Our Background: A Multifaceted Legacy
The vision for Global Citizen Journey (GCJ) evolved from the international grassroots experiences of Citizen Diplomacy, The Compassionate Listening Project and PeaceTrees, and was catalyzed by connections made during a conference called The Practice of Peace. Here’s a bit of history.
A Dream of Citizen Diplomacy
Citizen diplomacy emerged from the recognition that sustainable peacemaking grows from grassroots relationship-building between citizens. In 1983, Danaan Parry led the first Earthstewards citizen diplomacy outreach, an exchange of many visits between Americans and Russians. In 1990, he initiated a citizen diplomacy project in the Middle East. Continuing the effort, Leah Green led 11 citizen delegations to Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan from 1991 through 1997. This work was so successful that in 1998 Leah founded a separate nonprofit organization, Mid-East Citizen Diplomacy, which has since become The Compassionate Listening Project.
Compassionate Listening Around the World
Compassionate listening is a tool for reconciliation based on a simple yet profound formula for conflict resolution: adversaries give each other the gift of listening. This philosophy and skill were developed by Gene Knudsen Hoffman, an international peacemaker and founder of the US/USSR Fellowship of Reconciliation program, in her work with Thicht Nhat Hanh. Beginning in 1997, this powerful technique became the vital core of the Mid-East Citizen Diplomacy missions. Through this work, bridges of understanding have been built with respectful and trusting relationships at every level of Israeli and Palestinian society. The project has since broadened its mission to teach the practice of compassionate listening at home and abroad.
Planting Trees and Peace
PeaceTrees arose from the work of the Earthstewards Network. Danaan Parry’s idea was to promote friendly relations between traditionally conflicted people by getting both sides together to do something positive and beneficial to all: planting trees. Since 1987, Earthstewards has co-coordinated and managed more than 25 highly successful PeaceTrees projects throughout the world, including Kenya, Nicaragua, Palestine, South Africa and the United States. PeaceTrees Vietnam combined removing landmines with tree planting on a major battlefield of the Vietnam war.
Global Citizen Journey is Born
With ties to all these organizations, Susan Partnow began dreaming of creating a global network of PeaceTrees projects. Coming from a whole systems design background, her vision was to weave in elements of sustainability and ways to leverage the impact of the individual’s experience. GCJ began to take shape. In addition to working on a project, the delegates would focus on leadership development and relationship building.
Participants would include a wide range of ages, with a diversity of professional backgrounds to widen the potential connections. Delegates could be sponsored by local organizations in order to expand the community of connection at home. Plans for the first GCJ trip to Syria were developed in conjunction with The Compassionate Listening Project in 2002. But the carefully cultivated contacts there broke down as the march toward war in Iraq began. GCJ was set aside, awaiting the right moment to emerge.
In November of 2003, 130 people came together from 24 countries, representing 13 conflict zones. They gathered for an Open Space conference on the Practice of Peace, co-sponsored by Open Space Institute, the Whidbey Institute and one of its programs, Spirited Work. Susan shared the idea of Global Citizen Journey with many attendees and got enthusiastic responses, especially from two African participants. On the morning of the last day, Susan awoke with a powerful image of the continent of Africa with a heart pulsing at its center. It seemed Africa was calling to be the inaugural GCJ location.