Registration is open for the 2017 Summer Peacebuilding Institute, which offers 23 five- and seven-day courses in May and June, with several focused on strategic organizing, nonviolent resistance, coalition-building and tough conversations. (Photo of 2016 SPI participants by Andrew Strack)

Prepare for civic engagement and tough conversations in polarized times at 2017 Summer Peacebuilding Institute

The skills taught for 22 years at Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute have always been relevant to people in the United States, but now they have a renewed significance.

Learning how to communicate in polarized communities, turning conflict into connection, recognizing and analyzing systems of oppression, taking steps in your community toward dismantling those systems — these are some of the peacebuilding skills that more than 3,000 people from 124 countries have learned since SPI began in 1994.

Now there’s a heightened awareness among many living in this country — citizens and non-citizens alike —that participation in marches and protests, and even the fuzzy concept of “resistance,” isn’t enough to solve the serious challenges the country faces.

That’s a realization SPI director Bill Goldberg expects many first-time participants in civic action and advocacy to have, a realization also reflected in his communications with alumni and participants at a recent one-day training for regional peacebuilders.

“What is the next step to stay involved for a first-time marcher? How does a person who realizes his neighbor might be deported help? If you disagree, perhaps for the first time, with your political party or Congressperson, how do you speak out? We need to think about long-term solutions to make progress and that requires new skills for anyone, across the political spectrum, who is motivated to political and social action.”

Throughout May and June of 2017, SPI offers 23 five- and seven-day courses, with several focused on strategic organizing, nonviolent resistance, coalition-building and tough conversations.

“Think Thanksgiving dinner,” Goldberg jokes. “Next year, it can be better.”

‘Choose your next wise move…’

“Let us help equip you to choose your next wise move,” says human systems design expert Dr. Glenda Eoyang, who will teach “Adaptive Action: Nonviolent Resistance for the 21st Century.” “We are a long way from the civil rights movement, where physical oppression was visible in segregation, the lunch counter, the policemen and dogs. Now oppression is virtual. How do you resist hate?”

In all SPI courses, practical skill-building is the priority, Goldberg says. Participants will come away with concrete strategies that have been tried and tested by peacebuilders around the world.

For example, Eoyang’s course will teach how to “effectively engage in the political and social world when you are pulled in many directions, analyze the dynamics that drive complex change in human systems, and find practical ways to respond to forces that oppress.”

“We have 22 years of experience helping people work for justice, peace and good governance in places where governing systems are not working well and where people are in conflict,” Goldberg said. “If we want a world that is built on peace with justice, we need to work effectively, without the expectation of government support, at the community, local and regional levels in every country, including our own.”

Selected Courses

Session 2, May 18 – 26, 2017: Adaptive Action: Nonviolent Resistance for the 21st Century, with Dr. Glenda Eoyang.

Choose your next wise action to transform oppression into opportunity. Learn how to effectively engage in the political and social world when you are pulled in many directions. Analyze the dynamics that drive complex change in human systems and find practical ways to respond to forces that oppress.

Session 3, May 29 – June 2, 2017: Restorative Justice Organizing for Communities, with Dr. Carl Stauffer and Soula Pefkaros.

A powerful restorative justice is one that is integrated into all movements for liberation and justice, reaching beyond the confines of the criminal justice system. This begins in our communities. Together we will uncover and expand the application of restorative justice frameworks and practices to community building and community organizing.

Session 4, June 5 – 9, 2017: Engaging Polarized Communities for Shared Action, with Dr. Jayne Docherty.

Learn to organize across divides to create a vision of a shared future and identify opportunities for shared action. Frame invitations that bring people together. Bring someone from your “other side” or come alone. Learn to identify opportunities for shared action. Play with framing invitations that bring people together. Explore approaches that have worked in polarized communities. Leave with concrete ideas for your situation.

Session 5, June 12 – 16, 2017: Tough Conversations: Turning Conflict into Connectedness, with Dr. David Campt.

As the society we live in is becoming more and more polarized, people are exploiting and fearing differences rather than celebrating diversity. To keep communities from fracturing along religious, socio-economic, and cultural lines, we need to learn how to have difficult conversations with people across the spectrum from where we sit. Learn to listen and hear people from all sides of an issue. Design and harness the power of dialogue to turn tense situations into opportunities for collaboration.

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