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.