Primed to Explode

20 09 2011

In 2002, the Peace Development Fund launched the Cross Border Initiative, working with groups seeking justice and peace amid the exploitation of land, water and people along the U.S./Mexico border. The situation has not improved. Considering the El Paso/ Juárez border today, the ensuing drug wars, and ultimately the fence that the U.S. government built, the border has become a lightning rod for violence. Explains author, Charles Bowden, about his book, Murder City, “There are 400 foreign, mainly American, factories in Juárez, they pay at best seventy-five dollars a week, the cost of living in Juárez is about ninety per cent of what it would be on the U.S. side of the border. In addition to this obvious point—that the factories play slave wages and have a turnover on average of one hundred to two hundred per cent a year—the city has now had at least two generations of kids raised pretty much on their own as their parents work five and a half days a week in the factories. It was primed to explode.”

from Peace Developments, Spring 2002

“Supporting Cross-Border Alliances”

This winter in El Paso, Texas, the Peace Development Fund took a bold and new step in our work to support alliance building across the U.S. – Mexico border. On December 5-7, PDF hosted a weekend-long training in Strategic Communications, in Spanish, for more than 30 people from nine organizations: four based in Mexico and five from the United States. The training was designed and provided by the Mexico City-based organization Incide, which, like all organizations invited to the training, is also a PDF grantee.

Incide – whose name translates to “Incite” – is driven by the idea that communication has the power to create deep transformation in our everyday cultures. Incide trainers work with grassroots organizations to share communication and strategic thinking tools, in order to enable people to exercise what Incide believes is a fundamental right to communicate and be heard. This workshop was facilitated by trainer Cecilia Sanchez with the support of Gabriela Sanchez.

For PDF, underlying the content of this workshop was a deeper intention to foster relationship building and an exchange of strategies between a diverse group of organizations along the border and in Mexico. “This workshop brought us together,” PDF board member Teresa Juarez commented at the close of the training. “These workshops are not only about content and techniques – the most important part of this is the human connection.”

Participants shared a common experience of economic globalization’s negative impact on communities of Mexicans and Mexican immigrants to the United States. “We need to democratize the global economy,” explained training participant Gustavo Lozano. “I have witnessed how international economic treaties benefit multinational corporations, not workers. The treaties have facilitated the exchange of goods and services, not people. Mexicans have been demonized in the process.”

The fundamental problems brought on by economic globalization have now been compounded by the political climate of the War on Terrorism – the loss of civil liberties for immigrants, an increase in the militarization of the border, and the favorable political climate for future trade policies (such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas and Plan Puebla Panama) that will affect communities throughout the hemisphere. Now is clearly a critical time to provide resources that strengthen the organizing of Mexican and Mexican immigrant communities who are working to ensure their means of survival.

During the training, participants divided into strategy groups that allowed for an in-depth look at pressing issues. One focused on the government’s refusal to investigate a pattern of brutal murders against an estimated 250 young women over the past eight years in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua (the sprawling city that mirrors El Paso on the Mexican side of the border). Another group brought together organizations to share experiences and strategies surrounding the militarization affecting Mexican immigrants in the U.S. border region and indigenous communities in southeast Mexico.

“The feedback we have received from this training has shown us that bringing these organizations together is an invaluable form of peer-to-peer technical assistance,” explained Reverend John Vaughn, executive director of PDF. “By creating a space for community organizations to interact with each other, PDF works to encourage movement building. This is where organizations work together – across borders and beyond specific issue areas – toward a common vision of justice and peace.”


The Exchange Project

20 06 2011

This year’s Peace Development Award will go to Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian. The event will take place on September 25th in Amherst, as part of the Peace Development Fund’s 30th Anniversary Celebration. Rev. Ayvazian was the creator and first Director of PDF’s Exchange Project. She has been active in movements for social and political change since 1970. An anti-racism educator, published poet, and singer/songwriter with three albums and CDs in circulation, Andrea has been living in the Pioneer Valley since 1980. She is now Senior Pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church.

From The Exchange Project: Summer 1995

“The Early Years of PDF’s Exchange Project: A Look Back with Meg Gage and Andrea Ayvazian”

Recently, Exchange Project Director Kenneth Jones talked with Meg Gage, co-founder and first Executive Director of the Peace Development Fund, and Andrea Ayvazian, the creator and first Director of the Exchange Project, about the origins of the program ten years ago.

KJ: How and why did the Exchange Project start?

MG: The EP grew out of our grantmaking program at PDF, where we realized how weak organizationally some of the groups were. There were questions about whether they could even use the money; it was like putting water into a basket that has a big hole in the bottom. I remember when I was researching proposals I would ask groups what their budget was, and they’d say, “Well, I don’t know – we don’t have a budget.” And I’d say, “Well, how much do you think you’re going to spend this year?” And they’d say, “Well. As much as we raise,” and I’d say, “Well, how much do you think you’re going to raise?” And they’d say, “Well, as much as we can!”

KJ: What did that tell you about such organizations?

MG: Obviously, it’s impossible to hire staff, impossible to do anything with program planning like this. You’re reduced to planning a series of events. So I found myself doing training over the phone as I researched these proposals: “Why don’t you try this… have you thought of that… maybe you need to change this way of thinking…” It became clear quite early on, that groups really need the technical assistance as much as they need the money.

KJ: What kind of training was available ten years ago?

MG: The Youth Project had a staff of six around the country who were very autonomous in terms of their own groups. They weren’t available to go traveling or to go to strategic places and work with groups somebody suggested they work with. Kim Klein was doing fund-raising and boards. Nobody that I knew of was doing long-range planning or the talks on burnout that we gave a lot. We were very lucky to hire Andrea, because she developed whole units that really nobody had ever tried before. Especially around leadership issues, what she called the “seven deadly sins.” These really hit on some key issues that many groups were struggling with. It was extraordinary the creativity that Andrea had in developing the curricula and also the high energy level to get herself out there all over the place all the time.

AA: PDF invested in me, because at first the EP was just me. Initially, I turned to Meg, who has a background in training and performance, and who had been talking to groups on the phone. I spent days shadowing and co-training with Kim Klein, practicing with Meg, going to see Grant Ingle and every trainer we could find. We also evaluated very carefully what groups were telling us – and they were very frank – and we would change it when something didn’t work.

KJ: What were you teaching and how did you decide just what to teach?

MG: I’ve learned a lot from Andrea about the importance of a real curriculum. Real material is something to be learned, it’s not just group process. There is a body of information that people learn, and then have help implementing: I think that has always been one of the strengths of the EP program. The second great strength was Andrea’s natural instinct for constant evaluation, refining and honing down what you want to do, then looking back and seeing how we did. Our material was always under development. This was balanced with Andrea’s personal discipline and rigor – a real intellectual rigor that was expansive and open, not rigid.

AA: Our content was very clear – it was sort of empowerment through education. People came with “tool boxes,” but they were missing some key wrenches, like board contracts and development plans. We could fill their tool boxes with concrete skills, not just handholding, although we also listened. A trainer can just be a good talker, and people will like you and they will feel good, but if you haven’t got content and some kind of rigorous curriculum that is directly shaped to what they need, it’s kind of a waste of time.

KJ: What was happening in those first trainings?

AA: The unbelievably fortuitous thing that happened was that we were able to subcontract Kim Klein to be part of the EP. Kim met us on the road from California to Little Rock to Tampa, and brought her genius. There is no trainer like Kim in terms of background, authority, humor, presence, and experience. We got feedback that we worked people very hard and that we needed to play more, and so we started adding things like singing them to sleep with guitars and singing to wake them up. The energy level you wouldn’t believe – it was fun!

KJ: Who else was working with you in those early days?

AA: After a year, we hired Andy Rothschild, who worked part-time as administrator, and part-time as a trainer. Groups loved him! We worked closely with Kim for two and a half years and then decided we needed a full-time trainer on staff, so we hired Randy Kehler. Randy not only did beautiful trainings on boards and long-range planning, but he would also sit up late at night at trainings and discuss strategy and the Freeze with a level of wisdom and authority that was extremely significant.

KJ: How would you sum up your experiences working with the EP?

AA: The strongest feeling I have is gratitude. We brought a good program, solid people, a good curriculum. But it was the people. They were so giving and loving and patient. We stumbled a lot, tried things that didn’t work, so then we had to really revamp. But people were so generous of spirit. I worked hard and I gave a lot, but I received so much more back than I could have given in those five plus years.

MG: I think the EP training program is important because it acknowledges how essential it is that we constantly work on our organizations and how we relate to each other doing this work. The techniques and technical things are important – they embody what the work is about. The means are as important as the ends in some ways. So we need to continue to build organizations that become the way we think the world should be – the only way to peace is peace. We need to be what we are seeking and I think with the training program that’s what the message really is, that it’s here and now. We need to stop being racist, we need to build organizations that value people, that accomplish their goals and build a movement. I’ve always felt the training component has been at least as important, if not more important than the grantmaking.

AA: Those really were life-changing years for me. They made me so full of life about social change, what we could do, how many people are dedicated and tenacious, and endure, and what a heartbeat the movement in this country really has.

Peace and Freedom Riders

18 05 2011

The Peace Development Fund has been a strong supporter of nonviolence training, from early work with youth, schools and Teaching Peace, to the Kingian nonviolence training sponsored by PDF in many parts of the country (pictured right), to Restorative Justice.

“Violence is the language of the inarticulate,” says Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. (below), who has worked with PDF staff and Board on Kingian nonviolence training.  Dr. LaFayette, one of the Freedom Riders recently seen in the PBS documentary of the same name, will help celebrate PDF’s 30th Anniversary at the Amherst Cinema (Amherst, MA) on September 25th.  As the story below shows, PDF has consistently funded groups seeking to articulate a new, peaceful reality and bring change to their communities.

from Peace Developments, Spring 1989

A Closer Look: Conflict Resolution: The Fourth “Basic”?  The Wayne State Center, Detroit

Over the last several years, the improvement of our public schools has emerged as a leading motif in political campaigns.  Less than a decade ago, candidate Ronald Reagan vowed to eliminate the Department of Education; now his successor wants to be remembered as “The Education President.”  But while politicians and journalists argue over the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer in the classroom, the read business of learning is being disrupted by a rising level of conflict and violence.

The intensity of this violence is almost inconceivable: in Detroit, for example, school administrators ruled recently that a child cannot enter into mediation armed with a weapon.  Those of us who remember an orderly and instructive time in grade school might want to believe that this is an extreme case – in fact, the situation in Detroit’s inner-city public schools is typical of conditions across the country.

But while schools in similarly troubled areas elsewhere are calling in police officers to guard students and teachers, Detroit is taking a different tack.  There, a PDF-supported program run by the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies of Wayne State University  is developing an innovative middle school curriculum that will teach young people how to resolve their disputes without violence.

Lillian Genser has been director of the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies for over twenty years.  During that time she has seen public enthusiasm for traditional peace issues ebb and flow, usually in response to the level of world tensions.  However, interest in conflict resolution for the schools has continually expanded.  Lillian Genser believes this is a direct response to the degree of violence in the schools.

But what is conflict resolution for school-age children?  Can it really make a difference in an environment where schools are reduced to using airport-style metal detectors to keep knives and firearms out of the classroom?

In fact, conflict resolution means many different things.  In many cases, students are chosen (or elected by their classmates) to serve as dispute mediators.  They receive special training and are available to other students who are willing to submit their difference to mediation.

The Wayne State Center’s project takes conflict considerably further.  It is introducing into Detroit’s middle school classrooms an integrated curriculum that teaches a range of skills to help children deal with the conditions of peace and non-violence through self-esteem and respect for the rights of others.

And school-based conflict resolution doesn’t stop with the individual: in many curricula, the link between small and large, between playgroups and disagreements and international confrontation, is often made explicit.  According to Lillian Genser, most school programs are based on a foundation of human rights education: “The integration of the global and the individual is fundamentally important.  Otherwise you never approach the roots of the problem.”  In Detroit, children learn to think about the global implications of violence through education about legal systems and training in human rights.  Classes have made trips to the Detroit Holocaust Memorial and local Afro-American Museum, and they plan to visit a Sanctuary Church in the future.

In additional, Lillian Genser points out that “what is left out of a curriculum makes as much of a statement as what is included.  We are introducing the language of conflict resolution to the schools in ways as subtle as the words in a spelling bee.”  Children, after all, are astonishingly perceptive beings: they learn by picking up on hints and clues that we as adults have long since ceased to notice.

The key to success in conflict resolution is broad participation by different sectors of the community.  The Wayne State Center aims to train individuals in various professions – for example, police and teachers – who can then convey the methods and benefits of dispute resolution back to their peers.  Even the most skilled program of conflict resolution in schools will lose effectiveness if the students receive a conflicting message for society at large.

For the same reason, conflict resolution has to become an integral part of the regular curriculum for both teachers and students.  Lillian Genser believes that a self-sustaining culture of non-violent mediation among children can come about “only if we are able to institutionalize a process so that the lessons can be internalized.  Conflict resolution cannot be simply another ‘activity,’ competing with other extracurricular opportunities.”

In fact, many school districts and state legislatures are now mandating, or, as in Michigan, “encouraging” the institution of such programs for children in the public schools.  Los Angeles, for example, has instituted comprehensive dispute resolution programs in its public schools, and PDF has helped to fund such projects in places as dissimilar as New York City and rural Abingdon, Virginia.  While peace education remains under attack from certain corners (the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, for example), more and more educators are appreciating its contributions toward an innovative atmosphere of learning in the classroom.  “People are unaware of what is possible,” says Lillian Genser.  “It was the so-called peace educators who put China back into the school curriculum well before Nixon’s ‘opening.’  And they were the ones who first focused attention on the global character of environmental pollution.”

We should remember that conflict resolution in the schools doesn’t seek to eliminate conflict – only to help students better deal with disputes.  Conflict is the natural result of our differing needs; learning how to weigh those needs and devise an equitable solution without violence and rancor is an indispensable skill for living in the nuclear age.  It is a skill which is learned, as Lillian Genser says, “the earlier, the better.”  The work that the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies is doing among middle schoolers, approaching young people before their coming preoccupation with high school graduation and jobs, is providing a model for similar programs in middle schools elsewhere.

However, it is often an exceedingly difficult and complex task to introduce conflict resolution into local schools.  Few districts have the excess funding to support programs not considered “basic.”  And even beyond the challenge of finding money, the kind of careful and patient planning that must precede any successful implementation often goes undone.  Without a solid analysis of the school’s structure and environment, as well as that of its community base, a project is bound to fail before it can ever build momentum.  Of course, this is especially true in poorer communities, where tight budgets and eroding tax bases make for even more skepticism on the part of local citizens.

Nevertheless, we are convinced that such programs are indispensable to the improvement for our schools.  At their most basic level, they make for a better learning environment by alleviating the level of violence.  At their best, they help to make young people champions of peace.  Conflict resolution in the schools deserves our advocacy, and the Peace Development Fund is proud to be a supporter of the effort.

Grassroots Group Vanishes

16 03 2011

More than a decade ago, the North Carolina Lambda Youth Network aimed to inspire real social change.   They started in the LGBT community, particularly with teens, to deal with their issues and problems in terms of their own identity.  But by the middle of the decade, this promising group had disappeared.  What happened?

What happend to this group?

We don’t know.  Sometimes we bet on a group and make a grant, provide training (in this case, we also sent a Peace Development Fund trainer to work with them, Tema Okun), and then the group members move on or the group disbands or merges with another.  That’s part of the dynamic of grassroots organizing.  Hopefully what they learned with PDF’s support has stood them in good stead for the rest of their careers.

Anyway, we’d love to know if that’s so!

from Peace Developments, Winter 2000

“Challenging Oppression from the Inside and OUT!”

When Zabrina Aleguire, outreach and education coordinator – one of the first young people hired to the North Carolina Lambda Youth Network staff – talks about the organization, her voice gets a lilt and it is clear that she is involved in something challenging and exciting. Her work is a calling, not unlike most of the people who believe that social justice is a lifetime commitment. She speaks for her peers from a place of strength when she says emphatically: “Young people really have amazing potential to be powerful social change agents. They have a lot of vision pragmatism, experience, and desire to learn. North Carolina Lambda Youth Network (NCLYN) is a youth-led organization with a vision, pragmatism, experience, and desire to learn.”

North Carolina Lambda Youth Network (NCLYN) is a youth-led organization with a vision and desire to see real social change, beginning with work with the youth in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities. Founded in July 1996, it is a grassroots organization with both a statewide and a local focus.

It is especially striking to note that these young people have come together under a variety of circumstances. They are intimately challenged not only with the task of working toward social justice, but also within a framework of identifying themselves in terms of their sexual and social orientation. This is not easy work, but movement building has been the focus from the beginning. There are those within LGBT communities who respond that the movement should focus on getting legal rights passed for LGBT people. Zabrina has a different take: It is incomplete to think only in one way. While homophobia is an issue, [oppression] isn’t just one issue. It is very linked.” She stresses that NCLYN works hard not to continue perpetuating the same oppressions of class, race, and gender that exist within the mainstream gay and lesbian movement.

Within the words that are poignant and idealistic, is also a passion that moves NCLYN to see real change happen through programs that create spaces for young people to make the vision real. A Drop-In night across the three cities that make up Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill triangle provides and opportunity for young people in the area to get to know one another. Soul Circle provides a network for people of color to talk about issues pertinent to their communities. The Rainbow Youth Coalition consists of educators, young people, and community members who are working to make schools a safe place for young people to learn,

Another important component is the continued learning within the network of a Summer Leadership Institute. Again, Zabrina lights up to share more about the institute. She speaks highly of the fact that real training on social justice issues takes place. It really moves her because it is almost completely volunteer run, and not very staff dependent. The facilitators for the workshops are previous graduates of the institute. Fifteen young people participate in the institute. They pick an organization within the Raleigh-Durham, Chapel Hill triangle to work on a social service project, like an elder center or daycare. After the project day ends, they come back to share some of what they are learning and try to place it in the context of organizing for social justice. There is a sense of intense training, of group bonding.

NCLYN is working with PDF’s Exchange Project to do dismantling racism workshops. It is their hope to be able to continue implementing concrete strategies that will help them become a truly antiracist organization. They are planning for their whole organization to go through training this summer with trainers for the EP.

They have had to cross some tough roads in committing to this process. Recently, the staff and board decided not to attend a particular workshop that is usually quite valuable. The workshop is a networking of LGBT students attending southern colleges. However, the conference is in South Carolina. NCLYN is standing with the NAACP, which has called for a boycott of the state, in protest of their refusal to take down the confederate flag over the statehouse. NCLYN plans to do a press release explaining why they are not attending the meeting.

Of course, there are other real and concrete challenges to this work. Many don’t believe that young people can be responsible to organize and lead movements. There is a sense that leadership doesn’t come until a certain “mystified” age. Many adults who are very supportive still can’t let go of their own assumptions about ways to approach difficult problems. Acknowledging that there are many things to learn is also not the easiest thing for the young people themselves. And finding funding is a significant issue; traditional foundations are not always willing to take chances on youth leadership, and it is especially challenging to get support in the south about LGBT issues in general.

Zabrina also shared that while there is some parental support, some parents, even those who know their kids are not heterosexual, feel powerless or unwilling to offer support to their children. However, these young people are not daunted. Matt Nicholson, one of the participants in the Summer Leadership Institute, put it this way: “Through NCLYN I have come to know myself and my community in new and challenging ways. I have learned how to make something happen. To implement. To empower. I now have access to information, networks, and relationships that keep me strong in the face of resistance. Queer is a part of a love, a politic and a passion by which I work for change. These people and this place keep folks like me alive, and we become dangerous to those who would hold us down.”

It is the power of this testimony that makes the work and the successes continue. Confidence is indeed a life force, and if this leadership is any indication of goals being achieved, we will all be hearing a lot more from North Carolina Lambda Youth Network.