When he was on the West Bank with a Christian Peacemaker Team in 2005, Chicago organizer Elce Redmond realized the problems people faced there were similar to those faced by people back home – and solutions might be similar too.
Redmond, an organizer with the South Austin Coalition, will give the opening keynote for CPT’s 25th anniversary Peacemaker Congress , Thursday, October 13 at 8 p.m. at Evanston Reba Place Church, 533 Custer. The congress runs through Sunday the 16th.
In 2005, Redmond’s team was providing “peaceful accompaniment” for Palestinian schoolchildren who faced bullying and attacks by adults (“they were mostly from New York,” he says) living in Israeli settlements there. “I was struck that the same situation happens on the West Side of Chicago, kids trying to get home from school and facing gangs and violence.”
Back home, Redmond began organizing the Austin Peaceforce, with parents and community volunteers trained in nonviolent strategies who are deployed to defuse conflicts and prevent violence. Today they have a regular presence in Austin schools, including parent patrols after school.
Another parallel emerged a year later, when Redmond went with CPT to Iraq. There they provided help to relatives trying to get information on detainees. “Mothers, wives, children contacted us to find out where a person had been taken and what the charge was – if there was a charge,” he said. CPT members were constantly visiting places like Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib.
“We found lots of people who were just rounded up for the sake of rounding up someone,” he said. “For many there were no charges – so many of them weren’t guilty of anything, other than being of Arab descent.
“The same thing happens on the West Side and South Side of Chicago, people are rounded up and simply because of where they are and who they are, they are associated with certain gangs and criminals.”
Redmond says he was impressed with the courage and steadfastness of both CPT members and residents of conflict zones.
Founded in 1986 at a retreat center in suburban Techny, CPT trains people in violence reduction strategies – which often involve “getting in the way”  — and has sent teams to Haiti, Bosnia, and Chiapas, Mexico.
Other keynotes during the Congress will be by Angelica Castellanos of Colombia, Fathiyeh Gainey of Palestine, and Mohammad Salah of Iraq. PCT has long-term projects in all three countries.
CPT opposes the Colombia Free Trade Agreement  now under consideration in Congress, saying it “threatens to exacerbate the ongoing human rights crisis in Colombia.”
The group cites its Colombian partners as saying the pact “will continue to impoverish small-scale farmers, expand economic mega-projects that cause environmental destruction, and undermine labor rights, all of which will contribute to further displacement of millions of Colombians.”
Related: Community Organizer Visits Baghdad , Newstips 2005