There Is More At Stake Then Protesting

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Special Reports: May 16, 2003 - The Nation: Protest at the Peace Corps : There Is More At Stake Then Protesting

By William Retherford on Tuesday, June 17, 2003 - 11:27 pm: Edit Post

I have read the three strings of responses regarding the failed attempt to protest the conflict in Iraq I noticed that one thing is missing. No one mentioned the issue of safety in regards to the volunteers who were intending to protest. As a volunteer who witnessed a military coup while serving and being acutely aware of the security and safety procedures while serving. If, and it is a big if there had been a riot or any harm done to the protesting volunteers by locals or the local police the fallout would have been catastrophic for the Peace Corps, the volunteers, their families and the U.S. Government. The media would have had a field day. I empasize with the desire to express one's opinion, however the CD for whatever the reason chose to silence the protest. In the end, you volunteer, but you serve at the pleasure of the US Government and the policies of the U.S. Peace Corps.

By Michael J. Murphy, Korea 75-77 on Monday, July 07, 2003 - 10:05 pm: Edit Post

Mr. Retherford rightfully maintains that the safety of Peace Corps Volunteers is always important in any country which asks for U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer help. If there is a clear and present danger to the volunteers, then they must be removed from the host country for safety reasons. However, I must respectfully disagree with him in regards to protest. Implicit in the U.S. Constitution is the right to demonstrate anywhere in the world. Now it would seem prudent for volunteers to be very careful about protesting the public policies of the host country. But, every volunteer has the right to protest against the United States Government. What is the point in serving as a volunteer if our value of freedom of speech and assembly in the first amendment is not maintained? Who cares about serving at the "pleasure of the U.S. Government" anyway? Yes, we are volunteers who are being funded mainly by the U.S. Governent, but what good is that, if PCVs cannot show independence of mind and assemble peacefully in protest? I have learned over the years that the locals are the ones who will in the end protect the volunteers from harm. If the local populace can see that PCVs are protesting their own U.S. government, they are usually will most definitely not interfere. I would prefer to have a Peace Corps that has a voice than to have something that is muzzled by the U.S. Government and especially by Peace Corps Administration. I served in the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s before Peace Corps and I was muzzled. There is no point in serving in Peace Corps if we cannot have a say on our own.

By Frederic Lugue (fred) on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 1:50 am: Edit Post

I do not agree with people who form a protest demonstration of PCV's just to "show" the local people that Americans have the "right" to protest. Especially when serving in a country where the locals themselves do not have the right to protest/demonstrate against their own government. If a PCV wishes to express their opinion, it seems that there is always a group of people in the host country who are eager to debate anything "American," be it politics or any other topic. The most respected people in my village were not the ones who got up on a soapbox and sought attention. The most respected people were tho ones who could solve a conflict by discussion and in a fair manner. They didn't need to go around waving a sign saying they disagreed with something inorder to be "popular." If a PCV in another country really wanted to make a difference about something they disagreed with, perhaps writing a letter to the appropriate person/agency may be more effective than putting on a show for the local people.

By Diane Eggimann Glasgow on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 2:14 am: Edit Post

All Americans have freedom of speech!

When I was a TEFL PCV in Thailand from '73 -'75, several protesting university students in Bangkok were killed by shots fired from U.S. tanks manned by Thai soldiers. It was during the coup that ousted Phraphat, Thanom, and Kitikachon. The U.S. quickly granted the Prime Minister assylum in the United States.
Newsweek Asia published my letter to the editor, "How often is U.S. foreign aid so horribly misused?" I signed it with my name and location, but I didn't mention I was a PCV.
It is so important to encourage people in developing countries to think for themselves! One of my jobs as a PCV was to demonstrate American democracy while being respectful of Thai ways. My actions spoke louder than my words!
As an RPCV in rural Tennessee, they still do!

I hope Peace Corps administrators will work with PCVs and RPCVs to develop a fair policy with guidelines which allow PCVs to protest American policies as individuals or in groups. Shouldn't citizens in emerging democracies see freedom of speech in action?

By Peter Helgren - St. Vincent and the Grenadines 82-84 on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 11:20 am: Edit Post

There seems to be some implicit connection here between free speech and protest. Our job, as RPCV's and as PCV's is to share our views but that sharing needs to be culturally relevant and sensitive. If PCV's are the sole protestors, what message does that convey locally?
I can affirm the need for free speech and open debate, but open protest is so much about drawing attention to oneself rather than honestly engaging in the issues. One on one engagement, as my experience has taught me, is much more effective than public outbursts. The great lessons I learned and shared while I was in St. Vincent (just north of Grenada) during the US invasion of Grenada came through private conversations rather than public debate. Public protest is not the only way to effectively exercise free speech and change lives.

By carl glahn on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 12:11 pm: Edit Post

While serving in PC I learned that one of the main purposess of the entire exercise, aside from actually helping the population of another country, was to expose "ordinary" host country citizens to the "ordinary" American citizens (not tourist, diplomat or military) and vice-versa. As PC volunteers we should share our personal values and experiences as Americans. One of our most important rights is our right to exercise free-speech and freedom to peacefully assemble. However, as volunteers, we are also under the aegis of the US government, and although my experience has been that we operate with a minimum of US government supervision, we have an obligation to avoid activities that pose an extraordinary degree of personal danger. This is not to say that one should not speak up, but it is important to use discretion, and avoid confrontation, when participating in "public" displays that might put one in harms way. Express yourself, but if they start shooting at you, you have not used enough discretion.

By Jennifer Gerbasi on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 12:23 pm: Edit Post

I am not yet in the PC, and forgive me if that should preculde me from using this discussion board. Since this is about free speach, you might be lenient and post this.
I agree Public protest is sometimes a powerful tool when the legitimate avenues to debate are unavailable. This can happen when the offending party doesn't feel it needs to justify itself, or simply doesn't yet understand the gravity of the situation. Whether picketing a company or the government, it brings media and local attention to an issue that may not otherwise be widely known. I agree with Ms. Glasgow, and disagree with Mr. Lugue. In my experience, a well organized protest with a visible leadership can gain access to the decision makers when phone calls and letter campaigns haven't been successful. Most of the activists I know are not grandstanding attention seekers, but people frustrated with a system that doesn't seem to be listening or responsive. I am glad that PC volunteers around the world are letting local people see both our version of freedom, and the diversity of thought in the US. Thank you for your work.

By Kelly Daly, Tunisia 1989-1991 on Tuesday, July 08, 2003 - 10:41 pm: Edit Post

For VISTA Volunteers serving at home, we tell them they do have a right to take part in demonstrations or protests, contact their congressional reps, the White House, whatever. As individuals, not as representatives of VISTA, AmeriCorps, the agency, or their project.
They're also told that in small communities, they may be seen as "the VISTA" 24-7 and that such activity might not be possible where they are living. They need to think about it, make a decision based on the policies, and recognize that if their activity causes harm to their project, the sponsor has an equal right to ask for their removal.
I think a group of American citizens have every right to protest what and where they want (respecting host laws of course), but it's fuzzier for me if it's a group self-identifying themselves as Peace Corps Volunteers.

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