Saturday, September 13, 2014

ISIS crisis and j-frames

Why is it that our US citizenry has such different views of the ISIS crisis? Some want to bomb, some blame former [OK, technically Vice-] President Dick "Never Miss a War Profiteering Dollar" Cheney. Some note the inhuman nature of ISIS beasts who behead journalists, and others say that none of this would be happening if the US would not have invaded, occupied, and fake-democratized Iraq. Some news sources correctly note that ISIS is a terrorist organization, and is quite organized in both military and financial matters, and that they are not, in fact, a return to a Saddam Hussein-style secular strongman governance of a territory, but are a far worse option than Saddam ever was (even though they fail to state the obvious, that attacking and overthrowing Saddam by western forces was exactly what made ISIS possible, possibly inevitable).
ISIS fighters, 30 June 2014, Syria, Raqqa province (Reuters/Stringer)

Of course there is no single factor differentiating our opinions, but one factor is the practice of war journalism versus peace journalism. When war journalism frames are used, we look at current acts of violence, we learn that we are the victims and they are the perpetrators, and we look very little at the historical context that brought us to this terrible point.

Peace journalism frames give us all agency, seek to identify parties to the conflict who might have nonviolent alternatives that meet everyone's needs, and do not seem to build the case for vengeance.The history of the idea of peace journalism goes back to the 1960s and Norwegian innovative peace and conflict scholar Johan Galtung, although he didn't propose the names for the practices until the 1970s and didn't seriously begin looking at it in some detail until the mid-1980s. Now there is a growing body of actual research on his concepts, and increasing debates about the validity of pieces of his analysis. 

Some say peace journalism is just classically good journalism while others label it as advocacy journalism. In my view, the more correct view is to examine both his variables and his overarching ideas separately and then to modify how we think about these frames in a way that in fact meets the needs of human beings.

Good journalism as practiced by those identified in the advocacy media will certainly be justified in gatekeeping in favor of their goals. When I write a story that I hope will further the goal of peace with justice, I choose who I interview and choose which questions to ask them and which of their answers to feature. Is there any other way? The only alternative is to ask perhaps one open-ended question and then include the entire transcripted answer, which is how almost no one practices journalism. Media mediates. We deliver usable copy, digestible and addressing a limited number of reader/viewer needs. We will all gatekeep.

Good journalism as practiced by free press journalists is utterly objective and is open to all facts, reports on everyone's foibles and corruption and coverups, and seeks to offer the widest palette of possible options.

Most peace journalists would regard the reasoning of an ISIS member as driven by the history of the conflict, the imposition of structural violence by various forces, the cultural context, and would seek to establish a platform for empathy for that ISIS member, if not his actual practice. There is value in this, but it needs to be reconsidered, I think, by those who claim to see the utility of peace journalism. A far stronger frame, featured far more deeply and frequently, would bring in the voices of those who pursue nonviolent paths toward win-win solutions, both indigenous to the conflict region and from the expertise examining the conflict from around the world. This is much more in line with the field of Peace and Conflict Studies and with the aspirations and efforts of global peace movements.

We need more journalists who investigate from these two frame constructions. They need to seek out two bodies of knowledge and give them to us in readable, usable formats.

One, who are the people and organizations working for win-win nonviolent solutions on the ground in the conflict areas?

Two, what do peace scholars and high-level peace think tank and high-level peace activists recommend?

When our mainstream press begins to include more of this sort of journalism, we will see an increase in peace, a decrease in bloody mayhem, a transition from a war economy to a peace economy, a shift from a political war dynamic to a political peace dynamic, and a general elevation of the human spirit, environmental protection, and much more egalitarian prosperity. Journalism is important.

Reference List

Fahmy, Shahira, and Britain Eakin. 2014. "High drama on the high seas: Peace versus war journalism framing of an Israeli/Palestinian-related incident." International Communication Gazette 76, no. 1: 86-105. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 13, 2014).

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Flipping social norms from violence to nonviolence

How ironic is it that the more violence is considered "a part of life" the more it is regarded as just a private matter when it happens between family members (Hsu, Huang & Tu, 2014)? In a deeply inquiring study of 13 familial dyads (parent-adult child) that experience diagnosed mental illness in the adult child and violence perpetrated on the aging parent, such violence is normalized and, at the same time, so shameful that parents who are victims rarely seek help.

Suggested de-escalation techniques point toward negotiation with intent for win-win outcomes. They also point away from giving in and granting a sense of victory to the violent. 

Indeed, are there subcultures in our society in which violence between loved ones is just "a part of life"? Is it so private that when it spills out of an elevator ride it takes several minutes and several witnesses to even assist the battered victim? No man will 'interfere' with Ray Rice as he stands around waiting for his fiance to regain consciousness following his brutal knockout punch. They all stand around, seemingly regarding her misery as a private thing between the mighty man and his property, his woman.  

There was no one around to de-escalate the two before the violence and it took months (from February to September) to seriously sanction Rice. He should be incarcerated and in rehabilitation treatment, kept separate from potential victims until he is not regarded as a danger. 

A deep degree of opprobrium, coupled with a clear societal intent to ultimately achieve a better method of conflict management, is needed and so difficult to achieve when controlled violence is what we expect from our football players, our cops, and our military. Rice probably thought that, since he rendered his girlfriend unconscious with one punch and didn't beat her much after that, it would be regarded as within the bounds of proper behavior for someone as big and tough and important as he is. Certainly that is what we forgive all the time with our police and we honor it when military attacks kill. Only the pesky peaceniks spoil the unanimity by pointing out the immorality of accepting "collateral damage" (murdered children and other noncombatants). 
Eric Garner, unarmed and never attacking anyone, murdered by New York cops
When violence is never ever heroic we will be a long way toward a nonviolent world. Our champions, our defenders, should all be nonviolent and never violent. This is a long struggle for far better norms, social mores that will lead to a world that works for all. 

Hsu, M., Huang, C., & Tu, C. (2014). Violence and Mood Disorder: Views and Experiences of Adult Patients With Mood Disorders Using Violence Toward Their Parents. Perspectives In Psychiatric Care, 50(2), 111-121. doi:10.1111/ppc.12028

Monday, September 08, 2014

Peace teams and EI

In our high-tech lives with phones distracting us and algorithms reading us, we realize that we are being manipulated by AI, by artificial intelligence. But what of the role of EI, our emotional intelligence? AI can help us organize a social movement; can EI give us the tools to build that movement and bring it across the goal line to success?

EI is the variable in research on mediation and outcomes that can mark the difference between success and failure. Learning to appraise our own and others' emotions, say researchers Michael Boland and William Ross (2010), gives us the edge.
Certainly persuasion is vastly improved when we channel and resonate with others while remaining self-aware. Guiding others back to what we commonly call rational behavior is made vastly more possible when we anticipate and recognize what will escalate and de-escalate others, and use both proactive and responsive methods to help them stay in their strongest cognitive zones.

In the field, when we are demonstrating our numbers and opinions, emotions can run high. If they spill over into dysfunctional expressions--dehumanizing, labeling, foaming rage and even violence--our movements can appear irrational, dangerous, and in need of control. If we can control our own movement and instead evince emotions that evoke empathy and resonance, we gain in public acceptance and participation. We make police look irrelevant at best, or positively unwelcome if they misbehave--rather than excused for misbehavior if our movement seems out of control.

Hence the need for peace teams with high EI, able to help the movement maintain control of the narrative by de-escalating or redirecting those who cannot manage to get a grip on their emotions in any adaptive manner.

Can EI be learned?

Speaking personally, EI is not my natural gift. I'm just an old hockey player from Minnesota who was trained in young to react with an adversarial, zero-sum approach to life in general. What my teachers made me realize, as I slowly entered the world of nonviolent social struggle, is that I can overcome my deficits by focus, by centering, by calmative self-talk. Sadly, for someone as pre-loaded as I am, I have to start afresh every time. Happily, I know I can get there. This is what makes me confident in the power of EI and nonviolence. My profound flaws can be overcome and so I am convinced anyone's can. We can reduce defensiveness, promote and provide empathy, and decrease hostility, all products of EI and all good for neutralizing threats to our movements.

I love working with folks who seem centered pretty much all the time, with an extremely high EIQ, so to speak, like being influenced by Gandhis and Kings. They are rare and we pretty much all love them. What I realize is that I can get there with preparation and for limited periods before backsliding to my natural low-EI condition. This is why I see so much hope in our ability to defuse hot rising conflict that imperils our campaigns.

Reference List
Boland, Michael J., and William H. Ross. 2010. "Emotional Intelligence and Dispute Mediation in Escalating and De-Escalating Situations." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 40, no. 12: 3059-3105. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 8, 2014).

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Peace Team values

We are building our team slowly, persuaded by a stubborn belief that where you stand determines what you see.
--Kathy Kelly, founder, Iraq Peace Team
(WNV/Iraq Peace Team). U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing.
When a peace team is trained in nonviolence, what can it accomplish? Peace teams have done all of these things listed below, and more. Peace teams have: 
  • stood in witness against war.
  • monitored and defused violence between hostile whites and Native Americans trying to practice their treaty rights.
  • kept street demonstrations from erupting into riot.
  • stopped physical violence by police and demonstrators.
  • brought an international presence into ethnic conflict zones.
  • stopped violence between KKK, police, and angry public.
  • helped keep public demonstrations and controversial events more civil, even in disagreement.
  • helped movements and campaigns create and defend their images of nonviolence.
  • drawn attention to killer sanctions imposed on civilians.
The experiences of members of peace teams are widely varied, of course. Some have simply trained for an hour, worn an armband, and walked along with a peaceful demonstration without incident. Others have been kidnapped in war zones and a couple have been killed. Many have experienced some form of de-escalation of violence, either in-progress or highly likely. 

Those most at risk are those who operate internationally, in hot conflict zones, requiring translators. They are often misunderstood at first and only gain trust of the local people over time, which is natural. They are almost never supported by any government. 

Why do it? My answer is to refer to the button points above. What if we train and train and only stop one act of police brutality? What if we act as peace team members at six demonstrations and only de-escalate one person who would otherwise have beaten someone? What if our peace team actions only really help one campaign achieve its goal because their goal was highly desirable and we kept them from alienating the public? Perhaps for some these possibilities don't measure up to our preferred use of time. For others, the chance to help in these ways is worth some time and effort. We see the values of a peace team.

Reference List
Kelly, Kathy. 2003. "A Witness to War." Progressive 67, no. 1: 23. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 7, 2014).

Friday, September 05, 2014

What is it? Thinking about definitions

What is it, this nonviolence? Who gets to define it? A kindergarten teacher is nonviolent when she puts a vase of fresh flowers on her desk and smiles at her little students, right? A young man who publicly refuses to be drafted during an invasion of another country is nonviolent, certainly. How about an old man who writes a letter to the editor arguing for peace on Earth? And really, how about a rich man who makes money entirely by playing the stock market from his home computer? That's nonviolent, eh? How about the police who pulls over the black motorist to check him out solely because he feels like it, and never pulls his gun nor does he even touch the motorist, only detains him for some questions and a computer check? Hey, the cop might have been armed but he never used violence, so that was nonviolent, right? Hmmm...

What about the little girl who is grabbed by the man and she kicks him in the groin to escape? Certainly we can't fault that, and who is going to accuse her of violence? For that matter, how about a nonviolent protester who is grabbed and smacked by the cops? Can't that protester defend himself without being called violent?

Perhaps our concept needs modification. There are several ways to do that. One, include a modifier--best way to modify, eh? So, for example, religious nonviolence, or philosophical nonviolence, or technical nonviolence, or strategic nonviolence, or structural nonviolence. All of these modifiers might need further explanation, but at least we are starting down the path toward meaningful definition.
To agree to learn more about nonviolence, check out this Pace e Bene campaign pledge. And read about strategic nonviolence at the ICNC or Einstein Institution websites. Strategic nonviolence is the sort that has--what? let's see hands--a strategy. Yes. So if I am a pacifist and I sit in blockade of a military convoy one day by myself in a fairly spontaneous act, that is not strategic nonviolence, it is nonviolent civil resistance. So nonviolent civil resistance can include strategic nonviolence but it can also include more ad hoc actions that are not part of a strategy to achieve any named goal. This is not to say that a strategy cannot follow an inspired first action of nonviolent resistance--there are certainly historical cases of that.

While some seem to modify pacifism into subsets of nonviolent positions--e.g., offensive pacifism, political pacifism, absolute pacifism, nuclear pacifism--it is most helpful to remember that pacifism at its roots is about nonparticipation, a religious or philosophical decision to not directly participate in some sort of violence.

It may be helpful to shift from attempting to narrow a definition of nonviolence and instead use nonviolent as a modifier for another noun, resistance. Nonviolent resistance begins to help us narrow the concept from a generally rosy disposition to interfering directly with violence and doing so by nonviolent means. Therefore nonviolent resistance would rule out committing or threatening to commit acts of violence, even in self-defense or defense of others. Nonviolent resistance means something more and more specific and can take in some forms of pacifism, especially, when that pacifism might involve either breaking the law (such as refusing to comply with conscription laws) or when the acts of a pacifist coincide with an element of a strategic nonviolent resistance campaign, such as refusing to purchase any product made or sold by a corporation involved in producing weapons (e.g. the GE boycott that had us all purchasing other brands of consumer goods until they no longer produced nuclear weapons).

Perception is reality in many cases. Officer Friendly may have a sidearm because it's part of his uniform and is regarded as a tool of his profession. Only pacifists would object. But a SWAT team in milspec gear, lined up with faceless shields and even balaclavas in padded kevlar toting automatic weapons--that is a violent image that transmits a stench of unfeeling brutality to all who are either in targeted populations or who fear for the nonviolent victims of those militarized regimented anonymous attackers. Similarly, a rural granddad with a gun rack may look violent only to a pacifist but is otherwise unremarkable, yet a Tea Party gathering featuring scowling open carry white males, or a line of armed militant African American community defenders all look quite violent to a large number of us. Both are going to be widely judged to be engaged in a show of violence and would never be classified by many as engaged in nonviolent resistance, even when no one fires a shot.

Filters are helpful. Can the act of nonviolent resistance also achieve reconciliation? Arguably, the more it can do so, the more it approaches pure nonviolence. This can involve focus on universally highly valued victims (join us in protecting the children) or, as peace scholar Janjira Sombutpoonsiri finds, it may involve fraternization or humor.

Definitions are tricky. Thinking about them and seeking consensus on their meanings in real life is helpful but complex. Asking ourselves to think critically instead of ideologically is a tough challenge but in our pluralistic low context culture it is a good step to take on the journey of common understanding.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Fixing our national epidemic of police violence

We do have a serious epidemic of murder-by-police in our land. A very conservative estimate compiled by the FBI puts our annual rate at more than 400, with about one-quarter of the victims African-American. Twice a week, somewhere in the US, cops shoot an African American to death. 
Militarized police confront protesters in Ferguson, St Louis, after the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
This doesn't count the times police beat people. And according to the reportage, this data is radically lowballing numbers because it relies on police departments self-reporting and only about 750 of the estimated 17,000 police bureaus bother to report to the Department of Justice on these matters, with entire states simply choosing to fail to report (e.g. Florida). 

Seriously. This violence is well known in African American neighborhoods. In my town, Portland Oregon, one of the premier African American newspapers, The Skanner, editorially advised their readers to not call police in case of emergency because the Portland police worsened the situation more than they helped and the likelihood of someone getting hurt or killed rose when police got involved. 

This is so wrong. What can be done?

There are many steps to take to start to turn this around, including, but not limited to: 
   Halt all military materials, equipment, and training of any local police anywhere in the US.
   Bring in de-escalation trainers who will teach and train nonviolent methods of conflict de-escalation.
   Divert $50 million from the massive Homeland Security budget to GAO to begin proper data collection and evaluation of local police trainings, protocols, and best practices.
   Divert $1 billion from the obese Pentagon budget and redirect to creation of many more Restorative Justice courses in Criminology and Conflict Resolution programs in public colleges and universities.
   Direct US attorneys to aggressively investigate and prosecute police who shoot anyone who is unarmed.
   Launch a massive public education campaign by a coalition of civil society groups to inform them of the problem, the injustices, and potential solutions.
   Make all these problems and potential solutions important issues for elected officials at all levels.
   Befriend a cop. Talk about this. Understand their fears. Help them understand that they will lose more and more public support if they are aggressive.
   Write about this.
   Demonstrate about this. Do it effectively, in ways that build a movement. Do not ironically engage in the sorts of behavior that make the average citizen more grateful for the thin blue line that protects them from you, the demonstrator. Those who protest the police using violence or threatened violence are either police agents or they may as well be, because they do the work of agents provocateurs.
I know you can image another series of fixes. We can turn this around if we engage.