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Peace in a Time of War—Can We Achieve It?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
December 5, 2020

One of the many lessons we learned this year is that inequality remains a rampant issue in many countries around the world, despite the advances we’ve seen in combating the root causes. The pandemic has helped bring many social issues to the surface and at the same time has limited our ability to address them in an equitable and efficient manner. According to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, reducing inequality is one of the top issues to be addressed globally between countries. Locally here in Washington State we have seen a stark increase in the number of COVID-19 cases this season, increased unemployment and restrictions in common activities as a result of growing concerns over the pandemic in our area. Certainly other countries are attending to the needs of their communities through their own responses to the pandemic. However, it has become clear that without a concerted effort and shared knowledge we will never be able to combat the long-lasting effects of this pandemic.

The United States this year has witnessed a denigration of human dignity throughout the election period, nationally publicized murders and racially motivated violence. We have reached a boiling point where we must decide which direction to go; between war and peace. As public administrators it is our duty to discover how we can best create partnerships between governments locally and internationally to address human suffering and find a different way. Every community has experienced the consequences of this pandemic, such as limited access to healthcare, clean water, adequate food supplies and sanitation, work, education and leisure activities because of increased quarantine measures. Even here within the United States there are communities that continue to struggle without necessary infrastructure. This has only been further compounded by this pandemic, as we can no longer hide social issues behind the veil of ignorance.

The United Nations has been charged with recognizing and implementing education around human rights and ensuring that every country and state does right by its people. If we consider the tenets of ASPA to strengthen social equity, advance the public interest and fully inform and advise those in our purview, then we will fully understand how to better serve our communities from the ground up, and to assist other nations in serving their populations fairly and equitably. Throughout our education and experiences as community leaders, we have the unique opportunity to make a difference in our cities, states and countries; especially during this unprecedented time in our history. Public administration is a profession that has the capacity to bring otherwise different parties together for the advancement of social progress; this is our calling and our duty.

Some of the major issues we have witnessed as consequences of this pandemic can be summed up by the UN quite well, to include hate speech, discrimination based on particular group status, xenophobia, forced returns of asylum seekers and refugees, mistreatment of migrants, sexual and gender based violence and limits of healthcare based on reproductive health and rights of the human person. It is promising that here in the US we may very well see a national change in our social wellness, with the recent election outcome and promise of a better future. The work is not complete—it is really only beginning on the road to healing. Discrimination and inequity took generations to impact our communities so deeply, so why wouldn’t the solutions take just as long to infiltrate and make a change?

We must make the choice between war or peace, when it comes down to building partnerships with other governments for the improvement of our global community. We have a long road ahead of us in solving the problems that plague our neighborhoods, cities, states and countries alike. But we must remember that it takes a village and in order to change the world we must work in small intentional increments if we are to make a lasting change. Even now in our current world it can be incredibly difficult to remain focused. However we must remember why we joined this profession and why we remain; it must be because we are drawn to making a difference in the lives of those around us.


Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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