Moving a Movement

By Tooker Gomberg, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Ten tips on how the peace movement can regain its momentum.

Activism is sometimes like a wild fire. In no time flat, surprise campaigns emerge and catch fire. They spread rapidly and unpredictably, and dramatically alter the landscape.

This happened in February when millions stepped into the streets and postponed a war. Nothing like it had ever happened before. The planet spun through space, and as the sun rose in each time zone on February 15th, people stepped forward for peace. It was front-page news around the world, and it was effective.

Nobody knew when the Berlin Wall was about to come down. Nobody knows how much dry tinder and kindling is lying around waiting to be sparked. Nobody knows what we can accomplish for a healthy planet until we stretch and experiment with courage and vigour.

The fire that started in February has largely been put out. The war began and the movement stalled. Then horror stories of SARS and West Nile and mad cows distracted and frightened us. We forgot our power.

Here are some ways to re-light those flames and keep them burning longer:

1 Declare February 15th “World Peace Day”. Stay home from work and spend that time working for peace. Give a day’s wages to a local peace group. Or take the money and print up a hundred fliers for peace and hand out one out to everyone you meet. Hand them two and ask them to pass one on.
2 Break the gasoline habit. Help stop the next war before it starts. As we use less gasoline we break our oil addiction and loosen the tentacles of power that are trashing the earth and international relations. Hitchhiking, walking and bicycling should become signs of good citizenship.
3 Fill the jails. Thoreau went to jail in 1846 for refusing to pay taxes to fund the immoral Mexican-American war. In March, more than 2000 San Franciscans were arrested for protesting the Iraq war. Three months later the charges were dropped “in the interest of justice.” Imagine what impact it would have if millions of people were prepared to risk arrest for their principles.
4 Disobey immoral laws. Public schools teach us to obey, but where do we learn to question authority? The Ruckus Society leads week-long camps on the art of civil disobedience. How about regular monthly workshops in towns across the land on how to push for change, how to go limp, what your rights are, how to write a press release? What if framed diplomas of Disobedience lined office walls?
5 Talk to politicians. Don’t settle for talking with their assistants. Explain what a waste it is to buy tanks and planes to kill people when that money could be better spent buying real security through conflict resolution, and by investing in a healthy environment.
6 Fire up the photocopier. Freedom of the press belongs to those with a printing press — or a copy machine. Find the best material you can and start printing thousands. Hand out material on the subway. Print stickers and stick ’em up in toilet stalls. Let’s make our desire for peace and ecology visible.
7 Fly the Earth Flag. The US of A is awash in stars and stripes. The maple leaf separates us from “others.” But we’re all in the same boat on this blue planet. Pledge allegiance to the world at Not in Our Name, and fly the flag that shows how interconnected we are.
8 Launch peace cafés. Working for the earth can be isolating and demoralizing. Peace cafés would be places to sip soup and plot revolution together. Without a place to gather we’ll keep twiddling while Kyoto burns.
9 Un-elect incumbents and elect our own. In politics, getting elected is what matters. Let’s identify the worst and the most vulnerable politicians and boot them out of office (Environment Voters). At the same time, let’s run our own candidates – to win. As an activist, my days spent on Edmonton City Council were the most productive.
10 Be creative and persistent. Creativity and decentralization are our strengths. We shut down the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999 because nobody expected us to do it.

No one expected the wild fires this summer either, but the forest floor was ready for that spontaneous spark. Let’s get this movement burning.