Janet Gerson

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What are contexts and issues that you work on? How are you using peace education to address these issues? What keeps you going?

I live in New York City, an urban complex with continuous tensions in class, language, status, religion, and political orientation. These un-reified divides are evident riding the subway. Direct violence is a serious problem, currently relatively low. Structural violence is more threatening as luxury corporate businesses and skyscraper residences replace local, affordable neighborhoods. As for my work in peace education, my Master’s Thesis on Reconciliation was ethnographic research on a NYC German-speaking Stammtisch of WWII exiles from my community. As a choreographer with the Arts Council of Upper Manhattan, I co-produced outdoor free performances, interethnic arts festivals, and public access television programs. I taught mediation skills in the schools to teachers, students, and parents, worked at the Bronx Court appointed Mediation Center, organized colloquia, symposia, and taught courses in conflict resolution, peace education, and “Race, Class, and Gender”. My family and friends, reading groups, farmers market, sense of community, meditation and yoga are what get me through the good and bad moments.

What has been your most meaningful or noteworthy moment in your peace education career?

The most striking moment in my peace education related work was participating in UN-NGO Women's Forum 1995 and the many connections that have spun off from that. These include global civil society lobbying for gender justice and CEDAW, Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; supporting the Women's Caucus for Gender Justice in mobilizing consensus for the International Criminal Court formation with inclusion of crimes against women in war; for Security Resolution 1325 for Women's inclusion at all levels of peacemaking processes; the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference to Abolish War 1999 which launched the Global Campaign for Peace Education; and two civil society tribunals, the 2000 Women's International War Crimes Tribunal Against Japan's Crimes of Sexual Slavery in WWII and the World Tribunal on Iraq 2003-2005. Since 1997 I have been involved in the International Institute on Peace Education (IIPE). Each co-sponsored Institute has opened the world to me regarding issues, people, and deepened a resilient civil society network working for a better, less violent, and more just world.

How and why did you start working in peace education?

I was invited to apply for funding to attend UN-NGO Women's Forum in Beijing based on doing community building through the arts in my immigrant neighborhood in NYC. In filling out the application, it became apparent that through our non-profit Dance Stream, Inc., I was an activist, not only a choreographer, dancer, producer, but also had a social and political justice component to my work. The mid-90's assault on arts funding led me to go back to school. (In supporting my daughter in going to college, I realized I could do the same for myself). My aim was to transform my skills honed by working in dance to a larger framework of social justice and peace. I entered the Conflict Resolution program at Teachers College, Columbia University and met Morton Deutsch with whom I stayed connected through his last project on global citizenship. Soon, I met Betty Reardon, joined her in UN NGO lobbying, and eventually earned a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Education -- Political Theory and Peace Education -- with Dale Snauwaert as my advisor. My writing now focuses on educating the public, conflict and communicative processes, and conceptions of justice toward building democracy and peace. My background in dance, with intensive experience in creativity, resourcefulness, coordinating people's talents into interdependent productions and cooperatively organized programs, continues to inform my work as Education Director, International Institute on Peace Education and previously as Co-Director of the Peace Education Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, as well as in emerging projects like Kleine Denk Fabrik (small gatherings for thinking and making).