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Editorial: The ballot box and the lock-on
March was a good month for taking nonviolent action, all over Britain and beyond - as the positive and energising stories and images in this month's Peace News show.
This issue of PN only manages to squeeze in reports on a small proportion of these actions but, rest assured, there are many more taking place each and every week.
Politicians and commentators may publicly wring their hands in despair at “voter apathy”, but they fail to recognise (or are disturbed by) the diverse, committed and vibrant political scene which, for many involved, has little in common with mainstream party politics.
Opportunities for action
But, with a general election on the horizon, it's a good time to make the most of the opportunities the mainstream “campaign season” offers to those of us who spend most - or all - of our time working outside (or even in opposition to) the party-political system.
For the next six weeks or more, all the political parties will be out on the streets, kissing babies, flirting with our grandmas and generally trying to win us over. Ministers (government and shadow) and party leaders, will be followed around by press crews much of the time - presenting activists with a wide range of opportunities for communicating with the wider public about issues of peace and justice.
And, while there is a range of views within the peace movement about the value of parliamentary democracy and whether it should be engaged with or not, many will no doubt feel that there is some tactical value in (to borrow heavily from Irish republicanism, see p5) “the ballot box and the lock-on” approach.
With a substantial number of the traditional Labour faithful no longer prepared to vote for a government they consider to be a “war party”, British involvement in Iraq will be a major issue, no matter how hard they try to brush it under the carpet. Though broadening it out, to a wider discussion about war and violence itself, remains a substantial challenge for pacifists and antimilitarists.
Practice makes perfect
In the run-up to the election the peace movement will need to work hard to secure publicity for our actions in a market already crowded out by cross dads and people who like killing animals for fun.
Communicating with people through traditional street campaigning may no longer be in vogue, but as Bruce Kent says (p7) “all you have to lose is your dignity”. The results - as experienced by antifascist activists who have door-to-doored in constituencies where the BNP have fielded candidates - can be very encouraging.
It takes guts to talk to strangers and to attempt to influence their thinking through words, but nothing beats human contact and a shared experience for persuading people of the cause of peace.
Ultimately, putting a cross in a box once every few years can never be a substitute for demonstrating our ideals and beliefs through how we live our daily lives.
We can't suggest the odds on the election outcome, but one thing that we can predict with some certainty is the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference - which will take place at the UN in New York between 2 and 27 May.
To coincide, the next issue of PN will carry a four-page section introducing the treaty, the hot topics for both governments and disarmament campaigners, and provide space to hear from groups in Britain working on nuclear weapons issues. Available 27 April.