Monday, January 14, 2013

Anti-Slavery Campaign Interview Series. Lynn Roth

 Towards a Just and Peaceful World

Lynn Roth is the Executive Director for the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU from August 2007. Prior to that time he served as Director of Mennonite Central Committee East Coast. In 1989 he began this assignment which included giving direction to the program, recruitment and fund raising efforts of MCC throughout the eastern U.S. From 1985-1989 he served as Co-Director for the Mennonite Ministries program in Botswana. From 1980 to 1985 he served as Director for MCC West Coast based in Reedley, CA. In 1974 he began service with MCC as Assistant Director of Voluntary Service in the U.S. before moving to Program Director for MCC in the U.S. in 1976. Earlier he served as a counselor for Central Valley Regional Center in Fresno, CA. and as Director of the Kellom Community Council in Omaha NB.

Yago: Lynn, we are celebrating the 125th anniversary of Charles Lavigerie anti-slavery campaign. In this context, I would like to gain some insights on the way educational organizations, such as Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), are getting involved in the fight against today's energy of enslavement as it is present in the American society and the world as a whole. First of all, how would you describe modern-day slavery? What is the tangible and intangible in modern-slavery? 

Lynn: It is well documented that 27 million individuals worldwide are living in a physical form of slavery. Examples are forced child labor, human trafficking, debt bondage and those in the modern prison systems. We are often very aware of this type of slavery but we are not always aware of the non-physical forms of slavery that exist particularly in North America. Examples of this would include our modern addictions and the desire as society for a more comfortable, wealthy, safe and secure lifestyle. 

Yago: Do you see any connection between former slavery (officially abolished) and modern-slavery? Is modern-slavery a result of unresolved internalized oppression from former times of slavery?

Slaves at Sugar Cane Plantation
Lynn: Yes, I first saw the connection when I was very young and had the opportunity to travel and work in Louisiana where I spent time on former sugar plantations. On those plantations, the descendants of former slaves were still living as debt-bonded workers growing and harvesting some of the sugar for my consumption. Since then it has become very evident the many “cheap” products that I use and consume are the result of some type of child labor or bonded labor. I think that this results in an expectation (one that I struggle with) that I am entitled to a safe, comfortable, wealthy lifestyle that could be called “internalized racial superiority.”  I believe that particularly in the U.S. it is often around racial issues that we struggle for justice, and this is a direct result of the slavery that our country was established and built on.  I think that the various forms of slavery result from the selfish desire of humans to be “on top.” Thus we tend to exploit and never be satisfied with what we have.

Yago: If you would have to design an “anti-slavery campaign,” what kind of strategy would be the most efficient and holistic in dealing with today’s slavery?

Lynn: In the U.S. at least, the moment you mention slavery, the attitude is often that “we solved that” in the civil war. Thus I think it is important to begin with awareness-raising and education. So often we live in our own protected homogeneous communities and are not faced with persons that have different life circumstances than us. Part of the human learning experience should be to meet others from different cultures and circumstances. Once you begin to know people who are homeless or in prison, your worldview changes and you begin to make changes in your own lifestyle and spiritual journey. I believe that part of an “anti-slavery campaign” must be a spiritual or personal journey in addition to taking action if it is to be a lasting process.

Yago: How have organizations been infiltrated by modern-slavery (oppressive ideologies, patriarchal system….)? How is structural violence perpetuating or contributing to today’s slavery?

Lynn: It is clear that organizations and institutions perpetuate slavery. The “principalities and powers” that are present in any institution make it difficult to function for the common good of all of society. Usually institutions are designed to be self-protective and seek their own continuation. So often persons become “enslaved” to the organization because they don’t feel that they have other alternatives. For example, they may feel that they can’t get a job elsewhere and see their future tied to the success of the organization. Once people feel they don’t have alternatives, it is easy to begin to make rationalizations and “turn a blind eye” to the structural violence that is perpetuating today’s slavery. When we become fearful and want to keep our jobs, keep our comfortable lifestyles, keep the same systems that protect us we can allow structural violence to take place. We rationalize that it does not affect us. The reality is that we become hardened to it and thus victims of it.

Yago: What kind of organizational leadership is needed to fight efficiently against oppressive energies (enslavement) within organizations?

Lynn: I think that leaders are needed who are accountable to others within and without the organization and institutions. In order to fight the forces of organizational oppression, leaders should both act in good faith and trust within the organization and have processes in place to hear voices from all perspectives. Persons need to be able to make decisions that affect them within the organization. The added piece is that individuals must have the personal and emotional ability to leave the organization if it begins to feel oppressive. That is not always the case and it particularly is not the case in situations and countries where there are not the economic resources and security to do so.
CJP Logo

Yago: Thanks Lynn for your honesty and interesting insights shared so far. In your current position serving as executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP), could you share with us the vision of this educational organization?

Yago: CJP offers a graduate program in Conflict Transformation. Could you explain to us why the term transformation is so important as it outdates the concept of merely resolving conflicts?

Lynn: We believe that conflict is a normal part of life as an individual, organization, community or beyond. Conflict can lead to increased cycles of conflict or even violence; or it can be the opportunity for creatively working toward change in a very positive manner.

Thus learning about conflict transformation helps the person analyze the conflict and develop theories and methods of change so that there is a healthy process of healing and building community. Our program is for practitioners who want to both learn skills and reflect on the theory behind what they do as peacebuilders. Transformation for us also begins with personal transformation—how to move from caring about ourselves to caring for the community and the common good. So our program allows for the opportunity to do the academic work, but hopefully also to look at personal transformation as part of the process of becoming effective peacebuilders.

Yago: What is CJP’s strategy to achieve its vision? Could you share with us the fundamental purpose (mission) of CJP?

Lynn: At CJP we aim to educate and train a global community of peacebuilders through the integration of practice, theory and research. We have been blessed with very experienced and gifted faculty and staff. Part of our work is to ensure that students’ life experiences are applied in a reflective way to their academic pursuits.

Therefore, our goal is to prepare practitioners who will engage in peacebuilding in whatever conflict situation they find themselves in. Today we have over 400 graduates of our program playing key peacebuilding roles around the world. Our goal is to engage these graduates plus the thousands of others who have been involved in programs like SPI and STAR to develop “feedback loops,” so that the practice that they are involved in day to day feeds back into the classroom through research, writing and consultation. In that way we are really working at integration of practice, theory and research as an institution. 

Yago: CJP stresses the need to be reflective practitioners. Why is the integration of practice, theory and research so important?

Lynn: As a peacebuilder it is very easy to be busy and react to the immediate issue. Most helping professions never run out of the urgent needs that have to be taken care of. We believe that results in “burn out” and ultimately ineffective service or ministry. To take time to be reflective and make that a regular part of our work is essential. Otherwise a peacebuilder may end up doing more harm than good. Part of this is having the theory behind what the peacebuilder is doing, so that they have concepts that they can reflect on and guide them as they work.  The other part is to actually know yourself and what makes you enter this work and how you can sustain the work in a resilient manner.

Yago: What are the key values and beliefs that are shared at CJP?

Dirk Willems 1569. Martyred Anabaptist who is most famous
for turning around to rescue his pursuer.

Lynn: Our values at CJP grow out of our Anabaptist Christian traditions and commitments. Non-violence, right relationships and creating just communities are critical to this commitment. In order to create community, we try to practice hospitality in order to welcome a diverse group of peacebuilders to the CJP community. In order to work at building a diverse community, we attempt to foster respect across faith traditions, cultures and worldviews. Hopefully this is not just respect but also continued learning and personal change. This is the personal and social transformation that we believe is so critical to being an effective peacebuilder. Traits like human dignity, interdependence and mutual accountability help in that community building and transformation process. Obviously we are human and don’t do always live out these values very well, but that is our vision and goal.   Doing this well is a way to naturally address violence and oppression, including the issues that are represented by historical and modern day slavery, because those issues are present among us and in our work.  

Yago: How is the CJP dealing with the still present dynamics created during the time of Slavery? Could you introduce us the mission of the organization “Coming to the Table”?

Lynn: All of our educational and training programs are designed for transformation by combining peacebuilding theory and practice in a unique setting that attracts practitioners from all over the world. As a community of learners, our goal is to work together to understand what it means to become peacebuilders – to build organizations and communities that are working to break the cycles of violence and oppression. "Coming to the Table" began when persons who were descendants of both slave owners and the enslaved took the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) program here at CJP and examined the historical trauma present in their families. They indicated that some of the principles that are taught at CJP/STAR should be applied to the legacy of slavery here in the U.S. Therefore, in cooperation with CJP, these individuals formed "Coming to the Table" (CTTT) to work at the process of breaking the cycles of violence that our society was built upon.
They serve as an example of a community that is trying to live in a transformed way. Collaboration between STAR and CTTT resulted in developing the Healing Historical Harms curriculum and training that aims to break the historical cycles of violence, such as the legacy of slavery. 

Yago: In a patriarchal society, the potentiality of women is often undermined, exposing them to hidden slavery.  CJP includes a program called Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership. What is the mission of this program? In which way did the  2011 Nobel Peace Laureate,  Leymah Gbowee  contribute to the strengthening the vision of this program?

Lynn: The Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program was envisioned at a 2011 consultation of CJP women alumni and partners. The cohort-based program develops women leaders in peacebuilding by providing a quality practice-based peacebuilding education focused specifically on the needs of women.
Leymah Gbowee
The Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program educates women in conflict analysis, prevention, and transformation through classes that focus on practice-based methodologies. Both the class work and the mentored practice, assist women in integrating globally-based theories, analytical methodologies, and practice skills with traditional understandings and practice in order to develop processes that will work with the root causes of conflict to transform present relationships and structures.
Leymah Gbowee as well as many other CJP women alumni and colleagues have been crucial in conceptualizing the program and implementation. It has been an honor to work with these women who are developing a new legacy of empowerment for young women peacebuilders in regions like West and East Africa and the South Pacific.

Yago: As you have previously mentioned during the interview, CJP incorporates a program called STAR (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience). According to your own experience, how are  religious and peacebuilding practitioners affected by secondary trauma and/or burnt out as they are continously exposed to traumatic situations? 
Lynn: It is very evident that trauma, secondary trauma and burnout all play an important role in how a person works at peacebuilding, serves in an NGO or ministers as a religious worker. At CJP we have experienced all of these characteristics as we have served in traumatic situations and have hosted persons in our programs who have experienced trauma. Out of CJP’s program in Conflict Transformation, the Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) was developed as a response to the request to prepare religious leaders to care for the people in their mosques, synagogues and churches following 9/11. Since that time, through the STAR program, Summer Peacebuilding Institute and other program of CJP, there has been significant work in helping religious leaders and peacebuilders respond to secondary trauma and become resilient when burnt out.

The STAR program articulates very well what Richard Rohr articulates in The Naked Now: “if you do not transform your pain, you will surely transmit it to those around you and even to the next generation.” This has been very true around the tragedy of slavery.  While the experiences of secondary trauma and burn out may seem similar, I find it helpful to make a distinction. Those who have personally experienced physical slavery, war, abuse or similar horrific experiences have had a very different experience than just being burnt out and needing resilience. Recently we have been looking at ways to provide tools for "resilience in dealing with life." For peacebuilders, it is helping them to develop resilience through the crises that they deal with and the turbulent times of life.  Some folks may be traumatized; however, most folks that we work with are   simply trying to make it through the difficult experiences that life brings them. I also have found it important to focus on resilience beyond the individual, on the systemic level.  It is important to study and develop resilient systems, such as organizations, communities, and countries as part of developing the peacebuilder.  

Howard Zehr
Yago: CJP stresses the role of Restorative Justice in the fight against modern-slavery. What role will the new Howard Zehr Restorative Justice Institute play in the fight against slavery?

Lynn: At CJP we use an integrated concept of Peacebuilding that includes Restorative Justice. I believe that Restorative Justice provides very significant ways to speak to modern-slavery, including many parts of our criminal justice system in the U.S. Developing restorative practices, especially including the victim in the process, speaks against a retributive system that just continues the cycle of harm. We have been blessed at CJP to have Howard Zehr on faculty to help articulate the vision for Restorative Justice not only in our country, but around the world. In our new Zehr Institute we are hopeful that dialogue and learning will take place that will promote societal healing through restorative practices and draw on practitioners in the field that will help move the Restorative Justice field to an even more significant role of dealing with the many injustices in our society.
Michelle Alexander
In talking with Howard Zehr he emphasizes "that as Michelle Alexander argues, to address the racism of our system will require us to go back to basics.  If we continue a system rooted in our present philosophy of justice, racism is almost inevitably going to continue.  Changing the system requires us to change our underlying assumptions and RJ has the potential to do that.  However, we as a field need to grapple more thoroughly with what that means.  Maybe through the Institute we will be able to facilitate that process."

Yago: Could you share your vision on the role and contribution of religious peacebuilding in traumatized societies (in the face of today’s slavery)?  

Lynn: I found it helpful to read The Naked Now.  Richard Rohr states that “transformed people transform people.” Rohr’s  emphasis is that true Christianity as well as other religions challenge us to change. Thus I am excited to be a part of a program that gives an MA in Conflict Transformation. Part of the transformation has to begin within the peacebuilder.
Bernard Lonergan
(America. The National Catholic Review)
Rohr quotes Lonergan: “When people can seek the true good and the common good, even when it is of no ego advantage to them, you have a morally converted person.” (page 87). For me that is central to the role of a true peacebuilder.  A religious person certainly has a head start on operating out of this type of “no ego” or working for the common good framework. Thus you can then begin to look at the historical impact of slavery and actually be honest how we all “benefit” from both historical and modern day slavery. As we follow this journey we also realize that what we might feel is a benefit, such as buying cheap clothes, coffee or other material items, only results in our own personal slavery to a system of material things. Thus we are called to a journey of transformation and being open to change how we see and experience reality. 

Yago: How can religious leaders from different Christian denominations and Religions serve and witness together for a more peaceful and just world?

Lynn: Again, I found Richard Rohr helpful in thinking about inter-religious peacebuilding. He contends that we are called to “non-dualistic” thinking and away from dualistic thinking (assuming you have all of the truth and that everyone else is wrong). Rohr states: “Love and suffering are a part of most human lives. Without doubt, they are the primary spiritual teachers… Wouldn’t it make sense for God to make divine truth so available?” Thus basic truths like love and suffering are common in all religions and cultures. It seems like this is an important reality that helps us recognize the importance of inter-religious peacebuilding. There are basic principles or truths that call all humans to work together for a peaceful and healed society. Those principles are central as we witness together for a more peaceful and just world.

Yago: What is your contribution towards the strategic vision of this blog: “Breathing Forgiveness. Embracing the Giant Wound (today’s slavery) in the Naked Now”

Lynn: I have found it very helpful to focus on both historical and modern day slavery and to realize how I am enslaved to material things, to roles and perceptions that are not ultimately life giving. While in no way can I fully understand the trauma and suffering of those who are physically enslaved today, it is important to reflect on what role I play through my lifestyle in modern day slavery. I am grateful to be part of an expanding community that is speaking to these issues both individually and corporately. For me the emphasis of “Breathing Forgiveness” is an important step in that journey.

Yago: Lynn, thanks a lot for sharing your wisdom to this Blog.

Lynn: Thank you!