Conference emphasizes culture in peace activism

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A conference centered on peace activism and social justice was held Nov. 10 at CSUN focused on finding peaceful solutions to conflict through information and understanding one’s own identity in an increasingly interconnected world.

The event, held at the University Student Union Grand Salon from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., featured political art and musicians, including Chilean hip-hop artist Camilo Castaldi.

An activist panel presentation and discussion titled, “The Zapatistas Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle: A Call to Globalize a Grassroots Agenda for Justice,” was held at the conference. Sally Higgins, an attorney, teacher, poet and an American Indian activist from the Oglala Sioux/Rosebud Sioux tribe, spoke from at 3 p.m.

November’s Indigenous Awareness Month activities are presented by the American Indian Student Association and the American Indian Studies Program at CSUN and sponsored by several campus organizations, departments, colleges, student groups and centers.

According to Kathryn Sorrells, professor in the Communications Department, all the guest speakers at the Global Peace and Justice Conference are Los Angeles-based, but at the same time focused on international issues.

Sorrells said Mexican Zapatistas are an inspiration that might encourage other people that they too can peacefully resist and take a stand.

She said the conference would be able to motivate people around the world to create and find new alternatives to promote peace and justice.

Breny Mendoza, professor of Women’s Studies and director of Women’s Resource and Research Center, said the modern Zapatista movement pronounced itself around the same time the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1994.

“They were really a symbolic manifestation of that period in time,” she said.

Rosamartha Zarate, a community organizer for Proyecto Calpuli and guest speaker at the event who also sang briefly to the audience, told those in attendance “being a Zapatista is (more of) a way of thinking, living and seeing reality.”

Zarate spoke about being a minority and taking a stand on issues that affect others like her.

She said understanding one’s personal history and liberating oneself of the dominant culture breaks down barriers for both young and old people.

“The purpose of the conference is to bring awareness and let people know about alternative ways and possibilities of global peace surrounded by war,” Sorrells said. “We have internal war going on between large corporations and politicians. We want to bring the idea that everyone can be involved by doing the small things both locally and globally.”

Virginia Diego, president of the AISA, said many issues that affect many indigenous people are all connected, despite whatever racial and ethnic differences that may exist.

“Even in high school we don’t hear stories (about) us, everything was Eurocentric, (but) we are also part of history,” she said. “We want to educate students about indigenous people, and to say that we are here and we are alive. We want to get rid of the misconceptions and stereotypes.”

According to Hector Ramirez, member of AISA, the conference gave a chance to present different perspectives on the topic of global peace and justice, and provided students with a forum to hear what is happening on the other side of the world.

“Our commonalities are pertinent to the rest of the world,” Ramirez said. “It helps us recognize this world and people’s contributions (to it).”

Diego and Ramirez said they both recognize the significance of dealing with issues peacefully and preserving one’s culture and tradition.

“It’s who we are,” Diego said.

Shayli Saidian, senior communications major, said the goal of the conference is to inform everyone, especially Americans and students, so that people can be more involved and active, even locally. She said most students do not care about issues and contest that “it’s not my problem” until they truly realize and feel the impact of the issues on hand.

“Personally, I read more and I still did not know some of the information that they talked about,” Saidian said.

At the same time, Sorrells said the conference is a way of encouraging the campus to be more involved with political and social activism, focusing on the “role of the university at a time of war.” She said that for the most part, American society is so focused on “working and consuming” that people’s lives are full with the need for survival alone.

“There are issues of injustices here in Los Angeles – there is a global connection,” Sorrells said. “People have to work more to survive, just to make enough. (In a way it’s) war for an average person.”

Karren Baird-Olson, coordinator of the American Indian Studies Program and sociology professor, said the global peace and justice conference started last year. She said that based on the response organizers received from that event, the event was brought back.

“(The) peace and justice conference is about exploring the dynamics in non-violent ways of dealing (with these issues, and) to bring awareness and sensitivity to diversity,” Baird-Olson said. “First of all we have to tell the truth before healing can come.”

Joanne Angeles can be reached city@sundial.csun.edu.