Possibilities of a Peace Education

By: Cassandra Cronin

I enjoyed Qamar Huda’s session on “Peace, Education, and Conflict Studies” because it provided a way to dissect a school’s formal curriculum, and analyze the reasons why certain subjects focus on the topics they do. For example, it hadn’t dawned on me how problematic it is to center a history curriculum on wars and other violent conflicts. When we were tasked to create our own school curriculum, it was, of course, extremely difficult. Perhaps because my education brainwashed me into believing that history must evolve around war, and that wars constitute one of the most efficient ways to organize historical events. My group quickly figured out that decolonizing the curriculum would allow for much more creativity and freedom in the classes and activities that could be offered to students. For instance, we proposed a core peace education class for first-year students, English classes that would teach students conflict resolution and communication skills, and history classes would highlight non-Western countries and cultures. The informal curriculum included events such as national night outs, hiking trips, parental support workshops, and potluck dinners.

This imaginary curriculum was the polar opposite of what I experienced. I completed middle school and high school in Georgia, so many of my history classes followed a conservative curriculum focused on “southern” history. We spent the majority of the year learning about War World I, War World II, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. This was in part due to my textbooks, most of which were created to be approved for Texas state schools (Texas is one of the largest textbook buyers in the U.S. meaning many writers strive to write books that align with the state’s curriculum). These textbooks would omit certain major historical events, or spin others to fit a certain narrative. Some of the most controversial proposed changes for textbooks included calling the slave trade the “Atlantic Triangular Trade” (pretending slavery never happened) and calling President Barack Obama “Barack Hussein Obama” (not acknowledging that he was president). On the other hand, these textbook writers have figured out ways include opinions, such as justifying McCarthyism and general anti-communism sentiments, masked as historical facts.

Just like textbook makers in Texas tried to rewrite history, I also had teachers who attempted to do the same. Some teachers falsely labeled the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression”, claiming the entire conflict was about fighting for “states’ rights.” When we covered the Civil Rights Movement, we discussed figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Malcom X. We did not learn about black nationalist groups such as the Black Panther Party, or more contested activists such as Angela Davis. Qamar’s session helped me come to the conclusion that many schools’ curriculum are designed to brainwash students into believing a specific narrative and imposing its own version of American history. Figuring out ways to change schools’ curriculum to not be centered on war, while including people often forgotten in history, would be incredibly difficult but necessary.

Reflecting on Prison Visits

By Cassandra Cronin

After visiting the two prisons, even having reflected for a couple of days, I still don’t know how to feel about the entire experience. I’m not sure my emotions even matter. My takeaways from the visits should not be centered on what made me uncomfortable or angry (even though these emotions helped me formulate my thoughts). It was a privilege to see what many only read about or see on television—the ordinary person can’t walk into a prison and demand a tour. The hours we spent learning about the inner workings of the prisons, as well as listening to the perspectives of those who guard one of America’s most controversial institutions, was an incredible experience.

I didn’t enter the prison with any particular expectations, but a lot of what I observed did not match what is portrayed on television. The whole point of TV is to entertain, so it’s not hard to believe that many shows either romanticize or create fantasies surrounding inmates’ lives. For example, Orange is the New Black has received a lot of criticism about how it represents a women’s federal prison. Many disapprove of Piper’s naive character, or the ways in which the show downplays the role racial divides play in prisons. A&E’s Beyond Scared Straight has also received a lot of criticism as many aren’t convinced “scared straight” programs work. Giving money towards deterrence (scared straight programs try to “scare” minors into not wanting to go to prison, so that they’ll stop partaking in bad behavior), diverts funds from programs that actually stop minors from entering the criminal justice system. This includes health, education, and employment programs to family counseling resources.

On another note, a lot of the narrative concerning the inmates during the day, much like on television, focused on their willingness to complete programs to “better” themselves. I also remember hearing the world agency being used without acknowledging the implications behind the word. Determining inmates’ agency in relation to what educational or professional programs they could complete was ignoring the diversity of experiences that can be found in a prison. Inmates make a lot of decisions while serving their time. They can chose to complete classes, join prison gangs, commit acts of violence against others, or keep their head down and serve their sentence. There isn’t one experience that encapsulates what it’s like to be in prison, and there isn’t one narrative that explains the difficulties inmates face.

Past emotions, the improper representation of inmates on television, and debating agency, peacebuilders should focus on ways to improve conditions inside the prisons and alleviate the issues that feed the prison industrial complex (preventative programs, sentencing reform, educational and rehabilitative resources for inmates to name a few).

Violence as an Epidemic and Voter Suppression in the Age of Liberation Technology

Illustration by João Fazenda. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/29/voter-suppression-tactics-in-the-age-of-trump

By: Cassandra Cronin

Joseph Bock’s session on “Violence as a Public Health Challenge” provided a new lens through which to view violent conflict and possible ways to alleviate it. Looking at conflict through the “Cure Violence” model created by Epidemiologist Gary Slutkin (interrupt transmission, reduce highest risk, change community norms) serves as a great opportunity to look at mind-boggling issues in a different light. Also, Slutkin’s article “Violence as a Disease” takes it a step further and looks as violent conflict as a public health issue to argue that the “-issue of violent behavior is much broader and deeper than current law enforcement, firearm control, and mental health debates may suggest. If we want to reduce violence in our local and global communities, we must acknowledge that it is predictable and preventable.” Take gun violence for instance. If gun violence is broader and deeper than current law enforcement, firearm control, and mental health issues, then what is really the root cause of the violence? What structures are responsible? And what can we do to change those structures?

Our discussion of liberation technology, a term coined by Larry Diamond to include “any form of information and communication technology (ICT) that can expand political, social, and economic freedom,” also provided a new method through which to enact change. I was on the side of the room that researched the Ushahidi technology, which was a website first utilized to monitor the 2017 Kenya election. Eyewitness reports of violence surrounding the elections were collected and put on google maps to determine when and how people’s votes were being suppressed. I was so intrigued to find out that the technology had already been used in the U.S.—specifically in partnership with Obama’s 2012 campaign technical team. The technical team used Ushahidi to compile data when someone had an issue voting. This included instances of voter suppression, voting locations running out of paper ballots, and voter machines glitching or not working. The technology detected spikes in certain areas, and the technical team was able to use the data to persuade a judge to rule to keep certain polling locations open longer in four different states. This allowed thousands of additional people to exercise their right to vote.

We talk about using these technologies to monitor elections in Kenya, Mozambique, and Nigeria, but campaigns in the U.S. need to continue using these technologies to detect and counter voter suppression that occurred in the 2016 presidential elections and the 2018 midterm elections. I come from a state that’s had the most contested elections including congress and gubernatorial races. I’ve seen and experienced, first-hand, how this is a real issue effecting real people. I was one of the 107,000 people removed from the voter rolls in Georgia without notification in 2018, and I’m also the daughter of a voter of color in a swing county who couldn’t vote in Georgia’s 2016 presidential primaries because her polling location (one that had been the same for many years) changed without notification. These technologies should be widely used at the local and federal level to ensure people’s right to vote is protected.

Finding Comfort in “Ghosts,” and “Livability” as a Tool for Understanding

My great-grandmother Maria Magdalena Sarante Delgadillo who was incredibly close to my mother. She died suddenly from complications from an aneurysm. My mom dreams of her the most, and wishes that me and my brothers could’ve met her.

By: Cassandra Cronin

The concept of human rights for the dead, an idea we discussed in Kathryn Poethig’s morning session, was new to me. The sessions thus far have only focused on fighting for the rights of the living while holding those responsible for violence accountable for their actions. We’ve neglected to discuss how death can have a lingering impact on communities, or the different ways in which communities cope with those deaths. Kathryn specifically mentioned the My Lai massacre, or the mass murder of South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, to provide an example of an entire community dealing with the effects of violence and death. After the massacre, locals told stories of how they saw, and sometimes communicated with, the ghosts of loved ones killed in the massacre. She also mentioned the story of a Vietnamese war veteran who was haunted by the ghost of a fallen U.S. soldier after peeing on his grave. Months later, the Vietnamese veteran was experiencing terrible migraines, which finally subsided when he made sure the U.S. soldier’s body was returned to his family in the U.S.

Although these stories are moving, I’m not sure about how I feel about ghosts or spirits. I did grow up hearing family members talk about them. My mother’s has shared that she dreams of passed loved ones from time to time. When she wakes up she scrambles to understand the hidden messages in the dream as if they’re trying to give her advice or warn her of upcoming difficulties. The prospect of communicating with passed loved ones through dreams is difficult for me to grasp—I’m fortunate to have never lost anyone close to me. I do understand that dreaming of passed loved ones is my mom’s way with coping with that loss, and reassuring her that even if they’re not with her physically, they’re with her spiritually. I think I’ll eventually find a lot of comfort in dreaming about loved ones as well as a way to remember them.

The afternoon session’s focus on Judith Butler’s notion of “livability” was fascinating, and I think it fits in well within peacebuilding. Butler defined livability (how viable or livable one’s life is) as being directly related to the implicit and explicit factors that determine how precarious (how easily someone’s life can be injured or destroyed) one’s life is. First, I thought that the notion of livability could be a useful tool in understanding other’s position in life in connection to their precariousness. Livability could be used to explain that everyone is struggling against factors in and out of their control, and that people who don’t adhere to the gender binary and dominate heterosexual behavior experience greater precariousness. Another aspect of Butler’s argument that stood out was the ethical dilemma of livability—specifically, whether living a “bearable” life was good enough. This connected very well to the article we were assigned to read on refugees, which one could argue live bearable (or less than bearable) lives.

The Complexities Associated with Spaces of Domination and Reconciliation

By Cassandra Cronin

Professor Guntram Herb’s session on “Spaces of Domination and Reconciliation” pushed me to reflect on what spaces of domination and reconciliation could look like, and how seemingly “neutral” spaces can become politicized.

When talking about spaces, I find it the easiest to define them according to their physical location on a map. I can remember taking geography classes in middle and high school where teachers made the class memorize countries and their capitals. It’s much harder to analyze these places’ significance, and question why cities and countries are represented the way they are on traditional maps. I appreciated how Professor Herb explained how maps can be designed to misrepresent reality. For example, he talked about the importance of space, place, and scale, and showed examples of how regular maps fail to show how cities become isolated due to their remoteness from major highways and public transportation.

Our conversation regarding non-representational geographies, and how spaces of domination have been created through the emergence of the modern state system was fascinating. It made me think of the Italian unification process, completed only in 1871, as an example of the complexity in setting national boundaries in places where regions still carry a lot of pride for their respective cultures (for instance, the clash of identities between Northern and Southern Italians). When Italy finally unified, there still was a lot of tension and violence occurring between the new central government and Sicilians. Sicilians did not identify with the new national identity, and instead wanted to maintain their own political, economic, and cultural autonomy. They attempted to do so by refusing to abide by the harsh new regime and their crushing taxes which disproportionately disadvantaged southerners. The subsequent criminalization and violent crackdown of Sicilians, instead of alleviating the situation through economic reforms to revamp the island’s agrarian economy, fostered rebellion, lawlessness, and, in the end, criminal organizations (the mafia). Long story short, the Italian government’s initial failure to properly integrate Sicilians into the fabric of the new Italian nation was the major catalysts for one of the most infamous organized crime phenomena in history.

The idea of spaces as dynamic products of social relations where people’s various identities intervene is also relevant to what we learned about gangs. Perhaps we should be thinking about how gangs interact with spaces. For example, Kelly McMillin discussed how gangs mark their territory using symbols to control an area, carry out their illicit activities without interruption or competition, and guarantee the safety of the community and fellow gang members. During our prison visits, guards talked about how common spaces in prisons (tables or places on the yard) can also be marked as territory. In this case, gangs might create spaces of domination that are informed by their gang’s respective norms as a survival tactic and method of control.

The Power of Community Alliances

By Cassandra Cronin

I think the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) meeting is good example of what can be achieved if organizations are given the space to come together and collaborate. This space for collaboration allows them to group limited resources in order for those resources to have a greater impact on the community. I left the session wondering about how this same model could be used across all types of organizations, and how a similar coalition could benefit student organizations at a college level. At Wellesley, one of the most frustrating aspects of being a part of an organization was feeling isolated. Because there was no easy way to reach out to all the orgs on campus, it became difficult to collaborate. Additionally, many orgs felt territorial about the events they wanted to throw, and refused to work alongside others. This resulted in an over-programming of similar events with low attendance (especially if no food was provided). Establishing a similar coalition at Wellesley would not only foster a stronger sense of community and alleviate the issue of over-programming, it would also allow organizations to support each other.

A good example of the power of these community coalitions was reflected in the “National Night Out” event, which was held at the Salinas Recreation Center on August 6th. The goal of the “National Night Out,” an annual event, was to promote strong police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie in order to make Salinas a safer, more caring, and stronger community. CASP members commented on the significance of the event for the community after the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting. Everyone especially celebrated how the local organizations helped voice support for and publicize the event, which increased community attendance. Better coordination between organizations on events and outreach, like the “National Night Out” event in other cities could lead to greater community engagement.

Concerning the meeting’s agenda, the most impactful part was when José Arreola encouraged everyone to reflect on the shootings in Gilroy, CA. More importantly, he wanted everyone in the room to think about how the shooting affected them personally and as leaders. Before that moment, I had not taken much time to reflect on the latest mass shooting. I realized that I had become somewhat desensitized to the violence, and cynical about the prospects of instituting gun control or anything remotely resembling meaningful change. From the public outrage surrounding Sandy Hook to the heartless “thoughts and prayers” social media posts surrounding El Paso, many Americans have learned to equate mass shootings as an unfortunate part of life in America. I took note of how dangerous that indifference can be. I wasn’t even sure of how to answer this question. I mentioned that a part of me gets nervous when my family goes out to see a movie, to fearing that my little brother’s high school will be broadcast as the latest tragedy. I deeply appreciated the time to reflect and share my thoughts with others.

Challenges and Future Opportunities Connected to Water Scarcity

By: Cassandra Cronin

Map of projected water stress by country in 2040 provided by the World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/resources/data-sets/aqueduct-projected-water-stress-country-rankings

Jeff Langholz’s presentation on “opportunities and obstacles for reducing water conflicts through on-site water production” was thought-provoking. The negotiating activity before the formal presentation was great because it reminded me to stay grounded and always be aware of the needs of others. I was so focused on getting my partner to see things my way and come over to my side so I could “win” that I forgot the true objective. My partner even suggested the solution but, being hardheaded, I refused. She suggested we switch sides to ensure we could both reach our objective in bringing the other to stand on our respective sides. As soon as time ran out I realized that my approach and definition of winning was completely wrong. I forgot that peacebuilding doesn’t favor one winner, but instead solutions that benefit as many affected groups as possible.

New water-collecting technologies provide great opportunities for making the resource cheaper and more accessible in a world where water scarcity will only continue to drive conflicts. In fact, many water crisis already exist in many places including Palestine, South Africa, Syria, and Haiti. Thinking of ways to mitigate water scarcity should already be a global priority. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think of our sessions with Kevin Avruch about the dangers of entering communities, shaking up their structures and cultures, and leaving having created the potential for future conflict. Instituting these water technologies could have a similar impact. For example, building these technologies in a community would provide them access to inexpensive water, but it would also challenge multibillion dollar industries that make money by exploiting water scarcity. These industries, alongside the lobbyists and politicians who benefit from their money, might turn to violence and oppression to maintain their power and influence.

What ultimately happened to Berta Cáceres (2015 Goldman Prize Recipient) is an example of the dangers associated with challenging these multibillion dollar industries. Cáceres won the Goldman Prize due to her work with the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras who succeeded in stopping the world’s largest dam builder from building the Agua Zarca Dam on Río Gualcarque. She was assassinated in 2016 by special forces in the Honduran military. Her death is not an outlier. 164 environmental activists fighting against the mining, logging, and agribusiness industries were assassinated in 2018. Many governments and multinational corporations understand the benefits of resource control, and will want to maintain their power no matter how much local communities suffer.

The stakes are definitely high and activists need to continue challenging these industries in order to protect the well-being and livelihoods of others, and create a world where industries aren’t allowed to profit off of human suffering.

Thoughts on Excessive Force and Stand Your Ground

By: Cassandra Cronin

My family posing for a photo with hoodies, which was a trend created to stand in solidarity with Treyvon Martin’s family after his death in 2014. Treyvon Martin was a 17 year old boy who was racially profiled, deemed dangerous, and murdered by George Zimmerman because he was simply wearing a hoodie.

Our discussion with Kelly McMillin concerning Graham v Connor and the stand your ground laws were the most interesting topics we covered that evening. It was especially interesting to me because of where I’m from. Georgia is an incredibly conservative, pro-gun, and pro-stand your ground state. I grew up knowing people who owned guns for self-defense, or used them on hunting trips. At the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking of the cases where Graham v Connor and stand your ground failed to protect people of color such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Treyvon Martin, and Marissa Alexander.

In many cases, it is difficult to prove an excessive use of force beyond a reasonable doubt as defined by Graham v Connor. The case determines that, for police officers, excessive force is justified based on three main factors: the severity of the suspect’s crime, the level of threat the suspect poses on the safety of others, and whether or not the suspect is resisting or evading arrest. These factors are much too vague as they leave a lot space for subjective interpretation and abuses of power.

Sometimes the law tries to get it right. Police officer Nouman Raja was convicted in Florida for the murder of Corey Jones in 2015 (a black housing inspector and musician who was killed by officer Raja while waiting for roadside assistance). In the Eric Garner case, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials Rosemarie Maldonado recently recommended that Daniel Pantaleo (the officer that put Garner in a chokehold) be fired for his involvement in the case. Unfortunately, there are many more cases where the law fails to hold police officers accountable for using excessive force. In the case of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department worked hard to cast doubt and uncertainty on the situation. Specifically, the police department sabotaged evidence by sending the gun used by Darren Wilson, the officer who killed the 18 year old, for DNA evidence rather than fingerprint tests. This made it impossible to gather evidence to determine whether Brown reached into Wilson’s car to try to grab the gun. Wilson was cleared of any wrongdoing in 2015. Other police officers responsible for the deaths of Philando Castile, Freddy Grey, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling have avoided charges altogether or failed to be convicted of any crime.

I have conflicting feelings towards stand your ground laws. I understand that some people own guns to protect themselves and their family, and then expect the law to protect them if they injure or kill someone in self-defense. At the same time, stand your ground laws have allowed for racialized extrajudicial killings like in the cases of Treyvon Martin and Elijah Al-Amin. There are also many cases that put into question the uneven application of these laws along racial lines. Marissa Alexander, a black woman in Florida who fired a warning shot at her husband in self-defense, was denied to be considered under stand your ground and sentenced 20 years for aggravated assault.

A lot still needs to be done concerning excessive force and civilian abuses of self-defense laws, and it’s hard not to be left frustrated by the bleak possibility for change.

Global Identity as a Cure-All?

By Cassandra Cronin

The idea of a global identity, a concept we discussed in Eugenia Manwelyan’s lecture on “Violence, Peace, and Technologies of Belonging,” is frightening for me. As an Afro-Dominican, I understand that identity is extremely political. I also believe that adopting a global identity would not only be inadequate in establishing a peaceful world, it would also do more harm than good. I would rather live in a world that celebrates cultural and historical differences than taking the easy way out and eradicating everything that makes humans special and different.

Take the ethnic cleansing occurring in the Dominican Republic—a conflict largely driven by issues of identity. Although Haiti and the Dominican Republic share similar histories regarding colonization, each adopted very different identities regarding their blackness. Haitians celebrate their African roots, and honor being the distant relatives of those who successfully fought off their colonizers. On the other hand, Dominicans cling on to their indigenous Taíno and European roots as a way to deny that over 90% of the island has black ancestry. This means that many Dominicans view blackness as an attack on their indigenous-European identity—a point of view encouraged by the Dominican government who uses antihaitianismo (anti-Haitian sentiments rooted in anti-blackness) as a strategy to protect the dominicanidad, or the pure Dominican nationality, of the nation. Would this conflict end if both sides adopted a shared global identity? No. It would still fail to address the roots of the conflict that stem from the two countries’ violent history of colonization, war, and genocide.

Haitians demonstrating outside the Central Electoral Board in Santo Domingo demanding their Dominican citizenship. This protest occurred after a 2013 Supreme Court decision that revoked the citizenship of over 200,000 Dominican-Haitians without a path to naturalization. This supreme court decision is a prime example of the Dominican government carrying out ethnic cleansing in the country. https://www.americasquarterly.org/content/dominican-republic-and-haiti-shared-view-diaspora

I also have many other concerns regarding a global identity. Who would set the terms of this global identity, what would that process look like, and what would we have to give up in order to establish that global identity? Think about how the U.S. went from being powerless British colonies to a global superpower with a strong national identity. First, the founding fathers were a select few who created laws to keep wealthy, educated white men in power, but black people and other marginalized groups powerless. Second, the U.S. enslaved black people (who were responsible for establishing the American economy), and killed and stole land from various groups in order to become a bigger country with more resources. These marginalized groups had few choices: flee the violence, die fighting against the U.S., or assimilate into American culture.

What about American immigration policies, which have disproportionately favored white Europeans over black and brown people? We can see this happening now clearer than ever in the Trump administration’s policies concerning the situation on the southern border. Denying asylum for people fleeing violence, separating parents from their children, and detaining American citizens and veterans who “look” like they’re undocumented (whatever that means) are all strategies used by the Trump administration to protect their definition of the American identity (at least one that is white and homogeneous). Would adopting a global identity be a key step in resolving immigration issues on the U.S.? No. It would give the Trump administration power to erase marginalized groups and their culture from the picture.

Learning About Peacebuilding

By Cassandra Cronin

Hi everyone! My name is Cassandra, and I’m from Johns Creek, GA, which is a city about 45 minutes north of “Hotlanta” (aka hot and humid Atlanta, GA). I am definitely looking forward to the refreshing Monterey weather, but I’m also, more importantly, looking forward to the opportunity to meet new people and affirm my interest in peacebuilding.

One of my most transformative experiences learning about the power of peacebuilding involved my time with Libera, an Italian anti-mafia organization. I spent a month traveling to towns throughout southern Italy as an immersive and experiential learning component to my Peace and Justice Studies major. My primary responsibility was to volunteer on various properties (for example, coffee shops, olive groves, vineyards) that were once used by mafia clans for their illicit businesses. These properties were then confiscated by the Italian government, and eventually released many years later to Libera to be transformed to benefit their surrounding communities. I also listened to many heartbreaking testimonies from the loved ones of those who fell victim to mafia violence. Their stories were so different yet eerily similar in affirming the cruelty of the mafia and its members’ disregard for human life.

An olive grove in Polistena, Italy where I helped gather logs and branches that would ultimately become firewood for local restaurants. This grove was previously owned by various ‘Ndrangheta clans involved in commercial agriculture. It was confiscated, piece by piece, by the Italian government in the ’80s and ’90s.

In the end, I came to understand what Libera was doing to challenge the power of the mafia, which often, in many towns, spans generations. Since 1995, one organization grew to create 650 local associations and cooperatives that provide youth and adult volunteer programs and job opportunities to local communities fighting back against organized crime. The organization also provides the resources necessary for communities to start healing from the trauma caused by decades of crime and violence. In other words, organizations like Libera contribute to the process of peacebuilding by attempting to alleviate immediate concerns (violence, lack of economic opportunities), while addressing the root cause of the conflict (omertà, or the culture of silence surrounding the mafia and fortifying its existence).

Fellow volunteers and I in Polistena. Most were Italian university students who wanted learn more about the mafia and its undeniable influence on Italian institutions.

What am I looking forward to in these next three weeks? The opportunity to learn and grow. Coming from a small Peace and Justice Studies department, I am most excited by the chance to learn from other scholars and practitioners that I have yet to meet. Lastly, I look forward to participating in thought-provoking conversations, learning about new perspectives, and delving into the theories that have helped shape the peacebuilding field.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.