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manifesto, by radhiyah ayobami

Writing for Peace Welcomes Guest Writer, Radhiyah Ayobami

 

manifesto

Radhiyah Yemayatoday i heard a story that made me very happy. in fact, it actually made me feel joy. it was a story about a close sista-friend of mine. i have known her for about ten years. we met when our children went to the same cultural school (our friendship has outlived the school as well.)  i was in my early 20’s- she was about 30. i was transitioning into the cultural world, growing locs, and exploring different traditions. she had already been married to a community leader, and she eased me into her circle and her way of life. she introduced me to roots reggae dances and was the first person i met who blessed herb before smoking it. she took me to african spiritual events and explained the protocol; how to cleanse before entering, when to stand and when to kneel, how to give an offering and receive a blessing. wherever we went, folks cracked into wide smiles as soon as she was on the scene, she was forever being waved at across a crowded room, greeting other smiling people, and being enveloped by hugs.
 

as the years progressed, we went through the same initiations, starved through the same fasts and partied at the same events in long skirts and headwraps on a wednesday night and were late getting our kids to school in the morning. we piled our children and some other folks children in a half-working car and drove to all-night drum circles where they fell asleep under trees as we meditated by the fire, we survived on the same small handful of greens in a foreign country when it had rained too much and everybody was hungry, and when the sun came out we all washed up outside in broad daylight, everything jiggling, breasts that had nursed babies, waistbeads, and our locs heavy with water from the sea.
 

and then came the curves of life. we went to city offices and through housing systems, patching together the help we needed to move forward. we created resumes and got jobs that paid on the books and took out taxes. we transitioned out of our small communities and found that wearing extra long skirts and yards of cloth around our shoulders was sometimes not practical when working with small children or in various other settings. she was first to cut her locs and put on pants, and one day she came walking around the corner on fulton street with no headwrap, no multi-colored skirt swishing her ankles and no scent of sacred oil, and i walked right by her. she had a short afro, creased pants, and a folder full of resumes, and something about the outfit reminded me of the colorful birds i saw languishing in cages at the zoo. months later, when my son and i lived in a building that awakened us with five am fire alarms, she wrote me a letter that helped me transition out of that place and into an apartment where my porch was the entire roof and i could sit and watch the sky.

 

and then we went into the next decade of our lives, and i listened to her laugh become a little less loud as she watched friends and family marry and waltz across the dance floor in each other’s arms as she raised her children and drove to the occasional roots dance on her own. we began to talk about the beliefs and traditions that kept us bound to the idea of being honorable women. elders told us that we shouldn’t be out past nine o’clock. imams said we should be in by maghrib. at the drumming ceremonies, we couldn’t uncover our hair (even though it was hot by the fire, and the breeze through our locs would have been the greatest blessing.) in almost every tradition, we were lectured against smoking herb, and told to have husbands instead of lovers, so we wouldn’t damage our spirits. so me and my sista-friend began to have conversations. we began to wonder, under the skirts and scarves and rules and admonishments, where we could find the seed of joy. our communities and traditions had sustained and nurtured us, but now we were in a new cycle of life, and it was time for change. we talked and argued with each other, we fasted and went to steam baths and spiritual events and prayed and sat with our own thoughts. and then, we moved.
 

she broke the no lovers rule first, and invited me over for  tea so we could talk about it, and it was a conversation that lasted all night. it was winter when she broke that rule, and it was summer when i broke it, and i ended up writing a lot of poems. and we discovered some things. we discovered that another human being, particularly a partner, fixing a meal that you like or washing your hair or giving you advice on a complicated problem late at night even though they were tired or rubbing your foot deep enough to ease out the soreness of the day was just as holy as a drum ceremony or lighting an incense stick or the pouring of water- and maybe, even more holy than that. we discovered that the best rules to follow were the ones that brought our spirits balance and joy.
 

and after awhile, my sista-friend stayed in pants. she never went back into daily headwraps and long skirts- although she would wear them occasionally for events or if she felt like it. i stayed in long skirts and wraps because my womanself loved them, but sometimes wore jeans if i wanted to, and we never gave up dancing or late nights or wine or bud. we still prayed and chanted and burned and poured sacred water- but we carried no flags but our own.
 

and then today she called me, ashamed, because she was out on a date with a man that made her heart glow, and they had a little taste of wine and a little smoke, and they went to a roots party, and she ran into folks she knew, and there she was in a short skirt and a wild afro, kinda high, kinda drunk, with a strange and non-cultural man, and all the women were in there with headwraps up to the ceiling and skirts down to the floor. well, i fell out. i laughed and laughed. because at the age and stage that we’re in now, does it really matter? we are far enough into this journey that we know most things are between us and the creator. when i was living in the five am fire alarm place, i was plagued with headaches so bad that i walked around with tylenol tucked into every pocket, every bag, and even under my headwrap for emergencies. and her letter helped me get into a house where the birds would come sing at the windows in the mornings when the sky was still pink, and i didn’t have a bottle of tylenol in that whole house. and some of those women in those skirts would never do that for anyone else- some of them were devils. i know, because i wear long skirts and i’m a devil when i wanna be too.
 

and i wish my sista- friend a hundred dances in a hundred short skirts, if that’s what feeds her soul. and for the rest of us, i wish us permission to be unbound to whatever it is that binds us. sometimes i look at my life- i’m in an expensive grad school but got no money. i’m an older black woman in an mfa program, which is generally made up of students who are young, male and white. i’m fat but i do african dance and yoga and i love it, even when i’m the biggest person in the class, which is often. i moved across the country with a teenager, which everyone says is the worst time to move a child, and now he’s closer to the honor roll than he’s ever been. i’ve made a lot of mistakes, but my son and i have also had some great adventures. life has been our guide, our teacher and our protector. and as shaky as my progress is, i’m continuing on my journey to be fully unbound, fully engaged in the process of life instead of watching it drift by, and fully committed to living with joy.

 

i  give myself permission to:
 

honor my inner guidance

create my own family makeup

not explain or apologize for my choices

not explain, excuse or defend my size, culture or style of dress

treat my body kindly no matter what it looks like

tell my truth even when it’s uncomfortable

tell the stories of my ancestors

pursue all my passions

ask for and accept compensation for my talents

not be afraid or ashamed of mistakes

choose teachers by spirit and not external affiliations

walk away when i need to

humble myself only to the elements; water, sun, trees, land & sky

(& of course the creator)

 

and so it is!

 

radhiyah ayobami: brooklyn born by way of the south, telling stories of black womanhood, motherhood & folks in invisible spaces, believes word has the power to shift consciousness, writes & workshops with pregnant teens, inmates & elders, africana studies graduate of brooklyn college & mfa prose student at mills college in oakland, california, where she is working on a collection of nonfiction essays & the trees give her poems.

 

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  • 2014 DoveTales “Contrast” Edition Released

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for Peace Our Second edition of DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts, is available for purchase. The 2014 issue is themed “contrast” and includes the beautiful black and white photography of Writing for Peace Artist-in-Residence Paula Dawn Lietz, as well as the 2013 Young Writers Contest winners, and the following contributors:

Jordi Alonso
Cassandra Arnold
Maggie Bàra
Henry Braun
Lorraine Caputo
William Cass
Lorraine Currelley
Colin Dodds
John Garmon
Diane Giardi
Mark Goad
Veronica Golos
Sam Hamill
Dawnell Harrison
D. Iasevoli, Ed.D
Allan M. Jalon
Shelley Kahn
Richard Krawiec
Paula Dawn Lietz
Cory Lockhart
Shannon K. Lockhart
Veronica Marshall
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Iwona Partyka
Sy Roth
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A Gift of Empowerment, by Melissa Hassard

Melissa Hassard, Writing for Peace AdviserI grew up in the South, the daughter of a misogynist who physically abused both his wife and her son. I remember spending a lot of time in my room with books and journals, trying to escape the yelling, trying to escape the dark mood in our home.

My father did well at his work and we had money, that was never an issue, but his demons were deep — he the son of an abusive father and raised by an abused mother. His youngest brother died accidentally, but at his mother’s hand, and so thick was her trauma and mental disease, that she was committed for the rest of her life in Dorothea Dix, the state mental institution in North Carolina.

And while it’s true that women suffer at the hands of men, so do men suffer at the hands of women. In this world of wars and violence, we must listen to the voices that advocate for peace, compassion, and empathy. We ourselves must also speak out.

Writing, to me, is a way of not only expressing yourself, but also — when you find your voice and learn to use it — a gift of empowerment, a gift which comes with the responsibility of speaking up for those who cannot, and speaking out against the inhumane and the wrong, the cruelty and injustice in this world. In that voice, we also find our work.

I am deeply honored to have been asked to serve on the Writing for Peace Advisory Board.

Melissa Hassard is speaker, writer, poet, mother, womanist, and activist — currently residing in North Carolina.

Her background is public relations, advertising, and travel, and she considers herself a student of the world, who loves travel, history, culture, and language.  Writing is as much a part of her life as breathing.

Partner at Sable Books and founder of Women Writers of the Triad, she is blessed to work with writers on meaningful projects — from helping writers publish, to teaching writing to survivors of domestic abuse, to organizing local community workshops and readings.

Her essays and poems have been published in various journals, is she is now revising work for a first book, that will no doubt take her years to finish.

Learn more about Melissa here.

Writing for Peace News

  • 2014 DoveTales “Contrast” Edition Released

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for Peace Our Second edition of DoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts, is available for purchase. The 2014 issue is themed “contrast” and includes the beautiful black and white photography of Writing for Peace Artist-in-Residence Paula Dawn Lietz, as well as the 2013 Young Writers Contest winner, and the following contributors:

Jodi Alonso
Cassandra Arnold
Maggie Bàra
Henry Braun
Loraine Caputo
William Cass
Lorraine Currelley
Colin Dodds
John Garmon
Diane Giardi
Mark Goad
Veronica Golos
Sam Hamill
Dawnell Harrison
D. Iasevoli, Ed.D
Allan M. Jalon
Shelley Kahn
Richard Krawiec
Paula Dawn Lietz
Cory Lockhart
Shannon K. Lockhart
Veronica Marshall
Sandra McGarry
Iwona Partyka
Sy Roth
Andrew Sacks
Carol Smallwood
Julia Stein
Samantha Peters Terrell
Bänoo Zan

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Conscientious Objector’s View From The Ground In Israel, by Natan Blanc

A Conscientious Objector’s View From The Ground In Israel

by Natan Blanc

Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young AdviserWhen I started writing this post, the Israeli government and the “Hamas” organization were on the verge of agreeing on a cease-fire, and ending the current cycle of violence. By now, the cease fire talks are ancient history. Hamas has rejected the cease-fire, and continued shooting missiles towards Israel,  Israel has retaliated, and we have very little hope for some peace and quiet in the near future.

This cycle of violence has been going on since I was a kid. Luckily for me, I live in the northern part of Israel, far away from the Gaza missiles. But ever since I was a kid, I keep hearing about Hamas’s attacks, Israel’s counter attacks, Hamas’s counter-counter attacks etc. I think I have heard more pompous prime-ministerial speeches about “stamping out the terror” in Gaza then I have heard speeches about the Israeli economy.

The most amazing thing about the endless war in Gaza is that almost nobody, on either side, seems to have any actual goals to achieve through it, except making the other side stop. A few people on the Israeli side talk about conquering Gaza, and a few people on the Palestinian side talk about conquering Israel, but nobody really takes them seriously.

The other amazing thing about this fight is that there is actually nothing to fight about. Unlike other conflicts that Israel has in other places (e.g. the west bank, the Syrian front), this specific conflict doesn’t include any territorial dispute, or any complicated issues. The hypothetical peace treaty in this issue could be written on a napkin. It will contain two sentences- “Israel agrees not to attack in Gaza, and remove the blockade on it. Hamas agrees not to engage in terror attacks towards the citizens of Israel.

Why, then, if everyone is so interested in peace and quiet, and if it is so easy to achieve, does this war continue? The answer to this question is complicated, but it comes down to two issues:

  1. The power of inertia- once the boulder of violence has started rolling, even after nothing is pushing it forward anymore, it will continue rolling, taking innocent lives with it. It will not stop until it has ruined enough lives, enough homes, enough families.
  2. The power of the extreme- the most frustrating thing about this conflict is to see how a handful of extremists can drag millions of people into a never-ending cycle of war, death and violence. One terrorist who fires a missile during a cease-fire, one Israeli soldier who beats up a Palestinian kid, a few 9-year old racists who write “death to the Arabs” on Facebook. These extremists can light a fire that is extremely hard to extinguish, despite the fact that 99% of the citizens on both sides oppose them.

So despite the stupidity and absurdity of this war, the continuation of this cycle, and the next war in a year or two, seems inevitable. If we don’t want to lose hope, we must try and remind ourselves all the time that this stupidity can’t last forever. That eventually, sooner or later, this conflict will end.

About Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young Adviser

Natan Blanc was born in Jerusalem, and moved to Haifa (a major city in Israel) when he was a kid. Haifa is a “mixed” city, with both Arabs and Jews, so he learned about co-existence and peace between people of different religions at an early age. During his teenage years, Natan took part in quite a few different peace activities and organizations. He was also part of a social-democrat youth movement called “hamahanot haolim.”

When Natan was 19, he was drafted (like any Israeli after high-school) to join the IDF (the Israeli army) as a combat soldier. He refused, saying he wouldn’t be part of such an army. Natan told the IDF representatives that serving in this army was against his conscience, because of its actions against the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.

Natan Blanc, Writing for Peace Young AdviserNatan was jailed repeatedly for his refusal. In total, he was sentenced 10 times, to a total of 178 days in jail. “Eventually,” said Natan, “the army tired of me.” He began an alternative civil service the September after his incarceration.

Natan’s struggle was first of all a struggle for the freedom of conscience, but it was also a struggle for peace between the Jews and the Arabs in Israel. “I hope that my actions, then and in the future, might help end this conflict that has been going on for more than 70 years.”

Natan currently serves in the MDA (the national rescue organization) as a medic (E.M.T.I) in an ambulance. He is also  involved in assisting and guiding potential conscientious military service objectors, as well as the forming and running of “Shelanoo” – a non-profit cooperative for socio-economical change.

To learn more about the pursuit of peace in the Middle East and what you can do, see Natan’s recommendations here.

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  • 2014 DoveTales “Contrast” Edition On Track for Release

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for Peace McNaughton & Gunn has completed the printing and we’ve received notice that the books have shipped. Contributors will be notified directly by email regarding their personal copies. Contributor pages will appear on the site later today. Official release date is July 30th, one week from today!

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Posted in Israeli Occupation, Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, Natan Blanc, Nonviolent Resistance, Peace, Young Advisers | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Richard Hoberg – Summer Intern 2014

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Drop Your Weapons, by Chenoweth and Stephens

Drop Your Weapons; When and Why Civil Resistance Works

By Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephensswords-into-plowshares-frank-tozier

Over the past three years, the world has witnessed a surge of nonviolent resistance movements. Pictures of huge demonstrations in public squares have become a staple of international news broadcasts, and Time named “the protester” as its Person of the Year for 2011. These days, it seems that at any given moment, thousands of people are mobilizing for change somewhere in the world.

But these movements have varied widely in terms of their duration, their success, their ability to remain nonviolent, and their cost in terms of human life. Building on years of intermittent protests and strikes, Tunisians toppled Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator who had ruled their country for 23 years, after a sustained period of 28 days of protests beginning in December 2010. Between 300 and 320 Tunisians civilians died in the upheaval, all of them killed by police or security forces. Weeks later, Egyptians ended Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade reign after a decade of lower-level opposition and civil resistance culminated in 18 days of nonviolent mass demonstrations — but Mubarak’s security forces killed around 900 people in the process. In Libya, scattered protests against Muammar al-Qaddafi that began in February 2011 quickly became an armed rebellion. NATO soon intervened militarily, and within nine months, Qaddafi was dead and his regime demolished, but between 10,000 and 30,000 Libyans, according to various estimates, had lost their lives. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad brutally cracked down on mostly nonviolent demonstrations against his rule between March and August 2011, killing thousands and setting in motion a civil war that has since resulted in over 150,000 deaths and the displacement of around nine million people. Most recently, in February, Ukrainians ousted President Viktor Yanukovych after three months of mass civil resistance and occasionally violent protests. Around 100 Ukrainian protesters died during the clashes between demonstrators and riot police — fewer than in most of the confrontations of the Arab Spring in 2011. But Russia’s response to Yanukovych’s overthrow — seizing the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and attempting to destabilize the eastern parts of Ukraine — has created the most dangerous and unpredictable security situation Europe has seen in decades.

The basic trajectory of these recent movements — each successive one seemingly more violent and more geopolitically charged — has encouraged skepticism about the prospects for civil resistance in the twenty-first century. Such doubts are understandable but misplaced. A longer view is required to see the real potential of nonviolent resistance, which is evident in a historical data set that we assembled of 323 campaigns that spanned the twentieth century — from Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian independence movement against British colonialism, which began in earnest in 1919, to the protests that removed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power in 2006. This global data set covers all known nonviolent and violent campaigns (each featuring at least 1,000 observed participants) for self-determination, the removal of an incumbent leader, or the expulsion of a foreign military occupation from 1900 to 2006. The data set was assembled using thousands of source materials on protest and civil disobedience, expert reports and surveys, and existing records on violent insurgencies.

Between 1900 and 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance against authoritarian regimes were twice as likely to succeed as violent movements. Nonviolent resistance also increased the chances that the overthrow of a dictatorship would lead to peace and democratic rule. This was true even in highly authoritarian and repressive countries, where one might expect nonviolent resistance to fail. Contrary to conventional wisdom, no social, economic, or political structures have systematically prevented nonviolent campaigns from emerging or succeeding. From strikes and protests to sit-ins and boycotts, civil resistance remains the best strategy for social and political change in the face of oppression. Movements that opt for violence often unleash terrible destruction and bloodshed, in both the short and the long term, usually without realizing the goals they set out to achieve. Even though tumult and fear persist today from Cairo to Kiev, there are still many reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the promise of civil resistance in the years to come.

Nonviolent campaigns against authoritarian regimes are twice as likely to succeed as violent ones.

In the United States and Europe, policymakers often seem at a loss when confronted with the questions of whether to support civilians resisting authoritarian regimes using nonviolent protest and, if so, what form that support should take. Liberal interventionists cited a “responsibility to protect” civilians to justify NATO’s intervention in Libya and have also invoked that argument in advocating for similar action in Syria. But the promise of civil resistance suggests an alternative: a “responsibility to assist” nonviolent activists and civic groups well before confrontations between civilians and authoritarian regimes devolve into violent conflicts.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE

Civil resistance does not succeed because it melts the hearts of dictators and secret police. It succeeds because it is more likely than armed struggle to attract a larger and more diverse base of participants and impose unsustainable costs on a regime. No single civil resistance campaign is the same, but the ones that work all have three things in common: they enjoy mass participation, they produce regime defections, and they employ flexible tactics. Historically, the larger and more diverse the campaign, the more likely it was to succeed. Large campaigns have a greater chance of seriously disrupting the status quo, raising the costs of government repression, and provoking defections among a regime’s pillars of support. When large numbers of people engage in acts of civil disobedience and disruption, shifting between concentrated methods such as protests and dispersed methods such as consumer boycotts and strikes, even the most brutal opponent has difficulty cracking down and sustaining the repression indefinitely. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran’s last shah, had little difficulty neutralizing the Islamist and Marxist-inspired guerilla groups that challenged his rule in the 1960s and early 1970s. But when large numbers of oil workers, bazaar merchants, and students engaged in acts of collective nonviolent resistance, including work stoppages, boycotts, and protests, the regime’s repressive apparatus became overstretched and the economy tanked. From there, it didn’t take long for the shah to flee the country.

Broad-based support for a resistance movement can also weaken the loyalty of economic elites, religious authorities, and members of the state media who support the regime. When such figures defect to the opposition, they can sometimes force the regime to surrender to the opposition’s demands, which is what happened with the Philippines’ People Power movement of 1983–86. Broad movements also enjoy a tactical advantage: diverse, nonviolent campaigns that include women, professionals, religious figures, and civil servants — as opposed to violent ones comprised of mostly young, able-bodied men trained to become militants — reduce the risk of violent crackdowns, since security forces are often reluctant to use violence against crowds that might include their neighbors or relatives. And even when governments have chosen to violently repress resistance movements, in all the cases under review, nonviolent campaigns still succeeded in achieving their goals almost half the time, whereas only 20 percent of violent movements achieved their goals, because the vast majority were unable to produce the mass support or defections necessary to win. In cases in which the security forces remain loyal to the regime, defections among economic elites can play a critical role. In South Africa, boycotts against white businesses and international divestments from South African businesses were decisive in ending the apartheid regime.

But civil resistance requires more than just mass participation and defections; it also requires planning and coordinated tactics. Successful nonviolent campaigns are rarely spontaneous, and the seemingly rapid collapse of the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes shouldn’t fool observers: both revolutions were rooted in labor and opposition movements going back nearly a decade. Indeed, between 1900 and 2006, the average nonviolent campaign lasted close to three years. As Robert Helvey, a retired U.S. Army colonel who organized civil resistance workshops in Myanmar (also called Burma), the Palestinian territories, and Serbia in the 1990s and the early years of this century, told activists during his workshops: if they wanted their campaign to succeed in one year, they should plan as if the struggle would last for two.

During the 1980s in the United States, Helvey worked closely with the scholar Gene Sharp, who has identified 198 different tactics that nonviolent resistance movements employ. These include various methods of protest, persuasion, noncooperation, and what Sharp calls “nonviolent intervention” — all of which have worked in various contexts. Tech-savvy scholars, such as Patrick Meier and Mary Joyce, have updated Sharp’s list to include tactics linked to new technologies, such as using social media to report repressive actions in real time and even using small drones to monitor police movements.

Even campaigns that possess the holy trinity of features — mass participation, regime defections, and flexible tactics — don’t always succeed. Much depends on whether state authorities can outmaneuver the protesters and sow division in their ranks, perhaps even provoking nonviolent resisters to abandon their protests and strikes, lose their discipline and unity, and take up arms in response to repression. But even when nonviolent campaigns fail, all is not lost: from 1900 to 2006, countries that experienced failed nonviolent movements were still about four times as likely to ultimately transition to democracy as countries where resistance movements resorted to violence at the outset. Nonviolent civic mobilization relies on flexibility and coalition building — the very things that are needed for democratization.

Of course, nonviolent revolutionaries are not necessarily equipped to govern during a political transition. In Egypt, for example, the young secular activists who filled Tahrir Square in January and February of 2011 have failed to organize effective political parties or interest groups. Nonviolent mass uprisings cannot always resolve systemic governance problems, such as co-opted institutions, entrenched corruption, and a lack of power sharing between a regime’s military or security forces and the civilian bureaucracy.

But revolutionary campaigns can still maximize their chances of achieving more representative government — of bringing the successes of the street into the halls of power — if they develop so-called parallel institutions during the course of their struggles. Poland offers one of the best examples. In 1980, after some 16,000 workers launched a strike at the Gdansk shipyard, Polish labor groups, which had already been fomenting resistance to the Soviet-backed communist regime in Poland for a decade, formed Solidarity, a trade union that morphed into a civil resistance movement and gradually eroded the communist authority’s grip on the country. Solidarity published underground dissident newspapers, organized demonstrations and radical theater performances in churches, and resisted years of repression, including the imposition of martial law in 1981. Eventually, ten million Poles joined the group, which operated as a kind of shadow government, facilitating its ability to step into a leadership role as communism crumbled. In 1988, Solidarity organized a series of strikes that led to direct negotiations with the regime, which resulted in semi-free elections in 1989. When Poland emerged from communist rule a year later, it did so with a new set of electoral rules and practices, many of them shepherded by Solidarity through a series of negotiations, which allowed for a much more durable and confident turn toward democracy. Although problems remained, Polish civil society was fully capable of holding its new leaders to account — including Solidarity’s Lech Walesa, who was elected president in 1990.

FROM CAIRO TO KIEV

Rather than illustrate the limits of nonviolent resistance, Syria shows how devastating the choice of violence can be.

At first glance, recent events such as the struggle to consolidate democratic gains in Tunisia, the counterrevolution in Egypt, the chaotic state of affairs in post-Qaddafi Libya, the seemingly intractable civil war in Syria, and the instability of Ukraine in the wake of the revolution in Kiev appear to provide little evidence for the promise of nonviolent resistance. But a closer look at these five cases actually reinforces why people power is still the most effective method of political change, even in highly repressive countries.

Despite setbacks last year, including the assassinations of two prominent liberal politicians by Islamist militants, Tunisia still looks like the bright spot among all the countries shaken up by the Arab Spring. Indeed, Tunisia’s revolution most closely resembles earlier examples where civil resistance succeeded, such as the Philippines and Poland. The country stands a good chance of completing a full transition to democracy within the next five years. This positive trajectory is in large part a product of how Tunisians organized against Ben Ali. Massive numbers of Tunisians participated in a sustained series of public protests, and the demonstrations included a diverse set of citizens: women helped lead them, and members of labor unions marched alongside lawyers, professors, and students. When it came to tactics, the protesters mostly improvised, but they also relied on a wide range of techniques, alternating between demonstrations and crippling national strikes organized by labor unions. The regime’s repressive countermeasures, such as lethal security crackdowns, backfired, drawing more people into the streets and encouraging defections from the military and among regime loyalists. After the Islamist party Ennahda swept the first post–Ben Ali elections, in 2011, power struggles between the Islamists and their secular rivals, amid flare-ups of protests and political violence, eventually yielded to compromise and a power-sharing deal late last year. The country’s trade unions, notably, played a key role in brokering that deal.

Egypt’s telegenic uprising, like Tunisia’s, illustrated the potential of nonviolent resistance. Protesters employed a wide range of tactics, from occupying major public squares to organizing large labor strikes. Activists found allies in the Egyptian army, which refused to open fire on the crowds and abandoned Mubarak, leading to a victory for civil resistance in 2011. But it soon became clear that the popular refrain “The army and the people are one hand” was a hollow slogan: the Egyptian military (unlike its Tunisian counterpart) intended to hold on to power at all costs. Last year, after the army toppled the democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, the military-backed government turned on the same activists who had organized the first protests against Mubarak in Tahrir Square, throwing many of them in jail. With the military’s power firmly intact — and its former chief, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, expected to win a presidential election in late May — Egypt provides ample proof that a successful nonviolent campaign that manages to oust an authoritarian ruler cannot necessarily guarantee greater freedom and stability in the period that follows.

Nevertheless, had the Tahrir Square protests turned violent, the situation in Egypt might well have been far worse than it is today. Armed uprisings tend to reinforce the power of the military even more quickly, discouraging defections. Moreover, they tend to initiate mass atrocities against civilians on a scale much larger than nonviolent action does. Armed revolts rarely succeed, and when they do, they almost never bring about greater stability.

When thousands of Ukrainians mobilized in late 2013, calling for Yanukovych to resign, it appeared to be a vindication for the promise of popular nonviolent resistance. Although most of the international media focused on Kiev as the hub of the protests, people actually rose up in many cities and towns across the country. As in Tunisia and Egypt, the resistance made use of a variety of tactics. People boycotted consumer goods from businesses linked to Yanukovych; in Kiev, a mass car pool ensured that protesters could move in and out of the city’s main square. The demonstrators also exhibited a high degree of commitment to the cause: in one instance, civilians lay down across railroad tracks outside the city of Dnipropetrovsk to prevent a train carrying 500 elite riot police from entering Kiev. The movement was diverse, including men and women from different political groupings, classes, and ages. Its inclusiveness encouraged regime officials and security forces to switch sides in cities and throughout the countryside.

Of course, soon after Yanukovych fled Ukraine, in late February, the victory of civil resistance was undermined by geopolitics, as Russia reacted to the pro-European momentum in Kiev by seizing Crimea and fomenting instability in eastern Ukraine. But none of that changes the fact that it was mostly nonviolent popular protests, and not armed revolution, that brought down Yanukovych.

A FAREWELL TO ARMS

Libya does not fit neatly into this group of countries in which nonviolent resistance led to political change; after all, Qaddafi was toppled by an armed movement with NATO support. But Libya is revealing because it demonstrates the pitfalls of ignoring the strategic possibilities of civil resistance. Libya never saw a coordinated civil resistance campaign; instead, the revolutionaries and regime defectors turned from disorganized mass protests, such as those that rocked Benghazi in February 2011, to violence in the uprising’s first days, killing security forces, torching police stations and security offices across the country, and mobilizing an armed rebellion. Despite their early tactical victories, moreover, the rebel forces were badly outnumbered by Qaddafi loyalists and might have suffered a catastrophic loss without NATO’s help, making them wholly reliant on the international community for their victory. The death toll from the Libyan civil war, furthermore, was far higher than those in Tunisia, Egypt, and other cases in which activists relied on nonviolent means alone. After all, it was the armed revolt that provoked Qaddafi’s famed speech in late February 2011, in which he promised to go “door to door” and “capture the rats” who had betrayed him. And Libya today looks ominously like past cases in which armed rebel groups have toppled authoritarian regimes: dozens of militias roam free, and the feeble central government teeters on the brink of collapse. Relatively free elections in 2011 have not ushered in effective governing institutions. In the end, violent resistance succeeded against Qaddafi — but it came at a high price. Although it is impossible to know whether nonviolent action could have succeeded, the spontaneous protests of February 2011 that provoked mass defections from Qaddafi’s security forces after just two days indicate that it may not have been fruitless to try.

Although more organized than Libya’s, Syria’s initially nonviolent resistance struggled owing to a lack of sufficient participation and a coherent plan. Activists failed to coordinate protests across the country in a way that could have mitigated government repression and inspired more defections among both the security forces and economic elites. Most of the opposition’s early tactics against the Assad regime were isolated and improvised: sporadic protests after Friday prayers at a mosque or flash mobs in popular markets. Decades of living under a brutal police state, where neighbors spied on neighbors at the behest of one of the many security branches, discouraged trust among the protesters and undermined collective action. Yet during the nonviolent phase of the uprising, some members of the Syrian security forces still defected to the opposition, and the movement featured moderate levels of domestic support.

But taking up arms against the Assad regime’s inevitable brutality destroyed any chance of maintaining the open support for the Syrian opposition on the part of significant numbers of Alawites, Christians, and Druze — minorities who were represented among the nonviolent movement and were crucial to any inclusive, successful civil resistance. The subsequent civil war has alienated many former participants in and supporters of the revolution, and in many ways, it has fortified the regime. And the costs have been enormous. From March to September 2011, when the uprising was mostly nonviolent, the Assad regime killed an estimated 1,000 people a month and reportedly arrested thousands more. But the ensuing civil war has claimed around 5,000 lives a month, and one-third of the Syrian population are now refugees.

If the Syrian case follows historical precedent, the rebels’ future looks gloomy. Even with support from outside states, violent campaigns from 1900 to 2006 had less than a 30 percent chance of succeeding. The successes include dubious cases, such as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in 1975 and the mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The failures include the Shiite uprising against Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the early 1990s, after the Gulf War. And as bad as the situation in Syria is, it could get worse. Since 1900, the average civil war has lasted over nine years. Even if the rebels win in the end, their victory will likely not satisfy the opposition’s original hope for more freedom. Less than four percent of rebel victories in armed resistance struggles from 1900 to 2006 ushered in democracy within five years; nearly half relapsed into civil war within ten years.

The odds were probably against any opposition campaign in Syria, nonviolent or violent, given the brutality of the regime. But as counterintuitive as it might seem, civil resistance was working in Syria and would have had a greater chance of success than armed struggle. Indeed, rather than illustrate the limits of nonviolent resistance, Syria’s path shows how devastating the choice of violence can be. It has played to Assad’s strengths while making the opposition wholly reliant on external armed intervention. Although entirely understandable given the scale of repression, engaging Assad on his own violent terms has had tragic — yet predictable — consequences.

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION

Comparing these cases brings out a few key points. First, nonviolent campaigns attracted far more diverse participation than armed ones, which increased the chances of defections among security forces and other regime elites. There is, in fact, safety in numbers, especially when protesters represent a cross section of society. Second, the nonviolent campaigns that succeeded used a variety of tactics. In Syria, on the other hand, nonviolent activists tended to rely solely on demonstrations and occupations, which are among the riskiest methods of civil resistance. Attempted strikes, boycotts, and other forms of mass noncooperation were weak, localized, and lacked support.

Third, although the protests of the Arab Spring inspired one another and were united by a similar, iconic slogan that was first chanted in Tunisia — “The people want the fall of the regime!” — they were hardly all the same. In fact, the different outcomes in each country underscore why nonviolent groups must resist the temptation to replicate a mass demonstration in another country without a broader strategy of their own, especially when that mass demonstration represents the endgame of a much longer nonviolent campaign. Fourth, in addition to killing more unarmed civilians and undermining participation, armed resistance makes rebel groups dangerously dependent on outside support. In both Libya and Syria, that total reliance made the rebels more vulnerable to accusations that they were agents of foreign enemies. Moreover, international support for armed groups is usually conditional and fickle, subjecting rebel groups to the whims of their sponsors (as Washington’s reluctance to follow through on its pledges of significant help for the Syrian rebels shows).

During last year’s UN General Assembly meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to a roundtable about the essential role that civil society has played in nearly every major social and political transformation of the last half century, from the civil rights movement in the United States, to the fight against communism in Eastern Europe, to the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa. The right of peaceful assembly and association, Obama said, is “not a Western value; this is a universal right.” But the space for this right is shrinking in many parts of the world. Countries are passing laws to stifle civil society, restrict nongovernmental organizations’ access to foreign funding, crack down on communications technology, and, in more extreme cases, arrest and harass journalists and activists. Obama called on governments to embrace civil society groups as partners and, in a slightly edgier appeal, pressed governments and nongovernmental organizations to come up with more innovative and effective ways to support groups and activists fighting against injustice and oppression.

But that raises the question of which forms of external assistance to nonviolent civic groups work and which ones don’t. The idea of “do no harm” remains an anchoring principle for how outside governments and institutions should promote democracy and aid civil society groups in other countries. International support to such movements can take many forms, such as monitoring trials of political prisoners, engaging in solidarity movements to support the right of peaceful assembly, providing alternative channels of news and information, targeting warnings to security officials who might be tempted to use lethal force against nonviolent protesters, and supporting general capacity building for civic groups and independent media. But local actors are in the best position to determine which type of support is appropriate and if it is worth the associated risks.

Strengthening civil society is not only a precondition for sustained democratic development. It can also protect civilians from the worst excesses of violent repression. Although regimes may not refrain from using violence against peaceful protesters, history suggests that helping civic groups maintain nonviolent discipline — a practice that often requires coordination, preparation, and training — can ultimately minimize civilian casualties. In addition to staving off armed rebellion, sticking to civil resistance can insulate protesters from the most extreme forms of state violence by raising the costs of repression (although as Tunisia and Egypt proved, hundreds of protesters could still pay with their lives). Nonviolent movements are not as reliant on outside support as armed ones are, but the international community can help ensure that civil society groups maintain the space they need to exercise their basic rights of free speech and assembly while avoiding the temptation to turn to arms to pursue their goals.

Policymakers should prioritize a “responsibility to assist” nonviolent activists and civic groups, rather than only seeking to protect civilians through military force, as in NATO’s Libya intervention. Of course, civil resistance campaigns are and must remain homegrown movements. But in recent years, the international community has done much to undermine civil resistance by quickly and enthusiastically supporting armed actors when they arrive on the scene. Syria’s tragedy is a case in point. Although regime repression, supported by Iran and Russia, undoubtedly helped turn a principally nonviolent uprising into a civil war, external actors could have done more to aid civil resistance and prolong the original nonviolent uprising. They could have helped encourage, coordinate, and exploit for political gain regime defections (including from key Alawite elites); demanded that Assad allow foreign journalists to remain in the country; accelerated direct financial support to grass-roots nonviolent networks and local councils; and provided more information to Syrian activists about what it takes to remain nonviolent under highly repressive conditions. Instead, the international community provided political recognition and sanctuary to armed actors, supplied both nonlethal and lethal aid to them, and helped militarize the conflict, undermining the momentum of the nonviolent movement. There was no silver bullet for effectively aiding the nonviolent Syrian opposition. But speed and coordination on the part of external actors, particularly early on in the revolution, were lacking.

Syria highlights the moral and strategic imperative of developing more flexible, nimble ways to support nonviolent resistance movements. The local champions of people power will continue to chart their own future. But outside actors have an important role to play in assuring that civil resistance has a fighting chance.

Printed first in the July, August 2014 Issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, and reprinted by permission of Writing for Peace Adviser Erica Chenoweth.

Erica Chenoweth smallErica Chenoweth, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and an Associate Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO). An internationally recognized authority on political violence and its alternatives, Foreign Policy magazine ranked her among the Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2013 for her efforts to promote the empirical study of civil resistance. Chenoweth received the 2014 Karl Deutsch Award, which the International Studies Association gives annually to the scholar under the age of 40 who has made the greatest impact on the field of international politics or peace research. Learn more about Chenoweth and her work here.

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  • Release Date Set for 2014 DoveTales

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts “Contrast” edition is set to release on July 30th. With the change in printer, our primary concern was to maintain the quality our young writers and contributors have rightly come to expect. With that in mind, the book will be published by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., a printer recommended by Writing for Peace Adviser Richard Krawiec.

Watch the website for contributor information and new art reflecting the book’s beautiful black and white photography by our Artist-in-Residence, Paula Dawn Lietz.

 

Copyright © 2014 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Posted in Advisory Panel Contributors, Chenoweth, Nonviolent Resistance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Bearing Witness, by Andrea W. Doray

Bearing Witness, On The Birthday of Eva Levine

Andrea Doray, Writing for Peace Board Memberby Andrea W. Doray

Last week, July 6, was Eva Levine’s birthday…July 6, 1916, to be exact, and I am writing here to commemorate this day. She was the second daughter of five children born to Jewish parents in Lodz, Poland. Her father dealt in real estate, and the family owned the building in which they lived. Eva finished high school and studied history at a local university.

I know this because I was given Eva’s Identification Card when I recently visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Actually, I selected Eva’s card at random from a bin of such ID cards for females – women and children – who were victims of the ghettos, deportations, concentration camps, and, for so many, the mass murders in the killing fields and gas chambers of the Holocaust.

I too am a student of history, and I’ve read extensively about the World War II theatres in Europe where my father served, and those in the Pacific where my mother was stationed. And – as painful as it is – I want to know as much about the Holocaust as possible. Because such a thing must never happen again.

Eva was 2½ years old when my mother was born in Chicago, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Romania around the turn of the century. Just 20-some years later, my Romanian-American mother would serve with the Allies to help liberate families such as Eva’s who had become trapped in their homelands.

In Poland, Ava married her boyfriend Herman in 1939; then the Germans invaded. One day the Gestapo banged on their door and slapped Eva’s father-in-law around. They demanded the family’s valuables, which had already been looted, and Eva herself confronted the officers.

In 1941, Eva and Herman were tossed into the ghetto of Piotrkow Trybunalski after they arrived there looking for food. Eva’s family was deported there as well, and she worked with her mother and sisters for three years in the ghetto. In 1944 all the women were deported to Ravensbreuk, a concentration camp in Germany.

Eva’s health deteriorated, and the by the time she was evacuated with the other prisoners to Bergen-Belsen ahead of the Allied advance, she had lost most of the tissue in her spine. Eva’s mother, Machla Spicehandler Braun, became so weakened by starvation and disease that she lay dying in Bergen-Belsen on the floor of her filthy barrack.

Two days before the British liberated the camp in April 1945, Machla died at Bergen-Belsen. Eva’s father, Yakob, had been deported to Buchenwald in 1944 and then to Bergen-Belsen, where he died without ever making contact his family. Eva was liberated by the British and she moved to the United States in 1950. The Holocaust Museum has no record of what happened to Herman Levine, and I know nothing more of Eva.

Eva’s story lives on with me, however, because I received her ID card #2633. This July 6 was the first of her birthdays that I will commemorate by bearing witness for both the dead and the living, and – as a member of the human race – working to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Because such a thing must never happen again.

This piece appears in Colorado Community Newspapers and is reprinted here with permission.

Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and humanist living in Arvada, CO. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in communication from the University of Northern Colorado. Andrea has authored several children’s books and is currently assembling her children’s poems for a collection that incorporates principles of lifelong literacy. A former Peace Corps trainee, Andrea is a national speaker who advocates for education, literacy, and opportunity for the unserved, the underserved, the marginalized, the at-risk, and the family-next-door populations. Andrea believes that wherever we are in the world, wherever we are in life, we have an obligation to offer our voices when others have none. Visit her page and read her other Writing for Peace blog posts here.

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  • Erica Chenoweth Joins Writing for Peace

Erica Chenoweth smallI am joining Writing for Peace because of the ability of written expression to deepen empathy for one another. Because empathy is crucial for resolving violent conflict, I believe the young artists of the world have unmatched potential to tap into sources of empathy, creativity, and understanding to create new solutions to today’s conflicts. ~Erica Chenoweth

Erica Chenoweth, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and an Associate Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO). An internationally recognized authority on political violence and its alternatives, Foreign Policy magazine ranked her among the Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2013 for her efforts to promote the empirical study of civil resistance. Chenoweth received the 2014 Karl Deutsch Award, which the International Studies Association gives annually to the scholar under the age of 40 who has made the greatest impact on the field of international politics or peace research. Visit Erica’s page here to learn more about her work.

  • Release Date Set for 2014 DoveTales

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts “Contrast” edition is set to release on July 30th. With the change in printer, our primary concern was to maintain the quality our young writers and contributors have rightly come to expect. With that in mind, the book will be published by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., a printer recommended by Writing for Peace Adviser Richard Krawiec.

Watch the website for contributor information and new art reflecting the book’s beautiful black and white photography by our Artist-in-Residence, Paula Dawn Lietz.

 

Copyright © 2014 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Posted in Board Contributors, Holocaust | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Border Crisis, by Pilar Rodríguez Aranda

Border Crisis, or Juárez City is Inside Our Closets

Pilar Rodriguez Aranda, Writing for Peace Adviserby Pilar Rodríguez Aranda

(To read this post in Spanish, scroll down.)

Everyday I read, listen to, and witness the decomposition of our “human” societies, and everyday I become more convinced there will never be a real change if we do not work on the very base of it all: our own self, our family, our neighborhood and our local community. It is there where we find such barbarities that I really don’t understand why we are amazed these happen, of course amplified, at a global level: abuse of all types, beatings, rape, humiliation, war. What happens inside our homes and among our neighbors is the very reflection/root of our sickness, the microcosms of what happens in the immensity of this beautiful planet, our great home, which we systematically keep murdering. We know it, and yet…

I once was at a conference with all kinds of academic “experts” on violence; while the speaker was offering a summary of his latest research or book, a friend who knew this man told me he had beaten his girlfriend; and in that same conference there were at least two other cases of lecturers who abused women or, similarly, his coworkers. I believe Peace starts within, but not a fantasy/imagined/unrealistic peace, where we all act as if separate from the rest… Peace is something we seek, a conscious act, it requires will and a lot of “work”, because, when you have grown in a home where violence is the norm, then of course we will accept and even crave for it outside: radio and TV announcers who can’t seem to talk normally but always screaming; news about ugliness, war and devastation; commercials which are full of lies and immorality; entertainment which is all blood-kill-explode, full of “bad” people, which are always from some “alien” place, colored people who come from “the other side” of our “border”. Borders…another one of those cruel human inventions. A patriarch will never allow anyone from “outside” to meddle with whatever is happening inside his home, and almost everyone else seems to accept this, still. So, my neighbour beats his kids or his wife, and I say nothing. Remember that “Silence = Death”? Well, we still haven’t gone beyond the tiniest of peeps…

Some think that’s a job for our politicians…yet, everyone seems to loath them! And not only Americans, but Mexicans, Cubans, Chileans, Spaniards, Argentinians… Are there any exceptions? Maybe Uruguayans at this point, maybe Icelanders. So, we complain, we denounce, and nothing happens. These so called “representatives” choose their “causes” according to popularity or economic gain, so, of course, it is not surprise when one of them says that femicides is not a pressing problem, even though there’s a constant increase in all forms of violence against women. A lot is being said and written right now about the thousands of Central American children who are waiting to be deported back to their no-future land… But who is talking about those we know nothing about, the “disappeared” ones, killed for their organs, subjected to prostitution and slavery? This year alone, and only in Mexico, there have been 45 thousand children reported disappeared. Who is talking about them?

The US has never truly been “the promised land”, and yet, the media keeps selling this concept of “America the brave and perfect democracy”, hypocrisy at its height! But even if the “American Dream” is just a lie, if you compares one single fact, like minimum wage, it is so easy to understand, I mean, if I make 8 dollars a day, of course making 8 dollars an hour will seem much more attractive. And if at home the alternative is getting killed or becoming a victim, the choice is even easier. In the documentary “Which Way Home”, a kid says he wants to go to the USA because he wants a different life. The interviewer asks him, what kind of life? and he responds, any other.

We know about US intervention in all of Latin America, about corporate rulings, puppet governments, coups d’état, rigged elections, and so on, and yet nothing has changed. I sometimes try to explain to my Mexican friends that my US friends feel the same as we do, and they are powerless to change the direction of their own government, just as we seem powerless to do the same with ours. But, are we really that powerless, or is this just another illusion?

To be honest, I understand nothing. I look around and no one seems to care. People go about their daily life, working, shopping, entertaining themselves; more people will gather to celebrate a soccer game than to protest about anything! I don’t understand humanity’s fascination with death and the end of the world. Someone once told me it had to do with the prophecy of the apocalypses. So, following this logic, if according to the bible, sooner or later the world is coming to an end, why should we care? We are all going to die anyway, why not hurry the fact? Is that how it goes? I also don’t understand a religion which accepts money to aggrandize their churches and protects their own criminals but has no empathy for those who are (still, somewhat) innocent, and suffer; I don’t understand those can’t open their hearts to an eight year old child who has crossed all of the terrain called Mexico on foot, surviving all kinds of atrocities, and wish to send him back… Him and thousands more like him. And I don’t understand why everyone acts surprised, when for many years this situation has been built by their own government and their own indifference.

Once, while showing films on the violence happening in Juárez City in one of the many “sub-cities” that are part of the immense urban mess called Mexico City, an elementary teacher said, “Juárez is in our closets”. She was thinking about the raped, battered, abused little kids who she sees everyday in school, forced to act as if everything is alright, as if their home is a happy place, and life is a piece of cake. And of course, how can she even suggest this kid’s soul, mind and body is being systematically killed? Her parents will deny it, her siblings and even her grandparents or aunts will deny it. Not a peep. What happens within our walls is our business…

Well, guess what? Not anymore. What happens in the US is as much my business as what happens in Nicaragua or in China or in Portugal, and whatever happens in a child’s home should be as much my business as what happens in mine. A lot is being said (and supposedly done, but who believes in politicians?) about the present crisis in the US border. I have no answers, I don’t even pretend to offer a true analysis, such is the task of “experts”. All I can say about these children is, at least they are alive! There is still hope, except, sending them back means denying them that, once again. Where is the love, the compassion, the braveness in this? Our closets are about to burst.

***

La crisis en la frontera, ó Ciudad Juárez vive en nuestros clósets

por Pilar Rodríguez Aranda

Todos los días leo, escucho y soy testigo de la descomposición de nuestras sociedades “humanas”, y todos los días me convenzo más de que nunca habrá un cambio verdadero si no trabajamos en la base de todo: nuestro propio ser, nuestra familia, nuestro barrio y nuestra comunidad local. Es ahí donde encontramos tales barbaridades que realmente no entiendo por qué nos sorprendemos de que éstas sucedan, claro, amplificadas, a nivel global: abuso de todos tipos, golpizas, violación, humillación, guerra. Lo que sucede dentro de nuestros hogares y entre nuestros vecinos es el reflejo/raíz misma de nuestra enfermedad, el microcosmos de lo que sucede en la inmensidad de este bello planeta, nuestro gran hogar, el cual seguimos asesinando sistemáticamente. Lo sabemos, y sin embargo…

Estuve alguna vez en una conferencia con toda clase de académicos “expertos” en el tema de la violencia; mientras un conferencista ofrecía un resumen de su última investigación o libro, una amiga que conocía a este hombre me contaba que él golpeaba a la novia; en esa misma conferencia había al menos dos casos más de presentadores que habían abusado a mujeres o, de manera similar, a sus compañeros de trabajo. Yo creo que la Paz comienza dentro, pero no una paz fantasía/imaginada/irreal, donde todos actúan como si estuvieran separados de los demás… La paz es algo que buscamos, un acto consciente, requiere de voluntad y mucho “trabajo”, porque cuando uno ha crecido en un hogar donde la violencia es la norma, entonces, claro que vamos a aceptar, e incluso ansiarla, en el exterior: locutores de radio y televisión que parece no pueden hablar normalmente sino siempre gritando; noticias sobre la fealdad, la guerra y la devastación; comerciales llenos de mentiras e inmoralidad; entretenimiento que es todo sangre-mata-explota, lleno de gente “mala”, que vienen de un lugar “ajeno”, gente de color que vienen “del otro lado” de nuestra “frontera”. Fronteras…otro de esos crueles inventos humanos. Un patriarca nunca permitirá que alguien de “fuera” se meta en lo que sucede dentro de su casa, y casi todos parecen aceptar esto, todavía. Así que, si mi vecino golpea a sus niños o a su esposa, yo no debo decir nada. ¿Recuerdan aquél, “Silencio = Muerte”? Bueno, pues todavía no hemos pasado de emitir el más leve de los píos…

Algunos piensan que ese es un trabajo para nuestros políticos…y sin embargo ¡todos parecen despreciarlos! Y no solo los norteamericanos, sino los mexicanos, los cubanos, los chilenos, españoles, argentinos…¿Hay alguna excepción? Quizá los uruguayos en este momento, o los islandeses. Así que, nos quejamos, denunciamos, y nada sucede. Estos llamados “representantes” eligen sus “causas” de acuerdo a la popularidad o a la ganancia económica, así que, por supuesto no es de sorprenderse cuando uno de ellos dice que los feminicidios no son un problema apremiante, aún cuando hay un aumento constante de todas las formas de violencia en contra de la mujer. Mucho se está diciendo y escribiendo en este momento sobre los niños centroamericanos que esperan a ser deportados de vuelta a su tierra sin futuro… Pero, ¿quién está hablando de los que no sabemos nada, los “desaparecidos”, que han sido asesinados por sus órganos, sujetos a la prostitución y esclavitud? Solo este año, y solo en México, han habido 45 mil reportes de niños desaparecidos. ¿Quién está hablando de ellos?

Los Estados Unidos nunca han sido en verdad “la tierra prometida”, y sin embargo, los medios continúan vendiendo el concepto de “América, la valiente, la democracia perfecta”, ¡la hipocresía al máximo! Pero, aún si el “Sueño Americano” es solo una mentira, si uno compara un solo dato, como el salario mínimo, es entonces fácil de entender, digo, si yo gano 8 dólares al día, es obvio que ganar 8 dólares la hora me parecerá mucho más atractivo. Y si en casa, la alternativa es que te maten o te conviertas en víctima, la elección se hace todavía más fácil. En el documental “Which Way Home”, un niño dice que quiere ir a los EEUU porque desea una vida distinta. El entrevistador le pregunta, ¿qué clase de vida?, y él responde, cualquier otra.

Sabemos sobre la intervención de los EEUU en toda Latinoamérica, sobre el dominio de las corporaciones, los gobiernos títere, los golpes de estado, las elecciones amañadas, y así sucesivamente, y sin embargo, nada cambia. En ocasiones trato de explicarle a mis amigos mexicanos que mis amigos norteamericanos se sienten igual que nosotros, y que son igual de impotentes para cambiar la dirección de su gobierno, como nosotros somos impotentes de hacer lo mismo con el propio. Pero, ¿es verdad que somos así de impotentes, o es solo otra ilusión?

Para ser honesta, no entiendo nada. Miro alrededor mío, y a nadie parece importarle. La gente continúa con su vida cotidiana, va al trabajo, de compras, se entretienen; ¡se reúne más gente para celebrar un partido de fútbol que para protestar por cualquier cosa! Yo no entiendo la fascinación de los humanos por la muerte y el fin del mundo. Alguien me dijo alguna vez que tiene que ver con la profecía del Apocalipsis. Así que, en esa lógica, si de acuerdo con la Biblia, tarde o temprano el mundo se va a acabar, ¿para qué importarnos? Todos vamos a morir así que, ¿por qué no apresurarnos? ¿Así es como va la cosa? Tampoco entiendo una religión que acepta dinero para agrandar sus iglesias y protege a sus criminales pero no tiene empatía por aquellos que son (todavía, de algún modo) inocentes, y sufren; yo no entiendo a aquellos que no tienen su corazón abierto ante un niño de ocho años que ha cruzado todo ese terreno llamado México, a pie, sobreviviendo toda clase de atrocidades, y desean enviarlo de vuelta… A él y miles como él. Y no entiendo por qué todos actúan sorprendidos, cuando por años esta situación ha sido creada por su propio gobierno y su propia indiferencia.

Una vez en que mostrábamos películas sobre la violencia en Ciudad Juárez, en una de las muchas “sub-ciudades” que conforman el inmenso caos urbano llamado Ciudad de México, una maestra de primaria dijo, “Juárez está en nuestros clósets”. Ella pensaba en los pequeñitos que ve todos los días en la escuela, violados, golpeados, maltratados, forzados a actuar como si todo estuviera bien, como si su casa fuera un lugar feliz y la vida una rebanada de pastel. Y claro, ¿cómo va ella a sugerir que el alma, la mente y el cuerpo de este niño están siendo sistemáticamente asesinados? Sus padres lo negarán, sus hermanos, e incluso sus abuelos y tías lo negarán. Ni pío dirán. Lo que sucede detrás de nuestros muros, es nuestro asunto…

Pero, ¿saben qué? Ya no más. Lo que sucede dentro de los EEUU es tan mi asunto como lo que sucede en Nicaragua, en China o en Portugal, y lo que suceda en la casa de cualquier niño, debe de ser tan mi asunto como lo que sucede en la mía. Mucho se está diciendo (y supuestamente haciendo, pero, ¿quién le cree a los políticos?) sobre la actual crisis en la frontera de los EEUU. Yo no tengo respuestas, ni siquiera pretendo ofrecer un análisis de verdad, tal es la tarea de los “expertos”. Lo único que puedo decir sobre estos niños es que, ¡al menos están vivos! Todavía hay esperanza, excepto que, enviarlos de vuelta significa negárselas, una vez más. ¿Dónde está el amor, la compasión, la valentía en todo eso? Nuestros clósets están a punto de reventar.

Pilar Rodríguez Aranda @100TPC 2012Writing for Peace Adviser, Pilar Rodriguez Aranda is a poet, video artist, translator by trade and border-crosser by vocation. She was born in Mexico City, but lived in California, Texas, and New Mexico, for a total of 13 years; she presently lives in Malinalco, Estado de México and tries to commute to the capital city only when necessary.

Click here to learn more about Pilar.

Writing for Peace News

Writing for Peace Young Writers' Contest2014 Young Writers Contest

Bios are up for our 2014 Young Writers Contest Winners. Learn more about these talented young writers, and leave them a kind word! Submission Guidelines for our 2015 Young Writers Contest will go live on September 1st, 2014.

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts

Our beautiful “Contrast” 2014 Issue of DoveTales has been delayed due to printing issues. We should have a release date very shortly! We apologize for the delay, and thank you for your patience.

 

Copyright © 2014 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

 

Posted in Advisory Panel Contributors, Border Crisis, Gun Violence, Immigration, Peace, Pilar Rodriguez Aranda, Violence Against Women, Women's Equality | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Opening Minds through Fiction, by C. Hope Clark

Opening Minds through Fiction

C Hope Clark, Guest WriterBy C. Hope Clark, Guest Writer

It wasn’t until I was in the thick of writing my mystery series that I realized I was not only trying to tell a story, but I was also making personal statements. These statements were subtle, or at least I thought so, until I soon learned that readers picked up on them. Amazingly, some of these stances had come across unconsciously, which proved to me that the age-old adage of write what you know is die-hard true. An author does it whether she realizes it or not.

It Started with Love of Place

The novels are set in rural South Carolina, in places most people outside the state have not heard of. My home state is awash in beauty and culture, and that Southern charm is steeped in its people, but it pained me that most books about the state were about Charleston, Hilton Head, or Myrtle Beach, and most people saw us as slow both in movement and intellect. Just like New York City doesn’t represent its entire people, these generalities don’t signify all of South Carolina. As a mystery novelist who’d spent years in agriculture, I knew that not all crime happens in the city, and frankly, crime in the country has an entirely different flavor. Strong people reside in the rural community, and I felt a need to demonstrate their love, tenacity, and power, showing the world how these people are as much a part of the Carolina fabric as the old Civil War tourist attractions up and down the coast.

Then It Grew with Adding Spice

The first in the Carolina Slade Mystery Series is Lowcountry Bribe, set on Edisto Island. Not only did the reader delve into the loneliness that is the aging farmer, but via the protagonist’s daily life outside sleuthing, they also became privy to how spousal abuse can impact everyday life. It didn’t even register with me that I was making a statement about abuse until readers started thanking me for painting it so accurately. What started as added stress to the main character’s efforts to solve a case became a force that threatened to pull her down and disable her in terms of a professional, a mother, and an individual. Some of those scenes still give me goose bumps. Women’s shelter counselors, and women who’d endured abuse, praised my depiction, and thanked me for understanding.

Then History Became Important

In Tidewater Murder, I introduced readers to St Helena Island, and the historic Gullah community. Descended from rice and indigo plantation slaves, the Gullah residents of the area have scraped for a living since their arrival to the Carolina Lowcountry in the late 1600s. Captured by their own kin from Sierra Leone and neighboring African countries, they were shuttled to the Caribbean, stored like chattel often for years at a time, then sold to plantation owners in America. During those long years, their language morphed by necessity so they could communicate and survive. The Gullah language is a composite of African languages, Caribbean dialects, and English. It’s awesome to hear, and contains a romanticism that is eroding over time. So why not include them in my book? Why not show the world that here stands a people, an entire culture, that’s quietly dying yet worth preserving?

Then Bigotry Reared its Head

In Palmetto Poison, the third in the series, politics came into play, to include bigotry on several levels. I wanted to show how some people achieve personal gain by hiding, downplaying, and degrading particular groups, and how much damage that mistreatment can cause over a long period of time. Mental illness, gay rights, and even the nudist culture play minor roles in the book, but in the end, all three have a major impact in the mystery’s conclusion. Again, subtle but strong messages.

People run in busy circles these days, few with the time to do research into cultures, environments, and lifestyles they don’t get exposed to. However, such exposure can be incorporated into fiction, not only by educating, but also by giving those issues and people three dimensions, placing them into settings and stories where the information can be more readily absorbed by the reader.

Fiction is powerful when dealing with culture, lifestyle, and beliefs. Storytelling gives a face to parts of the world and their civilizations, painting new cultural views, teaching people to value differences and encourage hope. Such connectivity aims to open minds and unite humanity, allowing more in the universe to welcome peaceful activism, or maybe just understand the other side.

 

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image12751434BIO: C. Hope Clark is author of the award-winning Carolina Slade Mystery Series and the soon-to-be-released Edisto Beach Series. She also manages her website FundsforWriters.com, chosen by Writer’s Digest Magazine for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for the past 14 years. Forty thousand writers read her newsletters each week. She travels the country speaking. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina where a new mystery is always in progress. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com

Writing for Peace News

Writing for Peace Young Writers' Contest2014 Young Writers Contest

Bios are up for our 2014 Young Writers Contest Winners. Learn more about these talented young writers, and leave them a kind word! Submission Guidelines for our 2015 Young Writers Contest will go live on September 1st, 2014.

DoveTales, a publication of Writing for PeaceDoveTales, An International Journal of the Arts

Our beautiful “Contrast” 2014 Issue of DoveTales has been delayed due to printing issues. We hope to have the problem resolved shortly, but we’ll keep you posted here. We apologize for the delay, and thank you for your patience.

 

Copyright © 2014 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

2014 Young Writers Contest Winners

Writing for Peace quill and ink2014 Young Writers Contest Winners

In Fiction

 First Place

“The Best of Both Worlds” by Angela Yoon, Age 16

Gangnam-gu, Seoul-si, South Korea

Seoul International School, Grade 10

In a sense” The Best of Both Worlds” is itself the best of two worlds, one the universal coming of age story, a loss of innocence we all recognize, but in another the very specific story of leaving a childhood in the Shanxi Province for a harsh adult reality in Beijing. I admire the compression and the urgency of this story, the poignancy of it, and the circular structure, the end and beginning mirroring one another in this journey of growth and of loss. A beautiful piece.

~Robin Black

Second Place

“Home” by Jiace Cai

Voorhees, New Jersey, United States

Eastern Regional High School, Grade 11

“Home” is a clear, eloquent depiction of the difficulties of living a dual identity, Chinese at home, American at school, lying and covering up in both places. The feelings of shame and of pride that reside inside the narrator are rendered with heartbreaking simplicity. “I changed my name from Xiaofei to Jennifer. . .” The journey to an acceptance of an identity woven of both “homes” is a powerful one.

~Robin Black

Third Place

“Face Me” by Cassidy Cole

Denver, Colorado, United States

Girl’s Athletic Leadership School, Grade 8

“Face Me” is a portrait of a very young woman living under the Taliban regime who feels unseen, faceless, powerless, because of she was born female. It is a uncompromising, harrowing depiction of the kind of rage that being treated like offensive “lesser” property engenders, a glimpse at societal abuse, and worse, through the eyes of one hidden girl who has not given up a dream of power, whatever it takes. A painful and deeply moving piece.

~Robin Black

 Small Writing for Peace logoIn Nonfiction

First Place

“Cultural Obstacles” by Ben Gershenfeld

Voorhees, New Jersey, United States

Eastern Regional High School, Grade 11

I admire how the author combines the personal – holiday schedules at his school – with the wider view, such as his father’s workplace, the corporate world beyond, and the US House and Senate, to reveal deeply ingrained inequity in how we treat religions and religious holidays.

~Dinty W. Moore

Second Place

“The Health Care Struggle of the Australian Aborigines” by Evan Kielmeyer

Smithtown, New York, United States

Smithtown High School West, Grade 10

The author’s well-researched and compassionate look at the many obstacles – cultural, economic, geographical – that aboriginal citizens face in obtaining quality healthcare is compelling and important.

~Dinty W. Moore

Third Place

“1000 Years” by Yen Nguyen, Age 16

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Tran Dai Nghia, Grade 10

 A fascinating historical look at the ancestors of the Vietnamese people, and how the members of the ancient Au Lac culture thwarted attempts at cultural obliteration to preserve their selves and their society.  An important bit of history still, sadly, relevant today.

~Dinty W. Moore

Small Writing for Peace logoIn Poetry

First Place

“A Pashtun Girl in Northern Pakistan” by Dashiell Yeatts-Lonske

Rockville, Maryland, United States

Richard Montgomery High School, Grade 10

This poem is deeply intelligent, with stanzas arranged in order of the daily calls to prayer. The writing is clear and unaffected and subtle in its irony and grief. The work of a real poet.

~David Mason

Second Place

“Milk and Honey” by Matthew Rice, Age 16

Buffalo Grove, Illinois, United States

Adlai E. Stevenson High School, Grade 11

The poem is vivid in its writing, with wonderfully specific touches about life in a divided land. The poet shows real structural intelligence in the movement between two columns of verse, and the verse itself is strong.

~David Mason

Third Place

“Shalom, Salaam” by John Vernaglia, Age 14

Medford, Massachusetts, United States

Cambridge Friends School, Grade 8

With its ironic formal symmetries, this poem simply and beautifully underlines the absurdity of a situation in which people who are culturally tied become enemies because of bigotry and mistrust.

~David Mason

Small Writing for Peace logoCongratulations to all the winners of our 2014 Young Writers Contest! First, second, and third place winners will receive cash prizes, as well as publication in our 2015 issue of DoveTales, an International Journal of the Arts. Author picture and bio pages will be added to our website as available. Contest finalists will be notified individually, and may be considered for future publication. All young writers will receive a certificate of participation.

  2014 Young Writers Contest Judges

Photo Credit: Nina Subin

Photo Credit: Nina Subin

Robin Black, Fiction

Robin Black’s story collection, If I loved you, I would tell you this, was published by Random House in 2010 to international acclaim by publications such as O. Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, The Irish Times and more.
Robin’s stories and essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Southern Review, The New York Times Magazine. One Story, The Georgia Review, Colorado Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Freight Stories, Indiana Review, and The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. I (Norton, 2007). She is the recipient of grants from the Leeway Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Sirenland Conference and is also the winner of the 2005 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition in the short story category. She was the 2012-13 Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bryn Mawr College and her first novel LIFE DRAWING is forthcoming from Random House, in Spring 2014. She lives in Philadelphia with her family. Website: http://robinblack.net/

Dinty W. Moore, Writing for Peace Adviser

Dinty W. Moore, Author, Educator, Editor

Dinty W. Moore, Nonfiction

Dinty W. Moore is author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life, as well as thememoir Between Panic & Desire, winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2009. He also edited The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers. Moore has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, among numerous other venues. A professor of nonfiction writing at Ohio University, Moore has won many awards for his writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. He edits Brevity (http://brevitymag.com/), an online journal of flash nonfiction, and serves on the editorial boards of Creative Nonfiction and New Ohio Review. Links to work here: http://dintywmoore.comUpload/Insert /essays/

David mason, 2014 Writing for Peace Young Writers Poetry Contest JudgeDavid Mason, Poetry

David Mason’s books of poems include The Buried Houses (winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize), The Country I Remember (winner of the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award), and Arrivals. His verse novel, Ludlow, was published in 2007, and named best poetry book of the year by the Contemporary Poetry Review and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It was also featured on the PBS News Hour. Author of a collection of essays, The Poetry of Life and the Life of Poetry, his memoir, News from the Village, appeared in 2010. A new collection of essays, Two Minds of a Western Poet, followed in 2011. Mason has also co-edited several textbooks and anthologies, including Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism, Twentieth Century American Poetry, and Twentieth Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry. His poetry, prose and translations have appeared in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry, Agenda, Modern Poetry in Translation, The New Criterion, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, The Irish Times, and The Southern Review. Anthologies include Best American Poetry and others. He has also written the libretti for composer Lori Laitman’s opera of The Scarlet Letter and her oratorio, Vedem. He recently won the Thatcher Hoffman Smith Creativity in Motion Prize for the development of a new libretto. A former Fulbright Fellow to Greece, he serves as Poet Laureate of Colorado and teaches at Colorado College. For David Mason links, click here.

 

Copyright © 2014 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.

Posted in Contests, Young Writers Contest Results | Tagged , , | 3 Comments