Establishing Trust and Accountability: An Integrated Approach to Research on Militarismby John Lindsay-Poland Fellowship (Spring 2011) http://forusa.org/book/export/html/8835
When we are conscious of living in an unjust world, what more do we need to know before we act?
A lot, usually. Without risking the “paralysis of analysis,” I think we need to understand the terrain and forces around us that will shape the outcome of our efforts. If we are to demilitarize life and land, we need to know about militarism, and potential allies, and history, and what are potential obstacles, and how the money flows.
And these things are not static: they change over time, so that it’s helpful to know how and in what direction they are changing. How much is the Pentagon investing in recruiting women, immigrants, people of color, low-income whites, medical professionals? What corporations in our area benefit from the war in
In short, we need to do research.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation is undertaking a project to increase the capacity of our movement – broadly speaking – to do research that serves activism to overcome militarism. We aim to provide tools for learning, space for exchanging skills such as webinars and “cyber-camps,” and hopefully opportunities to distribute the findings of research on militarism.
Research can both help us to make strategic choices about how and where we direct our energies, and its findings can be public tools for agitating, informing, and persuading. When we are good enough and persistent in research, journalists come to us for stories.
Research produces information, but information by itself is not necessarily of any strategic use. If I give you an Excel file with thousands of lines of raw data on Pentagon contracts being carried out in, say, Colombia, with no interpretation, that file may well remain inert on your hard drive. It will be of greater value if I connect that information to context, to other information, and observe relationships between things.
There are some qualities that facilitate activism-oriented research. Patience is useful, especially when dealing with large amounts of detail, or long waits for responses to Freedom of Information Act requests of the
Where can we go to learn about militarism? A universe of sources lives in those who are most affected by militarism – its participants in the military, government, and private contractors, the communities where military activities take place, and most of all, its victims and survivors. These may be sources who lack “official” legitimacy, yet often contribute more to our knowledge than the official documents or spokespeople, because they have firsthand knowledge that hasn’t been written down. Often these folks have been deceived and lied to by outsiders, and they may face real risks by talking about what they know. So establishing trust – and being trustworthy – is key to the relationship.
Trust is related to accountability, especially to people who are negatively impacted by militarism (by war, human rights violations, sexual violence, usurpation of sovereignty, environmental contamination, health effects, etc.). When we do research on militarism, there is an ethical obligation to share our results with those harmed by it, in a form that is intelligible to them – not in academic obscurity, a foreign language, or technically inaccessible – so that they can be better informed agents of their liberation.
Beginning with their experience will also shape our research questions. In Vieques, Puerto Rico, the movement to stop
Of course, official documentary sources are also important. Some of these are online; for research on
Once we obtain information, sometimes we can leverage that information to obtain more, for example, by partnering with other organizations, journalists, or legislators, and by making more sophisticated Internet searches.
Whatever the findings of our research, it is critical to analyze them in order to try to understand what is occurring and articulate a narrative about it. And then to choose ways to distribute our findings, analysis, and narrative that are most likely to get to those we want to reach.
If you are interested in increasing your skills in research on militarism, to share skills you have, or be part of a collective of research on militarism, please contact John Lindsay-Poland by e-mail or phone (510-282-8983).
John Lindsay-Poland is research and advocacy director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, based in Oakland,