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The War Resister's International Triennial conference was held in Dublin in August. Rob Fairmichael offers somereflections.
Stories and Strategies: nonviolent resistance and social change
To assess something which you're intimately involved with is difficult. While I was out of the main Dublin-London axis for the War Resisters' International Triennial Conference, “Stories and strategies - nonviolent resistance and social change”', I was nevertheless centrally involved.
This meant that while aware of much of what was happening, beforehand I was not so much in the whirlwind and during it I was too busy to engage in some of the conference. But in any case a large conference like this has many different personal experiences depending on the sessions people choose to go with, who they interact with, the language groups they can be part of, etcetera.
Some general comments first. In general it worked. There were fewer people than anticipated, a couple of hundred in total. A conclusion on the content might be that there were too many stories and not enough strategies. DCU (Dublin City University) as a venue worked all right in general but at times the bureaucracy (particularly with some people unavailable on a bank holiday weekend) made life difficult. While involvement from Ireland was lower than I would have liked, I got the impression that those who did come and engage got a tremendous amount out of it, and I hope that INNATE will be able to maintain a relationship with most of these people. The workcampers (provided by SCI/VSI) were tremendous.
On a personal level I was pleased both to survive and feel that I had risen to the challenges put before me as well as I could.
The morning plenary, as usual, included somebody telling their own personal story in 15 or 20 minutes. These are always an inspiring start to the day. We all face difficult struggles of varying kinds; some may be more mundane, some more dangerous and risky, some more varied, but all represent the struggle of an individual to be true to themselves and to overcome violence and live nonviolence. Siva Ramamoorthy's journey from non-violence to violence and on to non-violence in Sri Lanka was one; the gun which he felt would liberate him became with time a burden and a pain. But keeping the faith in the face of the mundane can be difficult in a different way. While we listened to people who might be considered to have a particularly interesting story I hope that part of the message is - anyone there could be sitting in the hot seat telling their story. We all have a story. And that was part of the Triennial message as well.
The theme groups which participants followed for four mornings in a row were at the heart of the Triennial conference. This was where people had a chance to really get to grips with one topic. I couldn't attempt to summarise what I don't know about but the theme group I attended, on “International peace operations: what they are and what they could be” with Howard Clark and Christine Schweitzer in general worked well.
After lunch there was an opportunity to take part in workshops which anyone could offer, ie if you wanted to put on a workshop you put on a workshop and people voted with their feet. This is an important counterpoint to the morning programme in that it allows everyone an equal opportunity. There were a few people from around Ireland that I was involved in specifically inviting to run workshops. Again I would assume a very varied response but there was a broad choice so hopefully something for everyone. And there was also an opportunity for specialist interest groups regarding work with women, or nonviolence training, to get together.
The evening plenaries, after dinner, were a time when people were already getting tired but an opportunity for everyone to hear usually a few presentations and engage in plenary debate. As well as different aspects of story-telling and strategising from several continents, this included Glencree talking about their work primarily with victims and combatants of the Northern Ireland Troubles.
Business sessions topped and tailed the Triennial and one question of debate was whether the next Council (annual meeting) should take place in Colombia or whether it should be a stand alone conference. So it was a question of how to engage with the Colombian situation, and engage with Colombian activists, rather than whether to (it was decided to hold the 2003 Council there).
As to why the event was smaller than expected I have no one answer. There were people we knew wanted to come (people we had links with) who were not granted visas, eg from Kinshasa, Congo. The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs' ruling that people had to have travelled outside their own country before (and returned) before getting a visa to Ireland was both insulting and illogical.
The daily magazine (produced by a team, of volunteers working with Peace News staff) provided an instant record and news of what was happening that day. Ordinary activists and individuals from around the globe were often inspiring. The WRI staff kept their remarkable cool throughout. And after all was said and done I did feel privileged that the Triennial had come to Ireland and to have been part of such an event. But it's just as well such an event only comes to a small country once in a lifetime!
INNATE, c/o 16 Ravensdene Park, Belfast BT6 0DA (fax +44 28 9064 7106; email email@example.com; http://www.innatenonviolence.org ).
Some material including the daily paper is on the WRI website at http://www.wri-irg.org .