Nobel Peace Prize nominee keynotes inaugural Waging Peace Conference

April 17, 2018

The Justice and Peace Studies Program (JUPS) and GU Politics hosted the first annual Waging Peace Conference on April 13. The event’s theme was “Meeting the Other,” focusing on promoting nonviolence and condemning hatred and xenophobia.

Organizers were moved by recent episodes of racial violence nationwide, specifically noting the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and police brutality against people of color. Topics covered by panelists included the Parkland High School shooting, bias and xenophobia on college campuses, bipartisan efforts for conflict resolution, and the intersection of women’s rights and peacebuilding.

Eliane Lakam (COL ‘18), a JUPS major and Doyle Undergraduate Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, was instrumental in planning the conference as a member of the GU Politics Student Advisory Board.

“We, as students, wanted to raise awareness of the fact that violence and hate are hurting our generation,” Lakam wrote in an email to the Voice. “It is our hope that attendees will leave the conference empowered to establish and lead their own initiatives towards the prevention or resolution of conflicts within their communities. It’s our hope that they become men and women for others.”

Keynote speaker Charles “Chic” Dambach, a 2017 Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his experience as the CEO of dozens of nonprofits including the Alliance for Peacebuilding and the National Peace Corps Association, spoke on the growing presence of peacebuilding in academia.

He said that the field was not something you could study at a university just decades ago when he became involved in nonviolence movements through Vietnam War protests. After college, he served with the Peace Corps in Colombia from 1967-1969.

“One of my favorite lines from [George Bernard] Shaw is ‘Some see things as they are. I dream dreams that never were and say: why not?’ Why not do something about it?” said Dambach of his first interest in conflict resolution. “And because I was getting involved in the peace movement, it became a part of my heart and soul to say, ‘Why not peace?’”

Dambach cited data that states the number of people worldwide living in abject poverty has been reduced from 50% to 10%, partially due to foreign aid. “We tend to get a little depressed about the bad stuff in the news, and we should, but let’s celebrate the good stuff that’s happening because people like those of us in this room care enough to do something about it,” Dambach said.

After highlighting the good that peace efforts have accomplished, Dambach underlined today’s more relevant global issues. “We have not reached Nirvana. There’s plenty of warfare going on in certain parts of the world. The difference is, you used to have battle casualties and now what you have is effects on civil society and driving [the number of] displaced people, refugees, up dramatically,” he said.

Dambach also discussed the issue of white supremacy in the United States, saying that it is a manifestation of natural human tribalism, but is dangerous when used to harm other groups.

The series of panels and workshops preceding the keynote address were led by Georgetown students, educators, activists, and leaders in the field of peacebuilding.

Among the workshop presenters were Nadeam Elshami, the former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi, and Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President George W. Bush. Three members of the nonprofit music group One Common Unity also performed, and the group’s cofounder, Hawah Kasat, explained how they intend to break cycles of violence through artistic and musical dialogue.

Following his address, Dambach joined other advocates for peace in a panel discussion moderated by Jude Massaad (SCS ‘19). The panel was made up of Washington Post journalist and activist Colman McCarthy, SFS professor Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Emily Bove of Women Thrive Alliance, and Kasat of One Common Unity.

The panel discussed the driving forces behind their work, the importance of studying peace, and also fielded questions from the audience on their individual organizations.

McCarthy, who has interviewed peacemakers such as Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu, said he always asked them how they went about promoting peace and mitigating violence. McCarthy said the answers were nearly always the same, emphasizing direct action. “You need to go where the people are, because people keep having conflicts and solving them either through violent force or nonviolent force. No third option,” McCarthy said.

During his speech, Dambach said one of his greatest accomplishments was his role in peace negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea and also in the Congo. A poignant moment for him was when an Eritrean hot dog vendor in DC recognized his name and said, “I know you. You brought peace to my country.”


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