Face Time

18 08 2011

“We are more than just a grantmaker,” says PDF Executive Director Paul Haible. “We are partners in the peace and social justice movement.”

From the Peace Development Fund’s earliest days, PDF has visited with and advised grantees, encouraged networks such as our current initiative, BASE (Building Action for Sustainable Environments), and above all, LISTENED.

1985 Meg Gage and Linda Stout

Our model of philanthropy involves direct funding, advocacy where appropriate, and partnerships built around mutual respect, sharing of resources, and transparency of planning and decision-making. This article from 1985 highlights the person-to-person work that, over three decades, has made PDF unique among foundations.

from Peace Developments, Fall 1985

Learning Person-to-Person

“Visiting peace groups on site, in the communities where they work and live, sends valuable information both ways,” said Meg Gage, the Peace Development Fund’s executive director. “It gives us the chance to learn more about grassroots groups and the current state of the country’s peace movement.

“And in these visits the groups get to see us as people, to realize we are not Big Daddy Peacebucks. Though we have been a source of funds for hundreds of peace organizations, we are also engaged and active people much like themselves,” Meg added.

Making sure that our donor’s money is used responsibly and effectively is a high priority for the Peace Development Fund and [its sister organization] the Pacific Peace Fund (PPF). We have developed many ways to encourage effective use of our grants, such as researching, monitoring and consulting by mail and phone. But good as these long-distance methods are, we also try to observe conditions directly for ourselves through site visits.

Kim Klein, Exchange Project

Being in an organization’s actual working space can tell an astute visitor nearly as much as meeting the people themselves. The Bucks Alliance for Nuclear Disarmament (BAND), outside Philadelphia, has created a peace center consciously designed to reach a wide spectrum of people. Some groups work in places bristling with militant posters. By contract, BAND’s office is an open, pleasant, business-like environment where anyone would feel at home.

“As for BAND’s productivity,” says Paul Aicher, a PDF board member who visited the group with Meg Gage, “the number of activities listed on a wall chart and the number of people doing them speak volumes.”

PDF’s contact with one important Freeze organization in New York had led us to conclude that one strong person was orchestrating the whole enterprise. A visit by Andrea Avvazian, director of PDF’s Exchange Project, taught us something different. Though that individual does indeed exert a major influence, in fact there is a strong sense of shared leadership in the group.

PDF and PPF are located in the northeast and northwest corners of this vast nation. Through site visits we have been able to learn far more about regions of the country that are distant from or offices. For example, we once believed the Midwest to be a fairly homogenous region, until a staff person from PDF visited there. “Minneapolis and Chicago are not in the same region,” she was told firmly by one person. “We have nothing in common with northern Illinois,” said someone from southern Illinois.

In this way we learned that there are at least four “Midwests,” each with its own character and needs.

PDF Staff Members

Groups that host site visits from our funds benefit from the meetings, too. For one thing, we serve them as a window on the peace movement. Peace workers in northern Maine or rural Arkansas can feel very isolated in their effort. Such people love to hear news from the rest of the peace network; it gives them a sense of support, solidarity and hope. Because of our special role as hub and connector of grassroots peace activity, our Funds can talk – and literally have talked – about Maine in Arkansas and Arkansas in Maine.

Another boon to both PDF and the groups we visit is the appreciation which they stir in us. It is very energizing and gratifying to experience directly the fruits of our own labors, to see our support making such wonderful work possible.

Andrea Ayvazian, Exchange Project

This sense of appreciation for the work we see during site visits has taught us to balance carefully our judgment of groups we have visited with judgments of those we have not. “Whenever you visit a group and meet it members,” says Pat Close-Hastings, executive director of the Pacific Peace Fund, “you almost always end up liking them, and you are tempted to become their advocate. It can give them a great advantage in the competition for funding. A funder needs to be able to make fair decisions, which sometimes means turning down people you like.”

Perhaps the greatest benefit to local peace activists from our site visits is the way our coming affirms their sense of being worthwhile and needed. Taking the time and expense to see them at work sends a message as eloquent as words, and their gratitude for this extra expression of support can be very moving indeed – often shown in hand-printed welcome signs, special lunches prepared with care, and warm hospitality in their homes. “You’ve come so far,” a minister from remote Centertown, Kentucky, said over and over to Andrea Ayvazian with deep feeling. “You’ve come so far.”

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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.