|December 4, 2003
Volume 34 Number 6
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
'When Hope and History Rhymed'
Kelly Candaele on the spiritual politics of peace
Former CSU, Chico psychology major Kelly Candaele returned to campus Nov. 12 to deliver a well-received Hodgkins Peace Studies Lecture titled "The Spiritual Politics of Peace." The Los Angeles-based Candaele, who since 1994 has followed the Irish peace process for the Los Angeles Times, accompanied President Clinton to the Republic of Northern Ireland on three occasions beginning in 1995 and has made numerous visits on his own. Candaele found particularly fascinating the evolution whereby "the language of peace has taken over for the language of war."
In 1994, at the time of the cease-fire between British troops and the Irish Republican Army, political pundits cited what they saw as irreconcilable differences between the country's Union and Nationalist factions and, consequently, forecast a stalemate for the peace process.
Candaele witnessed several incidents that apparently confirmed this view. "The first time I went to Northern Ireland, in 1993, I visited Derry and Belfast," he recalled. "I was struck by the palpable tension that seemed to be pervasive there, and was told repeatedly to watch what I said and where I said it. I ended up a hundred yards away from a grenade blast that blew up a police station in Derry. … Across the street, people ran out of their house to stand on their lawn and cheer because one of their sons was a member of the IRA and in prison at that time."
Elsewhere, Candaele was approached by an irate woman and Union sympathizer, who surmised that he must be "one of the lovers of those Kennedy bastards who sent guns to the IRA."
Despite the odds against it, Candaele watched the peace process unfold. "I was convinced that what was happening in Northern Ireland had profound symbolic and practical consequences for other places in the world," he said.
Candaele listed seven political conditions that, in his opinion, helped nudge the conflict toward peace: a stalemate was recognized by Britain and the IRA; Sinn Fein, the IRA's political arm, shifted away from violence toward political legitimacy; Britain granted special dispensation to Irish Nationalists; political leaders stepped back from their previous hard-line stance; the Cold War ended; the European Union set an example for "pooled sovereignty"; and Clinton helped focus the world's attention on the area.
"But while all these so-called structural factors played a role in putting the process in place, I believe there were other dynamics at play, which I refer to as spiritual," Candaele noted. "For me, spirituality has something to do with crossing boundaries. … And Northern Ireland, of course, was all about those. Boundaries of identity and conflict; the tight boundaries of the psychology of fear and vengeance; of language; and the boundaries that might need to be created to separate the past from the present. Those who cross these kinds of boundaries can achieve psychological and political progress."
Candaele emphasized that the peace process enabled traditional ideas of sovereignty and identity to shift. The Document of Good Friday in particular, which recognized "the birthright of all peoples of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they chose," represented a radical shift toward personal identity over country. It was, he said, borrowing words from Irish poet Seamus Heaney, "a moment when hope and history rhymed."
Candaele was no less astonished by the quietly productive negotiations themselves. "Both sides had to go through this process of what I call political reframing in order to convince their followers that this was a deal they could accept," he said. "When I watched the mundane workings of this political process, the sort of tedious cuts and thrusts of negotiation, I saw this as in itself radical, because I feel that the democratic politics involved -- self-restraint and responsibility -- were qualities that advocates of violence are incapable of."
What road took Candaele from Chico, where he received a master's degree in psychology in 1980, to Ireland in Clinton's peace entourage in 1995, and then to his present journalism, teaching, and political career? His first stop, after receiving his M.A. in 1980, was as a lecturer in psychology for a year at Fairbury College in Nebraska -- "Probably the most isolated and unknown college in the world," said Candaele. After that year, he went home to the Santa Barbara area, and, after working for the Deveraux Foundation for one year, became a union organizer for air traffic controllers and nurses in the AFLCIO. It was the labor organizing experience in the Los Angeles area that involved him in politics.
"I was working for a central labor council -- a group of unions -- and got involved in city politics, education, and mobilizing members to support candidates. I worked on the campaigns of both Dukakis and then Clinton. During this time, for eight years, I taught labor history and politics for a community college labor program within the Los Angeles community college system," he said.
Candaele climbed into the political ring himself six years ago, running for trustee of the Los Angeles Community College District that serves 140,000 students. He's won the election twice and is now in the second year of his second term. "Being an elected official carries so much responsibility for others, more compared to working behind the scenes," said Candaele. "Budgets, union contracts, discipline, hiring and firing -- it's a very different kind of responsibility than I'd had before. It has made me more mature and thoughtful."
Candaele is an adjunct professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles teaching peace studies courses. He is working on his first book about spiritual politics.
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