Joseph Orosco: Peace Activist, Author, Professor

By Bethany Carlson

JosephOroscoProfessor of philosophy Joseph Orosco is the director of OSU’s Peace Studies program. He’s working to develop “a peace and conflict studies research center that would bring together, on campus, faculty and students who are interested in issues about peace and social justice and war and conflict, and trying to become social change agents to bring about a more peaceful and just world.”

Orosco has been teaching philosophy at OSU since 2001. In 2008, his book César Chávez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence was published, raising his profile considerably. He’s since spoken on NPR’s “Philosophy Talk” program as well as serving on the editorial boards of several philosophy journals.
“One of the things that we’re really interested in doing with such a center is making sure it’s not just about OSU but that it’s tied to the rich activist culture and community that we have here in
Corvallis and the Willamette Valley,” he says of the peace research center.

Orosco distinguishes between the idea of negative peace (getting rid of war and violence) and positive peace or justice. “When we talk about peace activism, the idea of protesting and demonstrating, those are useful tools, but that’s just one small piece. And so as a peace activist, I think we have to think about not only trying to reduce violence, but also build positive differences in our communities,” he continues.

Following up on last week’s Advocate piece about youth who’ve grown up with war, Orosco says, “For younger folks today, the question of what it means to be involved in war is different than it was for previous generations. We are in these long-term conflicts that are really out of sight, out of mind. But the reality is that we pay our taxes, we’re supporting this huge military-industrial complex that’s involved militarily all over the place.”

He continues, “I started having students in my classes who were returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. So many of them were brave enough to start sharing their experiences of what they saw in these places. On the one hand it was really enriching for the educational experience, where people were able to hear the realities of these things, not from a professor, but from a peer. But on the other level it’s frightening, because in those stories was so much pain and suffering, that they had seen other people undergo and that they themselves were undergoing because of what they had witnessed there. And there’s so much post-traumatic stress for these young folk nowadays.”

Last year Orosco, who’s been involved with the Occupy Corvallis movement, co-taught a class on the philosophical implications of the movement. He mentions ongoing Corvallis efforts that sprung from Occupy, such as a recent pet care fair for homeless people helped by OSU vet school students. Orosco elaborates, “I think a lot of people’s imaginations about working together and trying to create a different kind of world were sparked by that movement, both nationally and locally. They could build their own projects around helping one another and building their own mini societies in which people would take care of each other, and have conversations about the type of world that they would ultimately like to belong to and couldn’t find in larger society.”

There’s never a dull moment for Orosco: he’s working on a second book, this one about immigration. He explains that in the early 20th century, immigration was not viewed in the materialistic economic way that it often is now. Some thinkers in the 1920s and ‘30s saw immigrants as bringing new ideas and ways of thinking, and asking “Could those ways of thinking be integrated into the United States to become a more healthy, peaceful, just society?”

Orosco has focused on Latino/a studies, and Mexican-American history. He says of the Mexican-American communities involved in agriculture, “These are the people that are picking our food, that are providing the ability for us to eat on an everyday basis, and sometimes these are the people that are most marginalized, most exploited. I think that we can learn a lot from the ways in which they’ve come together to build communities of hope with one another. That’s really inspiring in terms of how we can, as a community, come together to think about building alternatives with more peace and more justice and more democracy.”

He sees this as a responsibility we all share, but Oregon State University is uniquely positioned to achieve these goals. Something Orosco is not shy about stating.

“I think that what OSU can try to do is to live up to the land-grant mission. This is a university that was established way back in the day with the goal of training people to be productive parts of their community, and to become leaders and to help empower communities.”