I’m often asked after workshops or talks on nonviolence or war, “So…what can we do?” I usually don’t have a very good answer, so this is my attempt to get something down that might be useful. Obviously these lists always date quickly as events come and go, but here goes:
The first and best thing you can do it take the kind of time required to sit in the love and grace of God. If you start from any other motivation, you’re going to struggle to sustain it, and it will either emerge as self-righteousness or legalism. That takes some discipline for those of us who don’t sit still very often (or at least not without staring at a screen). As you sit and bask in this, something is likely to emerge that you can follow up.
If I could add anything to the encouragement to pray, it would be these two: to think about where you are when you pray, and to think about how the narrative of Scripture shapes your prayer. The old saying, “where you sit determines what you see” is apt here. If we’re only ever exposed to situations of comfort and convenience, it’s hard to hear the invitation of the God of the oppressed.
And then I’d suggest trying stuff. If you hear about an action, any action (do an online petition, write a letter to a politician, attend a vigil, whatever creative idea you might have), go along, participate, and see what it’s like. Act, then reflect. What felt true, good, empowering? Why? What felt uncomfortable, inauthentic? Why? Gandhi used to call nonviolence “experiments with truth” – a term I find helpful, because it doesn’t mean every action has to be a “success” but it does mean you have to learn from it.
Most of all, do it with others. Church cell groups are perfect “affinity” groups, because you likely share similar worldviews and interests, and trust each other. Talk together about what you could do, what you’re interested in, passionate about, then go try stuff, experiment. Do things locally if that makes it easier.
Here are some suggestions for getting involved with specifically antiwar actions:
I’m thinking of running some Bible studies in the leadup to the Swan Island Peace Convergence. If you’d like to be kept in the loop about that let me know.
One thing you can do fairly easily is hook up with a Global Day of Listening, on the 21st of each month (often the 22nd in Australia). This is a simple skype call where you talk to people in wartorn countries, particularly Afghanistan. All the instructions are on the website, and all you need is an hour or so and a skype connection. It just personalises the whole situation rather than merely being abstract issues, and you can hear what Afghans are thinking and feeling rather than just getting media bias.
The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) are also organising a 2 million friends for peace campaign for December 10th this year. Watch this space for more detail, but basically it will involve lighting candles for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. 2 million is the approximate number of people who have been killed in wars in Afghanistan in the last 35-40 years.
In Melbourne we have monthly vigils against the war, to maintain a visible antiwar presence in our city, and to keep us active (“The only way to be hopeful is to do hopeful things” – Dan Berrigan). The next one is August 7th from 4:30-6:30pm, outside Flinders St Station. A vigil is about watching and staying awake – Jesus tells his disciples to “keep vigil” on the night he was arrested. In a society that is sleeping or distracted through permanent war, staying awake and watching becomes particularly important. People also often worry about knowing what to say if people ask them why they’re vigilling. There are three things to this: one, coming along gives you an incentive to do the research necessary to be able to articulate why you’re there. And two, you don’t have to have answers for every possible question before trying something or none of us would ever try anything! And three, you can take it as an opportunity to learn from people who have been doing it for a month, a year or a decade longer than you.
Obviously anyone would be welcome to come along to the Swan Island Peace Convergence, September 23-27, for the whole or part of the time. It’s an opportunity even just to hang out and see what happens. We’ll have a day and a half of nonviolence training before having a day of one mass action together, and then a day of affinity (small, self-contained) group actions. Obviously no one is under any pressure to do anything they don’t want to do. There will be a range of actions, and the likelihood is (I hope, otherwise it’s a logistical nightmare) that more than half of the people involved will only do actions that don’t risk arrest. We’re always clear about what will constitute an action which risks arrest, so no one needs to worry about being arrested unexpectedly. 🙂
So that’s a start. If you have other ideas please add them in to the comments section below.