Still Open for Business!

22 12 2011

The Peace Development Fund history blog moves on now from a 30 year reflection of how the past has affected where PDF and the peace and social justice movements are today, to our 31st year and a focus forward. Like any business, we have had our ups and downs. Operating with no endowment, each year we must raise the necessary funds to make grants and support grassroots communities.

Nothing has dimmed the “fierce commitment” The Boston Globe ascribed to PDF in 1988. If anything, we are only more determined to continue providing grants, training and other vital resources necessary to grassroots communities working on peaceful conflict resolution, human rights and environmental sustainability in the U.S.

From The Boston Globe, Sunday, May 29, 1988

 “Peace-minded Fund takes businesslike approach to goals”

By Stephen J. Simurda, Special to the Globe

AMHERST – Across the United States, hundreds of grass-roots political organizations are working on peace and justice issues ranging from the prevention of nuclear war to maintaining political stability in Central America.

Among the things these groups have in common is that they generally work with a fierce commitment in their community to influence thinking on an issue of international significance. According to the movement, these groups act locally and think globally. And they usually do it on a shoestring budget with little guidance or expertise in organizational skills.

The Amherst-based Peace Development Fund has been working since 1981 to change that by providing funding, organizational training and recognition to community-based groups.

Through its work, the fund has become well known to community political groups throughout the United States and has built itself into the only national source of funding and advice for many of these groups.

“Before there was the Peace Development Fund, there was no single voice to advocate for peace groups,” said Meg Gage, executive director and cofounder of the fund.

PDF Co-founders, Meg Gage and Bob Mazer

Since its inception, the fund has given about $2 million to more than 400 groups in all 50 states and watched its annual budget grow from $130,000 to $1.6 million for the coming fiscal year. It also sponsors training workshops for political activists.

Recently, the fund presented the first Grassroots Peace Award to Citizen Alert of Reno, Nevada, a group that promotes public participation in nuclear, environmental and military matters. It is hoped that the award can become a yearly alternative peace prize for small political organizations.

According to Gage, one thing most grass-roots political organizations have in common is that they do not like to talk about money.

“A lot of these people would much rather talk about weapon systems and politics” than budget planning and fund-raising strategy, Gage said. But by not talking about those practical matters, many groups can work themselves right out of existence, she said.

“The feeling [when we started the fund] was that what a lot of groups needed was funding,” Gage said. Soon it became clear that just providing money was not enough and that training in organization building was crucial to make money more effective. “I would ask a group what their budget was and they’d way ‘It depends on how much we raise.’” Gage said.

Trainer Randy Kehler said the training program that grew out of that realization is “an adaption on what you’d find in a workshop for a small business.” While the issues covered focus on budget and fund-raising planning, training sessions also cover organizational development issues, such as how to best locate and train new staff, and how to do more effective outreach work in the community.

The fund’s work does pay off in tangible ways, according to Jean Weiss, fund-raising coordinator for the New England Central America Network in Cambridge, a group that has received funds and training. The fund is “very involved with the groups that they give money to. It’s a model we’ve adopted from them,” Weiss said.

The Central America network has grown from a string of 30 community organizations in 1983 to about 200 today. A $3,000 grant from the Peace Development Fund last year allowed the network to begin its own training program for other Central America groups.

According to the Peace Development Fund, grants are given to carefully screened organizations for specific projects.

“This is the best way to support [peace groups] other than my personal contribution,” said Arthur Obermayer, chief executive of Moleculon Inc., a Cambridge medical technology firm.

Obermayer said he particularly likes the fact that the fund helps community-based groups in all parts of the country. “I feel that often the most important work is done at the grassroots level.”

Asked to evaluate the role the fund has played nationally, Gage says simply, “The sheer fact that we have succeeded and grown is one of the achievements of the peace movement in the 1980s.”

PDF Grantee, Citizen Alert


Time for Another Great March?

20 10 2011

The Occupy Wall Street movement spreading across the country reminds us of other movements when ordinary people—like the “diverse bunch” who organized to create a non-violent focus for positive change—embarked on the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament from California to Washington, DC. In 1986, the Peace Development Fund supported the marchers who, despite loose organization and trying circumstances, stood up to say “enough” to war and make their voices heard. The Great Peace March nearly fell apart as it moved from the west coast eastward, and there are certainly a few lessons to learn from this by Occupy Wall Street. But like Occupy Wall Street, the Great Peace March gathered momentum. Now Occupy Wall Street is changing the terms of the public debate, from despair that the financial world is stacked against Main Street to active concern about local jobs, education and the environment. Just as the Great Peace March entered people’s collective consciousness as they marched forward, Occupy Wall Street has the potential to mobilize thousands demanding jobs for all and civil rights. Perhaps it’s time for another great march.

from Peace Developments, Fall 1986

“The Great Peace March”

“Sure, we’re a diverse bunch,” says Larry Heiss, camp doctor for the Great Peace March. “We’ve got kids and septuagenarians, professional people and counter-culture youth, straight and gay, the angry and the serene, the ministers and agnostics, politically left and politically right, people form 50 states and eleven countries. But we’ve got one important thing in common: we are all committed to global nuclear disarmament.

As one of the core group that has been on the 3,200-mile peace walk across the U.S.A. since its start, Larry has seen the whole panorama: from the shaky send-off in Los Angeles on the first of March, through the breakdown of the original ProPeace organization two weeks later, leaving 1,200 walkers stranded on the edge of the Mojave Desert; through a determined but wrenching struggled to reorganized, raise money, and keep going; across deserts and mountains and plains to Omaha at an incredible 20 to 25 miles a day in order to catch up to the original schedule.

Together they’ve walked, despite blisters and sunburn, through desert sizzle and mountain frost, through hail and thunderstorms, through the fallout area downwind of the Nevada Nuclear test Site at the time of the Mighty Oaks test, past some of the nuclear facilities and military installations that bristle across our West. There was a high moment of celebration as they crossed the Continental Divide, with jokes that from now on it would “all be downhill.”

The marchers had faced staggering problems in their forming their new organization. All their equipment, including support vehicles, had been repossessed. They wouldn’t be allowed to march without at least portable toilets (which the Peace Development Fund was instrumental in getting for them). Everything has to be started again from scratch, and by a group with no experience.

But there were people like a man and his daughter from Sydney, Australia, who had raised money in their community in order to get to Los Angeles and join the march. As Phyllis Rodin, another marcher, said, “no way could we tell people like that ‘It’s folded. It’s over. Go home.’”

“We were halted in our tracks for three weeks in Barstow, California,” related Phyllis. “But it was an important three weeks. We moved from a green, helpless group of strangers, into a cohesive, fired-up determined community.”

In order to get the march back on the road, the marchers began to scavenge and resuscitate ancient junkyard trucks. Soldiers (in civilian clothes) from nearby military bases turned up to help with that thankless job. In gratitude for the outpouring of help from Barstow, the marchers painted the town’s church inferiors.

A newly-formed advance team had to start contacting peace groups and town officials in the areas ahead, to arrange for camp sites, permits, water, waste disposal, peace rallies, and speaking engagements. It helped when town officials learned that the marchers were cleaning up the roadsides as they walked.

Omaha seemed like a turning point. There, they were back on schedule and could slow their pace to a mere 15 miles a day. There they were halfway to their final goal, Washington, DC.

“We don’t feel we’ll be stranded again,” Larry says with confidence in spite or reporting that their income at present is less than their outgo.” We know now that nothing can stop us from getting to Washington. We know the support is out there, and we’re confident the money will come in when people realize we need it.”

Expenses are $7 a day per marcher – $4,000 a day total – for food, insurance, payments on the support vehicles, campsite permits, publicity, gas. The high cost of marching has sometimes meant turning down people who would like to join in. In spite of that, the number had grown from 500 to 650 by Omaha, with hopes that as the new fundraising canvas bring in additional support, the group can also expand. By the time the group gets to New York City, in mid-October, the march almost certainly will be considerably larger. And optimism runs high when they talk about arriving in Washington, DC for a mid-November final rally.

Within the march there are, of course, differences of opinion. “Peace begins with ourselves,” as Larry Heiss says, “and it’s not always an easy lesson.”

But despite the occasional friction, there’s a lot of camaraderie, creativity, energy, and humor. Musicians, comics, and clowns have teamed up within the marching community to keep spirits high.

There is also support, both moral and financial, from “outside.” The marchers are visited by national celebrities, such as Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Hill Street’s Betty Thomas, and Congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado. There are rallies and house parties, and marchers-for-a-day who join them in every city.

It’s an adventure for everyone, perhaps especially for the 40 children on the march, some of whom have become experienced speakers already. From one-year-old Alexa to 8-year-old Franklin Folsom, everyone counts.

“Something is very different about this march,” to quote marcher Tom Atlee. “I don’t’ know why so many cars honk and give us a peace sign; why so many mothers cry as we pass; why fundamentalist veterans stop by the road to bless us; why old women with American flags hanging over their doors thank us for marching for them. Maybe it’s because 95 percent of Americans really want peace, and that desire is beginning to ache inside. If they had a way to be peaceful AND patriotic AND honestly hopeful, they’d grab it in an instant …

“Hope grows here like moss on a pine. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m witnessing a metaphorical dawn; that the darkness is giving way; that in the next year, perhaps in the next few months or days, I will see the edge of the sun and know that we, as a planet, have made it.”

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.”

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.