for war damages and guarantee we are done invading or paying others to use violence in their country, we can have a good faith discussion. We need to make peace before we can even offer support to indigenous Afghan women in any meaningful way. Even well meaning Greg Mortenson is now backing the US military and military aid in his erstwhile elicitive and helpful program to help educate Afghan girls. He's gone over the line without realizing it and ultimately his own work will all be undone, every bit of it, because he is now perceived by more and more Afghans as a part of the military, violent, warring factions that send out men to rampage.

This is the contamination of violence, like a parts per billion pollution of a lake. A bit of violence makes the conflict waters--which used to generate clean creativity and productive critical thinking--poisoned. Nonviolence with the discipline that says the real test of nonviolence is when some violence is used and the response is nonviolence--that discipline keeps the conflict waters pure and potable. The minute you add violence all discussion is fraught with fear and hidden agendas. Oh, I'll say this because otherwise that party might inflict violence on me, or the ones I care about. And it breeds the passive aggression that keeps humanity simmering and ready to pass along oppression and violence where it can. If I come in at gunpoint and tell the man to allow his wife out without her burqa, what do I really think will happen? The women know. They come out without the burqa and try to enjoy the minute of liberation, knowing that as soon as the foreign guns leave, they will be beaten and crammed back into slavery.

It's not a hard phenomenon to predict. Muslims in some regions are as behind the times as US southern whites were for many years. Indeed, the psychological roots are essentially identical and the behaviors and rhetoric are stone similar. Ending oppression at gunpoint doesn't end the desire to oppress; it strengthens it. And those who go down in defeat in war are almost always more violent in their interpersonal lives. Two US studies on which sector of the US population resorts the most quickly to violence in interpersonal conflict showed clearly that southern white males are the most insecure about their honor and fastest to take offense and strike out violently (Pruitt, 2009)--and, naturally, they are disproportionately represented in the military, a legal and lethal outlet for the descendants of the losing side in the US Civil War, which northerners believe is over and for which southerners are still exacting vengeance. Violence and nonviolence alike tend to breed themselves. Use nonviolence and you don't reinforce the need to dominate the vulnerable ones. Use violence and you create fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Hindus, or whomever. It's not a tough concept--the inputs into a system will affect the outputs. And the effects last for generations. It's a long, long process, requiring unilateral change or the change won't happen. We should get started.

Pruitt, Dean G. (2009). Experimental research on social conflict. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 102-118.

Rubin, Alissa J. (2010, July 30). Afghan Women Fear the Loss of Modest Gains. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Friday, July 30, 2010

Staunching the flow

Except for crazed warmongers and those who profit from the war system, no one wants war, nor bloody attack. Thus, reason would suggest, we who wish to work toward a mitigation of such anthropogenic catastrophes would do well to pay attention to the research that suggests ways to manage conflict without bloodshed.

A popular idea is to arm one's self, one's protectors, and one's nation to the teeth, on the theory that doing so is the path to deterrence. The reasoning is that knowing that our enemies know that attacking us is going to lead to their own annhilation prevents them from doing so.

Fair enough. What if, however, there are other methods of deterrence, of assuring damage that doesn't kill or wound or even starve others? Would that also serve as a deterrent to any threatening adversary? What does the research tell us about this?

One interesting 2006 study by Jacob Bercovitch (New Zealand professor of International Relations) and Robert Trappl (head of the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Vienna) concludes that conflicts that are shorter, that haven't yet produced many fatalities, and that are between parties of comparable power levels are far more amenable to mediation, that is, to nonviolent management.

This suggests that when we see conflict brewing, that is the time to jump in to promote discussion, before the positions are set in concrete. For many developing conflicts, this could lead to a good outcome. A sort of global conflict antennae detection system has been proposed since at least 1957, when it was theorized in the premier issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution. Since we are so busy funding war and preparation for war, humanity has not gotten around to this yet, even though it would likely save enormous amounts of money and lives.

This research also would say that we might ask about the definition of power. If, for instance, an adversary were told that certain behaviors would result in the leadership of that party (nation, nation-state, insurgency, armed challenger group) being hurt--not physically, but in loss of income, resources, influence, ability to travel, possibly even freedom--that might change the power equation enough to produce a nonviolent negotiated path to better management of the conflict. In other words, threatening the leadership of, say, a genocidal government with incarceration, might work to slow and stop the genocide (unless, as in the example of Darfur, the African Union called for the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrants against Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir to be suspended while the continental body carries out a probe into alleged genocide in Darfur--thus dramatically ending the credibility of the International Criminal Court in Africa).

Or, in the case of deterring invasion, if the people of, say, the US were highly trained and committed to mass and virtually total noncooperation with any potential invading and occupying power, that would provide an interesting deterrent. Of course, for that threat to be effective, it would need to be credible, and our fat lifestyle and our civil society's sad history of failure to rise to the occasion (e.g. allowing George W. Bush and the US Supreme Court to blatantly steal the 2000 election) would make any potential invader scoff at such a threat. We would need to change our American way of life before that threat would hold any power.

But theoretically, we have all that power in civil society. Historically, we've seen the hints of that when civil society in South Africa decided to simply withhold cooperation from the apartheid government. As long as they were using insurgent violence with Umkonto we Siswe (the armed wing of the African National Congress, literally the Spear of the Nation), they were losing, the leaders (e.g. Nelson Mandela) stayed in prison, and the white minority ruled. When civil society stopped cooperating, apartheid crumbled. The same was true in India, when Gandhi called for hartal (cessation of societal activity, effectively a general strike) first in spring of 1919, and the British were terrified. Only when his own Indians committed violence did Gandhi call off the hartal. This was also the period when labor across the world was beginning to grasp that power and led to the formation of unions and collective bargaining. Many other examples, from Solidarity in Poland to the slowdowns in Chile as Pinochet's power was confronted, show that this power of withholding is power that might be organized for a substitute military.

Generating more research and making the real world examples manifest is a dual agenda for those who would like to see war begin to evaporate as a method of conflict management. The costs of war are so massive that no one has ever calculated them--the human lives, the national treasure, the environment, the reduction in all social services, the net loss of employment. Surely it's time to generate serious alternatives.

Bercovitch, J. and Trappl, R. (2006). Machine learning methods for better understanding, resolving, and preventing international conflict. In R. Trappl (Ed.) Programming for peace: Computer-aided methods for international conflict resolution and prevention. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. (Cited in Druckman, Daniel (2009). Doing conflict research through a multi-method lens. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 119-142, p. 129).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nested truths, cascading problems

"House Approves Money for Wars, but Rift Deepens, By ELISABETH BUMILLER and CARL HULSE, Published: July 27, 2010
WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives agreed on Tuesday to provide $59 billion to continue financing America’s two wars, but the vote showed deepening divisions and anxiety among Democrats over the course of the nearly nine-year-old conflict in Afghanistan."
--New York Times, 28 2010

We see at least five basic truths emerging from the Afiascostan situation.

One, Barack Obama baldly lied to us when he promised in his campaign that the days of funding wars via supplemental spending bills--acting as though an ongoing war were suddenly an unpredictable emergency--those days were done. Just elect me, he promised, and you'll never see that bait-and-switch again. We got gamed. This supplemental was voted in at his personal request.

Two, the war president and his pushbutton Senate and House war allies are committed to absolutely draining the American taxpayer of all lootable funds. All the idiot lights on the American societal dashboard are flashing red--unemployment is worsening, housing is sliding, BP has befouled the Gulf of Mexico for the next century, militarism has penetrated even the grade schools of our coarsening country with Starbase, we are wondering where our next energy meal is coming from--and yet these federal elected 'leaders' have just conspired to continue this incredible self-inflicted hemorrhage.

Three, this H.R. 4899 desanguination of both your paycheck and the social services available to you and yours is done despite a nearly Ellsbergian whistleblow on the war with the Wikileaks release of 91,000 documents that conclusively prove American war crimes in the conduct of the war. This corpus of open secret disclosures effectively shows yet again that all the US military is ultimately doing there is aiding al-Qa'ida and Taliban and other Islamist recruiting around the world.

Four, applying one bit of commonsense and human decency to this would result in the US ending its armed occupation of Afghanistan and launching a far less expensive rebuilding program via the UN. This would serve to dry up motivation to shoot, bomb, kidnap, stab and otherwise attack Americans. This cannot be done at gunpoint. Rebuilding America's image will be done by unarmed and unguarded people giving help, never by armed troops. We will do this with nonviolence--gasp!--or it will never be done. Never.

Five, the Republicans will fight tooth and nail against every single thing Obama might try to do for people on the ground. Their unity is mindlessly complete, forming a solid phalanx across access to help for the unemployed, the sick, those needing education, and simple household need for poor people. But give them a chance to vote more money for war and the bipartisan roses suddenly bloom, reddened by the blood of war victims on all sides and by the lifesblood of our culture and society. The Ds and Rs probably couldn't agree on whether the sun rises in the east, but they can find solidarity in war spending. A Reuters-Ipsos poll this week shows the Democrats-in-the-headlights will pay heavily for this next November 2.

At some point the US will downsize,

draw in its horns from its military forward power projection wars and bases, and assume a more normal stature amongst the world nations. The only question is, will the US be worth saving at that point or will we continue this literal insanity straight over the cliff? All signals are flashing, the klaxons are blaring, and somehow the country seems to be looking only at their entertainment centers for the next chapter in the Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton NewsShow. Militarism and the addiction to amusement while wearing Bad News Cancellation Headphones is our recipe for a long, slow, painful demise. We wonder if and when more might notice?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In memoriam: Sam Day, public peace intellectual

“One of my neighbors at the Minnehaha County Jail was an inmate in his thirties named Jeff, who made his living for a while as a rodeo clown.…taunting bulls is a habit not easily broken. Jeff exhibited it again on the afternoon of Monday, July 17, when he and I were ordered out of Cellblock C and told to get ready for the federal prison airlift. ‘Gee, that’s a good-looking suit,’ said Jeff, pleasantly, poking fun at the grim-faced marshal who approached him with handcuffs and waist chain. ‘Did they have one in your size?’”
—Sam Day, Jr., Crossing the line: From editor to activist to inmate—a writer’s journey, p. 216

Samuel H. Day, Jr. was a journalist who changed the practice from objective observer to conscientious participant. Sam went from reporting the news to making the news—especially since he found that the news was not acceptable.

Sam began his journalist’s career in Idaho, working for a newspaper. He became radicalized around the nuclear issue as uranium mining, open-air nuclear bomb testing, and radioactive waste forced everyone in the American West to think about it. Eventually, he took over the editorial reins at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a scholarly publication devoted to giving voice to the scientists who had been muzzled during the Manhattan Project and subsequent government employ. When that no longer was radical enough for Sam’s escalating concern about the imminent dangers of radiological weaponry and war in general, Sam took on the job of Managing Editor for The Progressive, the left-wing challenger periodical. While there, Sam helped design a story by Howard Morland on making an atomic bomb from publicly available information. The federal government attempted prior restraint and sent agents to visit Sam and Erwin Knoll, the Editor-in-Chief. Ultimately, Sam and the Progressive won that battle, but not before the fed agents had issued veiled threats of capital punishment, if not summary execution, if the story ran. “They made that threat in the elevator,” Sam told me. “They said, ‘Think about that,’ so we just thought about that—and decided to fight them.”(Knoll, Day, Morland, 1979)

Finally, when the Progressive didn’t seem activist enough to Sam, he resigned and began working with Nukewatch, eventually retiring from that activist organization to begin a serious second career as an activist inmate. Sam told me that he wanted everyone who retired to take up a criminal career for peace. As a debilitating disease slowly robbed him of his sight, turning him completely blind finally, Sam only grew more wry and ironic. Every time I saw him he’d have a different journalist joke or anecdote to tell me. My favorite was:
The young eager reporter was sent by his hardbitten old editor to cover the Johnstown flood. His first story sent via the wire began, “God looked down with great sorrow upon the destruction wrought by this terrible flood…” and the editor wired right back, “Forget flood. Interview God.”(Sam wants to know how she got in his memorial!)

Sam was the best pitchman at any big peace event. He would appear on stage, fumbling around, talking about one or two of the people involved in the organization for which he was appealing to the audience. He’d praise them, remark on how important their work was, and then he’d say that of course they could accomplish so much more with just a few more resources. Then he’d say that he’s really been just thinking about them and how valuable their work is, so that, compared to that, most other things seemed less important. “I don’t have much—I’m just an old retired editor—so, let’s see” and he’d put his hand in his pocket, feeling around, “Oh, here, I have $13. Well, I can give them $3—no, wait, their work is so valuable, I’d better make it the $10 bill and I’ll get by on the $3…but that won’t be enough! Heck! I want them to have it all!” And he’d put it all in the hat. “Well, wait a minute,” he’d say, “I have a bus token. It’s my ride home…but darn it, their work is so vital—here, let me put my bus token in there too!” And then he’d mutter a little. “All I have left is my magnifying glass—hey! Maybe they can use that too! Here!” And he’d put it in the hat, turning his pockets inside out. “Give as much as you can!” he’d shout. “Give more than you can!” At every big peace event, the organizer knew who to ask when it came time to pass the hat.

Sam Day, Jr. was born October 3, 1926, and crossed over January 26, 2001 at age 74. He was chair of the US Campaign to Free Mordecai Vanunu, the Israeli whistleblower who has served so many years in Israeli prison. He worked a great deal with Jack and Felice Cohen-Joppa, who founded The Nuclear Resister, a newsletter dedicated to the news and views of nonviolent civil resisters to militarism. Because he was born in apartheid South Africa, he had a special affinity for that country and for its unique decision to unbuild its nuclear arsenal—a decision made in secret by the apartheid regime when it knew its days were numbered. Sam wrote brilliant pieces on these issues that few would cover well and was so credible that we were very reassured whenever he would categorically state something because he’d invariably be proven correct.

When Donna Howard and I got out of prison for our Plowshares act of Earth Day, 1996, we were invited to a gala party at Anathoth Community Farm, where at least 100 friends were crowded into the main house. We were still wearing the electronic ankle bracelets so the state could track our whereabouts. We made our way through the crowd to Sam, who was lost in conversation with Barb Kass. When we got to Sam, Donna, who has a quiet voice, said, “Hi, Sam.” Blind by then, Sam looked up and said, “Donna? Is that you, Donna? Come here. I hear you have to wear one of those ankle bracelets. Let me see it.” Donna held up her foot and Sam found her knee and began to run his hands down her calf, coming at last to the plastic band with the little box. He lifted it to his mouth, suddenly, startling Donna and everyone, and began to say in a loud voice, “Sheriff? Come in, Sheriff! I’ve got them under surveillance, so don’t worry! Expect my report! Over and out!” And let her foot go.

It was vintage Sam Day, a man who didn’t hesitate to interpose in violent situations, apparently intuiting that no one would gain a thing from roughing him up. Prison stories about Sam putting himself in harms way for some inmate being bullied by a guard or by another inmate solidified his reputation amongst those who watched and participated in nonviolent civil resistance; Sam was a great soul in all respects, a public peace scholar from the world of journalism.

For more on this great man, see his memorial website.


Day, Jr., Samuel H. (1991). Crossing the line: From editor to activist to inmate—a writer’s journey. Baltimore MD: Fortkamp Publishing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who are the public peace intellectuals?

Three exemplars of what it means to be an engaged public peace intellectual:

Winslow Myers is a retired schoolteacher who has found a new career as a volunteer. He is an active public peace intellectual living in Jamaica Plain, MA, whose commonsense, retired-teacher writing style resonates well with mainstream American editors. He wrote Beyond war, a small book that has been used by many discussion groups for several years, primarily in churches and local peace groups in the US. Since his writing is so accessible to mainstream Americans, his message that we are going to have to end war if we hope to survive and progress as a country and as a species seems eminently sensible and like a doable public duty. In his quiet everyday fashion, Myers has become an outstandingly effective public peace intellectual. To learn more:

Russell Vandenbroucke, Professor and Chair of Theatre Arts at the University of Louisville, is the author of Atomic Bombers, a play broadcast on public radio to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima. Dr. Vandenbroucke became a Conscientious Objector to war during his military service in the 1960s and has been exploring the questions ever since. His public expressions of his peace analysis are often in the plays he writes, and his op-ed writing is often related to those topics about which he’s done particularly strong research, including the myths and facts surrounding the decision to bomb two cities full of civilians with the new weapon of mass destruction, atomic bombs, at the end of World War II. He debunks the myths that it helped end the war, that it saved any lives, and that is was a necessary evil. Indeed, since the US had full knowledge that Emperor Hirohito had already decided to intervene to stop the war and to surrender without any significant conditions, that bombing was simply evil and unnecessary. It is long past time for America to stop thinking that an atomic bomb saved any American lives; indeed, since the intercepted cable announcing Hirohito’s decision was from 12 July 1945, the decision to delay seeking peace until after the use of the atomic bombs actually cost American lives.

Lawrence S. Wittner is a historian with the State University of New York at Albany. He is one of the most published and prolific public peace intellectuals in US history. His impeccable credentials and professorial writing style make him both unassailable and widely published. Never shrill nor hyperbolic, he demonstrates the discipline to calmly explain academic research and explicate problems in a way that mainstream media editors find appealing and their readers appreciate. Wittner has arguably done more to straighten out historical misperceptions about peace movements, nuclear weapons issues and the effects of peaceful struggle than anyone. His ‘just the facts, Ma’am’ approach is manifestly credible and therefore acceptable, even when his message is quite opposed to the entire war system.

There are more dedicated public peace scholars and we hope we see many more undertake this work.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The social norm is uninformed

(Danny Schechter and a friend)
Those who work on the inside of television and have a conscience that first pulls them toward a peace analysis and then seems to require them to act, sometimes use their considerable creative talents to first critique the medium in which they work, and then they try to fix it. Danny Schecter began his career in radio in Boston and moved to network television, even as he critiqued that media, which did little for his career in corporate media. He has long promoted getting the story that gives context to a peace analysis and points out the decontextualizing nature of shrinking news, celebrity fawning and other components of what another mainstream media creative employee challenged at the end of the 20th century.

In 1997, screenwriter Larry Gelbart created Weapons of Mass Distraction, a TV drama aimed at revealing to Americans why they seemed so generally clueless (Schechter, 1999, p. 42). His spot-on title has been used in many ways by many commentators ever since.

As we discuss current events in my classes I often will hear variants of “I am not up to speed on all this because I just haven’t been watching much TV lately.” That is a show stopper for me. I explain to students that Danny Schechter wrote a good book about this called “The more you watch the less you know”. He stresses in the book that in fact those who consume a great deal of television are more ignorant about current events, and the path to staying better informed is a combination of eclectic reading, for the most part, and some judicious use of broadcast media like radio or television, just to get the sounds and images. The structure of television, however, precludes staying well informed about our political world domestically and globally. The content just isn’t there.

In North Korea, Schechter notes, every house has a government radio that plays government news. That is not mysterious or confusing; everyone knows they only get one point of view. In the US, sadly, there is so much choice of fluff that we seem to believe in the old notion that the marketplace will compete to bring us the best information in order to help us in our efforts to be a well informed citizenry in our robust democracy. But when the network anchors and reporters compete to see how fast they can sport American flag pins and other nationalistic emblems, and when all the assumptions revolve around a militarized defense of US national interests as defined by corporate interests—What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA—then we can begin to see how radically uninformed we actually are. I teach about 150 students each term and for every one of them who comes to my class well grounded and rounded in a diversity of media so that they have a good general working knowledge of current affairs (not the current affairs of Jennifer Aniston or Justin Timberlake, but of politically meaningful events and histories), there are probably 25 who could not pick Cesar Chavez out of a list of names of soccer players nor identify Aung San Suu Kyi. They have no idea what is going on in the Middle East except that Iraq sucks, as they often have family members in the military. The history of Israel Palestine is a cipher to them and they think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a man who wanted little black children to play with little white children.

I sigh and start from zero every term, knowing that in our two-working parent world the electronic media have helped raise most of these young adults and that they are truly corporatized and mediated. My best hope is their native intelligence, which is often far smarter than mine, and I hope they are curious, the two factors that will bring them up to speed the fastest. In my ten weeks with them, they are exposed to another world, and it’s very counterintuitive at first. Nonviolence? No historical references except maybe na├»ve hippies in bell bottoms, dancing around with flowers while the real world blasted away in the background. Poverty? Well, there’s always the lottery. Unemployment as a function of corporate control of the workforce? Never heard of it. Islam? Yikes!

Most young Americans never have a single teacher who will expose them to this body of knowledge and methods of seeking more. In public high schools, any such efforts by the millions of great teachers is complained about by some rightwing parent and quashed. Our national treasury is so devoted to militarism that we teach to the tests, since scarce funding is allocated on that basis. The tests will not measure a student’s knowledge of how to deescalate conflict, how to seek peace, or how to mediate disagreement. Like a massively sophisticated North Korean system, our educational and media systems feed directly into the maw of the war system.
So those who don’t like that have a long struggle ahead. We hope you join.

Schechter, D. (1999). The more you watch the less you know: News wars, [sub]merged hopes, media adventures. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Force multiplier

(Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson, Dominican nuns who did direct disarmament Plowshares at a nuclear missile in Colorado, 6 October 2002)
If a nonviolent resister falls in a forest of oppression, will anyone hear?

More to the point, if that forest of oppression does not harbor a species of observer, will that nonviolent resister be effective?

Generally, nonviolent resisters need to regard media as force multipliers in our efforts to exert nonviolent force. Media--both alternative and mainstream--should be managed so that it recruits more numbers, more members of support for the goals of the nonviolent movement.

Personal conversations are the best way to recruit. It is also impractical to attempt to have personal conversations with everyone in order to bring them into a movement--at least and especially at the early stages of any movement. Once a movement is so widespread that it has generated enough volunteers to literally go door-to-door, phone bank to substantive numbers, and head out into public fora to personally meet and discuss with large numbers of the public, then the media has served its recruitment purpose and will function more as a natural help to the mass movement underway. But until that day, media is a field of contest that largely determines who prevails in the overall policy contest to which nonviolent resisters are a party.

The first, easiest, and ongoing commitment is to alternative media. This is how we communicate best amongst ourselves is by creating and using our own newsletters, websites, community radio stations, cable community access television, laptop video production for web distribution, etc. We need to mobilize the mobilizable and alternative media is how we manage it.

The next step--and in any good and vigorous movement the next step comes quickly--is that we need to place some emphasis on recruitment via mainstream media. We never stop using our own alternative media, but we also reach out to mainstream media to begin bringing in new members into our movement and to generate sympathy with and from those who will likely never be a part of our or any movement, but who vote. We need mainstream media or we cannot grow beyond our current numbers to any appreciable degree. Recruiting people one by one when you have small numbers of recruiters is exhausting and takes far more effort per recruit when the cultural wallpaper of mainstream media is ignorant of or hostile toward the views of your movement. The unspoken block to building a movement by ignoring mainstream media is that small numbers look like losers. If you come to my door and urge me to join your movement, one I know nothing about because I only consume mainstream media when I have time to consume any media at all, I will likely not sign on to a campaign I see as marginal and quixotic. But if I've been seeing or reading about your efforts in my media and you call me up or hand me a brochure in the public square, I may be inclined to show up at your next public demonstration for peace, human rights, civil rights, or environmental protection.

If your nonviolent resistance is bold, innovative and involves people who are morally unassailable and thus credible spokespeople for a potential movement, you can literally jumpstart an entire campaign with one direct action. Rosa Parks did this by sitting on a bus. College kids in Nashville did this by sitting at lunch counters. Dan and Phil Berrigan did this by burning draft cards with homemade napalm and again by hammering on a nuclear missile nosecone. This is unusual and involves significant creativity and the volunteer sacrificial actions of people who are above reproach. It can happen and should not be discounted as a possibility, but without innovation and actionists of moral stature who cannot be smeared, it has little chance of success. Is this fair? No, but that's irrelevant.

Some elements of some movements appear satisfied with the comfort of only appealing to their own alternative media, either cynically alienated from the masses to the point where building a movement is seen as impossible, or perhaps they get everything they need from their dysfunctional marginal effort and are not interested so much in changing public policy as in the catharsis of trashing symbols of the policy they hate. When your movement has these strands, regard them as a happy problem. You can work with most of them and protect your own movement from them if you are serious. It takes direct outreach and compassionate creation of shared rules (don't use that terminology with anarchists--shared and co-created norms is far better).

The public is keenly aware of any perception of secrecy and lack of willingness to be accountable for behavior and will either be hostile toward or choose to ignore movements that look like they avoid public reckoning and accountability. Someone who wears a mask and breaks one window is generally regarded as a bad person, a bad actor and as a representative of some group that deserves to lose. On the other hand, Cortright (2009, p. 125-126) notes that Plowshares activists can generate public approval by their open, public accountability, while masked demonstrators alienate most others. We in the Plowshares movement often do many $thousands in damages to weapons, far more damage dollarwise than the masked anarchists do, and yet we are treated fairly well in mainstream media and we help bring in new people to our movements--not often as fellow Plowshares resisters, but as new participants in, say, a public demonstration against a military base, or a class of weapons, or a war.

The military has its force multipliers. Media are the force multipliers of the successful peace and justice movements.
Cortright, David. (2009). Gandhi and beyond: Nonviolence for a new political age. (2nd ed.) Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What is a public peace intellectual and how do we make more?

The term public peace intellectual was coined by Johan Galtung. What he meant by that was that the academics who published peer-reviewed articles and books should also be accessible to non-academic citizens in order to help create new social norms and eventual policy changes. Sadly, the peace side of our academic expertise has largely remained untapped, while the war side is routinely featured in our public discourse.
This unfortunate situation is due to a number of related and unrelated factors. The three primary problems:
• Mainstream media is corporate, war system media and is inimical to a peace analysis.
• Even with academic freedom, some sanctions can still be applied against a professor who writes about controversial topics.
• Many universities are so pressurized to generate student credit hours, research grant monies and serious amounts of academic publishing that professors simply have no time to write for mainstream media.
Each of these three has possible spin-off problems. For instance, if mainstream media is generally hostile to a peace analysis, peace professionals may simply give up. They may have the time to occasionally write an op-ed, or would be happy to provide an interview to a journalist, but they don’t have time to chase down openings. Or the professor with the peace analysis may have far more academic freedom without any sanction than she knows, but cannot feel safe about exploring that question in a slow job market.
In an effort to address some of the aspects of the first and third concerns, I launched PeaceVoice in 2006. PeaceVoice is a free service to both peace professionals and editors. When a peace professional—a professor, an institute intellectual, a staffer for a nongovernmental organization, or a high-ranking activist—writes an analysis or an op-ed that meets some basic criteria and sends it to me, I distribute it to editors, who then have the option to use that piece. Students have gathered the contacts for editors and our web manager posts all the pieces that we distribute as soon as they are published, at which point they are available for free republishing. This works. Each piece is printed someplace. Indeed, when we’ve done basic searches, we find that, even though I only ask one thing of editors—that they kindly let me know if they choose to use the piece—they usually don’t. I understand, as an editor, that demands are so stringent these days it is hard to attend to each professional detail. I very much appreciate the editors who do take the time, and occasionally one will mention that this is the first time he’s mentioned it to me, and he frequently uses the PeaceVoice offerings. So we have a working system, the goal of which is to begin to enrich our national conversation toward peace and away from war.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Going to the wellsprings: Assessing our peace potential

We who study peace hope to influence mass media. At the same time, we must understand how it influences us. It is important to have a realistic grasp on how that media works or we miss the cues and prompts that can help us promote a peace analysis to a much more widespread audience.

Self-styled public intellectual Richard A. Posner (2003) shows that mass media tend to use well known public scholars, sometimes at the expense of missing better experts. “The indolent gatekeepers of the public-intellectual market may prefer having a celebrity intellectual opine outside the area of his expertise to searching for the particular expert on the particular topic,” writes Posner (p. 176), a federal appellate panel member of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (and thus, a JD publicly opining far outside his own field of expertise). While Posner is, in his appellate rulings and in his juridical writings, inimical to grassroots nonviolent peace activists, he makes an excellent and noteworthy point. Mainstream media love famous intellectuals. They must stay in certain bounds, of course, which is why so few mainstream news sources turn to Noam Chomsky, since he will prove himself a greater and more cogent critic of US foreign policy than most mainstream media can abide. Knowing this is also helpful. Pushing the envelope—even when the envelope should be shredded—is tolerable, but when a public scholar strays over that line she is no longer tapped much as a source. When the editor of a mainstream daily gets irate phone calls from a wealthy lobbyist for a point of view or a constituency, or when a newspaper or television network has to field mass numbers of vituperative complaints, that pressure will tend to set up blocks to the intellectual perceived as the problem.

Part of the search for outlets for our public peace intellectuals, then, is a search for outlets that will reach enough readers and listeners to make some difference, if only in the aggregate, but to not necessarily attempt to promote the most radically peaceful points of view to nationally visible mass media, understanding that the more cogent the peace perspective the more pushback it will generate once it rises to that level. It may be more adaptive to stress the notions of radical nonviolence at media markets that don’t elicit such specific notice. The idea, perhaps, is to change social norms and regularize the peace point of view as a background value before sending our public scholars to the most aggressive and hostile fields of struggle. Or, if a peace scholar does attain the platform for a minute that allows her analysis to be broadcast, how can it be employed to nudge our norms instead of provoking derision or seeming to compromise peace values?

Finessing the message at the national level requires a calm and understated affect, one that doesn’t seem either glib or shrill. Grounded in researched conclusions, respectful of all other views but capable of promoting a different perspective, able to put forward a series of points that strike home to people and seem both reasonable and resonant, and clearly open to learning but firm on principle and unflappable when attacked—these requirements are tough ones but are needed. They become more stringent as a commentator moves from writing to broadcast fora and thus is exposed to the necessity to instantly and effectively respond. Those requirements become tighter as one moves from a rural weekly newspaper to a small city daily to large market regional daily to national paper of record. Thus, depending upon one’s self-assessment of those skills, it is advisable to operate in the markets that are doable.

For example, I am personally best in the small markets, where I feel comfortable with regular folks and media professionals who aren’t hostage to radical rightwing lobbyists and who feel free to engage in civil discourse. I like writing for those outlets and the responses are mixed but do not involve national attack organizations. Does this mean I’m less effective? Not really; it means that my self-assessment has helped me determine where I can be most effective. I have a couple of credentials and a reasonable ability to engage in public conversation about matters of war, peace and nonviolence, but I don’t overreach and make stabs at markets beyond the regionally influential. An opinion piece in the (Madison, Wisconsin) Capital Times or The Oregonian is the upper level of my reach. If I were ever invited onto Bill O’Reilly, I’d either seek professional coaching or decline. I would never want to be a strawman for nonviolence, easily overwhelmed and proving the points of the hawks. I’d much prefer to be the informed and persuasive promoter of peace on a local radio program or in a smaller market news service. We can never have guarantees, but if we choose our fields of struggle we can prevail for our peace values more often.
Posner, R. A. (2003). Public intellectuals: A study of decline. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strange embedfellows

In early 2003 I got a couple of phone calls from Arian Campo-Flores, a Newsweek reporter (pictured) who worked on stories about the US peace movement and its effort to slow, stop and reverse the mad charge toward the invasion of Iraq. He's a brilliant student both academically--summa cum laude from UC-Berkeley in Development Studies, 1993--and of humanity. He is at least trilingual, was a teacher in Buenos Aires (he's a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists), and was quite personable and insightful. Near the end of our final interview, I asked him what next, now that it appeared that our movement had failed.

"Boot camp," he replied. "I'm going to be embedded." From that point on, the interview protocol flipped. I had many questions, though he only had time and discretion for a few. Unlike him, I am a more blunt interviewer and went right to it.

"Do you feel you can be true to your journalistic ideal of objectivity if you are living with troops at war?" I asked.

He didn't miss a beat. "Oh, sure, I can handle that." He seemed quite confident, almost as though it was not a matter of great concern. I told him I trusted him, but that I didn't share his rosy optimism about those chances.

"You may find that when you get to the line of scrimmage, you will have a much harder time writing with real journalistic honesty about the soldiers who are shooting at the people who seem to be shooting at you," I noted. And I wished him safety.

Campo-Flores did go on to embed with the Third Infantry Division(shown making new friends in Iraq) and then with U.S. Special Forces. He is back to being the Newsweek Miami Bureau chief. He does outstanding work covering immigration issues and his recent work on racism in the Tea Party is quite sound.

The response to the US media's utter failure to get it right on time sounds shrill from those of us who expected much more from a huge network of very smart and seemingly ethically solid journalists. Some, in retrospect, are more measured:

"Many American civic organizations did raise cautions about what was clearly the determination by the president and his close associates to launch a preemptive war. However, in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, emotions of fear and anger, the desire for retribution, and the wish to take strong actions were readily aroused. The news media could have done better, at least by noting the lack of evidence of imminent danger or of Iraqi culpability in the 9/11 attacks, by reporting the reasons for widespread opposition to going to war, and by reporting on alternatives to war that were being suggested."
--Louis Kriesberg, Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution (2007, 3rd ed., p. 181)

Indeed, the news media could have done better. They could have refused to play the role of vector for lies. With all the investigative talent in the US media, where was the fact-checking before the war? Hans Blix and Mohammed El-Baredi were shouting from the rooftops that Iraq had no WMD that was findable, and they were the ones who knew. (This is them trying to tell the world in early February, 2003, from the UN website archives). The US media ignored them. Bin Laden had a death fatwa on Saddam Hussein as an infidel who persecuted al-Qa'ida, hardly a secret from the US media.

While there are many reasons to critique mainstream media, I think the structure of it fits comfortably into the war system. It will take a massive effort of many sincere people to change that. Apologies after the launch of a war are essentially irrelevant, as the dynamic is clearly "Well, we probably shouldn't have invaded, but now that we're there, we have a responsibility." This is corrupt logic, but so widespread that it even takes in erstwhile friends of the peace movement. The point about the media is that when mortal choices are being made about US policy, the media cannot miss. They must get it right. They are the true check and balance from civil society on the abuses so patently inflicted by the government, they are protected in the US by more robust law than are the media anywhere else on Earth, and yet they were handmaidens serving and embedded, asking softball questions and failing at every turn.

Who, then, will be the check and balance on them?

Kriesberg, Louis. (2007). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (3rd ed.) Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Taking peace public

This is the first in a series of entries that will explore the intersectionality of intellectualism, positive peace, and our national conversation about issues in America. I am prompted by this because of a nest of problems.

One, my country illegally and immorally invaded another sovereign nation, Iraq, based on demonstrable lies, hyperbole, manufactured evidence, twisted claims and bald propaganda. This stands as the worst crime on Earth in the new millennium.

Two, most intellectuals keep relatively informed of current events and they knew that the raisons d'guerre were false. Yet when we look back we find few instances of these intellectuals speaking out on mainstream radio or television against the invasion, or writing in the mainstream media in opposition to it.

These are the major driving problems and I will be examining potential reasons for the second problem. I will ask why our peace intellectuals were not a significant part of our national conversation as we decided whether we could support Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice and, sadly, Powell in this ghastly drive toward a war that was only necessary if you consider feeding massive profits to the elite owners of the war system as more important than human life, decency, environmental protection, and the economy.

Since my goal is not to inflict despair upon myself or anyone else, but rather to ultimately generate hope, I want to speculate on just how we can move beyond the steady diet and drumbeat of government officials, military spokespeople, and strategic studies intelligentsia that we hear from in our mainstream media any time powerful interests attempt to propel us to war. I want to ask who are the exceptions--who are the scholars who challenged that invasion publicly in the mainstream media in the period of time in question, August 2002-March 2003? If we can find those outliers, perhaps they can show us a new model that will break out of the warmaking drumbeat as we enter future crises, real or manufactured.

This is not what warmakers want. As documented in Naomi Klein's germinal Shock Doctrine, both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were among the many decisionmakers and perpetrators of this invasion who profited enormously from it financially, in excess of scores of $millions each, personally. Some of these policymakers who led us to war profited in political power gains for themselves, some in personal economic wealth, and some in status. Most profited in all three ways, forming a sort of war cabal of mutual greedy self-interest that left millions of citizens in several countries suffering and ultimately contributed to not just the loss of US status and position and trust in the world, but in the near collapse of the Iraq and US economies and loss of millions of jobs in Iraq and the US. What this war promoting elite did first to Iraq it later did to the US in less bloody and less utterly devastating ways, but the mirror of suffering includes both countries' citizens and the citizens of all nations drawn into this debacle.

The Pentagon spends a great deal on propaganda, even beyond this year's $4.7 billion, if we consider the recruitment budget as partially propaganda as well. The public relations budgets for the profiteering corporations who receive the enormous daily contracts from the Department of Defense cannot be small. And when the stockholders and corporate officials from these war profiteering corporations are elected or appointed to public office, even at the top levels, the picture is complete and the problem is overwhelming.

And that is why those who can offer alternatives are so significantly needed. I will be trying to examine this from multiple perspectives in this forum for the coming period and I welcome discussion.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's not the heat, it's the humility

"In consensus organizing, the major distinguishing features are the preference of a consensus building approach over conflict, and the creation of strategic partnerships built around mutual self-interest among members of internal neighborhood resources, as well as individuals who represent powerful external interests that can provide valuable resources for community change" (Ohmer & DeMasi, 2009, p. xxi).
So, if we try to avoid conflict, are we selling out?
Not necessarily. Sometimes consensus can be gained and sometimes a consensus tack toward large coalition can create a new power that can itself present such an overwhelming presence that conflict melts away.
Sometimes consensus organizing is the smartest way to make gains and sometimes it sacrifices too many principles.
For example, Obama (pictured here teaching about community organizing) and the Democrats tried consensus as they worked on health care reform. The Republicans stonewalled and sabotaged each and every hour of every day of every effort put forth.
Many Ds, Obama included, folded up their principles, if indeed they actually had them to begin with, and the final result made no one happy except the insurance corporations, naturally. Indeed, corporate power seems to have become the only sacrosanct sector of our society. The insurance industry gained some 23 million new paying customers as a result of that 'reform'. With reform like that, who needs corruption?
On the other hand, striving for consensus and building a serious coalition is a relatively low cost, fast track to power. My friend Jo Ann Bowman, (pictured) for example, is a fighter for the rights of the dispossessed; you will find her accompanying the poorest of the poor, those recently from incarceration, the ones who are marginalized and disenfranchised--and she will draw them in. Then she'll volunteer to serve on boards for non profits that serve the community and she will help steer them into strategic partnerships that will bring together people of different colors, disparate financial strata, and various separate but interlocking interests. She weaves together powerful and multicultural groups who achieve goals, build community and succeed in helping people get livelihoods and political clout.
If more movement organizers would learn when to make partnerships and when to initiate and escalate conflict, they would do far better. Instead, you see some who avoid conflict even when it means giving away the ethical store and some who engage in conflict at the drop of a hat.
Jo Ann Bowman is a model for those who not only know how to choose a battle, but how to bring the largest force to the field of contest. She's modest and she speaks out publicly, but works so hard behind the scenes that her support is lined up when she speaks. While she is giving human agency to those who are disregarded, she is also working with the external powers to help convince them to assist--powers like the Democratic party, large foundation funders, and top elected officials. When she's ready, it all works to put a serious set of pincer pressures on the social structures that need to change.
Being a community organizer is not rocket science--it's much harder than that, at least to do it right. Rockets answer to math and metalurgy, and straightforward power equations, calculus and trajectory. Doing an excellent job organizing for nonviolent social change involves the infinitely complex human community. Watch the best ones. They speak in favor of the vulnerable and do not just empower themselves; they get the community in touch with the power they never knew they had.
Ohmer, Mary L. & DeMasi, Karen (2009). Consensus organizing: A community development workbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Towering intellects

(Chaiwat Satha-Anand, public peace intellectual, Thailand)
In the months between 'rolling out a new product' (the term Andrew Card used as he pushed for invasion of Iraq by the military under control of his boss, George W. Bush), it became increasingly evident that the US was actually serious about invading Iraq, a nation that had not fired a single bullet at it, had not invaded another nation, had no WMD, was not linked to the terrorists who had attacked the US, and was considered essentially zero danger to its neighbors (except it was continuing to bleed out refugees from the US-designed and UN-imposed sanctions).

I am a public peace intellectual. OK, maybe I'm not an intellectual. I teach in a graduate program at a university and I write a lot, but I'm really not too academic. My point (I'm getting there) is that I didn't try hard enough to present a peace perspective to my mainstream fellow citizens in the US, the one group who might have stopped that drive to an illegal and immoral and insane war. I satisfied myself with peace media, organizing that civil society in cooperation with others. In Portland, Oregon, my new town then, I was editing the major peace newspaper and producing columns for it. We did a good job of local organizing, turning out crowds that broke state records several times, including the final big peace rally featuring John Lewis, the nonviolent civil rights leader, where we gathered approximately 40,000 against the invasion (by police estimates that I heard on their radio frequencies as I helped organize some 90 'vibeswatchers' to keep the police far less involved). It was not enough. Bush invaded.

I should have tried every week to get guest editorials placed in our daily paper of record in Oregon, the Oregonian. I did not. Assumption of rejection and strategic time management were my reasons. Fear of job loss was not; I was outspoken to media who attended the rallies and there were three very sincere attempts to fire me from Portland State University, all of which were stopped by my Chair and by the Dean, both of whom tolerated my activism. Neither the former US Congresswoman nor the two downtown business alliance members were as successful as they tried to be and my personal history of loudmouth activism demonstrates that deterrence based on those fears was not a factor for me.

My assumption of rejection and its logical conclusion of strategic time management--write for the outlets who will publish you, not for those who will almost certainly reject you--has some reason and some merit and was still incorrect. I believe that if my fellow peace professionals had made a genuine, persistent effort to break into the national discourse, to come into the center of it instead of at the barest of margins, we might have helped the American public to rise up and reject the invasion of Iraq.

I believe that and I lack the do-over opportunity to try to prove it, but that belief has changed my life. I thought a lot about it and started PeaceVoice, which takes op-eds and analysis pieces from peace professionals and distributes them across the US to mainstream media outlets (and some alternative media as well). This is part of every day for me, so I have been handling a piece by an Australian professor who is working to help the nonviolent indigenous liberation movement in West Papua, and that piece is being used by a few editors in the US. Another piece in current play that I continue to deal with daily is by a retired schoolteacher who has an idea for a sort of national peaceWiki, a way for citizens to have a conversation without mediation from politicians and others. I get these very interesting pieces every week and then work to place them in the hope that enough such work brings peace professionals' ideas into much more popular consideration and conversation.

One of my models is Thai intellectual Chaiwat Satha-Anand (pictured above), who published his analysis of the violence in his country in the Bangkok Post even as the violence was happening last May. He felt he waited too long, but at least he was in there, engaging his countrypeople via the pages of the mainstream media so widely read there. He wrote that "the military solution chosen by the government and violent methods incorporated by some UDD leadership will shape the form of continuing political conflict in this society." The UDD was the challenger organization, the 'red shirts,' and the government opened fire on them. Satha-Anand, who is a self-described 'nonviolent Muslim raised by Catholics in a Buddhist nation,' then summoned reason and research to advocate for more peaceful approaches by both the government and the opposition. Was his work successful? The violence did die down, but there is no way to connect that to him. More to the point was his analysis that helped his fellow Thais think about the wisdom of supporting violence on any side, since it tends to prolong and exacerbate conflict and it also tends to give rise to future violent conflict.

That use of popular media as an educational forum for peace and constructive conflict analysis is a tough one to employ, as it presents so many obstacles, but in the end, either the peace intellectuals--or at least the peace professionals, like me--will find ways to get their research and reason into the public discourse or we will see it fail to do much beyond gather dust in the basement boxes of the ivory towners. We study and teach, and that is all to the good, but the potential to promote peace and justice by peaceable means is barely tapped and the consequences are either more or less bloodshed, more or less misery, more or less societal impoverishment, depending on the individual and collective will of the peace professionals.

Satha-Anand, Chaiwat (May 28, 2010). The Violence Effect and Reconciliation Future? The Bangkok Post.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Means and our field of study

(17 May 1968, nonviolent draft board raiders burn draft files with homemade napalm in an effort to offer coercive yet nonviolent inducements to stop conscripting young American men to go kill and die in Vietnam)
“Conflict behavior occurs in a specific interaction content and is best described as a means by which each party proposes to achieve its goal” (Bercovitch, Kremenyuk, & Zartman, 2009, pp 8-9).
What separates the field of conflict resolution from all others?
Most in our field propose that we are simply looking at how conflict is managed and methods by which we might attenuate the damages associated with it. I want to suggest a different perspective, one that more clearly and crisply separates us into a field of scholarly inquiry and teaching.
But first, I want to reject the term conflict resolution, something that is so rarely achieved as to be all but meaningless, except as a convention by which we can refer to a field of study. If a convention is a helpful shorthand, keep it. Conflict resolution has lost its utility, however, and some are using conflict transformation as a far more useful term. I want to promote that, because it’s accurate and helps us move toward a better definition of our work.
Conflict transformation is the inquiry into nonviolent and constructive means by which we can manage and move forward in conflict.
Inquiry requires research, practice, assessment and evaluation. Research involves both quantitative and qualitative studies, with many more of them a mixed methodology approach. All this helps us discuss our field more accurately and productively. Practice is both informal and formal, done in our lives both personally and professionally, and is done as a vocation and as an avocation. It is done as an observer, as a third party neutral, or as a party to conflict, and involves reflection. Assessment is both formal and informal, and occurs as one is entering into a conflict scenario, and as one attempts to help adaptively manage that conflict. It is also a portion of helping to transform a dissensual, worldview conflict into a consensual, interest-based conflict that is far more likely to achieve the holy grail of our field, i.e., a win-win outcome. Evaluation is how we bring all our elements together as we prepare for the next step in our inquiry. It may be a section of a research report or paper, a final chapter in a book, or a conclusion and preparation for action by a practitioner or group of practitioners.
Still, I would assert, it is our focus on exclusively nonviolent means that distinguishes our field from all others. The moment we allow for the use of violence we become melded into political science, security studies, international relations, law enforcement or other related fields and disciplines. Ultimately, then, we seek distinction and value; nonviolence is it.
Let us be clear here that nonviolence and conflict transformation frequently involves force, even force that injures others in some fashion, usually economically or politically, never by physical, bodily pain or injury or death. Never. But when the behavior of a party to a conflict is inflicting violence or injustice upon another, such means are perfectly appropriate in the field of conflict transformation, even though some in the field draw far more strict lines around behaviors of which they personally might approve. For example, a Gandhian scholar in our field may eschew all coercion, as Gandhi frequently claimed he did. A vegetarian may be opposed to food aid that can assist in conflict transformation but that includes meat. A feminist may object to a text by a non-feminist. Still, all these conflict transformation scholars should permit us to include in our field the study of conflict transformation by means that might include economic boycott, gifts or loans of livestock for feeding people meat, or a nonviolent but patriarchal Brudenhofer intervention to stop direct violence. Our tent can be quite large and simply exclude direct, physical violence as a component of our disarmamentarium.
Does this mean we assume nonviolence will always be successful? Of course not. Neither are the means by which we treat cancer. This is only an attempt to limit our inquiry into conflict transformation from destructive to constructive management methods and to define those methods that interest us as nonviolent, which will then offer us clarity in defining our field, a clarity often lacking.
Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.) (2009). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

New frames, new lenses, better vision!

All conflict is intercultural conflict.
This is a growing perspective in the field of conflict analysis, since we are all identity groups of one. My identity is different from yours and yours is different from every other human now or ever. Yes, there are identity groups, such as redheads, tea party devotees, Filipinas, Sufis, women, professors, cricket players, warmongers, and so forth. We are, in the aggregate, each in our little Venn diagram of one, if all our identities are considered. So all conflict that is not solely intrapsychological is intercultural (and even then...).
If we could all understand this in its complex totality, we'd be so gracious that conflict would become conversation and constructive negotiation, not hot, not destructive.
If I could understand that the Muslim fundamentalist who beats his wife is an insecure, beaten man himself, I could want to work with his to negotiate a better outcome. If my student who hates my assessment of her work could understand that I am afraid I'll be regarded as an inadequate teacher unless I grade with discipline and strict attention to requirements, we could negotiate a result that would please us both much more.
And if we could understand broader cultural differences, such as cultural approaches to time, to power, to context and so forth, we could negotiate so much more appropriately and with superior results.
So, for example, when I worked with the tribes in the Lake Superior basin, I had to learn a new relationship to time, talk, humor, and meaning. It all added up to respect. I learned how to give it and I got it back. I was able to be of assistance.
I made mistakes. I learned. The more I learned about culture the better the collaboration.
When I made a meeting time, I learned to bring a book. If the other person wasn't on time, that was almost always because he or she was involved with another person and did not want to show disrespect by cutting them off and leaving for our meeting. This value was well understood and tolerated in that community. Sociologists call it polychronic. Time is a flexible concept. Learn that and learn to adapt in another culture. Your operational capacity will increase. Conversely, when a student of mine is late for class or a meeting and tries to pass it off as just cultural (I'm Palestinian, I'm Greek, etc.) I am quick to also note that the academic culture I operate in is closer to the train schedule. If you miss it, you miss it. They need to adapt to my culture in that situation. It's all about respect and it works inside cultures, so those who come in need to learn or negotiations don't go well.
When I became an Anishinabe niijii (friend of the Anishinabe) that did not mean I was from the Wannabe tribe--I am just a Scot-Swede-French-German-American--but it did mean that I was an accepted ally, someone whose support for their nonviolent struggle was serious enough to mean I devoted time and whatever talent I had to helping, to supporting and to following. Following is so very hard for dominant culture individuals, but we either learn to do that (up to the point of violating our own principles, which is not appropriate, ever, so, for example, I would never support violence, no matter how justified, because I am a pacifist) we either learn to be followers or we will never be regarded as true allies.
Framing each conflict as intercultural can help us all develop cross cultural strategies and competencies.

Using the lens of the other party in any conflict leads to stronger chances for negotiations that have much more positive outcomes.
This is part of how we improve our vision as we struggle to wage nonviolent conflict.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Last April a Voice of America story reported the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition published a report on the bare minimum necessary to fight Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It would need $20 billion over the next three years to meet the health-related Millennium Goals, but it said the budget is likely to be at least $7 billion short of that. More than 30 million people around the world are estimated to be HIV-positive. According to the United Nations, more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them. The Global Fund says it has saved almost five million lives since 2005.

$20 billion? The Pentagon spends (it refers to its spending as a 'burn rate') $2 million each minute, $2.7 billion every day, approximately $1 trillion every year (if you include the military items that are paid for out of other budgets, such as the Department of Energy (incredibly, the entire nuclear arsenal is a DoE budget item, allowing the Pentagon to fudge and not count it as a DoD expense, and there are other major items like this, including many private contractors--mercenaries--who are employed by the State Department, and including 80 percent of the NASA budget, etc.). If we look at just 2 percent of the US military budget, then, we could seriously help provide AIDS meds to the world. It cost approximately $1 million annually to keep each member of the armed forces in either Iraq or Afghanistan. The war profiteers, of course, make far more than that in executive salaries and risk absolutely nothing. All paid for by working Americans.

More people died on 9.11.01 from AIDS than died in the terrorist attacks. We were attacked that one day and lost good people in a terrible tragedy. The deaths from AIDS were at that level all the days of many years before 9.11.01 and continue, while we spend unimaginable amounts of our paychecks countering that one day and all the mistakes George Bush made as a result, including invading Iraq.

So AIDS is perhaps 10,000 times worse than terrorism for the people of Earth and yet is lucky to get one percent as many funds dedicated to helping the people of our planet. The US is not the only player, just the biggest one. Humankind is so passive and so underinformed. We who are looking at these major commitments are called to educate others until we can start making some informed choices in civil society. We vote on such a small amount of information, choosing people who then represent us and make decisions about how our money, the money we work for, is to be spent.

I just say no. Any one of the 12.3 million orphans with AIDS in Africa (such as the little girl pictured, who is an AIDS orphan) outranks Dick Cheney, or the owner of Raytheon, or the CEO of Boeing, and all the other war profiteers.
If we can gain some perspective, we can make some worthy change.