By: Moses Williams
Hello reader! Welcome to the Cities of Peace blog -- a digital space for the Peace Fellows to reflect on their experiences in the Cities of Peace project. Over the next seven months you’ll read posts from all of us.
Our focus is singular: to examine our city, Chicago, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia to develop an understanding of the unique ways in which violence, both interpersonal and structural, manifests here and there. A major goal is to develop novel solutions to the problems we identify regarding violence and how to build peace. One of the ways we’ll accomplish that goal is by creating a curriculum that addresses specific iterations of interpersonal and structural violence in Chicago and proposes some solutions.
A unique aspect of this project is that is youth-led. We Peace Fellows, who range from the ages of 16 to 24, engage and participate in this project as equal collaborators with equal say in its direction. This was evinced last Saturday during our first discussion regarding the curriculum we are responsible for developing.
During our conversation, which Anton Miglietta, Lindsay Smith, and Emily Williams from the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce facilitated, we divided into two groups based on our interest and expertise in either interpersonal or structural violence and compiled lists containing examples of both forms of violence.
I found the list created by group discussing structural violence the most fascinating. It covered a variety institutions and oppressions both past and present (e.g., heterosexism, incarceration and the legal system, gentrification, capitalism, surveillance, debt/wage slavery, the foster care system, slavery, segregation, environmental destruction). However, these topics are not widely discussed in their relation to violence in the mainstream media. Instead, conversations regarding violence in Chicago and elsewhere tend to focus, almost solely, on interpersonal violence. Due, in part, to the media’s focus on specific incidents of violence. We do ourselves and our political discourse a disservice by neglecting to analyze the structural aspects of violence most of the problem is left unexamined.
There is no doubt that Chicago is a violent city. One only has to look at the controversial and infamous nickname “Chiraq.” Yet this title and its connotations are only the tip of the iceberg. We must recognize that the violence we encounter and hear about on a daily basis is perpetuated structurally by the institutions and systems that create and sustain the conditions that make that violence possible.
Expanding one’s view of what constitutes violence in this way leads one to the realization that violence takes on many forms. Forms of structural violence specific to Chicago include: the recent closing of 50 schools mostly on Chicago’s South and West sides in mostly Black and Brown neighborhoods; the closing of half of Chicago’s mental clinics (again mostly on Chicago’s South and West sides); and the torture of over 200 Black and Brown men from 1972-91 by the Chicago Police Department just to name a few examples. What all of these examples have in common, besides their disparate impact on Black and Brown people in Chicago, is the role the role institutions (i.e., Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Department of Public Health, and Chicago Police Department) play. Taking this more expansive view of violence requires that our vision of peace be equally expansive.
To build a more expansive vision of what peace looks like in Chicago is why Cities of Peace exists. And by collaborating with our counterparts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we seek to broaden our vision of peace to an international scale.
Yet before we can go about creating our expansive vision of peace locally and globally we must intentionally create an environment conducive for exchanging ideas. And that is what we have been doing for the past two months.
The discussions we have had regarding our shared values we use to inform our work together and the formation of guidelines to uphold those values reflect that.
This is how we have chosen to navigate the process of getting to know one another and build camaraderie. But we realize that whatever space(s) one inhabits one does not just bring oneself; one brings one’s friends and family and the people to whom one is closest. For we often derive meaning and purpose from and through our social connections. So in an effort to further build our peacebuilding community we hosted a “Cultural Exchange Brunch” for the fellows and their friends and family. A common refrain of a history professor I had while at Ball State went “... food sharing builds communities.”
Besides building community and relationships, the purpose of this event was to answer any questions the fellows and their friends and family have about traveling to Cambodia. And, of course, to eat! All the food we shared was made by those who attended. It was delicious! And it’s goodness was only amplified by all the love that went into preparing it. With gravity of the topics we are exploring it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey we have chosen to embark upon. This brunch reminded me of how much fun one can have doing this work and how seeking to care for others, at times, can be an act of self-care too.
I have high hopes for this program, and I know this journey to foster an expansive vision of peace for Chicago will be long and arduous, but what journey worth taking is neither long nor arduous? And with the love and support of my friends, family, and peers it is one I’m happy to take. For our lives and well-being are at stake.
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains." -- Assata Shakur