PROGRESS AND OBSTACLES IN NORTH AMERICA
(data from 53 organizations in Canada and the United States)
PROGRESS:Both Canadian and US organizations report progress toward a culture of peace in their own work. For the most part, they do not address the question of progress at a national or international level, but they do see increased awareness and cooperation in the particular cities where they work, including Hamilton (Ontario), Vancouver (British Columbia), Calgary (Alberta), Cincinnati (Ohio), Houston (Texas), Northfield and St Paul (Minnesota), New Haven (Connecticut), Quabbin (Massachusetts), New York City and in particular states (Connecticut, Minnesota). In Canada a nationwide Culture of Peace Program has been launched. Organizations specializing in non-violence like the Fellowship of Reconciliation report increasing membership and interest.
An advance is seen in the awareness and practice of mediation, restorative justice and other alternative forms of conflict resolution to settle disputes. There are many programs in schools, as well as in communities, and even prisons, often involving training programs that may involve local police departments and members of the communities they serve. In one community “We now teach conflict resolution and mediation to over 1,500 school children each year in this mostly rural region (and have) trained over 100 community members as mediators.”
Regular peace vigils by many local groups receive an overwhelming positive response; this contradicts the impression given by the mass media that the population is evenly split between support and opposition to war and militarism. “People seem heartened to know that they were not alone or crazy in their yearning for peace.” In both Canada and the US people are trying to get support for a Department of Peace at the level of the federal governments.
The “Student Pledge Against Gun Violence” has been signed by more than 10 million young people and may have contributed to a dramatic decrease in gun deaths among young people.
OBSTACLES: Many agree with the statement that “the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11 have made many people feel depressed and powerless to influence events.” And many point to the emphasis on violence by the mass media as another obstacle: “people are constantly bombarded with daily images of violence on television, in the movies, at sports events, and in their popular video games.” At the same time, the Internet is often seen as a positive mobilizing and consciousness-raising tool. At a local level, “The Internet has made it possible to get information out quickly to all concerned which has facilitated the
work. The sense of community is enhanced.” At a global level, “there is definitely more conversation between international peace organizations.” The Canadian Culture of Peace Program reports over a million visitors to their website since its inception in 1998.
Funding is a major obstacle for many of the organizations, since they rely on donations and volunteer labor. This is also a problem for the schools in both Canada (“BC teachers are under stress because of government budget cuts”) and the US (“As the schools and youth groups have less funding, they are less able to join us.”).
PROGRESS AND OBSTACLES IN THE CARIBBEAN
(based on data from 22 organizations in Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico)
PROGRESS: Reports from this region are often tied to particular campaigns for human rights and demilitarization. Organizations in Puerto Rico celebrated a victory in 2003 after many years of struggle to reclaim the Island of Vieques from the US military which used it for a bombing range. A leading role was played by women, using “civil disobedience, nonviolence, dialogue and consensus as forms of struggle and participation.” As one organization explains, “Our people lived and proved the force of peace against the violence of the military.” Most struggles are ongoing, such as those described for the rights of Haitian women and children refugees in the Dominican Republic and for access to water in certain Puerto Rican communities.
Progress is often described in terms of “consciousness development”. For example, the UNESCO Chair for Peace Education in Puerto Rico engages in “education, research and action” for “the promotion and consciousness development for a culture of peace.” Alternative methods of conflict resolution are increasingly taught and practiced throughout the region. A campaign is sensitizing people that children’s toys should not glorify war and violence.
OBSTACLES: Organizations throughout the Caribbean, like others around the world, find that the lack of funds is a serious obstacle to their work. Many emphasize that the inequalities between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, is a major obstacle. Another problem is “difficulties of integration and regular communication among the organizations and institutions working on these themes in the region, as well as distribution and access to materials they have produced on this matter.” Organizations in Haiti report that they are especially hampered by political instability and lack of democratic participation, while in Puerto Rico there is difficulty in international participation as a consequence of its “relation of political subordination.”