The inauguration of a new President is looming and incoming administration officials like billionaire Betsy DeVos—Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education–are stumbling through confirmation hearings with a mixture of deceit and ignorance. Just pause for a moment to consider that the person who can determine school gun laws cited protection from grizzly bears as the reason it should be up to locales to determine whether guns should be allowed in schools. If it weren’t so heartbreaking for the many people who have lost their loved ones in school gun violence and for those who fear they might fall within the almost weekly average of school shootings, the grizzly bear protective argument would be awkward to some, comical to others.
As an educator, I offer quite a different take, one that challenges the mere presence of the incoming administration and contributes to mainstreaming resistance and to citizens participating in our democracy. Peace education, an increasingly growing subset of education, can play a central role in training people to participate more effectively in society. Be advised, readers who are perfectly happy with the incoming administration might consider the following thoughts subversive, though I’d ask instead for constructive dialog.
Many previously apolitical U.S. Americans are now shocked, dismayed and protesting. If one thing is certain with the uncertainty of the new administration, nothing being imposed is normal and must not be normalized. Let us not forget that promises made during the campaign were harmful to the planet, Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, women, the LGBT community, the poor, etc. Civic participation and resistance are good antidotes for those who disagree with such ideologies.
Internationally recognized educators Cabezudo and Haavelsrud outlined requirements as to how peace education acts to transform democracies. The time has come to implement those steps where peace education becomes a form of resistance. I offer eight requirements in the context of resisting rising authoritarianism—unfortunately not solely a US phenomenon, but increasing elsewhere as well, from the Philippines to Russia to Turkey, as examples.
First, we need to examine power and authority. Latent power of civil society is enormous. We should not cede it to elites.
Second, we need to recognize that our causes and movements are interrelated. It’s fine to have different priorities, causes and passions, but when it matters we also need to come together to become stronger than the sum of all parts. There are times for immigrant rights groups, democracy advocates, civil rights organizations, gender rights groups, faith communities, environmental groups, peace advocates and many others to come together. Now more than ever.
Third, we need to develop a collective vision of nonviolent change of a system people from all parts of the political spectrum are fed up with. We need to merge the aspirational with the doable to revitalize our democracy. If we include more opinions, the political consciousness of all will grow.
Fourth, nonviolence must the one and only form of struggle. Not everyone is clear about the actual effectiveness of nonviolence based on numbers and diversity, nonviolent discipline and creativity to name a few factors. If done strategically, with discipline, with the whole playbook of established and new nonviolent methods, and communicated effectively to newcomers, nonviolence will indeed be a force more powerful.
Fifth, we need to develop inclusive communication forms. We have seen that calling people “homophobes,” “deplorables,” and “racists” did not have the expected effect. Peace education provides some of the most powerful approaches of creating inclusivity, of humanizing “the other”, and getting rid of presumptions, biases and stereotypes.
Sixth, we need to develop constructive relationships between actors. Let us come together to strengthen efforts, but also recognizing that alliances can be temporary and that there are times of simple solidarity with the other. Everyone’s cause matters, and we should not compete for the most important cause.
Seventh, we need to build institutional capacity. Initial outcries may fade. This is the time to stick to it and find ways to build sustainable alternatives.
Eight, we need to grow civic participation. Peace education makes participating in democracy the norm and not the exception. With broad civic participation under a theme of resistance the incoming destructive agenda can be challenged. Many excellent proposals, including a “First 100 Days Resistance Agenda” by economist and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, are circulating. Civic participation means contacting elected officials, running for local offices, adjusting consumer behavior (e.g. boycott anything related to the Trump brand), making cities sanctuary cities, writing letters to newspaper editors, using social media, contributing to organizations caring about your causes, and making resistance visible (bumper stickers) just to mention a few such modes.
All these are a form of resistance, and there is place for everyone who wishes to join.