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.
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
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
- Economics and Globalisation
- Violence in Society and Nonviolent Social
- Addressing Ethnic Community and Intra-State
- Militarisation and Disarmament
- The Roles of Gender and of Racism in War
- Nonviolent strategies to address the Environmental
destruction by the Military
- Conscientious Objectors, Veterans, and Anti-Militarism
- Asylum: Strategies to Prevent the Closing
- An Exploration and Introduction to Nonviolence
- Dealing with the Past
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.
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
* 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 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.
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
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
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
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
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
(Facilitation: N.N., Scottish Centre for Nonviolence, Scotland
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
War Resisters International Triennial Office, 84 Templeville
Templeogue, Dublin 6W. E-mail: email@example.com