(Note: This article was written by Margaret (Maggi) Koren, who is a long-time peace and social justice activist. Maggi has been a peacebuilder with the Peace Alliance/ Campaign for a Department of Peacebuilding (DoP) since 2002-2003. She has been a Northern CA DoP Congressional District team lead and a member of the CA DoP team. She attended three international summits of the Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures of Peace. Maggi is also involved with peace and justice issues in Sonoma County, a co-organizer of Sonoma County's Season for Nonviolence, an active participant in the CA Democratic Party, on the board of Sonoma Progressive Democrats of America, and a member of the United Nations Association. For more about Maggi, see the end of this article.)
I love this season of peace and thankfulness. It's a time when we reach out to one another and share. It was Abraham Lincoln who created the Thanksgiving Holiday following the Civil War in order to help heal our nation, and since then Americans created a beautiful culture surrounding giving, thankfulness and inclusivity. Everyone, of every race and creed, including the indigent, are welcomed to the community meals and entertainment that abound everywhere during Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I ask, why should the season of goodwill be confined to November, December and times of horrific disasters? The magnanimity of spirit and generosity of the American people is widely recognized, but for some reason, such year round altruism, is missing for certain segments of our population.
I’ve recently discovered there is a form of invisible violence that has been subconsciously accepted over countless generations - an invisible violence we may not fully recognize. I believe that Americans especially, who have an innate capacity for caring and giving, might become actively involved to help stamp out this occult violence if they were more aware of its presence in our daily lives.
We all recognize direct violence. It has innocuous beginnings when one does harm to another, like teasing, bullying, name calling, punching and kicking which, thankfully, is slowly being addressed in schoolyards with the practice of restorative justice - but all the while zero-tolerance policies are followed, the violence is intensified and escalates in the prison environment, to maiming, stabbing, raping, killing, riots, arson and vandalism. This violent culture of ours, allows, even accepts, bombing, genocide and war against 'temporary' enemies - just as long as it does not appear to affect us at home. Many of us grapple with this, and yet, are not fully aware of the more widespread pernicious violence that has existed for centuries, and, I don't know, but maybe it is the root cause of all violence. It has been termed structural violence.
To this day we continue to live in a privileged and antiquated patriarchal society, which has accepted, often legitimized, the violent norms embedded in our history and culture. We live in a society that injures and harms individuals because of political and cultural structures, including economic inequality, which create divisions in our population. We have the powerful and the weak, the superior and the inferior, and the very wealthy who take advantage of the abject poor - and let's not forget the privileged white classes. Today we are becoming painfully aware of the hate that exists among us, be it because of poverty, racial injustice, misogyny, gender intolerance, or differences in belief systems. In her 2016 article in Science Direct, "Violent Causes and Cures, " Brandy X Lee wrote, "Due to social and economic structures in place today ........ the death rate is 10-20 million people a year; ten times the death rates from suicide, homicides, and warfare combined.”
Gandhi said: "Poverty is the worse form of violence."
The term "structural violence" was coined by Johan Galtung in his 1969 article, "Violence and Peace Research," in which he said that it is "an avoidable impairment of fundamental needs embedded in political and economic organizations of our social world." Ideas and laws have enabled political, economic, religious, and social conditions that prevent the masses from meeting their basic needs. "We live in a time when unnatural rates of death and disability are caused by discrimination, denigration, shame, and stress, resulting from lower status," says James Gilligan in his book, "Violence: Reflexion of a National Epidemic." The underprivileged at the bottom rungs of society, are denied their ability to achieve a good quality of life. They are limited by social structures, be they economic, political, educational, religious, cultural, or even access to the laws of the land. With poverty, deceptive, often misleading education, and incarceration on the rise, we have growing numbers of oppressed, second class citizens. We also have countless institutions, even corporations, that continue to have authority over their subjects and employees. They have power over people who have no freedom, even in a democracy. Far too many people are unable to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps' because the lack of basic needs is interconnected and compounded.
Rather than being called social injustice and oppression, it is structural violence, and it kills, just the same. It kills and causes harm when people are denied access to adequate healthcare, education, clean water, nontoxic food, even justice in the courts. It is avoidable because it has been created by human decisions and so it can be corrected through changes in policy and education, to undo the injustice that is embedded in our present unfair and violent culture. We live in a culture in which the poor, women, African and Native Americans, the LBGTX community, the recent undocumented even legal immigrants, plus those with different belief systems, remain victims.
Centuries have passed since the celebrated victors of war imposed their culture on their captives, like the Conquistadors in the Americas, the Chinese wars in Asia, the Christian expansion in Mexico and South America, or the British treatment of its poor, and the so-called inferior races of the African continent, the people of India, the Aborigines of Australia, and even the 'under' class Irish in the 18-1900s. The victors raped and pillaged; they outlawed the customs and religions, even the languages of their captives. Listen to the hand-me-down stories of our First Nations in which socially-accepted practices of religious and political violence, decolonization and genocide were committed by North Americans against native Indian tribes in the 17-18-1900s. Sadly, the disrespect continues today. Also the generational oppression of women led to the Irish enslavement of poor pregnant women and girls - a socially-accepted practice hidden among religious doctrines of the time, as was the burning of witches, wise and outspoken women who were potential leaders. Throughout the centuries women have been downtrodden and have fought hard for recognition and leadership positions.
How can such practices not affect whole classes of people? There has been no true US government recognition of the abominable treatment of Black and Native Americans or unequal treatment of women, so there has been no recovery, and new science is telling us that structural violence has been recorded in our cellular memory. Even today, the USA and our NATO allies, continue to use unspeakable violent interventions, legitimizing the violence in the name of spreading democracy.
Structural violence remains mostly an unspoken cultural aberration in a so-called enlightened world.
On the bright side, humanity is slowly evolving- as seen by the growing numbers of people who are working for a change in policies and cultural thinking, searching for truth, forgiveness, reconciliation, and reparations, in an unjust society. Please help us undo our violent past before it is too late, because violence impacts us all - and culturally legitimized and embedded, structural violence, is now being directed on our planet. It is time to expand the culture of peace that we already embrace during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. It is time to begin the healing of everyone and everything that is given life by Mother Earth - because violence continues to present an increasing dominating societal problem that must be addressed.
I truly believe we have a concrete way to begin this work. In the USA we can help create a cabinet-level Department of Peacebuilding by encouraging and lobbying our Representatives in Congress to cosponsor the legislation H.R. 1111. Globally we can sign on to the UN/Global resolution at PeaceNow.com Imagine having 192 UN member sovereign nations with agencies and/ or ministries and departments of peacebuilding within their government structures. It is time to come to terms with the fact that we live in a global society and that everything is interconnected. It is time to work together because whatever happens in Yemen, Palestine, Nigeria and elsewhere affects us all.
"We have an all systems breakdown in our society which requires an all systems approach to build bridges and repair the damage." - Marianne Williamson
Information has been garnered from Wikipedia under the title Structural Violence, from the Peace Alliance Website and from a recently-endorsed California Democratic Party Resolution to "Encourage State Legislators to Establish a California Peacebuilding and Violence Prevention Government Entity."
Windsor, Sonoma County, CA.
Margaret Koren was a hospital bedside nurse for 44 years, trained in London, UK, where holistic health was practiced and registered nurses had more autonomy. Maggi was inspired in 2002 when Congressman Dennis Kucinich campaigned for the US presidency because of his visionary ideas. She later joined Marianne Williamson's North American Peace Alliance (NAPA), and became a devoted activist for the passage of Dennis Kucinich’s legislation for a US cabinet-level Department of Peace and Nonviolence because it made sense at a time of runaway planetary violence, unethical debased immorality and the corruption of a 'New World' democratic promise of rule of law - of justice, provided by the people for the people. She used to say, "In England I could dream but in America I can make my dreams come true." She has no doubt that the caravan of immigrants at our borders feel the same way - with similar hopes and dreams and the lasting promise of security, even prosperity for their children. Maggi continues to believe in the goodness of the American people and that violence prevention at all levels of our society will make America great again! America is a melting pot of genetic diversity which makes a people, who, when given the peacebuilding tools, are stronger, healthier, and wiser.