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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Number 198: April 2012

[Return to the related issue of Nonviolence News]

Making mayonnaise

There is the old adage that, if life gives you lemons then make lemonade. Given that the origin of the French word mayonnaise is most likely from a French general of Irish extraction named Mahon, we would like to extrapolate from the Mahon Tribunal in the Republic to say – let’s take it and make mayonnaise, let us take such factors and do something positive with them. There may be a disenchantment with party politics but that is not necessarily a bad thing if people can see beyond the false allure of party political brands to what really makes for change. And that is only very partly party politics; there is a whole world of political activism outside of party politics. At this time of recession and blatant attempts by the powers that be – financial institutions and governments – to make ordinary people pay for what is not their fault or responsibility, this is a matter of survival.

Things are happening. From the Shed Project (bringing together men, who may in general socialise in a different way to women, to work together on a particular project, perhaps boat building, in a shed) through, more politically, to the mobilisation that is happening in civil society against fracking in Ireland, and the Occupy movement, it is clear we have the potential to stand up and do what needs done. It is all about empowerment. But political empowerment is needed badly as well as social empowerment; we, as citizens, exercising our democratic rights and power to influence society.

The Mahon Tribunal pointed to ‘endemic and systemic corruption’ (although it might have been more appropriate to point out that this only pertained to the planning system), and senior Fianna Fail figures have been resigning from the party under the threat of being kicked out.. It is not surprising there is disenchantment with party politics. The cost of planning corruption may vary but overall would include; poor planning and poorer facilities, poorer structures (in Northern Ireland, developers usually covered the cost of paramilitary protection money by cutting corners in building), and increased costs for ordinary citizens. More generally and disastrously, it would have increased the cosy relationship with developers which contributed significantly to the housing and buildings bubble which has now left, in the Republic, the state and many citizens in financial straits. In other words, corruption has been totally disastrous or part of a totally disastrous nexus. Fianna Fail were not only in bed with the developers, they were also being paid for it.

In terms of outcomes from the Mahon tribunal, there should indeed be an anti-corruption unit based in the Oireachtas, and Stormont too, which could be a skeleton staff normally but able to pull in expertise when needed from the police services, the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) etc. Sanctions for corruption should certainly include the removal of pensions. It should include a remit extending to all political representatives, including at local level.

At the very end of the 1970s and start of the 1980s, rumblings began in Donegal on the issue of uranium mining. The anarchist bookstore and collective in Belfast, Just Books, produced a pamphlet and did a lot of educational work in Co Donegal to raise awareness of the threat of uranium mining and its consequences. An indigenous Donegal Uranium Committee emerged on the issue, and then various local groups (see Simon Dalby’s account in “The Nuclear Syndrome” . At that stage distributing a pamphlet and organising meetings was the best that could be done with the available resources to increase public awareness. It was quite successful work but it was difficult and time-consuming.

Today there is the internet, social media, and the easy possibility of showing visual material, e.g. film on the internet or through DVDs, with a reach that previous generations could only dream of. Thus awareness of an issue like fracking in civil society (see news section this issue) is far in advance of what might have been expected previously. The West is awake or awakening on the issue, and so is the North. Modern communication methods may make it easy for powerholders to fool some of the people some of the time but it makes it more difficult to fool all of the people all of the time – and when people realise they have been fooled then they do not fool about. Powerholders, beware.

Nuclear power – no thanks
A basic safety measure in any system is to consider the worst case scenario. If things go completely awry, what will happen? And what can be done about it or to avoid it? This principle has been ignored for years in relation to nuclear power. There has also been the tendency to think that nuclear plants in ‘western’ or advanced capitalist countries are immune from the kind of sequence of events which happened at Chernobyl in 1986. The disaster at Fukushima, now over a year ago, should have made people think again, indeed has made people think again, in Germany and elsewhere; Japan may not be ‘western’ but it is an advanced capitalist and technological society. The ‘unexpected’ happens with great frequency simply because there are so many possibilities of things to happen. But given what happened at Three Mile Island (1979) and repeatedly at Windscale/Sellafield (particularly 1957) there should never have been any thought that nuclear power was ‘safe’, even in ‘the west’. Where will be the next?

It was certainly no consolation for people in Ireland to hear in March that of 19 British nuclear power plant sites, 12 are at risk from flooding or coastal erosion because of climate change (Guardian 7/3/12). And apart from rising sea levels, tsunamis may not be common in the western European islands but they have happened (as witnessed by occasional boulders throw up by the sea rather than by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age). Nine sites in Britain have been assessed as being vulnerable now while for others it is a case of rising sea levels and storms in the future being a threat. Who expected this? Very, very few, and if anyone expressed concerns they were certainly not listened to. There we go with the unexpected again.

The main risk is of water inundation causing the leak of nuclear waste. Some sites, especially in south-east England, could be under water in a hundred years making decommissioning expensive and difficult. The authorities say they have time to deal with threats and new climate change hazards. Green activists have other thoughts.

The people of Ireland successfully ‘saw off’ nuclear power in the 1970s and early 1980s. That is an achievement but it is no excuse for not throwing every available resource into green energy today. Irish carbon energy use is still woefully high and contributes significantly, per capita, to the disaster of climate change which is already making itself felt in the most vulnerable societies such as Bangladesh and Pacific islands (in rising sea levels) and in Africa (with droughts). We have salt water, drought and even blood on our hands.

- - - - - - -

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

A One Earth Mindset
The Plains Indians of North America, which included Comanche, Arapaho and Apache among others, called their way of understanding the universe the Medicine Wheel. As in modern psychology people were divided into psychological types. The contrasting pair we are most familiar with is the introvert and extravert. In the Medicine Wheel two contrasting types are those who see things as a mouse would, which is close-up, and those who see things from a broad holistic perspective as through the eye of an eagle. (Hyemeyohsts Storm, Seven Arrows, 1972)

The manner in which we manage our economic and environmental affairs suggests that western capitalist culture perceives things from the perspective of a mouse. We don’t take into consideration the impact our decisions will have on the seventh generation as was the practice of the people of the Plains. We build nuclear power stations without knowing what to do with the radioactive waste, which will be toxic long, long after seven generations from now. We mine water from aquifers without regard to the fact that we are depriving future generations of the use of this precious resource. We have turned fertile land into seas of salt, transformed rainforests into palm oil plantations and large parts of our blue ocean into what marine scientists call dead zones.

We are so mouse-like in the narrowness of our economic comprehension and what we think defines the good life that even those educated at our best universities think there is no alternative to never-ending economic growth, even when it means climate chaos, bio-extinction and well over a billion people living in abject poverty. It is considered a signifier of sanity and sober temperament to hold the view that economic prosperity rests on economic growth.

One of the most significant causes of species extinction, outside of human interference, is the inability of species to adapt to changing circumstances. Behaviour that stood a species in good stead for millions of years can in a rapidly changing climate or eco-system become a liability. The Midas touch, that economic growth will transform hardship into wellbeing, is our species’ most dangerous liability. The proverbial sky is falling, but we are too absorbed in the minutiae of our economic belief system to see it.

As among the Plains Indians there are some in our culture who have the perspective of the eagle. One such person is Michael Collins the astronaut on Apollo 11 who did not walk on the moon but stayed on the craft to oversee its systems. In his book ‘Carrying the Fire: An Astronauts Journeys’ (1974), he says:

“I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment. The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor, blue and white, not envious or envied.”

The challenge for us at this point in the story of our species is to see and act from a holistic perspective, which the science of interconnectedness enables us to do to an extent unavailable to previous civilizations.

Time, 12th March 2012, informs us that we have existed for less than 1% of the earth’s 4.5 billion year history. This fact undermines the widely held idea that the planet was created for our comfort and convenience, a means to realize our divine destiny. This hubris has in part led us to poison and disfigure the planet. We are not a species acting out a part in a play written by a deity and there is no Guardian Angel who will save us from ourselves. The salvation of the community of life-forms on earth lies in managing our affairs from the perspective that our planet is, as astronauts view it from space, a single entity.

- - - - -

The following thoughts were compiled for INNATE by Roberta Bacic. It appears also, in laid out form, at Flickr

Conn Mulvenna who died on 7th March 2012
Vignettes of Our Memory of Conn

I first met Conn through my son Patrick when he worked with him at Glencree. Later, when he was at Kilcranny House, I was invited by INNATE to facilitate a Nonviolent strategy workshop there. I will always remember the grin on his face and twinkle in his eyes when he greeted me with hands raised in the air proclaiming My center has made it, we have Joanne Sheehan here to do a workshop! I clearly felt the honor was mine. Conn had that way of taking time to make you feel welcome, while you knew he was working as hard as he could for peace.   
- Joanne Sheehan, War Resisters League (US) and War Resisters International

I met Conn when I was coming to Northern Ireland for a holiday, having spent a year at Kilcranny House as a volunteer before. Even though I was simply a visitor, Conn was very appreciative of everything I had done and was doing at Kilcranny. I felt then as I feel now that this is a very rare quality that Conn embodied. Brilliant Job Conn.
- Jonas Högerle, Germany

Conn Mulvenna was someone with whom I had intermittent contact (sometimes a little, sometimes a lot) but he was also someone I knew was Always There. I knew he was beavering away. I knew he was really committed to peace, to reconciliation, to building a different kind of society. I knew he was a phone call or e-mail away. I knew he grappled with issues and I knew that his time at Kilcranny House was a difficult one in keeping projects and jobs afloat. He participated fully in residentials INNATE had at Kilcranny House and we appreciated the hospitality. I valued his commitment.  I hope that commitment was not an over-commitment which hastened his death. I will miss his smile, his voice, and his gentle persona and intelligence. I feel we have lost a really important presence in the peace scene in Ireland.  
- Rob Fairmichael, INNATE coordinator.
A hug, a smile and a conversation about nonviolence was always the welcome and core of any time we were together
- Roberta Bacic

Conn was my supervisor when I was an intern at the Glencree Centre for Reconciliation. Supervisor is much too formal, though. Conn was my friend, my mentor. He was bright energy and enthusiasm. He was great at making people--me-- feel confident and good at what we did, while encouraging us to get better. I had worked with groups before Conn came to Glencree, but Conn helped me bond with my groups. He helped me see how to approach a group seriously, while remembering not to take ourselves too seriously. With Conn, age truly seemed like a trick of the mind. That is one of the things that makes his death so shocking. He had such youthful exuberance. He had a way of making us okay with being silly the same way kids do, he just made it look and feel natural.

I hadn't seen Conn in years, but I felt his presence often and truly miss him now. It's funny how you can miss someone that you didn't see much anyway. It still feels like a hole. It still feels like someone has truly taken something away that is yours. Even in that sadness, I think it is important to celebrate someone's life after they have passed. In the depths of mourning, we have a tendency to forget that our loved ones wanted to see us happy. Conn got so much joy from seeing the joy of others. As we mourn him, let us celebrate his life with joy.
- Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer, War Resisters' International Council Member, Social Worker for Fathers in Norwich, Connecticut

Conn was always full of life: energetic, patient, impatient, thoughtful, opinionated but impartial, down to earth or with his head in the clouds, always caring and driven by a vision for a better world, putting it into praxis every day of his life. I met him as a volunteer in Glencree in 2004; without even knowing me he invited me to become a facilitator at the youth and schools programme, which I enjoyed so much! Conn always trusted his intuition. Over the years he helped others to develop and to gain confidence. For me he was a great mentor and friend. Without him I would not be the person I am now.  
- Sonja Tammen

Conn was more than a coordinator for me here in Kilcranny. He was a friend and a person who took care of me. A man who loved to smile, to talk, to dream and to be with people. My first memory about him was that he came with his curly grey hair, a cup of coffee in his hand and a hug, before he really knew who I was. There was no distance and quietness between us. His death is still a shock and I still can`t accept it. I think any moment he will come around the corner. Kilcranny will not be the same without him. I am so happy and grateful that I had the chance to meet, to joke and to laugh with Conn.
-Carlotta Kolbe, present German volunteer at Kilcranny House

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