peace

Thoughts on violent revolution, anarchism and social change…

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought it was time for a good old fashioned rant… :)

Though I have a lot of friends who consider themselves anarchists, it’s a philosophy that I’ve never fully been able to agree with in any real sense. I often find myself in great debates over the practicality or some underlying, glaring contradictions that I can’t seem to wrap my head around. It’s not that I don’t see the problems with the way the world is currently being run, nor that I am brainwashed or don’t appreciate (and hope) for the idea of erasing the hierarchical subtext of our world and creating a more just society in its place. It’s the method of getting there that most worries me. The particular rise I see in the “F#*$ the police”, let’s-start-a-violent-revolution-to-overthrow-the-government-type of anarchism is quite troubling to me. Having experienced what happens in the absence of a functioning state first-hand, I fear the shape that would arise from such a drastic situation and see alternatives that are not so abrupt that I feel could be just as, if not more, effective.

Most of the anarchists I know believe in creating consensus-run societies. Herein lies one of my greatest problems with the whole philosophy of the violent revolution type of anarchism. Consensus right now does not favour a violent overthrow. Society does not consent to this. How can one expect to build a consensus society on the back of silencing another’s objections entirely? How does this inevitably not lead to more hierarchy—as those who have had their objections bulldozed over now become the ones who feel oppressed and ignored? I am not talking about the objections of those top elites in power, but rather, those of Joe Average; the vast majority of everyday persons who object. Those who will likely have a drastic change of life in the transition that they may well feel resent towards. Consensus doesn’t mean we all have to fully think everything is the best decision, but we do have to consent.

History has demonstrated repeatedly what can happen when a small group of people feel they know what is “best” for society and violently take matters into their own hands to try and change the situation via revolution.

Thinking practically for a minute; if all governments were tomorrow overthrown, what would happen in the world? What shape would the new, new world order take? How would society transition? Would essential services still run? Who would ensure that they do? Would it become a free-for-all in the streets in some places during the transition?

Obviously, if one believes in the ideal of consensus—then each community would be left to decide what shape this would take amongst them-selves. This leads to a seemingly never ending list of questions within my mind. Does the power vacuum created in the fall of the state lead to a crisis situation wherein a new power struggle takes place? Do those who led the overthrow get power-hungry once they have toppled the government? Do those freed from the previous system, those who were imprisoned by its rules rejoin society and how do they do that? How does society respond to those who refuse to live by consensus choices or laws, the psychopaths and the killers and such? If the world becomes decentralized, and communities become responsible for themselves, what happens to those communities without access to essential resources? Do we form some kind of global consensus on issues that affect us all? How does that take shape? Would we have to send representatives from our communities to share our objections and consent on the global stage, thus replicating government forms all over again? What happens to all the people who are currently reliant on capitalist global trade? Would their positions (and livelihood) just cease to exist in the breakdown, and what would their role in society now become? Would they be resentful of the change, having a complete upheaval in their way of life? What IS working in society right now? Do we have to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, as they say. Is there anything worth keeping in the current system? Each question leads to a new series of questions with endless possibilities, many of the likely ones far worse in my mind than our current reality.

The status quo is violence. We, as humans, have invented so many forms of degrading, hurting, killing and maiming each other and our violence comes in so many forms; it is engrained in us that violence is the only “real” response. That oppression cannot be overcome by any other means. That the only way to respond to violence is with more violence. That perhaps, in reality, everything is violent. We cannot imagine a world without it. Perhaps there is no way to even be completely non-violent. Can we at least strive to reduce the harm as much as possible?

People are becoming more aware of the world around them. For the first time in history, the world is truly connected. It is possible to see live events from someone’s cell phone on the opposite side of the globe, to share ideas instantaneously. The technological advancements over the past hundred years are astounding. We began creating and creating and not immediately realizing the side effects and in the search for the almighty dollar, cheaper became more important than quality or overall consequences, especially when someone distant bore the brunt. We are growing consciousness and if you look around you—things are s-l-o-w-l-y changing right now. The corporate world is desperately trying to keep us placated, while others have been growing test communities with alternative economies and ways of life.

People are creating and innovating and trying to make great changes in the systems all over the world. And they are making things better. Instead of bullying our way through to change, why don’t we do our best to build consensus among those around us that change is desirable by demonstrating what’s possible. What is working. What can work. And educating on what doesn’t and why it doesn’t work for everyone.

We as humans are capable of great change. Numerous times throughout history we have seen a radical change in morality and norms. Slavery was not so long ago thought to be a natural state of humanity. Though it still exists, it is no longer a morally acceptable practice in the vast majority of the world and there are numerous laws outlawing its practice. So why can we not change the hierarchy and inequality too?

How can we drastically change the system, without necessarily breaking the system?

Government and society’s systems are intricate and complex—there is no one answer that will work universally. Practice out what works and what doesn’t in test communities all over the place. When something works, share it widely among other communities. There are already test communities popping up all over the place. They need more funding, more awareness and more ideas to be successful.

Some key things I think are necessary for drastic change and necessitate further investment, development and testing:

• Teaching peace and investing in peace on a global scale. Teach it from early childhood in every classroom, techniques such alternative dispute resolution and other conflict management strategies. Reinforce conflict resolution skills all through school and workplaces where possible. If we can spend trillions of dollars annually on militarization, we can surely spend billions on peace. Peacebuilding projects around the world are currently sparse and severely underfunded.
• Gradual reduction/retraining of the current armed forces into national guard/emergency services roles. Army functions retrained into civilian-based defense facilitators and other non-militarized functions.
• Reform the judicial and penal systems to focus on actual rehabilitation and positive reintegration into society for current offenders. Try alternative dispute resolution and alternate forms of justice in future grievances, particularly in “non-violent” crimes. Review current societies’ laws via some form of consensus. This includes local, regional, and global laws.
• A complete overhaul/creation of corporate law that favours the living world over profit.
• Restructuring local and regional governments so that they become more direct forms of democracy.
• Massive investment into the research and development of sustainable communities.
• Investment in basic needs over luxuries.
• A complete overhaul or creation of new international structures.
• Re-thinking spaces. Let cities feed cities. Rethink how spaces are connected, how they are accessible, how they blend into the environment around them, how they use energy, how they use water, how they interact with humans and other living species and let’s invest our time and our energy in that direction in the future.

A different economic system.

[Dear readers,

I am still currently ill and as such will be holding back the This Week in Conflict Reports until I feel better.

In the meantime, I have been having the great pleasure of taking a course at Transcend Peace University and as such I am currently reading Johan Galtung's new Peace Economics: From Killing to Life-Enhancing Economy that is due to be released later this year (please be sure to buy it when it comes out-- it's awesome and well worth the read!). This short essay was one of my assignments from class where I summarized many of the concepts from Part 1 of the book. The book discusses some of the causes of the current economic crisis, and discusses paths to alternatives systems that would be more life-sustaining and peaceful.

Peace!
-- Rebecca]

The economic crisis is far more long-running and far more complex than the simple narrative widely splashed across the media would have us believe. The dominant global economic system, hypercapitalism, is focused towards capital and growth, often at the expense of the welfare of human beings. In this system, there is a necessity for people to have a minimum level of purchasing power simply to satisfy their basic needs. Some live well below this level, others have such great wealth that they can’t possibly spend all they have within the real economy (made up of cycles of production-distribution-consumption). Instead they invest their surplus into the finance economy (made up of the buying-selling cycles of financial objects—with no end consumption), essentially betting with other people’s money, pocketing the gains and letting others take any losses that occur. This allows for magnificent growth in an economy that is based upon pure speculation and non-material products. As the finance economy has grown wildly, it has created a large gap between the growth of the real economy and the growth of the finance economy, increasing with it, the likelihood of an eventual crash as the two widen even further apart.

The inequality within this system goes farther than simply the difference in wealth. It encompasses inequality in military force, political power, and cultural values that are based upon attributes, actor interactions and the structure of the system itself. The cultural values of society legitimize the political power, that authorizes the military force, to protect the wealth of the super rich, who reinforce the cultural values; completing the vicious cycle that keeps the poor poor and the rich rich. Equalizing the system creates a better chance of dialogue among the population, creating better opportunities to find real solutions and increasing the likelihood that those solutions will be more equitable.

Essentially the economic crisis can be broken down into four separate crises. For those at the bottom of the wealth spectrum, the crisis manifests as the (1) under financing and the (2) undersupply of affordable necessities. For those at the top of the wealth spectrum, the crisis manifests as the (3) overfinancing and the (4) oversupply of normalities and luxuries. The crises all feed upon each other, with a crisis at the top creating a crisis for the bottom, and a crisis at the bottom, in turn creating a crisis for the top. The media has directed almost all of its attention to the crisis of only those at the top of the wealth spectrum to the detriment of real dialogue on the overall system, since discussion upon the financing of unprofitable goods is somehow an absurdity, but a system that allows people to starve is not.

A system with a floor for economic activity that ensures that basic human needs are met and a ceiling for economic growth, ensures that excess wealth is redistributed to where it is necessary, lessening the gap between rich and poor, between the real economy and the finance economy, and hopefully stop some people from starving while others live in lavish hedonism. An economy based not upon individual self-benefit, but rather upon ensuring that needs are met, and supply of basic needs is sufficient before enriching ourselves with normalities and luxuries.

a peace proposal for Israel/Palestine

Hello all! Hope all is well!

Here is a submission by a reader: a suggestion for a peace proposal for Israel and Palestine. Please check it out and be sure to leave your feedback in the commentary or find them on http://apeaceproposal.wordpress.com.

Thanks for the submission reader.

Peace!

Rebecca

This is draft peace plan for Israel and Palestine. The peace plan can work in practice, now or in the future, but implementation is a challenge. The proposal can be improved but the main points must remain. Details should be left to the two parties and to the international community; to work out suitable arrangements.

All well-meaning suggestions, questions and comments are welcome at apeaceproposal@mail.com

 

 

  • Two states

There will be two independent states. The 1967 borders will be basis for the final agreement but territory swaps will be possible. Eastern Jerusalem will have special, exterritorial status under international rule for five years; if the peace holds it will become part of Palestine. The rest of the city will be in Israel.

The two states should recognise each other and eventually establish full diplomatic relations. Palestine will recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

 

 

  • International presence in Palestine

There will be large-scale international presence in Palestine; military, police and civilians. It will be indefinite until further arrangement. The international presence will provide security for Israel and Palestine and help Palestinians reconstruct and develop their country.

The bulk of the international personnel should be from the majority-Muslim countries that enjoy diplomatic relations with Israel (at the moment the role of Turkey is unlikely but in future it could be important). Other troops should be led by the UN.

There will be a ‘special representative’ in Palestine, appointed by the UN Security Council and approved by Palestine and Israel. This person will be in charge of the international mission. The special representative will be a good negotiator, respected by the two sides and someone who favours compromise. The special representative will coordinate international presence with the Palestinian government and will also be regularly in contact with the Israeli government; in a manner which will be agreed with the Palestinian government.

 

 

  • Courts

As part of the international presence, foreign judges will operate in Palestinian courts in cooperation with their Palestinian colleagues; in order to help, or oversee and train.

 

 

  • Policing

There will be mixed police patrols, Palestinian and international, operating in Palestine, including Eastern Jerusalem. The international police will have the same rights as the local force. The mixed patrols will do regular policing and, in addition, focus their efforts on preventing rocket attacks on Israel.

 

 

  • Refugees

Refugees will to an extent be able to chose where they want to live, as envisaged by the Geneva Accord of 2003.

 

 

  • The settlers

The settlers in Palestine will be allowed to stay. They will enjoy special status for three years and will be allowed to carry light weapons for protection. During this period they will be looked after by international troops.

The settlers will be entitled to a dual citizenship or permanent residence in Palestine, according to their preference. After three years, they will be able to decide where they want to live.

 

 

  • The sea blockade

The international military and civilian structures will be in charge of Palestinian territorial waters. The sea blockade will be lifted when Israel is safe; to be decided in agreement with Israel.

 

 

  • Link between West Bank and Gaza strip

The Palestinians will have a road link between West Bank and Gaza Strip. The two sides will work out mutually convenient arrangement.

 

  • New constitution in Palestine

The Palestinian politicians and people will decide what sort of constitution they want but it is vital that Palestine is a democratic country, where all minorities will enjoy full rights and representation. Foreign legal experts will offer any help.

 

 

  • EU membership / special partnership

If the two countries are at peace with each other for at least ten years and if they want to, the EU will offer them full membership status or special partnership. Citizens of Israel and Palestine will be able to live and work in the EU and vice versa. If violence returns, the scheme will end; the EU will decide when.

This peace proposal is a beginning; long-term it is up to the two states to work out mutually convenient arrangements. .

 

 

  • Referendum

There should be a referendum in Israel and Palestine where the people will decide whether to approve the deal.

 

 

In addition, the leaders of the two countries should be in permanent contact.

 

 

The international community must treat the Israel/Palestine crisis as an absolute priority.

Politicizing the holidays. Maouloud in Côte d’Ivoire.

Today in Côte d’Ivoire there is public holiday; at least for some. Others will take the holiday tomorrow.

Sadly, the holiday to commemorate the birth of the Prophet (peace be upon him), known as Maouloud/Mawlid (and numerous other spellings), is now being used as a political weapon between Gbagbo and Ouattara’s camps. On Monday, Imam Idriss Kudu Kone, chairman of the National Islamic Council (CNI), declared Tuesday the paid holiday, which was supported by the Gbagbo government. However, Sheikh Fofana Boikary, Chairman of the Higher Council of Imams in Côte d’Ivoire (COSIMA) announced that Wednesday would be the paid holiday, the date backed by Ouattara’s government.

The date of the holiday typically fluctuates within the Gregorian calendar, as it is traditionally set according to the lunar Arabic calendar that doesn’t run its months in the same fashion. Sunni Muslims typically celebrate 5 days earlier than Shi’as. There are also commonly other date variations depending on the country and cultural beliefs of the person. Burkina Faso, for example, celebrate their public holiday this year on Wednesday (the same date as COSIMA), but in several other Arabic countries, such as Mali, and Lebanon the holiday this year falls today, Tuesday (the same date as the CNI). Saudi Arabia does not have a public holiday at all, and some sects also abstain from celebration altogether.

The altering dates however, have caused some stir among the local population. Managers and owners of industry and business must give their employees one day off with pay, but both Presidents are stating that their date is the “proper” date that must be legally followed and many employees are angered that they are forced to work on their day of rest. The result has been divisive. One’s sympathies become much more apparent publicly, as they must chose when to work or not to work, when to worship or not worship. It’s a hot topic of conversation at the moment and I’ve listened as numerous verbal conflicts have ensued around me.

And of course, the local papers are awash with the same slanted political rhetoric I’ve come to dread; one side alleging that the CNI Imam is working to divide the Muslim community while sitting in Gbagbo’s pocket, the other is filled with rumours that Burkina’s President collaborated with Ouattara to create a controversy. Conspiracies and rumours run wild. This was supposed to be a holiday, a day of rest. Now it is another wedge in the community. Another block between people.

I’ve heard countless stories lately of families breaking up over politics in this country. The economic effects are crippling on many families, as food and goods prices have all skyrocketed. Exports are slowed, imports are slowed. Banks are closing. I’ve also heard now from those in some of the neighbouring countries who say they are also feeling the economic effects.

Moves like this continually force politics into the public sphere, manufacturing cultural violence that only eventually fuel violent structural policies that are exclusive or insensitive to some parts of the population, in turn only creating more incidences of direct violence as people become incensed at the inequalities. Frankly, I’m disappointed to not see more attempts at lessening the cultural violence within the country. So far, I’ve read tons of suggestions and strategies aimed at economically hurting Gbagbo, using military invasion, using mediation between the leaders to lessen the crisis; but where are the strategies aimed at healing the divisions being created within society? Where is the funding and aid being directed to peacebuilding projects? There are a few organizations like the Search for Common Ground (SCG) in the country trying to do just this, and they have been having relative success. SCG’s balanced radio program is currently a voice of reason in a sea of escalating propaganda and their conflict resolution strategies for land conflicts have shown to be quite effective.

Lately, I fear this country may just end up split in two. Getting Gbagbo out of power will not instantly heal this country, as land conflicts, majorly corrupt justice systems, disenfranchisement of certain populations in certain areas, slanted media that marginalizes moderate voices and numerous other cultural, economic and sociological factors are at play here, working to divide the population. It makes me wonder why the focus for de-escalating conflict within the international community seems always directed at the political and economic sphere. There always seems to be a focus on the macro, to the detriment of the micro. Leaders come and go (and sometimes stay longer than we’d like), but the lingering effects of the cultural and structural conflicts that are manufactured remain for many years to come.

 

Is peace a possibility for Cote D’Ivoire in 2011? Part 1.

This past month or so has been a particularly stressful one for me. I have been living in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire for most of the past year and have watched as the country has been sinking deeper and deeper into violence and intense propaganda. Sadly, I’ve found I no longer believe a word I read in both local and international news, as I have read “news” that is in direct contrast to what I have seen and heard with my own eyes and ears. The stories seem to be escalating the situation further and further, and I’m finding myself extremely frustrated that everything seems to be so one-sided (either pro-Ouattara or pro-Gbagbo). It hurts me to think I have posted articles and comments that are seen as even slightly defensive of Gbagbo in the international sphere in an effort to elicit some form of balance in the reporting, as I have been (and still am) heavily critical of him. It hurts to try and have discussions with locals within Abidjan in defense of Ouattara, to try and bring reason to fervent Gbagbo supporters. I hate playing the “other-side” game in response to one-sided arguments, but I think it’s important to try to play devil’s advocate with those die-hard supporters who only paint one side of the story. Frankly, I wish both presidents would move on and allow a fresh batch of politicians that aren’t tainted with past violence to step forward to take the country to a more peaceful future, but this is not reality.

I was last here in 2004, during the previous civil war and saw the violence as it spread and resulted in the intense hatred of all things foreign. It was sometimes scary and devastating to watch. I heard many horrific personal stories from friends of the violence they experienced at the time. Despite this, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to come back here. I love this country. I love the mostly kind and friendly people I have encountered here. I love the rich culture and delicious food. I love the countryside, the beaches and the thick, lush forest. I love the way of life here, barring the corruption that sometimes makes things difficult. It’s a beautiful country with a lot of really amazing treasures.

The November 28th presidential elections resulted in a political crisis, with two different entities announcing two different results. Both Presidents were sworn in, in separate ceremonies and the country has been awash with reports of violence and violent-rhetoric ever since. The crisis didn’t really begin here; it has been festering for many years but it is now looking likely to outbreak into civil war, political assassinations or exiles and further inter-group hatreds.

Though I have been writing detailed personal notes throughout this situation, I must admit that I have been fearful to publish anything on the situation in the past few weeks. After writing a critique of the nearly unanimous support for Ouattara (the opposition) demonstrated by the international community on this site and several posts on the subject in a few other forums, I received some rather scary death threats from one person and many comments that broke my non-violence, non-discrimination, non-racism policy. I decided to take a bit of a break from posting on the subject.

The results of the elections sadly, is no longer even really relevant to the discussion. Whoever “really” won did so in a circumstance of intimidation and irregularity that can be attributed to both parties, depending on where one is situated in the country (with Gbagbo-supporters being intimidated mostly in the north, and Ouattara supporters being intimidated mostly in the south). The events that have happened since have only worsened the possibility of the “truth” being told. Propaganda has run wild, with increasingly violent-rhetoric being spread among both state and opposition media. Any probing of results or investigation at this point will be lost behind propaganda I’m afraid.

There has been acts of violence and the country is at real threat of returning to civil war, which it never fully recovered from in the first place. At least 150 are confirmed dead, and probably somewhere closer to several hundred. Dozens (and perhaps many more) have disappeared, and hundreds are said to have been arrested. Many thousands have fled to neighbouring Liberia, escaping violence in the south perpetrated mostly by Gbagbo-supporters, alleged mercenaries and the security forces; and violence in the north perpetrated mostly by Ouattara supporters and the Forces Nouvelles. Further investigation is needed to assess the refugees and their experiences of violence.

Some 120,000 Liberian refugees reside within Cote D’Ivoire, thousands of Burkinabes, and other West Africa refugees; and there have been hints from some sources within the UNHCR that suggest that many of those flooding out of Cote D’Ivoire are these long-term refugees who have long worked the system. They are appearing heavily at the UNHCR border office rather than being evenly distributed throughout Liberia or other neighbouring countries (this is taken from both personal communications with officials and comments made to Chris Blattman from a UNHCR official). I do however believe, that even if these refugees “know how to work the system”, they are still experiencing violence, as foreigners are often scapegoated during domestic troubles.

Regardless of who these refugees are and where they came from, they must be assisted and resettled with caution. The increase of people into Liberia, itself prone to instability, leaves an already burdened population with more mouths to feed and endangers peace in that country as well. Armed groups have been cited crossing borders to intimidate refugee populations and take the conflict to new populations as they do. Instability in the region could easily pass borders if things in Cote D’Ivoire worsen.

Besides the refugees, there are many foreigners with money who have decided to return to their home countries by more planned means (via plane with actual luggage) as their embassies sent messages urging them to quit the country before more violence came. This has had some effect on the local economy, although it appears many major business owners will be staying and instead sending their wives and families back home.

Nearly half the population was already unemployed before the conflict began and the vast majority lives on little more than $1 a day. Those that work often support large numbers of people on their meager salaries. Many workers have been laid off since the crisis, and the prices of food staples has doubled. As the population becomes more food and job insecure, so the risk for conflict increases. Strikes called by Ouattara’s camp affected some of the services of the buses, gbakas (minbuses) and taxis for a few days, but as most of the population is living day to day, long-term or full out striking is extremely unlikely. Most can simply not afford to take the time off without severe repercussions to themselves and their families.

Rallies have been held and marches planned. Ouattara’s march on the RTI television station ended without real success and resulted in much-expected clashes between security forces and protesters. Despite the violence, Ouattara was calling on his supporters to continue the attempt the following day, again without success. He has since repeatedly warned Gbagbo of imminent consequences should he not back down immediately, though it is difficult to administer consequences when one is backed into hiding and the consequences have yet to be seen. The notorious Ble Goude (Gbagbo’s Youth Minister) has been busy rallying up Gbagbo supporters and spinning them into an angry frenzy, readying them for the moment he can unleash them to try to take the Golf Hotel (where the Ouattara camp is currently residing under UN and Force Nouvelles protection) by force. Two major marches planned by Ble Goude have been canceled the night before they were even begun, allegedly to prevent further violence (though they were called using the extreme violent-rhetoric Goude is famous for).

The local political humour paper Gbich has taken the opportunity openly mock both candidates and their behaviours, much to my enjoyment. However, in the serious papers (both state and opposition); violent, inciting rhetoric makes me skeptical of the veracity of anything printed inside and angered that more peaceful dialogue is not the popular option. Rumours of local media intimidation by Gbagbo forces haven’t stopped most opposition papers from writing, as they can still be found daily in many places around the city. I’ve personally been threatened by a pro-Ouattara supporter, so I know that the intimidation definitely goes both ways, but I can also say that I fear writing anything hyper-critical of either candidate should the situation deteriorate further.

On the streets, during the day time, things are pretty normal. The streets and markets are crowded with people again going about their daily business, though people are still cautiously stocking up on supplies and keeping an eye out for any signs of coming danger. The police in many parts of the city have even returned to using radar to ticket speeders. I’ve found no trouble or signs of blatant violence while traveling throughout the city in the past two weeks, except for roadblocks and neighbourhood patrols in a few districts at night. In fact, on New Years eve, I traveled throughout several districts (including both known pro-Ouattara and pro-Gbagbo districts) and saw drunken partying, fireworks and dancing as if nothing was wrong.  I couldn’t sleep that night as the music, cheering and fireworks of those partying around my apartment blared in through my windows.

I have detailed some of the local situation and the underlying tensions that exist in this post. I will discuss in further detail some of the proposed “solutions” to the crisis and the effects I see coming from those in the next post.

The Empathic Civilisation

I read the book The Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin about a year ago and found his arguments compelling. Rifkin explores the evolution of empathy and how it has changed our society over time. He argues that despite all those who have exclaimed that humans are hardwired for aggression, violence, war and narcissism; human beings are actually more biologically hardwired to have empathy towards others and that based upon our past expansion of empathy (from tribes to nations and other groups) there should be no stopping us from expanding that empathic connection to include all of humanity, other life forms and the biosphere.

I have just found this beautiful little video that covers his argument in an easy to understand, concise form. I think it’s a great message that we can hopefully use to begin to connect humanity in new ways. I hope you will enjoy it!

Save the arts, cut the war.

My friend, and fellow peacenik Richard Garvey has written this beautiful song of peace and I thought I would share it with my readers. I hope you will enjoy it! Please check out Richard’s work and support those who would work for peace instead of war.

 

Save the arts, cut the war

Written and performed by Richard Garvey

Save the arts, cut the war by Richard Garvey

Those in Toronto– Another Theatre of the Oppressed workshop!

Readers in the Toronto area, here’s a chance to learn how to make social changes using the Theatre of the Oppressed method. Please check it out:

Branch Out Theatre Workshops Presents:

An Introductory Workshop Series in

Augusto Boal’s

Theatre of the Oppressed

With facilitator: Naomi Tessler, M.A. Educational Theatre, N.Y.U.

Learn to use theatre as a tool for social change!

Fall Series Dates:

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Wednesday, November  17th, 2010

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

*Drop in option available*

Time: 7pm-9:30pm

Location: Christie Studio, Artscape Wychwood Barns,

601 Christie st.

To Register and for more info, contact Naomi at:

naomi.tessler@gmail.com 416-910-4972

www.branchouttheatre.com

Cost: Individual Workshop: $40, $110 for fall series

Student Rate: Individual Workshop: $30, $80 for fall series

*sliding scale option available*

Looking To Create Change in Your Life?

Gain Clarity.  Feel Empowered.

Actively Create Space for Change.

in Branch Out Theatre Workshops’

Rainbow of Desire Theatre Lab

An interactive workshop series in creative self-discovery and personal growth

Facilitated by: Naomi Tessler, M.A Educational Theatre N.Y.U.

Join us for the Fall Series!

Fall Series Dates:

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Time: 7pm-9:30pm

Location: Christie Studio, Artscape Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie st.

NO theatre experience necessary!

To register and for more info, contact Naomi at:

naomi.tessler@gmail.com 416-910-4972

www.branchouttheatre.com

Cost: Individual Workshop: $40, $75 for fall series,

Student Rate: Individual Workshop: $30, $55 for fall series

*Sliding scale options available*

There are no innocent victims.

North Americans and Europeans love to victimize people. We love to package the poor forsaken souls of the “third world” as “helpless”, in need of our savior, and of course as “innocent victims” who then essentially have no voice or control in their own lives. This is simply a fallacy that will lead to more destruction and violence in the long run.

One thing we often misunderstand is that there really are no “innocent victims”, except for maybe babies and small children (but then again, who’s to say of the evil they committed in womb or in their tiny minds??). There are people who have experienced misfortune in their lives. There are people who are poor. There are people who have had terrible things happen to them. To label a person as victim– in my opinion– only re-victimizes. It belittles their experience and makes the actor helpless. Takes away their control, their personal choice and agency in their own lives. Instead of being actors in their own life, they are merely pantomiming someone else’s script. That of their “saviour” who expects them to behave in a certain way to receive assistance.

Look to the very definition of the word “victim”:

  1. one that is acted on* and usually adversely affected by a force or agent
  2. “one that is injured, destroyed*, or sacrificed under any of various conditions”
  3. “one that is subjected to oppression*, hardship or mistreatment”

(*emphasis added)

My grandmother used to tell me that someone can not oppress you unless you let them. Sure, they can enslave you. They can beat you senseless. They can make you do degrading and horrible things– but they can never oppress your mind unless you give them that power. It’s easy enough to say, but much harder to live under extreme conditions. Still, there is truth there. There are many who rise up out of what some would call extreme oppression and do not feel “oppressed”– crushed by the abuse of power– but rather they feel empowered by it. Enraged into action by it enough to even oppress their oppressors.

“Innocent” is also a relative term. Does a person deserve to be raped or tortured or killed because of their own wrongdoing or guilt? Does it matter the level of guilt or wrongdoing? Do they become more deserving of rape or torture if they say injure someone as opposed to simply lie about something? What if they severely injure someone, or even kill them? Do they deserve it then? Do they become deserving of death if they merely spout hatred or have racist feelings in their hearts?  There is a scale of innocence that varies greatly depending on one’s background and belief system. If a person doesn’t injure, steal or hurt anyone directly, does that make the person completely uncorrupted? Completely without sin? Is one only a victim if they are completely “innocent”. Are they only worthy of assistance if they are uncorrupted?

Take for instance the Rwandan genocide in the mid-90s. Humanitarian aid poured in for the poor helpless refugees flooding into the neighbouring countries. Many of these “helpless refugees” were also mass murders who openly admitted their willing participation (page 25) in the slaughter of their countrymen. They were also dying by the thousands of dysentery, cholera, starvation and other such things and painted as “victims” to the outside world. Their innocence was played up with pictures of their young children beside them, their swollen bellies and sad stories of hardship. But were they all really “innocent”? Would they still have received our sympathy, our assistance and our money if we were told they were murderers? Did we really only “rescue” them so that they could continue to oppress and murder others in the future?

People can not be separated from their politics, but when it comes to those in disaster or war zones, we infantilize them and make them apolitical. We infantilize those in need to ease our own morality about helping them. In doing so, we further jeopardize the political situation that is happening on the ground. We take sides with the “victims”, even though they may be less “innocent” than their oppressors. We help them overcome their perhaps temporary “victimhood” allowing them to gain strength over their opponents. In doing so, we perhaps create more “victims” in the future.

Do we feel better about ourselves feeling that the “victims” we help are “innocent”? It certainly eases the mind. One wouldn’t want to think of giving a Hitler or a Pol Pot aid so that they can could continue their crimes, yet this type of thing does happen in humanitarianism.

So what’s the answer? How do we avoid making a further political or humanitarian nightmare while still assisting those who need help?

Lately, I’ve been reconsidering extreme non-intervention and wondering about the possibilities of such an action. It is intervention to militarily invade a country, but is it not also an intervention to take on the function of the government by providing services such as health care or education through the work of international NGOs? How much is humanitarian intervention really helping and how much is it really harming in the long run?  Many NGOs are extremely corrupt and wasting money, but evade responsibility due to their so-called “philanthropic” spirit. Others can be compared to colonial imperialism (on page 60 and 243, also Chomskey and Delany among others ), justifying their takeover of a country on humanitarian grounds much as the colonial powers justified taking over Africa to “save” the poor “savages”.

Now I know that if tomorrow all humanitarian assistance were to be removed from trouble zones, massive chaos would erupt; but we also can’t expect them to stay forever either. So many governments now feel they can neglect their own people, knowing that NGOs and international assistance will come in and fill the gaps and that the international aid will continue to flow as they line their own pockets with little chastisement.

Instead of a government capable and willing to actually take care of its people, the population are left with a patchwork of services that are reliant on continual funding streams that may or may not be there in the coming years. Now those receiving assistance are perpetual “victims” in need of help, who will be reliant on handouts instead of their own capabilities (and they ARE capable). Instead of working towards securing small patches of land for these people, where they could grow their own food and be sustainably self-sufficient, NGOs rush in with handouts of western food assistance that only helps to continue western domination in agricultural markets.

So quick is the western world to jump to judgment of conflict in fledgling nations that are struggling to fully etch out their boundaries and constitutions, little remembering that their own struggles for independence were fraught with wars, slavery and massive human rights abuses. Let’s not forget that slavery was still alive and well in the US for nearly a century after independence and that its Manifest Destiny resulted in brutally conquering Mexicans, British settlers and Native Americans. And can we also not forget that American Independence came on a wave of warring and human rights abuses such as the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War of 1846-8, the American Civil War, the American Indian Wars and the Trail of Tears, the women’s suffragette movement, and the civil rights movement to name a few. And in Europe, the current nations were only made through war and rights abuses; the Battle of Trafalgar, the Finnish War, the Spanish Peninsular War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Belgian Revolution, the November Uprising in Poland, the Carlist Wars in Spain, the Spanish Inquisition, the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, the Crimean War, the Austro-Prussian War, the Franco-Prussian War, and even WWI and WWII.

But yet, we feel it necessary to rush in and chastise those fledgling countries for doing exactly what was done during our nation-building processes because we have suddenly decided on a new sense of morality? Nations have been built on human rights abuses and war, as opposing interests struggle to etch out their own ideas of how to control their country and homogenize their ideas through slaughter and suppression of the opposition. Yet, we expect so many countries, barely 50 or 60 years old and left with brutal, segregationist colonial legacies to set aside their differences and now live in harmony according to OUR standards? Sounds an awful lot like continued imperialism to me. Do as we say, not as we did.

These nations do not need our continued meddling. They need time to develop their own governments free from external pressure to “democratize” and create “free” markets. Interventionism has so far not really proven to create more human rights respecting states. If anything, many governments have become more corrupt on the western aid dime. We continue to fund many proven brutal dictators with vast streams of cash flow and no accountability so they can increase their power, while those in need suffer at their hands. Will the dictator be the one to pay the debt he incurred? Hardly. We then swoop in to “save” those who suffer, spending even more money in humanitarian ventures that will again help line the dictator’s pocket. How is this “helping” anyone?

It’s time to stop meddling and trying to “save” the “innocent” victims and instead looking to our own problems that may be helping to contribute to wars and human rights abuses in other parts of the world. The inequitable and unfair privilege of certain states or communities within the international community. The inequitable policies of the international financial organizations and trade organizations, based in and primarily backing the “richer” nations at a disadvantage to the “poorer” nations. The “richer” nations’ increasing need to consume and pollute the planet that will result in war and death across the globe. The increasing state repression and rescinding of rights that is being found in Canada, the US, and Europe. The discrimination, racism and slavery that still occur across Europe and North America. The North American, European and international systems are still far from being peaceful and respectful of rights, and perhaps we should clean up our own act before we judge others for theirs.

International Day of Peace

Peace sign

Image via Wikipedia

Today is the UN’s International Day of Peace. However, despite this thought of goodwill, war and violence raged on today in many countries around the world. What can we do to change this? How can we move towards more positive peace?

To honor this day, I thought I would leave you with some famous peace quotes.

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime” – Ernest Hemingway

“When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.”

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“A smile is the beginning of peace.” – Mother Teresa

“The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it” -George Orwell

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

“The poor long for riches, the rich long for heaven, but the wise long for a state of tranquility.” -Swami Rama

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.” – Abraham Lincoln

“It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must for it.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

“The way of peace is the way of love. Love is the greatest power on earth. It conquers all things.” – Peace Pilgrim

“Those who are at war with others are not at peace with themselves.” – William Hazlett

“It you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“One of the most persistent ambiguities that we face is that everybody talks about peace as a goal. However, it does not take sharpest-eyed sophistication to discern that while everbody talks about peace, peace has become practically nobodys’ business among the power-wielders. Many men cry Peace! Peace! but they refuse to do the things that make for peace.” -Martin Luther King,Jr.

“Peace be with you.” – The Bible: Genesis XLIII. 23

“The Holy Prophet Mohammed came into this world and taught us: ‘That man is a Muslim who never hurts anyone by word or deed, but who works for the benefit and happiness of God’s creatures. Belief in God is to love one’s fellow men.'” -Abdul Ghaffar Khan

“All who affirm the use of violence admit it is only a means to achieve justice and peace. But peace and justice are nonviolence…the final end of history. Those who abandon nonviolence have no sense of history. Rathy they are bypassing history, freezing history, betraying history.” - André Trocmé

“Generally speaking, the first nonviolent act is not fasting, but dialogue. The other side, the adversary, is recognized as a person, he is taken out of his anonymity and exists in his own right, for what he really is, a person. To engage someone in dialogue is to recognize him, have faith in him. At every step in the nonviolent struggle, at every level we try tirelessly to establish a dialogue, or reestablish it if it has broken down. When I say ‘the other side,’ that could be a group of persons or a government.” -Hildegard Goos-Mayr

“One cannot simultaneously prepare for war and create peace.”

“We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal right of men and women and of nations large and small….And for these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors…have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.” -Preamble, Charter of the United Nations.

Peaceful hope: The story of SHONA cooperative

Hope can make all the difference in a person’s life. One small light of hope can lead people to peace, even in the massive shadow of war. SHONA, which means “sew” in Swahili, started with a simple idea; to give dignity and hope to a handful of handicapped persons living in Goma, in the DR Congo who are normally expected to beg for their subsistence. 85% of these craftspeople have never attended school; not even for a day. 60% of them are refugees. Now, instead of being dependent and a burden on their families or charity, they are providing for their families. They are making on average $250 per month in a country where the average income for an able bodied person is only about $15 a month. They are educating themselves, taking courses in French, math and basic accounting, and are using this knowledge to budget their money for future healthcare and emergencies. They are bringing together different minds, from different tribes in peace.

SHONA is a grassroots cooperative. There is no outside funding or support. There are no overhead costs, because there are no paid staff, no offices and no middle men to pay for. Each craftsperson essentially operates their own business—and receives 100% of the profit from their own labour. It is about empowerment, sustainability and independence in a region where war has claimed many victims. The craftspeople of SHONA refuse to be victims. They will create their own futures with their own hands, and they will pass on their skills by teaching others as they can.

The story of Argentine, a young craftswoman at SHONA speaks volumes of how a little bit of hope can change a person and bring them inner peace. Argentine grew up unable to walk in the heart of war in Eastern Congo. When the fighting began, Argentine’s mother used to carry her on her back into the woods and hide her in a hole until the fighting subsided, sometimes for months at a time. Today, Argentine supports herself and helps to support her family with her own hands. She said of her time at SHONA, “before I never used to dream. Other people would dream of having a house, or land, but not me. I just hoped that someday something would be better. But now it is different. Now I dream.”

Their motto stands tall:

Each item we sew is our claim to a better world.

A world where we are seen

Not only for the challenges we face

But for the beauty we create.

Think Big

Buy Small

Support a Better World

This week in conflict…

This week in conflict…

World

Africa

  • Rwanda’s election process saw President Paul Kagame win again by a landslide amid a climate of repression. Opposition candidates were arrested and media silenced in advance of the elections. Kagame is said to have won 93% of the votes, and even as much as 100% of the votes in some districts. His team began celebrating the victory before the polls had even closed. Two days later Kigali was struck by a grenade attack that injured at least 20 people.
  • The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has warned the UN mission and aid missions in Darfur that they will face expulsion if they do not support his government authorities. On Wednesday, gunmen killed 23 people, including police officers in an ambush on a truck in the south. On Wednesday, an exchange of gunfire at a refugee camp in western Darfur was reported, though it was not clear who fired the shots.
  • Government forces in Puntland, Somalia have made two military offensives against allies of the Shabab militant group killing at least 21. The UN warns that the long-running conflict in Somalia is spreading beyond its borders and becoming increasingly concerning.
  • 2,000 illegal miners stormed a mining site in the DR Congo burning trucks and stealing copper from Tenke Fungurume mine. 32 have been arrested.
  • The Central African Republic pleaded for the UN Security Council for help just as the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT is coming to an end. Concerns of rebellion, banditry and inter-ethnic conflict still loom.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 697 people, nearly one third of who are children, in central Africa in the last 18 months according to a human rights group investigation despite previous assurance from the government of the DRC that the LRA has been decreasing its violence. At least 255 of those abducted were killed, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. Up to 74,000 people have been forced to flee the situation in the CAR and Congo.

Asia

Middle East

North America

  • More than 1,000 Mexican journalists marched through the capital to protest the killing and disappearance of their colleagues in the escalating drug violence that is increasingly targeting reporters.
  • The confessions of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen charged with terrorism, can be used as evidence at his trial even though they may have been obtained through torture. Khadr stands to be the first child soldier to be prosecuted for war crimes in modern history, as under international law, children captured in war are to be treated as victims and not perpetrators. His trial, which was to start this week, was delayed for the next 30 days after his lawyer collapsed from illness in the courtroom and had to be medevaced out of Guantanamo Bay.
  • The US appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocks Massachusetts schools from using literature that denies the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

South America

  • Colombia has sworn in a new president who has vowed that he is willing to hold talks with leaders of Farc, the country’s rebel group and reconstruct relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • A suspected car bomb exploded in Bogota injuring four people on Thursday.
  • Suriname swore in its “new” president Desi Bouterse on Thursday. Bouterse, who was previously in power following a 1980 coup, ruled the country from 1980-7 and 1990-1. He was accused of violating fundamental human rights and the murders of 5 journalists during his time as dictator.
  • Peru’s indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who the government accuses of starting an Amazonian uprising that killed 33 people, is considering running for president next year.
  • The families of 32 Mapuche prisoners have been on a month-long hunger strike in southern Chile over trial irregularities for the twenty self-declared political prisoners imprisoned over land conflicts.

Europe

  • All of the major European countries are planning mass expulsions of Roma populations and demolitions of Roma settlements. Even though they are European citizens, the Roma are now threatened with expulsion, in breach of the EU basic right to free movement. Some rights group worry that such an action is tantamount to the criminalization of an entire ethnic group.
  • Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an explosion in southeastern Turkey on Sunday. On Monday Turkish soldiers killed 5 Kurdish militants in a firefight after discovering guerrillas laying mines and on Tuesday another 2 people were killed after a pipeline was blown up by Kurdish militants.
  • Russia has deployed an S-300 air defense missile system over the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia complained of the strengthening military control over these territories that it insists are still an integral part of Georgian territory.
  • North Caucasus rebel groups have begun to split ranks after the contradictory statements of resignation of leader Doku Umarov last week. Chechen field commanders have announced that they are rescinding their oath of loyalty.
  • Four former Bosnian Serb army soldiers have been charged with genocide for crimes committed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. The four are said to have assisted in the deaths of at least 800 people.

Lacking Justice

I returned to Cote D’Ivoire in West Africa this summer after almost six years away. Much has changed in this beautiful country, but one thing that has kept constant is the corruption. Although Cote D’Ivoire’s civil war technically ended with a tentative peace agreement in 2007, hopes for long-lasting peace are still distant and insecure because corruption reigns supreme. Justice is out of reach for most in the country, as it is believed impossible to get a favorable decision in the justice system without significant bribery. When justice isn’t functioning, peace is fragile at best. Homes and businesses can be revoked from under the owners through forged paperwork, employment can be lost as records for job applications are delayed or denied and citizenship papers can be outright refused leaving many unable to travel around the country without costly bribes to policemen along the way or paying for false documents. The chronic failure of the judicial system to resolve disputes over land and citizenship rights has led to violence in the past and if not controlled, will likely return to violence in the future.

The 1960 Constitution entitles all Ivoirians to fair public trial. In reality, public defenders are often unavailable for many defendants and more often than not, the judiciary sides with the court president over the word of law because of the president’s control over all appointments to the court. Court is hardly a fair or just process, it’s a place where the rich win and the poor lose. Locals tell of paying hundreds of millions of CFA ($1 USD = approx. 511 CFA) in bribes for larger court cases to judges, notaries and other court workers for justice, even when fully innocent of all wrong-doing. Average Ivoirians will never see that much money—and therefore have little chance of success within the court. Others tell of heavily paying off police to escape jail time or court in the first place.

Self-employed “margouillat”, derogatorily named after a type of African lizard, work as intermediaries between citizens and justice officials. They take bribes from citizens to court workers in their pocket trying to catch favors, or sometimes merely pocket the bribes themselves without providing any real assistance. Citizens have little choice but to use intermediaries and bribery, as they know they will simply wait in the court wasting their time if they don’t work within the corruption. Insufficient salaries of court workers are often cited as the main motivation to receive bribery with one time bribes larger than one’s entire yearly paycheck a definite incentive.

Cote D’Ivoire signed the UN Anti-corruption Convention in 2003, and has since made efforts to increase some high court official’s salaries in an attempt to reduce corruption. Without ratification of the Convention however, little more will be done. Any anti-corruption initiatives must deal with both the court workers and the public at large; a massive task mostly outside the scope of small NGOs and groups. For now, locals are reliant on paying hard-working fixers with good contacts to receive any semblance of real justice.

International Day in Support of Torture Victims

Objective:
A day to celebrate and support torture victims and stand united against this cruel violation of human rights.

26 June was the day that the Convention against Torture came into force. It was also the day that the United Nations Charter was signed – the first international instrument to embody obligations for Member States to promote and encourage respect for human rights.

To mark 26 June, torture rehabilitation centres and other human rights organisations around the organise a multitude of events. On the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’s website, campaign tools, information, materials and suggestions are made available for all who want to join us.

http://www.irct.org/about-us/what-we-do/awareness-raising/day-against-torture-on-26-june.aspx

Theatre for the Oppressed Workshop in Toronto

Branch Out Theatre Workshops Presents:

Spring Forum Training

~Second Bloom~ A Workhop Series for Peacemakers, Community Organizers, Activists, Educators, Social Justice Advocates, Artists, Social Workers Everyone is INVITED!

With facilitator:  Naomi Tessler, M.A. Educational Theatre, N.Y.U.

Come and build your skills in Augusto Boal’s Forum Theatre techniques and learn to use theatre as a tool for social change!

Dates: Wednesday, June 16th, 2010,

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010,  Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

*Drop in option available if unable to attend all three training dates*

Time: 6:30pm-9pm

Location: 854 Bloor St. West Toronto

(Christie Ossington Neighbourhood Centre)

To Register and for more info, contact Naomi at:

naomi.tessler@gmail.com 416-910-4972

www.branchouttheatre.com

Join us in training for change!

Cost: $125 for adults, $100 for students

*$100 for adults, $75 for students if registered by June 11th, 2010*

*sliding scale option available*