Ludmila is a senior Global Studies major with Arabic and Conflict Management minors.
This summer, I was a communications intern at Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Nonviolent Peaceforce is an NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland, and has programs operating in Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Iraq and the United States. NP’s primary approach to nonviolent peacekeeping is through the use of unarmed civilian protection (UCP). UCP can take many different forms, from rumour control and ceasefire monitoring to diffusing potentially violent situations with dialogue and presence. As a communications intern, I drafted social media posts and wrote articles to be published both on NP’s website and also other magazines and publications receptive to our message. I worked on the organisation’s glossary of terms, a document meant to make the academic jargon present in the NGO sector more accessible to our employees, volunteers and partners. I also compiled a document of other unarmed alternatives to policing across the United States in order to improve cross-organisational communication and collaboration. My biggest project was starting to translate our social media content from English into French, as part of a broader approach “internationalise” our social media platforms into German, French and Arabic in addition to English.
My biggest takeaway from this internship is not, however, all of the technical skills I have learned and practiced but my introduction to the world of peacekeeping, peacebuilding and unarmed civilian protection. When I started this internship in June, I had a lot of doubts about the efficacy and safety of unarmed civilian protectors often going up against armed militias and groups. I also was skeptical about the way calls for nonviolence have been used by powerful people to shame marginalised groups into submission while these same people uphold violent systems. Two quotes (one by Arundhati Roy and the other by Kwame Ture, respectively) shaped my initial skepticism surrounding nonviolence: “Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation,” and “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.” I had the opportunity to bring up these quotes as well as my skepticism with Mel Duncan, one of the cofounders of the organisation. Mel is first and foremost, a humanist, making his answer to my skepticism somewhat predictable. “I can count the amount of people I have talked to in my career who I truly believed didn’t have a conscience on one hand. We shouldn’t throw out the philosophy of nonviolence on their account.” We talked about the co-optation and bastardisation of nonviolent philosophy by the most wealthy and powerful in society. He showed me studies upon studies all coming to the same conclusion: every conflict that has taken place since World War 2 has ended in a stronger and more durable peace if it was reached nonviolently. We talked about how true nonviolence demands an end to systemic violence, such as carceral punishment or poverty, as well as interpersonal violence. After my conversation with Mel and the end of this internship, I have reached a central conclusion. As psychologist Abraham Maslow has theorised, people need a certain level of safety before they can start fulfilling other needs. True nonviolence can assure that everyone, even in times of conflict, can feel safe enough to focus their attention on reaching loftier ambitions, such as sustainable peace, human rights and prosperity.