Learning with Peacemakers to End Violence and Build Peace

Tuesday, January 16, 2018TOPICS: Faculty and Staff

begin quoteWhile none of these problems are new, this year marked a qualitative shift that forces us to look at the U.S. through a peacebuilding lens.

No more “Us and Them”; no more “Here and Over There.” For those of us within the peacebuilding field in the United States, this has been a sobering year. My colleagues and I at the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice have all spent years working with individuals and organizations around the world to support their efforts to end violence, strengthen relationships and build tolerant, inclusive societies. This year, these problems confronted us with a new urgency at home.

In the United States, we saw the normalization of racist and xenophobic rhetoric within our politics. We saw continued efforts to disenfranchise a large number of voters. We saw a violent attack on Republican members of Congress and violence on several U.S. university campuses. And we saw an increase in violent attacks by white extremists against minorities. The Kroc School of Peace Studies’ building itself was defaced with swastikas — perhaps the single most powerful symbol of hate that exists.

All of this is fraying our social fabric, increasing intolerance and making our society less open and inclusive. While none of these problems are new, this year marked a qualitative shift that forces us to look at the United States through a peacebuilding lens. The dynamics we see within the United States are the very dynamics we’ve seen drive violence in countries around the world. We now must honestly reckon with the fact that our society is at a significantly higher risk of wide-scale social violence.

How does the dangerous political and social moment we are experiencing in the United States inform the approach of the Kroc School’s IPJ to peacebuilding? More than anything, it has solidified our commitment to a new mission and strategy. This year, we developed a mission statement for the Kroc IPJ that reads, “Together with peacemakers, we develop powerful new approaches to end cycles of violence, while advancing that learning locally and globally.” The mission represents a commitment to co-create knowledge with peacemakers — knowledge that is grounded in the lived reality of peacemakers, that is made rigorous by all the resources of our university ecosystem, and that can be immediately applied by those working to end violence and build peace.

We have put the co-creation of knowledge at the core of the Kroc IPJ’s mission because peacebuilding requires learning. Peacebuilding is fundamentally about shifting complex social systems away from a state where violence is the norm and toward a state where conflict can be managed nonviolently. Working on complex social systems means there are no set recipes for success. Instead, this work requires approaches that begin with deep expertise and the best knowledge available and then combines that knowledge with continuous learning and adaptation. Working on complex social systems also requires working in partnership with those on the inside of those systems. That means working with peacemakers to learn with them about how to shift societies away from violence and toward peace.

To say that you will work in true partnership with peacemakers to create applied learning, that knowledge will be truly co-created, is an easy thing to say but a hard thing to do in practice. There are myriad reasons why this is the case, but the one point I want to emphasize here is that what is happening now in the U.S. will make these partnerships easier. Although problems in the U.S. do not come close to the problems being experienced by those in Syria or Venezuela, we now know on a much more visceral level that we have much to learn from those in other countries who have fought against polarization and demagoguery and have fought to prevent violence and build inclusive societies.

In the past, those in the peacebuilding community, myself included, have often come to a partnership with “local” peacemakers in a true spirit of cooperation and collaboration but without this genuine recognition that we also need to learn. This will no longer be the case. As we work in the coming years to co-create the rigorous, applied learning that is at the heart of our mission, that learning will not just be for them; it will be for us and those we serve here in the United States. It won’t just advance the cause of peace and justice over there, but everywhere.

Contact:

Dana Thonglyvong
dthonglyvong@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-7618

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies

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