Peace Education and Truth-Telling: A Transformative Philosophy of Disrupting of Status Quo, Political Efficacy, and Action

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David Ragland

The Truth Telling Project
Board Member, Peace and Justice Studies Association
Visiting Assistant Professor at Bucknell University
(Featured article: Issue #120 April 2015)

truth-telling1If we are to agree that the question of the ‘colorline’ continues to be a pressing issue in our country, then we need a national conversation that goes beyond talking. A conversation requires us to not simply hear, but to listen and understand the daily experience of the ones silenced, marginalized and oppressed.

Peace education can challenge the violent and deadening silence of racism in the deconstruction of the institutions that reinforce it. As Dr. Betty Reardon often says, if you were born and raised in this society, it is impossible to be untouched by racism. We are all involved in some way and should thus all struggle against this systemic cancer.

Recently the Truth-Telling Project, a coalition consisting of the Center for Educational Equity, the Peace and Justice Studies Association, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the National Peace Academy, The Sophia Project and The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, invited people from across the US to Ferguson to share their experience of police violence and its context of such brutality.  

Peace education in the context of the Truth-Telling Project aims to nurture political efficacy toward disrupting the status quo that leads to transformative social action. Dr. Tony Jenkins, an advisory board member of the Truth-Telling Project notes in his recent article Facing Realities of Race that “Speaking truth is important. At a political level it’s a way of documenting injustices and making them public. Truth-telling is essentially a form of critically reflective storytelling, and as personal narrative it humanizes the social dilemma by rooting it in human experience.”  Truth-telling requires critical reflection, which is essential for developing politically efficacious citizens.  It is through self-reflection that principles, values and ideas are internalized and become convictions.  Sharing truths in public forums helps to create a galvanizing, alternative narrative that challenges and disrupts the status quo – the unquestioned socio-cultural-political and privileged narratives that dominate our institutions and govern human relationships.  Truth narratives, as a collective force, illuminate these institutional barriers to change and help direct action toward structural change.  While holding individuals accountable for violence is important, transformative action needs to be directed toward the systemic if it is to be sustainable.  Reconciliation at the human-to-human level requires addressing and transforming the institutional practices and cultural assumptions that perpetuate human indignity.  Truth-Telling in this sense is a form of restorative justice at the beginning of what has to be a long term project of Truth and Reconciliation.  This approach seeks to engage with King’s radical philosophy in the dismantling of the evils of militarism, materialism, poverty and racism. In this sense, our project runs parallel and is connected and supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In pursuing this philosophy, the work of the Truth-Telling project is focused on:

  • Living Room Conversations (intra-group conversations about race, systemic racism, and police violence) that moves communities closer to honest conversation and thoughtful listening across racial lines;
  • Development of the National Network for Truth and Reconciliation, Restorative justice practitioners interested in Truth-Telling;
  • Support of other communities interested in developing a Truth-Telling Process;
  • Continuation of publications through PeaceVoice in support of educating the broader public about structural racism within the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, truth and reconciliation, restorative processes and peace and justice;
  • The interviews from the Truth-Telling weekend point out the need for legislation in local municipalities and nationally around human rights and restorative processes;
  • Continued interviews, both video and audio, to describe the broader national landscape of structural racism and learn about the specificity of experience;
  • Connecting with other communities to learn how they’ve empowered themselves and might support others.

truth-telling2While the possibilities for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Ferguson and Beyond inspires our work, in the short term, our commitment to a more just society calls us all to the immediate work of efficacy toward positive peace through nonviolent but disruptive action.  Our stories of the intersecting dimensions of injustice cannot be silenced.   

Civil and Human Rights leader Dr. Bernard Lafayette, also an advisor to the Truth-Telling Project, describes police violence as silencing, not dissimilar to the  shooting of Michael Brown and the physiological effect of choking of Eric Garner, literally preventing one from breathing and speaking.  This is intimately connected to the recently revised estimates of thousands of black men and women lynched throughout the US.

Speaking and hearing truth educates us on specificity and systems that make us complicit to injustice.  The community, which we must continue to expand, develop and nurture, can bring us closer to positive peace as we learn and actively work together, dismantling structural racism and those intersecting injustices.

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* This article was written with the significant contributions of Dr. Tony Jenkins at University of Toledo and Ms. Mahdis Azarmandi at the University of Otago

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