Police Brutality Vigil Tonight, 8/14, 7pm Union Sq NYC

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What has happened in Ferguson, MO this week, and LA, and I’m sure many other American cities that we aren’t hearing about, is unacceptable. And it is scary, and it is heart breaking.

But the violence in our communities – much of which comes from over armed police forces – is not inevitable, and it is not hopeless.

There is something we can do about it.

It’s time to come together and make a change. Come out if you can. Hold a candle. Hold your neighbor’s hand. Make a statement that this is not ok.

I just received this email from a colleague organizing one of many vigils in NYC tonight:

Here is the event page on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/696125507103287/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming

There are multiple locations in Manhattan: Harlem, Union Square, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. This is a nationwide vigil. Here is the facebook community page: https://www.facebook.com/NMOS2014

The vigil was organized by Blogger @FeministaJones. You can also follow the vigils here at #NMOS14 on twitter. I am the primary organizer for the event tonight in Union and my twitter is @StilettoViper.

This is NOT a protest. It is a peaceful vigil. At 7:20 EST we will be observing 60 seconds of silence. This is a time for people to come together and mourn. This is not a place for violence.

See you in the streets.

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Turkey Can Teach Israel How To Make Peace

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Our headlines have been filled with an overwhelming amount of violence and conflict lately – Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Central America. Fortunately, this week, Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol has published a New York Times Op-Ed about how we can build peace.

The article is titled Turkey Can Teach Israel How To End Terror. To me, that headline exemplifies our cultural focus on war and violence at the expense of focusing on the outcome we want – peace. Terror gets more clicks than peace.

But regardless, Akyol makes several salient points. Continue reading

Fewer wars and less peace? What to do about it.

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Last month, the Institute for Economics and Peace released the 2014 Global Peace Index. The results are frustrating: the world has been getting less peaceful for the last several years. And at the same time, the number of wars between countries is also declining. How is that possible? Read my analysis of the 2014 Index report on Pacific Standard:

In short, the nature of peace is changing. Breakdowns in peacefulness are becoming more decentralized, and peacefulness relies more heavily on social structures and non-state actors as opposed to exclusively governments and formal militaries. Peace is becoming more democratic, if you will. Given the severity of organized, inter-state conflict in the 20th century, the trend of declining militarization and international war implies that we have made progress in solving 20th-century problems.

The rise of internal conflict, in all its forms, demonstrates that people are unsatisfied with their governments, economies, and social structures. We don’t need complicated econometrics to tell us that—the Arab Spring movements, the anti-austerity protestors, and even ISIS have made their dissatisfaction abundantly clear. Meanwhile, violent markets—like the drug trade—are growing as opportunities in formal, non-violent markets disappear.

Click through for the full article.

The Pacific Standard site doesn’t do comments, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions here or on social media. Do you think this analysis makes sense? Are we doing the right things to address our 21st century problems? Do you have an innovative idea for building peace?

ICYMI, #economicviolence

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Last Friday, the complicated term #economicviolence began trending on Twitter in the U.S. after Andy Smith, Suey Park, and Prison Culture initiated a tweet chat. People shared personal experiences, and the statistics that represent those stories in aggregate.

Of course, before long, tweets along the lines of “get a job,” and “get a dictionary” began to appear. Accordingly, as my job is to deal with the issues and ideas of economic violence, I want to discuss a few definitions. (And that’s not to say others aren’t already articulating these ideas well. I just hope to add to the chorus.)

Violence is a notoriously difficult thing to define. It seems straightforward at first – we can all immediately picture a fight, a war, murder, or rape.

And yet there is a lot of harm and pain in the world that is seemingly difficult to classify. For example, too many of us are familiar with the way language can be violent, even in the absence of physical contact between two people. Whether property damage is violence is a classic question, especially among activists.

There is also a great deal of clearly preventable injury and death that does not appear to come directly from an individual – the death of a child from hunger or from a disease easily cured in a richer part of the world; the illness suffered by a homeless person in a city full of vacant and foreclosed homes.

Or there is clear violence, but from an amorphous source, such as war waged by The United States. (Who, exactly, is The United States?)

And for all forms of harm – either directly inflicted or of a source more difficult to identify – there are the cultural norms that make us comfortable with its use. We may believe capital punishment or a “just” war are necessary evils, but they are violent nonetheless.

These different kinds of harm are known as direct violence, structural violence, and cultural violence.

Direct violence refers to observable incidences of self-directed, interpersonal, or collective violence, including physical, verbal, or psychological acts and acts that inhibit or insult our basic needs and/or physical persons.

Structural violence refers to the systemic ways in which a given social structure or social institution harms people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs.

And cultural violence is the ways in which aspects of our culture – art, media, political and economic narratives – legitimize the use of direct and structural violence.

Economic violence can be, and is, all three.

On paper, we’ve changed the rules (in the U.S.) so that neither direct nor structural economic violence should remain. Women and Americans of color – responsible for the vast majority of the unpaid and underpaid labor that made the wealth of white men possible over the course of several centuries – are now legally allowed to participate in the economic rule making (via voting) and cannot be officially barred from the spaces of power and privilege (university classes, board rooms, golf courses, etc.). But as groups, we  still work from a structural disadvantage.

Personally, my family’s story looks like the American dream. You could attribute the lack of harm, illness, and injury in my life to my hard work and that of my parents and grandparents. But my race, citizenship, and class privilege have meant I’ve had help: I’ve gotten a loan when I needed it, been given the benefit of the doubt in a court room, been able to take unpaid internships, and have had access to professional networks that I did not build. It is a fact that not all Americans can say the same, and that they do experience harm and hardship in their lives because our culture and social structure do not make these benefits available to all.

In the post-financial crisis economy, the difference between economic privilege and not is homelessness, hunger, imprisonment, illness, and increased exposure to direct violence. Economic privilege affords safety: safe working conditions, safe neighborhoods, cab rides late at night, somewhere to go for help, and the assumption of legitimacy when we need to call on police.

Violence is a complicated element of humanity, and the injury or harm one person experiences may not look like direct violence at the individual level. But when we step back, for a broad view of the structure and the culture, and we see that the same harm is repeatedly inflicted upon individuals from the same groups, it becomes clear that violence is in fact taking place. In part, we find it to be violence because our culture and social structure are our own creation. We make the rules, and we can make them differently.

Predictably, it didn’t take long for the #economicviolence hashtag to fill with anger (and misconceptions) about communism and socialism. I’m partially motivated to present this larger framework around economic violence because I think that responding to a concern about harm inflicted upon people by the current economic system with hyperbole about alternative economic structures really misses the point.

Shortly before Howard Zinn passed away, I was fortunate enough to hear him speak. He shared that, in his experience, when the average person is asked if everyone should have access to health care and education, they say yes. When asked if the poor should be provided with homes or if corporations should be given the opportunity to build high rises and earn more profits, people say that the poor should be given homes. He gave several examples and concluded by noting that we may call these things socialism, but by and large, when asked about the realities without the vocabulary, this economy that provides for all is the one we want to live in.

I am not aware of anyone in the United States advocating for a USSR-style centrally planned economy – that the government should tell us how many shoes and light bulbs and toilets will be produced and when and where and by whom. Where the market works, we’re happy to work it. But the economy is our own creation, and if we seek to create it in a nonviolent way that reduces harms and supports the health and happiness of our neighbors, that isn’t something to argue about. That’s something to build together.

Violence in the Arab Spring: A Look at Revolutions and Peace

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I’m teaching a class tomorrow night at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU – a course called Structures of Peace – and we’re going to talk about revolution and protest from a peacebuilding perspective.

The preeminent measurement of peace in the world’s countries – the Global Peace Index – accounts for revolution in a way that worsens a country’s peacefulness score. And indeed, all successful protests are disruptive (that’s the point), and many revolutions are bloody. But if we see peace from the perspective of everyone having their needs met without systemic deprivation (i.e., positive peace), there’s no doubt that some revolutions need to happen. In addition, not all revolutions happen the same way – statistically, nonviolent civil resistance is twice as effective as violent civil resistance. Continue reading

If We Stop Fighting a War, It Won’t Be One

ojuelos de jalisco mexico
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Like Mali, conflict and violence in México is just now attracting significant international attention despite years of hardship for the people of these countries. There has been a lot of press in the last year, and the last few weeks, that highlights the violence and calls into question the national and international policy choices in México (even though – we hope – the violence may have begun to subside). As far away observers, we have a few narratives to choose from. And for those of us in the U.S., we can have some far-away influence. So, let’s look at what we know.

The challenges of peacebuilding and economic development in México are complex and will likely require years of deliberate action at grassroots, national, and international levels. But increased peacefulness is not impossible or entirely elusive. In México City, a representative from SERAPAZ told me about communities across the country that have used nonviolent direct action to protect their natural resources from organized crime, rejected the ineffective political structure imposed on them by the state, secured their rights to safe and fair work in their mines, and disbanded a corrupt police force, replacing it with community policing and nearly eliminating violence and crime in their community. These grassroots successes, which, I was told, offer hope and inspiration to other Mexican cities, contradict the narrative of Mexican and U.S. state agencies using law enforcement and military to impose order and security from the top-down. The difference between the national scene of appalling violence and local stories of success and possibility calls into question the approaches to security and peacebuilding throughout the Americas.

México is not the only American state facing these challenges, and two different narratives in the history of the hemisphere offer us different possibilities for the future. México and Colombia are different and complicated cases for peacebuilding, to be sure, but they are connected by the violent drug market that has devastated both nations. In one version of the international history, the state of Colombia had a violent drug problem in the 1980s and 1990s, and the state of the U.S., with the program Plan Colombia, brought its military down to the southern continent and solved the problem. Now, the state of México has a violent drug problem, and the Mexican and U.S. governments are attempting to solve it with military approaches once again.

But the same story can be told a different way: in the 1980s and 1990s the people of the southern Americas faced political and economic challenges that led them to use violence as a means to achieve their goals. As they struggled, the people of the northern Americas came to the southern continent with superior technologies of violence and moved their problem northward. The elites from the north and south worked together to remove the violent drug market from the southern continent, and, in response, the people working in this market went to the middle Americas. Today, the technology of elite violence has improved and is being employed on the northern continent, but the people engaged in this market have nowhere else to go.

The first narrative is consistent with centuries of imperial and state-centric political history. But the second offers an alternative, people-centric, nonviolent paradigm for the future. It suggests that by focusing on people, rather than states and militaries, we can build a system for managing competing interests and meeting basic human needs that does not require violence on anyone’s part (the state, the market, or otherwise). Top-down change will be needed to the extent that economic and political structures originate at the state level, but it is not the only option. By understanding the international drug trade as a market, we are likely to discover that peace economics is a much more effective tool in fighting what, truthfully, need not be called a war.

Some Thoughts on “The Market”

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Posts have been few and far between lately because I’m writing my masters thesis. It is all-consuming. But as I work, not everything that I write down can go in the final paper. Like this bit of editorializing… So I thought I would share it here. Your thoughts?

Market Failures and Externalities, Civil Society, and the State

To speak of market failures and externalities is to speak from an incorrect premise on the nature of ‘the market.’ This premise, which assumes that ‘the market’ will always lead to the best social outcome, denies the human element in this decentralized system. Perhaps because it is decentralized, and in theory not directed by any one corruptible or fallible individual (or small group), we do not see it as susceptible to the same human qualities that we control for in government or even in corporate management. However, the market in actuality is the sum of our economic activity. We, humans, are the market. Continue reading