Four Screenings and Scores of New Friends

Yesterday, at the Youth Summit we screened the film to a group of thirty youth from all over North America, as well as Kenya.  I posted seven questions on the walls of the room and asked the youth to "walk the walls" and decide which question most resonated with them.  Each wrote their name on the sheet of the question that tugged at them.  The groups were unevenly sized: two, four, seven, six.  Then they got into seven small groups to share their perspectives on these questions: -are human beings inherently violent?

-are some people born killers?

-who stands to benefit/lose from forgiveness?

-is evil intrinsic to some individuals and if so, is it a waste of time to forgive them?

-how might you judge the sincerity in a perpetrator's confession?

-what do you think of the statement that students in Rwanda are the same as students in the U.S., except that they lived through a different situation and faced different moral decisions?

-what do you think about this statement: the widow who reaches out to her husband's murderer is an expression of empathy not just for her loss but also for the loss of the perpetrator's moral humanity.

Their discussions were rich and several groups did not reach agreement.  They reported out in the remaining time and we had to wrap it up.  One of the young men is from El Salvador and we got to talk my research with Salvadorans many years ago, and the ways he feels pulled between non-violence and his families historic ties to the FMLN.  It was a very real and wrenching conversation.

Early Saturday afternoon, political scientist Cynthia Enloe (Clark University) described her focus on the post-war reality of Iraqi women and U.S. women.  She talked about injured soldiers and the women who care for them, and the impact this care has on the lives of the women, and how men's stories of war influence women's stories of war.  She called this the gendering of injury of war.  Cynthia ended her talk by saying that the privileging of men's war stories, the submerging of women's war stories, women's role caring for injured men, and the use of violence against women in war form the perfect patriarchal seed bed for the next war.

Carolyn Nordstrom, anthropologist from the University of Notre Dame, talked about the fault lines that constitute the zones of vulnerability that are often invisible.  She described a fourteen year old girl from a war zone in Angola: she was shot as a child, lives on the street with other children, they care for each other, have clear rules about sharing and looking out for one another.  Their motto is "let's not turn into Brazil; let's change this before Brazil happens here."  Carolyn examines the extra legal activity that constitutes 1/3 of the world's economy: smugglers, drug traders, money launderers, dealers in guns and body parts, which all told generate over $2 Billion that are not accountable to anyone.  About one-tenth of the world's economy is being laundered at any given moment.  Meanwhile, 12 million children are forced to work in the sex industry every year, and 218 million children work illegally, mostly in agriculture.  The informal economy is beginning to eclipse the formal economy, and the profits are used to grow political power and impunity.  There is a global ideology that says this is okay, and this is a major fault line on our planet.  Societies built on fault lines collapse.

Today (Saturday), we got an extra opportunity to screen the film for students from Roanoke College in Virginia. We will set up a screening on campus in the spring.

In the afternoon, we screened Coexist again for 47 Conference participants -- mostly college professors and activists.  Three of the Conference keynote speakers joined us: Cynthia Enloe, Carolyn Nordstrom, and Catherine Morris of the University of Victoria.  We were asked many more questions than we had time to answer, and most importantly, we made new friends and contacts, many of whom asked for copies of the film and the Viewer's Guide.  One professor said his students are in ROTC and they need to see Coexist.  Another professor said this kind of violence permeates our inner cities in the U.S.  Someone else suggested that the film be used in Israel and Palestine to teach about coexistence.  Some viewers said they love the film's complexity, others its relevancy and power.  We were VERY pleased.   After the screening, we met George Lahey from Swarthmore who encouraged our work, and many other pillars and pioneers of the peacebuilding and peace education movements of North America.  We are thrilled to have attended the Conference and already have an idea for our next film!  Stay tuned!

--Mishy Lesser, Learning Director for Coexist