Subject: Sternberg involved in East Timor conflict resolution

Marquette Tribune

October 4, 2005

Speaker: Nonviolent doesn't mean passive

Sternberg involved in East Timor conflict resolution

By Marino Eccher

Tribune Staff

As soon as Jill Sternberg started learning about Mahatma Gandhi and nonviolent resistance in college, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

She remembered thinking, "this is it; there is no alternative," she said. "It was like a lightbulb."

Sternberg, who now works as an international consultant for nonviolence, conflict resolution and diversity, visited Marquette Monday afternoon to share her experiences at University Ministry's Soup With Substance.

About 20 students, faculty and members of the Milwaukee community came to the Alumni Memorial Union for a cup of soup and the chance to discuss nonviolence with Sternberg.

Sternberg, who holds a master's degree from Notre Dame's Insitute for International Peace Studies, focused the discussion on her recent efforts in East Timor, which gained its independence in 2002 after being occupied by Indonesia since 1975.

More than 200,000 people were killed during the course of the occupation, according to Sternberg. She said seeing the destruction in East Timor firsthand was an eye-opening experience.

"To actually witness something like this (was) a huge crisis for me," she said.

She cited her involvement in successful lobbying efforts to persuade the United States to stop providing arms and training to the Indonesian military as an example of effective nonviolence through "sustained, planned and coordinated action."

Sternberg also said she helped establish a center for nonviolent conflict resolution in East Timor after the country became independent.

Soup With Substance guests had a number of thoughts and questions on nonviolence for Sternberg.

Philosophy Professor Emeritus Robert Ashmore asked if nonviolence was always the right solution, given the "many examples in history of the failure of nonviolent resistance."

Sternberg acknowledged that purely nonviolent resistance was very difficult to achieve.

She also said the most important choice in human rights situations is "between action and inaction," rather than nonviolent versus violent resistance.

College of Arts & Sciences graduate student Phu Tran said nonviolence often faces oppression, which is the case in his home country of Vietnam.

"Most of the activists right now are either in prison or kicked out of the country," he said.

Sternberg said supporters of nonviolence put themselves in danger in many parts of the world.

"Almost every act is a risk in some countries," she said.

Don Wescher, a member of the Peace Action Coalition, a national organization of peace groups, said the United States must get its priorities straight if it hopes to make nonviolence a reality.

"We almost spend more on the military in this country than every other country in the world combined," he said.

Gerry Fischer, interim associate director of University Ministry, said he came to the program because he is "always trying to understand what one person can do."

Sternberg said groups can have much more impact than individuals.

"Part of the struggle today is that we think one person has to do it all," she said.

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on October 4, 2005.

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