President of CDA (Collaborative for Development Action), Inc.
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: Lots of the trauma programs and lots of peace education programs and so on are at the personal level unless they can go into some structural or institutional manifestation, they sit there and they do good, but they don't bring peace.
One of the most telling ways that we got our information about this was through a conversation with one of the Israelis who has been involved in a number off the record and on the record dialogues over the years with Palestinians and as leader in this process over time, has become quite prominent. She made the point that when she has been in dialogue groups, with Palestinians, where they were off the record they were there to get to know and understand each other and they were there to hammer out agreements with each other. But off the record, they were staying in what she would call the upper right hand quadrant which is with key people because they are key people. They are doing it at the personal individual level that she has established extremely warm and good contacts and good friendships with certain Palestinians through this but it has had no discernable impact on peace because they have done nothing to take it out in the sphere in the institutions and politics of society and they stayed only in their own setting. When they have taken what they have done in a dialogue and translated it into public statements, demonstrations, articulated principles of negotiations, used it to pressure the political leaders of their society and so on, then they have had a more discernable impact on progress towards not yet achieved peace. So that shows self analysis on her part and she said this in a session we were running with a number of people who had been involved in dialogues in different conflict areas and they all agreed and said you are absolutely right that when, this is a group of
Greek and Turk Cypriots and Eritrea Ethiopians who were in the room and they said that is absolutely true when we are off the record and we don't do anything to go outside the doors we make good friendships and have a good time but it makes no impact because it doesn't go out of that personal, individual level where were just getting to know each other. So that is quite significant.
Then the other thing we found was that if you undertake a more people strategy without doing anything to affect key people or if there is a key people strategy that does nothing to affect more people then it doesn't add up to the momentum that is needed to make a significant change towards peace. And again the example that I just shared about the Israeli woman gets to that in a way because she said so here we are some key people getting to know each other but if we don't translate that out into the institutional realm and bring it to the more people so that people are ready to come along with an agreement, we can make an agreement but nobody is going to go with us because they are not ready for it in any sense.
Then also we have seen campaigns where lots of people demonstrate but if you have a couple of key people who have an interest, I mean look at Angola--a country in which we were told year after year how many people hated the war and wanted it to end and yet it went on and on because certain people were driving it and gaining from it. So it is not just a matter of changing the attitudes and minds of those people; they wanted it to end, they couldn't have cared less, but it was still being driven so one had to get into the institutional realm and affect the key people as well.
Q: One of the things I wanted to ask you about that little matrix was "Is it difficult to move the individual personal level on to the sociopolitical institutional level, if you are trying to create a safe space where it is so contentious for people to speak in the first place that to have any sort of institutional commitment after a personal change is almost too much?" And because a lot of the principles of basic dialogue and peace building are that it is all confidential and nobody is going to have to know about this otherwise people wouldn't come to the dialogue in the first place. How do you reconcile that?
A: Strategically, in the following sense. Sometimes this group of people who had been particularly involved in dialogues had their own conclusion that sometimes it makes sense to have off the record sessions, but rarely. They said they think it is far over used and over blown as important to get people to come and very often people who are willing to go into dialogues are willing to be publicly seen to go into dialogues.
The information often leaks out very quickly anyway and you know one of them said you see your picture on the front page of the paper coming out of a session that you thought was a secret meeting any how. So in some ways, you probably should be public from the beginning. So they put far less emphasis on the need to have secrecy then we typically do in the field.
A: Even so they said well yes there are sometimes when the dangers engaged, involved are so great or it is just illegal in a context, sometimes you need to have some privacy and some place in which you can do this off the record and quietly. But if it stays there, it is just not doing any good. They said maybe you want to start there but if you don't have a plan from early on about how to translate that out into the more people and into the institutional realm then why do it?
Q: I wonder if some of those people might have said we should have been more public about it after they went through the process and I wonder if they would have had that same attitude going into it?
A: It's a good question. We explored it a bit and it is hard to say. I think it would vary in those settings because of how much danger would have been involved when they were getting started. In the terms of the people of the room I guess the real challenge that I took from their reflections was that we shouldn't have an automatic assumption that you have to start with off the record and even if we do judge that in a given situation in order to get people there you really need to do that, that built into the system should be the question always on the table, so now what, where are we going to go next, what are we going to do to make the change that needs to be made other then knowing and loving each other. And I think this is up to people who bring people together for dialogue.
I think very often we have to take that more seriously than if they are just struggling to get together to have the first conversations they won't be thinking and so then what do we do next. They will just be thinking how can I listen to this person who has been my enemy or how can they listen to me. So it is up to the dialogue organizer to say very early on that experience shows that at some point if we are going to do anything with this and if we make any progress, we have to make some linkages across those other quadrants.