Dec 17, 2012

Liza Long is not Adam Lanza's mother

I have posted here several times before about the dangers of 'I am x person' solidarity slogans, most recently in relation to the 'I am Malala' campaign.  It's a bit odd to me to show you are in solidarity with someone by claiming you are that someone.  It's like trying to be the one you're with.  If you stand in their shoes, where are they supposed to stand? Why not walk alongside them instead?  Wouldn't it be more empowering for both of you that way? I do get that saying 'I am with Malala' does not have the same sort of rhetorical impact - but in the long run it is more respectful and can build more powerful and meaningful solidarity.

Well, by now you've probably already seen the "I am Adam Lanza's mother" post by Liza Long that went viral last weekend. It is a gripping description of one woman's experience as the mother of a mentally ill boy in the US.  We can easily imagine that Adam's mother might have experienced something like this.  That other parent's with mentally ill children face similar nightmares.  And, I would hope, it moves us to act for meaningful mental health treatment in the US.  So perhaps it is effective at rallying solidarity with parents of mentally ill children, though it does not ask for any specific action (like health care reform that would force health insurers to cover mental health treatment). 

So is Liza Long appropriating Adam's mother's voice?  Well, yes. The thing is, Adam Lanza's mother is dead.  He killed her.  With her own guns.  There is no sign that she reached out for help with her mentally ill son.  Instead she stocked up, bought five guns, and took her son to the shooting range to practice with them.   It appears she may have had her own mental health issues.  None of this makes it ok to speak in her name.  And now the real mother's life story is even less heard, as so many read Liza Long's post instead.

But what is more disturbing about Liza Long's post is that it is most certainly not going to generate solidarity with the mentally ill - if anything it stigmatizes them even more and puts them at greater risk.  Most notably it stigmatizes her own son, who is given no privacy since she does not even use a pseudonym!  For a great review of how Liza's post does injustice to both her son and others with mental health issues see the post You are NOT Adam Lanza's mother.

Dec 12, 2012

PBI's fantastic christmas campaign

Peace Brigades seems to be doing a story a day for their Christmas fundraising campaign, and the first few have been great.  I particularly liked this photo story, that the picture here is the first of.  I've been on some bad roads in Colombia, but I think this wins the prize!
They're also posting great videos, including this one interviewing Iván Madero Vergel of Credhos in Barrancaermeja about what accompaniment means to him.  

Dec 10, 2012

all women peacekeeping teams

The only all women team of international accompaniers is the International Women's Peace Service, but the Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international team, has been supporting the development of local women only peacekeeping teams in Sudan.  Their article about this work is below.

Women Taking the Lead in South Sudan

NP is pioneering the formation of Women Peacekeeping Teams (WPTs) in South Sudan. These are teams of local women who monitor incidents of conflict-related Gender-Based Violence (GBV) and help create safe spaces for women to address these in their local communities. There are between 10 and 25 women on each team and the first one was set up by NP in November 2011 in Juba. There are now five WPTs covering two districts in Central Equatoria State and three districts in Western Equatoria State. As we demonstrate the effectiveness of this model, there will hopefully be many more WPTs to come!

Photo: This picture was taken on 23 November 2011, in Ibba Central payam in Ibba county, and displays the members of the WPT as they had just officially formed their team that very day, together with one of NP Nzara's staff named Brenda Floors

The WPTs formed in Central Equatoria State were able to draw from a large pool of women who were willing to volunteer, including educated and skilled women of whom some even hold positions in county or state government. In Western Equatoria State, however, many of the women courageous enough to join a WPT have never had a formal job, and the majority are housewives, working in and around the house, raising the children as well as often working on their land as agriculturalists and/or selling their crops at the market. Some of them work (informally) at local restaurants as cooks or dishwashers. For many of these women, their participation in the WPT is the first time they have had an active, recognized role in a group of this kind.

“There has never been an international organization to come to Ezo before us to talk about women’s issues. (...) It will be our pleasure to receive NP and have them build our capacity and raise our voices.”
- Anna Lakim Nalurgura, Mid-wife and member of the WPT in Ezo Central Payam

The day to day work of the Women Peacekeeping Teams involves helping with the registration of cases of GBV, reporting these to the Ministry of Social Development and finding ways to address these issues through weekly meetings to discuss threats to themselves and other women in the community. At the same time they are being given more and more tools to increase the security of those most vulnerable to GBV and supporting the survivors in connecting them to police, social workers and health service providers. This will greatly improve awareness of GBV at these locations, as well as improve the capacity of local formal and official duty bearers in their increased experience in dealing with such cases. This increased awareness and capacity at the community and respective administrative levels will in turn greatly help reduce Gender-Based Violence in these locations.

NP works with both the WPTs and with the community at large to ensure the space for this work is safe. While it has been important to create an environment for women to participate in, it is equally important to engage the men in finding solutions for violence in the communities. Much encouragement and support is needed to have women realize the contribution they can make to change their own fate, and that of so many others.

Despite the commitment under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for women to be represented in all levels of government, there are in fact very few opportunities for women to participate in public life. The WPTs are a unique opportunity to engage local women in the wider peacebuilding process. Women are generally the constants in their communities – they do not travel for work, they do not have multiple spouses in different places, and they often have the best sense of the protection issues in their communities.  Additionally, they are amongst the most affected by violence.

 “Through the existence of WPTs we can penetrate into society. It is the women who are at home all day and see what problems there are in society. It is them who stay with their children and maintain their communities when the men are out fighting.”
– Juba Team Leader Kudzanai Mativirira

The active presence of these local women within the broader peacekeeping effort in South Sudan promotes equal representation and women’s leadership, facilitates the approach of those women who are affected by conflict, and favours the participation of local women and their organizations in post-conflict situations and in the prevention of conflict. The Women Peacekeeping Teams have a unique opportunity to respond to the needs of an especially marginalized population and to showcase the vital role of women as actors in the long and difficult road towards peace, both in the world and in the home.

Photo: This picture was taken on November 25 2011 in Terkeka County, and displays the inauguration ceremony of the WPT formed that very day, together with the NP Juba team's leader Kudzanai Mativirira.

Dec 1, 2012

Even Those Who Chose Peace Suffer in this War Zone

 a Letter from the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó By FOR accompanier there, Gina Spigarelli

[this is reposted entirely from the FOR wesite - La Unión is an outlying hamlet of the peace community where the FOR accompaniers are based.  photos are Gina's photos of the peace community from flickr]

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

"On some days in La Unión, the war is a faint pulse in the background — a far-off helicopter heard but not seen, or a military troop walking by on their way to a distant destination. On those days, to an outsider, La Unión is like any small town in the world. Neighbors talk about their days — about the cake being baked down the road or the baby with a cold. They work their fields in the hot sun and convene in the center of town when it sets.

On other days, the war permeates every moment. There are days when the war is so close that there is nothing else. When the jungle right around the peace community heats up with combat, the primary concern is generally for the unarmed civilians, particularly peace community members themselves. Our neighbors don’t go work the fields — they stay near the FOR house, pay close attention to what other civilians say when they are coming up or down from the hills, and make sure that they are safe. Things get quiet and tense in the village.

This is not only due to fear for their own safety. The peace community is only 15 years old, after all, and many members have family members who left home before the process began to join the FARC guerrillas or the military or the paramilitaries. When combat occupies the troops close by, many families in the community worry that their sons or brothers or cousins or friends may be killed in the fighting. In the village where we live, there are mothers who have one child in the peace community, one in the military and one in the FARC. It’s hard to even imagine what neutrality means to them.

The peace community respects every individual’s decision to choose his or her own path. The fact that the community is not old enough for a generation of children to be raised in the culture of neutrality means that all sides of the war permeate the existence of the families here. There is no good or bad guy, there is no right or wrong choice. There is only the simple reality that war is deadly.
In mid-November there was combat near La Unión between the FARC and a local paramilitary group which violently demonstrated that simple reality. The fighting lasted from 5:00 a.m. to early afternoon, and many soldiers died on both sides. Because this combat was so close and the troops were local, the community knew several fallen soldiers. And so it was that, like with so many firefights before, the community listened and worried for the people they love.

Then the community was contacted by the International Red Cross about the wounded and the dead. And so it was that brothers went with hammocks to pick up their siblings from the jungle and bring them home, dead, to their mothers. And so it was that the whole peace community mourned, on the same day, young men who believed different things and chose to kill for those beliefs; young men who came from the same background and left the same villages to go into the same jungle and kill one another on different sides of the same conflict. And so it was that even those who chose neutrality were once again affected by all sides of the war around them.

In theory, neutrality to the war sounds easy. Peace seems like an obvious answer. Sometimes I hear myself talking with my family about peace and the peace community process and I think it even sounds utopian. The community seems serene — some pretty picture of how to make a better world after so much suffering. The community always seems strong, of course. There is no comparable organization that I have ever known. The rules and regulations that these people follow in order to be unarmed, peaceful, non-collaborative civilians in a war zone are severe, but on days when the war is a faint pulse in the background, these sacrifices seem simple enough.

However, there is nothing simple about living in a war zone. Even the people who choose peace, live in community, are neutral to the armed groups, who forgive their neighbors for the crimes committed against them and respect all people in their death, even these people acutely suffer. They suffer from the violence they see and the way the different armed groups involve them in the war - even if the only way they manage to involve them is by a son choosing a different life path than his mother and coming home to his family dead in a hammock. Their choice or not, the peace community is left to mourn the effects of the war as long as it goes on."

- by Gina Spigarelli, a member of the FOR accompaniment team in Colombia. Gina blogs at Let's peace our world, together.  I am in the midst of creating a digital archive of accompaniers' blogs as part of a process of thinking with accompaniers about best practices in storytelling across borders for peace. For now there are many blogs by accompaniers listed in the blogroll on the right.

Nov 26, 2012

inspired by Yolanda

This video actually starts at around minute four, and Yolanda starts talking at around minute 14 after a great short Guatemala context intro from Kathryn of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission.  I am her interpreter, in the red interpreter vest.  For many years I have been a lead interpreter (and organizer of the interpreting) at the vigil to close the US Army's School of the Americas - the largest ongoing protest in the US against US militarism in Latin America .  This year, in mid-November I had the huge honor and responsibility of interpreting for many speakers at the vigil, many videos of which are online.  The video of the stage on Saturday is good for getting fired up, but the most inspiring experience for me was interpreting for Yolanda Oqueli, in the video above. 

Yolanda is a nonviolent resistance hero.  She has helped to organize her community (San Jose del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc) in Guatemala to stop a polluting gold mine that wants to come in and continually worked to keep the resistance peaceful.  They have maintained a round the clock blockade for 9 months and kept the mining company trucks out.  The company tried to break through in the middle of the night when there were only 20 people on shift - and thanks to the miracle of cell phones and great community organizing they managed to turn out 4,000 people in half an hour to stop them!  

So then the company increased the pressure.  They kidnapped Yolanda's husband, also a community leader, and gave him the option of fleeing the country or having his family hurt - and then when he fled they went ahead and tried to kill Yolanda anyways two weeks later! She survived the attempt, but has a bullet left lodged too close to her spine to safely remove.  Amazingly, her first words to her community when they found her shot were to please not be provoked into responding with violence.  And she has gone back to the blockade, and faced large gangs of "private security" thugs (former Guatemalan military) who have come to the blockade and specifically targeted her for harassment.  She continues to be a strong voice in her community for remaining peaceful in the face of these provocations, as she describes in this video.  She has even been brave enough to go on tour in the US and tell her story - even telling it in front of the gates of Fort Benning (minute 8 here).

Please, will you join me in walking with Yolanda and her community as part of our larger struggle for justice?  You can take quick action here to send emails to the US embassy and to the mining company itself.  It helps if you can take a minute to change the first line or two of the letters so that they stand out as different. 

Please also hold Yolanda in the light, send her love, pray for her, or however you think of these things, and ask for her body to move the bullet away from her spine so that it can be removed.  This can take from months to years, and it is causing her great pain while it is there.

I was disturbed, at the vigil, to see people reaching out to touch Yolanda after she gave her testimony on stage in a way that reminded me of how people reached out to touch Rufina Amaya, as if she were somehow saintly.  I wrote about how Rufina, the only survivor of the El Mozote massacre, found this disturbing at the vigil in my article about colonial patterns in the movement to close the SOA, and solidarity movement more broadly - and how survivors are distanced when they are put on a pedestal.  But I continue to work inside the movement to do solidarity differently.

Nov 11, 2012

half the sky? more on the ways white saviourism screws us all up

The above is a trailer for Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.   This is the official site for it.  It's a four-hour pbs special that aired in the US in early October and was shot in 10 countries: Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S.

Sayantani DasGupta has a great post over on Racalicious titled:

“Your Women Are Oppressed, But Ours Are Awesome”: How Nicholas Kristof And Half The Sky Use Women Against Each Other" 

Apparently Kristof says at one point in the documentary, “When you have won the lottery of life there is some obligation some responsibility we have to discharge.” Obligation?! Discharge?! Wow,  I hope that my calling to use my various privileges to work in solidarity across the Americas and build the power of our movements to build a better world never comes across as anything like that! (though note that I have often heard international solidarity activists say things along this line in much nicer sounding ways, like 'to whom much is given, much is expected')

It's worth reading the whole post on Racialicious, but here are some highlights:

"Perhaps reflecting this sense of noblesse oblige, the film is based on an amazingly problematic premise: the camera crew follows Kristof as he travels to various countries in the Global South to examine issues of violence against women–from rape in Sierra Leone, to sex trafficking in Cambodia, from maternal mortality and female genital cutting in Somaliland, to intergenerational prostitution in India. Because, hey, all the histories and cultures and situations of these countries are alike, right? (Um, no.) Oh, and he doesn’t go alone! Kristof travels with famous American actresses like Eva Mendez, Meg Ryan, Diane Lane, Gabrielle Union, and America Ferrera on this bizarre whirlwind global tour of gender violence.

There are plenty of critiques I could make of Kristof’s reporting (in this film and beyond, see this great round-up of critiques for more). Critiques about voyeurism and exotification: the way that global gender violence gets made pornographic, akin to what has been in other contexts called “poverty porn.”

For example, would Kristof, a middle-aged male reporter, so blithely ask a 14-year-old U.S. rape survivor to describe her experiences in front of cameras, her family, and other onlookers? Would he sit smilingly in a European woman’s house asking her to describe the state of her genitals to him? Yet, somehow, the fact that the rape survivor is from Sierra Leone and that the woman being asked about her genital cutting is from Somaliland, seems to make this behavior acceptable in Kristof’s book. And more importantly, the goal of such exhibition is unclear. What is the viewer supposed to receive–other than titillation and a sense of “oh, we’re so lucky, those women’s lives are so bad”?

In her book Regarding the Pain of OthersSusan Sontag suggested that images of distant, suffering bodies in fact inure the watcher, limiting as opposed to inspiring action:
Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing ‘we’ can do — but who is that ‘we’? — and nothing ‘they’ can do either — and who are ‘they’ — then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic."
That was my bolding - this is is so essential! So many organizations share intense stories without clear action steps the readers can then take.  This is one of the things I am going to be tracking in my postdoc, which focuses specifically on the stories that accompaniers share and what works well for building solidarity.  How can accompaniers, and others doing human rights and humanitarian work in conflict zones, avoid falling in to traps like these?

The article goes on to raise another issue I'll be looking at in my postdoc:

"The issue of agency is also paramount. In the graduate seminar I teach on Narrative, Health, and Social Justice in the Master’s Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, I often ask my students to evaluate a text’s ethical stance by asking themselves–“whose story is it?” For example, are people of color acting or being acted upon? Although the film does highlight fantastic on-the-ground activists such as maternal-health activist Edna Adan of Somaliland, the point of entry–the people with whom we, the (presumably) Western watchers, are supposed to identify–are Kristof and his actress sidekick-du-jour.

In fact, many have critiqued Kristof for his repeated focus on himself as “liberator” of oppressed women. As Laura Augustín points out in her essay “The Soft Side of Imperialism”:
Here he is beaming down at obedient-looking Cambodian girls, or smiling broadly beside a dour, unclothed black man with a spear, whilst there he is with Ashton and Demi, Brad and Angelina, George Clooney. He professes humility, but his approach to journalistic advocacy makes himself a celebrity. He is the news story: Kristof is visiting, Kristof is doing something.
Beyond his self-promotion, there remains the issue of whose story Kristof is telling. He has, in fact, answered critiques of his reporting style–which often focuses on white outsiders going to Asian or African countries–by saying that this choice is purposeful. When asked why he often portrays “black Africans as victims” and “white foreigners as their saviors,” he has answered, “One way to get people to read…is to have some sort of American they can identify with as a bridge character.” A presumption which assumes that all New York Times readers are white, of course, but I won’t get into that now."

One of the things I am curious to look at in the stories told by accompaniers is how accompaniers can function as an 'in', or as she puts it here a 'bridge' for the reader, in ways that are less oppressive and build respectful solidarity. 

DasGupta goes on to make other important points, and ends by citing one of my favorite articles:

As feminist philosopher Linda Martín Alcoff argues in her essay “The Problem Of Speaking For Others,” that part of the problem of speaking for others is that none of us can transcend our social and cultural location: “The practice of privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted (in many cases) in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for." 

I think there are actually careful ways of speaking with that can make our voices louder, but more on that later. 

Oct 27, 2012

I am NOT Malala

I am not Troy Davis, and I am NOT MalalaThe "I am 'x person who is oppressed'" meme has been growing fast, but seems to have reached a high pitch with the "I am Malala" campaign being promoted by no less than the The Office of the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. 

OF COURSE I am horrified by the attack Malala faced, and of course, I totally support education for all, and the work of the special envoy.  I just don't get why we have to pretend to BE Malala to STAND with Malala, and to support the campaign for education for all.  I have so many more privileges, that I am clearly NOT Malala, and it seems appriopriative to say so.  Maybe the intent is to be a version of the labor solidarity slogan, 'an injury to one is an injury to all', which of course I agree with, but it seems to deny and elide the huge gulfs of difference between me and Malala.  The video on the I am Malala website (below) does not in any way try to build solidarity by showing HOW I might be like Malala, or how an attack on Malala is also an injury against me. 

Oct 17, 2012

accompaniers key to the new peace agreement in Mindanao

Great news came out on Monday - a peace agreement was signed in Mindanao! Here is The Guardian's take on it.

I've been following the conflict in Mindanao more closely in the last few years because there are international accompaniers there with the Nonviolent Peaceforce.  That team is particularly interesting because they have played an official role in the peace process in a way that accompaniers never have before. 

Here is the announcement the Peaceforce posted explaining the peace agreement and their role:

Philippines Peace Agreement – Why This One is Different*

(*and why this is a truly historic moment for all of us at Nonviolent Peaceforce)

Peace Agreements are a dime a dozen these days. With an average of 25 wars going on around the world at any given time, there are peace agreements about to be signed almost every other week. No wonder the world ceases to take much interest anymore! Another Peace Agreement is signed in the Philippines yesterday – yawn.

Over half of the world’s peace agreements are broken within a few years anyway, that’s the official record. Remember that historic peace pact between the Israelis and the Palestinians – see how long that one lasted! And you may not even have noticed that just a few years before the Sri Lankan military destroyed the last remains of the Tamil Tigers on the battlefield, the two parties had also signed a comprehensive peace agreement, brokered by the Norwegians.

Sadly, this is the case for so many of the peace agreements that make it onto paper. And some don’t even get that far – the last peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro guerrillas was quashed by a Supreme Court decision in 2008 just moments before the two parties were about to sign the document.

So now we have a new peace agreement in the Philippines. Why should we be interested and why should we expect this one to last or to be any different from all the others? Well, as it happens, this one is different, and may just foreshadow a whole new era in peace agreements, not just for the Philippines, but for the rest of the world.

When the last peace agreement failed and the ceasefire broke down on the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines in 2008, fighting broke out across the island, there were some particularly nasty massacres and over 600,000 people were displaced from their homes. But there was one new element in the equation that had not been there before: the presence of international unarmed civil society observers from a little-known group called the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

These Nonviolent Peaceforce observers had been quietly working away on the island, building relationships with both sides of the conflict, establishing their credentials as a neutral, independent, impartial actor willing to help both parties to find solutions to practical problems they faced on the ground – like how to avoid unnecessary bloodshed without appearing to be weak or to be seen to be backing down; how to ensure safe passage for civilians caught in the crossfire without losing ground militarily; how to maintain contact with the ‘enemy’ and avoid misunderstandings while at the same waging a war against them; how to put out feelers for a ceasefire without appearing to give in…

Nonviolent Peaceforce helped both sides of this war to be more civilised and more respectful of civilians and as a result, when a ceasefire was finally agreed, both sides asked Nonviolent Peaceforce to play an official role in the ceasefire mechanism that would hold both sides to their commitments and obligations under the ceasefire. It is not that unusual for two sides to appoint an intermediary to monitor a ceasefire. Often the UN plays that role, other times another country or set of countries will be invited to do it. But never before in the history of war has a non-governmental organisation made up of unarmed civilians from civil society been asked to play a role quite like this. This was – and is – historic, and is why the peace agreement just signed in the Philippines is also historic.

There have been many other innovations associated with this particular peace agreement, and they all deserve attention because this is a new way of making peace in the 21st century. As well as using a non-governmental organisation to help monitor the ceasefire on the ground, the parties to this conflict also agreed to have non-governmental organisations supporting the negotiations in Kuala Lumpur, as part of the ‘International Contact Group’1. This is unprecedented for a peace process like this. And on the ground, local organisations were also given official status in support of the ceasefire monitoring and protection of civilians2. Other countries have of course played an important role, but the really significant innovation has been having unarmed, international civilian ‘peacekeepers’ on the ground monitoring a ceasefire. Why?

Violence begets violence – we all know that. We may not always think of it or want to accept it, but every child who has ever scrapped on the playground, every parent who has ever dealt with an unruly teenager, every teacher, every social worker, every police officer has seen the effects of using force or violence on someone else. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s basic physics! In the field of human affairs, the reaction may not always be equal or opposite (often the reaction is much worse than the action, as in the case of terrorist atrocities committed to avenge some petty grievance), but it is as surely a law of life as it is a law of physics that if you use violence against someone or some group of people, you will sooner or later get violence thrown back at you. It is a lesson not just from science but also from art, as portrayed so consistently in Shakespeare’s plays, for instance…

So when peace agreements and ceasefires are managed or monitored by soldiers, UN or otherwise, who come complete with guns and tanks and helicopters, what is the message that sends out to the combatants and to the civilians who are most affected? Surely the deployment of soldiers, even for ‘peace’, simply reinforces the age-old assumption that military might, violence and force is what solves problems, whether the problem is war or the problem is peace.

No wonder so many peace agreements don’t last! No wonder so many ceasefires break down! How can we even begin to challenge the war mentality and change the way people try to handle their problems when we simply send in more military personnel to deal with a problem caused by two militaries fighting each other? Nonviolent Peaceforce throws a new dimension into this mix which totally confounds this way of thinking and turns it on its head. Actually, says NP, you are safer in a warzone as a civilian than you are as a soldier. Actually, you are more able to protect innocent civilians as a civilian than you are as a military officer. Actually, you are more likely to help reduce violence – to break the cycle of violence – by intervening as an unarmed civilian than by intervening with military force.

This is ground-breaking stuff, and it has been going on largely unnoticed but with huge success in the Philippines for these past two years. And it is what has made possible a peace agreement which has the real possibility of standing the test of time and giving the people of this war-torn island what they most want and deserve – a true and lasting peace.

And the reason it is so critical to the peace agreement which has just been signed is that peace at the negotiating table is only ever possible when there is real peace on the ground. Most ceasefires are broken the day they are agreed, and they continue to be broken every day because both sides are continually testing the other, reigning in their forces only enough to get the best deal they can at the negotiating table and if they don’t get it, are ready to go back to fighting until they do. More traditional ceasefire monitors know all this and they know that their job is merely to keep the belligerents at bay long enough to give the negotiations a fighting chance – never to actually address the problems and flashpoints and incidents and violations that are going on by both sides. That is not how the game has been played – until now.

Nonviolent Peaceforce has not just been ‘monitoring’ the ceasefire in Mindanao. NP teams have been out there every day actually ‘peacekeeping’ in the true sense of that word: addressing concrete problems on the ground, de-escalating tensions, getting both sides to back off, preventing displacement and disruption of normal life, helping people get used to real peace and encouraging them to expect it! This is the new dynamic at play in this new peace agreement. The people of Mindanao have already had two years of peace and they will not accept anything less at this point. They – the ordinary civilians, the people who bear the brunt of war when it happens – demand peace, and the belligerents now have to give it to them.

And what about the belligerents? Maybe they have also been somewhat affected by the ‘civilising’ presence of these unarmed civilian peacekeepers. They have been treated throughout this conflict with dignity and respect by the Nonviolent Peaceforce. They have been helped to see that is in their own interest to treat the civilians caught up in this conflict also with dignity and respect. And they have been helped to do the right thing when it comes to respecting the ceasefire and the norms of international humanitarian law and the accepted laws of war.

Nonviolent Peaceforce has not turned soldiers into pacifists, and has no ambition to do so, but it has helped to make sure that no soldier who believes he or she is fighting for a cause, whether it’s the defence of one’s country or the right to self-determination, forgets that he or she is also responsible for how that fight is fought and how, in particular, non-combatant civilians - especially women and children – are treated.  If they are now more likely to be treated with dignity and respect and their rights and lives protected from the abuses and violations of war, then this really is a very important peace agreement and a turning point in the history of war.

For full text of speeches by the President of the Republic of the Philippines and Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the occasion of signing the peace agreement on 15th October 2012:

Speech of President Aquino during the signing of the GPH MILF framework agreement

Speech of the Chairman of the MILF during the signing of the framework agreement on the Bangsamoro

Dr. Timmon Wallis, Executive Director, Nonviolent Peaceforce

This article was originally published in the independent online magazine

Oct 12, 2012

empathy test

My apologies for the long radio silence - I am in the midst of major life transitions.

I do, however, continue to think about the benefits and dangers of empathy and am thrilled that my friends remember this obsession of mine.  Thanks to Teo for sending the link to this wired article:

"Fend Off Trolls, Bots and Jerks With ‘Empathy’ Test

A human rights group is introducing a new take on CAPTCHAs, those little boxes that make you type in a word to prove you are human before you can comment or register for a site. Their version doesn’t just present a scrambled word to be deciphered, but instead forces a person to choose the right word to unscramble based on the proper emotional response to a human rights violation.
Civil Rights Defenders, the Swedish-based group that developed the tool, hopes the Civil Rights Captcha will help sites block spiders and bots, while letting humans in — and hopefully educating the humans at the same time.
One hopes that being required to choose “Terrible” rather than “Fascinated” when asked how you feel about gay people being beaten will keep out the trolls — but that’s probably asking too much.
But perhaps forcing a troll to repeatedly choose an empathetic response will, over time, soothe the ravages of comment sections around the net. Okay, that might also be asking too much, but at the very least spreading information about human rights abuses certainly can’t hurt, even if the jerks of the internet (see, for example, YouTube comments) remain beyond help."

Well it's a simplistic definition of empathy, and I doubt that it will build solidarity, but I guess if they use it to share information about particular incidents, like the one in the example, it could. 

Sep 19, 2012

Occupying Language in NYC

The Committee on Globalization and Social Changeis putting on a very cool event:

Occupying Language

with Dario Azzellini and Marina Sitrin

Friday, September 21: 2:00 pm at the Free University of NYC at Madison Square Park and 7:30 pm at 16 Beaver Street (4th floor)

This is their shpeil about it:

Occupying Language is an open conversation. Through it, we invite you to join us to explore insurgent movements that have been organizing in Latin America over the past twenty years, and to connect key concepts and language from those struggles with what is new and beautiful in the social relations being created by people’s movements in the United States today.

There are of course many similarities with preceding forms of organization and mobilization, especially with the movement for global justice of the late 1990s and early 2000s. However, we are choosing to ground the discussion in movements and groups that arose from and are comprised of ordinary people, rather than activists.

Language is not neutral, and words transport and express concepts and ways of thinking. They can consolidate and perpetuate hierarchies, domination and control just as they can underline equality and strengthen consciousness. Latin American struggles for dignity, freedom and liberation are rooted in more than five hundred years of resistance. Language derived from their struggles comes with historical antecedents.

Among the concepts we explore are Territory, Assembly, Rupture, Popular Power, Horizontalism, Autogestión (self-administration), and Protagonism. Examples of each term are drawn from different Latin American communities of struggle, from the spreading of Horizontalidad with the popular rebellion in Argentina, and the concept of Territory seen in Bolivia and Mexico, to the construction of Popular Power in the Consejos Comunales in Venezuela, and the vision of interconnected human diversity articulated in the call for “one world in which many worlds fit” by the indigenous Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico.

Sep 8, 2012

Rachel Corrie

I apologize for the delay in posting this, I have been consumed with organizing the caravan for peace.  As many readers will know, there was recently a ruling on the civil case on Rachel Corrie's death.  Rachel is probably the world's best known accompanier, having been murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces.  Below is a short documentary directed by Najat Jellab about Rachel Corrie.

Her Name was Rachel Corrie by Najat10

The International Solidarity Movement's statement about the ruling is:

"The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is deeply concerned by the verdict of Judge Oded Gershon that absolved Israel’s military and state of the 2003 murder of American ISM activist Rachel Corrie. Rachel was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip.

Despite the American administration stating that the Israeli military investigation had not been "thorough, credible and transparent" and the Israeli government withholding key video and audio evidence, Judge Gershon found no fault in the investigation or in the conclusion that the military and state were not responsible for Rachel’s death. Judge Gershon ruled  that Rachel was to blame for her own murder and classifies her non-violent attempt to prevent war crimes as proof that Rachel was not a “thinking person".

By disregarding international law and granting Israeli war criminals impunity Judge Gershon’s verdict exemplifies the fact that Israel’s legal system cannot be trusted to administer justice according to international standards.The ISM calls on the international community to hold Israel accountable by supporting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) and continuing to join the Palestinian struggle in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Describing the situation in Gaza 2 days before she was killed, Rachel said, “I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive. It's horrifying.”  Rachel’s analysis holds true today, confirmed by the United Nations a day before this ruling, which reported that Gaza would not be "liveable" by 2020 barring urgent action.

The verdict is a green light for Israeli soldiers to use lethal force against human rights defenders and puts Palestinian and International human rights defenders in mortal danger. This will not deter us. As long as our Palestinian sisters and brothers want our presence, the ISM will continue to find ways to break Israel’s siege, and stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. As Rachel’s mother Cindy put it, “There were children behind the walls of the home Rachel was trying to protect...We should have all been there”.

Judge Gershon’s verdict is a travesty of justice but it is not exceptional. As a rule the Israeli legal system provides Israeli soldiers impunity to commit murder. The only Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 was Taysir Hayb, a Bedouin citizen of Israel for shooting British ISM volunteer Tom Hurndall in the back of the head with a sniper rifle as Tom was carrying a child to safety. At least 6,444 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces in this period, with no justice for them or their families. "

Aug 23, 2012

a new tactic for North-South international solidarity

For years I have helped to organize speaking tours of activists from Colombia, El Salvador, etc who have traveled across the US and Canada sharing their stories and analysis and weaving connections with activists in the North working for justice.  Usually it's just one person traveling, usually for a couple of weeks, sometimes for up to a month.  At most it has been two people at a time. 

I have also helped to organize and participate in many delegations of people from the US who have gone to Colombia, etc, to meet activists there, see their work, hear their stories and make connections.  Those groups are more likely to be from 6 to 12, with some growing up to 20.  They tend to last ten days to a week.

So now I'm excited to be participating in an effort that does not fit either of those standard ways of traveling to build connections across our movements.  The caravan for peace is a group of some 160 people, about half Mexican, half from the US, who are traveling across the US for a month.  Most of the Mexicans have lost family members in the so called war on drugs, and at stops along the way they are sharing their stories and analysis of what it will take to build peace.  They are also building all sorts of connections as they go - I'm sure some of the most meaningful are with folks who are riding the buses with them. 

You are invited to join the caravan - you can follow along in your car for a day, a week - or just go to one of their powerful events.  See the map here for the route and click on your city for details of events there.   There have been all sorts of events - from holding vigil at a gun show to a recent event in El Paso where the names of drug war victims were projected on the wall and scrolled up as classical music played (photo).  If you can't participate please consider donating to support this work (I would be grateful if you could earmark your donation for Spanish interpreting, which I am helping to organize) or at very least sign up to get their moving emails for the next two weeks of the caravan. 

Jul 24, 2012

A resource for accompaniers (and others) dealing with trauma exposure

I highly recommend the book
Trauma stewardship: an everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others
by Laura Van Dernoot with Connie Burk
(I was happy to find that the CPT team in Colombia had this on their shelf, though I don't know how often it gets read or practiced!)

They write about some of the
warning signs of trauma exposure response: 
(which many accompaniers may relate to)
  • feeling helpless and hopeless
  • a sense that one can never do enough
  • hypervigilance
  • diminished creativity
  • inability to embrace complexity
  • minimizing
  • chronic exhaustion
  • inability to listen/deliberate avoidance
  • disassociative moments
  • sense of persecution
  • guilt
  • fear
  • can’t empathize/numbing
  • anger and cynicism
  • addictions
  • grandiosity: one’s identity becomes solely about work

The book is full of tips for self care in this situation:
  • coming in to the present moment
  • trauma mastery (read for more on this)
  • where am I putting my focus? (+ -)
  • creating a microculture
  • practicing compassion for myself and others
  • finding balance
  • gratitude
  • daily centering
Of course they say much more about each of those. 

One of their arguments that really resonated with me was that people may come to think that only by suffering themselves can they express solidarity with those who are suffering, that feeling happy is somehow a betrayal. Somewhere between ignorining people in crisis and internalizing an ethic of martyrdom lies balance. It helps to understand our own personal response to trauma exposure, our patterns and how to respond. (page 61).

I also liked their argument that it can be easy to confuse being amped up, attending to crises, a sense of being needed with being awake, living life.  This can make it hard to slow down and we find ourselves keeping very busy even on vacation, or we get sick on vacation from adrenalin crash (page 123).  We can get stuck in fight or flight. Animals shake it off/out afterwards. It can help your parasympathetic nervous system kick in to move energy out like this.  Move. Walk. Breathe.

They recommend that when you start the workday you stop and ask yourself, why am I doing what I am doing? Breathe. Remind yourself making a choice to do this work. Regularly write down why you are doing it, what your intention is. Remind yourself what it is about for you, and what it is not.  This would be a great exercise for accompaniers, if not daily at least once in a while.  Maybe right now?

Jul 16, 2012

accompanier getting slapped makes the nightly news in Colombia

One of the basic premises of accompaniment is that a bigger deal will be made if an accompanier is attacked than if the person being accompanied is attacked.  That was dramatically illustrated two days ago when this video made the news (see the bit starting at second 30) of a Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) accompanier being slapped while accompanying the community of Las Pavas, who are defending their land against invasion by an oil palm company.  Yet despite the media coverage, and several government agencies speaking out against it, the invasion continues.  The people of Las Pavas are resisting nonviolently, putting their bodies in front of the palm tree tractors.  Please hold both the CPT team and Las Pavas in your heart as they continue working for peace in a very explosive situation.

Jul 11, 2012

new video on accompaniment, and IPO training

Below is a video by IPO, the international peace observatory, about accompaniment.  Unlike other accompaniment groups who often avoid using the term, IPO starts out by saying that accompaniment is a way of doing solidarity.  And this video will give you an honest sense of the kind of transportation accompaniers regularly take! A lot of accompaniment is about being with people while they move from point A to point B, so if you hate bus rides, it's not for you. Love the truck on a truly bad road at around minute 5, which also gives you a sense of the gorgeous mountains these bad condition roads are often going through.

IPO is one of the only organizations that takes accompaniers for short stints.  If the video sparks your interest in IPO, they are doing a training for potential accompaniers on July 14th in NYC, more info here.  Sorry for the short notice, but if you're interested, they will hold another in the fall.

Jul 1, 2012

great resources on facilitation and consensus and more

The fabulous British group Seeds for change has a great collection of handouts on consensus and facilitation here.

I have a consensus question for you.  If a group comes to consensus that they want to do something, say, accompany a particular group, but then after some time some of the members no longer want to do this action (say, accompany that organization, or in a different context run a community school, or what have you) - does there need to be consensus about pulling out? Or is the fact that there is no longer consensus for staying in enough to end the project? Certainly those that no longer want to be involved could just leave - but what if they have serious doubts about the viability of the project and want the entire group to pull out? What is the consensus process for that? Any suggestions or comments much appreciated. 

Jun 22, 2012

is solidarity even possible in this system?

So asks President Mujica, of Uruguay, at this speech in Rio.  Many thanks to Mariano for pointing me to it (warning, not the best translation).

Jun 18, 2012

advocacy as part of accompaniment

Christian Peacemaker Team's site has one of the more detailed descriptions of their work of any of the international organizations doing accompaniment in Colombia. Interestingly their site never uses the word ‘space’. They say:

“By accompaniment we mean both: 1) having a physical presence in the communities and with the organizations we accompany, and 2) doing advocacy work on their behalf.

1) Our physical presence in communities/organizations demonstrates to both members and leaders of organizations as well as armed actors that they are not alone; members of an international organization are present to witnesses and report on whatever is happening, and will non-violently intervene when armed actors abuse the rights of civilians. We ask violators to cease and desist from any behaviour that places civilians at risk or abuses their rights, and make it known that we will report all abuses to local authorities, local, national and North American government representatives, the media, and our international support base. …

2) Advocacy work for the organizations and communities we accompany is based on the understanding that justice must prevail before peace can be attained. It seeks to support our partners’ initiatives in their struggles to end violence and impunity, and to have their rights to life with dignity and territory respected. It also raises the profiles, not only of community/organization leaders, but also of their struggle for justice. Raising their profiles increases the political cost of doing them harm, and thereby diminishes the ability to oppress them with impunity. …"

They go on to list what advocacy work includes, and first on their list is

“1) Doing public actions and participating in demonstrations that promote justice and seek to end violence and impunity in the communities accompanied by CPT.”

CPT is known amongst other accompaniers as the group that engages in public actions in Colombia and considers this to be a form of accompaniment, and that section of their website includes this photo of such an action.

Jun 11, 2012

anti-oppression resources

The Colours of Resistance Archive (, is a collection of anti-oppression resources for movement-building.

As they put it: "Colours of Resistance (COR) was a grassroots network of people in the U.S. and Canada who consciously worked to develop anti-racist, multiracial politics in the movement against global capitalism. This network existed from 2000 until 2006. COR members aimed to help build an anti-racist, anti-imperialist, multiracial, feminist, queer and trans liberationist, anti-authoritarian movement against global capitalism. COR members were also committed to integrating an anti-oppression framework and analysis into all of the work."

I've used the term anti-oppression for years.  When I was organizing with Seattle CISPES we started each meeting with 10 minutes we called, rather ridiculously, DOBS - or 'dismantling oppressive behaviours'.  It was useful to each week think about how to be more aware and respectful of different communities.  I guess I prefer dismantling oppression to anti-oppression as a term, but in general I'd rather our terms focused on what we want in the world rather than what we don't want.  Maybe we're not there yet.  And not sure what the term for this internal work in organizations would be then.  Liberation? Respect? Solidarity?

May 27, 2012

Judith Butler on solidarity

I survived my dissertation defense! But it was H A R D, so many thanks for your messages of support.  They truly helped. 

The day after my defense I started teaching a very intensive summer course that is new to me, so I've been scrambling to keep my head above water - but last Thursday I got to see Judith Butler speak and it was such a treat! She is clearly thinking alot about solidarity these days, though not necessarily using that term.  She had fascinating things to say about the role of empathy - she seems as dubious about it as I am and talked about being with and through each other in beautifully poetic ways.  She also talked about the importance of personal stories and sharing the stories of others in ethical ways - something I've been passionate about for years and am going to focus on in my postdoc.  I can't wait to listen to her talk again - the CBC is going to broadcast it and I'll link it when they do. 

In response to one of the questions she got here in Vancouver she referenced this recent talk of hers (below) at the European Graduate school, where you can see she's grappling with these issues.  For those who aren't theory geeks, be warned - this is not, ahem, the most accessible of talks.  But it's Butler! She's amazing!

May 4, 2012

the end is near!

I'm (finally!) defending my dissertation on Monday.  Good vibes welcome!
The final title is:
Making Space for Peace: International Protective Accompaniment in Colombia (2007-2009)
the abstract:
International accompaniment is a strategy used in conflict zones that puts people who are less at risk literally next to people under threat because of their work for peace and justice.  Thousands of human rights workers, grassroots organizations, and communities have been protected in this way since 1983.  There are now international accompaniers working with 24 organizations in ten countries.  Colombia is the country with the largest number of international groups. 
I spent 15 months in Colombia holding ongoing conversations with accompaniers about how accompaniment works, or to use Peace Brigades’ slogan, how it ‘makes space for peace.’  Paradoxically accompaniers use the fact that their lives ‘count’ more (because of passport/economic/racial privilege), to build a world where everyone’s lives ‘count’..  I was hoping that accompaniment was using privilege in such a way that it could ‘use it up’.  I did not find that, but I argue that accompaniment can wear down the structures that grant privilege unequally – but it can also reinforce those, depending on how it is done.  It is easier for accompaniers to fall into colonial patterns and reinforce structures of domination that make some lives worth more than others when they understand themselves as nonpartisan civilian peacekeepers.  It is also easier to fall into those traps when accompaniers see space as abstract and elide how race and other privileges shape their work. To change structures of domination, accompaniment needs not only to leverage difference, but also simultaneously build connections across difference and distance, through chains of solidarity. 

Apr 24, 2012

coloniality vs colonialism

sorry for the unusually long silence on this blog, I'm crazy busy, so for now just a brief quote from Ramón Grosfoguel (ethnic studies, Berkeley), who, in his article 'The epistemic decolonial turn' writes:

"'Coloniality of power' refers to a crucial structuring process in the modern/colonial world-system that articulates peripheral locations in the international division of labor with the global racial/ethnic hierarchy and Third World migrants' inscription in the racial/ethnic hierarchy of metropolitan global cities. In this sense, there is a periphery outside and inside the core zones and there is a core inside and outside the peripheral regions."

"I use the word 'colonialism' to refer to 'colonial situations' enforced by the presence of a colonial administration such as the period of classical colonialism, and, following Quijano (1991) Quijano (1993) Quijano (1998), I use 'coloniality' to address 'colonial situations' in the present period in which colonial administrations have almost been eradicated from the capitalist world-system. By 'colonial situations' I mean the cultural, political, sexual, spiritual, epistemic and economic oppression/exploitation of subordinate racialized/ethnic groups by dominant racialized/ethnic groups with or without the existence of colonial administrations."

He goes on to say that "The mythology about the 'decolonization of the world' obscures the continuities between the colonial past and current global colonial/racial hierarchies and contributes to the invisibility of 'coloniality' today."

Apr 4, 2012

books on solidarity

I am at the International Studies Association conference in San Diego. I was surprised that there were no presentations with the word solidarity in the title, and I only heard the word mentioned once in a presentation (by the fabulous Catherine Eschle who I was thrilled to get to meet).

But I did see two exciting new books on solidarity at the book fair:

Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics (The Politics of Intersectionality)

by Ange Marie Hancock (amazon link because it's searchable within and google is not)


Solidarity Transformed: Labor Responses to Globalization and Crisis in Latin America by
Mark S. Anner

and I was reminded of the book

Race and the Politics of Solidarity (Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities) by Juliet Hooker

all of which I have added to this list of resources on solidarity (which you can add to - please do!)

Mar 25, 2012

organize against US militarism in the Americas

wow, a trailer for a movement event? and there's a spanish version too. the camp sounds particularly fun. wish I could go!

Mar 17, 2012

Rachel Corrie - Presente!

Rachel was killed nine years ago yesterday, as she stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer, trying to stop it from demolishing a Palestinian home. She is one of three international accompaniers killed while accompanying (the others are Tom Hurndall, also in Palestine, and Tom Fox, in Iraq).

Her parents issued this moving statement:

Dear Friends,

It has been nine years today since our daughter Rachel was crushed to death under an Israeli driven, U.S. funded and built, Caterpillar D9 bulldozer in Gaza. In March 2003, the news was full of talk of war with Iraq – a preemptive war to protect the west, particularly the U.S. and Israel, from the weapons of mass destruction then alleged to have been amassed by Saddam Hussein. When Rachel traveled to Gaza that year, the world was not watching. According to Human Rights Watch, from September 2000 until September 2004, 1,600 Palestinian homes in the city of Rafah were destroyed by the Israeli military as it occupied the Gaza Strip. One-tenth of the population lost their homes. Rachel chose to be in Gaza when the ground attack against Iraq broke out. She feared an escalation of the violence and a tightening of the isolation against people there, as the world looked to the northeast and watched the carnage in Iraq. It did not happen as immediately as some expected, but with the Israeli military attack on Gaza of November 2008 through January 2009, the violence became overwhelming, and the tightening of the seige initiated in 2006 by Israel to remove Hamas, made the isolation nearly complete.

In 2003, Rachel wrote: “I went to a rally a few days ago in Khan Younis in solidarity with the people of Iraq. Many analogies were made about the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and the upcoming occupation of Iraq by the United States – not the war itself – but the certain aftermath of the war. If people aren’t already thinking about the consequences of this war for the people of the entire region then I hope they will start.”

Now, in 2012, we listen to similar news – calls for bombing Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. The preemptive war has already begun with the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Our government tells us sanctions against Iran will pressure their government to abandon any program to develop these weapons, but experience tells us sanctions only increase the defensiveness of repressive regimes and tighten their control over their populations.

The news from our politicians is discouraging and even frightening, but in the meeting places and streets in our communities, we are making the kind of change that Rachel envisioned. It is happening in Olympia with continuing support for the Olympia Food Co-op’s boycott of Israeli products until the rights of Palestinians are addressed. Throughout Puget Sound this week, we have successfully challenged efforts by the Israeli government to use members of the Israeli gay community to distract from the continuing oppression of Palestinian people. Churches in our region are conversing about divestment from corporations like Caterpillar Inc. for their refusal to address their continuing participation in human rights abuses and the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

In 2002, Rachel wrote, “I think it’s important for people who oppose war and repression to speak about who we are as a community in addition to speaking about war and racism and injustice. We are not outside. I think it’s important that human rights and resistance to oppression be included in the way we define ourselves as a community…”

As the threat of war with Iran, the disintegration of the situation in Afghanistan, and the bombing of Gaza continue, the work we are all doing in our hometowns at the grassroots level is powerful and critical. Today, as we remember Rachel’s stand nine years ago, we encourage our friends across the country and world to strengthen your own communities, educate, educate, educate, support each other in taking action, and walk with peace, love, and forgiveness in your hearts as you work for change.

Cindy and Craig Corrie

March 16, 2012