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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 144: November 2006

Also in this editorial:

Slowly storming Stormont
The “St Andrews agreement” of early November to return to devolved government in Northern Ireland looked too good to be true, and so it was, as difficulties emerged very speedily over oaths, policing and the sequencing of events to lead back to a reopened Stormont next spring. That said, early indications from the St Andrews inter-party talks were negative so almost everyone was taken by surprise at the positivity when the talks were ending. The DUP is currently consulting its own supporters and the unionist constituency and while the main mood seems to have been to go for it, some strong dissent has been voiced, as well as different interpretations of the sequence of events necessary. Even if this falls apart it is still an indication of how tantalisingly close the parties, and in particular the Democratic Unionist Party, are to getting back into business at Stormont. Meanwhile a debate has started on how much ‘new’ money there is in a ‘peace dividend’ investment package announced by UK Chancellor Gordon Brown (if the Assembly restarts); the initial verdict seems to be “some – but not a lot”.

There is no danger of sweetness and light descending on Northern Ireland just yet though the journey has, even now, been an exceedingly long one; as we have repeatedly said, ‘history’ will not stop just because there is a devolved government at Stormont. If all the pieces are not actually in place then perhaps it could be said that the pieces of the jigsaw are in almost the right positions but not yet joined up. Whether “St. Andrews” sinks or swims, the day cannot now be far away when the Stormont assembly is back and running, and Ian and Martin are FM and DFM respectively before Ian Paisley hangs up some of his boots. It is always possible someone will knock some of the carefully assembled pieces of the jigsaw aside but, if this happens, enough of it will remain in place that it is mainly a matter of political will to overcome the last hurdles. However, in Northern Ireland, as in many other conflict situations, it is not so much that “where there is a will there is a way” but rather “where there is a will there is a way out”.

A Stern warning
It is to be hoped the British Stern report (compiled by Treasury economist Sir Nicholas Stern) on global warming and its economic effects is just what is needed to galvanise governments in this and other parts of the world into radical change. The Republic is one of the worst offenders in Europe in relation to its 1990 greenhouse emissions, currently up 23%; no real effort has been made to uncouple increased emissions from economic growth – though it should be clearly stated that sustainability is not just about carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, it is also about total consumption of resources (e.g. metals and other resources). The UK has fared somewhat better, its 14% decrease of greenhouse gases on 1990 being largely thanks to a higher level to begin with and the decline and fall of King Coal but it has just as big a transition to make.

Tinkering with a few windmills is not enough. Nor is it any longer simply an ethical, moral and environmental issue; it is now clearly stated as an economic issue, with a stated economic cost, where action now could prevent greater costs later on. A business as usual approach is predicted to lead to temperature rises of 5C – 6C by the end of this century and catastrophic effects; even by 2050 perhaps 200 million people could be displaced by floods or drought. A temperature rise of just a couple of degrees could bring water shortages for billions of people.

We need radical and joined up policies which will deliver a sustainable future not just for our children’s children but for our children and for ourselves. Nether Ireland nor Britain can say they haven’t got the money to do the job.

There are no longer any excuses whatsoever for not dealing with global warming in a comprehensive manner.

Editorial essay:
Advocating advocacy

‘Advocacy’ is one of those slightly awkward words in the English language that many of us are not quite sure what to do with. This comes partly from the fact it is not always easy to say, and partly its connotation of legal ‘advocates’ running around the place in wigs and gowns. Yet advocacy, usually interpreted as taking another’s issue and making it your own, is a key concept in nonviolence and struggles for justice - and one which is often ignored in some peace and mediation circles where the emphasis is on transforming the general situation rather than weighing in on one side. However, where the situation is very one-sided, and/or there are clear issues of injustice, advocacy may be the most efficient and effective means of resolving the conflict and issues. That said, mediation theory would also state that a mediation process may need to address power imbalances.

Advocacy is different to other positive responses to conflict in that is clearly choosing sides for someone who is not obliged to do so. Other outside interventions include acting as a mediator or arbitrator. If you are affected by the issue concerned and get involved then you do so as a party to the conflict rather than someone involved in advocacy; the options for what you do may or may not differ, There are many different aspects to advocacy and this piece only tries to explore them briefly.

The classic and well defined advocacy model of modern times is the solidarity group. It is very clearly advocacy because those involved do not live in the situation being addressed and may never have been there – the Anti-Apartheid Movement comes to mind as one which was extremely successful in getting regime change and democracy in South Africa by 1994. South Africa was a situation where for years many radicals and others saw only the possibility of violent change. But through slow and dogged action over decades, pressure for sanctions and resultant damage to the South African economy – in alliance with movements for change within the country – the situation was transformed without violence. Solidarity movements raise the issue with their own governments and put pressure for change in their home environment – there was a time when eating an Outspan orange was a cardinal sin – but may also provide practical and financial help to those suffering in their area of solidarity. Solidarity movements may be geographically –related (e.g. West Papua Action today) or taking up more general issues (indigenous people or freedom of conscience,).

In getting involved in advocacy in our own home environment then the situation becomes somewhat muddier. Are we someone affected by an issue, and therefore involved (“I face water rate charges in Northern Ireland therefore I am involved in opposing this double taxation which is getting the water system into shape for privatisation”) or, am I someone not affected who, seeing a glaring injustice or cause that I wish to identify with, seek to get involved. The lines here can be very blurred – and, in the end, it may not matter too much.

What are the options in terms of involvement? The sky is the limit. Here are just some of the options;

  1. An ‘ordinary member’ in a campaign. You join, pay your sub, go to meetings and do whatever you can or are expected to do.
  2. Funding. You assist the campaign financially either through donations (perhaps being a passive member who pays their subscription) or through active fundraising.
  3. Acting as a resource person through providing contacts, training or other resources.
  4. Acting to put pressure within your own structures for change on the issue, either directly if this structure has the power to make changes, or indirectly if it is worth pressing ‘your’ structure to put pressure elsewhere.

As a member of a campaign there are a million and one things which you can end up doing, depending on the nature of the campaign and the stage it is at (see e.g. the summary of Bill Moyer’s stages of successful social and political movements on the INNATE website, ‘Workshop on strategising’ under ‘Workshops’). Being an aware member who has an understanding of where things need to go to achieve success is much more valuable than being someone who simply follows the direction being taken, although both are valuable; but this can also be a frustrating time, aware of what is needing done but conscious of the fact that others may not see the need or be willing to do anything about it. Taking responsibility in this is just like if you are an ordinary participant in a meeting and you see something is needed (e.g. adequate ventilation – everyone is falling asleep as a result of heat and lack of air) which no one is doing anything about, then it is generally good to take upon yourself the task to see it is addressed, this may entail raising the issue or it may be directly opening a window or door. Sometimes there is the danger of people asking “Who are you to do this?” but the risk of this is better than nothing happening.

So sometimes a ‘campaign’ within a campaign is necessary, to try to steer it in a more effective direction. The danger here is that you are seen as someone with a different agenda or an agent or mole for a particular political interest or group. Being involved in any group or organisation may require skill and dexterity to contribute to the general campaign but it is also vital to retain something of your own individuality and be able to push for what you see as essential.

‘An advocate’ or anyone else should also not lose sight of what they know about conflict processes and mediation in general just because they are working on one campaign. Allowing the opponent to save face may be an important factor in achieving a resolution; certainly looking at, and remembering, the opponent’s needs may be crucial in getting them to shift. Charting a possible course out of the conflict for both sides may be an important role for you to play in advocacy; this may include a chart of appropriate responses at particular stages of the campaign – there is no point in organising a demonstration when the matter can be settled amicably by a letter (you do not need a sledgehammer to crack a nut and, if you do, the result may not be what you intended).

Advocacy is not always adequately explored within the peace arena and it is a serious omission. It is putting a label on something which probably all those reading this have done at one time or another. We get involved in campaigns and issues for many reasons but altruism, a genuine concern for others, is a powerful factor for good; self interest should not be spurned as a motivating factor but it is not what we are talking about here. We need not to knock advocacy and altruistic activism but to build it up and explore its possibilities.

- - - - - - - -

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:
The Need For A New Paradigm

The 2006 WWF’s bi-annual report of our impact upon the Earth informs us that we are living well beyond our means, consuming 25% more natural resources than can be renewed naturally in a year. The report informs us that if we continue our present way of life, by the year 2050 it is likely that there will be large-scale ecological collapse. Echoing the words of E.F.Schumacher in his environmental classic Small is Beautiful, the report says:

“Effectively, the earth’s regenerative capacity can no longer keep up with demand – people are turning resources into waste faster than nature can turn waste back into resources. Humanity is no longer living off nature’s interest, but is drawing down its capital. This growing pressure on ecosystems is causing habitat destruction or degradation and is threatening both biodiversity and human wellbeing.”

The report reminds us that if everyone lived as people in Ireland and Britain do we would need three planets. Our levels of consumption, not to mention the expected catastrophic affects of global warming, undermines the whole viability of our way of life. A way of life many consider as inviolate, ordained by God as embodied in the western idea of human progress. So ingrained is our conception of how to live, of the meaning of “the good life” that when politicians talk about the health of the environment, they do so in business as usual terms, that we should continue to consume and all what that means in terms of taking overseas holidays and buying food and other products imported from distant parts of the world, they term they use is ‘sustainable development’, blind to the fact that ‘development’ as understood by our culture can never be sustainable.

What the WWF report is effectively asking us to do is heed the graffiti I saw on a wall in Halifax, W. Yorkshire a number of years ago. It said:

“Everything You Have Been Told Is Wrong”.

In other words, if humankind is to continue into the distant future, and the rich biodiversity of the Earth held in tact, then we have to rethink what it means to live a meaningful life, of what it means to be human. We have to weave a new cosmology, a new paradigm, for clearly the one we live by is fatally flawed. Reconfiguring how we live on the foundation of a different value system, a different mythology, is probably too disturbing for most folks to do, is perhaps beyond the capacity of the type of human we have become after two centuries of industrialisation.

Copyright INNATE 2021