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8.20.2014

MPT Guatemala 2014 Exploratory Teamer Julie



My name is Julie and I am a Catholic Worker from Des Moines, Iowa.  I have been involved with Meta Peace Teams for just over two years and will be traveling to Guatemala on behalf of MPT in just a few short days.  

I will be doing research and relationship building for Meta Peace Team as part of the Exploratory process for a potential new team location.  I will be participating in a Guatemala Human Rights Commission delegation.  The delegation will touch on many different tough issues that the Guatemalan people deal with on a regular basis.   We will be meeting with government officials, grass roots organizations, human rights defenders, and local citizens. The goal will be to get a greater understanding of problems such as gender violence, human and drug trafficking, gang violence, immigration, corporate takeover of private lands, and many other issues impacting the citizens of Guatemala.  

I will be working to make local connections to create a pathway to foster future possible MPT Teams who would perform accompaniment and more in the area.

I am excited for this opportunity however, I am still a bit nervous going into a new country and a situation that I have only read about. I am very thankful to be working with such an experienced group of people and am proud to be representing Meta Peace Teams on this journey.

MPT in Guatemala August 2014! Plus other Latin America exploration.

MPT is working with the Guatemala Human Rights Coalition and several other local organizations to perform witness and accompaniment in Guatemala this August.  Even more importantly, folks are working to evaluate the viability of future MPT Teams to Guatemala, and development of relationships for potential partners.

A lot of groundwork, research, and relationship building goes into exploring possible new MPT Peace Team locations.  The process can take 6 months to two years, including one or more Exploratory visits in country, before a new Peace Team can be established.

Experienced teamer and wonderful activist "Julie" is on the ground now, working with GHRC and local orgs to both provide witness and solidarity, and also research for future possible MPT work.

In addition to Guatemala, earlier this year (2014) MPT sent an Exploratory Team to Honduras to do similar work, and build on a 2012 MPT participation in a Delegation via SHARE.  We have also received invitations or suggestions for exploration regarding other Latin American countries such as Venezuala; and countries outside of the Americas, such as South Korea.  Exploration for MPT International Teams is an ongoing full time project!

MPT's steering committee and our Honduras Team Anchor are currently working to evaluate the 2014 Team and their findings, and plan for the future.  Please watch for additional reports on both Guatemala and Honduras very soon.

MPT Olive Harves Training This Weekend, Spaces Available! (Aug 22-24 Detroit Metro Area)

The Meta Peace Team Fall Olive Harvest Team is currently preparing and training.  Many weeks of preparation, teambuilding, research, and more are involved in getting ready for a Peace Team.

We also work on coordinating with local activists and international orgs to make the most of everyone's work in the conflict zone, and respond to both ongoing and urgent requests for accompaniment, witness, and more from local communities.

Please watch for more coming soon about the Fall Team! Required training starts this weekend (August 22-24th), and at least one (perhaps two) slots still available - interested parties should contact Nicole at 586 419 1070 (cell, leave a message and we'll get right back to you) immediately.

2.25.2014

Election Monitoring in El Salvador: Fraud Prevention

http://blogs.record-eagle.com/?p=11304

Election Monitoring in El Salvador: Part 1


Pat Thornburg, Tommie Jackson and me in our monitoring vests. Photo courtesy of SHARE Foundation - El Salvador
Cathy Stripe LesterA lot of the election procedure in El Salvador is a result of elections having seen so much fraud and corruption in the past. Along with my fellow monitors, I found it fascinating to see how each stage was a counter to a specific abuse.
Overview of one of the urban voting centers. Photo courtesy of SHARE Foundation - El Salvador.
Problem: Voters were unable to get to the polls to vote. Solution: This year saw “residential voting,” whereby polling stations were set up in every municipality and village so campesinos (country people) could get there. This may not sound like a big thing to Americans, but ask yourself: if Kingsley, Grawn and Acme were up in steep mountains without bus service, how many people from there would walk to Traverse City to vote?
Problem: People voting more than once, and/or people from neighboring countries being paid to come in and vote as Salvadoreans. Solution: Everyone had to vote in their specific neighborhood, and they had to have their National ID card. At each polling station, voters had to go to a designated table. The urban center my group was monitoring had 69 tables with their own voting booths. Each table had a list of 500 voters. The voter showed their ID, found their name on the list, and an official put a stamp by their name.
Voters have to dip their thumb into a pot of indelible ink AFTER voting, so officials inspected people’s hands beforehand. One guy who’d been working had to dust his hands off on his pants twice or thrice before the officials were satisfied he didn’t have any ink on them. Only after all that did the voter get their mitts on a ballot paper.
The officials were really suspicious of one woman with a stain on her index finger. Eventually they smelled her finger and finally let her have a ballot. I asked if the ink had a particular smell. Yes. Could I smell it? Yes, but be careful. The “careful” came a second too late as I got a noseful of pungent, stinging smelling salts!
Problem: Ballot-stuffing. Solution: Each table had a pad of 500 numbered ballots. As each voter got their ballot, the official tore off the numbered corner and put it into a plastic bag. Afterward, during the counting, they first counted ALL the leftover ballots (which were then stamped “UNUSED”), then counted the torn-off corners, and added them to make sure there were 500. After the counting, the marked ballots were counted to make sure they tallied with the total.
Counting the ballot papers BEFORE voting started, to make sure there were exactly 500 in the pad.
Problem: Miscellaneous chicanery. Solution: All the parties watched a) each other, and b) each stage of the process. Each table had three officials: one from each of the two big parties and one from one a small party (there were five parties in all). In addition, each table had watchers, or “vigilantes” (vigilant ones) from all the parties. Vigilantes were allowed to wear vests showing which party they were from, but the officials weren’t allowed to wear anything that showed their affiliation, not even a colored wrist band. (In practice, you could guess that the whitest, tallest official who had an air of what I can only call “rulers’ assurance” was from the oligarchs’ party; the one who looked most Indian or mestizo was from the workers’ party, and the third one was from one of the other parties.)
Some of the younger officials, happy to be doing their bit.
The thing is, NOTHING happened without representatives from all the parties seeing it. In case of a dispute, all the parties argued it out. In case a dispute wasn’t solved then and there, a Higher Official was called in. Everything was out in the open.
The big cheese from the Municipal Election Board (JEM) weighing in on a dispute.
Problem: Buying votes. Solution: Making sure no one knows how the voter voted. (If you want to rig an election, you don’t want to buy 100 votes and have only 12 “vote right”!) Voters were absolutely prohibited from showing their ballot to anybody, and there were cases where votes were disputed because of it. One mother wanted to include her little son in the process and had him mark her ballot for her. Then the son proudly showed Mama the ballot in full view of everyone. Aww, sweet! … BIG kerfuffle.
The voting booths were made of cardboard, cunningly constructed so the voter had to stand OUTSIDE and put the ballot in through a little paper flap, then peer over the top of the paper in order to mark it. The vigilantes kept a beady eye on them to make sure the voter didn’t pull a cellphone out of his pocket and stick it inside to photograph the ballot, because one way of telling how someone voted was to see a picture of it.
Voting booth. Notice that wheelchair voters can use the lower flap.
Problem: Illiterate/blind/disabled voters. Solutions: Since this election was ONLY for the president, the ballot papers simply had pictures of the parties’ flags on them. Voters had to mark the flag they wanted with an X. When signing afterward, illiterate voters could make a thumbprint. The center I saw was wheelchair friendly, and a troop of Boy Scouts was on hand to assist anyone who needed assistance.
Blind people could use a template with Braille markings, or they could request someone to help them mark the ballot. I was amused to see an old woman wearing a red FMLN hatband choose an FMLN vigilante to mark her ballot for her. This was allowed.
Making double-sure of everything: To get around the possibility that someone could subvert part of the process, a lot of steps were repeated. The list I mentioned was only the FIRST list. When they put the completed ballot into the ballot box, they had to sign ANOTHER list. At the end, the officials counted both lists. At the table I watched, there was a discrepancy of one, and they had to go through the names one by one to find the glitch.
After the voter signed list no. 2, they dipped their thumb in that pot of ink I mentioned. (Ewww-oogh!)
Counting: When the polling place was declared officially closed, first all the materials were accounted for. Only then was the ballot box opened. In full view of everyone, the chief official pulled out one ballot at a time, read the result, and held it up for all to see.
Showing the ballot. Photo by Anna Fuqua-Smith
Any disputed ballots were argued over by all the participants. No one was allowed to disqualify a ballot on his or her own. If the officials and vigilantes couldn´t agree on a ballot, it was voided. Our table had one voided ballot.
This one was disputed because ARENA claimed the ink squiggle on the right meant the voter's intention was unclear. However, it was given to FMLN
When the box was empty, each party counted their ballots and reported the total. The results were entered onto a form with multiple copies, signed, stamped, and a copy given to each of the parties, the officials and the National Electoral Commission. The numbers were finally reported to the electoral recorder, and all the unused materials, stamps, ink, etc., sealed into the box they came in, and returned.
Salvadorean law demands a majority of 51% to declare a winner. FMLN got nearly 49%, ARENA got about 38%, UNIDAD got 11% and the last two parties had to content themselves with the remaining 2%. Now there will be a run-off on Mar. 9.
All us monitors had the feeling “we weren’t in Kansas any more.” Some of us noticed how cheap it all was – cardboard voting booths, hordes of volunteers – and yet how they trusted the count-the-papers-in-the-open more than the expensive computers the U.S.A. uses.
This one was voided because the X was not on top of the flag.
Others commented on the lack of long lines. There was a line outside at 7:30 a.m. when the center opened (half an hour late because of delays setting up, because the person with the keys wasn’t there on time), but thanks to the voting being split into groups of no more than 500 each, I never saw a table with a line more than half a dozen people long.
The whole process was highly labor-intensive with its constant checks and counter-checks. Yet it achieved what it set out to: It delivered an election that was fair and transparent enough that the SalvadoreƱos themselves believed it. In comparison to past elections, THAT is a major accomplishment.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by my fellow Michigander volunteer, Patricia Thornburg. (My camera was out of order.)
Next time: Local color, and the role of the monitors.

2.11.2014

JVP Shares Education Video about Palestine/Israel







Check out this educational animated short film (only about 6 minutes) from JVP for an introduction to the conflict!


From JVP: "With the massive storm of media coverage about Israel, Palestine, the occupation, and BDS generated by the Scarlett Johansson/SodaStream affair, we have a terrific opening to educate members of the public who are hearing about these issues for the first time. It's also an opening to reach those with only a very basic awareness, but whose interest has suddenly been piqued.

One of our most successful educational tools has been our short video, 'Israel and Palestine: An Animated Introduction.' "

2.10.2014

Former MPT Teamer Denied Access to Israel & West Bank for Current Peacework


On February 3rd, 2014, I was denied entry into Israel after being interrogated by over a dozen different Israeli security officials and agents and kept in a holding cell in the Tel Aviv airport for two days before being escorted by security onto a plane headed for JFK.



During interrogation processes, a man who told me (more like screamed at me, red-faced) that he was an Israeli secret service agent and that he knew everything about me and my "terrorist" intentions in Israel. He than read to me emails I had sent to loved ones a year ago while I was in the West Bank, he read to me reports I had written, and than proceeded to show me pictures taken of me by Israeli soldiers preventing an old man from being arrested for planting an olive tree.

Here is a little background...

One year ago, in February 2013, I spent one month in the Israel-occupied West Bank of Palestine. I worked in a peace team under the umbrella of the DMCW Rachel Corrie Project http://rc.dmcatholicworker.org/ and Meta Peace Team http://www.mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/ doing third-party non-violent intervention work in the West Bank. During my stay our team was asked one morning by local Palestinians to accompany them as they planted trees on their property. The trees they had planted a few months prior had been burned down by Israeli soldiers, who claimed the land was a "closed military zone" even though UN maps proved clearly that the land belonged to the Palestinian Authority.

Our team accompanied a small group of Palestinian farmers, along with a handful of additional international peace activists, and as we began planting olive trees we were met by soldiers. At this point our entire team was detained in an illegal Israel settlement holding facility and questioned by soldiers.

See full report regarding the 2013 detention here:

http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2013/02/mpt-team-arrested-in-west-bank-on.html

Once detained at the Airport on February 3rd, 2014 all individual rights were suspended. I was given a full body search because I was a 'bomb threat' and might have 'bomb making materials on my body". I was not give a chance to make a phone call or right to an attorney. After being escorted onto the plane by Israeli security from a separate entrance for all to see, after all other passengers were boarded, seated and belted in, My passport was passed on to be held in the cockpit until deboarding the plane at JFK.

My biggest disappointment not being able to join DMCW'ers Julie Brown and Aaron Jorgensen who are in the middle of a war zone taking in tear gas, dodging rubber bullets and live ammunition. Please keep them in your thoughts and hearts, as well as the Palestinians, who are resisting the horrendous occupation conditions created by Israel. And the folks at ISM http://palsolidarity.org/ doing a great job with way too few people.

As for me, my future plans are uncertain at the moment. I am regrouping and refocusing my efforts toward other areas of international peace work.


Jessica Reznicek (Meta Peace Team member since 2012)


2.06.2014

Election Day Observation - El Salvador Peace Team February 2014

"So we were there to be witnesses to an election that may go against the oligarchs, and indirectly, against American politicians. But countless Salvadorans want fairness and clean elections. And ... we were there because the Salvadoran Election Tribunal invited us. To be witnesses not to the success of one party, but to the success of the system."

As one of our SHARE monitors, Robert LeLeux, said, 'You can´t quantify the power of witness. Our tax dollars are already sending a message to this community. We have a moral obligation to counter that message.'"




ELECTION DAY - El Salvador Peace Team 2014
The observers´day started with a wake-up call at 3:45 a.m. so we could straggle down to a boxed breakfast and bus to the CIFCO Convention center in the capital city of San Salvador.

The doors were supposed to pen for setup at 5:00, but they didn´t get going until 5:30. Inside there were 69 tables with corresponding voting booths. Each table had an administrative team who were from different parties. They received a sealed box of voting materials which was only to be opened in the presence of all three. In addition they had "vigilantes" or "watchers" from each party.

Because past elections saw so much fraud and corruption, the system has been set up to be as foolproof as possible. Each table has two lists of the same 500 names, each name with a picture of the voter. Voters find their table (alphabetical order and their National ID is matched to the 1st list. Illiterate voters are assisted.

One of the officials asks the voter to show their hands, because when someone has voted they get indelible ink on their thumb. Then he or she stamps the space next to their name on the 1st list. Another official signs and stamps a numbered ballot and gives it to the voter. The voter goes to a booth, marks it and puts it in the ballot box. Then they sign list number two and dip their thumb in the ink. 


Safeguards, Accommodations and Risks at the Polls
Blind voters are given a template with braille so they can identify where to make their mark. The ballots are illiterate-friendly. Instead of names,they had five colored flags of the five parties,and the voters just make a big X over the flag they wanted to vote for. (This election was only for the president, so it didn´t have to be long and complicated.)

While I was watching, a woman came up who had some sort of stain on her index finger. The officials were really suspicious. Eventually they smelled her finger and finally let her vote. I asked if the ink had a particular smell. Yes. Could I smell it? Yes, but be careful. The"careful" came a second too late as I got a noseful of pungent, stinging smelling salts!

A few problems occurred because people showed their vote to others after leaving the booth.  The reason this is strictly forbidden is because, when vote-buying occurred in the past, the buyers wanted proof that the voter had actually voted for the one he was paid to vote for. The booths were sort of funny - they had a paper curtain with a little flap in it, so the voter stood outside, stuck the ballot inside, peered over the top of the curtain and marked it that way. We had to watch to make sure no one slipped a phone out of their pocket to photograph the ballot paper (another way of proving who they´d voted for).


Counting, Wrap Up and Observations
At the end of the day, the two lists were counted (my table had a discrepancy of one,and they had to go through them one by one to find the glitch). Then the unused ballots were counted and stamped "unused."

Finally the ballot box was opened, and in the presence of all the officials and "vigilantes" the ballot papers were taken out one by one, the vote read out, the paper shown to all and then handed to the head vigilante of the relevant party. Disputed ballots were argued over and only handed over when the vigilantes and officials all agreed. If they couldn´t agree, it was voided. Our table had one voided ballot.

When the box was empty, each party counted their ballots and reported the total, which was tallied against the number of unused ballots. The results were entered onto multiple copies, for all the parties, the electoral commission and it almost seemed, the chief commissioner´s cat. The numbers were finally reported to the electoral recorder and all the unused materials, stamps, etc., sealed into the box they came in and returned.

It was a labor-intensive process with constant checks and counter-checks. Nothing could be decided by any one person, or even any one party. But it pretty much guaranteed that everyone knew what had happened at that particular table, and what the results were, and even how disputes had been resolved.

Waiting times? At CIFCO, there was never a line waiting to get in, except at the beginning. Voters came in a steady stream, all day long. People at the door directed them in the general direction of their table. Those in wheelchairs were helped by the Boy Scouts. There were 69 tables in the Center, with an average of 250 voters at each during the day, so about 17,250 people voted in the course of the day. I never saw a line at a table longer than about 6 people.

One thing that surprised the observers was the almost carnival-like atmosphere. Outside the center, there was a constant stream of cars honking, and music playing. The sidewalks were crowded with vendors calling their wares. Cookies, cookies! Pop! Party souvenirs, best prices! Mango-mango-mango! Inside, whole families came to accompany a voter. The vendors didn´t make as much noise inside but they were still there. I spoke to some Finns from a group of election monitors from Europe, and they were saying, "In Finland, when we vote we´re so silent, it´s like going to church!"

At 5:00 a.m., when the center was supposed to open, both the major parties already had tents up and were making lots of noise.

I have to say the party of the Right had a lot more money to spend on tents, balloons, signs, drums, banners, food, etc. Their music had a triumphal, bouncy, we´ve-already-won air. I also noticed a certain racial divide: none of the right-wingers had "Indian" features, most of them had a middle-or-upper class air, and a lot of them were tall, fat and/or had big booming voices. (I think the reps were chosen partly for that.)

The workers´ / ex-guerrilla party had more country people, and more that looked Indian, and none that were fat. Or tall or overbearing. Their music was strong, serious, and determined - in a minor key but very upbeat.

Though I´d been prepared for some disorder, people were enthusiastic but purposeful. There were only one or two fights that had to be prevented that I know of. I was almost wondering why the election monitors were needed in the first place, when I got to talking to some who had been there for previous elections, when ballot destruction was wanton and voter intimidation was totally out in the open. In every year, the voting has gotten more and more fair and transparent.

The USA has for many years supported one party in Salvador: the right-wingers. Our government has validated the Right´s use of blatant electoral fraud and recognized the Right as the "legal" government of El Salvador even when the other party won. As Robert Leleux, one of our fellow SHARE monitors said, "You can´t quantify the power of witnessing. Our tax dollars are already sending a message to the Salvadorean community. We have a moral obligation to counter that." 



The Value of Election Monitors 
The thing is, Election Monitors are a part of the process. Our witness has in the past forced electoral reform, little by little, until now it seems to produce a more honest and transparent result.

For years, the USA has supported the Right wing party and accepted the results of fraudulent elections. I even met one guy who told me if we "LET" the other party win, we´re helping the communists.

The trouble is, the USA has confused Nationalism with Communism. The left is only "left" because they´re against having their land taken away, their freedoms taken away and their countrymen killed by the ones who identify themselves as "Right" and as "Friends of America" even though their actions are profoundly un-American. The oligarchs in El Salvador have duped America into supporting them, and our country hasn´t gone into the nitty-gritty deeply enough to tell the difference.

So we were there to be witnesses to an election that may go against the oligarchs, and indirectly against American politicians. But countless Salvadorans want fairness and clean elections. And if we help them have it, they´re one step closer to being the kind of country we SHOULD want to create. The "American Dream" is a dream many SalvadoreƱos have - a country that gives everyone a chance even if they´re on the bottom of the heap, and a country that plays by the rules.

Lastly, we were there because the Salvadoran Election Tribunal invited us. To be witnesses not to the success of one party, but to the success of the system.

As one of our SHARE monitors, Robert LeLeux, said, "You can´t quantify the power of witness. Our tax dollars are already sending a message to this community. We have a moral obligation to counter that message."

MPT Featured by Metta Center, and Part of the National Shanti Sena

 “When something big (violent) was happening, we wanted to be able to deploy peace teams as quickly and as effectively as the military deploys their troops and as the police deploys officers.”  - Mary Hanna, MPT

The following is an excerpt, read the full article by the Metta Center for Nonviolence, featuring MPT, here: http://mettacenter.org/blog/building-movement-peace-teams-training-coming-city-near.
[MPT] follows a unique model of short-term deployments to both domestic and international situations. Domestic deployments, she describes, are typically very short (1-3 days) and often revolve around single events—past examples have included everything from Ku Klux Klan rallies to Gay Pride parades. Participants in domestic teams need to have attended at least eight hours of training with MPT, and larger deployments are often broken up into smaller autonomous teams for increased flexibility. International deployments are longer, ranging from roughly three weeks to about three months. Preparation for these team members is much more intensive and includes regionally specific training, strategy-building and personal/team awareness exercises, and even simulated experiences such as those one might encounter during the deployment. Mary explains that the goal of all this is to send people who are personally centered, able to work together cohesively, and aware of the general dynamics (at the very least) of the situation they’re about to enter – the hope being that such a team could be a help rather than a hindrance to the local community.
I was curious about the three-month upper limit to international deployments, and Mary helpfully points out that the most common site for MPT international deployments has been the West Bank—and that three months is the longest duration for which one can obtain a visa to travel to the West Bank. This deployment length may shift as MPT engages with communities in different parts of the world, but it is likely to remain relatively short in comparison to the international peace team deployments of other organizations. Mary recognizes that this (the shorter duration) poses certain challenges to the way peace teams operate on the ground, but she argues that the more condensed timeframe also lowers some of the barriers to participation in a team and thus allows for broader investment in the concept. She adds that in this context the capacity for continuity, relationship-building, and on-the-ground familiarity comes from peace team members called “anchors” who return to a region repeatedly (and at overlapping times)—allowing MPT to maintain a constant presence in the community over the course of different peace team deployments.
Efforts to scale up this concept of peace teams have brought MPT to the next stage of its journey as a founding member of the Shanti Sena Network of North American peace teams. This network is composed of a variety of organizations across the U.S. and Canada, and it was inspired by Gandhi’s idea of a shanti sena, or ‘peace army.’ Mary explains that “when something big (violent) was happening, we wanted to be able to deploy peace teams as quickly and as effectively as the military deploys their troops and as the police deploys officers.” To do this, the groups need to develop a standardized training and a network to mobilize people in response to violence—to get those trained teams to the places where they are needed, and to do it quickly. They are beginning by coordinating their curricula to include a basic training that all agree is foundational for peace team work, and they hope that this coordination and cooperation in training will also start to build up the networks of relationships that can later be used to mobilize and dispatch trained teams to situations where violence threatens. Over the long haul, they hope to bring Gandhi’s vision of a ‘peace army’ to life in North America.

- Published Posted on February 5, 2014 by the Metta Center for Nonviolence 
Note: If you are interested in getting trained the skills and strategies for building a national movement of local peace teams, we have good news: MPT Is going to be going on a nationwide tour to do just that. 
You can find out more about where they will be at this link, and contact them if you would like to host them in your town.

2.05.2014

Meta Peace Team - National Nonviolence Skills Training Tour



Thanks to the amazing generosity of the Sisters of Mercy - West Midwest, Meta Peace Team is able to offer nonviolence skills training across the U.S. Below is our current schedule - It will be updated as more sites are secured. Please let your friends know - - This is a wonderful opportunity!

Please "share" and help us spread the word!

Click on the photo for site details.

Read more here: http://www.metapeaceteam.org/#!national-training-tour/cjlr