ESR Professor of Peace and Justice Studies Lonnie Valentine brings us this report from the 6th International Conference on Conflict Resolution Education, held June 12 – 17, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio:
(Picture from an intensive 2 day working group meeting of colleges and universities developing peace and conflict studies programs from 4 year and 2 year institutions as well as many organizations that work in education.)
As we watch our country turn against own citizens as it has turned on millions around the world, it is easy to get discouraged. The Trayvon Martin murder by a troubled stalker with state sanction to murder is an apt metaphor for our descent. Zimmerman holds up a mirror to what we have become. We are encouraged to be each others deadly enemies with the support of our own government and its corporate sponsors.
However, though these events can lead to despair and frustrated anger, I had the opportunity to spend six days immersed in a conference with peace educators from around the world. At the Sixth Annual Conference on Conflict Resolution Education, there were over 200 participants from some 21 countries there, sharing both the struggles and successes of their work. Also, there were representatives from colleges, governments, intergovernmental organizations, and multinational non-governmental organizations. Yes, to hear of what others face in dealing with the violence in their countries was hard, but hearing these stories struck me as a way to of qualifying my sense of American “exceptionalism” That is, my despair that the United States Empire is the greatest purveyor of sickening violence around the world was strangely relieved is seeing that we are not alone.
However, most encouraging was seeing the fortitude and commitment of individuals and their organizations hanging in there to offer another way of addressing violence. These people and their stories were inspiring. Here are but a few examples:
- a young woman from El Salvador working with street gangs
- a former staff of the US Institute of Peace presenting research on how many US community colleges are developing peace studies programs
- a teacher working with students at his school tin Appalachia develop a “Peace Club” which to his surprise was meeting a great need he did not know was there
- community college students leading a program called Sustained Dialogues to address the great racial, class and ethnic diversity at their campus
- two young people from the Balkans working to heal conflicts there and teach alternative dispute resolution to other young people form the region
- social science research supporting the view that successful nonviolent resistance makes for stronger democracies that are less likely then to descend into civil war
- seeing what the US Institute of Peace is providing for middle and high school teachers on peace education
- how the Organizationof American States is working to promote more student exchanges in the Americas
The highlight of the conference for me was working with ESR graduate Silas Wanjala for our workshop presentation on the Alternatives toViolence programs in Kenya. It was great to see Silas again and see him connect with other peacemakers from Africa. To see what he is doing--as with other ESR grads in their ministries--is the most encouraging aspect of my teaching. You can read more about Silas's work here.
I have collected many resources from this conference, and would be happy to send you electronic resources and links to organizations. For a fine overview of what went on and resources you might find of use, check out the Facebook page for this conference: www.facebook.com/international.cre.conference13