Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Communities and Peacebuilding in Times of Crisis (Part II)

What is it that makes communities such an ideal level of change in our world of transnational crises? To find an answer to this, it was helpful to reflect upon our conversations with leaders of NGOs such as Harmony at Home (focused on ending violence and bullying in schools), 2nd Chance (working on “intervention programs” for gangs in Salinas), and Cornerstone Hauling and Gardening (providing jobs to ex-convicts and help them reintegrate to society). From these conversations, one of the most evident and encouraging aspects of community-level initiatives is that they target immediate and specific problems which are often hard to address at the regional or national levels. Another important aspect of the “community” as an ideal level for peacebuilding is the basic fact that it is the level of governance and organization that is “closest” to the people. In a democratic and participatory sense, this is one of the cornerstones of communities being an ideal vehicle for change and peacebuilding, as they depend on the active participation of peoples from different backgrounds and perspectives. Moreover, I now believe that community organizations such as the CASP are often the most adequate to identify the most pressing problems and often find the most adequate and community-sensitive solutions to problems such as poverty, violence, and social injustice.

The ability of communities to come up with effective and innovative solutions to issues of violence, poverty and sustainability is certainly dependent on actors, institutions, and policy at higher levels of governance (i.e. national governments, international organizations, the business sector, etc.). Indeed, one of the main conclusions from our meetings with the CASP and NGO leaders is that their programs are often constrained by funding, expertise, and policy guidance from national governments, international organizations, and major business groups. For example, one of the most interesting and effective initiatives from our conversation with Linda McGlone, who works at the Monterey County Health Department, was the Crime Prevention through Environmental Design. This program seeks to create safe and livable spaces in the city of Salinas by painting and cleaning streets, installing lighting posts and building parks and green spaces. However, the process of revitalizing community areas is expensive, and it would not be possible without the help of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

One of the most powerful lessons from the SPP so far is that, although seemingly insurmountable and complex, many of the twenty-first century challenges we now face can be addressed by communities at the local level. Indeed, community-level initiatives often depend on actors and institutions at higher (i.e. at the provincial, regional, national, or even supranational) levels for funding and policy guidance. However, it would be futile to think of tackling climate change or extreme poverty, for instance, if individuals and communities around the world are not on board with such initiatives. Given this potential for change and effectiveness, local-level initiatives give us good reasons to smile through the apocalypse by finding innovative, effective, and participatory ways to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.

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Photo obtained from the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page
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