Looking for nonviolent ways to confront, resist, challenge and respond to violence

IssueOctober 2005
Feature by Roberta Bacic

After my time as a staff member of War Resisters' International, I moved to Northern Ireland. This is now my home and life which, for me, includes being Chilean and confronting what was going on in Chile for over 25 years, either from within Chile itself or from wherever life has taken me.

Life in peaceful Benone allows me to look at what is going on here and in other places, with both serenity and urgency at the same time. One cannot merely be a spectator, we are also part of what is going on. We have to take responsibility for what we do--or stop doing.

Exploring and seeing the beauties of this country, I have been gaining some insights into what is and what is not going on here. Walls, murals and other symbols that present themselves as picturesque are--at the same time--the shouting voices of unresolved conflicts, conflicts that have become manageable simply by not changing substantially, but continuing in the same vein.

Moving here I decided to attend as regularly as possible monthly meetings of WRI affiliate INNATE, and managed to go for the first time on 19 September. On arrival I found the Peace News invitation to write a brief piece on what we could say, as part of the peace movement, to the present violence. So I contacted some of our members and asked them to tell us what they are doing.

Here are their thoughts.

Anne Benett, QuakerHouse, Belfast

A few days before the recent outbreak of violence in Belfast I met with a community leader who has spent most of her life working for the people of the Shankill Road area. We talked about the political vacuum, of the young people's sense of hopelessness and the radical solutions that were needed; the importance of a long-term strategy to address issues around the provision of education, skills training, employment etc. These would require strong leadership and commitment at all levels, to taking the hard decisions rather than seeking a political "quick fix".

The lack of positive leadership, the need to re-engage all those who have "opted out" of the political processes and to develop a vision of the future for Northern Ireland are issues that have to be addressed by the political, church and community leaders and also the peace movement.

Rob Fairmichael, Irish Net-work for Nonviolent Action Training & Education, Belfast

Nonviolent activists should never blindly condemn violence, and recent loyalist violence in Northern Ireland is no exception. Of course there is a custom of "recreational" violence (a somewhat disparaging term which nevertheless portrays the fact that some rioting takes place because of lack of other things to do) but this was more than that.

It is obvious that some Protestant working class communities are at the point of boiling over, and loyalist paramilitaries have no political stake to act as a carrot, unlike Sinn Fein. There is significant Protestant poverty and deprivation though the figures still show unemployment and deprivation is significantly worse, overall, in Catholic areas. More importantly, many Protestants feel they have given everything under and since the Good Friday Agreement, which is ironic given the journey that Sinn Fein and the IRA have been making, admittedly very slowly, but that is not seen.

There are broader questions ofequality and empowerment for all. W B Yeats's poem on Parnell goes; "Parnell came down the road, he said to a cheering man: `Ireland shall get her freedom and you still break stone.'" If you move that into the 21stcentury and transpose "peace" for "freedom", you get a situation not to be sought.

Mark Chapman, teacherand peace activist, Belfast

Dismissing loyalists and unionists is often my immediate response to their public displays of opposition to the glacial paced peace process here, perhaps because of their painful PR disasters, the equivocation of unionist politicians and their conclusion from the peace process that violence pays--it delivered for republicans and so it should deliver for the loyalist/unionist community. I've been finding that an understanding of the undoubted depth of anger in that community is informed by the views ofpeople on the ground. Perhaps the overarching grievance is the dynamic of equality permeating the Good Friday Agreement and inevitably this means a realignment of the balance between the culture and ethos of Britishness and Irishness in society here.

Dave Duggan Writer/Direc-tor, Derry/Londonderry

The sudden death of a community worker involved in economic regeneration in loyalist and republican areas was marked by an event in a community centre. Loyalists, unionists, republicans, nationalists, socialists, feminists and others celebrated his role in advancing the cause of mutual support. Also, community centres across Northern Ireland have booked performances of a new play of mine on the issue of truth recovery.

Two sound notes amidst the din.

Kevin Cassidy, Chair,Peace People, Rostrevor

The recent violence on our streets is a wake-up call, urging us to walk on the painful path of change and transformation.

We need to examine our assumptions and basic attitudes to those whom we perceive as different.

It is a challenging time to assume responsibility for what is happening and not to leave it to politicians to come up with quick fix answers. It is a time to speak up for the nonviolent way. Each of us can make a difference, but it requires a soul-searching commitment to create a culture of nonviolence to resolve our conflicts.