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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Billy King

Issue 150:June 2007

[Return to related issue of Nonviolent News]

INNATE is going twenty years this year so there may be one or two things happening later in the year, and maybe some reflections, to mark the occasion. Doesn't time fly when you're having fun? One minute you're considering what to call the thing that's coming into being, the next you're two decades down the road....

Walking to the promised land
'Going for a walk' has a pedestrian tone about it (geddit?) but there are a million and one ways to take a walk. Fast, middling, slow (a slinge), with purpose and direction, without these, in the city, the countryside, up hills and mountains, on walking tracks, on open countryside. As a fundraiser for voluntary groups, the sponsored walk is a well established part of our culture, sometimes with additional historical or cultural connotations as with Afri's famine walk in Co Mayo, commemorating a real walk by real people in 1849, following the Great Famine, when many died by the wayside coming back from their vain search for relief. A political march, which is merely an organised walk usually culminating in a rally, is the commonest form of political protest or demonstration. Alternatively, you can have a one person walk like that done by our INNATE member Gordon Kelly when he walked right around Ireland without any money.

There are a whole variety of ways of using the walk politically. Sometimes peace walks pass through and are gone like that. The recent 'Footprints for Peace' International Walk for Disarmament which started in Dublin and came through to Belfast, and all points inbetween, seemed a very good example of a group getting prepared beforehand and doing their best to interact with people as they went. An initial visit was made more than half a year beforehand, and they followed up particular links with nuclear-free towns/cities, Mayors for Peace etc. This particular walk is continuing to wend its way through Britain having protested at Faslane's nuclear weapons facility and taking in other nuclear facilities en route. One of the most amazing political events I have been involved in, which I've written about before, was a 'slow march' (almost imperceptibly slow) holding candles towards dusk at Bishopscourt Radar Base, Co.Down, in the early mid-1980s; surreal, powerful, human, magnificent.

The pilgrimage is another focused movement which can be done on foot. Of course the word 'pilgrimage' may imply a religious motive but there can equally, in the modern era, be a social, cultural or political motive. It has been used in Sri Lanka as a means of reconciliation. You would talk of people going to Elvis Presley's Graceland on a 'pilgrimage', only slightly tongue in cheek, but that is unlikely to be done on foot. A slow walk, or even a fast walk which takes its time getting there, has much more potential for interacting with people and engaging them in discussion on issues that matter to the walkers.

There is something impressive in this day and age about people who eschew motorised transport and go on foot. There is something humbling and levelling about being on foot. Everyone is equal on foot (though walking a distance may be more difficult for some than for others). On foot you can stop and talk to others with no bother at all. The next step up the mechanical ladder is of course the bicycle where you can go much faster than on foot, and therefore cover more distance, but you can still easily stop to interact with people.

As indicated above, it is possible to put a foot wrong when organising a political walk. Being footloose and fancy free is not an option; clear direction and organisation are needed. But, if the shoe fits, wear it, and we could be more imaginative in the ways we move under our own steam. Walking and cycling, forms of propulsion which once seemed threatened species because of the infernal combustion engine, are the way of the future; in balance with nature, getting your exercise and fitness as you go, they are what everywhere should be designed around, yes, even in cities.

All that remains is for us to put our best foot forward....

Beating about the Bush
One person travelling the wrong way backwards up way street is George W Bush who took his contempt for the international community, and specifically the UN, to new heights, or depths, with his recent moves on climate change. Not content with playing a spoiler concerning the existing institutions, he seeks to get people together under the leadership of the USA on the issue where, presumably, there will be no urgency about the US doing anything and an avoidance of the only measure that counts, i.e. greenhouse gas emissions per capita, in making judgements and decisions. Yes, China may be coming up fast behind the US on emissions but then China has more than four times the population.

The appropriate analogy or metaphor for the world changing course on this issue is of course the proverbial oil tanker. Unable to stop or change course in the short term, a large oil tanker is not very manoeuvrable in the short term, and if something does suddenly loom up ahead then there could be a serious crash. As an oil man surrounded by many oil men, George W Bush should understand this metaphor. Except that in this case, as best we understand it, the oil tanker is the world and there are rocks close ahead, the rocks of climate change are looming up mighty fast, and yet the oil tanker is making few efforts to stop or change course. And the crash of climate change could be disastrous for hundreds of millions of people, making all the efforts for development in Africa, for example, seem futile and almost irrelevant.

The USA is a great and powerful country with a vibrant culture. It could have been instrumental in the struggle for human rights, in the struggles for a decent living for every man, woman, and child on this globe. It could still play a powerful role in change. But, with economic clout and selfish self interest at the heart of its administration, it has been a prime denier of human rights and a major obstacle to world progress on diverse issues including the greatest issue of our time, climate change and global warming. That is not likely to change in the rest of the current presidency. Whether, and to what extent, it will change in the period afterwards remains to be seen. George W Bush believes that power grows out of a smoking gun, an automobile exhaust, and humanity's freedom to pollute. It is difficult to come to a sadder end than that.

Ireland - an island with a middle
Our news piece about The Local Planet and where it comes from (Co Offaly) reminds me of a story that comes from the time of Mustard Seed, a gathering of alternatives held at the Glencree Centre in Co Wicklow in 1976 which was organised by the SCM (Student Christian Movement). There were several hundred people there during the day and I'm sure a hundred and fifty staying, including in a marquee in the main square (all of this would be completely contrary to current health, safety and insurance regulations). The driest, warmest, most spacious place for yours truly to sleep when I did eventually try to get to bed was....behind the reception counter, but as I quite like sleeping under tables [this gets weirder and weirder - Ed] it was admirable.

At a later stage of the conference, to encourage local networking, everyone divided into their geographical locations around the island of Ireland - North Coast, North East, East, Dublin, South East etc. However one attender came up to the organisers after everyone had started caucus-ing into their regional groups; they were from the Midlands but there was no Midlands group announced! Basically the organisers forgot that Ireland has an interior as well as an exterior. It is certainly true that in a small island like ours there is no one more than around 60 miles/100 kms from the sea but there are a significant number of Irish counties where the sea is not a relevant factor in life, it does not appear on the radar so to speak. People in the interior counties do not identify with the coast; it may be somewhere they visit from time to time, but it is certainly not part of their identity in any way. This is easily forgotten with the major cities - Dublin, Belfast, Derry, Cork, Galway, Limerick - all on the sea or within a stone's throw of it.

So, a small island we may be but please remember there is a land-locked heart to it, which also has different parts to it too......

- - - - - - -

That's me for this month, I hope the early summer is treating you well. I also hope that you're on the pushbike these days but I always remind people of Rule No.1 When Cycling in the Summer; keep your mouth closed. There is nothing worse than being full of the joys of spring as you waft along under your own power (or that of gravity as you coast down a hill) - and swallowing an insect at 15 or 20 miles an hour. Unpleasant for all concerned. That's me until July comes around the bend [I think you're already there - Ed] and then we're in the real summer - Billy.

Who is Billy King?
A long, long time ago, in a more innocent age (just talking about myself you understand), there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train' and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor around with you).

Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little about horses even if someone with a similar name is found astride them on gable ends around certain parts of Norn Iron).

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