'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Rob Fairmichael attended the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) International Gathering in Maynooth in July –
This was a meeting of AVP facilitators from around the globe, from 43 countries as the message below recalls. It was amazing for a small country like Ireland to host this every-few-years event and succeed so well in helping so many people to come – AVP Ireland engaged in a major fundraising effort to enable people to come since many of the countries and people involved could simply not have afforded it otherwise. And the programme and logistics involved ran smoothly, well, as smoothly as can be expected for a meeting of this nature. So take a bow, those in AVP Ireland. What I say about international events of this kind is that you can estimate the amount of work involved (even getting visas for people is a huge task), double that, double it again, and you are beginning to approach the amount of work needing to be done.
The location, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, is an historic location and sleeping in a former seminarian’s room was an interesting experience. But the highlight of the conference was probably the day spent in Wheatfield Prison/Place of Detention where prisoners were very involved with the day’s programme and facilitated much of it. The AVP facilitators in Wheatfield and Mountjoy are all lifers which has the positive aspect for AVP that they are going to be sticking around for a while. One prisoner remembered me from being at a workshop he was involved in there thirteen years ago. The presence of governors and a senior prison service official, along with the very fact that Wheatfield facilitated over 200 people (conference participants and others) to come in for the day, shows how important they judge AVP work to be.
Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service is quoted to say “AVP is an important partner with the Prison Service in challenging imbedded belief systems among prisoners around the use of violence.” Wheatfield governor Colm Barclay said “The Irish Prison Service and in particular Wheatfield Place of Detention and the AVP are changing lives, a number of staff have completed the course, which gives them insight into the issues raised and dealt with, which is turn allows staff members to understand and assist the offenders in working through the course, which is very challenging.” [Both quotes from the AVP Ireland booklet produced in Wheatfield for the occasion] Wheatfield staff and prisoners do seem to have tackled the previous high level of violent assault – I am not saying there isn’t any but a weapons amnesty and other efforts seemed to have been working.
Visitors seemed to be very impressed by the day at Wheatfield. I cautioned that the Irish prison service and experience is not by any means all as positive as this might indicate. I also had an interesting argument with a conference participant on the bus to Wheatfield about the privatisation of prisons and prison services; for me the idea of a private enterprise making money out of imprisoning people is anathema. For him, there was nothing wrong with it if it cost less than a state run service and that service is good, he indicated that many privately run prisons in Britain are better at community interaction because it is expected as part of their contract. For me this does not clinch the argument; the private prisons he is quoting are modern and have perhaps more possibilities than older ones, but there is no reason expectations cannot be raised of others too. My bottom line would be a strong distaste for people making profit out of locking up other people; if this is to be done it should be done directly by the state, I would feel.
As a trained facilitator with AVP but not active as such (there is no AVP in Northern Ireland) some of the organisationally-oriented programme, such as detailed work on what facilitators around the globe need from AVP International, was not very relevant to me, or I had little that I could contribute. But it was very relevant for others as well as for the organisation. And there was other housekeeping done, such as furthering the legal status of AVP as an entity registered in the USA (where it began and is very strong) to assist with fundraising and so on. So my account of the conference may be a bit weak on this organisational processing which seemed both relevant and well conducted – but generally as boring to those not centrally involved as in any other organisation!.
There was a major semi-plenary (I’m not sure this hyphenated word exists but I hope you understand something of what I mean) on situations of violence in Ireland; a brief introduction by each speaker was followed by splitting into one of three sessions. Geoffrey Corry spoke on facilitating dialogue in relation to Northern Ireland where Pat Hynes of Fianna Fail was a co-speaker. Peter McVerry spoke about homelessness. Shirley Scott gave a detailed account of the work of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. In relation to the last, 40-45% of people contacting them are adults dealing with historical abuse, including childhood abuse.
One of the presenters in plenary session at Wheatfield was Sue Saunders on trauma and dealing with PTSD. She was backing the Human Givens approach ( www.hgi.org.uk and www.dublingivens.ie ) which some felt was not very different to some other attempts to deal with trauma patterns but which she presented as very successful. I attended other workshops during the conference, e.g. on cultural inclusion, and on shame, which all had points of interest and things to think about and follow up.
I was at the conference both to keep in touch with AVP – getting it going in Norn Iron is still an aim – and to network. I ran a workshop on Northern Ireland and I was also pleased to be able to give some conference participants who made it to Belfast a guided walking tour of the city.
The work AVP does is impressive in many ways. Different countries have developed different approaches according to needs, resources and cultures, although the three-step training process remains the same. I got the impression that the content would also be tweaked considerably in terms of culture and context but then much of the programme has elements of choice as to what is covered.
AVP as an approach is very important because it offers a mixture of assertiveness, self-analysis and nonviolence at a personal level in a way which communicates with most people if they give it a go. It enables people to have a real chance of moving beyond violence at a personal level. Nothing is easy but AVP offers a personal road to growth and overcoming violence for many people. Its strength is also its limitation; it is pitched at the personal. It is not about building a mass nonviolent movement. But it is about building individuals who have freed themselves from violence and are more at one with themselves – whether in prison or outside. As such it is an essential part of a nonviolent response to violence in society. It deserves to be supported by peace activists.
Helen Haughton, AVP Ireland co-founder, who spoke in Wheatfield and to whom a presentation was made, has a short account of the origins of AVP in Ireland in the Wheatfield booklet. In terms of current work she says: “AVP workshops have been running in Dublin prisons – Mountjoy, Wheatfield, Arbour Hill, Training Unit, Dóchas (Women) fairly regularly, but also in Castlerea (when two facilitators lived nearby), Limerick (for some years) and Portlaoise from time to time. The greatest difficulty we have is to retain the Outside facilitators, so the actual pool that is available to sign up for a weekend is very small. Only 2 of the original 9 are still involved. At the moment there are excellent facilitators in Wheatfield and Mountjoy but the rule is that 2 outside Facilitators must go into each workshop is still upheld.”
So there is a real opportunity for people in Ireland to train up as AVP facilitators and be involved in the work. But giving up a whole weekend periodically is a major commitment for most people so it is not easily done. But even such an involvement for a few years could be extremely worthwhile generally and fulfilling personally. So who’s up for it?
My account ends with the text of the message agreed at the conference to go out to interested people around the world. There are also photos on the INNATE photo site – address at the end.
AVP’s message or ‘epistle’ from the International Gathering in Maynooth:
Greetings to AVP world wide.
158 AVPers from 43 countries send greetings from the beautiful and historic surroundings of the Maynooth campus, Ireland.Under the guiding lights of diversity and inclusion we search in our different and similar ways for peaceful pathways into the future.
During this gathering of international faces and accents we made friends, shared stories, exchanged inspiring experiences and with an open eye focused on sustainability.
The size and emphases of this gathering, the largest in our history, left us in no doubt that our future is assured and will demand much of us. The gathering not only brought people to one country, it did more than that, it connected various people to each other for the common purpose of the AVP and peace.
Our host country shared generously with us something of their work for violence against women, for homelessness, and of the long and ongoing process to reach peace in this land.We also listened with delight to the music of Ireland.
A thousand stories could be told but one must be shared, that of a visit to Wheatfield place of detention, where six inmate AVP facilitators shared their personal journeys:
“Though we may be in the gutters some of us still look at the stars.”
“In the past the people were afraid to approach me because of my reputation of violence, since I became an AVP facilitator people find it easier to approach me when looking for help with their own problems.”
“I came to prison ….. with a life sentence for murder……..a year later I did my first AVP workshop…..it taught me to turn my back on violence…..it gave me the tools to change my life….it taught me a lot about empathy…which makes it less likely to be violent towards somebody.This is probably the most important thing AVP has taught me and if I can teach that to someone else I have done my job.”
“It taught me to be creative….I write a lot of poetry now…..I couldn’t live without AVP….thank AVP for making me the man I am today.”
Finally one inmate concluded with the words of John O’Donohue:
“May you realise that you are never alone, that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.”
This week we gained an insight into the AVP contribution in trauma work and the positive impact made against violence:we know that we need to expect the best.
Finally we affirm the amazing job carried out by Irish and International AVPers which gave us a week and more of living, learning and loving together.
On behalf of all the AVPer's attending the World Gathering
- - - - - - -
An album of photos of the AVP International Gathering, along with some photos of AVP work in Bolivia and Kerala, India, appear on the INNATE Flickr pages site
For a general article about AVP work, and AVP in Ireland, see here
For contacting AVP Ireland: email@example.com - - - -
The War Resisters’ International (WRI) Triennial Conference took place in Cape Town in July.
This report is by Hannah Brock of the WRI Staff and is a version of an article written for the British magazine Peace News and is used here with their kind permission, www.peacenews.info
“I was one of those people dodging bullets outside this building as a 13-year-old in 1976”, he said. The building was the City Hall, an imposing Colonial-era edifice on Cape Town's grand parade.
Twenty years and two months after South Africa's first democratic election, the poet and indigenous Khoisan activist Zenzile Khoisan told us stories of his investigations with the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of “going to mortuaries continually”, and learning ways to cope with that. “This line from the Pablo Neruda poem kept me alive”, Zenzile said: “There is no clear light, no clear shadow, in remembering”. Zenzile spoke at the first day of a conference of grassroots antimilitarist and pacifist campaigners of War Resisters' International.
We weren't the City Hall's first progressive inhabitants. Terry Crawford-Browne, one of the South African architects of the apartheid banking system boycott, was a local conference organiser; now campaigning for BDS of Israeli apartheid, Terry remembers the building as the place the world watched on 11th February 1990 when Nelson Mandela made his first public appearance after being released from 27 years of incarceration.
This was War Resisters' International (WRI) first ever Quadrennial Conference to be held in Africa. More Africans than ever were in attendance, and in total, there were 220 participants from over sixty countries. It marks a turning point for WRI, foregrounding African perspectives and experiences.
All violence is interconnected
Our programme's theme was 'Small Actions, Big Movements: The Continuum of Nonviolence'. The term 'the continuum of violence' was borne out of feminist analysis. It draws attention to links between visible and traditional modes of warfare, and those often-silent violence in everyday life – along with all the aggression and militarism that takes place in between.
What connects these harmful expressions of humanity? Many forces spring to mind: in Britain, the strong masculine hero protecting (/dominating) a woman is as potent to army recruitment as it is in the home. A hawker in Mogadishu without food can be driven to violence whether it be in the guise of guerilla warfare or frustrations meted out on competing businesses. Everywhere, soldiers face the mental health repercussions of engaging in violent conflict, and are more likely to take their own lives after leaving the armed forces than if they never had joined at all. Countering any form of violence effectively requires an awareness of this continuum, and the backbone of the conference were daily theme groups, focusing on a particular aspect of the continuum of violence and the nonviolent response to it.
Why are we here?
A Congolese participant asked “Why are we in Cape Town, one of the most Westernised cities in the whole of Africa? Here the struggles are mainly historical, yet violent conflicts are raging now in Africa”.
The Ceasefire Campaign, a South African antimilitarist group focusing on the arms trade, youth empowerment and peace education, offered to host the conference, giving a practical and political partner for WRI organisers to work with. As for Cape Town itself, the answer was primarily practical: they offered us space for free in the City Hall, and we had a local organising committee who offered, tirelessly, to make the conference happen. But more than that, civic struggle - and dialogue around aggressive vs. nonviolent and other tactics in South Africa - did not leave when apartheid did. The debate over means used by activists in the Western Cape who were protesting poor service delivery in the Western Cape province - so called “poo protests” - was raging in the months before the conference. Religious and other leaders - including Tutu – warned that this violent (it wasn't just poo...) campaign of destabilisation would likely spread to the rest of the country, if its progress was not arrested.
Cape Town was an apt location for this conference on the continuum of nonviolence, with South African activists giving us the chance to learn about their contemporary labours, and how these stem from and diverge from South Africa's history of struggle. The second day's plenary topic was 'Civil Resistance – beyond regime change': a live South African issue, as campaigners strive to challenge corporate power, and hold successive democratic governments to account in relation to the promises made as Apartheid crumbled. A film showing of Miners Shot Down, a documentary about the 2012 massacre of over forty miners in Marikana, gave us a stark example of this struggle.
But WRI is no more or less than its members, with all the imbalances, joys and problems that entails. Continued efforts must be made to ensure that as a pacifist international network we are genuinely that, and do not merely reproduce the violent and damaging relations between peoples, genders, and nations that exist in the rest of the world. It does not happen without concerted intent. So in answer to the question, why are we not where other conflicts raging in Africa are, we hope that the new Congolese and other Africans members of WRI will engage heavily with the network, bringing their expertise, their questions, their experience - maybe even one day hosting a conference.
The spirit of resistance
The opening night was joyous. It was a celebration of different forms of resistance, a night of inspiration and celebration, with actors, hiphop, and song. Different generations of activists spoke: Jenni Williams of Women of Zimbabwe Arise and Desmond Tutu sharing the platform with Sahar Vardi (a woman conscientious objector and member of feminist group New Profile in Israel) and Omar Barghouti (of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel). Lessons learned from anti-Apartheid struggle resonated down the years as Palestinians and Israelis campaign for the liberation of Palestine. This theme continued as the Israeli military attacked Gaza whilst we met. The day after the conference, participants staged a demonstration to protest the attacks, alongside local solidarity activists. A conference of activists should have presence on the streets as well as in meeting rooms.
Over four days together, we heard from struggles under-represented in international solidarity campaigns: from Western Sahara, the last territory under military occupation in Africa, and from Swaziland, struggling for democracy and basic rights under an absolute monarchy.
Conferences need to be more than just talking. Social and cultural events bring people together on another level, and are vital for that networking and relationship-building that international networks thrive on. So often new cooperation, new initiatives and new alliances start from conversations in corridors and outside of the organised programme.
The conference was a place for different forms of expression of nonviolence movements including the creative and theatrical. Seven exhibitions ran, including a history of the End Conscription Campaign in South Africa, a photo essay on the cost of human development in India, and a photovoice exhibition by eight South Africa women about their marginalization. There was an arpillera and exhibition that hosted workshops on how to use art as a tool for dealing with the past, rather than forgetting. Arpilleras documented the experiences of the Chilean people during the Pinochet years. The exhibition was curated by Roberta Bacic, and you can find more arpilleras in the Disobedience Objects exhibition showing at the V&A now.
The conference was a collaborative gathering. The African Nonviolence and Peacebuilding Network, established at a WRI-run training for nonviolence trainings in Johannesburg in 2012, gathered in the days before the conference. Plans for future work were made, communications mechanisms set up, and relationships built. The Women Peacemakers Program, affiliated to WRI, also held their Global Consultation on Gender and Militarism in the days previous to the conference. Both themes and participants fed from that consultation into the WRI event.
The second edition of The Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns was launched during the conference, with speakers from Zimbabwe, USA, Nepal and Britain, all of whom contributed to this, the second edition of a handbook designed to help nonviolent campaigns with their strategy, training and group building. The London launch will take place in Housmans on 25 October, from 6.30pm.
For WRI, this meeting was a big deal. Greater African participation that at any previous conference determined the content, the speakers – and the outcomes. It came at a time when the future of WRI is uncertain, purely because of financial constraints (not because the dynamism and potential of the network is not huge: it is!) In what position will the International be in four years time when the next International Conference takes place? Even with this questions in our minds, after intense fundraising, more funded participants than ever before were enabled to attend, from more African nations than ever before, by a very long way. These activists will shape WRI going forward, and engagement in WRI will also influence their work, and it has for movements in Latin and North America, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere for many decades.
Gathering as a network, we took the opportunity to say our own goodbye to WRI chair Howard Clark, who passed away suddenly last November. Howard was central to the planning of this conference, and its success is a testament to him: his contacts, his ideas and his determination - which also kept us going even after he was gone. After memorials in Madrid and London, this occasion was more informal, with WRI members sharing their memories of Howard spontaneously. His presence was felt all through the conference, through his partner Yolanda Juarros Barcenilla, children Ismael and Violeta, his countless friends, networks he created, and themes he worked on.
WRI recently appointed a new Chair. Christine Schweitzer was warmly endorsed by Howard Clark before his death last year. She now has the job of overseeing WRI through a transition of welcoming in African movements, and being changed by them. WRI's is a non-hierarchical network. As former Chair Joanne Sheehan put it, with its flat top, WRI is a bit like Table Mountain, which dominates the Cape Town sky line. And this gives her more space and power to spread.
Other material on the WRI Triennial is on the WRI website at www.wri-irg.org