By Tom H. Hastings
This week I joined others from my town in a State Department initiative called City Pair; in this case, “pairing” Portland, Oregon with both Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was illuminating.
We met with government officials and law enforcement–city, provincial, and national. We met with a research team looking at factors contributing to hate and political violence.
The Portland team represented elected officials, police, the city equity lead, nonprofit leadership, and alternative methods of security (me).
So, my role should have been to tell the Canadians that my way is best, no violence, no threatened violence, no arms, only nonviolent means of keeping the public safe.
That is my dream, of course. And that is what we work on in our Portland Peace Team. We are a member of a network of peace teams across the US and Canada.
However, we are based not just on nonviolence, but on trust. We thread some fine needles in that regard.
Do we claim we have all the answers? It’s the opposite; we claim no one has them all.
Do we claim we can keep everyone safe if they just follow our lead? Gosh, no. That would define ignorance and arrogance.
Of course, arming agents of the state or private security offers no guarantee either. Indeed, doing so offers some additional risks, as we see in the figures of who gets shot by police, including disproportionate numbers of unarmed people of color, resulting in loss of tens of thousands of years of human lives.
So, we are circumspect in making our assertions, which may not “sell” our nonviolent methods in a presentation or discussion, but it is instructive that those who request our services frequently reach out repeatedly. We must be providing some comfort to their leadership.
What we do is based on trust.
Groups trust that we are (for the purposes of the event) nonpartisan, nonviolent, and unaffiliated with police or any governmental agency at any level.
Media members trust that we will be all that and that we will remain calm and focused on the well-being of everyone. This is crucial because media will convey to the public the nature–nonviolent or not–of the participants in the event. This will directly contribute to recruiting more to the next event or alienating more and diminishing the numbers and effectiveness of the movement.
Police trust us to be all those things. We are never their agents, but we will liaise with them, on our own behalf and, if asked by the group requesting our presence, on their behalf as well.
Do all the parties trust us from the get-go? Of course not; just as we teach our children, trust must be earned and protected carefully and with integrity–it can take a long time to develop and a short time to destroy.
We often do peace team deëscalation trainings for an hour or so before a demonstration at which we’ve agreed to be. The people who come to be trained are those who are part of the group that invited us. So, my first question is, “Who considers themselves to be activists?”
All hands shoot up. “Not today,” I say. “Today you support your coalition in a different way, by being neutral and deëscalating conflict that seems headed out of control. That is the conflict that can harm the image and thus the recruiting power of your campaign.”
Building trust is what our public discourse and decision-making is about. While Trump lies an average of 12 documented times each day and wrecks trust, millions of us average folks are working to rebuild it at every level.
I return from beautiful Quebec with many new friends. Some may not agree with my methods, but we found trust amongst us, the foundation of possibilities.