Mainstream Peace

By Terah Clifford

During one of the sessions centered around building peace education, we were asked to create a curriculum that would incorporate peacebuilding principles into mainstream education curriculums. Earlier in the session, we talked about how the current curriculum is so focused on the various wars and conflicts that plague our history and how devoting time to this mainly focusing on wars takes time away from students’ ability to learn about other historical events. The point was made that focusing on wars creates a feeling of fear as students are told that in order to keep another world war from happening they need to be aware and learn as much as they can so they do not repeat past mistakes. This leads students to an awareness of what armies do and how they protect national interests, which in turn causes students to choose to vote to continue funnelling money towards the military and the defense budget. I can honestly say this is quite a new perspective for me. While I know education shapes our opinions, I never thought about the connection between learning about historical wars and the worldview this gives students. Despite this view, I am hesitant to completely embrace focusing less on wars in our curriculum. So much of human history happened as a result of conflict, so it is honestly hard for me to imagine a history class that does not focus on wars. But I am intrigued by the idea, and by the time we finished discussing our curriculum, I had a new perspective on what it would look like to incorporate peacebuilding into student’s everyday experiences. 

When it came time to plan our curriculum, it turns out that two of the three groups chose Salinas as their city of focus. Our team initially talked about several overseas countries before deciding on Salinas. We chose this because it is an area that is familiar to everyone in our group as we thought it would be unfair to focus on a city or country that only a few people in our group were familiar with. Even this seemingly small decision reminded me that principles can be applied to many situations, so sometimes the exact location is less important than the act of brainstorming ideas that can then be adapted to other situations. 

Our target audience was high school students, so for our formal curriculum components, we decided to incorporate a foundations of peace class in student’s freshman year to give them vocabulary and concepts relating to peace for their first year. After that, we would start incorporating peace principles into the various subjects, such as English, history, science, etc. We chose to call our curriculum Mainstream Peace because the principles reminded us of what we learned in our session on gender mainstreaming. Our informal components focused on community engagement because we believe that national peace has to have a strong foundation on a local level. You cannot have peaceful nations without peaceful cities. Peace starts at the personal and local level, which is why incorporating peacebuilding into core education for young people is the first step in bringing peace on a larger scale. 

Walking in Her Shoes

By Terah Clifford

I really enjoyed the session that dealt with gender inclusivity in peacebuilding. I especially appreciated the vocabulary that was provided that helped clarify a few things: I learned the term ‘gender mainstreaming’, which deconstructed the idea of how to effectively include women in areas that traditionally are gender-segregated and male-dominated. This complemented the session we had the night before that focused on decolonization where we talked about the idea of expanding the circle of people we look to as authorities. Expanding the circle in the context of gender does not just mean expanding merely the size of the circle and letting more women into areas or positions of power and authority. It means expanding the area that the circle covers to include a more diverse set of people from all types of backgrounds and walks of life, including women of all backgrounds. In the same way, gender mainstreaming does not look like just “adding women to the pot and stirring.” Overturning the system must go much deeper than that if it is to permeate all levels and areas of society. It looks like adding the gender lens to every area of policy and interaction and adding gender and women’s issues into the ‘mainstream’ conversation. 

To practise putting on this lens, we all participated in a case simulation. I have always enjoyed simulations and case studies as a pedagogical technique, and the ‘choose your own adventure’ set up of this one was engaging and creative. Our groups put on the lens of female peacebuilders seeking to counteract violent extremist groups in their community. We walked through a series of scenarios and decisions that each led to different results, some good, some not so great. 

I found value in this exercise because I think the visualization and experience of reacting and interacting to consequences is so important. Simulations provide a chance for dialogue and talking through consequences in a way that makes a hypothetical situation feel more real. It is valuable because it shows how the consequences of our actions can play out and the types of big consequences that can result from even small decisions. Even though classroom simulations take place in very controlled and sanitized environments, the lessons they impart are nonetheless valuable. The inclusion of experiencing a new perspective also added to the experience and brought the lesson on gender to life. This exercise made me think about how the idea of looking at things through different lenses could be relevant and helpful in other circumstances as well. While it is impossible to replicate field conditions in a classroom, simulations nonetheless provide useful practice and stimulate interesting dialogue and discussions. 

The Worst Thing is Not What You Think

By Terah Clifford

A highlight of the program so far was definitely our excursion into San Francisco to see Hamilton. After hearing about the show for so long, I was so excited to finally get to experience it. Although I need to relisten to the score a few times in order to fully appreciate the nuances and lyrics, there were a few lines that initially stood out to me. When Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson run against each other in the presidential election, Alexander Hamilton must decide who to endorse. He eventually decides to cast his vote with Jefferson, a man whose views and policies he does not agree with, declaring that “when all is said and all is done / Jefferson has beliefs. Burr has none.” Despite their ideological differences, Hamilton chooses in this moment to endorse a candidate whose views he did not agree with because he respected Jefferson’s passion and conviction. Hamilton’s decision to support the man who had a clear vision of where he wanted to take the new country made me begin to think about the wider implications of this statement. Leaders that are worth following have a clear direction for the future and a strong opinion of the past. While they may seek advice, they do not waste time equivocating, and they accept the consequences that come with controversial opinions in the service of what they perceive as the greater good. 

In a further criticism of Burr, Hamilton points out that “I’d rather be divisive than indecisive.” This line stood out to me on a very personal level. I have spent the last year as a student at UC Berkeley, a school that is very different from anything I have experienced before. I chose to jump headfirst into an entirely new environment where people had many opinions that I did not agree with because I wanted to learn about other perspectives. While my thinking has changed and expanded, there are still many things I see as non-negotiable within my own value system that do not align with the popular consensus. But more and more often, I find myself keeping quiet about those opinions. Many times, it’s just easier that way, especially when I don’t feel I have the energy to sustain a heated debate. Although I love open and honest conversations with people who have different viewpoints than I do, so few people want to talk and really listen to what someone else has to say. Instead, they want to convince you of their own opinions and most likely judge you for the ones you hold. My fear of being divisive leads me to appear indecisive or indifferent; the fear of judgment not only silences my words, but it often can have a paralyzing effect that keeps me from taking action. But as history shows, inaction or passivity often becomes a vehicle for harm. 

As I was reflecting on the importance of opinions and conviction and all these things were swirling in my head, a friend shared a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that encouraged me to step out and take action: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” As terrifying as it can be, the fear of being divisive or controversial is not an adequate excuse for inaction. While this quote succinctly and effectively calls for action, if I could add anything to it, I would say that something even worse than inaction is failing to learn from our mistakes. With this in mind, I want to gain confidence in speaking out about what I believe and push myself to act, recognizing that I will make mistakes but accepting that is the only way to grow and positively influence the future. 

CASP in the Community

By Terah Clifford

While the time we spent with CASP (Community Alliance for Safety and Peace) in Salinas was short, it proved valuable nonetheless. I was reminded of how important face to face contact is when establishing relationships; these strong relationships lead to a strong foundation from which to build community impact. It was so inspiring to see so many influential people in the community from all walks of life who were willing to come to a 7 am meeting to talk and strategize about how to protect their city. Local government, law enforcement, nonprofit organizers, and representatives from churches all came together to show their support. I think this meeting was especially important given the recent tragedies that occurred in Gilroy and other cities across the nation. It is a scary time, so it is more important than ever to come together in solidarity. 

After the meeting, I enjoyed hearing from Jose Arreola, the director of CASP, about the vision behind launching CASP and what its purpose is. He shared that their organization is unique in that it is a group of people who have come together based on common values rather than common ideologies. While ideologies can change, values rarely do, and they provide a stronger anchor. Jose and the other panel members pointed out that it has not always been smooth sailing for the organization. They have had their fair share of difficult times, but ultimately they are always able to come back to their shared values and rebuild from there. I continued to reflect on the idea of focusing on values over ideology all throughout the week because I think these few words would have a profound impact if people actually lived them out. What would our organizations, churches, schools, or our bipartisan political system look like if we focused on the things that bring us together instead of continually harping on the things that draw us apart? While I know that there are many irreconcilable ideologies in our various systems, we all ultimately just want to do what is best for our communities and families. I think taking the time to slow down and recognize that irrefutable fact both in ourselves and in each other shows people that we have more in common than we might think. 

Jose also mentioned finances, always an important topic. He pointed out that while money can often prove to be an issue for community-based collaborations, in this case, their lack of funding actually draws the organizations closer together and does not push them farther apart. While we all laughed a little when he said that money only brings people together as long as the money lasts, it is unfortunately often true. He said that the lack of funding means that every member of CASP is only there because they want to be, and so it is truly a “Collaboration of the willing.” Despite the lack of financial incentive, or perhaps because of it, CASP is doing great things in Salinas, and I think it is a model that could benefit many cities who want to follow their example. 

Hope in Unexpected Places

By Terah Clifford

Today was probably the most personally moving for me. We experienced two very different sessions, one focused on prison gangs in California, American mass incarceration statistics, and the role of prisons in our culture. The other focused on personal involvement and experience in this very broken system. The overarching narrative of the facts presented in the first session were not entirely new to me as I had a general idea that the U.S. leads the world in incarceration rates and that much of astoundingly large boom in prison populations happened in the last 30-40 years. I knew the Supreme Court mandated several years ago that California had to get its prison population under control. What I didn’t know was exactly how many people the U.S. imprisons per capita in comparison to other developed countries. What I didn’t know is that California prisons were bursting at the seams in 2011 and packed at 300% of their capacity. What I didn’t know is the racial breakdown and the statistics regarding who makes up the majority of inmates. So while I knew some, I did not know enough. And I still do not know enough. 

The whole situation seems very bleak, and it is in many ways. But I felt that I encountered a ray of hope when I heard Lou Hammond share his story of how he came from street gangs, through the prison system, and out the other side a changed man. I have always believed in the power of moments of interruption to change the course of a person’s life; perhaps a chance encounter will not have an immediate effect, but it functions as one of many small moments that add up over time to alter a trajectory. Lou Hammond’s story of the prison guard who tied his shoes was so moving in that regard because it is an example of just that. 

The last few weeks have been interesting because we have heard stories and insight from both sides, both those who enforce the system and those who experience it. It has been enlightening to hear how a lack of identity and personal pain can contribute to a violent lifestyle and cause people to lash out. I can understand how involvement in a gang could lead someone who feels weak and vulnerable to feel empowered. I can understand how a fractured relationship with a parent or caregiver leads children to search for role models elsewhere. Listening to all of the ways that people have been let down over the years gave me so much empathy for the choices people make and the way they start down certain paths. 

The ray of hope comes from the ways I can see that people can intervene at an earlier point in children’s lives and try to mitigate these areas of trauma and abandonment. Mentorships, school programs, and extracurricular activities will not undo the trauma that comes from domestic abuse, lack of identity, and the hurt that life deals out. But perhaps it can help to mitigate the consequences and have a chance to provide an alternative for children and young people who would otherwise fall prey to the empty promises made by gangs. Education and better police relations and community programs will not be an instant answer. But these changes over time could have a lasting impact, and I am hopeful that I can be a part of that change.  

Words of Healing

By Terah Clifford

Out of all our field visits, I enjoyed the trip to Rancho Cielo the most. After all of our discussion about the lack of activities for young people in small towns and their strong desire to find a place to belong, it was so exciting to witness an organization that is striving to provide an alternative. While I enjoyed the tour of the facility, including their garden, the homes the students built themselves, their new electrical facility, and their restaurant, I also noticed a small thing that is of particular interest to me. 

When we were in one of the classrooms, I saw a few of the books that are a part of their curriculum: several levels of math books, and then a large box of novels and volumes of poetry for their English courses. I love to read, and I am also majoring in English, so it is always natural to me to gravitate towards bookcases and piles of books in any environment. 

I had the opportunity to work as a tutor for 2 years at my community college before I transferred to Berkeley, and I focused on helping students in pre-transfer and lower-level English courses. I worked extensively with students who spoke English as their second or third language, as well as many adult learners and students with learning disabilities. English is a tricky subject because writing can be such an intensely personal endeavor, and many people do not enjoy reading. These factors, as well as the diverse nature of their students, make it hard for teachers to choose books that will interest students across the broad spectrum of experience and reading level. 

I am always interested in what books teachers assign, and when I looked in the boxes in the classroom I was surprised and pleased to see what they planned to go through with their students over the coming academic period. There were copies of a book of poetry by Tupac Shakur’s The Rose that Grew from Concrete, a book discussing racism and oppression, and a novel about a young man from Harlem who enrolls in the military and is sent to Iraq, and a few others. I was so pleased to see the diverse selection and that all of the books included characters who were experiencing marginalization in various forms. Every book dealt with raw hardship and real-life trauma in some way. Although I love the classics and believe there is a time and a place for them, that place is not necessarily in a classroom full of youth who have experienced the worst that life has to offer. Students who go through trauma on a daily basis don’t necessarily need to start off reading Shakespeare, although there are certainly themes in his plays that transcend time and space to bridge the gap between what we experience now and how people lived then. But so often reading functions as an obstacle rather than a bridge. I loved the modern accessibility and relatable experiences that these books represent, and it gave me hope that the teachers know their students and can contribute positively toward their healing. I hope the students who read the books I saw over the next year find common ground with the characters and that reading does for them what it did for me: enhance empathy, remind me I am not alone, and give me a glimpse into the world outside of myself. Reading is transformative and the power of words to harm or heal is immeasurable. 

Still Cooling Off…

By Terah Clifford

An event in the history of conflict in the U.S. came up over and over throughout the readings this last week, one that has personally shaped my life and worldview: the Cold War, specifically the end of it. I had great-grandparents who fought in World War II, and my parents grew up during the height of the Cold War. My dad told me many times about how hard it was growing up and doing nuclear bomb drills in school; even as a child in Kindergarten he knew that his flimsy little desk and the four walls of his classroom would not offer any protection from something as catastrophic as a nuclear bomb. Many Americans grew up hearing similar stories, which means the sentiments of the Cold War are often anything but cool.

While I recognize that the players in the Cold War were from the Western World, the tension between the U.S. and the U.S. affected the whole world in the post-globalization age. While I have experienced how this conflict has affected the way Americans view their interactions with the world, I did not realize how much they influenced the formation of peacebuilding and conflict resolution techniques. Ronald Paris pointed out in The Origins of Peacebuilding that the competing ideologies of the United States and the U.S.S.R. influenced the way countries chose to operate during UN missions. Eugenia’s reading from How the Rich are Destroying the Earth also pointed out that the end of the Cold War propagated the notion that capitalism won over socialism, which leads to interesting questions of the role of the moralization of capitalism on the degradation of the environment. The whole world was caught in the middle of this conflict and the results of the decisions that were made both during and after continue to reverberate almost 30 years after its end.

These are just a few examples of how primarily Western conflicts shape our views and implementation of peace, including the insistence of implementing capitalism and democracy throughout the end of the 20th century. This was seen as the formula that would bring about world peace, mostly based on the popular idea that democracies do not go to war with each other. While this may have proven true in the past, it does not mean that the Western conception of regime change and the implementation of democracy is the magical answer to conflict. Rather, it often contributes to instability within countries and results in many negative consequences. Along these lines, I have become increasingly aware over the last few years of the role the U.S. plays as a superpower and how it is known for acting as a police state, a fact many countries resent. The end of the Cold War is presented in history classes as one of the great achievements of the 20th century, but our relations with Russia are still fraught with tension. A book I read in a security class referred to it as a “hot peace,” which I think is a very accurate description. Perhaps our great success story was not as successful as we think, which means there could still be lessons to be reviewed and learned. As I reflected this week on the role of the U.S. in conflict situations, I can only think that perhaps it would serve us well to act a student rather than always casting ourselves in the role of the teacher. 

Planning for Peace

By Terah Clifford

As an English major, I have always connected best with the world around me through the medium of stories. Interesting facts and faces are always easier for me to remember than people’s names, and my knowledge of many of my favorite time periods stems from avidly reading historical fiction as a child and teenager. During even the longest lecture, personal anecdotes never fail to bring my attention back, and interactive case studies are always my favorite method of learning. The activity we participated in with Cité Soliel at its center proved to be no exception. 

Watching the news and seeing trucks and planes of emergency supplies departing to bring aid to countries experiencing natural disasters gives some indication of the sheer scale required to bring humanitarian relief to areas in crisis, whether as a result of conflict or natural disasters. I am both fascinated and terrified by the logistical nightmare that these herculean efforts represent. Planning theoretical rebuilding projects in Haiti put the reality of forein aid in a whole new light. While growing up overseas has made me keenly aware of the necessity of being aware of cultural context, the lens of conflict sensitivity added a layer of depth to the process and made me examine the plan from so many angles. We approached the problem with the good intentions of economically empowering a community by creating jobs, but all of the good intentions in the world would not matter if our impact was negative. We had to consider how to equally distribute the jobs we were providing, which meant looking at geography, local gang affiliation, and gender empowerment, and myriad other factors. If we wanted to involve local gangs, we had to think about how to get them to cooperate not only with us, but with the members of rival gangs. How could we find a way to utilize their experience with the community as a resource while keeping the whole project from descending into violence. And this was just one part of the whole. There were so many other considerations that it was overwhelming, and this was just a hypothetical situation. 

This activity reminded me of something I have been reflecting on throughout this entire week: how do you take action when you are surrounded by dilemmas? What do you do when every answer to a problem has only bad and worse answers? How do you decide to act? As Sarah Cechvala pointed out, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes if you can’t do it well, then you shouldn’t do it at all. Where then do you find the courage to push through the fear and help when you are terrified of making a mistake?

I took heart remembering what was shared during a discussion of values and morals and where those fit into a cultural context. While there is a time and a place to hold back and choose not to rock the boat, to work within the cultural confines of the present system, ultimately there comes a point where you have to intervene and make a stand for what you know is right. In order to do that, you have to know yourself, know your values, know your worldview, and make a decision knowing that there will be consequences. Mistakes do happen, haunting mistakes that time does not always change or heal. But recognizing when no action is worse than a wrong action is where the sometimes subtle art of discerning within peacebuilding is found. You must make peace with your own values before you can bring peace anywhere else. 

Where are You From?

By Terah Clifford

The familiar dread filled me. How to answer the basic small talk question, an iteration of “Where are you from?” Usually, I deflect the essence of the question with less than a dozen well-rehearsed words that encapsulate my geographical locations over the years, wrapping the answer into a well contained package with a tidy enough bow on top that we can all move on to the other, obviously more important topics such as work, majors, actually yes, it is quite warm in here. But this time, the questions were posed as “Where do you belong? What is your lineage?” a string of inquires meant to push to the core. For me, these deeper questions of belonging, lineage, identity, are confused by too many things to explain in a few minutes, but sometimes I try anyway: immigration, multiracial, adoption… but ultimately, sometimes, we come to the answer with the most truth in it: unknown

This lack of belonging, this sense of internal disorientation is hard to reconcile, especially when conversations like this arise. I know this situation is not unique to me. While this causes an opportunity for self-reflection for me, this lack of belonging has much deeper implications on a wider scale. During several sessions this week, discussions arose regarding the underlying motivations for joining street gangs. Issues of identity, belonging, loneliness, and security topped the list. A solution to the issue of violence, shootings, blood on the streets, does not start with expecting our police force to stop these explosions of violence at the moment of impact. Failing to address the fundamental issues that result in death and destruction is an act of violence just as profound but profoundly harder to quantify than killing someone with a bullet. 

If we don’t want our youth to turn to a group that offers them security, training, opportunities for advancement, support, and financial provision but that happens to be classified as a gang, then we need to rewind and go all the way back to the root when we look at solutions. Providing after-school programs, food, social services is a start, and there are many agencies and nonprofits that are working hard and succeeding at providing these services. But if these are to be effective in lasting ways, then we need to address issues of identity, belonging, alienation, and loneliness. 

While continuing to throw services and resources at the problem slowly moves the point of triage further up the system, it does not ultimately answer the question “Where do I belong?” And thus it can only quiet the emptiness that echoes back when there is no meaningful answer. While these issues may seem like questions better suited for therapists, counsellors, or religious workers, we cannot leave the completely on their shoulders. Healthworkers, service providers, and policy makers at all levels would do well to consider how these human needs drive systemic issues. While it is exciting to witness in recent years the shift in focus from the immediate consequences of violence further down the line to community, educational, and familial factors, this cannot be the final resting place. The next step is to empower articulation of these questions of identity and belonging and work together as communities to find answers. Because while a lack of belonging may merely result in momentary discomfort during icebreakers, it can have fatal consequences and therefore cannot afford to be ignored.

Starting Small

By Terah Clifford

Thus far, my experience of peacebuilding has focused on strengthening the communities I live and interact with on a regular basis. I have worked as a camp counsellor for children in the foster system, striving to create a space of peace and healing they can retreat to for a few days. I also live in a co-op during the school year where the term ‘restorative justice’ is a regular part of our vocabulary when it comes to addressing roommate and house-wide disputes. When I visited my family for Christmas, I went on house calls with the nonprofit my dad overseas that partners with the local police force to provide support to families who have encountered domestic violence. While these things may seem small, I have come to recognize and appreciate the microcosm they represent: examples of human conflict on a small scale that mimic aspects of conflict on a wider scale.

Conflict does not always mean armed conflict. Conflict exists in fractured communities and broken families, many of whom are oppressed by systems that do not give them a chance to know anything different. My initial conceptualization of peacebuilding came from an understanding of its meaning in a broad sense as it relates to nations experiencing turmoil or areas enduring constant violence and upheaval. I connoted peacebuilding with assisting overseas nations emerging from wars and helping them to rebuild and structure a new way of life. But already, my understanding of peacebuilding has begun to evolve and change, expanding  even as it moves closer to home. I believe methods learned through use in local and national situations have a bearing on solving problems on an international scale by applying similar concepts. 

I am reminded of models. Architectural models help us to envision what a proposed housing project, office building, school, or hospital could look like. They help the architect, the builder, the designer, to see where the light comes in, what accents can be added to create a unique space, what parts need to be fortified and where a supportive beam needs to be added. This process involves mistakes, questions, and encouragement, all of which are necessary to get to the finished product. Projects start small and slowly morph from a two-dimensional, theoretical idea into a fragile model, and then into a strong, physical structure. Ideas start small, and gain traction and substance as they move through the various stages. This is similar to how striving to bring peace to the everyday conflicts you see around you can transition into something bigger. 

If a classroom is the blueprint, then family or friends or workplace tension is the first model; community-oriented projects that address areas of need are the next as the lessons learned gain shape. And as these models are built, people learn, and the models grow stronger and bigger, until eventually they are full-sized structures. Starting small allows you to learn how to build peace with the people that you know and trust so you can take those lessons into the world. I view the Peacebuilding Program as the next model, and I look forward to seeing what we build over the next few weeks.