Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thank you, Tim DeChristopher!

Leave it to a University of Utah student to come up with an incredibly creative way to stymie the Bush Administration's efforts to open up land around national parks to oil and gas drilling. Tim DeChristopher successfully bid on 22,500 acres of land around Arches and Canyonlands parks and now owes $1.7 million on all of his leases.

What this does is invalidate the auction! It will delay what hopefully isn't inevitable, but the court case will be heard January 19, a day before the inauguration. Rachel Maddow (who incorrectly calls this civil disobedience - it's active nonviolent intervention) has a nice video on the subject. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Nonviolent interrogation?

Watch this interview of Matthew Alexander from The Daily Show. What do you think?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Interview with Art Spitzer of the ACLU

Introduction: When I first contacted Art Spitzer for an interview, he was more than willing to help, but he was decidedly confused. How could I possibly consider him, an aggressive litigator, to be a peacemaker? As I explained to Mr. Spitzer, I chose him for two reasons: 1) the type of work he does, fighting to make the world a more just place by defending the civil liberties of the oppressed, and 2) the way in which he does his work, taking what could otherwise result in a violent or dangerous struggle and moving it into the non-violent (if not altogether peaceful) arena of law. After I explained a little about myself, my interests, and my definition of a peacemaker, Mr. Spitzer was kind enough to share some information about his life and his work with me.

(Q &A):
What brought you to the ACLU?

Individual freedoms and liberty are very important to me in my own life. I’m an independent and nonconformist kind of person, and I think part of the appeal is defending the rights of people like me to live our lives the way we please.
I learned about and got involved with freedom of speech issues in high school and college (while I was in college the Vietnam War was going on, and I was involved in protests). I found it personally meaningful and interesting. I joined the ACLU while I was in college, but I’d always been interested in politics and that kind of thing since I was a teenager (I used to knock on doors for candidates I supported).
I gravitated to law school because I don’t have much talent for anything else – I can’t sing or catch a ball. I found that I thought like the law professors and to some extent the political science professors. We could understand each other. I wasn’t active in the ACLU while I was actually in law school taking classes, but after law school I came to DC and the ACLU. I did some pro bono work as volunteer for the ACLU at first, I think a total of 3 cases, and I liked that kind of work. I found it more personally interesting than litigating over the correct price of barrel of oil. I was lucky with the timing too, it was the right time to leave my job, and the ACLU happened to have an opening (the ACLU was a lot smaller in 1980 than it is today). I’ve never had second thoughts about it.

Have there been any individuals who particularly influenced your work?
I’ve learned from other lawyers I’ve worked with. When I came here in 1980, I was immediately the senior person on the staff as the legal director, and we didn’t have an executive director at the time. And the ACLU was in bad situation financially in 1980. No one was here to tell me what to do or to show me what had been done. I wouldn’t say I had any one mentor. But before the ACLU, I spent three and a half years working at a law firm, and that’s where I learned how to be a good lawyer. I worked with 20 others on different cases, and I learned different things from different ones.

What’s the most rewarding part of the work you do?

I’m spending my time doing stuff I believe in. It’s a plus that most days, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Of course, some days I know I have a brief due tomorrow and I’d better damn well close the door and get to work. But almost every day something unexpected happens. That’s part of the appeal of working within the general framework of civil liberties.

What’s the most challenging part of your work?
The hardest part of my job is trying to do everything. I still haven’t learned how to say “no” enough, and I’m always racing to get everything done. I don’t get to sleep.

Are there any particular civil liberties issues that you are passionate about?
Being in a very small office, I work on pretty much everything. But I think the stuff I care about most tends to be free speech and freedom of expression stuff. I tend to spend more time and feel more strongly about the liberty stuff (the ACLU focuses on liberty and equality) as opposed to others who focus more on equality issues.

How do you deal with losing a case that you care about?
I don’t really find that to be a big problem. In general, as a person, I don’t have very high highs or very low lows. My emotional life is fairly even-keeled, which is true of my personal life too. I’m disappointed if we lose, and I’m happy if we win, but I’m not going to jump off a building or start celebrating in a court room.

Is there any one case or one achievement that you feel most proud of?
That’s hard to say. The case I did that maybe had the most effect on people’s lives was a case I did way back in the 80’s where the question was, does the government have the same obligation to provide an indigent with the other help (besides a lawyer) that he might need in a case (a psychiatrist to testify for an insanity defense, for example). Most states by then had figured out to do that, but there were about a dozen states that didn’t. I represented a person in a death penalty case in Oklahoma where the state refused to provide a psychiatrist. The Supreme Court agreed with us, so he got a new trial. He was eventually sentenced to life in prison instead of death. All states then had to begin providing experts when necessary, and I don’t know how many times that has mattered over the years, but it presumably has affected a number of individuals.

What advice do you wish you’d had when you started working for the ACLU?
I’d say learn good study habits. That’s something I should have learned in junior high. And be careful how much work you take – learn how to say no.

Are there any mistakes you’ve made that you wish you could change?
I think the biggest criticism I’d make of myself is that I and the whole office take too many relatively unimportant cases and projects rather than focusing our efforts on a smaller number of more significant cases. Everyone agrees with the idea in the abstract, to go for impact cases, but then the question is, how do you decide which cases are the most important? Our answer has been to try to do everything.

Have you faced any particular challenges working for the ACLU as an organization?
The financial challenges of the organization in 1980 luckily weren’t my responsibility. Fundraising is a relatively small part of my job, and the ACLU has been stable more or less since the time I got here. There have been years where I’ve gone without a salary increase, but I’ve never had my salary cut and I haven’t been laid off.
There are internal fights about policies and personalities like you’ll find anywhere, and I don’t think I’m a particular expert at how to deal with that. For me, people have thought I was pretty good at being a lawyer and have concluded that outweighs any problems they might have with me (I can be a prickly individual).
Back in the 80’s, there were really no good ways for people in the different offices to talk (no-email then). There weren’t any frequent, regular staff meetings for staff around the country. Now, we have active listserves within the ACLU, with one for litigators. There’s a constant flow of communication, asking for opinions, advice etc. This has been a big change for the better in making the ACLU an effective organization, and for making it have a better sense of community. We have conferences once a year now. It feels to me more like a coherent organization than it was 25 years ago when it was much more local offices working in relative isolation.

What are your plans for the future?
I’m 58, and I’ll be 59 next month. I’m not planning to retire at any particular time. I might want to cut back on my hours - that would be healthy, maybe I’d actually get to sleep - but I plan to stay here until I don’t want to work anymore. Something else I might enjoy would be teaching – and maybe in the future I could if anyone still wanted me.

Conclusion: I came away from the interview with Mr. Spitzer, as expected, impressed by his work for the ACLU. I certainly admire what he has accomplished and appreciated the insight into a career path I might pursue. What stuck with me most, though, were personal aspects that Mr. Spitzer shared with me. I found myself shocked by my very lack of surprise at his recounting of short nights and long, work-filled days, along with his longing for balance in his life. I realized that I have almost come to expect that peacemakers and activists lead shockingly busy lives that significantly infringe on their personal and family lives. And while I admire Mr. Spitzer’s commitment (how do you turn down that deserving case when your workload is already overflowing?), I also find myself promising to remember the importance of just saying no. What good is a burned out peacemaker really going to do, after all? I think that as much as we all want to help take care of the world, we need to remember to take care of ourselves too.

*picture from http://www.aclu-nca.org for a dinner honoring Spitzer's 25 years with the ACLU

Personal Interview with Marie Manella

Final Closure

Take Aways from the Class
  • There are real and accessible ways to contribute to NV change, and there is a history of success to support you in making the world a better place
  • Power of combining and managing the power of pragmatism and principle in creating a NV campaign
  • I need to remember to be contemplative AND active
  • It's important to be idealistic, but also use strategic thinking
  • Civilization has achieved so much by 2008 hat was thought impossible - it's exciting to think about what can be achieved in the future
  • I now truly believe that there may be technology, but the age of violence and war has passed and it's time for us to take responsibility to be nonviolent
  • Peace and NV have a legitimate place in the world, and are only as limited as we choose htem to be
  • Live according to what you believe in, match your ideals with your deeds and you will be at peace
  • NV campaign - and all the organization and thoughyt that hads to go into it to be successful
  • I can now see my own potential to contribute to NV

Thoughts for Each Other
  • perspectives and creativity are enlightening and encouraging - sometimes its lonely - it's comforting to think that there are people who care as much as you do
  • Enjoyed diverse perspectives, and I hope everyone continues their interests in peace studies
  • I enjoyed hearing everything - the one thing - eacjh one was passiomnate about
  • I can't wait to see hoew everyone changes the world
  • Thank you for sharing unique ideas and perspectives each week
  • Thank you for your originality and belief in peace
  • Excited to see what our future will hold
  • When faced with agony, be NV towards yourself. You will overcome your fear. Be creative with the problems you are faced
  • I enjoyed intellectual conversaytion and debates and hope we can continue outside of class
  • Eye opening to be in the sa,me room with people devoted to NV

Nonviolence works for dealing with terrorists!

From our colleague from France, Leslie . . .

To make a captured terrorist become a traitor to his cause and his friends, and make him help you fight his association efficiently, show him that you can be his best ally. Act nonviolently towards him.

Nonviolence is not sitting in front of the detainee and wait until he speaks without doing anything. It is persuading and convincing him that he can make a very profitable deal with you. It is building trust instead of increasing hatred. Violence cannot achieve that: it is completely counterproductive. It creates a spiral of violence, and more and more terrorism.
How to make a terrorist cry, and talk.

Future interrogator facing an AlQaeda operative, look at what Jack Cloonan has to tell you…
Let your high-value detainee show his weakness. In this case, he has a loving sister. Protect her, and you will become his confessor.

You must convert the enemy: be humble, respectful, and offer your help. One must show to the detainee there are good reasons for him to cooperate with you.
1. Show you are not the monster the terrorist thinks you are.
Prove that you are not as awful as he imagines, since contrarily to what he expects you respect his human dignity. This mere strategy of proving your humanity as an interrogator has shown its potential with prisoners in Afghanistan who accepted to rally the Americans after realizing they were not as horrible as people depicted them (Mackey 2004; 426).
2. Find where his real weakness is, and exploit it in order to gain gratitude.
Terrorists are trained to resist torture, both physically and psychologically. They are not ready to exchange information against lesser suffering. The interrogator has to find what really matters to the detainees. You can guess that terrorists do not give their lives much value, otherwise they would not be terrorists. Once you have found what their Achilles’ heel is, exploit it positively, so that, instead of being hating, the detainee will be grateful to you.
Also, as a future interrogator, always remember that these people have an incredible ego. Most of them simply love talking about themselves because of their pride! Nurturing such a feeling can only be beneficial…

But what if the terrorist has crucial information about a nuclear attack on New York????

‘24’ lovers, here is a revelation for you: in a ticking-bomb situation (which by the way in real life does not exist) torture is the best way not to make a terrorist speak. And in any normal situation, which means 100% of the time, one could not find a better way than torture to make a torture say bullshit. So, who thinks that very pragmatically, pulling out an AlQaeda terrorist’s nails while frightening him to kill his wife and son under his eyes is the only way to have him reveal important information about his organization, his leaders, and even future attacks, is wrong.





Back On My Feet

This Thanksgiving break I enjoyed watching the CNN Heroes awards. These awards celerate unheralded heroes who have achieved exceptional things in their service to others. I was moved by a lot of the different campaigns, and was struck by one in particular- Back On My Feet.

Started by a young woman named Anne Mahlum, BOMF a non-profit organization that promotes self sufficiency for the homeless in Philadelphia by engaging them in running. A seemingly random idea, right?

Before I watched this program, if I had come across the non profit I probably would have wondered how running could possibly help the homeless. But the more I learnt about one woman's campaign to help the homeless move their lives forward, I more amazed I became at how beautifully simple her strategy was, and how very effective it has proved to be. BOMF teaches critical work and life skills by using running as a vehicle to show individuals that they are capable of achieving anything.

Mahlum has said that the campaign arose when she just decided one day to actually stop at the homeless shelter that she ran past every morning, and ask if anyone would like to run with her. Her personal campaign wasn't necessarily strategically planned. But it has developed into an incredibly well oiled organisation- just look at their website! The program doesn't provide food nor shelter, but does something that is perhaps even more valuable- building confidence and making some of society's marginalized feel a part of a community.

This campaign shows peacenicks how important it is to think outside of the box when we seek to create lasting change in the world. Sometimes, the simplest ideas are the most effective.

Make Art Not War... Satire Works Too.

Yes this is a humorous jab at the American government and its border control, but I felt that this clip offered up much more than just satire as a tool to promote nonviolence. Though I personally would not think to crochet for peace, I was surprisingly moved by this woman and her work. I find her quirky, some of the pieces are hideous, and the idea is a little goofy. However, when I saw the crochet covering for the tank with the flower at the tip of a tank's gun I was reminded of protestors putting flowers in the gun barrels in a 1967 Vietnam War protest, and I found it very powerful. 
This woman also crochet coverings for Suvs, guns, and chainsaws. She literally turns instruments of direct or indirect violence into pieces of art which at very least get your attention. What if we took all these instruments of war and made them laughable or adorable? What if we could directly transform tools of hate into projects of creativity and love. Now its hard to imagine Ahmadinejad calling for a halt to nuclear research and the start of an RPG decorating contest or even or own country actively pursuing a change our glorified perception of war...but what if they did? 
This clip also points out the irony in who the American government suspects to be terrorists. But it was the very notion of this woman physically making us take another look at violence and war that was so creative and beautiful to me... regardless of your feelings on her crochet work. Lastly, while some fight for peace, some rights, and some hammer on missile silos, what if we could actually find a path to peace with nothing but public displays of crochet and human creativity?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Interview with Theo Sitther of the Mennonite Central Committee

Theo Sitther is the Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee is a relief, development, and peace agency of the North American Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches, providing disaster relief around the world alongside their long-term international development programs. He works in monitoring legislation, specifically US foreign policy, in areas of peace making, militarism, economics and trade agreements. He has been a Mennonite since he was thirteen when his family moved to the US from Southern India, and after graduating from Hesston College and Eastern University worked as a lobbyist for the Center on Conscience & War.

When we were assigned an interview with someone who practices non violence in their daily life, I thought it would be interesting to seek out someone from a Mennonite organization. I’ve always thought that the Mennonite notion of a ‘peace church’ was quite beautiful, and have a lot of respect for the way that Mennonites commit their lives to nonviolence, nonviolent resistance and reconciliation, and pacifism. In this interview, I sought to better understand what Theo Sitther’s job entailed on a day to day basis, and ask him his personal views from a Mennonite perspective on the world’s present situation and the future that lies ahead.

Q. What are some of your major projects?

A. One of the main things I work on is Columbia. We specifically work with Mennonite churches there working with conflict transformation and peace building efforts. My role is looking at US policy towards Columbia and the amount of military aid the US gives Columbia and the kind of effect it’s having on the country. But I also work on other issues such as Haiti, primarily looking at food security issues there, but also issues related to Afghanistan, North Korea and Burma as well.

Q. What is a typical day for you?

A. My job is twofold. My work in DC involves policy work, meeting with members of congress, being a part of working groups here and responding to legislation. The other half involves corresponding with our constituency and letting them know what’s happening in Washington related to the work we’re doing.

A typical day would be responding to questions. Actually, right before I came to meet with you here I was in an interfaith working group meeting discussing what the new congress might be doing and how we might respond to different issues that may come up, how we can work with the new president, and how we can best respond to a lame duck Congress.

Q.What does being a Mennonite mean to you?

A. Being a Mennonite for me means fully living out my Christian faith in my daily life, which includes being a peacemaker, working for peace- building directly in a conflict area, working for changes in a policy or working for economic justice and holistic justice for communities to bring about a more peaceful and just world. Essentially it just means doing all that I can to be a positive force for good in the world.

Q. What is the personal motivation for the work that you do?

A. One major motivation is the sense of doing good and thus being able to make a difference in the world. Especially in the face of this financial crisis, US foreign policy is affecting everyone all over the world. We see the negative effects of what the US is doing everyday worldwide. But also, I’m a Christian, and my faith very much motivates me. Being able to respond to God’s calling as a person of faith and doing this work is what a being a Christian is all about for me.

Q. What do you think are the main problems that America faces today?

A. One of the major problems I think we’re facing is America’s excessive militarism- this country spends billions of dollars on its military spending and the amount is monumental compared to other countries. There’s a big gap between this and how much America spends on social programs. One of our biggest critiques is that we spend a lot of money on military defense. Yet you walk out of Union Station and homeless people surround the nation’s capital. We have real problems at home that need to be addressed, because a lot of our own citizens are struggling to get by every day. I do think that the US has the ability to respond to different needs around the world, but I think we need to do it in a more human kind of way. We need to start promoting life rather than death in our policy abroad.

Q. How do you think the concept of non violence fits into American foreign policy?

A. As a person of faith it would be easy for me to argue that there should be no wars, and that we shouldn’t fund our military the way we do now. But violence is currently an inevitable part of our world, and so American foreign policy needs to account for that. But I think I would say that we need to balance that amount of effort that we put into war making with the amount we put into peacemaking. Right now there’s a significant imbalance and this needs to change if America is actually going to promote non violence in any major way abroad. I think that the balance definitely needs to be heavier on the side of peacemaking rather than war mongering.

Q. Do you think there is a relationship between American popular culture and violence?

A. Absolutely. The amount of violence we see in the media definitely de sensitizes our collective conscience. Our brains our numbed by things like video games, for example, and we’re simply no longer affected by images and notions of real violence.

Q. What do you think the average person can do every day to contribute to a more peaceful and non violent world?

A. The first step is to educate yourself about what’s happening in the world. I came into this work because I would read up on different world issues, from war to starvation, economic instability and natural disasters and wanted to do something proactively in my daily life to bring about positive change. People don't know what’s happening beyond the confines of the United States and that’s one major cause of the apathy we see in this country when it comes to world affairs. So educating yourself is probably the first major step.

Q. Once you’ve accumulated information, you have to do something with it. Different people can contribute to the world and the cause of peace in different ways. One way, as US citizens living in a democracy where you can engage with your elected officials, is to actually go out and speak to your members of congress and/or government to make your voices heard. Citizens should do this not just in election year but throughout the year. It’s our duty.


I am sometimes wary of organized religion and their peace making and charitable efforts, and thus while I have always respected the Mennonite doctrine of being a positive force for good in the world, I was unsure of how this aim would manifest itself. After talking to Theo Sitther, I have gained a better understanding of what the Committee does, and was extremely impressed by their global efforts to rectify the injustices of the world in all of their forms- poverty, hunger, violence and warfare to name a few.

With religion as the cause of so much violence today, God’s message to us all is often misconstrued and lost. For me, Theo Sitther’s understanding, and indeed the Mennonite understanding overall, of what God wants from all of us resonates strongly with my own personal beliefs- that it is our most fundamental duty of our time on this earth to work in whatever way we can to bring about ‘a more peaceful and just world’ as Sitther remarks. For the Mennonite Central Committee and my interviewee, this is primarily through advocating for policy changes to create lasting change in under developed communities throughout the world. Despite the fact that I never thought I’d want to be involved with a religious organization such as this, I actually could see myself wanting to be a part of the MCC and the incredible work they do.

A Bowl of Rice

This art installation actually started back in July, but I just ran across an article about it and thought it was a really interesting concept. I think it's especially relevant after our discussion of Free Rice the other week.

Zai Kuning, an artist and musician from Singapore, created an art installation in Sculpture Square, an arts space in Middle Road, Singapore. This installation, titled A Bowl of Rice, was a response to the rising price of rice. Though Kuning could not himself afford to buy a lot of rice and donate it, he used his art funding grant to buy 500 kg of rice, and donated it 2-3 days after the installation's completion. The installation consisted of an elaborate labyrinth design created by precisely placed grains of rice. Inspired by Kuning's artwork and charity, many people donated rice. Donations were given to Catholic Welfare Service, Singapore (CWS); Darul Ihsan Orphanage; Singapore Kampung Senang Charity & Education Foundation; Marine Parade Family Service Centre; and Food Not Bombs.

*Picture from Onisstudio taken by Vivian Lee & Lin Shiyun.

The Hilarious "Proposition 8 - The Musical"

I just saw this video and I wanted to share it - it's a really funny way (complete with lots of famous faces) to look at a serious issue. I really enjoyed it and it made a few good points, even if they were being sung at the time. No matter your take on gay marriage, it's worth a look!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Interview with Colonel Daniel M. Smith

Colonel Daniel M. Smith graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1966. He served as a platoon leader in Germany and an intelligence advisor in Vietnam. Following his service he returned to the United States to attend graduate school at Cornell University and teach English and Philosophy at West Point. Colonel Smith continued his work in intelligence and public affairs before retiring from the Army in 1992 after 26 years of service. From 1993 to 2002, Colonel Smith worked for the non-partisan Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., rising through the ranks to become Associate Director in 1995 and Chief of Research in 1999. A highly decorated Army veteran (he was awarded the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart, among other distinctions), Colonel Smith has become a proponent for peace. He has worked as the Senior Fellow on Military Affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation since September 2002.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Colonel Smith to learn about his journey from a member of the armed forces to a proponent for peace. According to Colonel Smith, it is not so much what he did in the service as what did not happen after the Cold War that impacted his current work as a proponent for peace. Colonel Smith explained, “I had expected that the large military establishment that we had throughout World War II would be cut back because there was no enemy—no particular country whose foreign policy was specifically directed at destroying the U.S. as we know it.” However, there was no decrease in the size of the military after the Cold War. At this point, Colonel Smith was “converted” to a proponent for peace. He simply could not support such a large military in United States society. In this way, Colonel Smith considers himself a “back-door converter.”

When questioned on his current views of the military and his thoughts on what the role of the U.S. Armed Services should be, Colonel Smith based his argument in military history. He recalled that right after the American Revolution, the Navy was cut back drastically. The Army was given the mission of protecting the remaining stores of power. This led to the establishment of West Point. At this point in our history, however, the entire federal army consisted of 70 officers and men. This was in accordance with the Founding Fathers’ feeling of distrust in a standing army, and their favor of a free navigation of the seas. The United States soon encountered a problem with pirate ships due to their lack of naval protection. Under Washington’s New Federal Constitution, the United States began to build up its navy.

Colonel Smith continued that our outstanding army is currently composed of ten divisions, including one combat brigade that is under North Command. North Command’s chief mission is to support other departments of the federal government in case of another terrorist attack or natural disaster. Colonel Smith remarked that we have never had a North Command before, and that since Reconstruction after the Civil War, there has not been an active duty combat unit specifically designated to be able to maintain long order (12 months or more). This responsibility has always been left to governors, who were responsible for managing their state’s national guard. Colonel Smith is weary of the North Command situation.

Colonel Smith could see eliminating three army divisions (each division is made up of 3 brigades). Colonel Smith believes that the U.S. should expand the Navy, because it is capable not only of fighting if necessary, but also of delivering supplies and humanitarian aid and evacuating people from war zones. He also believes that we should retain a strong Air Force. Overall, however, he believes that there are currently too many people in the services. Colonel Smith concluded, “We need to look after national interests; not only our interests, but how we, with our allies and friends, can look after everyone’s interests.”

When asked about the foreign policy platforms of presidential candidates Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, Colonel Smith candidly stated, “I don’t see much difference. I don’t see either candidate putting forth a foreign policy or national security program as opposed to military security program.” According to Colonel Smith, we are going to be in Iraq, Afghanistan, and maybe Pakistan, and we are already in Iran, just not in formations. With respect to qualities he looks for in a presidential candidate, Colonel Smith stated, “I’m always looking for someone who can cut back and see beyond the American horizon.” He observed that this is, for some reason, very hard to do when it comes to politics. He noted that since World War II, the United States has been in the habit of thinking that it is the only country that should be allowed to run a military and use the military for its national advantage, rather than multilaterally or internationally.

Colonel Smith, though he considers himself a proponent of peace, when asked what influences shaped his identity as a nonviolent activist responded, “Nonviolence is not the right term. I don’t believe in violence per se, but I do believe that you need a military.” He recognizes the many connotations of the word violence, and notes that he is not against using nonviolent forceful means, a form of benign violence, to bring about a necessary change. He noted that this is a very hard balance, and seems to be impossible for many senators in Washington, DC. When asked what experiences or persons influenced his current outlook on war and peace, Colonel Smith highlighted an experience he had at a Jesuit university he attended before attending West Point. A political science professor at this Jesuit university always emphasized the need to accept personal responsibility and think for yourself. He often looks back on this experience and wonders if that message took in his case, causing him to question the military of which he was once a part.

Interviewing Colonel Smith gave me insight not only into nonviolent work internationally and in Washington, D.C., but also into the history and current state of our military. It is not often that such a decorated military officer retires and begins work to minimize military violence; therefore the opportunity to talk with Colonel Smith was very unique. My conversation with Colonel Smith impacted how I think about nonviolence in practice. I now realize that nonviolence is not entirely black and white, but rather shades of gray. One can support the existence of a military (for national security, humanitarian assistance, etc.) and yet, in most cases, oppose the exercise of armed forces. With this new understanding of nonviolence, I can continue in my own journey as a proponent for peace, armed with a better conception of war and peace in our world.

Georgetown's Prison Outreach Program

For the past two semesters I have tutored with Georgetown’s Prison Outreach program, an organization within the Center For Social Justice. If selected from the relatively competitive application process, Georgetown students tutor inmates weekly at both Arlington Prison and the Alexandria Detention Facility. The goal is to work with inmates one on one to help them achieve either their GED or pass their ESL examination. With these qualifications, after being released from prison, individuals will be better equipped to successfully reintegrate into society and support themselves and their families.

While some classes are conducted in the detention facility, with only one teacher and a vast range of abilities and learning levels, few inmates get individual attention and it is difficult to cater to everyone’s educational needs. Therefore I feel that the one on one work that we do is invaluable in that it is the only time that inmates get individual attention. Many of the inmates are extremely gifted, but often have simply not had the opportunity to fulfill their potential in a poor school system and/or an impoverished upbringing. Many are immigrants, and have never learnt English properly, which is a major hindrance to their ability to succeed in America. Without a basic grasp of the English language or a high school diploma, I can understand why many of these individuals have made choices that may not have been the most beneficial for them at the time. Working with the program has given me a greater insight into what I see as a fundamentally vicious cycle of crime for many of America's under privileged youth and immigrants in particular.

Ultimately, my hope is that prison does not have to be the end of the incarcerated’s opportunities in life to better themselves and develop their life goals. Shouldn't prison give the condemned the opportunity to change their behaviors, enhance their skill sets and thus their lives? Working with the incarcerated has been endlessly rewarding, and I hope to continue to be involved with different types of outreach to prisons in the coming years.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Convention on Cluster Munitions

I recently read that the Dublin Diplomatic Conference on Cluster Munitions agreed in May to forbid the use or production of cluster munitions.  As many know, cluster bombs have been used in warfare for decades and have caused immense harm and suffering.  Now, on December 3, the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be signed in Oslo, Norway.  This is an incredibly exciting event as it puts human welfare and decency over the production of violent weapons.  The UN, Red Cross, and multiple other organizations have been involved in this treaty, which will be the first international treaty to prohibit a whole category of arms.

This is a great step for non-violence and many hope to continue this disarmament effort and include other types of weaponry in the ban.  Hopefully, in years to come, the push for disarmament will gain even more strength and follow the example of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thailand Protesters Take Over Airport

The day before Thanksgiving, Thailand protesters took over Thailand's International Airport. By overrunning strategic areas of the airport, such as the control tower, the protesters halted airline traffic and its 16 billion dollar tourism industry. Consequently, Thailand has suffered a significant economic blow on top of the economic distress it, and the world, has already experienced this year. The protest was led by the People's Alliance for Democracy and their yellow shirts. A PAD leader announced to the press that he refuses to end the protests until Prime Minister Somachi Wongsawat has resigned, damaging Thailand's economy and reputation each day the protest continues.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Developmental Studies at Mount Vernon Place UMC

Inspired by Katie, I would also like to briefly share my experience with Georgetown’s Community Based Learning Program. I am participating in the program through Professor Sam Marullo’s sociology class, “The Contemporary City.” This semester, I have spent a large amount of time working with Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church (MVPUMC). The Church is located at 900 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Its Greco-Roman architecture is very recognizable, especially to those entering Washington via New York Avenue. Recently, MVPUMC has undergone extremely extensive renovations. This renovation would not have been possible if the Church had not sold valuable property adjacent to its current location. A private developer is using the land which the congregation sold to build “trophy office space.” Although this may seem contradictory to the Church’s mission, MVPUMC has already bought back approximately two floors in the new building.

Working with a classmate, I have created a report analyzing the congregation’s faith-based development initiatives. My professor is involved with an organization called Faithworks, Inc. Composed of numerous community leaders, Faithworks assists churches in developing their assets with a mind toward the values of their congregation and community. This may include creating affordable housing, educational opportunities, or other resources strongly benefitting the needs of the immediate community. In the past several months, I have met with numerous leaders at MVPUMC. I have spoken extensively with the MVP’s current pastor, Donna Claycomb Sokol. She has been extremely helpful in revealing to me the reasons for her congregation’s development. We have also spoken with several other members of the congregation involved in the decision-making process and future planning.

This CBL project has been invaluable because it has given me an inside perspective on the grounded reality in which non-profit organizations must operate. These organizations are often very value-oriented, but it is ridiculous for them to function strictly on these principles. As I have seen, there must be a strong degree of pragmatism. For broader sociological reasons, the congregation of MVPUMC dwindled incredibly throughout the second half of the twentieth century. However, they recently been riding a strong wave of resurgence. Development in the region (such as Gallery Place and U Street Revival), pushed up property values allowing them to sell their adjacent property for a large amount of money. As a result, the Church has been able to continue its mission of uniting people in Faith and building a stronger community.

It has been quite rewarding seeing the ways in which social concepts can be applied directly to the surrounding community. I would strongly encourage others to participate in similar programs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

There is still hope!

Michelle Rhee in the Media

There have been several interesting articles published about Michelle Rhee in the past few days. Last Sunday, the Washington Post published an article by Bill Turque detailing Rhee and Mayor Adrien Fenty’s plan for creating an alternative school system. Rhee and Fenty hope to restore, “the District's power to create nonunionized charter schools.” Rhee has dubbed the creation of this alternative charter system, “Plan B”. The Washington Teacher’s Union strongly opposes this measure. However, Rhee hopes that by using this system she can more easily fire and replace teachers who are not performing to her standards. In answering questions about this Rhee and Fenty deflected all questions to Mafara Hobson. Press access was so limited that the Washington Post was forced to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a statement drafted by Rhee regarding this plan.

This bizarre relationship between Rhee and The Washington Post is in itself newsworthy and documented by the Washington City Paper in its latest issue, dated November 19, 2008. Mike DeBonis analyzes the ways in which national reporters have been granted exceptional access to Rhee. Yet, local sources, especially the Post’s Bill Turque, have struggled tremendously to gain access to Rhee.

Regardless, Rhee unveiled a very promising, “Action Plan” this past week. Her 79-page plan included a number of promising, progressive ideas. Reading The Washington Post’s article and studying the plan, it is hard not to be inspired by Rhee’s ideas. Her strategies are detailed, yet broad in scope, from reducing school violence to improving community involvement. I was also struck by the ways in which Rhee’s plan seems to conform to Christopher Kruegler and Peter Ackerman’s “12 Principles to a Nonviolent Campaign.” Most aspects of her report seem to represent a plan destined for solid success.

I am astounded by the contradiction reflected in these articles. Rhee’s plans for reform are extremely impressive! She indicates in the City Paper article that she receives a large amount of fan mail from outside Washington. But, amongst local resident and media, she does not enjoy such a polished image. This amazes me. If she has such incredibly good ideas and intentions, why is she not more transparent? In the minds of her critics, Rhee’s secrecy easily transforms her office into a bastion of social engineering. I sincerely hope that she places more faith in the metropolitan community so as to build cohesive support for her powerful ideas, ensuring that they do not die in the hands of petty arguments.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No on Prop 2

This is a belated post, but the issue is of no less importance. If you search on YouTube for "No on Prop 2," you won't find much about California's recent ballot measure. The opposite is true of "Yes on Prop 2." Although 60% of the vote is not phenomenal, it seems as though the passage of Prop 2 was inevitable. Nevertheless, many vegans oppose this kind of measure, which calls for the ban of caged animal farming. This may seem perplexing, but the reason is a strategic one.

Popular understanding of veganism is based around its practical application in the form of a diet and abstinence from using animal products, leaving the principles behind the practice open to inference. However, Leslie Cross, one of the founders of the vegan movement, wrote in 1951 that veganism is first and foremost a principle from which the practice logically flows. The principle, what some are now calling abolitionism, is "that man should live without exploiting animals." In other words, veganism is not about protecting animals from suffering, which is the stated goal of PETA; rather, it is about liberating animals from the system of exploitation that is the root of much unnecessary suffering.

Hence, the Election Day post by Dani of "The Vegan Ideal" blog discussing the significance of "alternative means of exploitation." Dani eloquently writes:
As Mohandas Gandhi said, we must be the change we want to see in the world, not the darkness we wish to leave behind. Exploitation, even "reformed," is the darkness we want to leave behind. Whether or not its advocates are conscious of it, supporting alternative methods of exploitation obstructs, marginalizes, and negates veganism (the change we want) here and now.
In sum, Prop 2 is, according to Dani, a reform of exploitation. From a more plainly strategic perspective, Leslie Cross writes that veganism is
not so much an effort to make the present relationship bearable, as an uncompromising recognition that because it is in the main one of master and slave, it has to be abolished before something better and finer can be built.
In other words, we are not capable of building something truly better or finer until the enslaving system is abolished. Indeed, Prop 2 is not truly better or finer. Many vegans who would otherwise support reform oppose or don't care about the proposition due to a lack of any evident improvement in conditions between caged animals and free-range animals in the U.S. Although I do not agree with reformism myself and do not encourage a reactionary approach, I leave you a shocking video from Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary which will have to suffice for the lack of vegan media on 'No on Prop 2':

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pre-Thanksgiving Reflections

  • Groups need to clearly define their role and obtain their objectives
  • We tend to give peace and justice organizations a pass without thinking critically about them
  • Religious organizations can be very useful in nonviolent campaigns
  • I can't believe we have only more more class
  • In today's world, you have to have a legit-looking website for credibility
  • I'm amazed by FreeRice and hope it gets more publicity
  • Importance of using violent events to mobilize a larger nonviolent campaign
  • It is always possible to find examples of nonviolence in today's news
  • Many organizations are well-intended but lack structures and firm grasp of new technology
  • Do justice and peace always triumph in the end?

Community Based Learning with Oxfam

When I started my community learning experience about three months ago, I expected it to be educational. I thought that I would learn about a prominent non-profit group and the important international issues they work on and profile. From this experience, I predicted I would become more socially aware. I also believed that I would learn what it is like to work in the nonprofit field, focusing on social justice. I hoped this would give me more of an indication of what my ideal vocation is. I fully expected to learn these things, however I have learned so much more. In my community learning experience, I am learning about Oxfam America, international concerns, and nonprofit work quickly and in a dynamic way with other important lessons.
The community in which I work is the Georgetown campus community. Carrying out an Oxfam awareness campaign on campus has given me a new and unique look at the student body and the campus system. I have seen that many students are very involved, committed, and dedicated to activities or issues of their own. There are so many organizations on Georgetown’s campus and it seems as if the typical Georgetown student is involved in several of them. This sometimes make it difficult to obtain interest in my campaign on global hunger and poverty. As a result, I feel I need to learn more about the intersection of different issues and groups on campus, especially in regards to international issues. Also, to further my campaign and obtain allies, varied perspectives, and wider interest, I need to become familiar with those students outside of my own academic programs and extracurricular activities who are interested or disposed to be interested in international development issues.
In addition to learning about community interaction, I am seeing that there are significant links between my practical community action and my academic work. My Justice and Peace Studies class, Nonviolence in Theory and Practice, and my work as a Change Leader for Oxfam America are sustaining and supporting each other. In class, I learn the theory behind strategic nonviolence. I learn the importance of setting a good foundation for all the initiatives I undertake, and of being able to evaluate every action I do. Also, through studying the biographies of pacifists and case studies of nonviolent campaigns, I learn from the wisdom, mistakes, and successes of others. From the Salt March to the experience of Cindy Sheehan, I can apply the experiences of prominent pacifists to my own campaign. The class also gives me a sense of the history and rich tradition that accompanies nonviolent work, which facilitates my own passion and purpose. Additionally, I believe my training with Oxfam and my limited “field experience” has allowed me to contribute better to my class during brainstorming sessions and discussions. I can give examples of obstacles and challenges that typically accompany nonviolent campaigns, because I have recently experienced them. Further, I can pass along the tactics and strategies Oxfam taught me to supplement the wealth of information covered in the coarse.
Further, my previous perception of barriers between class work and community work changed because I am being educated by so many different sources at the same moment. In class, Professor Blume and my fellow students help me understand the academic theories behind nonviolence and many high profile examples. In my work for Oxfam at Georgetown, I am learning from the professional advice of Oxfam representatives and the practical experience Georgetown is providing me. The collaboration of my class and the community is allowing me to see how academics can readily be applied to my daily pursuits and ultimate aspirations.
I have a significant responsibility as a learner in both the classroom and the community. In the classroom, I must conscientiously study nonviolent discipline and strategic execution. I have to look at case studies and biographies and understand different societies and circumstances. Simultaneously, in the community I must always be aware of the campus climate and different opportunities that present themselves that could be relevant to my campaign. Also, I must keep myself constantly informed about the actions and issues of Oxfam so that I may be well educated in representing them in my campaign. Finally and most importantly, I must take the theory that I learn in Nonviolence in Theory and Practice and constantly use it to evaluate my own actions for Oxfam. In this way, I will ensure my community learning experience will continue to be successful and educational.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

GU Pride Counter-Protests the Westboro Baptist Church

I just found the article online that The Hoya posted on the Counter Protest I partook in last week that I was telling you guys about. See the link below.

Forty of us stood for two hours in the freezing cold to counter protest the hatred spewed by the Westboro Baptist Church. Some of our signs read 'God loves America', 'God Bless Our Troops' and 'Hate is not a Christian value', and my favourite- 'I love you- God'. It was great being a part of such positivity amongst such open hatred. They were noticed for their shock value, but we were much better received by motorists and passers by. I think our prescense detracted from their message, which was our main aim. It reminded me that even a small group of college kids can make a difference, however small, in the greater cause of promoting peace and tolerance, and thus non violence.

I'm second from the right making a peace sign :)

Eddie Ellis Jr- People Can Change

Last week Georgetown's Prison Outreach program hosted Eddie Ellis Jr in White Gravenor, an ex manslaughter convict from Washington DC. Sam, Max and I were among the forty or so people who turned out to hear him talk. When Eddie was 16, he shot a person in self defense at a party. The other man involved in the incident died, and Eddie was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He ended up serving 15 years, and was released a little over two years ago.

Eddie's initial story is not a unique one- he is an example of a youth in the Washington DC area who turned to violence at a young age, as a way of expressing himself. Eddie's father died when he was two, and he grew up in a single parent home with a mother who was trying to support her family. Wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, Eddie found himself extremely angry and frustrated with 'the system' that he felt was against him, part of a larger government that didn't care about people like him who were struggling in the nation's capital. He then started to become involved in compromising situations, and when a guy at a party pulled a gun on him, Eddie shot him, because as he saw it, it was either him or Eddie. While I make no excuses for Eddie and the crime he committed (he certainly makes none for himself) I would argue that unfavourable economic and social circumstances in his life make what he did easier to understand. Whether or not you agree, and whatever you think of his case, one thing is for sure- Eddie is a changed man.

After 15 years on lock down, Eddie is trying to be a force for good in the world by helping other incarcerated men and women. He speaks in high schools and colleges, and prisons throughout the area, and is currently working on creating a nonprofit that will help ex-offenders ease back into society. Eddie's message is an inspirational one to many of the incarcerated; they too can turn their lives around. In this way Eddie is devoting his life to contributing to the non violent cause by leading by example and contributing to the cause of non violence by helping others. He has recently published a book entitled 'Window of Opportunity', which serves as a resource guidebook to educate prisoners on the opportunities that await them in the outside world. Eddie hopes to do his part to help keep the incarcerated out of prison once they are released, showing them the 'right path' so that they can successfully contribute to society.

Colman McCarthy, who Sam did his biography on, actually wrote an article on Eddie for the National Catholic Reporter. Colman not only discusses Eddie's personal story, but also delves into issues of rehabilitation for prisoners in 'prison happy' America, an issue I'm particulary interested in.

You can find the article online here.

In addition, you guys should definitely check out Eddie's personal website.

Eddie's talk and Colman McCarthy's article raised a couple questions for me that I find myself thinking about a lot, especially after I visit prison every week with the Prison Outreach program.
Once the government imprisons people for violent crimes, how do we ensure that they don't continue down the same violent path? What mechanisms can be implemented to help offenders correct their ways and change their lives?

These are just a couple thoughts. I'd love to hear what you guys think about this issue.

- Katherine

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Anti-Abortion Activists: Shifting from Bans to Reductions

Any successful nonviolent campaign needs to be able to adjust to its successes, set-backs, and changes in the environment. Here's a Washington Post story on how collaborative efforts could actually advance their cause further than being in opposition. By advocating for improved pre-natal and new mother services, women may be encouraged to bring their pregnancies to term, rather than choosing abortion.

Photos by internets_dairy.

EFFECTIVE ACTIVISM: New Course of Interest at AU

Time for spring registration and our JUPS has some great courses listed. Something that you might also want to consider would be a course at American University on STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION FOR ACTIVISTS, taught by Joseph Eldridge and Robert Tomasko. You could take it as a Consortium course.

Joseph Eldridge's Strategic Communication for Activists course explores the pivotal role strategic communication plays in effective activism. The class focuses on the connecting grassroots action, community organizing, and communication theory, to real-world examples. Insights from behavioral science research are coupled with case studies and in-class discussions with a wide range of notable guest activists to analyze what works, what doesn't, and why.
This evening course is scheduled for Thursdays from 8:10 to 10:40 PM for the Spring semester.

Photo by Grant Neufeld

Monday, November 17, 2008

July 4, 2009: A Possible Future?

Such a lovely vision! Check it out here!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nov 14

  • The power of humor can convey a poignant message of nonviolence
  • Although some projects may not be effective, they still provide a release and form of expression
  • It is important to consider consistency of message in a nonviolent campaign
  • Organization and the delegation of tasks is key to a campaign's success
  • You don't have to convert people, but open their minds
  • I was glad to see the college students call out the WTO faux-rep for being offensive
  • I appreciate people like the YES MEN for mixing things up a little bit
  • Be diplomatic with the people you're consulting with so your opinion will be heard

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reliable Sources

In order to better analyze nonviolent campaigns or to simply learn about nonviolence in the world, we rely heavily, and in most cases only, on the media. However, the media is not as reliable as we would like to hope. With 24 hour news stations always competing for the line "You heard it here first", they do not always check their sources. Consequently, rumors are spread internationally.
This article, in the New York Times, reports on the anonymous McCain policy advisor who leaked information to the press concerning the Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. A man named Martin Eisenstadt came out and claimed he was the leaker, backed by his numerous blogs throughout the year claiming insider information. He had been quoted in the news and linked to several blogs prior to this concession. The kicker: this Martin Eisenstadt does not exist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Post-Election Reflections

  • Verbal communication can be very effective in disarming your opponent
  • A clear concise objective, although initially difficult, makes everything easier
  • Importance of clearly identifying an objective for a nonviolent campaign
  • Focus on details while remembering the big picture
  • Think outside the box to promote awareness
  • We don't know what hunger is

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reactions to the Election

This is a little late since the election was yesterday, but I thought it was a pretty powerful video and definitely worth sharing. Maybe something to keep in mind if (heaven forbid) Sarah Palin appears on the 2012 GOP ticket.

Looking ahead, President-Elect Barack Obama faces significant challenges once he assumes the presidency. In addition to two wars and a downward spiraling economy, Obama must address the human rights violations that have occurred under the Bush administration in the name of combating terrorism and protecting national security. Amnesty International has called for the new president to create "a plan and date to close Guantánamo; issue an executive to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law; and ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the US government in its "war on terror" is set up," all within the first 100 days of his presidency. Amnesty International has also released a checklist detailing the "human rights challenge" they are posing to Obama during his first 100 days in office. 

Every Vote Counts!

As a part of 'Get Out the Vote'(for Obama) campaign, the following video is available to customize and send to friends. I know it's a day late, but it's still worth a gander..

P.S. Obama Won! WOOP WOOP!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Reflections

  • Amazed at various new media programs and how they can be used for nonviolence
  • Violence can be effective in suppressing protests of important people
  • Twitter! is cool
  • Google is so much more than a blind search
  • The value of micro-blogging
  • It is important for campaigns to have some awareness of how they are perceived
  • Time your campaign carefully so as not to compete
  • We need to focus more on the solution and not just the problem

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reflections 10/24

  • Obama campaign has been strategically smart, but the ultimate test is Election Day
  • Reaching out to faith based initiatives for gras roots purposes is very helpful
  • Best way to ensure success of campaign is to make supporters feel a part of it
  • It's a good idea for Obama to reach people in the Red states
  • Obama has made people feel part of a movement rather than working for a campaign
  • Interesting to see role of citizens in election
  • I was unaware of using citizens' arrest as form of nonviolent protest
  • The more concrete and specific nonviolent actions are, the better people can understand and join in
  • Obama has successfully surrounded himself with a team of experts

Friday, October 17, 2008

Reflections from 10/17

  • Change from the top down but without community support, results could be short-lived
  • Sustainability is one of he greatest challenges in a nonviolent campaign
  • Importance of personal touches in nonviolent campaigns/fund-raising, like the Soulforce postcard thank you
  • I was impressed by the police officer in the Soulforce video, and how his civility helped their campaign
  • Political ads don't have to be divisive to be effective; they can be moving
  • Sometimes ignoring the jabs of your opponent is the most effective way to mute the impact of the opponents violent weapons
  • Nonviolent campaigns are currently being overshadowed by the presidential election, and others are loosing funding because of the economic situation
  • 12 principles can be achieved by different political systems
  • The approach of Equality Riders took by turning the other cheek was very powerful
  • Do not improvide, but prepare and adapt

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One Sherrif Takes a Nonviolent Stand

CNN's Campbell Brown's wrote:

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has announced that for the foreseeable future he is not going to evict anyone else from a home banks have foreclosed on.

How come? He's fed up.

The Chicago Sun Times reported that renters were being evicted because there landlords were in default on their mortgages. The owners had been notified, but they had not, in turn, notified the renters. He took a very tough, principled stand and faces repercussions himself.

Here's a video from CNN:

And an eloquent shout out from Rachel Maddow:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ads on X-Box?

Would you think of putting up ads in X-Box games to promote your cause? Would it reach your demographic? Barack Obama thought it was a good idea. Check out Ben Smith's blog entry in Politico on the subject and for more images.

Update on the Great Schlep!

We posted the Sarah Silverman video earlier, and here's a CBS story covering the actual schlep. Reportedly, thousands signed up on line and dozens actually went! Daily Kos pulled several videos together in this diary entry. There's also an especially beautiful one from Israel on voting for Barack Obama following the CBS story. Now, how would you evaluate the success of the schlep?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reflections 10/10/08

  • The diversity of activists was essential to the succes of the Civil Rights movement
  • From Rev. Green - everyone has an ego, but the important thing is to move past them to make progress
  • Key to successful campaign: focus on message
  • It takes more energy to hate than to be hated
  • Bayard Rustin is the man!
  • Remarkable to me that Rev Green is a man so full of optimism and positivity
  • Great leaders of our time shouldn't be the only one's respected
  • I'm overwhelmed by how far we've come since the Civil Rights movement, but have so far to go, even in the nation's capital
  • Be your own voice and you will rally people
  • How can we channel our emotional energy into something constructive?
  • I wonder what the world would be like today if we hadn't lost so many brilliant people
  • Rev. Green's tremendous respect for his parents and others aroumnd him in spite of differences

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Muting the Impact of Opponent's Weapons

There's a great piece by Ari Melber in The Huffington Post about the Obama campaign's response to the media on McCain's negative attack ads. He puts the onus back on them, saying,

Notwithstanding the facts, we fully expect an increasingly frustrated and desperate McCain campaign to continue to lie in attacking Senator Obama," reads the memo to the reporters. However, the question remains - will McCain and his allies be challenged by the press on their allies or will they be allowed to propagate them with impunity?

Think about the political jujitsu here. How does this mute the impact of the opponent's violent weapons? The campaign has other approaches. The overall message is that when there's nothing more to offer, campaigns go negative. The Obama camp even has a video quoting John McCain on this. They also have their "Fight the Smears" and "Know the Facts" efforts off their web site.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Peacemaker Interview: Nancy Delaney

Katie Suter
Modern Peacemaker Interview

Nancy Delaney

Nancy works for Oxfam America as the Outreach Manager. She works extensively on the CHANGE Leadership Program; recruiting college students, training them in nonprofit strategy and international issues, and helping them initiate awareness campaigns on their campuses. Nancy lives in Boston with her husband and has two adult sons.

• Background:

o Who/What were your greatest influences? She traveled a lot as a child because her father was in foreign service. She lived in El Salvador for 3 years. She had amazing experiences that brought her face-to-face with inequality at a young age. Because she was so young they made a very deep impression on her and it was hard for her to wrap her head around it. In her everyday life she lived in a secure home but she would see people in desperate straights during her walk to school. This always stayed with her- she asked, ‘Why do I have this life and they do not have it?’ Nancy wrestled with that over the years, but never found the answer. This is what she believes is inspiring about the program she works on, the CHANGE initiative. As a young woman, she was not doing anything like the actions the students from CHANGE are doing. However, the idea of justice stayed with throughout her life. When the opportunity presented itself to explore the nonprofit sector, she took it. She started as a volunteer for Oxfam and then became an employee. Once she began to understand the routes, causes, possible solutions to international problems it was impossible for her to turn back. “I was completely hooked,” she said. Essentially, she believes the beginning of her journey was at age 6 in El Salvador, where she experienced personal contact with inequality.
o Where did you go to college? What did you study? She went to college at Holy Cross in Wooster, Massachusetts, where she gained the influence of Jesuit college. She believes the experience of learning in a Jesuit environment was important for her. She studied Spanish and had an “unofficial minor” in Latin American Studies. She was interested in understanding the information about a culture one can gather from both literature and history. Nancy was very focused on government and policies, but also with the people’s writing. These studies, combined with the Jesuit ideal of ‘men and women for others’ supported her path toward social justice work. During school, Nancy did volunteer work as part of the campus group, SPUD, which gave time and resources to the local community.
o What work did you do before Oxfam? She “wandered around” at first. Nancy took a couple of years after graduation because she believed it was important to have some life experience before she considered graduate school. She tried different jobs in the “informal sector”-and then began to look for a “real job” in the for-profit sector. She worked for an international transportation company. Nancy believes this was good experience in business and management and that her years in the for-profit sector were good preparation for her work at Oxfam. After her sons were born, she wanted to try something completely different- nonprofit work. She sought out Oxfam for their reputation. Nancy believes there are many different paths to social justice work and related that every person at Oxfam has a different way that they came to be there.

• Peace as an influence

o Is it important to you that your actions are nonviolent? Nancy does not think about conflict and violence as a way to make change for the issues she is working for. She acknowledges that many people accept poverty as simply part of the fabric for life, but she believes that this is not predestined or inevitable. Nancy thinks that the kind of well-researched, well-conceived strategic ways of addressing the issues of the systemic causes, as they have at Oxfam, are the only way to go about it. She cannot even imagine the other position. She realizes there are examples of when violence has moved populations and created change. However, she believes that to do the work Oxfam does, it is necessary to address the issues and have a really sound analysis. She believes that this, along with the organization itself, is how one makes really sustainable change. She emphasized analysis over methods of violence.

• Staying with it

o What is the best part of your job? Nancy related that there are a lot of people who do social justice work that is not direct service (meaning they do not go into the community). She has the part of social justice work that she believes is so special: The people she works with, she gets to see [in the Change Leadership program]. While many colleagues must sustain themselves on the belief that they’re making change, she gets the benefit of meeting students, see the kind of change they enact, and feeding off of all their actions and energy.
o How do you balance it with family? She said that it is difficult but always worth it to balance. Additionally, she said the Non-profit sector is good at helping people balance. The older her sons became, the more important she believed it was to do social justice work with Oxfam. She saw that she could bring her experiences and what she was learning home to her family. Her two sons have worked at Oxfam as interns and one worked on the farm bill for the organization. This was an unforeseen benefit of working for Oxfam. The rewards also manifested themselves in “funny ways”. She would speak in their classrooms and then their universities about her work. Also, her sons grew up understanding injustice existed in the world. The older they grew, the more her commitment deepened. She saw the impact her experiences had on them and how they viewed the world as a result. This made her think about her own role.
o How do you handle the slow-progress? Nancy makes sure that her personal efforts are positive and move her causes forward. She ensures that she can access impact and evaluate effectiveness of what she does. She related this to why she advocates for the continued renewal of the Change Leadership program. She believes it is a good use of resource, with tremendous multiplying affects. “It is a step forward,” she said. She said it is important to ask questions about her actions- that she does an action not for the sake of doing it, but for the impact. Further, she believes that awareness is the first step to engagement. She said it is important to not be overwhelmed by the problems, but to keep moving forward. Personally, she carves out pieces of the problem where she thinks she can be effective and pushes further where she can. She related she is part of Oxfam’s larger strategy to make change. She said that everyone has bits and pieces of the initiative. She said to ask, “Why are people living in poverty?” Then, she said to analyze: to look at structures, then what is needed to change them. She greatly enjoys working with college students to address change.