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An Introduction to
War Resisters' International Triennial Conference for Ireland

War Resisters' International held a conference in Dublin, Ireland, August 3-9, 2002, entitled Stories and Strategies-Nonviolent Resistance and Social Change. It brought together peace and social justice activists from around the world to discuss how we can make the world less violent and less militarised. As wars and acts of terrorism have increased in recent months, this event took on a new importance.

Since September 11, violence within and between peoples, nations and societies has become a part of everyone's awareness, while the power of the military and the police in even the most liberal societies has been strengthened in direct bold ways. Fear and insecurity are no longer an exceptional emotion for many people; they are now a part of daily life. We are at a time when the task of building a peaceful and just society is immensely difficult. Presenting and promoting a nonviolent approach to social problems has become a formidable task with great personal risks. Yet this is a time when we must find ways to break into and interfere with a cycle of violence that is spinning faster than ever. The War Resisters' International conference has the potential to make a major contribution to this effort.

We need to develop new nonviolent strategies for ending the threat of terror, as well as for revealing and deconstructing institutional violence. We need to find ways to listen and enter into dialogue with the large numbers of people in our societies who find nonviolent, pacifist approach too difficult. We need to strengthen our own international network and make it a model of globalisation from below. The WRI conference provided a forum for steps to be taken toward all of these goals. The title and theme of "Stories and Strategies. Nonviolent Resistance and Social Change" holds new meaning in these changed political times. Storytelling and stories are powerful threads, which help people learn from each other, connect to each other, heal from painful experiences, and make our truths known. They attest to the value of each person as a part of the social fabric.

War Resisters' International provides a strong organisational base for the conference. WRI, which was founded in 1921, is a network of pacifists and nonviolent activists on every continent, who work to end war and the causes of war. WRI members are active in over 90 Sections and Associates situated in more than 45 countries. With its long history and broad network, WRI serves as a central gathering point for a broad community of concerned and active citizens.

Summary
It is fitting for a conference with the title and theme, "Stories and Strategies - Nonviolent Resistance and Social Change" to be taking place in Ireland, where story telling is a rich part of the culture. Sharing stories, from personal narratives to lengthier case studies, is a creative, empowering way to strengthen the sense of community among peace activists from many countries. Everyone attending the Triennial will be encouraged to bring their own stories to share, about their campaigns and individual efforts at resisting violence and building peace.

Under the "Stories" theme, the Conference examined a wide variety of social issues, from the international arms trade to violence at the community level. Some of this was done through Theme Groups, which were discussion groups that meet together for a few hours every day. These were a central part of the conference agenda. Having such extensive time together gave participants the opportunity to delve deeply into a topic. In the Theme Group deliberations, a wide variety of methods were used to draw out participants' experiences: role-plays, presentations by resource people, and group exercises.

The Theme Groups planned for the Conference were:

  • Economics and Globalisation
  • Violence in Society and Nonviolent Social Transformation
  • Addressing Ethnic Community and Intra-State Violence
  • Militarisation and Disarmament
  • The Roles of Gender and of Racism in War and Militarisation
  • Nonviolent strategies to address the Environmental destruction by the Military
  • Conscientious Objectors, Veterans, and Anti-Militarism
  • Asylum: Strategies to Prevent the Closing of Borders
  • An Exploration and Introduction to Nonviolence
  • Dealing with the Past

From the introduction to the Conference:
Another key segment of the conference was plenary sessions held every evening. Here, speakers and panellists shared their stories and case studies and engage in public dialogues that highlight the conference theme. One panel will focus on the use of stories: how they have been used to heal communities in conflict, how they can be used to develop new strategies of nonviolent resistance. Two of these sessions will bring out stories from local community activists, one evening looking directly at the role of grassroots efforts in creating social change, and another looking at the links between global violence and violence in daily life. One session will introduce the international audience to the work of NGOs in Ireland and Northern Ireland and issues they address, such as ethnic conflict and economic globalisation. Strategy will be the focus of a plenary on how to link anti-militarist work with other efforts to strengthen civil society. A final evening will review what the conference deliberations mean for WRI's future work.

A special effort is being at the conference to include and highlight the role of youth. In what ways are the issues of peace and nonviolence relevant to young people? How do young people prefer to work for social change? Special opportunities will be set up for youth to meet among themselves, but throughout much of the conference, steps will be taken to make sure that young people's voices are heard in the general discussions. A work camp is being organised which will give some young people the opportunity to be part of an international team that helps with the practical aspects of the conference.

Aims
The Conference had the following objectives:

* To create an international platform for examining the role of nonviolence and nonviolent action in both resisting militarism and fostering peace processes.
* To foster an exchange of experiences and strategies by activists from peace, anti-militarist, human rights and social justice movements around the world.
* To introduce and examine peace and social justice struggles in Ireland within a context of other nonviolent efforts around the world.
* To introduce ideas about nonviolence and nonviolent strategies to a broader network of citizens and activists, within Ireland as well as from other parts of the world.
* To consider and assess the use of stories and storytelling, as methods for organising and social empowerment. This will be a meaningful follow-up to the WRI-sponsored conference on Nonviolence and Social Empowerment, which took place in India in February 2001.

The Conference Programme

The Conference agenda will combine plenary sessions, theme groups, and one-time workshops to provide participants with a variety of formats and venues for discussing and exploring. There will also be various artistic and theatrical activities to which participants are invited to take part. The conference proceedings will be primarily in English, but simultaneous interpretation will be provided in English, French, and Spanish (Castellano) during the plenary sessions. Assistance with interpretation will be available for some of the smaller sessions.

Plenary Sessions
The goal of the Plenary Sessions is to highlight political questions and strategic ideas that have broad relevance to nonviolent activists. Each Plenary Session will include speakers from various countries who have information and experiences related to the sessions' topic. Many of the sessions will be panel discussions that incorporate presentations and questions from the audience. Others will be structured as creative debates between the speakers.

Plenary 1:What Role do Stories Play in our Strategies?
The history of war and peace is not only found in studies by academics, or in military war reports. It is also conveyed through the stories of ordinary people, those who experience changing political situations and must survive and resist violence as part of their daily lives. Invited speaker Florencia Mallon is a well-known historian at the University of Wisconsin (U.S.), who has specialised in the use of story telling as a way to approach history.

Plenary 2: The Irish Peace Process - Stories and Stages
The conflict in Northern Ireland was once considered a great mystery to many. But then people began to realise that ethnic conflicts are everywhere, and that what has been taking place in Ireland is just one example of such conflict. And it's not over yet. Through their individual stories, presenters will describe for the audience of international nonviolent activists, how the conflict has developed, from the early years of the 'Troubles' through to today.

Plenary 3: Linking Violence in Daily Life with Global Violence
Speakers in this plenary will try to answer the challenging questions about whether the global violence of war and militarism has an effect on the violence people experience in their personal daily lives. What is the effect on children of growing up in a violent society? How does militarism have particular effect on women's experiences and daily lives? How is family life affected by violent community conflict? Panellists will share stories where nonviolent strategies have been used to break this cycle of violence.

Plenary 4: Militarism, Antimilitarism and Civil Society
Too often the activist movements to strengthen civil society and to resist militarism are separate developments running on parallel paths with little co-ordination. WRI can help to bridge this gap by developing and clarifying an analysis that identifies the immense threat that militarism carries to any civil society. This plenary session will examine how militarism limits civil liberties and the building of a strong civic sector. Speakers will outline ways that peace and antimilitarist efforts can contribute to the development of civil society.

Plenary 5: Grassroots Efforts and Nonviolent Strategies
It is common for stories and case studies from other communities to be woven into grassroots campaigns, whether as inspirational models, humorous anecdotes or rumours about failure. A panel of grassroots activists will take a closer look at how the local stories transfer across cultural divides. They will begin by sharing their own campaign stories, and then describe how the reports from other grassroots efforts influenced their strategies.

Theme Groups
Conference participants will spend the mornings meeting in Theme Groups, which they return to each day. The goal of these ongoing groups is to give participants the time to delve into a subject in greater depth. Theme Group sessions will include analysis of a problem, the pooling of information and experiences, development of new strategies and if there is interest, the designing of co-ordinated efforts for the future. Each theme group will have resource people knowledgeable about the topic, as well as a facilitator who monitors the group process. Where possible, preparations for each Theme Group preparations are being handled by both international and Irish convenors.

Theme Group 1: Economics and Globalisation
(Facilitation: To Be Confirmed)
Political and economic developments in Ireland and Northern Ireland will serve as the starting point for exploring broader patterns of global pressures to build military-dependent economies. Two issues to be presented will be the Republic of Ireland's incorporation into military alliances through NATO-linked bodies and the EU, and the increased importance of the arms trade for the economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Local activists will share case studies about national efforts to stop Ireland's entry into new international military treaties and a local community's resistance to the construction of an armaments facility. Effective models for public education and outreach will also be on the agenda.

Theme Group 2: Violence in Society and Nonviolent Social Transformation
(Facilitation: To Be Confirmed)
How does violence manifest itself in our whole society? This theme group will look at this large issue as it affects life at the level of daily experience. What are the patterns of socialisation and of domination that encourage and nurture violence, both within society and between societies? How do the manifestations of violence at the local and global level feed one another? How are youth affected by growing up in violent societies? The group will look for examples where the cycle of violence has been broken and will try to design strategies where nonviolence can be used as a means for social transformation.

Theme Group 3: Addressing Ethnic Community and Intra-State Violence
(Facilitation: To Be Confirmed)
Many violent conflicts today appear, at first, to be based on divisions and hatreds between ethnic, religious or cultural communities. On closer look, however, one finds that people's insecurities and fears are often manipulated and exaggerated by political leaders and the media. This Theme Group will investigate how nonviolent activists can help people resist the fears and hatreds that drive them toward war with their neighbours. It will cover both strategies for long-term bridge-building as well as short-term nonviolent intervention.

Theme Group 4: Militarisation and Disarmament
(Facilitation: To Be Confirmed)
The past saw some successful campaigns for disarmament of specific weapons - the Campaign to Ban Landmines is one striking example. At the same time most societies get more and more militarised, with the Western countries, especially the European Union, developing new international rapid deployment forces. The group will discuss the relationship between militarisation and disarmament, and will try to develop nonviolent strategies combining disarmament and demilitarisation.

Theme Group 5: The Roles of Gender and of Racism in War and Militarisation
(Facilitation: To Be Confirmed)
Sexism and racism are two aspects of militarism, which receive little attention from the peace movement. This theme group will examine how particular gender role definitions can lead to militarism and war, and how militarism builds on racism. The Group will discuss strategies for making such links within anti-war campaigns, and participants will share stories about their own efforts.

Theme Group 6: Nonviolent strategies to address the Environmental destruction by the Military
(Facilitation: To Be Confirmed)
The military structures of the world are some of the greatest polluters and yet, environmental concerns are not often linked to the military. This Theme Group will look at the effects of military operations and war on the environment. It will also explore ways to strengthen co-operation between anti-militarist groups and the environmental movement.

Theme Group 7: Conscientious Objectors, Veterans, and Anti-Militarism
(Facilitation: Emanuel Matondo, Angola/Germany and Andreas Speck, Germany/UK)
Individual refusal to participate in the military has been a powerful way to challenge militarism. This Theme Group will look at conscientious objection and total resistance to conscription and their role in building an anti-militarist movement today. Participants will discuss the challenges they face in their countries, such as the need for new strategies as more countries professionalise their armies. The Group will also examine the special role that war veterans can play in anti-militarist work.

Theme Group 8: Asylum: Strategies to Prevent the Closing of Borders
(Facilitation: Doro Bruch, Germany and Tikiri, France)
This Theme Group will look at issues of migration, asylum, and deportation, and how these are directly related to war and militarism. In sharing strategies, the Group will discuss campaigns to challenge the "Fortress Europe" policy, and the closed-border practices at the US-Mexican border. They will learn bout specific actions such as the International Human Rights Team at the German-Polish Border.

Theme Group 9: An Exploration and Introduction to Nonviolence
(Facilitation: N.N., Scottish Centre for Nonviolence, Scotland and N.N.)
This Theme Group, which will be convened by the Scottish Centre for Nonviolence, is for people who are relatively new to the field and the concepts of nonviolence or while experienced, are interested in revisiting the basic principles. This will be an opportunity for participants to explore nonviolence and its repercussions in detail.

Theme Group 10: Dealing with the Past
(Facilitation: Roberta Bacic, Chile/UK, Brandon Hamber, Ireland/South Africa)
This Theme Group is about what it means for people to learn to live in the present. Many people's lives are marked by war, violence, and other repressive events, which they did not choose, want, or provoke. How can people learn to handle such experiences and use them for finding meaning and significance in their present lives? With the help of knowledgeable resource people, the Theme Group will discuss the psychological effects of war and other trauma. They will explore various approaches for dealing with the past, including the use of storytelling and other ways of making their experiences known. The Group will give a special look at how justice, reconciliation and forgiveness fit together.

Workshops
Each afternoon, there will be a variety of one-time workshops. These will include reports on introductory sessions, skills training, networking meetings, and reports on specific campaigns. Some of these will be planned in advance, but there will also be space available for participants to arrange workshops spontaneously during the conference. A detailed list of workshops will be available in early June 2002.

Volunteer Programme
A work-camp for young people will take place during the Triennial, under the co-sponsorship of Voluntary Service International, the Irish section of Service Civil International. The work-camp participants will help with practical tasks at the conference and will be able to participate as well in some of the sessions.

Finances and Fund Raising
The full budget for the Conference is €204,310. Some basic conference expenses will be covered through participants' fees. Funds for travel costs, interpretation, speakers, and administration are being raised from WRI member organisations, individual donors, and foundation grants.

Contact us
War Resisters International Triennial Office, 84 Templeville Drive,
Templeogue, Dublin 6W. E-mail: dublin@wri-irg.org

Copyright INNATE 2012