by Coughran Mayo
published in Prim Perfect Magazine, December 2008 edition.
More than a few non-profits have followed the lead of their corporate cousins in Second Life, and pursued “If you build it, they will come” approach. An initial flurry of interest in the virtual worlds is followed up with the establishment of a corporate beachhead, be it an island sim, an office or an information kiosk. Some posters are placed describing the work of the organization, perhaps there is a place to sign a visitor log, and of course, a donation jar. Early activity is followed by less and less time inworld on the part of the non-profit’s avatar representatives, and ultimately the organizational site is all but abandoned.
The same could hardly be said for the Peacemaker Institute and Vivienne Cassavetes (Kate Crisp), its representative in SL. You could probably count on two hands the number of times that Vivienne has not logged in to SL–building, organizing, teaching and helping our newcomers, since the group first started. Add your two feet and maybe my hands and feet as well, and you could count the number of days that Peacemaker Institute has not been hosting or helping with some meaningful activity or another.
Over the past two years, for example, Vivienne has hosted a Global Meditation for Peace session nearly every day. Although these quiet seated groups are brief (20 minutes), those who have attended (present company included) will attest to the refreshment and renewal that comes from participation. It’s a quiet oasis in the middle of an often hectic day. Over 10,000 participants from over 25 countries have come to these Peacemaker Institute meditations. In the past several months, regular Tai Chi sessions have also been held at the Peacemakers site on the Commonwealth Islands.
But that, as they say, is just the beginning. Additional activities which have been supported in part or in whole by the Peacemaker Institute include:
- ‘Free Burma’ protests with over 1,000 attendees
- ‘Free Tibet’ vigils attended by several thousand participants
- Ongoing video discussion group offerings relevant to the groups purpose.
- An ongoing Buddhist Women’s support group
- Classes and discussion about the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model
- Weekly Integral Peacemaker Training discussion groups
- Participation in the International “Conversation Cafe” which included organizing two conversations on the week of the annual event, continuing weekly thereafter
- Ongoing support in the organization of the nonprofit collective know as “Commonwealth for Progressive Organizations”
- Structured activities during the Peace Festival
- A featured role in a machinima film by Draxor Despres
- An art show at the Twilight Gallery
- And more…
Peacemaker Institute’s activities in SL have spread back to the ‘real’ world as well, completing the circle. Vivienne has organized Facebook and Ning groups for the Institute, represented her organization at the Boulder, Colorado “Serious Second Life” group, and participated in the BlogHer and Netroots Nation events.
The original goals of Peacemaker Institute’s entry into Second Life were to find alternative, non-localized venues for, and innovative ways to present, the organizations various trainings and groups which have been held in the Boulder, CO area for some time previous to the SL experience. Vivienne acknowledges that she has had to rethink these goals over the past two years. “We have had to scale back on our hopes, as the steep tech/learning curve of SL has proven daunting for many of our constituents–there were too many obstacles for some to overcome.” Inworld activities, popular with so many SL residents, have not attracted the interest of the “outside” members of the Peacemaker Institute in the numbers originally hoped for. She still believes that SL can be an effective platform for nonprofit groups, particularly in the areas of collaboration, networking, and community building. Vivienne remarks “I would like to see nonprofit groups being more effective inworld in presenting training in key areas such as communication skills, conflict resolution and group dynamics skills.”
Even though the group’s original goals may have been reduced, it is impossible for anyone who has come into contact with Peacemaker Institute and with Vivienne Cassavetes, through the many activities noted above, to believe that Peacemaker Institute has not had a noticeable impact on Second Life, and on real life as well, though the SL connection!