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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 139: May 2006

Also in this editorial:

Propaganda for peace
The current needs in terms of political, social, ecological and nonviolent action are always so great, and as great as ever today, that we can become disheartened by the mountains which we have to climb. Passivity and inaction are often the societal norm when massive challenges arise – the ecological crisis is now clear to all but the most dismissive or unaware and yet society and our governments are content to fiddle with the relevant issues from the sidelines without taking the decisive action which was necessary before now and is becoming more and more urgent.

Using ‘peace’ in a very broad sense to cover many of the needs of today, propaganda for peace comes from two sources – push and pull. The push to action comes from the very negation of what we strive for; from global warming and its incumbent causes, from societal injustice and division, from the worst elements of globalisation including trade inequalities, from sectarianism and sectarian separation in Northern Ireland, from war-making and neo-imperialist actions by governments like the USA and UK. These things push us to take action through their blatant and inherent injustice and threat.

Then there are the pull factors which draw us in to active involvement in changing the world or our little piece of it. Ecologists, humanitarians, people of political vision, world justice campaigners, those who strive for human rights, peace and nonviolence activists, have positive visions which try to communicate how we can get out of some of the messes we are currently engaged in and avoid worse disasters in the future. Sitting and doing nothing is a recipe for disaster and those who have the drive and the vision to make effective changes can incite us to positive involvement in a way which can surprise even ourselves.

When people are searching for answers and becoming aware of issues, often through the negative ‘push’ factors mentioned above (which may, however, only be visible because people of vision have made them visible against the wishes of the powers that be in government or economics) there has to be a clear ‘pull’ message available for them so that they can make the transition from negative responses to the negativity they perceive into positive reactions. In other words, there must be openness and opportunities for people to join a community of change.

This is sometimes where a difficulty arises. People seeking to get involved can have bad experiences where they feel used and abused and where they become another cog in a different machine rather than a living, breathing part of an organic entity. There can be so much work to do that new activists get dumped with almost impossible tasks. Political activists of all sorts are not always the best at acknowledging and meeting the different needs and concerns of those who get involved with us. This is where openness, honesty, and an educational and developmental approach come in which may include a considerable dose of nonviolence training. The latter needs to be person-centred as well as goal-centred; obviously when preparing for a particular action there needs to be a focus on the goal but even here the personal needs to be included (in the shape of exploration of fears, anger and adequate personal support). Propaganda for peace without a human and peaceful heart will eventually communicate negativity and nihilism.

INNATE is a small network, primarily on the island of Ireland, committed to exploring nonviolent responses and action. Some of our work is simply informing people about what different groups and organisations are doing so cooperation can take place where possible and wheels do not have to be reinvented, and individuals can support those they wish to support. But as well as taking action on our own half and beliefs we are a committed to helping groups explore what is possible and how to go about working on a wide range of issues (not all of which are included on the website under ‘Workshops’). Perhaps we can help you – please ask if you want to explore something. And perhaps you can help us, in a variety of ways, including sending us information or other material which can be included in ‘Nonviolent News’.

How we work together can be as important as what we say. In working for ‘peace’ we have to be aware of this and strive for the openness, honesty and creative involvement which must be part of the future. Living the future can be extremely difficult in a society fixated with consumerism, fossil fuel use and other unsustainable practices. Creating that future out of the present is not and will not be easy. But we have to do it with a smile on our faces, a song in our hearts, and our hearts open to everyone including those who also wish to explore the same path and may agree or disagree with how we travel. To alter an old aphorism, there is a way to peace, and peace is the way. We hope you are able to find a little bit of that in these pages but we are aware of how far we all have to travel.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

Environmental Messages – Reality or Illusion?
“This is a very precious place. Look out into the cosmos, and there’s just this little speck with life on it. That’s very rare and precious and needs to be protected by all of us.”
(Maurice Strong, The Irish Times, 22 April 2006)

How seriously are we to take the pro-environmental messages we receive these days? Most notable are those that come from Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Chancellor Gordon Brown, David Cameron leader of the Conservative Party, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and Cardinal Cahal Daly who in 2004 devoted a book to the subject called The Minding of Planet Earth. I reflected on this after a recent visit to Belfast Zoo, whose glossy broachers inform us that it is, “carrying out valuable conservation work protecting the future of many endangered species.” This may be so, but is its primary function to protect endangered species, or provide entertainment and earn money for Belfast City Council? Are the environmental concerns expressed by the political parties simply a means of winning votes, and is the concern expressed by the churches a way of trying to be more meaningful for people? The following observations suggest that the newly found concern for the health of the environment by the established institutions is cosmetic rather than the articulation of a paradigm change.

On my visit to Belfast Zoo the car park was packed, and the road up to it was lined with parked cars. In attracting large numbers of people who travel there by private car, the Zoo is playing a part in destroying the habitat of the animals it says it is working to protect. If the Zoo had a deeply rooted eco-ethos it would provide an eco-solution to the transportation problem, such as reducing the entry fee for people who had travelled by foot, bicycle or public bus. As for the conditions in which the animals are kept, conditions have improved immensely over the past decades, but I still noticed that some animals, such as the gorillas are kept in grim conditions. A similar criticism can be made about the churches. A pillar of their theology is reverence for God and His/Her/Its creation, yet the very act of people traveling by private car to take part in acts of worship, destroys the handiwork of the entity that God is held to have created. The genuineness of the green-speak of the political parties can be measured by what they actual do when they have power to protect the environment. Effectively very little when judged against the comprehensive nature of what urgently needs to be done. Tony Blair for instance repeatedly states the importance of reducing carbon emissions as he continues to subsidise aviation fuel, and press ahead with road building and airport expansion. In Northern Ireland the main political parties - who like those in the rest of these islands claim to care about the environment, are fighting the eco-centric planning policy Sustainable Development in the Countryside (PPS-14), which aims to limit the building of one-off houses in rural areas. In spite of widespread awareness about the seriousness of the environmental problems we have created, the orthodoxy of the establishment, which is to say those who have real power and influence, is business as usual. As Andrew Rawnsley notes in The Observer, 23 April, about Gordon Brown and David Cameron both suggest, “that we can have our planet and eat it.”

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