Several participants at the Dialogue Summer School live close to the protests after the murder of George Floyd. Rahel and Ezra felt a big contrast between classes in peace and the reality on the streets.
A block away from where George Floyd was murdered, Ezra McNair sat at home and participated in online peace education. At the same time, protests were ongoing in the streets outside.
-The first day of the Summer School, I had just woken up, there was still smoke in my room from the fires raging around the city the night before, and I was fatigued and traumatized from a night watch shift, Ezra says.
Never back to normal
Students at the International Summer School usually spend a week at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue (NCPD) in Lillehammer, Norway. But this year, the Nansen Dialogue Summer School in cooperation with the University of Oslo, had to be arranged online. The reason was the Corona virus.
Participation in the classes was difficult, as Ezra experienced.
-The first day I was in no mood to learn and was distracted, texting which of my friends and comrades were arrested, beaten, or spent the night defending themselves from armed attack, he says.
The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has triggered a wave of demonstrations across the United States and several parts of the world, against racism and police violence. Ezra has followed everything closely, while limiting the participation for fear of being infected with the Coronavirus. He believes what is happening now is a turning point for his country.
-I believe the United States will never go back to normal after this summer, our society is restructuring itself, and this brings fear, pain, and uncertainty, Ezra tells.
The protests give hope
Rahel Ambachew lives just outside Seattle in Washington state. She describes several weeks of protests in the big city, where the protesters have created a zone in the city center where they can be at peace without police intervention (Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone).
-I definitely feel saddened about what’s going on in the US. However, I also feel empowered to see all the organizations and protests happening. It gives me hope that especially the youth are leading the protests, and that the next generation is equipped to make change, she says.
Rahel experiences dialogue as a meaningful topic in the midst of what is going on in her home country.
-It is important to learn about peace and conflict transformation especially in this situation, because when having conversations with people it is exhausting to come out of the conversation being misunderstood. Learning to effectively have a transforming dialogue will be a fruitful experience and one that will lead to change and action, she says.
Closer relationship to neighbours
-A lot of the skills we are learning during the Nansen Dialogue Summer School are extremely important for facilitating inter-community dialogue, Ezra says.
The riots have created a closer relationship between neighbours and he finds knowledge of dialogue relevant. At the same time, Ezra experiences dialogue and peaceful solutions as something very distant.
-The peace and conflict transformation doesn’t apply to how black folks interact with police and white supremacists. Unfortunately, when things were at their worst point, there was absolutely no room for dialogue. We had to set up neighborhood watches and patrolled our own streets and were ready to defend our homes from neo-nazis and anyone else seeking to cause harm. At that point, there wasn’t room for conversation. Our lives were in danger.
The neighbours were the only ones he trusted.
-Neo-nazis don’t have demands to make, they only were in my community to cause harm. Among them, there was the police enforcing curfew, and they would shoot anyone outside with “non-lethal” projectiles and arrest them. The only folks we could rely on were our neighbours. In a scary way, this bought me and my neighbors together, since we all had to coordinate defense strategies.
The politicians must listen
Rahel points at dialogue as a tool politicians and city officials should be using.
-City officials and politicians need to have a dialogue about the needs of black people and on how to dismantle a racist system the US operates on.
Ezra states that no one has ever wanted to listen when people of color have expressed their grievances.
-Dialogue has not been successful here between the main actors at the core of the issue. City officials historically haven’t listened to black voices when we air our grievances, unless we push the boundaries of what legal protests are. We have had to take more drastic measures to get local politicians take our pain seriously. The situation is just far too fresh and energized to have a successful dialogue, and most black people figure, the time for talk is done, he says.
Opression of people of colour
He finds it hard to really learn about what he calls «vague concepts of peace» when it is really something he has never known.
-It is incredibly hard to remove myself from the situation surrounding me. Peace in the United States is often equated with status quo. The status quo here is the oppression of people of colour, so peace in the American sense is not something I am interested in, he says.
Blow-out to get ready
Christiane Seehausen at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue acknowledges that messages about dialogue and peaceful solutions can be challenging to deal with in the midst of a conflict, and especially for those who experience injustice.
-It is normal that parties in strong conflict do not want to meet and talk. One of the most time-consuming aspects of a dialogue process is often to prepare and get ready to meet in the same room. One solution could be dialogue inside both camps first and create space for blowing out emotions and anger. This increases the chance for the parties to later be ready to engage in dialogue together, she says.
The Dialogue Summer School provides inspiration for a further commitment to dialogue and peace work. This year’s students learned, among other things, to analyze and map conflicts. They were given a basic introduction to dialogue, learned about active listening and asking good questions – which are keys in the work for peaceful conflict resolution.
The Nansen Dialogue Summer School was online this year. Read more about this year’s experience.
The International Summer School (ISS) at the University of Oslo has roots back to 1947. It is a learning community of diverse students who come together to study, interact and increase understanding and good will between nations.
The Nansen Dialogue Summer School (NDSS) is a cooperation between the University of Oslo, the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue and 7 colleges in USA. NDSS is a week with experiences in dialogue and training in conflict transformation. NDSS 2020 was coordinated by Siri Syverud Thorsen, Christiane Seehausen and Anita Rapp-Ødegaard.
Text: Kai Nygaard. Photo: Private. Published: July 8th 2020.