What’s in a Peace Talk?

26 11 2012

At a Peace Talk this fall, one of our grantee speakers wanted to know what our criteria was for a successful event.  Would it be the number attending?  Donations to PDF as a result?

No, we told him.  It is not the number of attendees, because at PDF’s Peace and Justice Center in Amherst, we can’t hold hundreds of people.  If there are 15 to 20 gathered in our living room, that is a perfect size for a discussion.

No, it is not the donations PDF would receive, we continued.  We don’t use the Peace Talks to buttonhole people into giving.  Our donors are loyal, and we dare say they would give to PDF’s work even if there wasn’t a Peace Talk on the event schedule.

But a Peace Talk is an opportunity to publicize the work of our grantees and engage our audience in the ongoing work of organizing.  That is how we measure success.

Anyone who comes to a Peace Talk can hear directly from our grantees about the challenging and inspiring work they do.  It is also an opportunity to network with others working for progressive social change, be they grantees, donors or students from the local colleges.  Not a Peace Talk ends before we hear folks exchanging ideas and email addresses.  And the grantees say they couldn’t do that—get out of their daily routine and the silos that build up around them—without someone from PDF inviting them to a Peace Talk.

Grantees also say, and we never have to ask them to do so, that they couldn’t do what they do without PDF’s early support.  “You supported us when we didn’t know if we could stay working or close,” said Anne Richmond from Gardening the Community.  “You kept us going.”

“You were our very first grant,” said Josie Shagwert of Fuerza Laboral.  “That was a huge vote of confidence in us.”

At Peace Talks we talk about victories and losses, the 99 percent and the one percent, the stories we know and the ones nobody writes about.  We talk about how to move forward and how to keep going.  As Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action and the Media said at our last Peace Talk, “I have to remind myself that the partial wins are still wins.”  We need to keep reminding ourselves of that too, as we define success.

“Each of us takes the piece of the work that we can do,” says Jaclyn.  For PDF, it is providing the space for organizing.


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

Will They Listen Today?

16 11 2011

The laws today are more complex than when the Peace Development Fund began funding lobbying by grassroots organizations in 1988. Nonetheless, public foundations like PDF may support public charities which engage in lobbying—another strategy to use in movement building. Last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court ruling added even more money and influence buying into politics. Yet people—not corporations “who are people too”–have the right to say what they want to say. Especially in the upcoming election year, we need to be sure that all voices are heard. As the Occupy Movement shows us, speech can, and should, trump money.

from PeaceDevelopments, Spring 1988

 “7000 Letters – Swinging the Vote”

Last summer, Senator Alan Dixon of Illinois received 7,000 letters from Chicago voters in the space of seven weeks, demanding that he vote “no” on Contra aid. When asked if those letters could influence a man who had voted “yes” three times before, his aide said: “This is not a poll. This is the very thoughtful input of 7,000 people who have taken the time and used their personal feelings to express it in writing to their Senator. Their feelings are something he has to listen to… they will have a major effect on his vote.” In fact, Senator Dixon did listen – he voted “no” to Contra aid in the February ’88 count.

In a time when many citizens feel powerless to influence policy, it is heartening to realize that our elected representatives do listen – and not just when they are up for re-election. True, public opinion alone rarely changes policy; we only need to look at the massive public support for the Freeze, or the ERA, or an end to the war in Nicaragua. But when people get truly motivated to do something to make their opinion felt – take to the streets or to their telephones, write letters to editors – they can have influence in Washington.

Lobbying is one of several kinds of action, and at the right time it can be very effective. The Peace Development Fund has an educational and charitable tax status that allows us to use a small portion of our revenues to support lobbying activities. Many peace groups we have funded include lobbying as part of their work, but increasingly, groups are being organized for lobbying purposes only. They research, strategize, and respond to legislative issues, and sometimes help to draft legislation. Often providing a direct and vital link between Washington and the grassroots lobbying groups keep in regular contact with legislators while building the strong local base needed to put through key legislation. Some groups spring up around immediate, single issues, calling for urgent, widespread action; others are organized to respond consistently to issues that arise in the context of a more distant goal.

This fall, PDF and the Pacific Peace Fund (PPF) rallied to the call for funds by Countdown ’87 – a massive, nationwide campaign to defeat Contra aid organized by a coalition of groups working for peace in Central America. In the space of a few months, Countdown ’87 successfully mobilized tens of thousands of citizens across the country to contact their congress people. Neighbor to Neighbor, a previous PDF grantee working together with Countdown ’87, targeted twelve members of Congress and six senators, all of whom were considered swing-votes (Illinois’ Senator Dixon being one of them). Using its “Tupperware” approach to politics, it organized 117 house parties in Chicago alone for “the majority who think Contra aid is wrong but aren’t doing anything about it.”

PDF and PPF also support the less dramatic efforts of organizations designed to apply continual, persistent pressure for the long term. Two examples are the 20/20 Vision Project [editor’s note: now a project of EarthAction] and the Peace Missions. “20/20” combines education with action through its postcard campaign. With $20 a year and a commitment of 20 minutes a month, you can receive each month a brightly colored postcard giving all the information you needed to write a letter or make a call to your congressperson; you can also get involved on the research and strategizing level. “20/20” now has projects in several states and has been endorsed by national organizations. Using a different strategy, the Peace Missions provide training and logistical support for weekly lobbying trips to Washington. Originating in Rhode Island, the Peace Missions concept has spread to nine states over a period of three years and, with a new organizer’s manual put out by the Coalition for a New Foreign Policy in Washington, is eagerly seeking new chapters.

In another kind of linking, the San Francisco Freeze found itself with an excess of resources and all its representatives were voting right on the issues. So this fall, they raised money in Northern California to defeat Contra aid in two swing-vote districts in Nevada and Michigan, sending their funds through Countdown ’87. They plan to adopt other “sister districts” as need arises.

“But does all this really make a difference?” we so often ask, as we reach once again for a pencil to sign a petition, lick the stamp for a letter to Congress, or pick up the phone for a call to Washington.

The answer is definitely YES, however it may seem otherwise. People in the peace movement get discouraged – they see, for example that all their efforts to stop the arms race have barely been able to stop the building of new weapons. They forget how long it all takes. Historically, legislative efforts that succeed in bringing about significant change are the last stage in a long process. Before then, there has to be a real turn-around in public opinion through education and consciousness-raising and committed action of many kinds. When the public comes to accept the alternative policy, lobbying is very effective, even crucial, for changing policy.

And the effects of lobbying go beyond making a difference for one vote or another. Besides providing opportunities for people to learn about particular issues, putting together a lobbying campaign can also help build and strengthen grassroots organizations. As people get more active in the political process, they gain a better understanding of how it works and what its limits are, becoming more effective agents of change. Furthermore, as people become more involved, their senators and representatives in turn are forced to become accountable to them – or face serious threat of removal from office. As Senator Dixon’s aide said, “Their feelings are something he has to listen to… they will have a major effect on his vote.”

PDF grantee Center for Artistic Revolution

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.”

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.”

Why Can’t Progressives Get Traction?

13 07 2011

As we go into the next election cycle, many on the Left who were enthusiastic about the advent of President Obama and a new political time are now disenchanted and reluctant to re-engage in the mainstream political process. An article from Peace Developments in 1998 suggests that the preliminary lessons from the Peace Development Fund’s Listening Project remain unlearned.

from Peace Developments, Spring 1998

“The Listening Project: Exploring the Pre-Millennium Potential of Progressive Movement-Building”

The United States has not seen a progressive social change movement strong enough to gain substantial victories since the ‘60s. At time sit is hard not to think that we are losing ground as economic inequality becomes more marked and attacks on immigrants, poor people, and organized labor increase. While the progressive movement won critical victories in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the backlash from those successes resulted in the regalvanization of the Right. The progressive movement became ideologically fractured, and in the absence of a uniting vision, the Right was able to win popular opinion about a series of narrowly focused, reactionary ideas based on its own self-interest. As we grow closer to the millennium, PDF is increasingly concerned about the Left’s ability to build real and lasting progressive change.

PDF believes that there are several barriers that inhibit progressive work from achieving greater impact. To name just a couple of those barriers, too many organizations are working in isolation, disconnected from each other and from larger national issues and information, while many of the Left’s victories have been local, leaving a serious need for more regional and national successes. It is in this context that PDF believes it is time to be asking harder questions of ourselves. How can we create consequential change on a national level? How can we make the transition from localized and disconnected work to a strong, broad-based, progressive movement that has the power to transform the national landscape?

Out of the desire to answer these questions – to make sure PDF’s efforts are targeted most effectively to create lasting change – arose the Listening Project. The Listening Project was designed specifically to hear from social change organizers and activists, across a spectrum of sectors and from around the country, to gather thoughts on movement-building in today’s political and social milieu. People’s responses have been intriguing and informative, and have also raised additional, critical questions.

What Is a Social Change Movement?

Listening Project participants are being asked, “What does the term ‘social change movement’ mean to you?” There are some widespread commonalities as well as interesting differences in how people are thinking about social change movements. A common vision seems to be the most necessary characteristic according to respondents, without which people are not connected. The great majority of interviewees feel that, for the most part, progressive work remains disconnected, lacking a shared analysis, consciousness, or vision.

Barriers and Challenges to Building a Broad-based, Progressive Movement

In the “Undoing Racism” training of the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond participants are asked to define racism. As their ideas and thoughts are written down, it is clear that people have extremely diverse ways of thinking about racism. Such a varied analysis has colossal implications for undoing or dismantling racism. How can people and organizations that have widely different views about racism work together to dismantle it? Language is very important for developing a shared understanding of issues, and many people have suggested that much more effort must go into creating a common framework for understanding such issues as poverty, racism, and class before we can work together in a meaningful way.

Many interviewees mentioned the need for simultaneous, multiple approaches to progressive social change work. Despite the acknowledgement of the need for diverse roles and strategies in movement-building, there was an overall belief that the various sectors are not interested in connection to one another. This is definitely a point of tension, and a perceived weakness among the Left. Many people are working with the opinion that their strategy is the most effective path toward change, without understanding the synergistic role of the various progressive sectors. For example, without grassroots organizing, there will be no base of people to push progressive policies through, yet there are few policy organizations that outreach to and receive input from the grass roots.

Perhaps one of the most talked about barriers to building a broad-based movement is the challenge of articulating our message. A large majority of interviewees in the Listening Project are talking about our lack of influence with the media. Our work, very simply, is not being reported. This is a devastating problem resulting in serious public misconceptions about truth and reality and an under-representation of the successful progressive work that is happening. People advocated the need for more media savvy and an increase in alternative media projects.

The second aspect of the challenge of articulating our message lies in how we craft our communications and our campaigns to resonate with people and to create links across difference. What are the issues that lend themselves to coalition-building and connecting diverse constituencies? Can we organize around those issues? Some of the issues that have the potential to build bridges are living-wage campaigns, environmental justice, education, and defeating the anti-democratic Right.

Wedge issues pose a serious challenge to the goal of building a broad-based movement. There are huge numbers of organizations that stay away form critical issues in fear of losing membership. Many interviewees expressed the need for help in dealing with high levels of homophobia among their membership. Along the Bible Belt, for example, although organizations may successfully organize around economic justice issues, they avoid working on a gay rights case lest their membership dwindle. In order to address wedge issues and keep them from splitting us apart, many interviewees emphasized the need for extensive education around cultural and oppression issues: This is the pre-work that must be done before a broad –based movement can truly coalesce, they said.

Geographic isolation increases the challenges presented by the lack of a common language or analysis and the efforts to connect oppressions. PDF’s Exchange Project all too often sees groups attending regional workshops, realizing for the first time how many communities face struggles similar to their own. In the Northeast, where the population is highly concentrated and consists predominantly of urban and suburban communities, isolation is not a problem. But the Southeast, Southwest, Midwest, and Northwest have predominantly rural communities. In these regions, groups need more resources and more opportunities to come together.

Surprisingly high numbers of interviewees mentioned factionalism, ego, and turf issues as major barriers keeping progressive work from coming together. When individuals or organizations are more interested in their individual successes than in the greater good, movement-building can be extremely difficult. Unfortunately, these are barriers for which interviewees have no, so far, offered solutions.

As we bring the Listening Project to a close later this spring, we look forward to sharing what we are hearing and learning. In publishing and distributing the findings for the Listening Project, it will be a tool for individuals and organizations interested in movement-building. It will be an examination of the trends in how people think about progressive movement-building, and the implications of those trends. We hope it will spark further dialogue and planning, encouraging others to look at their own work.

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.