Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dona Nobis Pacem

Happy Blogblast for Peace Day!

What, you may ask, does "Dona Nobis Pacem" mean?

According to the Blogblast For Peace site, it's Latin for "Grant Us Peace".

From some of my previous posts, you might know that I'm not a big fan of verbal pleas for peace that aren't backed by some sort of action. Countless peace marches, sleep-ins and candlelight vigils have done precious little to actually reduce the level of violence in our world.

Still, by participating in this global action, my hope is to raise awareness of legislative initiatives such as the Department of Peace and Youth PROMISE acts and, perhaps, enlist the skills and resources of some new activists who can help make a difference.



Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Dirty Water -> Despair -> Conflict -> Violence

This year's Blog Action Day topic is "Water", plain and simple. Many blogs will point out that access to clean water is a human right. They will say that getting clean, potable water to those living without is the first step in improving their living conditions. And those bloggers are right! For my part, I choose to focus on the chain of despair that leads from lack of access to clean water to conflict and, potentially, violence.

Mankind has a long, depressing history of fighting over resources - land, gold, diamonds, oil, you name it. Although my research hasn't yet turned up any evidence of wars having been fought over water, there is increasing evidence that the risk of such a thing happening is increasing daily as we ignore the plight of those most in need of clean water. Alexander Bell (no relation), in his March 2010 article on NewStateman.com pointed out that the lack of clean water is already causing conflict in Cyprus, Yemen, and Pakistan. According to Bell:
The most bitter conflicts of the next 50 years won’t be over oil. The prize commodity of the future is the stuff of life – water.
John Taylor's post "War Over Water" includes a quote from Boutros Boutros-Ghali that:
... the next war in the middle east will be fought over water, not politics.

This was from 1985, so he obviously got that wrong. But it's just a matter of time. Taylor also quotes a statistic from the Conservative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) predicting that if trends continue one in three of the world’s population will be affected by water shortage by 2025, with Africa having as many as 500 million people without access to clean water. If anyone thinks this type of situation will evolve peacefully, I'd like a hit of whatever it is they are smoking.

Check out some of the other Blog Action Day posts on Change.org and read what more eloquent authors are proposing to deal with the looming issue of Water. With all of the other problems we are facing - climate change, sustainable energy, Fox News - it's going to be tough to get any attention for the topic. But it's something we're going to have to address eventually, and the outcome will be far more humane if we deal with it sooner rather than later.



Saturday, September 11, 2010

The "First Aid" Model for Peacebuilding in Communities

As often happens, I recently found myself wandering the corridors of the internet inspired to learn more about the story behind one of the cool videos posted on DoPeace. The producer of the video hails from TheRSA.org, a U.K. group that describes itself as:

"... an enlightenment organisation devoted to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s pressing social problems."

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) has been around for more than 250 years and is currently exploring the concept of 21st Century Enlightenment. One of the pamphlets they commissioned for this program caught my eye - The-Woolwich-Model-Can-citizens-tackle-anti-social-behaviour.pdf.

The Woolwich paper points out that there is a long list of "anti-social" behaviours that degrade the quality of life in communities but fall short of the types of crimes that police forces are most concerned about. These types of behaviour (petty vandalism, underage drinking, loitering, civil disturbance) are mostly perpetrated by young people - often unemployed or otherwise lacking in constructive alternatives. Although some young people will grow out of this behaviour, some will carry this dysfunctional trait into old age while others will get caught up in the escalation of criminal activity and ultimately end up as wards of the state.

The Woolwich Model refers to the development in the late 1800's of citizen capabilities that came to be known as "first aid". Health officials in the town of Woolwich recognised that trained professionals cannot be everywhere all the time in order to respond to life-threatening emergencies. They further recognised that there were plenty of capable citizens available in these communities that, given the proper training and incentives, could provide the basic treatments (i.e., CPR) necessary to deal with injuries and stabilise the patient while waiting for the professionals to arrive. In the 100+ years since, the practice of lay people getting trained in CPR or First Aid by groups like the Red Cross is woven into the fabric of many societies.

Now, here's the good part! The RSA asks, "What if we apply this model to addressing anti-social behaviour?" Train people who are already embedded within the micro-communities to stabilise anti-social situations while waiting for police to arrive, or to defuse the situation and avoid the need for police action altogether! What a concept!

RSA identifies two main groups of potential "first responders" (think of the types of people who learn CPR):
  1. Public servants who already have frequent contact with the public as part of their jobs - parking enforcement officers, librarians, teachers, city/county employees, newspaper/postal delivery
  2. Citizen leaders who want to make a difference - shop/restaurant owners, parents, neighborhood watch groups
People would be motivated to participate in the program to gain skills that look good to employers and to help make their communities more desirable places to live.

The RSA approach also spells out three type of training that would be required for this model to work:
  1. Self-protection and restraint, which would provide responders with the skills and confidence they need to engage in an anti-social event
  2. Situation Assessment - knowing when to engage, when to walk away, and what techniques to apply
  3. Conflict Resolution - the techniques of meditation and nonviolence
(Are you as excited as I am at this point?)

The paper points out that these ideas need to be proven out in real-life and tweaked to each local environment. One organisation is already doing this - Dfuse out of London. (Maybe someone else will blog about this group?)

So, what do you think of this idea? Has anyone heard of this model being applied in the US? Does anyone have any thoughts about how to introduce it? Perhaps this is something the local "Promise Coordinating Councils" created as part of the Youth PROMISE act can tackle?

Are there any Social Entrepreneurs out there listening?

For further information, check out this video from RSA.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dollar "Billboarding" for Peace

Awhile back, I read an interesting article entitled "When Dollars Call for Change" by Emma Dumain on Congress.org. Ms. Dumain chronicles how activists and activist groups have been using dollar bills as inexpensive and effective means to get their message out to the public.
With a lifespan of close to 18 months , a typical $1 bill passes through hundreds if not thousands of hands and can travel pretty far around the country. Using a popular dollar-tracking website, WheresGeorge.com , a group of mathematicians determined that a single dollar bill can travel between 30 and 500 miles across the United States over a period of nine months.
Although Ms. Dumain mentions several interesting stories about different causes and how they have marked currency, she doesn't mention anything about the peace movement using this messaging channel. I would think that the peace movement would be all over this - it's a simple message, no cost, and there's an element of spreading the seeds of intention just by writing the phrase on paper. Kind of like a Buddhist prayer wheel.

As it turns out, at least one activist is supporting the peace movement through "dollar billboarding". I came across a random post on Twitter today from "The Survivor":
@christoferdrew i found a dollar bill that said "imagine a us department of peace" in pen. it made me think of you =D
She received the dollar in change from a bookstore in Bethesda, MD, and thought one of her favorite singers (Christofer Drew of "Never Shout Never") would like to know about it. She also posted a picture of "the magic dollar" - and vows to never spend it. Although that would be counter to the intent of dollar billboarding, you've got to love the spirit!

Now, some of you may be charged up by this as a opportunity for civil disobedience, while others of you may shy away from the approach because of concerns over legality. Ms. Dumain covers this in her research:
But technically speaking, it's not against the law unless perpetrators deface the currency "with intent to render such bank bill(s) ... unfit to be reissued."
So, grab your ultra-fine point red Sharpie pen, add your message of purpose to your currency, and get out there and stimulate the economy! I look forward to hearing of your Adventures in Dollar Billboarding!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Department of Peace Act Makes the Top Ten!

... list of Most Hopeless Bills on Congress.org. According to the author, Kristin Conyer:

"During 2007 and 2008, 11,077 bills were introduced in Congress, while just 460 were signed into law. That means for every new law that session there were 23 bills that didn't make it out of Congress. To be fair, some of those bills were resolutions congratulating sports teams that wouldn't have gone to the president or bills introduced just to make a point. Still, some of those unenacted bills stand out for their sheer hopelessness."

Perhaps I'm more than a little biased, but I don't think I would use the term "hopeless" to describe the DOP idea. Instead, I think I would go with "inevitable". What would you say?


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Empowering Civic Activism?

I greatly admire those who dedicate themselves, not only to championing important social causes, but also to the effort of engaging others in the democratic process. It seems as though more and more people and organizations are jumping on the bandwagon, which bodes well for the future IMHO. Change.org and Care2.com are leaders in this area, with millions of participants who regularly join together to engage in petitioning legislators and others to help bend the arc of history toward justice. Case Foundation is helping nonprofits spread their messages through on-line networking and philanthropy. And organizations like Pepsi and Ben & Jerry's have competitions to identify worthy activities and activists who can benefit from corporate backing and financial support.

But even with all of this effort to get people involved in the political process to help shape our society, many remain on the sidelines, for a variety of very personal reasons. Paul Loeb, author of "The Impossible Will Take a Little While," posted an article on Huffington Post entitled "Learned Helplessness", in which he explains some of the reasons many citizens withdraw from participating in the political process. He attributes much of this to the "how can I possibly make any difference" frame of mind that comes either from personal experience in the political arena or from watching others try and "fail".

"We're led to believe that if we can't instantly solve every one of these problems, we shouldn't bother to become socially active at all--an outlook that's helped create the difficult situation we now face. We feel we lack the time to properly comprehend the issues we care about, and fear that no one will listen to what we say. Our impulses toward involvement face a culture that demeans idealism, enshrines cynicism, and makes us feel naive for caring about our fellow human beings or the planet we inhabit."
The lopsided playing field dominated by well-paid professional lobbyists certainly doesn't help, does it?

Personally, I like the spirit that the Peace Alliance works to instill in its Department of Peace campaign activists - the effort is closer to a marathon than a sprint, and we need to take the approach of marathoners to be able to stay in it for the long haul. Everyone has their ups and downs and ebbs and flows (including yours truly) when it comes to activism, depending on what else is going on in their lives. But if we continue to dedicate and rededicate ourselves to the causes we care most deeply about, the sum total over the course of years will be a very positive thing.

Press on!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Department of Peace Presentation at Ignite Baltimore

The Ignite speakers forum is a challenging and rewarding avenue for presenting thought-provoking ideas to an open-minded audience. Check out this presentation from the March 4 Ignite Baltimore event: