Waging Constructive Conflict

June 30

            Today was another day of research and planning for the multinational camp next week. Mohammed asked me to read through the presentation outlines of the four people that will be leading workshops with the participants and then find relevant videos and instructions on the steps to making change, as well as to find several stories about successful cases of people-powered change. This information will be used for his workshop, which will aim to prepare the kids for activism and to become the leaders for change, as well as to show them, through examples, that young people can successfully make change in their communities and greater societies. He also said that there is an open hour and a half in the program schedule for me to make a presentation or do an activity with the kids, so I should start thinking about what that would look like.

            The presentations actually seem pretty interesting. One of them is about targeted advertising and how marketing creates social constructions that contribute to defining identity. Another is on the ways music and language contribute to the formation of a national identity and individual coherence to it. A third examines socio-economic status and its effects on access to education and opportunity in later life. The final subject is how media portrayals of gender define and limit our own roles as men and women. For each of these subjects, the presenter has two workshops: one about the ways that each of the mentioned outlets shapes identity and norms, and the second about why they need to change or how to use the same outlets constructively to redefine the norms.

            I really enjoyed reading the outlines of the information that the workshop leaders will share with the kids, as well as the activities that they will use to creatively demonstrate their points. From a conflict resolution perspective, I see a lot of value in the message that the multinational camp intends to convey to the kids: that they have the power to non-violently bring about the changes that they wish to see in their countries, or even on a smaller scale in their schools or local communities. I was strongly reminded of my class, conflict resolution theory and practice, in which we studied what influences the trajectory of a conflict, making it either constructive or destructive. In the last few weeks of the class, we were reading many articles about the components that allow conflict to take a constructive and non-violent course. One of the readings emphasized the three most important elements for de-escalation and preventing the conflict from moving toward a destructive trajectory. One of these was that the people with the grievances must feel that they have the power to make a change through methods other than violence. If this conviction does not exist, it is likely that the conflict will turn to violence and a destructive path that detracts from de-escalation.

            Because of this knowledge, I am very impressed by the content and focus of the workshops and the overall vision of the camp. For these kids, who are from Palestine, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan, I think that it is important, especially considering their violent conflict histories and the generational legacies of hatred and otherness, to empower them to implement their visions of change through non-violent activism. I think that the workshops and the overall camp program will also help to counteract the feelings of helplessness or hopelessness that I know many of the Palestinian kids have shared that they felt because the stories of successful youth change initiatives and the explicit recognition of sources that solidify the norms they wish to change will give them both the belief that they have the power and the tools to use to make change. When the youth are not equipped with this essential belief, their grievances continue down a destructive path, producing another generation of violence and hatred. I am very excited to see how these ideas are received by the kids and to see if and how their attitudes change as they learn and feel empowered by the workshops and activities at the camp.