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December 2005, Volume 13 Nr. 24, Issue 192

Wearing the Hash Marks of Peace Activism 

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

You would think that long-time committed peace activists would understand that touting their own commitments to peace while criticizing that of others makes them appear much like their  pro-militarist counterparts who take pleasure in showing off their longevity uniform markings on their sleeves.  Of course, peace activists don't actually put hash marks (one for each 4 years of military service) on the sleeve of their shirts.  They do sometimes express being in league for their cause, however, in a virtual hash mark manner.  Some with a history of having committed acts of civil disobedience see themselves as being above those activists who have not.  Some who can produce a long list of the demonstrations they attended project their well-seasoned status as if a multiplicity of participation entitles them to more respect.  The fact is that most orchestrated demonstrations produce few tangible results on the issues.  Demonstrations do, however, serve a means by which the participants reinvigorate themselves, hopefully, not to the point of zealotry.  Some activists find pride in being referred to as "renowned activists".  This ethnocentrism within the narrow parameters of a mostly ethnocentric peace movement capitulates to the human aspiration for notoriety.  Being "renowned" comes with caveats.  Other activists deem it necessary to criticize peace groups and their members for not doing enough.  They brush people and groups off as being all talk and no action.  These peace activist critics are good at calling attention to the arrogance of those in positions of power while often failing to recognize the negative power of their own arrogance.  When peace activists reach the point of self-aggrandizement to such an extent that they can put down the involvement of others, then an assessment of their own commitment to peace appears warranted.

The website defines zealots as those who are in pursuit of a good cause often feeling they are immune to criticism of their own methods.  "Instead of seeing answers and becoming an example of those answers in action, they are consumed with a need to, in whatever way possible, get others to agree with them and the actions they prescribe."  Zealots are the last thing the peace movement needs.  The fact is that each of us in the peace movement also has a life to live.  And, it is our life.  Some of us are involved in pressing family and/or medical issues.  Others are struggling with getting affordable health care.  Some of us lack transportation.  Others have full-time jobs with long commutes.  We do what we can, when we can, and, if we cannot do more then that is the way that it goes.  

Groups, like individuals, are quite capable of collectively determining their own levels of commitment and action.  Sometimes, a group's methods used in decision making are cumbersome and tedious.  Many groups operate under 100% consensus which can be slow, frustrating, and a drawn-out process.  100% consensus decision making, however, leaves no one behind in the decision making process.  By the very nature of consensus, and its one-person blocking option, everyone has a say and an equal voice.  No-one is excluded.  If this process takes too long for some, well then, what price shall we pay for participatory democracy?  Why should impatience compel us to criticize those who have a dedication to consensus decision making?.  This is, after all, what democracy looks like.

Alberta Contarello and Muro Sarrica from the Department of General Psychology, University of Padova (Italy) in their article, "Peace, War and Conflict: Social Representations Shared by Peace Activists and Non-Activists" which appears on the Sage Publications website, discuss "the importance of linking social representations to practice and group identification."  When comparing peace activists to non-activists their "results support the idea of understanding peace activism as a particular form of coping -- community coping -- based on the group as a whole, rather than on individual capacity to manage problems."  Individual peace activists attempting to manage other groups is anathema to their findings.  Working outside the social representation of the peace group is, according to Contarello and Sarrica, counterproductive.  Peace activists should be well aware that change comes over the long term.  Let us be honest.  The peace work that we do, hopefully, will lead to a less violent world in our children's and grandchildren's lifetime.  Chastising other activists for their lack of involvement suggests an impertinent impatience with the long-term process, perhaps, an overindulgence in our own self-importance.  The goal of peace may be grandiose, but our day-to-day actions should not be.  Let us not delude ourselves into thinking they are.

Contarello and Sarrica go on to say that, "The preconception that conflict is something negative, to be avoided, and from which one party will necessarily emerge defeated should be rebutted."   Understandably, people get disappointed when they do not get their way or when one of their pet ideas gets delayed or rejected.  The manner in which the disappointment and any impending conflict is handled, however, says much about our dedication to the conflict resolution process itself.  One can hardly create a more peaceful world through conflict resolution on a global scale when one is unable or incapable of doing so locally within the close proximity of one's like-minded comrades.  

Organizations sometimes talk too much and do too little.  But criticizing them for this suggests the group, its members and their meetings are irrelevant.  Such criticism serves no useful purpose and is counter-productive.  It insults the participants.  It is difficult attracting good people to committing their time and energy to the cause of peace, even minimally.   How is the cause of peace advanced by such zealous criticism?  It is not.  Zealotry chases people away.  Peace is better served by criticizing the people who start illegal wars and who profit from destruction and death.  Let us make certain that zealotry and our egos do not cloud our vision of a more peaceful planet.  Let us not stifle the prospect that a new world is possible.  Let us refrain from wearing peace activism hash marks on our sleeves, even virtual ones.

There are those who lose the path by seeking sin in others
They will point out the perceived failings and weaknesses of others
In the context of their perception of sin they have done far worse
For their judgment and righteousness embraces the two greatest sins of all
Only those who see themselves fit to judge others would be judged
Only those who claim righteousness will be held accountable
For their failings have opened the gates for Chaos
Any who would judge another or perceive themselves as righteous
Bear responsibility for the corruption of the message
They are the agents of Chaos

-- Second Convergence (from everything2, TheDeadGuy)

2005 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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