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Violence in society and nonviolent social empowerment

Facilitation: Joanne Sheehan and Julia Kraft-Garcia

Participants in this theme group were from Ireland, India, Spain/Denmark, France, UK, Turkey, Germany, Colombia, USA.

Each of the first three days included an exercise, a presentation from our resource people and discussion focused on a question

1)"How does violence manifest itself in our whole society? Looking at it, as it affects our daily life both structurally and directly."

2) "What are the patterns of socialization and of domination that encourage and nurture violence, both within society and between societies?"

3) "How can we break those patterns/ cycles of violence?"

On the fourth day we looked for patterns and strategies for strengthening nonviolent social empowerment and the way an international network can support this.

We began with a violence spectrometer exercise. People were asked to form a line placing themselves on a spectrum according to how violent they think their society is. This gave us an opportunity to think about our own situations, to define what we meant by violence in society, and to see what violence means in different countries.

A few highlights Hilal Demir talked about the militarist tradition of Turkey, and the tools of the

socialization of violence; education, militarism, prison and industries.

Education was seen as the most important, teaching people not to question authority. There are constant police checks, which leads to "the police in our mind" -harassment can lead to psychological problems. Hilal told her story and how she started to heal after she tried to think of the police as human beings, not as enemies. The pressures put on those who refuse to go into the military includes the inability to find jobs and difficulties marrying. In order to avoid military service, gay people had to provide a photo proving they were gay.

Sexual harassment is considered quite normal, men touching women is common.

Hasina Khan said that after the 11th of September, the identity of Muslims changed as the political situation changed in India. A side effect is that issues such as the place of women within Islam, fell to a much lower priority as the focus is now on minority rights not women's rights. The Muslim minority now feel they have to keep their society's problems to themselves (i.e. do not report domestic violence) so that Hindus can't pounce on them in judgment and denigration. She said that questioning authority is a western value. Hasina talked about Anand Patwardan's recent film which points out that "war is not a solution, because war itself is terrorism", and which is now banned. (See Peace News No. 2448, Sep.-Nov.2002 "A celebration of love: an interview with Anand Patwardhan".)

Martin Rodriguez said the patterns that cause violence in society in Colombia are: family, school and media. In the fami-ly the man is the boss, the women have to follow, and older persons have autho-rity over younger ones. In school pupils have to obey teachers and cannot ques-tion them. The media is the only means for youth of identifying with the rest of the world; and media being violent and focused on power, they motivate the youth to follow those in power and sup-press the youth. The media idealizes po-wer and violence. The structures of po-wer are maintained, both directly and indirectly, by violent means.

There are similar patterns in all three countries.

Julia presented what "social empowerment" means and how nonviolence fits in. (Peace News No. 2439, June-Aug. 2000 "Power-with, not power-over")

A discussion on the subject of fear, how we can deal with fear, lead us to invite Roberta Bacic to talk to the group. Roberta, who was involved in movements in Chile, came to talk about dealing with fear. She said we have to acknowledge the fear -- trying to avoid fear is a waste of energy. Fear is a healthy way of protecting you; it tells you that you are in danger, and you then have to analyze the situation. (see Peace News No 2439, June-Aug. 2000, "Fear -- a sign that we are alive" by Roberta Bacic)

Summary of: Patterns of violence/ expressions of violence

People believe in authorities (military, religious); military gets glamourised; violence of educational systemsmilitarized; media normalizes crime and promotes violence; society is not recognizing violence; violence is very deep, so if you don't question it, you can't see it; support for war is hidden or denied ("We're "just" sending lorries" (to a conflict) or "we build submarines, not weapons"); violence gets normalized; violence is seen as a means for conflict resolution; power structures within families; impunity; discriminatory laws; stress (authorities telling police of danger); environmental stress; police under stress react too violently; poor self esteem is a factor in how people react in conflict situations; "healing" without justice; machismo pushing men into violent attitudes, women are seen as targets, trophies to gain; sexual minorities oppressed; easy access to arms; prejudice; scapegoating; justifying that people are defending themselves with arms; blaming the victim, lack of genuine information and clarity; indoctrination of narrow point of view (nationalism); youth are motivated to war and to bear arms by the family and media; military culture; the "compartmentalisation" used by politicians to break down protest into single issues that separates people and analysis is part of the "western Cartesian culture" -- separating kinds of violence, not making the connection between violence in the streets and capitalism; educational systems; war toys; new video game by U.S. military aimed at recruitment; sexual harassment/abuse; militarised police/state; production of arms; corruption; patriarchal society; sexism; violent entertainment; domestic violence; school kids bullying each other; weapons used in peoples daily lives; people getting paid to commit state violence; racism; dangerous driving; poverty; aggression; old people put into homes; conflicts between majorities/minorities; fundamentalism; genocides; US soldiers in foreign countries; dominance of U.S. in the world; purchasing goods made by oppressed workers; violence not seen as conflict but as normal.


Get people together before being able to deal with fear; look for a target that can gain support and then focus and analyze the risks; build a network exclusively on one to one trust; recognize that people are sick and tired of politicians - they need to do actions not listen to speeches; inform people -- get this information to others -- without them dismissing us, or not trusting the information; wear a badge, this might lead to discussions; use "invisible theater"; show there are countries without armies; interactions between artists, musicians, activists, grassroots people can make things change; use music and theater to give the message to youth to refuse to fight; educate people about violence through nonviolence trainings; remember the building part of nonviolence, not just the direct action part; fight the cycle of fear, and others commented that we should not suppress fear, but understand it, because fear can be the rational response to a threat -get rid of the paralysis brought by fear; need to find relevance, making

people feel that things are part of their life; talk to people, be open about our views; direct action is necessary; raise consciousness in communities; link people telling their own stories; need to change people's consciousness at a grassroots level. (Joanne shared an article she wrote in Peace News No. 2435, May -- Aug. 1999, "Developing strategies for abolishing war")

Strategies for international network:

Have a global map of conflicts to give a better understanding of global issues, and links between local and global conflicts; link people community to community; encourage local work; sharing stories of action; create opportunities for teenagers to be linked, link students from different countries via host houses and exchange programs; write and share case studies of successful nonviolent campaigns-need concrete examples to encourage people to carry out direct action.

The process of listening to each other's stories, thinking about the connections and differences, was what was most interesting for the participants of this theme group. We agreed we needed more time to develop strategies and hope that WRI's Nonviolence and Social Empowerment program can continue this work.