In my Approaches to Conflict class at the University of Baltimore, students must write a letter to someone in power, requesting something that matters to them. I always participate. So when, the Bay Area BART rail system allowed advertisements from a group that promoted Holocaust denial and white nationalism, I wrote expressing my concern. They said nothing could be done because of the Bill of Rights. This week, however, I received a wonderful email from BART telling me the Board of Directors will meet Tuesday December 4th, 2018 to consider revising their advertising policy. They asked me to comment on this new policy that gives them discretion over the messaging on their platforms. Here is my response....
Dear Board of Directors,
Thank you for bringing this proposal about the possible changes to your Advertising Policy to the Board of Director’s meeting this Tuesday, December 4th.
A former San Francisco resident, I reached out about this issue based on two areas of expertise. Firstly, as a decade-long senior global advertising executive and now as a scholar working on corporate accountability for massive human rights violations.
I study trains as sites of socio-political contestation, specifically the French National Railways’ role in the WWII deportation of Jews and the debates in the U.S. over whether the company has made sufficient amends to do business in the U.S. (especially California where it bids for high-speed rail projects). (For more on this research click here).
You face a conundrum faced by all Americans. As a nation, we want to preserve free speech and yet we all know the power of propaganda to promote the hate which leads to violences. We are torn: freedom of speech or peace?
The U.S. has long prioritized freedom over peace. Few leaders, except the likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., have been able to lead us through these complicated moral waters.
I can share with you the following from my own knowledge and experience. Emotions are contagious. Hate spreads like your California wildfires, especially when people are distressed or in fear. Every genocide on this planet is born of this propaganda.
If you are familiar with the Rwandan genocide, you may be aware of the crucial role the local radio station played by promoting the hate of Tutsis. The genocide could likely not have occurred without their assistance. Raul Hilberg, the father of Holocaust research, says that while many organizations contributed to the Holocaust, trains were vital. The Holocaust likely could not have occurred without their assistance. I’m sure you are aware of the Dutch National Railways recent announcement that it will pay descendants.
Though the U.S. remains largely auto-centric, trains have not diminished as sites of socio-political importance. The recent refusal of Washington D.C. metro drivers to operate a special train for those attending an alt-right rally, demonstrates the awareness of the members of the union.
As historian Howard Zinn so aptly noted, “You cannot be neutral on a moving train.” With this in mind, I encourage you to use your power wisely and be discerning regarding the messages you allow on your train platforms.
Advertising works— it can sell products or lay the groundwork for mass violence and political polarization.
I support the new policy.
Please keep me posted regarding what you choose.
Sarah Federman, PhD
Negotiations and Conflict Management
College of Public Affairs
University of Baltimore
Published in, The Negotiation Society, Issue Three, November 2018. Click here for digital edition.
My first semester at the University of Baltimore, I taught masters students the negotiation strategies I had learned from the Harvard Business School and from my decade-long career as a senior global advertising executive. Students enjoyed the lectures, discussions, and simulations.
During individuals meetings and after reading their reflection papers, however, I started to rethink the course. The financial precarity of many of their lives concerned me, causing me to ask myself, what good is it to help people save $5,000 on a car, if they don’t have a retirement account or any savings? That money will disappear in a month.
A deaf student who worked in construction, for example, had no health insurance. Without health insurance in the United States, one broken leg will eat up anything saved in a car negotiation. His vulnerability put him as well as his loved ones at great financial risk. Students also did not understand the nature of school loans. In the United States, even personal bankruptcy cannot free one from these loans. People can be haunted by them their entire lives.
Knowing many students had taken on these loans to be in my classes, I felt a responsibility to help them find a way out of debt.
Taking Stock as Preparation
Over the winter break, I quickly redesigned the course. Now early in the semester, we talk about building a strong financial ship. Students figure out their net worth, which requires calculating their credit card debt, home loans, etc. They also look at their retirement plan and think about their health coverage. Then, a financial advisor speaks to the class about financial basics and explains the difference between a fiduciary and a stockbroker, the former being required by law to make decisions which serve the client before themselves.
This ought to be the first step in any negotiation class. You have to first know what you have.
Adding this personal financial component to the class had immediate results. One student turned down a job offer promising her an easier commute and greater vacation time. She said no because the salary would not be enough to pay off her school loans while also covering her monthly expenses. She said learning about the loans helped her make this decision.
The idea of preparation is a standard in any negotiation book or seminar. By “preparation” the negotiation experts mean taking time to figure out what you are willing to pay, your alternatives and your counterpart’s interests and alternatives. What many negotiation resources neglect to discuss is how you know. You need to know where you are and where you are going.
This is as true for companies as it is for individuals. When salespeople understand, for example, their company’s operating costs, they can feel more confident when negotiating with potential customers.
Negotiating helps you cover your costs while securing money to invest in your future. So, how do you know your future?
Knowing what you really want
The course now adds a second component to “preparation” rarely addressed deeply in negotiation classes. Course participants spend time clarifying not only what they want, but why they want it. When they think about the why they consider how the acquired object or resource will contribute to their lives. Unless grounded in what matters most to us, we can too easily find ourselves in caught up in ego-based negotiations in which we try to capture more of whatever happens to be on the table, whether or not we really want it.
Getting to Yes with Yourself, negotiation guru William Ury’s latest book, talks about the importance of taking time for this introspection. After decades of helping people acquire what they thought they wanted, only to find they still were not happy, inspired him to write this book. He now urges political leaders, business owners and individuals to really stop and think about what fulfills them.
Students like Ury’s book, but often tell me they need more help figuring out exactly what they want. A decade working in advertising, helped me understand how marketers work to tell people what they should want. Few can be totally immune to how culture and marketing shapes us, but we can stop and consider the kinds of messages we receive.
People receive far more marketing messages, for example, to acquire something new than to say, pay off their debt. In January 2018, Experian estimated the average American carries at least $6,375 in credit card debt. This is a 3% increase from 2017. With a U.S. national average of 17% interest on these loans, many folks can barely pay off the interest each month. But people continue to buy. Advertising encourages consumers to that whatever they are selling will be worth the expense. At the very least the new acquisition can be distraction from the uncomfortable feeling of the debt at their heels.
One of our students described well the trap of consumption,
“I used to spend my money buying all these fancy things to impress my friends. Then I became annoyed they did not come over very often and when they did they did not seem sufficiently impressed with what I acquired. I worked all week earning money to acquire possessions I spent my weekends taking care of. Eventually, I cleaned it all out and started taking care of myself.”
It might be a shock to accept that our ‘wants’ may actually not even be our own. How do we know if what want came from ourselves or was planted in our minds by advertisers, parents, colleagues, our religious community or even by a business competitor? In class we do some of the difficult work of disentangling that. I remind students of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s profound observation,“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”
Yes, we go deep. But by thinking critically about what influences us, we have a better chance of being fulfilled when we succeed.
So now, in addition to thinking about their financial situation, students also write an essay about what they want and why they want it. They continue to think about and refine their goals throughout the semester. Their efforts culminate in the last class which is held in my home. Their final assignment is to prepare for and attend a “Come As You Will Be” party. Students come as they will be in five years, dressing up and bringing props like business cards, book covers, and wedding rings. They try to stay in character for four hours and ask each other questions about their personal and professional lives. Students have created fascinating consulting companies, talked about their improved health and shared funny stories about their children, partner and homes. The goals is to be as convincing as possible.
This celebratory event can be challenging because it puts everyone back into the driver seat of their own lives and disrupts the unconscious chasing of something “out there” that will presumably increase their happiness.
While this discussion has largely been about individuals, the same strategies are useful in business or in politics. Businesses also need to know who they are and what matters most to them. “Money” as a single answer is a lazy and will not be enough to inspire the best out of employees. This is why some companies invest so much time in quality mission statements.
A salad shop, sweetgreen, has the mission to “inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.” Patagonia, an outdoor equipment and clothing company, goes even further with mission to “build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
These are goals big enough to inspire employees of all levels to move through the occasional drudgery of the day-to-day of production and delivery of their products. Notice that being wealthy and number one were not the mission; they may be the outcome of fulfilling their mission, but it is not the primary goal. Without being grounded in a deep knowing of who they are and what they want it, businesses may find themselves mindlessly pursuing the competitor which can lead them in the wrong direction. Business leaders can miss untapped markets when too focused on capturing their competitor’s clients. Additionally, focusing solely on beating the competitor can distract from creating innovative solutions, leading companies to be effectively knock-offs of one another.
A simply sailing metaphor can help negotiators get on the right track. Know the status of your vessel and be clear about the destination. Then, use negotiation tactics to move you swiftly along your way.
 Ury, William. Getting to Yes with Yourself: (And Other Worthy Opponents). HarperCollins, 2015.
 Dickler, Jessica. “Credit card debt hits a record high. It's time to make a payoff plan.” CNBC.com Published January 23, 2018. Accessed August 28, 2018.
Violent Places: Everyday Politics & Public Lives in Post-Dayton Bosnia & Herzegovina by Tobias Greiff
I first met Tobias while he had a research position at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He moved around the halls carrying a white mug that said, “war crimes.”
When you held this mug with your right hand you saw nothing else, no explanation, just the black letters "war crimes." And these crimes were clearly always on Tobias' mind.
Sipping from his cup, he talked to me about his research, deep exploration of positioning theory and his non-profit organization in Bosnia which has long-helped orphans. When he invited me to give this talk, I was eager to see what became of all his ideas and experience.
What struck me first as a non-expert in the Balkans, was hearing about the growing insecurity. I like many, thought of Bosnia as a place safely classified a “post-conflict” region. In the past 20 years, however, the exclusion, repulsion and open aggression towards Bosnians has continued largely invisible to the international community.
Post-war Bosnia is not okay.
Some places face up to 50% unemployment. Many lack money for basic needs, with the older folks facing tremendous vulnerability.
Tobias raises the critical question; how did all that investment in post-war Bosnia not build the resilience needed to resist and prevent some of the exclusionary tendencies and new moves towards radicalism?
He holds us, by “us’ I mean the post-conflict and development community as partly at fault. He says perhaps we have misunderstood what being Bosniack, Croate, Serbian means to people today in daily life.
We must seek to understand this. We must also restory the Balkans as the “powder keg” of Europe while simultaneously restorying post-war Bosnia as a success story.
Only by taking off our rose-colored glasses can we see the on-going tensions. Only through clear vision, can we help increase trust. Trust creates stable relations which in turn attract investment. Investment can help local populations resist pressures to radicalize.
Pressures continue from Turkey and Saudi Arabia which seem to be engaging in a kind of proxy war through this shattered society. Improvised people are increasingly vulnerable.
Such precarity prompts us to ask, is the war over? Is this a negative peace? The society seems to have all the indicators of heading towards future outbreaks or at least oppression.
To help us see the present-day situation with clear vision, Tobias pushes us to let go of the hope of e pluribus unam by considering the many within the “one.” And this many means more than ethnic groups. He makes a convincing case that ethnic divisions have camouflaged other differences perhaps equally as important.
Through research collected on 6 visits over 5 years, the book takes us on a tour of four cities, Gorazade, Mostar, Banja Luka and Sarajevo. We travel along rivers, dirt roads, and nicely paved toll roads for the “rich” which transition us from one community to another. Pastoral landscapes constantly being disrupted by the ravages of war.
As someone who writes about how we label and conceptualize perpetrators, I appreciated Tobias’ acknowledgement of some Serbian perspectives. In seeking the marginalized victim, we can too often and easily silence the “perpetrators.” When our own work marginalizes those deemed “perpetrators”, we contribute to dynamics of exclusion and perpetuate cycles of violence.
Instead this book keeps multiple parties visible highlighting both who and what is present and what & who is absent in public spaces. Perpetrators and victims , he says, first linked through violence are now linked by remembrance.
We see the remnants of war and unresolved trauma in street names, flags, burial grounds, bazars, graffiti, memorials, university catalogues as well as the presence/absence of religious buildings.
Tobias Greiff is clearly an expert on the region and convinced me that we need to look at Bosnia again, with new eyes. In the face of so many violent conflicts already in full eruption we can miss those starting to bubble at the surface.
Book introduction given by Sarah Federman at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, Tuesday October 23, 2018.
The following was submitted as a letter to the editor at The Guardian
On September 12, 2018, The Guardian reported that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), in California, allowed ads in two of their stations produced by the organization, The Institute for Historical Review (IHR). IHR has been classified as a Nazi-defending hate group which promotes Holocaust denial. The BART spokesperson, Alicia Trost, says the company cannot deny the ads. Why not? Of course the company can, it simply chooses not to. Train companies cannot sidestep the messy realm of ethics.
Having worked for over a decade as a senior advertising executive before earning a doctorate focusing on corporate accountability, I find the company’s position deplorable. My research focuses on the role of the French National Railways (SNCF) in the transport of deportees in World War II towards death camps in horrific conditions. I also study the contemporary debates over whether the company has made sufficient amends to do business in the U.S. The SNCF’s participation in the Holocaust makes clear that companies cannot position themselves as not playing a moral role in society. Another example: In 1993, RTLMC, a Rwandan radio station, promoted the genocide against the Tutsi people. Serving as a vehicle hate speech, the radio station proved just as crucial for the fulfillment of the Rwandan genocide as trains proved crucial for the Holocaust.
While the first amendment protects free speech, companies have a right to refuse service. BART can contact the SNCF and the victims to learn more about the consequences of pretending ethics do not apply to them.
Champions du Monde!!
It’s 9:30am I’m sitting Place Charles de Gaulle in Lille, France, the morning after France wins the World Cup.
Every time I look up from my computer, « Champions du Monde: Merci les Blues!” greets my eyes.
The town center is already spotless—the all night festivities washed away – now the side streets are getting their power washing. No smell of beer, urine, or the sweat of the thousands upon thousands of folks here last night.
Last night, after the game, I joined the mostly under thirty crowd– cheering, dancing, and swirling around for hours without destroying themselves or anyone else. Red and blue smoke filling our lungs and occasional fireworks rattling our ear drums, but other than that we were fine. I usually associate mobs waving national flags with revolution and/or all its accompaniments (hate-filled discourse, looting, violence, and, ultimately – death).
War and Sport in Celebratory France
Arriving in May allowed Ron Niezen and me to enjoy the celebrations at each turn. In the past few weeks, we have heard the Marseilles over 50 times (but still don’t know the words). French flags grow out of the ground and sprout out of windows at every turn. Car buses in Paris honked in unison whenever France scored a goal, even in the semi-finals.
(Now, Ron permitted me to note how he dragged me away from the Hotel Crillon where we were about to see the team heading out to the World Cup. There were 20 of us then. Now I'm watching about 1,000,000 people waiting to catch a glimpse of them returning home...he'll never live that down).
Anyway, to have this celebration – to have this win – inspired this already self-proclaimed optimist for many reasons. In part, because this country has been so rattled by terrorist attacks. To see such fêtes lead to little more than hangovers, dirty streets, and strained vocal cords is a true victory. This experience inspired me for another reason.
This past week at SciencesPo Lille, in my course on Approaches to Conflict in a Globalized World, we talked about sports and conflict and considered sport as a replacement for war.
Of course, suggesting that Boko Haram might be up for a game of volleyball seems more than far-fetched. Stateless militant groups might not be willing to trade guns for soccer cleats but for the nation-state I’m hoping it is still possible. And maybe if we get to young folk before they join terrorist organizations, we can have a chance with them too.
We Americans only see this unity of country and team during the Olympics. That energy is diffused by so many different sporting events. No one knows all the athletes. Anyone interested can quickly learn about all the football (soccer) team members. And unlike the Olympics – which is largely an individual test – the World Cup is about team. We Americans have grown up on a steady diet of individualism. So this “family” nature of the sport promotes values in which we might be in short supply. It felt nourishing.
Lastly, seeing nationalism with the involvement of state leaders unaccompanied by military agenda feels almost utopic. Yesterday evening, Croatian and French team members individually greeted Putin and Macron on the football field. The soccer field instead of the battlefield.
For a moment, at least during this cappuccino, I can pretend we are in a post-war era of humanity. Of course, even the morning after we’re not post-problem. Four homeless-looking young men asked me for money while I wrote this short piece and beautiful young French girls continue to fill their lungs with cigarette smoke.
Of course, sport isn’t replacing war anytime soon, it cannot solve most problems, but after years of studying the causes and effects of war, don’t mind me if I relish a few more days this feeling of well-being and hope for a nationalism without hate.
To complement Christie’s work, I provide a framework for ideal perpetrators. They are 1) perceived as strong, 2) abstractable (inhuman), 3) representative of the nature of the crime, and 4) have a champion-opponent, someone who keeps them in the news.
To demonstrate, I use the example of the French National Railways (SNCF), which for the past decade has found itself embroiled in lawsuits and legislative battles in the U.S. over its role in the World War II deportation of Jewish deportees towards death camps.
This article, published in Security Dialogue, side-steps the question of the SNCF’s guilt (addressed more fully in my forthcoming book), focuses on why the SNCF remains in the news while other culpable actors hide in the shadows (i.e. the French police who conducted the round-ups and corporations like IBM and Ford).
When we focus on one perpetrator, many other guilty parties hide in the shadows, like the guard in the photo above. Furthermore, by isolating the perpetrators always as someone or something outside ourselves, we skip the important work of considering how we, our policies, our societal values, etc. contribute to mass violence. Without this work, we will likely find ourselves in conflict again.
Scholar Vivienne Jabri argues the creation of these victim and perpetrator groups is violence. Once we begin to exclude members of society, we begin the process of legitimizing violence against them. We then become the agents of suffering and the cycle continues. If the processes of separating victims and perpetrators is violence, is it not vital to understand how we select our perpetrators?
FOR THE FULL ACADEMIC ARTICLE PLEASE VISIT:
Security Dialogue Federman, Sarah. The 'ideal perpetrator': The French National Railways and the social construction of accountability
Albright, Madeline, Conversation after presentation From Words to Action, the Responsibility to Protect, The United States Holocaust Museum, July 23, 2013.
Braithwaite J (2004) Restorative justice: Theories and worries. Visiting Experts’ Papers: 123rd International Senior Seminar, Resource Material Series 63: 47-56.
Christie N (1986) The ideal victim. In: Fattah EA (ed.) From Crime Policy to Victim Policy. London, UK: Macmillan, 17-30.
Federman, Sarah. The Last Trains to Auschwitz: The French National Railways’ Role in the Holocaust and the Struggle to Make Amends. (Under review)
Jabri V (1996) Discourses on Violence: Conflict Analysis Reconsidered. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
Minow M (1999) Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
One of the conundrums of teaching conflict resolution is that we can become really, really good at explaining why things are such a mess. We have thousands of theories and empirical studies to help explain our conundrums and many reasons to just put our heads in our hands and give up.
Unfortunately, when studying problems you can forgot how much power and voice you DO have.
That's why, this semester, half-way through a masters class at the University of Baltimore on Ethnic and Cultural Factors of Conflict, I decided students needed to be reminded of their power by cultivating their voices.
The Extra Credit Assignment
I offered students the following extra credit assignment:
1. Write a letter to someone in power (could be a politician, business owner, etc)
2. Tell them what you're concerned about
3. Tell them why it matters to you
4. Then tell them exactly what you want them to do about it.
I wanted to share this with folks, in case you have students and can assign this as well. If every student in graduate or undergraduate school wrote a letter, can you imagine the amount of voices we would have active in this country?
Nawal Rajeh, co-fouder of By Peaceful Means, Baltimore's free Peace Camp, knows all about this power of engagement. Her campers repeatedly and successfully protested the closure of the pools in their Baltimore neighborhoods. They were not even teenagers!
If you have folks you can assign this to, for credit or extra-credit, please consider doing so.
I study how we talk about evildoers and how this affects how we respond to them. When we label folks or events as "evil" we never have to reflect on our own role in the crime, violence, or loss.
We love these good-bad binaries. Our superhero films are filled with them. They bring us comfort, they reassure us of our pure victimhood and help us identify the bad guys so we will not be harmed in the future.
What I am finding, however, is how we talk about the "enemy" often sets us up for more long-term problems.
Negotiating with IRMA
I spent most of Sunday terrified as IRMA barreled towards my family huddled on the 4th floor of a condo in Naples, Florida. First we waited to find out if they lost the roof and if the windows had blown in. Then we waited to see if they could survive the 10-15 foot anticipated storm surge.
First we focused on their lives and then all their few, but most precious possessions. The surge never came and the roof remained, but we are all changed. Below is a photo of one IRMA victim near their home.
I began last night's negotiation class last night talking about times when negotiation is NOT possible -- IRMA you cannot negotiate with IRMA. And yesterday was the 9/11 anniversary. You cannot negotiate very well with folks willing to die to drive a plane into a building. Accountability seems very clear in these instances; IRMA ruined the beaches and the terrorists killed those working in the Twin Towers. This seems so clear.
Is IRMA Innocent?
Then a National Geographic video challenged this narrative that IRMA and her friend JOSE are at fault. They showed how rising sea temperatures increase the likelihood of category 4 and 5 hurricanes. Some scientists anticipate these can become the norm, not the exception. My parents survived one, but I am not sure they can survive another.
National Geographic talked about how this administration will not acknowledge any connection between climate change and these hurricanes. This made me wonder, who benefits when we externalize IRMA and JOSE making us innocent victims of these abstract, inhuman perpetrators? Does industry benefit? Do consumers unwilling to change their behavior benefit?
By naming them and blaming the storms, we opt out of responsibility wherever it does lie. I am not a scientists, I cannot say whether rising temperatures are causing these hurricanes. But no one wants to inhale pollution, everyone wants clean water. Rather than just being victims of an outside terror, the storms are if not a call at least an opportunity to step up and cool down the planet.