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Building American Peacebuilding

Craig Zelizer

June 6, 2017

Last weekend, I helped organize and facilitate a workshop on how the peacebuilding community could respond and innovate in the tough political times that was held at George Mason University’s Point of View Retreat Center. In all, about fifty people representing networks of peacebuilders, community mediators, veterans, religious and spiritual leaders, data scientists, management consultants, and others spent two and a half days exploring the work we already do, finding overlapping efforts already under way, and laying out a schedule for what we could do together and separately until we gather again sometime next spring.

We decided to hold the event before last November’s election, but the polarization during the campaign and since it ended was at the heart of what we discussed. Whatever our personal feelings about the Trump administration and the current political atmosphere in general, we spent our time focusing on the unique contributions we could make as peacebuilders.

Our first conclusion was to mirror the values we profess in everything we do. Whatever we think about the specific policies or personalities in the news, we peacebuilders know that demonizing one’s adversary is almost always counterproductive. In particular, we explored ways to create what we call “safe spaces” for people to address the issues raised by polarization, the Trump presidency, the “red/blue” divide, and more.


Second, we realized that we need to create new “narratives” that would appeal to citizens dissatisfied with the status quo of all ideological stripes. For my own network—the Alliance for Peacebuilding—that means finding ways to work constructively in the United States as well as in conflict zones around the world where our members are already engaged.

Third, as surprising as it may seem, it was only in the final day of our retreat that we explicitly addressed the powerful potential networked organizations have which few of the organization represented in the rooms (and the lawns) at Point of View have tapped. In my own case, I spent time with two leaders of very different faith-based networks who had not even met each other before. Together, we realized that they could help AfP work with communities that conventional churches and the growing spiritual movement reach and vice versa.


Last but by no means least, we agreed to work together on existing projects, create new ones together, at least double the number of attendees at our next retreat in 2018, and dramatically amplify our collective impact on public opinion, American social norms, and our policy making process. Thus, although Gretchen Sandles and I have known Dot Maver and Kristin Famula of the National Peace Academy, this was the first time we had consciously planned to work together beyond our organizational silos.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members.



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