Sisterhood – an ideal that is not upheld

We were treated to an illuminating session which focused on scripts of gender roles — they influence almost every aspect of what we see on a daily basis. It becomes an invisible force that tell us what is natural for men and women. It is also a force that is extremely constrictive due to the associated character traits and assumptions that define how men and women should act. We attempted to discuss spaces in society that exist as gender free zones – that are not laden with gender roles and scripts that shape what we believe to be normal. We were hard pressed to come up with anything. Our speaker for the day, Sujata even highlighted that bic pens invented a pen just for women, naturally it is pink and purple, glittery, and has a cushion for the fingers. It sounded so ridiculous that even pen production has become gendered, but ideas like this one infiltrate the advertising world. Sujata pointed out that it is evidence that these gender scripts are working when we are not critical of them. It was an important reminder of the need to ask questions in order to be resistant – a theme that applies to our gendered norms and far beyond.

Through learning about 2nd wave feminism, we saw how it focuses on equity and equality, and brought ideas about education and employment access for women in view. It is important to always seek to recognize the layers of power dynamics at play. The idea of ‘benevolent sisterhood’ that arose during 2nd wave feminism sought to bring these ideas to a global scale, but there was pushback about how this negates social realities. Benevolent sisterhood steps into a realm of overreach, as it assumes that the experience of a privileged white woman has inherent similarities to the experience of a woman of color. Although we have a tendency to recognize humanity’s differences as opposed to similarities, we have to be careful to not make assumptions about experiences completely different from one’s own. Claiming sisterhood with women for whom we are the colonizer, oppressor, and an imperialist power has real consequences for overlooking realities that we have no experience with. It is another example of where we need to be learning, through hearing voices that are not traditionally heard, and acknowledging privileges in order to address the silencing of many groups in society.

A theme throughout our course has been creating positive peace instead of negative peace. Positive peace is a long process, an objective that sometimes feels impossible, an effort to create justice as opposed to silences. Seeking positive peace aims for equity for all, and requires an ethic that is adopted and worked at constantly. Is it an ethic we are ready to fully embrace? It has real consequences for how we view the world, our work, our interactions…everything. If we aren’t working for positive peace, what are we doing that we see as more worthwhile? Or is it just something easier? Today’s session exposed another powerful example of the spectrum of voices in the world that are distorted. Using a feminist perspective to redefine peace, power and justice challenges us to rethink these power dynamics, and believe that they can be transformed through a long journey toward equity.

The need for humanity in peacebuilding

Through these three weeks, we have learned how the field of peacebuilding has become separated from the nations, individuals, communities, and places that it seeks to influence. It is another one of the great ironies of international work and the reality of how our societies function. The work of peacebuilding and development has come to be something that is planned in sterile offices and mapped without a sense of place, and connection to the geography, history and social context. This is a recipe for…well, not success. It might feel like we are so distant from the real answers to a more peaceful society, but they are often so much more accessible than we believe them to be. We need to access the immense ability to bring peace, development and health to communities, as the opportunity is frequently lying in wait – ready to for its potential to spread.

On our final day of SPP class, we had the opportunity to learn about a reconciliation process called Fambul Tok (meaning family talk), which is an effort to reintegrate communities in the wake of the devastating civil war in Sierra Leone. Fambul Tok invokes the power of local traditions in order to incorporate values of forgiveness and community healing. Through a series of hundreds of bonfires across the country, thousands of perpetrators of violence and victims have had to opportunity to unweight the burden of what they have experienced and what they feel. The documentary is a powerful example of the human capacity value the potential that each person has, even when they make horrible mistakes.

We have spent many sessions discussing the need to illuminate the voices of those that are closest to the issues of conflict, and have them lead the conversation about how to make change. This film and discussion took that lesson to the next level as it showed us the power that local initiatives have in recognizing the deeply rooted values, and incorporating creative and impactful strategies that recognize these values and human nature. We do the world a disservice every time we think that Western knowledge and development is superior. Even without having this explicit thought, there are so many ways that this is integrated into our biases, learning, everyday lives, and the way we were raised. This field needs to recognize where we can do more learning and less telling, and utilize resources to spread innovative ideas to the national level. Recognizing and unleashing this opportunity seems quite simple – but systems have a way of isolating the knowledge and potential that we need to implement real solutions.

I am a white, settler colonialist…

Our speaker Guntram Herb exhibited great knowledge, interest, and valorization for indigenous cultures. One of the initial sentences that he spoke was this blog’s title… It made a statement about the need to recognize who you are and where you come from. His explicit ownership of being a white, settler colonialist invited an openness in recognizing the limitations of one’s experience, and associated opportunity to expose the silence on cultures that have not been allowed to share their voices and histories. It is to the great detriment of all people when the perspective on the human experience is flattened, and actions selectively erase cultures and societies that are deemed to be inferior or disposable.

When I previously worked as a history teacher overseas, my students pointed out how I sought to weave aspects of recognizing the colonial legacy and its deeply damaging perspective into a variety of conversations and lessons. I once created a mock trial involving Namibia’s colonizers, which sought to allow for students to recognize the psychological aspect of colonialism. I was quite pleased when our class judge found the colonizers guilty for their crimes against humanity, and wished our education system would more broadly emphasize how colonialism is still alive in societies across the world. I’ve had the opportunity to live with indigenous families in South America and the 4 corners region, and have been fortunate to be able to hear some of the infinite stories, histories, and knowledge. Guntram introduced his session with a recognition of the fact that we are on Ohlone land, and California has a deeply devastating history of colonization. I was disappointed in myself that I have very limited knowledge of the Spanish mission system, and how the indigenous people of this region have been subjected to structures of erasure and silencing. It can be easy for me to become passionate about how systems of inequality work overseas, but I have not held myself accountable to using the same lens when I am walking through Monterey.

Further research taught me that thousands of Ohlone people lived on California’s central coast prior to the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 1700’s. Monterey was home to one of the first missions in what came to be called King’s Road – missions from what is now San Francisco to San Diego. The process of converting and assimilating the indigenous population (known as neophytes) involved profiting off of their forced labor. The missions served as slave plantations, nearly exterminating the captive indigenous population. The starvation, disease and hard labor that decimated them is fairly well documented by historians, but their findings are not well known. The missions are normally depicted as friars and Native Americans living side by side and happily helping one another. Upon a quick google search for Monterey historical attractions, the first description I came across was “The history of Monterey is part of its charm…” It is a disturbing phrase showing how we choose to depict a violent history. The California Mission Preservation Act of 2004 approved $10 million in grants to restore 21 Californian missions, which draw in millions of visitors each year. It is an example of how settler colonialism continues to act upon us, through sharing the stories that we find to be more convenient, and it is easier to overlook the terrible truths. We have learned throughout many sessions that systems work in ways that become invisible – they are accepted as normal, and we fail to notice how they influence our psyche. I must be more conscious and critical of the subtle and unsubtle ways that systems of silencing continue around us every day.

When we visit or learn about a mission, we must think about what stories are not shared

I am also a white, settler colonialist. Our society has heard the voices of my relatives while intentionally ignoring so many others. That is no excuse for passive acceptance of these structures, it is complicity in violence. Settler colonialism is the most devastating type of colonialism, it goes beyond exploitation for economic benefit. It seeks to eliminate the colonized and replace them with the colonizers. We also need to recognize that incorporating values and views that have been hidden is integral to aligning our unsustainable societies with a better way forward. The effects of settler colonialism are ongoing, and we have a moral mandate in order to recognize the histories and knowledge that we have systematically ignored. The Western world has strayed so far from respect for all living beings, the Earth, and communities. We become focused on our every man for themselves mentality, gobbling up more private property, and arming our national borders. We forget that this is not natural, it is not the only way of organizing a society. There is a more considerate, sustainable, and deeply undervalued culture and way of viewing the world that lies in indigenous communities. We have a great deal of work to do as individuals and a society to make changes that reflect an acknowledgement of the cultures and communities that colonialism continues to disappear.

10 days in! & 10 Positive messages about peacebuilding

With instant access to information at our fingertips, it can easily feel that the world is falling apart. The field of peacebuilding and conflict resolution does not always bring to mind images of positivity. Sometimes it makes us wonder if human beings are inherently evil, if constant turmoil is the only way, and if it is even possible to address some of the most pressing but complex issues involving war and deep divisions. Each day in SPP, we discuss human rights abuses, inequality, challenges of race relations, and the breadth of forms of violence that exist in our societies. There seemingly innumerable very real challenges and wickedly complicated problems. Despite this, I have found many reasons to be hopeful in each class. We are shown  examples of individuals and groups doing amazing work to improve our societies and open up difficult conversations that we must have. There is reason to be positive in relation to the field of peacebuilding. I want to share some of the messages from each day that show there is reason to be optimistic.

Day #1 – Conflict is good!
Great! … there is no shortage of conflicts, despite the fact that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. Without any conflict, there is no space to demand a transformation, which will ultimately shake up the status quo. It is all about how conflict is managed. We must become comfortable with conflict and it’s essential role.

Day #2 – Nonviolent civil resistance and social movements are the way to make a change
Inequality is reaching staggering levels in the United States, but we are not alone in this challenge. It is a result of specific policy decisions, but these policies can be influenced by social movements. When nonviolent movements reach a critical mass, it does result in changes. Movements that demand dignity and equal humanity are long and slow processes, but mobilizing behind a cause has a real ability to achieve objectives.

Day #3 – In every situation, there are always people building peace
Even in the areas of the world that are most wrought with war and conflict, there are local people working on creating peace. Peacebuilding from within affected communities allows for local peacebuilders to work on the micro and macro tensions that an outside actor cannot effectively address. Nations and organizations that fund peacebuilding must invest in their efforts, and trust local understanding of the situations they are seeking to ameliorate.

Day #4 – All religions speak about compassion and giving to others
There is a common perception that religion is a principle driver of conflict, and new fears are arising in today’s day and age about those that are seen as ‘different’. We can break down these incorrect perceptions. Building friendships with those of a spectrum of cultural, religious, and racial backgrounds will contribute to a greater ability to be more accepting and caring of all humans, and support those that are suffering as opposed to ostracizing them.

Day #5 – It is absence of knowledge that leads to suspicion
Dialogue can be utilized to address particular concerns through the process of joint knowledge sharing and creation, therefore it can ultimately work to diminish suspicion. It can also serve to value everyone’s contribution, while recognizing and hearing voices that have been previously strategically minimized. It is a powerful tool for creating a more integrated community, when there is space and a readiness to engage with a spectrum of ideas.

Day #6 – Political changes are happening to be ‘smart on crime’
From the 1980’s to the early 2000’s, a shift in policies largely related to the war on drugs led to a booming prison population, which disproportionately impacted communities of color. The perspective was that politicians must be tough on crime, and there is nothing to gain by being progressive in this area. We became the nation that locks up the greatest percentage of minorities, and 1 in 15 African American males are incarcerated. Today, there are shifts away from the view that the punitive response is the only option, as there is a movement underway working on bipartisan criminal reform.

Day #7 – Prevention is the answer to breaking the prison system
We saw that within the incarceration system, individuals are incredibly resilient and frequently want to engage in the journey of deep personal change. However, a prison cannot and should not be the place that is expected to transform a system – that needs to be done before individuals arrive. If we offer the next generation a quality education, equal opportunity, and show young people a narrative that they do belong in society and not in gangs – the incarcerated community will eventually age out. We need to build a system that teaches young people to envision and enact a life for themselves with greater possibility.

Day #8 – It is a time of transformation for law enforcement
In the small city of Salinas, there is a cultural shift occurring within the law enforcement community. It is also reflective of transitions happening across the country in how we view the role of police. The Salinas Police Department is reconsidering what effective policing looks like. We learned about the prioritization of building community and police relations in order to more effectively serve community interests and safety. The PD wants the face of law enforcement to be relatable, and spend time with communities that are marginalized. Like any transition, it is not a quick or easy process, but one that is essential.

Day #9 – Historians have a social responsibility, and can change ideas about justice
Most conflicts throughout the world are driven by history and memory in some aspect, whether it is in colonial roots, the systematic distortion of a group’s identity, or historically engrained inequalities. History and memory can be used as tools for creating peace. Recognizing history from a broader perspective than that of the elites is an important moral aspect of acknowledgement and truth telling, and one that can serve to ultimately build a more peaceful society.

Day #10 — If you are confused, you are learning!
It is essential to remember that in this field, those that think they have THE answer are part of the problem and not a solution. A sense of confusion is an indication of an understanding of the complexity the world, societies, issues, and individuals. This is a refreshing reminder, because I feel that I have gained an immense amount of knowledge and insight in these past two weeks, and also that my head is spinning…apparently it is sign of how much we are learning.

The need to belong

Our visit to the Salinas Valley State Prison was an inundation of experiences and emotions. Toward the end of our time there, we were in the yard that housed some of the most active members of the gangs that fill the prisons, which is consequently one of the most regimented yards. Each gang controls certain parameters, and our guide explained that there has been bloodshed over determining who owns which territory. As the inmates were released in a controlled fashion, they circled the inside track and found their places at a cement picnic table or against the back wall, where they posted themselves to quietly survey the scene. Presumably this continues for the duration of their time outside their cells for the day. Our guide brought up the need to belong, and also how everyone there feels a sense of fear. The inmates fear what terrifying consequences will occur at the hands of other gang members if they make the smallest mistake, and they also fear leaving the gang, because it could cause them to lose this sense of belonging, their identity, and the group that has become family. Our guide described that when some previous gang members step down, they may be traumatized and lose their sense of direction and role. The corrections officers are also fearful — that an event will set off violence, that they won’t be able to control it, that someone or themselves will be badly injured. Everyone in the yard has an underlying fear that something awful will happen, but instead of being able to express that fear, it must be masked by a façade of toughness.

There was an eerie sense in the yard, very measured interaction, a careful line that everyone is walking in order to maintain “getting along.” Pushpa pointed out that it was sad – especially how the northern gang was acting. They had virtually no interaction with one another. They were standing still against the back concrete wall, arms crossed, vehemently performing their assigned role in the gang, which they would continue for hours. We’re all seeking to have a role and a purpose, but for the inmates, this is where their need for belonging and purpose brought them — to the corner of a cement enclosure, where their role has become to protect their piece of the yard. But this need to belong also had very real consequences for others while these inmates were in society. It made me wonder, what makes it possible for individuals to change for the better? For these prisoners, whose role is now so deeply engrained, what can lead to the psychological shift that allows change to happen? Is it time, or events, or a particular piece of learning, that can cause the need to belong to shift to incorporate different priorities?

Just half an hour later, we found ourselves sitting in on a group session of substance abuse prevention at the Correctional Training Facility. The group was discussing their values — what is most important to them in their relationships, physical environment, intellectual growth, and emotional growth. The men in the group were so open, thoughtful, and expressed great clarity about their priorities. It was an inspiring community. Everyone that was participating seemed both eager and realistic. They embraced that they will face very real challenges when they return home…temptations to return to an old lifestyle and to fall into previous patterns, but also a belief that they can be true to the relationships they deeply value, and who they have come to understand themselves to be. Feeling the energy in the room made me feel hopeful, but it also made me concerned as to whether society is ready to accept their personal changes. I hoped that the incredible resilience and strength that they showed in that room will carry over when they face another unimaginable challenge — the stigma and expectations associated with those that have been incarcerated. How will they find a job, and housing for themselves and their families? Our systems are not set up to support individuals who are not the same as when they became incarcerated. It made me want to learn a great deal more about how those with records go about navigating society, if they are able to do the hard work on themselves in order to be released. The post-prison system is one of our nations most broken systems, as ex-offenders are likely to fail because the system predominately sets them up to do so. As options for parole become more prevalent, and the culture of rehabilitation is returning to the prison system, how is that matched by employer practices? How can community views of the previously incarcerated population transform, to reflect an understanding of how those individuals have also changed?

After the visits, Julie, who is a journalist that focuses on crime reporting, talked to us about sentencing practices. She had just told us about a juvenile that was sentenced to 65 years for being involved in a crime where a murder occurred, although he didn’t pull the trigger. I asked her about her opinion of the fairness of sentencing, especially in relation to drug charges, and the degree to which this might have impacted the inmates of SVSP and the CTF today. She pointed out that this is something that the incarcerated community does not have the privilege of questioning – due to their circumstances it could destroy one psychologically to spend their days in prison thinking about how their sentence could be predominately tied to their race. She discussed how this is the role and opportunity of the journalist community and those that are not part of the incarcerated population — to question these policies and seek to expose realities. It was a reminder of the opportunity we have to be able to think critically about issues such as sentencing, and due to these privileges we have a duty to productively share what we learn.

Calls for equity can become a poisonous apple

We had to opportunity to hear Willie’s personal story, and saw his unending passion for his work in trying to save kids from a life of gang violence in the streets. It was unlike any individual’s story I had heard before. Through his work now, he seeks to expose kids who are already affiliated with gangs, or at-risk of doing so, to ideas about what they can really be in life. Willie’s ability to relate to the young people that he works with gives him a unique opportunity, and his courage and dedication to his personal mission was evident in every word he shared. It is not possible to recapture his story, but it taught us a great deal about the psychology of gangs, which I found to have applicable lessons to various situations of violence.

Salinas is a small city with a reputation that proceeds it. Associations that frequently come to mind are that of the ‘salad bowl,’ the ripple effects of the massive agriculture business, the plight of the farm workers seeking to build a better life, and a surprising amount of violence given the population size. Gang activity has come to be a label that defines East Salinas, but the gangs were not always associated with violence. One of the principle gangs in the Salinas area began as an effort to create unity among farm workers, and work to protect the vulnerable campesinos that labor arduous hours under difficult conditions. It was founded on the beliefs of Cesar Chavez, who professed nonviolence. He was a civil rights leader who led a social movement to bring attention to the struggle of farm workers. The gang also sought to look out for the protection of this population whose challenges are rarely prioritized by society. However, Chavez’s focus on principles of nonviolence were overlooked. Gang tensions in Salinas were traditionally between those that see themselves as assimilated, and the ‘newcomers’ to the area, although this line has become blurred. We learned that despite this rivalry, 90% of violence occurs between members of the same gang. This points to a great hypocrisy. The original purpose of the organization became distorted, as it has long since transformed into a violent group that harms the same individuals that it was initially seeking to offer greater equality.

This type of transition certainly exists elsewhere, and it perplexes me. There are numerous instances of what begins as a call for justice, ultimately becomes a poisonous apple involving cycles of violence. Groups and organizations that originally aim to stand up for the plights of the marginalized, sometimes transform into something that perpetrates violence against these populations that are most in need of protection. Peru’s sendero luminoso began in the late 1970’s, and aimed create a new democracy and Maoist utopian society, led by a regime where the impoverished rural population would ultimately provide leadership. The sendero luminoso became an armed terrorist group that caused thousands of deaths, principally of indigenous farmers that it had sought to offer opportunity. FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was initially founded to address the staggering inequality in the nation, but ultimately became a guerrilla army, notorious throughout Latin America and the world. The indigenous population and rural communities ultimately suffered disproportionately during the Colombian armed conflict from 1964 – 2017. In the anti-apartheid resistance movement, various groups that fought to upend the entrenched political, economic and social marginalization of all non-whites ended up perpetrating terrifying acts of violence against one another. Is it because systems of power seem untouchable? In the face of desperation and structural violence, do tensions boil over to those that are facing similar circumstances? It strikes me as a mysterious and terrible pattern. Our speaker described the depth of psychological manipulation that he experienced, which offers insight into what allows this transition to take place.

Willie was drawn into the gang because of his desire to be a part of something with a purpose, with a cause of bettering his people, where he played a role, and felt a sense of unity. This is obviously something that all humans need and desire. Unfortunately, this need can be deeply misused and can result in a perpetuating cycles of violence against the disenfranchised. Messages of fairness can turn into indoctrination, lies and manipulation. Everyone needs to hear a message that they belong and are needed. It is a matter of who is delivering that message and their motives. The education system and societies must allocate resources and opportunities to offer that message to all individuals. Otherwise, those that most need to hear that their have a role in society can fall victim to evolving messages about how equality and opportunity will be brought to their communities.

When we can’t see our noses in front of our faces

Trying to notice the obvious…in relation to the refugee crisis

Our speaker on Thursday was Father Cedric, an individual who clearly practices what he preaches about the need to share warmth and kindness with the world. He offered us some of his wisdom in relation to displacement and refugees. During one activity about words we associate with refugees, he reminded us that we were forgetting one of the most central words, because sometimes the obvious is easy to overlook. I began noticing a pattern, what sometimes seems like it should be crystal clear, has somehow become alarmingly distant from individual and societal practices. In relation to peacebuilding and the refugee crisis, it seems like there are numerous ways that we cannot see our noses in front of our faces (I might have picked up this idiom from my grandma, who was a dictionary of obscure phrases. Just in case, it references being oblivious to something in clear view).

Father Cedric discussed the importance of having friends of different races and religions. He reinforced that the increasingly common ‘fear of the other’ that we see in society can be remedied by friendships. Being friends allows us break down fears, or prevent them from ever arising. I questioned what this looked like for me growing up — I am from a suburban town in a state that is 94% white (Vermont). I was not very curious when I was younger about the different ways that people view and experience life, likely because my classmates and I all shared quite similar views, and the education system did not push us to critically consider these questions. I had one friend of a different race than myself, and she was the only individual of color in my elementary school classes. It made me think about how difficult that must have been, and I doubt that as we grew up anyone sought to listen to that story, which made me feel frustrated that I was so short sighted. It points to the need to pose real questions about people’s beliefs, experiences and values, and to actually listen to one another. It made me additionally grateful for the opportunities I have had to live in the homes of those with backgrounds completely different than my own, and to ask about their families, what they care about, their history, their hardships, and their successes. When I have the chance to do this, I realize it is easy to build caring relationships and connect. It seems like in today’s day and age, life is structured around separation rather than unity. Where we live, places of worship, what we do for fun, and where we spend our time, doesn’t invite a great deal of sharing across cultures, and other lines that have become deemed ‘boundaries.’ It makes me reconsider how something as seemingly straightforward and attainable as intercultural friendship, can holding immense potential in addressing issues related to refugees, migration, and social divisions.

Another essential point that our speaker highlighted that we need to recognize is where refugees come from and why they are displaced. It is somehow all too easy for us to overlook the reality that U.S. practices and vested interests create situations of violence and conflict, where refugees are then are forced flee their homes as a last resort. The irony and injustice of this is alarming. When I was in the Andes, I learned about the School of the Americas, located in Fort Benning, Georgia. Since 1946, SOA has trained a roster of graduates that returned to Latin America to become ruthless military dictators. Although friendly to U.S. interests, they perpetrated gross human rights violations as leaders. This is just one example of an inconvenient truth that is forgotten when we consider what types of policies, approaches and beliefs to enact in relation to refugees and asylum seekers. How have we overlooked that many of our vested political and economic interests result in the displacement of millions of people? We must see beyond the end of our own noses (…include a broader perspective that encompasses reality)! To address the root causes of refugee crises, as a nation we have a bit of uncomfortable searching to do about our own role, and how to ameliorate those root causes through transforming actions.

This past semester, my friend and SPP classmate Emily and I did a project in our Spanish class about climate refugees. The number of displaced people in the world will only be growing, largely due to climate change. Although it has been predominately created by the global North, the effects are disproportionately suffered in the global South. This fact is matched by increasingly nationalist policies in relation to refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers, a frightening pattern that shows how we have forgotten these individual’s humanity. This project and our session today cemented my conviction that the refugee crisis merits an incredible amount of attention and resources that it is not receiving. A return to the messages of glaring overtness that we learned through this session, could play a central role in building an international community that equally values everyone on our Earth.


But what do peace and nonviolence really mean?

We had an invigorating session about the power of nonviolence; although it was only two hours, it holds lessons and connections that I hope to always remember. We were treated to a presentation by Kazu Haga, who is the founder of East Point Peace Academy. His organization is based in Oakland, and works to create a culture of peace and justice for all through education and training on nonviolence practices, particularly with the incarcerated community and law enforcement community. We began by learning about society’s tendency to describe peace as a sense of quiet and calm, that only comes when individuals and groups come to accept the injustice that they face. I was shocked to hear of the irony that Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested multiple times on charges of ‘disturbing the peace.’ We discussed how the violence that we see in our society can be a cry for real peace, not a superficial peace where communities are still systematically denied justice and opportunity. This learning will certainly remind me to expand my vision of what peace is, and recognize the ways that society, the media, and individuals frequently mislabel the acceptance of injustice and suppression of voices as peace.

These photos show images that occurred during the 2015 Baltimore protests of the killing of Freddie Gray. There is nothing about the images that oozes the sense that harmony is right around the corner. However, our society’s general unwillingness and inability to have productive discussions that address the reality of our history of racism, and current structural and cultural violence against individuals and communities of color, point to the fact that violent actions are seeking to create a disruption to push our society to have this discussion. It reminded me of how the media frequently portrayed the election of Barack Obama as evidence that we had entered an era of ‘post-racial’ America and that we had become a ‘colorblind’ society. Although it was an amazing step in our nation’s history, the use of these terms created a convenient excuse to not address the deep roots of racism and marginalization that founded our society and continue to thrive. At the time of his election I did not realize how damaging these ideas are, due to my personal isolation from racial oppression in our nation. I see how essential it is to recognize instances of when we as a nation and global community seek to justify negative peace that creates a false calm, as opposed to pushing for a more truly equitable society.

One quote that our speaker mentioned that I love is Dr. King’s famous statement, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He described to us that the universe gives us a return on our investments, and when we invest in militarization, oppression, and violence, that is what we get in return. His points to the necessity of institutionalizing nonviolence, otherwise we cannot expect the universe to offer it back to us. In the long run, in the entire trajectory of the universe, we cannot lose hope that peace is attainable. Individuals and societies must invest in practices, policies and perspectives that result in bending our reality toward justice, as opposed to bending it toward divisions and violence.

Nonviolence can help break this system

At the end of the session, I asked our speaker what he would like the public to understand about the incarcerated community that he works with. He said it is important to remember that, “the prison population is no different than you, and given the right set of circumstances anyone is capable of anything.” This certainly challenged me to remember that just as violence can be learned by any individual, hope and empathy can be learned as well in the face of unimaginable circumstances. It left me with a great deal to think about in relation to the role of non judgment, and how it should inspire individual and societal action against the systems that create circumstances that lead to violence. I ended the day with poignant reminders of the need to reserve indignation for systems and conditions, over the individuals that are broken and hurt by those systems and conditions.

The Arts and the power of protest

I was intrigued by the topic of our first day’s presentations, largely due to a few instances that stand out from my experiences abroad in relation the role of the art in sharing and celebrating cultures. I have seen it used as a powerful medium to speak to the identity of a historically undervalued population, and serve as a means of truth telling. The example that most frequently comes to mind is the street art in Otavalo, Ecuador, a small city north of Quito where I’ve lived, worked, and returned to multiple times. In this city, few of the walls are blank, and much of the striking graffiti is done by a young indigenous artist named Tenaz. He uses his skills to share messages that celebrate indigenous identity and resilience. The presence of his work has resulted in the streets of Otavalo radiating the pride of local populations, a poignant protest in the face of centuries of marginalization.

The unique graffiti by Tenaz in Otavalo changes the atmosphere of the city

Through our session entitled Media and Arts for Peace: Creativity, Strategy, Storytelling, I gained a much broader perspective about how media and the arts are strategically used (and should be increasingly used) throughout the world to create new understandings and attitudes in society, a crucial aspect of conflict reconciliation. We discussed how arts and media are instrumental in incorporating perspectives and attitudes that help to address and prevent violence. This reality may be reflected in the fact that arts and culture are often the first targets by oppressors, which demonstrates the danger that oppressive regimes see in the arts’ ability to win hearts and minds. We heard from our presenter that 70% of human decisions are based on emotions, pointing to the power of the arts to harness this potential in productive ways, to build empathy and break down misconceptions. Although humans sometimes envision ourselves as deeply analytical, this fact about our decision making is a reminder of how the right message can evoke emotions that are essential in building more peaceful societies.

An example of Titus Kaphar’s work

We learned about numerous inspiring examples of how artists and designers are using their mediums to foster intercultural dialogue for the promotion of peace across the globe, often times opening up discussion that society and governments avoid or struggle to partake in. One particular example that stood out to me is a US based artist named Titus Kaphar, who seeks to stimulate conversation to create more complete narratives about race and our nation’s history. He has a totally unique style, through disrupting Classical and Renaissance pieces by highlighting different faces and stories. As I mentioned in my first blog, before coming to MIIS I was a history teacher. I believe this role offers a unique opportunity to seek out the stories that are not commonly told in textbooks and the mainstream education system, which contributed to my reaction to this artists’ message. I was struck by how his work incites the viewer think about how we have distorted the history of racial minorities and overlooked their perspectives. In Titus’ Ted talk, he begins by working to transform an alarmingly racially biased piece of a wealthy white family with a slave boy and states, “This was in a museum.”

It begs the question, why do we celebrate and promote the history of such a small privileged class, while hoping that the stories of those that are deemed second class citizens quietly disappear? His work serves as a powerful reminder that in order to reconcile conflicts, there is a need to address the truth, and not strategically erase history. Today we saw how art can be more suited to stirring productive emotions to engage in that process than words.

Thoughts at the Start of SPP

Through SPP, I am anticipating learning to further recognize the ways in which opportunities for peacebuilding and conflict resolution surround us on a daily basis. In preparing for the course, a theme that stood out is the role that reflecting on our own biases, perspectives and values plays in taking initial steps toward a society that is free of violence. One quote that I found to be especially poignant is from Johan Galtung’s 1990 article, Cultural Violence, and how “it changes the moral color of an act from wrong to right, or at least to acceptable. It makes reality opaque so that we do not see the violent act as fact, or as violent” ( p. 292). Peacebuilding encompasses a huge spectrum of topics and societal challenges; having an idea of where to begin can seem like an impossible task. This quote reminded me of the need of assessing society’s morals in the process of peacebuilding, because violence is frequently sewn into society in ways that have become normalized, leading to a failure to fully recognize injustices as an immoral act of violence. A society’s assessment of their morals must begin with individual reflection, and this individual reflection could begin a process of determining how to create a society where cultural and structural violence is not apathetically accepted. This journey of reflection is a small step that I believe seems like an attainable starting place, which I’m sure will be integrated in many creative ways throughout the coming weeks.

Before beginning my studies at MIIS this past January, I was a history teacher for an academic semester program (The Traveling School), where I traveled with my students throughout South America and Southern Africa. I was inspired to learn about the wisdom, stories and experiences of indigenous cultures, whose voices are not heard as the loudest voices in society. A theme of my learning was the ways that communities of color are influenced and limited by structural violence across the globe. Throughout this position, we learned through texts and heard through experiential learning about how justification of violent treatment on ethnic or racial minorities continue today. Those that are seen as ‘inferior’ have existed to serve the needs of the dominant race/class throughout history, and systems are in place to maintain these hierarchies. My studies and teaching abroad contributed to my passion for seeking to understand why these systems of thought and associated injustice arise, their impact throughout the past and present, and tangible ways that seeking to form equitable societies can rectify these wrongs. Gaining perspectives about how structures of violence operate throughout the world is fascinating and important, and it has reminded me of the necessity of addressing conflict resolution here at home. It is just as important to dig into how these structures operate in our backyards, and seek to illuminate our own role in hopefully bringing attention and action to these issues.

With one of my wonderful Ecuadorian host families

I am looking forward to all aspects of this program, but am especially eager to gain greater insights into how violence operates in relation to the prison epidemic and gang issues in the US and in Monterey County. This issue warrants great attention because it is so often hidden from discussions in mainstream media. I have recently been reading an excellent and disturbing book called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, which is about how our societal conscious and unconscious biases have served to create a system of control through prison and parole that concentrates discrimination on non-white races and ethnic minorities, and treats them as disposable members of society. This system all too commonly serves to neglect these individuals and groups, as opposed to addressing the root causes of the opportunity gap in our society. I am excited to learn from local organizations and practitioners about their work on this complex issue. I expect that through SPP we will have the opportunity to consider why these forms of structural and cultural violence have been implemented and become accepted, and multi-dimensional approaches to chipping away at these deep seated issues. I expect it to be one important phase of a much greater journey for us as individuals and professionals, and one that I am happy to be able to share with this group of insightful classmates.