I love the work that I do with Michigan Peace Team. I love the idea of a peace team… of third party nonviolent intervention (TPNI), civilian protection via unarmed nonviolent peace forces. It meets my need to do something positive and creative. And while most only are aware of this work in the international arena I do think there is a place for it on the local level. Domestic peace teams, or local peace teams can offer alternatives to take our communities back, to bear witness in the streets and courtrooms to a criminal injustice system that is racist, classist and too often motivated by revenge rather than justice.
With that said, it seems like more and more often I’ve been approached by folks who know that I am involved with training and placing teams for MPT who are interested in asking that a peace team be placed “to stop people from disrupting their event” or “to ensure that people don’t break the law”, — although it is rarely said this way – essentially asking for insurances that “people behave”. I always find this upsetting for many reasons.
Of course, I always remind people that this is not the role of a peace team — we are not “peace police” ,we are not there to ensure laws are followed, or that no disruptions occur, or even to prevent conflict — we are there simply to prevent (at best) or (at least) reduce violence from whatever the source. To be clear – it is not simply the misunderstanding of the role of a peace team that I find upsetting. (On the contrary, I love any excuse to talk about the real reasons for peace teams and the power of third party nonviolent intervention!)
What I find more upsetting is how often “progressive people” are willing to let our fear push us toward a desire to (or worse an attempt to) limit others free speech, to push us toward calling for the police and involving the criminal injustice system rather than dealing with things on our own, to become stuck in an “us and them” mentality etc etc….
Whether it is searching the bags of those we fear “might disrupt” a talk we have planned, asking the police to ensure our permits are upheld by silencing those who may try to out shout our rally speakers or training parade marshals to “ensure people don’t break the law and march in the streets” it all seems to replicate the very systems we struggle against.
Aren’t we more creative than that?