Undergraduate Arrest Stirs Activist’s Ardor

crawford TEN YEARS AFTER her arrest while teaching nonviolent tactics to student protesters in Kosovo, social activist Teresa Crawford ’98 has continued to carry that same commitment to more than 30 nations, leading efforts to improve nongovernmental organizations’ use of communications technology.

Crawford, a politics major with an emphasis in peace and justice studies, was instrumental in founding USF’s Model United Nations and Students for Peace and Justice, now the USF Peace and Justice Coalition. Known for her results-oriented commitment to social justice, it surprised no one when she landed a pre-graduation internship with San Francisco–based Peaceworkers and headed to Kosovo to help support the growing student movement there. Two weeks into the trip, Crawford and four other American students and their chaperone—all men—were arrested for failing to register with the Serbian authorities and sentenced to 10 days in jail before being pardoned and deported to neighboring Macedonia three days later.

Crawford’s isolation as the only American woman in the jail was psychologically jarring, but “conscious ness raising.”

“There is nothing like being arrested in a foreign country for supporting nonviolence to give you a bird’s eye view of what it is like every day for activists around the world,” she said. “It gave me a much better appreciation for what they go through, the role outsiders can play, both in supporting activists in their own communities and in drawing attention to their issues, and reminding me that all politics is local.”

Crawford returned to USF to graduate and was back in Kosovo little more than a year later, working for The Advocacy Project (AP), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) she co-founded. The AP, where she now serves as a board member, assists community-based human rights organizations to use information and information technology to become more effective advocates for social change.

A decade ago, it was all about e-mail. Now, it’s about Skype videoconferences, instant messaging, Real Simple Syndicate feeds, podcasts, cellular phone text message databases, and YouTube videos. Tapping into the latest technology improves an NGO’s efficiency and effectiveness by allowing it to reach donors, policymakers, and supporters on the most convenient terms, Crawford said.

After leaving the AP in 2003, Crawford enjoyed a stint as a consultant before becoming director of the Advocacy and Leadership Center for the Institute for Sustainable Communities, a Vermont-based NGO that works around the world to organize communities on a variety of issues.

Most recently, she has spent time in Georgia, the former Soviet satellite, working with a network of community based women’s organizations to provide support and community leadership to women and communities affected by the ongoing conflicts in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.