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Nonviolent Livelihood Struggle and Global Militarism: Links & Strategies

Whenever the time comes to organise a WRI Triennial (now Quadrennial) conference, we search for a conference theme that will combine different elements of our vision. Just as Gandhi gave an activist twist to the ancient notion of ahimsa (non-harm), transforming it into "action based on the refusal to do harm", so WRI's "no" to involvement in war and war preparations leads us into involvement in and support for nonviolent action in a range of context. Ultimately it leads to our intention to build movements for nonviolent social transformation.

The theme for the Ahmedabad triennial in 2010 juxtaposes nonviolent livelihood struggles - that is, nonviolent resistance by communities to localised threats - with the global forces that pose this danger, and in particular the global face of militarism. There are many differences. A community's campaign for its own survival and dignity has a very different character than a campaign by people who choose to involve themselves in dismantling the machinery of war. Yet somehow the solidarity generated by their coming together - the local and the global, the community whose livelihood is in danger with those concerned to challenge the power structures of their own society - can construct a counter-power to defy, perhaps withstand and one day stop the forces of destruction.

The history of nonviolent action - and indeed of war resistance - is typified by this dual dynamic: on the one hand local communities standing against the imposition of their rulers, on the other a sense of the global, of a common humanity that transcends frontiers and cuts through the structures of hierarchical power.

The conference programme

The opening session in Ahmedabad will be addressed by one of the other outstanding India critics of the politics of capitalist globalisation, probably Arundhati Roy. Three other plenary sessions will take up the issues of "Mining - a threat to community, a contribution to war" with a speaker from the struggle against the Vedanta bauxite mine in Orissa, India; "Land Struggle" with a Paraguayan speaker from Via Campesina, a worldwide network with which WRI has not yet had much direct contact; and "Transnational Alliances - their role in nonviolent struggle", with Medha Patkar who came to prominence in the campaign against the Narmada dams. However, most of the conference time will be spent in workshops where participants will have the chance to contribute from their own experience and to ask. If you'd like to set up a workshop, it's never too late to offer.

This Triennial will be the third to be held in India. We will meet in the city of Ahmedabad at the Gujrat Vidyapith, a university founded by Gandhi himself and whose most glorious achievement was probably to be closed three times during civil disobedience campaigns in India's freedom struggle. Our two other hosts are products of different eras of nonviolent struggle - the Gujarat Sarvodaya Mandal, founded in the 1950s to coordinate the Bhoodan (land-gift) campaign led by Gandhi's "spiritual heir", Vinoba Bhave, and the Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalala (Institute for Total Revolution), founded by Narayan Desai in the 1970s to develop the nonviolent movement against the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi into a movement for total revolution. All three remain closely involved with different types of nonviolent movement. These will be our formal hosts. Informally, we would not be going to India at all were it not for three grass-roots nonviolent troublemakers living in Gujrat villages – Swati Desai, Michael Mazgaonkar and Anand Mazgaonkar. In addition to the conference, there will be an excursion visiting nonviolent projects in the vicinity of Ahmedabad, scene in the past of lethal communal riots, and the chance to organise study trips further afield.

More than a conference

WRI Triennial in Vedchi, India 1986WRI Triennial in Vedchi, India 1986A WRI Triennial is more than a conference. It is, of course, is part of WRI's continuing work. The ideas we discuss should feed into cooperation and action, the people we meet might become co-workers, and so our networks grows in effectiveness and numbers. The Triennials remain a central means in our effort to build a transnational community of resisters who will support each other, and amplify the message of any part of our network in the rest of the world. This is why activists from Australia in the south to Finland in the north are raising funds to support the participation of people they work with in other countries, and why Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer in New England, USA, will be a running a sponsored marathon to raise the money for himself and someone else to participate.

Whatever is on the agenda, we try to make the most of a time when so many of us from so many countries will be together. Often people comment that the best part of a conference is what takes place out of session, in the lunch queue, in the evenings, etc. This also may be true of WRI conferences, but in Ahmedabad we will also do our best to make the sessions themselves interactive - for instance, we propose to start each day with a few people preparing a "newspaper theatre" sketch (one of the techniques associated with Agosto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed) on the news of the day.

I was 22 years old when I first attended a Triennial, in 1972, and it made a huge impression of me. Not for the quality of debate - to be frank, that was rather patchy. Nor even for giving me the opportunity to hang out with some legendary activists I'd read about and some recently released prisoners. First, I was struck by the sense of "encounter", of finding the person behind a useful contact address. Second, I was impressed by the strength of feeling - how much we all cared about this work for our common cause and beyond that for each other, for the people who despite all our difficulties keep on keeping on - there are so many persisters among the war resisters! I hope that anybody attending their first Triennial in Ahmedabad will have the same kind of experience.

Looking through the list of participants already registered, I see several names of people I'm really keen to meet. The reasons vary. For some it is to find out "how did you do that?" or even "how did it feel to do that?" and always "what happened next?" or "what should we expect now?" For some, it is that they come from places where news sources - including movement sources - leave us unsatisfied: Rafael Uzcategui from Venezuela is a good example, someone WRI has been trusting as an anti-militarist reference point amid all the propaganda for and against Chavez's "Bolivaran revolution".

For WRI as an organisation, the Triennial is a vital point of renewal - it's the time when new members come onto Council, perhaps new projects are set in motion, and where together we look afresh at the challenges ahead of us. If you are reading this, you are very welcome to attend.

Howard Clark
Chair of WRI