Orange County/Los Angeles Gang Intervention Workers
and Northern Ireland Exchange

In December of 2000, representatives from the Association of Community Based Gang Intervention Workers participated in an exchange visit to Northern Ireland. The trip was co-sponsored by the Program in Citizen Peacebuilding at UCI and MICOM -The Moldovan Initiative Committee of Management-- an organization focusing on conflict resolution and community development in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Moldova. Our shared concerns about violence and mutual efforts to ease violent situations (among the gangs in East L.A., between the Protestant and Catholic paramilitaries in Northern Ireland, and between the Republic of Moldova and Trandsnestria) helped to motivate this international exchange.

The purpose of this visit was to provide an opportunity for representatives to share strategies about resolving violent conflicts and community development efforts. On this visit, the Los Angeles group met with community groups, city representatives, parliament members, ex-prisoners, teachers, youth, community workers, business people, and others. While the most visible conflict resolution, peace negotiation, and community development takes place a federal or governmental level, this was citizen peacebuilding of a different variety. It brought together ordinary people to engage with one another and share common problems, strategies, and struggles and thus serve as catalysts for positive changes in their respective communities.

This was a highly charged trip for both the groups. Not only did the exchange encourage groups to learn about another community, it also compelled them to more deeply examine their own communities. The participants were able to utilize one another to analyze and better understand the causes and consequences of violence in Northern Ireland and Los Angeles and more thoroughly consider strategies for resolving conflicts and developing our respective communities.

The participants engaged in many valuable discussions during this visit. They shared how experiences of violence were outcomes of a disenfranchised society, community and family system. They noted how socio-economic forces and drugs play a major role in cycles of violence. They also discussed how politicians are a part of the problem, yet must be a part of the solution. The participants noted how transformation of communities must involve politicians and grassroots activists who work together in their communities in order for more lasting and substantial positive changes to occur. Those in Northern Ireland particularly observed how the role of the Los Angeles participants as third party facilitators served as a powerful catalyst for significant change among the various disputing groups involved in their conflict situation (some whom would not have sat in the same room otherwise). We expect that a delegation from Northern Ireland could serve a similar role here in California.

There is much enthusiasm about continuing to cultivate and expand these mutually beneficial relationships that have been developed. Several ideas have already been proposed. One proposal is a return exchange visit in which a delegation from Northern Ireland could (a) share their experiences, insight, and strategies of peacebuilding with interested students, community members, and government officials in Orange and Los Angeles counties; (b) serve as third party facilitators for current conflict situations (e.g., Costa Mesa and East Los Angeles); and (c) facilitate the personal development of program participants. In addition, Northern Ireland participants have expressed particular interest in our experience with the combination of drugs and violence. They were cognizant of the relatively new but growing drug trade in their country and wanted to learn from our prevention, intervention, treatment, rehabilitation, and re-entry efforts. They also expressed interest in hearing more about the current situation in California where politicians are reconsidering the "war on drugs" and the prison system.

In addition, ways to encourage youth involvement in citizen peacebuilding (perhaps through a mural exchange project) have been proposed. One project being discussed with folks from Northern Ireland is a "peace mural project." This project would be designed to further peacemaking efforts among the gangs and racial and ethnic groups in Los Angeles, and among the Protestant and Catholic paramilitaries of Northern Ireland. It would provide opportunities for the personal development of participating youth and mentors, and facilitate and produce a collaborative mural emphasizing the ideas of peace making, conflict resolution, and community development. Generally, the proposed project hopes to facilitate community involvement in peacemaking and community development efforts.

These proposals and other future citizen peacebuilding projects would benefit greatly from volunteer participation, expertise, and connections in these and other related areas, such as publicity and media for the Program in Citizen Peacebuilding events, fundraising, ground transportation for participants (buses, vans, tours), hotels or homestays, airline tickets (donations, use of frequent flyer miles), food and refreshments. We invite you to participate in this exchange initiative.

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