Posts Tagged ‘people power’

Why War?

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

There are many potent alternatives to military intervention which are often not pursued. The peace scholar, Gene Sharp, listed 198 non-violent alternatives including noncooperation, protest, sanctions, persuasion, and nonviolent intervention. The world spends about $1.6 trillion a year on the machineries of war – imagine if this was invested in  fighting poverty, in education and health care. Research shows that non-violent campaigns during the last century were more successful than wars in bringing change. When unarmed civilians gather in their thousands on the streets, people power has an impact.

It is the great challenge of our time: how to achieve justice — with struggle, but without war.– Howard Zinn

Video: Jamila Raqib promotes nonviolent resistance to people living under tyranny — and there’s a lot more to it than street protests:

 

 

Don’t Cross The Line – Review

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Gecko Press‘ latest picture book is that rare beast, a message book that also entertains – it’s also artfully designed with eight blank pages and sixty characters! In Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhó Martins, an army general orders a guard to keep the right-hand page of the book blank. But a crowd of people build up on the border, desperately wanting to use the space. What can the guard do? People power succeeds in the end. It’s those eight blank pages that will speak to all ages about freedom:  children see an empty space and want to play in it; teenagers ask why it’s forbidden; and adults see the injustice in it. A wonderful concept with lively illustrations by Bernardo Carvalho. (Read about Peace books for children here)

Don't Cross the Line_Cover_med

don'tcross

Help Honey Bees

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Bees and humans are partners: we can’t survive without their pollinating skills and bees can’t survive without a clean environment. Keep the bee partnership alive by donating to these charities:

1. Bees For Development: combats poverty by teaching beekeeping in poor communities. Their patron is Sting, naturally (Photo: Paolo Roversi). Great website too: Bees For Development.

2. Oxfam: Plan B helps women in Ethiopia learn beekeeping and earn a living.

3. Tear Fund: The Bees Knees fund helps people in Nepal start a beekeeping business.

Rainbow Warrior Interview

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Thirty years ago today, French spies attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. It was on a voyage around the Pacific, relocating islanders from radioactive areas and protesting against American and French nuclear weapons. One of the ship’s engineers, 25 year old Hanne Sorensen, describes what happened that night:

“I had been working on another protest boat during the day doing some gas welding. That night I decided to go for a walk – I just had this urge to get off the Warrior…I can’t explain it. I came back at midnight and was stopped by police on the wharf who said there’d been some explosions. I thought, ‘Had I forgotten to turn the gas off?’ I didn’t even realise the Warrior had sunk at first. The crew were all huddled in blankets on the wharf and I still didn’t realise what had happened even though they all told me. It wasn’t until morning when I saw the boat that it really hit me hard.The first bomb blew a huge hole in the engine room – you could drive a car through – and the crew scrambled ashore as the boat sank. The next bomb exploded on the propeller shaft, close to my cabin. It was then we realised that the ship’s photographer, Fernando Pereira, was missing. He had returned to his cabin to get his camera and was drowned.
These people were my friends, like family…we’d all been through some intense things and trusted each other with our lives. Now they’d sunk our ship and killed one of our friends. After the bombing, the Greenpeace office was flooded with clothes, sleeping bags, and offers of homes to stay in. You couldn’t have had a stronger expression from the people of the world. Our aim back then was to save the world – not thinking that fifteen people on a boat could save the world, but that this was our little piece in a big puzzle. It matters what every single one of us does.”  (Extract from my book, Peace Warriors).

rainbow warriorPhoto by permission of Greenpeace, NZ

Brave Students

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Thousands of unarmed students in Hong Kong are currently standing up for democracy by taking to the streets. It’s often students who lead the way in peaceful protest movements:

  • 1943: The White Rose group were university students in Munich who distibuted thousands of leaflets exposing the Nazis’ crimes and encouraging people to resist. They were executed.
  • 1957: The Little Rock Nine were high school students in America who broke through the race barrier by enrolling in the local all-white high school despite threatening mobs.
  • 1986-89: University students in China protested to demand more freedom, culminating in Tiananmen Square with half a million Chinese citizens. The government crushed the event.
  • 1988: University students in Burma led massive street marches against the military rulers. The army killed hundreds but Burma eventually got free elections.
  • 2000: Students in Serbia led a non-violent protest to help oust a corrupt government.

Strength To Love

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr.’s book of sermons, Strength To Love, was written during the Civil Rights struggle (several written in prison). King’s poetic style was aimed at a live church audience – you can almost hear the “Amens” after each sentence. But his words remain relevant 50 years on as he encourages people to be forgiving, non-violent, and non-conformists; and to confront militarism and inequality:

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together…

Expenditures for defence have risen to mountainous proportions. The nations have believed that greater armaments will cast out fear, but they have produced greater fear.

Through non-violent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Capitalism must undergo continual change if our great national wealth is to be more equitably distributed.

All life is interrelated. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

Here’s King’s anti-war speech, made shortly before he was shot. (This recording later got a Grammy for Best Spoken Word):

 

Denmark – People Power

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

The Danes challenged the most barbaric regime of the modern period and did so not with troops or tanks but with singing, striking, going home to garden, and standing in public squares. – Peter Ackerman

flagofdenmarkDenmark’s resistance of the Nazis is one of the finest examples of people power. The Germans occupied Denmark during WW2 and took over industry and agriculture to support Hitler’s war machine. But the Danish government found ways to sabotage the Germans without waging war. In 1943 and 1944 they organised nationwide strikes. The Nazis threatened them with tanks and guns, cut off water and power, but the strikers held on and the army backed off. They succeeded in frustrating the supply of war materials to Germany.
Ordinary people also resisted the invaders: by non-cooperation, marches, students refusing to speak German; and communties holding ‘Songfests’ to celebrate Danish culture. When the Germans ordered the arrest of all the Jews in Denmark, people sheltered Jews and smuggled them out to Sweden. They saved almost all the Danish Jews – 8,000 lives.

Syria

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

As Assad continues killing and maiming innocent people in Syria it begins to feel as if there is no alternative to using force against cruel tyrants like him. But military intervention is seldom a good solution and should only be a last resort. It can spark civil war or worse and it’s usually innocent civilians who suffer the most. About 62 million civilians were killed in the wars of the 20th century, compared to 43 million military personnel who died.

There are alternatives to violent intervention, but these are seldom seriously tried (there’s been hardly a peep of protest from our government about Syria). The peace scholar, Gene Sharp, came up with 198 non-violent alternatives. Possibilities include UN peace-keepers, negotiation, banning arms trade, blocking key investments, political non-cooperation and persuasion. Meanwhile the people of Syria stand in the streets for freedom in the most courageous of protest marches.

Syria?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Tyrants… the more is given them, the more they are obeyed. If nothing be given them, if they be not obeyed, without fighting, without striking a blow, they remain naked, disarmed and are nothing. Etienne de la Boetie, 1577

Year of the Scamp

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I’m reading a remarkable book, The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang, written in 1938. His thoughts on ‘The Scamp’ seem timely in a year when people have taken to the streets and dictators have fallen:

The scamp is probably the most glorious type of human being. In this present age of threats to democracy and individual liberty, probably only the spirit of the scamp alone will save us from becoming lost as serially numbered units in the masses of disciplined, obedient and regimented. The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered…

The scamp (or vagabond) is a type glorified in Chinese literature; and Lin Yutang describes the scamp-like qualities of humans as ‘a playful curiousity, a capacity for dreams, a sense of humour to correct those dreams, and a certain waywardness.’ There’s hope for us yet. (Year of Protest, New Yorker comment)

Extraordinary movie

Monday, November 28th, 2011

When a City Falls is an extraordinary movie. The opening shots of the intact Christchurch cathedral before the quakes had me in tears. I remembered the excitement of running up the worn steeple steps as child to look down on the Square. Shot mostly by an inner city resident, Gerard Smythe, it is an amazing tribute to the strength of the people and the city.

A dangerous idea

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Non-Violence by Mark Kurlanksky is an excellent, opinionated history of a dangerous idea. Non-violence is not pacifism, it is active opposition to oppression. The book shows it’s both inspiring and depressing to see how the idea has been tried through-out history, but knocked back by every war. But ‘the advocates of peace and non-violence come back stronger and more numerous each time.’ As the brave people of Syria continue to resist, it’s a reminder that other countries can help non-violently with ‘investment/arms ban, isolating, and cyber-attack’ before using force.

It is odd that we can accept the need for courage to do battle with an enemy, but not the courage to stand bare-breasted before an enemy’s guns A C Grayling review

Anything is possible

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

This is the beautiful Burmese name for Aung San Suu Kyi who is giving the 2011 Reith Lectures (listen here); recordings smuggled out of Burma. Her wisdom, determination and sense of humour come through in these talks. When asked how she lives with the likelihood of being shot, she says ‘that’s always a possibility, but on the other hand there’s always the possibility that you might be knocked down by a bus…’ The programme includes an audience discussion of ways to approach Burma; engagement and targeted sanctions seem to be the favoured options.

My very top priority is for people to understand that they have the power to change things themselves.Time article

People Power

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I admire the courage of the people power movements in Egypt and Tunisia in facing their military rulers. As Tolstoy said,

For us to struggle (the forces being so unequal) must appear insane. They have millions of money and millions of obedient soldiers. We have only one thing, but that is the most powerful thing in the world: Truth.’

The ‘truth’ here refers to peace and non-violent protest. Non-violent action has been successful in bringing political change. It even worked briefly against Hitler when much of the population of Denmark resisted the Nazi occupiers. Danish workers organised large-scale strikes and succeeded in slowing the supply of war materials to the German army.

People power has blossomed over the past fifty years. In the 1970s the military rulers of Argentina were confronted by a group of mothers who’d lost children in the ‘dirty war’. Their protest drew the attention of the world and the government fell. And don’t forget the massive strike by Solidarity workers in 1980 leading to  democracy in Poland; and tens of thousands of civilians who deposed a dictator the Philippines; the wonderfully named ‘Singing Revolution’ (1987–1990) restored independence in the Baltic States; peaceful protests in Chile in 1988 helped to remove Pinochet; and 100 000 people gathered in Wenceslas Sq to end communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989. There’s been social change too, such as civil rights movements in the US and South Africa.

But any confrontations between civilians and the military state are a ‘slippery zone’. So to quote our Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, I hope that Egyptians continue to ‘express their views non-violently’; and ‘the authorities exercise restraint’.