International Day(s) of Peace(makers)

By Susan Van Haitsma

September 21 is International Day of Peace, a day established by the General Assembly of the United Nations for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people.”    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon  has urged all combatants to honor the day by standing down from battle.   “I call for a day of global ceasefire:  A 24-hour respite from the fear and insecurity that plague so many places,” he stated on this date last year.  “I urge all countries and all combatants to honor a cessation of hostilities.  I urge them to ponder the high price that we all pay because of conflict.  I urge them to vigorously pursue ways to make this temporary ceasefire permanent.”

What is peace?  Is it a temporary condition between periods of conflict?  A worthy but unattainable ideal?  Just a hope, or a dream?

Peace is not as elusive as that.  It has a future because it has a past and present.  Peace is not so much a goal as a process.  As the great nonviolent organizer, A.J. Muste famously said, “There is no way to peace.  Peace is the way.” 

Peace is not the absence of conflict — it’s a way through it.  Because we humans are always going to be in conflict in some form or another, making peace means actively addressing – not running from — conflict and injustice, while using nonviolent methods.  The choice is always available.   

Some forms of peacemaking are so common that most people do it just like breathing.  It’s the smile of affirmation, the word of encouragement, the humor that eases tension, the candid statement that clears the air.  It’s the community garden, the guitar lesson, the basketball game.   We make peace a hundred times a day because it’s the natural thing to do.

Peacemaking is also a discipline.  We can make conscious decisions to refrain from gossip or name-calling, learn how to apologize, let go of a grudge, and firmly and respectfully stand up to bullying.  Nonviolence, at its best, involves confronting an adversary while simultaneously preserving the adversary’s dignity. 

People using principled nonviolence catch courage from one another.  Like the father who forgives the man who murdered his daughter and then visits him in prison, the unarmed peace team that intercedes between armed militias, the former gang member who talks kids out of retaliatory violence, the soldier who refuses to return to war.      

Peacemaking is done spontaneously or may be strategically planned – and is often both.  Actions may be immediate responses to overt violence or symbolic acts that address root causes of injustice.  Methods include civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance and creative intervention.  Like the elderly woman who is first to crawl under the barricade, the young people who sit in the road to halt business as usual, the cellist who plays Bach in the middle of a besieged town square, the student who faces down the rolling tanks.      

The more we know about nonviolence, the more likely we are to use it.  If media reports about people who commit violence dominate the news at the same time that nonviolent actions are ignored or minimized, what message does this convey, especially to young people who want to be heard?

I’m not convinced that violence sells the news, but I do think that the news sells violence, and it doesn’t have to. 

I’d like to see what would happen if, even just for one day, like a Global Day of Ceasefire, all major media outlets around the world directed their journalists, photographers and videographers to document the ways people are choosing  active nonviolence in the face of conflict, terror and injustice.  Inspiration is contagious.   A temporary ceasefire could become permanent. 


Reporting at the RNC

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 by Susan Van Haitsma (reposted from the makingpeace blog) 

It was good to talk yesterday with our local CodePink folks who were just back in Austin from St. Paul.  They described the full week of activities that took place surrounding the RNC, the barricaded ‘police state’ that made navigating the city a real challenge, the police (and national guard troops) who were sometimes pleasant and sometimes unnecessarily intimidating and provocative, often herding crowds of mostly young people into corralled areas where it was difficult or impossible to exit. 

Much has been made in the AAS of the two young men from Austin who are alleged to have been planning to use incendiary devices at the RNC.  It remains to be seen what happens in their cases and whether there was significant evidence that others had such violence in mind. 

The larger story is that the vast majority of the demonstrators were committed to using creative, nonviolent methods to draw attention to the issues that concern the majority of Americans about US policy, the current administration and the McCain/Palin campaign — and the mainstream press largely ignored it. 

Among the heroes in the story are the independent media – the writers, photographers and videographers who followed the action on the streets, even when they were targeted by the riot police along with the crowds.  Unlawful arrests of journalists at the RNC are being investigated after an outpouring of concern from readers, lawyers and other journalists around the country — but, again, not much mention from the established media about this breach of First Amendment freedoms. 

It’s interesting that many of those who call for harsh punishment of the two young men from Austin are also those who generally favor using violence to address violence.  These young men were apparently following the same line of thinking: “violence is the only language they understand.”

If you want young people to express themselves peacefully, then be good role models for doing so.  Don’t send hundreds of armed, masked, black-clad rambo-looking characters to provoke them.  Don’t feature only the stories of those who retaliate with violence.  I think the press has a responsibility to report the breadth and depth of the nonviolent ways people are rising up to reclaim their democratic ideals.  If nonviolent protest is not reported, that’s one more message to young people that only violent acts make the news.
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photos taken at the RNC by Heidi Turpin and Fran Hanlon of Austin CodePink