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'Can We Unite for Peace: Building Citizen Power for Change' - Spring Conference Report, Speech, Photos andVideos - Saturday, 10th March, 2018


CAN WE UNITE FOR PEACE: Building Citizen Power for Change


Report by Bernie Holland, Uniting for Peace Committee Member

For this conference, held at Wesley’s Chapel Meeting Room, we had nine speakers addressing the question ‘Can we unite for Peace?’. Following a welcome address by UfP Chair, Vijay Mehta, during which he welcomed those who had turned up and expressed his appreciation for the dedication and commitment of those who continue the struggle against the war lobby, he introduced the first speaker, Keith Best - Chair of the World Federalist Movement - a body which calls urgently for a system of Global Governance to prevail under the auspices of a revitalised and re-empowered United Nations, in particular here, reformation within the Security Council. Whilst this may appear to be a tall order at the current time, the substance of Keith’s enlightened presentation provided insight into the problems of sovereign power and the manner in which such power has been appropriated in the interests of powerful elites who appear to pride themselves on military capabilities that have now gone beyond the pale in terms of ethics and morality, and that it is a matter of urgency that these rampant forces be effectively reined in at a time when the world finds itself moving ever closer to the abyss. Keith skilfully employed a retrospective approach by examining the changing zeitgeist of the past 100 years, from a time when the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism took free reign, virtually unchallenged by those who surrendered with unfettered allegiance, often oblivious to the causes and conditions that had brought them into circumstances within which many would have to sacrifice their lives.

Whilst one can say that, in respect of the defeat of Nazism during the 2nd World War, such lives were not necessarily lost in vain, one has to question such an assumption when considering the fact that the underlying ideologies on which Fascism was constructed, have been gradually resurfacing over the last half century, bringing us to a point today where, yet again, where societies are marginalised and demonised, human values are inverted whereby ultimately a human life is reduced to a disposable commodity. However, whilst bringing such brutal realities to our attention here, Keith provided a balance to this by acknowledging all that has continued to be done in respect of our movement towards a world of peaceful coexistence where justice can prevail and prosperity can be seen to be within the reach of the many. In this light, he made reference to a book by Michael Ignatius “Ordinary Virtues” which explores the benefits that can be accrued from viewing individuals and their communities as being as important within the context of a greater good for all, rather than having common folk being held hostage to the seemingly insatiable appetite for power, wealth and resources of those who display very narrow interests. As a ‘World Federalist’, Keith explained the importance of the collaboration of nations within a climate of enlightened ‘common interest’ which can pave the way for more peaceful relations, not only between seemingly disparate national groups, but also within these nation states themselves, thus sowing the seeds of trust, friendship and peace. It may be that a mammoth task lays before us in these respects, nevertheless, everything starts at ground level with individuals mobilising themselves towards the realisation of such worthy aims. In closing, Keith quoted Margaret Meade (1901 – 1978) the respected American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s ...... “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does.”

The second speaker, founder of PEACE-ONE-DAY, Jeremy Gilley, who opened by offering his great appreciation at having been invited to speak at this conference. Jeremy informed us all that the 21st September has been officially adopted, with the support of the United Nations, as the International Day of Peace. Jeremy was pleased to tell us of the great benefits that have accrued in years gone by, in particular the truce brought about in Afghanistan which allowed more than one million children to receive polio vaccinations. Various other initiatives have brought similar benefits and a film was produced which went out to over one hundred countries world-wide, spreading a message of hope and inspiration. In turn this brought about the further benefits, through achieving societal awareness of International Day of Peace, in the realms of Inter-Faith activities, the production of educational materials made widely available to schools and colleges, along with various cultural events that generally raised the profile of this special day of 21st September. As a result there was an increase by 32% in respect of the public awareness of this day. Whilst the corporate sector often receives a bad press these days, it was remarkable how willing and ready the business sector was in getting this message out to a wider audience. Jeremy made an important point regarding the autonomy of the organisation behind International Day of Peace with respect to the provision of funding, resources and support, this only being accepted on the precondition that the activities here would always be organised and conducted free of any dictates deriving from any particular corporate interest. Organising and mobilising such resources would always be done whilst honouring the founding principles of the peace movement based on an enduring regard for the dignity and value of every human life, without exception of discrimination in any form whatsoever.
Organisations such as Burger King and McDonalds, regardless of any opinion of them, remain great ‘catchment areas’ for public interest, and Jeremy was pleased to announce that through these outlets, no less than fifteen billion impressions had ben achieved - further that the 21st September had now been brought to the attention of 40% of the population of the U.S.A. In addressing the issue of the difficulty in effecting changes in human behaviour, Jeremy explained that the first stage ‘exposure’ raises the profile of this aim, then ‘awareness’ brings about the general perception of this special day, and finally ‘action’ leads to the mobilisation and exploitation (in the most worthy sense of this word) of human resources and materials, that can bring about authentic behavioural change, which itself effects a positive transformation in many areas of education, business and culture in general. Data processed by The McKinzie Global Institute was used to measure the impact of the day, ascertaining how many people were exposed to this initiative, how many actually remembered its impact and, as a result of all this, how many adopted a more ‘peaceable’ disposition during the 21st September and thus translated this in behavioural change which saw improvements in human relations over a wide range of areas within societal frameworks. The most exciting outcomes were recorded in the significant number of individuals who had been motivated by this great enterprise in the realms of education, business, culture, art and sport - further extended into areas of Inter-Faith exchanges, all of which resonated with the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations. In conclusion, Jeremy made it clear that 21st September, whilst designated as International Day of Peace, was principally a celebration of all that had been worked for over the previous year. However, in respect of the advances that could be effected if this way of thinking and enhanced behaviour could extend to all 365 days of the year, each year in succession, rather than for just one day, then the prospects for world peace could never be brighter. For an initiative that assures inclusion and equality for all, it is only a matter of time when humanity can truly share a vision of world peace, achievable in this lifetime.

Our third speaker was Lindsey German - Convenor - “Stop The War Coalition”

As a dedicated peace activist, Lindsey German needs no introduction here. She opened her talk by explaining that since “Stop The War” was established some 18 years ago, she has campaigned against wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, all of which were the outcome of Deep State foreign adventurism and intervention. Whilst the situation appears to be deteriorating, particularly in respect of the foolish behaviour of the UK government with regard to Russia, we should at least welcome the possibility of dialogue between the USA and North Korea, that is if Donald Trump is not prevented from engaging in such as a result of State Department interference. However, in respect of the appalling atrocities being perpetrated in the Middle East, a protest was staged against the recent visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to the UK which sealed a further arms deal in excess of £10 billion with the UK arms dealers. A salient point was raised in this regard, attesting to the fact that it is not the combatants that suffer here, but the domestic populations of the countries that are attacked under the false flag of prevention of terrorism, where innocent civilians are bombarded on a grotesque scale. Lindsey reminded us of the shameful history of militarism and foreign intervention within which the UK has been complicit, along with the expansion of NATO which has developed into no more than a coalition of Western Powers operating under the hegemony of the USA. The double-standards being applied by the UK government in respect of the poisoning of a former British Spy, present to justification for furthering a belligerence towards Russia, particularly when one considers that there is no moral difference between this domestic debacle and the drone assassinations that have taken place abroad .Nevertheless, Lindsey was able to offer more encouraging words in respect of the achievements of the peace movement here and abroad, that has continued to nurture a growing public awareness of the need to bring ordinary people together in the struggle against this culture of suspicion and mistrust which feeds the proclivity towards belligerence. In concluding, we heard of the growing campaign against any prospective visit to the UK of US President Donald J. Trump.

The fourth speaker was Vijay Mehta - Chair of Uniting for Peace.

After thanking everyone for supporting this conference, Vijay opened by explaining that peace activism is based upon building a consensus of citizen power which can engage in collective action, going beyond conventional politics, to effect changes in the policies of decision makers and government agencies. We were reminded that this is a crucial undertaking bearing in mind the evil forces of populism, nationalism and militarism that continue to undermine freedom, civil liberties and the rule of law. Within increasingly dangerous and volatile circumstances it is essential, for the protection of ordinary people everywhere, and the environment which they depend upon, for us to persist in challenging the hierarchy of elites, military leaders, corporations and the media who share a common agenda of maintaining a state of permanent warfare, propping up a corrupt hegemony which exploits all people and all resources to satisfy their greed and vanity. However, it is not impossible to challenge and change this when we realise that the real power in this world resides in the determination of people who are awake to the fact that these corrupt and evil systems require the allegiance and obedience of domestic civilians who have every right to refuse to cooperate and collude with such iniquity. Furthermore by adopting non-violent means, people can lawfully gain a position of strength and focus their energy on concrete and attainable goals. Vijay identified four roles that people can assume here, these being (1) The rebel, who can challenge unfairness, inequity and injustice by identifying certain issues and pressing forward (2) The reformer who works within the system to promote the transformations demanded by the people, (3) the right-minded citizen who is prepared to act in concert with other like-minded individuals to create a momentum that is so powerful it cannot be stopped, even by military force, and (4) the Agent for Change - those within positions of power and influence who can promote lawful strategies to effect the changes demanded by the people.

In light of all this, it is encouraging to observe that there are almost 1.8 billion young people today who have the inherent potential to further these movements towards peace and justice, and further, that many of these socially conscious movements across the world have already mobilised to counter the forces of white supremacy, the oppression of disparate groups, political extremism, corporate greed and the creeping militarisation of our society. Vijay cited two examples of where success has been achieved, these being the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, which received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 with the support of over 460 organisations in 101 countries, and the grass-roots group ‘Momentum’ which has defied the odds in persuading people to ignore the lies and defamation that have been directed towards Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnel through a relentless campaign of media abuse. Despite this continual barrage of lies, smears and fear mongering propaganda, ever increasing numbers of common folk are awaking to the fact that we not only have a failing government, but also one that is mindlessly steering this country towards yet more belligerent conflict. Voices of dissent are met with derision and abuse which undermines the good relations this country should be enjoying with other countries, in particular the Russian Federation which is perpetually blamed for all the ills of this world, for the most part by others who have brought the current situation into play by the misconduct they have engaged in whilst in political office. To conclude, Vijay exhorted us to never underestimate the power of the individual, citing the examples of William Wilberforce, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, and Nelson Mandela, all of whom has a personal vision which they pursued against the odds to bring transformation and change to this world. Whilst we may not regard ourselves as the equal of such great figures of history, we must never forget that it is our small acts, when multiplied by factors of millions, that can break the inertia imposed by moribund political and social structures and that, whilst alone we may not be able to achieve much, it is when we work together that we can do so much to create a better future for humanity.

The fifth speaker was Clive Wilson - United Nations Association - Harrogate

Clive started by conducting an abbreviated version of an exercise in ‘visualisation’ that he has conducted in the UK and abroad, within a variety of social, educational, cultural and business contexts. He asked us to close our eyes for just 3 minutes and visualise the world as we would like to see it in the year 2030 - a world that we would be happy to leave as a legacy for future generations. Furthermore this exercise was performed by a diverse selection of participants and from 7 to 70. The outcome of this exercise was that everyone who participated in this, shared the same vision of the world they would like people to Iive in, given of course, that such a vision was seen through different eyes and from differing personal perspectives. Clive gave a very moving account of when he went to give this talk at a primary school in Leeds, and a seven year old Muslim girl asked to speak about what she saw in her mind’s eye. What she saw was a street in a city in Syria, where all the buildings were intact - no ruins, no rubble - and the grown ups were sitting together outside cafes and coffee shops enjoying each other’s company, in a peaceful environment. At the same time the children were running around in the streets, playing with each other and having fun with each other free of fear and distress. There was also the case of an 18 year old university student who ‘saw’ the oceans free of plastic and detritus. These were such moving scenarios and were delivered with such compassion and humanity by Clive, that I was close to tears, however, I had to keep a grip on myself as I was filming all this. The point of all this, was that virtually all of the scenarios that had been described to Clive, over many more presentations of this exercises, by a wide range of individuals, of all cultures, origins and persuasions - all of these scenarios resonated directly with the seventeen sustainable development goals which, in 2015 were agreed upon by all world leaders, with the exception of North Korea.

Having made a life-changing decision to undergo a career change, Clive now devotes half of his working time to pursuing this great vision of a world fit for humanity and in line with this, he set up a branch of the United Nations Association in Harrogate. He concluded by referring to the work of Bruce Lipton, the scientist who has undertaken research in stem cell development. We learnt that cells when placed in different liquid environments can grow different organ tissues. Likewise, Clive added, human beings can also be purposeful within the contexts they place themselves. The reason we are alive today is not just to complete a meaningless existence, not just to live and die for no purpose at all, because in truth this is not living - it is merely existing - we are in this world to grow as peaceful, happy individuals who are not prepared to continue to passively witness the sufferings that are visited upon the many by the few. These sustainable development goals are accessible on-line, and Clive invited us all to find one that particularly resonates with us and can inspire us to pursue our own path, utilising the unique gifts we all have as creative, collaborative and intelligent human beings, to make these visions of 2030 a reality when that time comes.

The sixth speaker was Sally Milne - PeaceJam UK

Sally opened by describing how PeaceJam, an International Peace Education Programme, works with Nobel Peace Prize Laureates to develop curricula for 12 month programmes for young people to work autonomously, developing their skills with a view towards addressing urgent concerns that face the world today. Explaining how one of the initial laureates, Professor Joseph Rotblat who resigned from the infamous Manhattan Project which resulted in the very first use of weapons of mass destruction in 1945, first developed the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, declaring his two goals (1) the world-wide abolition of nuclear weapons and (2) the refusal to accept warfare as an accepted norm in respect of settling political differences between nations. Realising that such visionary aims would probably not be realised in his lifetime, Rotblat handed these imperatives to the younger generations in order that they could work together to create a climate within which creative, artistic and cultural solutions could be devised to change the culture of violence and warmongering, which is supported by the industries of armaments production which bring massive profits to those who perpetrate a culture within which human lives are reduced to the level of an expendable commodity, a phonemenon that represents but one of the evil realities of the world we live in today. Facing this monstrous and grotesque disregard for life and its environment, the PeaceJam youth, inspired by the guidance and support of no less than 14 Nobel laureates including the likes of Rotblat, the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Jody Williams to name just a few, work together on a variety of curricula each year, addressing issues such as conflict resolution, environmental protection, human rights and the fostering of a sense of global citizenry, immune from the poisonous influence of nationalism and Neo-conservatism which, at this current time, can be seen as bringing division and dispute within the international arena, continuing to undermine the efforts of so many who yearn for a planet upon which all peoples can enjoy harmonious relationships and peaceful coexistence which is their birthright.

Sally explained the threefold constitution of the PeaceJam programme, education, inspiration and action within a framework of activities not just for young people, but also for those involved in the realms of business and commerce who wish to pursue a more ethical agenda. The enduring value of PeaceJam is that it inculcates a belief that ordinary people can, through education in the authentic sense of the word, develop the ability to clearly identify areas within which their unique talent and ability can find free expression, bringing about changes in the way they view themselves thus bringing positive behavioural change that then ripples out through their families, through their neighbourhood communities, throughout society in general, and out into the wider world. When PeaceJam was established over 20 years ago by a young couple from Detroit, an initiative was created under the banner of “A Global Call to Action” which encouraged young people to achieve ‘One Million Acts of Peace’ however, by 2014 when these million acts had been successfully completed, this goal was extended to “One Billion Acts of Peace” all in connection with the initiatives inspired by the Laureates. To conclude her brief presentation, which was both inspiring and heartwarming, Sally encouraged us with the realisation that, even as ordinary, unassuming, average people, we possess extraordinary skills and abilities, perhaps even unknown to ourselves, which can be utilised, working together ‘of the same mind’ to identify and address the pressing issues of our time - matters which can no longer be left, either to those in governmental posts or other positions of influence - the simple truth is that it is we, the people, who have to get on with all this and just do it.

The seventh speaker was Hur Hassnain - Y Care International

In opening his presentation, Hur offered a slight modification to the theme of this conference namely “Can We Unite for Measuring Peace?” Hur is involved with the humanitarian arm of the YMCA working in 119 countries. The quantification of peace, maybe to be viewed also as a qualitative issue, is interesting when one considers that of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations, SDG 16 is designated “To promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provided access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”. In respect of SDG 16 for the year 2017, the UN progress report informs us that violent conflicts have increased in recent years, that a few high intensity armed conflicts are causing large numbers of civilian casualties and that progress promoting peace and justice together with effective accountable and inclusive institutions remains uneven across and within regions. Of course, one must take into account the fact, as alluded to by Hur during his talk, that in respect of the Millennium Development Goals, only 16% of the fragile states have made any progress, and the remaining 84% have either made little or no progress or there has been no data available on which to base any reliable statistic. It may well be the case that a similar problem exists with respect to the SDGs where there is a lack of data upon which any analysis can be based. The problems in obtaining such data are manifold. Governments can interfere or obstruct the data collection process and reports can be biased in the interest of creating a favourable impression and of course, in some very dangerous regions it is virtually impossible to collect data whatsoever. Returning to the issue of quality, the need for qualitative indicators has begun to be addressed by an organisation going by the name of “Everyday Peace Indicators”.
However, people’s perception of ‘peace’ can vary. For some, the luxury of being able to go to the Mosque and return home without injury indicates that they are living in a peaceful world, therefore the significance of the socio-cultural environment cannot be underestimated. Nevertheless, even if over a wide range of cultures, people are collecting data, which may be even biased by their own perceptions, it is extremely difficult to collect, collate and analyse this information if a climate of mistrust presents obstacles regarding the sharing of such information within an ethos of reciprocality. Echoing the words of an earlier speaker, it is the factor of human behaviour which exerts a further influence on the outcome however, Hur’s conclusion was that it is not beyond us to see the wider picture here, and appreciate the necessity for building relationships of friendship and trust within which it will be easier for us to work together, collecting information, sharing our knowledge and learning and thereby uniting for peace.

The eighth speaker was Susan Tamondong - VP - IDEA /. U.N. Women’s Advisory Council

Susan spoke of her work as Vice President of the International Evaluation Development Association and also as Advisor to the United National Womens’ Evaluation Council in New York. She echoed to importance of the seventeen UN SDGs which have been previously referred to by other speakers here. Susan recalled many years ago when she worked as an ambassador of peace in New York and told us about two truck drivers who, during WW2, had to transport the dead bodies. One of these drivers was a German, the other an American and they were so horrified by what they saw that they decided to recruit others in the interests of forming an organisation dedicated to international cultural programs which would foster a desire for peace in the minds of others. This organistsion, AFS (American Field Service) has now spread to over 100 countries and is based on a person to person, family to family approach, sending children to other countries to experience different cultures for the sake of world peace. Many years later when Susan was studying at Oxford University, she became concerned about the problem of ethnicism which permeated the culture of student life.

The need for the integration of groups of different nationalities, in the cafeteria, within the student houses and elsewhere at the university, she formed the ICC, International Cultural Committee as a result of which people from different countries sat together to share meal-times and integrated better within student life. At the end of the year a concert was promoted with a band of musicians from different countries which was a great success celebrating a change of culture generally within the student environment. Susan continued by speaking about her work within the United Nations exploring the important role of women as peace-makers and how they could work towards bringing about an end to gender based violence as the violence against women, during times of conflict was disproportional to that of violence against men. She emphasised the significance of women as powerful actors in the prevention of conflict. In conclusion she expressed her view that peace must take root in the heart of the individual, before it can spread out to society and the outside world.

The final speaker was Anthony Russell - Chandos Foundation - Civil-isation

Holding a copy of the book “Civilisation” and making reference to the television series presented, during the 1970s by its author Sir Kenneth Clarke, Anthony quoted some passages from this book finding them questionable, however, in the interests of brevity they will not be cited here. Anthony continued by explaining how he has founded an initiative (he refuses to call it an organisation in any sense of the word) called “Civil-Isation” the purpose of which is to promote a holistic view of ourselves and the environment within which we exist. He continued by drawing our attention to the difficulty of attracting new people to this realm of peace activism within which so many different organisations appear compete for the attention of others. In this respect he expressed his view that, as disparate elements we appear not to be amalgamating against the prevailing global interests whose influence we wish to counter.

Being an avid supporter of the ‘Soil Association”, Anthony held aloft one of their products, presenting it as an example of an initiative which can unite other products within an ethos of environmental sustainability, itself one of the core values within the peace movement. Explaining the ethos of ‘Civil-isation’ as being based on respect, to enhance rather than conflict with established organisations, Anthony explained that this would lead to a better understanding of democracy and peace. Quoting one of the guiding principles of this idea being “The fundamental right of all to the dignity of respect”, Anthony suggested that such could be used by Uniting for Peace as a ‘core value’ and that moving forward with this required a consensus from the committee and membership of Uniting for Peace. Anthony continued by putting forward his perception of how people have become controlled by the propaganda churned out by the mass media, and further that how this hegemony of lies and deceit has now spread to social media which has now become a platform for furthering the interests of religious, political, social and ethnic division. When Anthony continued by asserting that prejudice is something we can never get rid of, whilst there may be some truth in this, we can still treat it rather like a computer virus, and quarantine it whenever it raises its ugly head. In conclusion, addressing the theme of our conference, Anthony expressed his doubts about whether we can ‘unite for peace’ but stated that from the perspectives of his research and scholarship as a cultural historian and author of his book “Evolving the Spirit - From Democracy to Peace”, that the only way forward is to adopt the ethos of the ‘Civil-Isation’ initiative as a guiding principle.