I met US peace activist Kathy Kelly four years ago in Chicago, an inspiring and life-changing experience. During Kathy's recent visit to the UK, I was lucky enough to attend a roundtable discussion with her and a dozen other activists at the Mennonite Centre, a spacious semi-detached mansion in leafy Highgate.
There was a feeling of excitement as we waited for the living legend to arrive, and then a burst of happy energy when her slight figure appeared in the doorway. After a meal together, we settled in the chapel. Kathy started off the discussion by giving a summary of the peace movement in the States presently. She concluded that the risk we run now by doing something is far less than the one we run in the long term if we do nothing. And so the discussion began. The central burning issue which has blighted the peace movement since 2003 was raised more or less immediately: the disillusionment of protest. How to deal with disappointment, anger and powerlessness after the protest of a million people failed to stop the invasion. Someone jumped in quickly to remind us that perhaps if as many people hadn't protested, the government's pledge of UK military support might have been far greater and the impact of war far more damaging. For me this reversal of thought on the post-invasion situation has been extremely helpful in maintaining my commitment to the peace movement. Nobody wants to back a lost cause and this rationalisation helps me feel my energies were and are well spent. Civil disobedience was also a popular topic. It was asserted that if 1% of the people who protested in 2003 had committed civil disobedience, we would have stopped the war. It's hard to prove this theory. However I am a huge advocate of civil disobedience and have much confidence in its effectiveness. It was suggested that the peace movement needs to provoke a `crisis of conscience' in order to lever more people from being passive supporters to being pro-active, and that the peace movement lacks a `stickiness' appeal - if every person ever involved in the movement was still involved we'd be millions in number. My feeling is that civil disobedience is the answer to both of these issues as it evokes passion both in the people taking part and in those who hear about it. Passion is the key to sustained involvement and creative thinking in protest. A good practical suggestion was to use the issue of climate change to train people in direct action so there are core activists ready for mobilising in the run-up to an attack on Iran. For me, I left the meeting feeling that direct action is the key to re-energising the movement and the dream of possibly resurrecting the Committee of 100.