Weekends are sacred time–for exercise, playing with my pets, which are often stranded alone during busy workweeks, and connecting with friends who fall by the wayside when I’m busy preparing for incoming speakers in the Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of San Diego’s (USD) Kroc School of Peace Studies. So I thought long and hard before signing up for The OpEd Project all-day Saturday workshop in San Diego.
My position as a Senior Program Officer for the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (I know, there are a lot of “Krocs” here, but Mrs. Kroc made several major endowment gifts and deserves all the recognition she gets) includes organizing and publicizing lectures by diplomats and peacebuilders such as Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi of Iran, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, and Leymah Gbowee, the remarkable inter-religious coalition builder from Liberia. I also speak to community groups about peace and justice issues, contribute to the web site, and seek out funding sources for Institute programs.
I have a journalism/public relations background, including stints at the New York Post, CBS Sports, ABC Sports, and other print and television media. But the reason I chose to sacrifice a Saturday to the writing gods was that peace and justice issues have little space in shrinking print media, especially in San Diego, where a new owner of the one major newspaper recently created a weekly “Military and Defense” section and the Editorial and Letters to the Editor sections are filled with one-sided commentary.
The workshop turned out to be a worthwhile investment. The following day, I took the op-ed I had used as a sample during the workshop, filled out the details and submitted it to my OpEd Project mentor editor and to the Director of Media Relations at the University of San Diego. That week, my Veteran’s Day OpEd balanced articles by Vice-President Joe Biden and a former military officer in the San Diego Union-Tribune. A second op-ed ran just after the U.S. elections, and I’m planning several others in the near future.
One unexpected challenge has been convincing my bosses that I should be able to use my work title in my byline even though the op-eds reflect my opinion, not that of the organization. My husband has also expressed concern that I might suffer personal attacks for expressing my views in such a public sphere. But I have found that The OpEd Project training in presenting counter-factuals and overcoming those objections in the articles has kept such attacks to a minimum and has actually opened up conversations with people who come from very different perspectives. This is, in fact, my goal in writing–to create cracks in belief systems that might allow new ideas to seep into previously closed minds.
Recently, USD’s College of Arts and Sciences organized an op-ed workshop on campus for faculty. I haven’t tracked their success, but I hope they have the same feeling of freedom of expression and power of ideas (and ideals) that I do from taking the opportunity to add my voice to important national conversations.
Diana Kutlow is a senior program officer at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Kutlow has managed the endowed Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series for nine years, bringing world leaders in peacemaking, human rights and conflict prevention to the Institute. Kutlow received a B.A. in history with a minor in Russian language from Barnard College at Columbia University and a master’s degree in the inaugural class of USD’s graduate program in peace and justice studies.