Color Line

Dialogue with Laurie Smolenski

Development Director

Global Center on Cooperative Security

New York, USA

May 2021

What connects us: a shared desire to listen to what is different and foster meaningful dialogue.

What does the Global Center on Cooperative Security strive to do?

The Global Center works to address root causes of violent extremism through non-military means, through a human rights-based approach. We do collaborative research and field projects, mostly in Southeast Asia and East Africa. For example: we work with community organizations to build resilience against extremist recruitment. We train prison officials and judges on how to engage with people charged with terrorism in a way that respects human rights. We lead multilateral security efforts within the UN and elsewhere, to ensure policies take into account the impacts on local communities.

My role at the Center is to build out a development department in pursuit of unrestricted funding. We are mainly funded by donor governments, so most of our budgets are earmarked for specific programs but don’t cover the full cost of our work. I aim to compel individuals, business and foundations to support our work through unrestricted funding. This involves translating our technical work to a broader audience and connecting our programs to key global issues. 

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your community’s work?

Over the last 20 years counter terrorism measures have been expanding, initially in response to the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., then with the rise in authoritarianism around world, and more recently through the pandemic. Under the auspices of pandemic security, we are seeing exceptional measures being invoked, such as the sanctioning of protesters, dissidents, and the media alongside increasing mass surveillance. Authoritarian states are repurposing the toolbox they have long used in the name of counter terrorism to repress civil society under the banner of pandemic security. They are exploiting fear – of terrorism, of the pandemic, of migrants or other marginalized groups – to consolidate power. This is very dangerous because once freedoms are restricted, they are difficult to get back.

How does racial equity and social justice intersect with global security?

Racial, religious, and ethnic minorities, as well as migrants and economically marginalized communities are so often targeted as security threats. When they are labelled as such, their rights may be violated in the name of state security.

Violence is mostly understood through the ways in which men experience it, and this also shapes global security in inequitable ways. The forms of violence that women experience are complex and severely misunderstood, in addition to sometimes being improperly measured. When women (including trans women) report violence, it’s so often not taken seriously, not registered properly, and may result in tremendous stigmatization. Many female victims who report gendered violence face a legal infrastructure that is incapable of advancing the pursuit of justice, which in turn engenders impunity.

Women represent 50% of the population, and yet we treat “violence against women” as a subgenre. Our global understanding of violence continues to be funneled through the male lens, and this is reflected in data that only tells part of the story, which in turn impacts policy. If the data on which our policies are being based is not representative of the experiences of women and girls, we will continue to deploy bad policy.

Partnering with civil society actors and maintaining human rights is key to global security.

The Center publishes reports including national strategies to counter national terrorism.

A must read from Laurie: Chanel Miller’s memoir on structural injustice and fierce courage. 

When was a moment when you saw groups mobilize; what did they accomplish?

In the Spring I emerged from my house to march for racial justice. To see the streets of New York filled with people protesting: the sheer numbers of people, the intergenerational crowds, the mutual aid with people giving out water, masks, and hand sanitizer – all to demand racial justice – that was uplifting. 

What are some of the best books you have read?

“Know My Name” by Chanel Miller. She has fierce courage. Chanel was assaulted shortly after college and writes her story in a voice unlike anything I have read before. She presents a searing indictment of our patriarchal justice system and describes the many ways in which she was failed by structures and individuals with tremendous power.  

I’m also inspired by progressive media that are a compass against hate. Two are top on my list. Democracy Now, run by my hero, Amy Goodman, is a transformative, independent media outlet that features diverse voices. The Interruptrr produces a weekly round-up of news stories and analysis primarily authored by women, including many women of color. Mainstream media is still dominated by white men, so I love reading about all these badass women around the world analyzing issues of importance through their lens.

What brings you hope?

My hope is restored in seeing people engaged in bold and creative forms of civil disobedience – when they are mobilizing against all costs to drive change. I am inspired by social movements and by the people who have taken such risks to make their voices heard, pushing back against repressive policies and regimes.

Learn More about Laurie

Learn more about the Global Center for Cooperative Security and connect with Laurie on LinkedIn.

Read More Like This:

Color Line