Having been back in Brisbane for a week, I’ve been reflecting on the few weeks I just spent in Rockhampton as a “peace activist”. It was a pretty busy couple of weeks, full of demonstrations, blockading roads (getting arrested), trespassing on US military property (getting arrested again), court cases (my own and my friends), peace concerts, vigils and marches, talking to locals about war, trying (and occasionally succeeding) to talk to soldiers about war, doing media duties, facing the wrath of people with opposing viewpoints both face to face and on the internet.
I have no regrets about attempting to take a stand against war. I refuse to be a bystander while an unjust and inhumane war rages around us. At least 80% of the casualties in Afghanistan have been innocent civilians – all this in a war of questionable morality anyway.
I also don’t regret choosing direct action as a method of protest. Even in our so-called democracy, the government will ignore the fact that the majority of Australians disagree with the war. Direct action is a way of making your opposition concrete. If everybody out there that disagrees with war was filling up the jails with our dissent, if even only a small percentage were disarming attack helicopters, the government would consider much more carefully whether it has the right to act against public opinion.
When trillions of dollars are being spent on war and the preparation for war, when so many powerful people have vested interests in wars being fought, I just don’t think it’s enough to say we believe in peace; we need to be active in our pursuit of peace and our opposition to violence. That can come in many forms, but how could I not get arrested when the law protects mass murder and imperialism? I’m proud that my permanent record says I attempted to resist the war.
The fact that the state can hold us in fear using monetary fines or threats of losing our jobs is another issue, but I hope that people serious about justice can learn to defeat this fear the same way our ancestors did to win us the rights we have.
It was confronting though to realise the task ahead of us in the fight for a world where love and justice reign over violence and greed. Local opposition was pretty vocal; trying to engage soldiers in a friendly discussion was very difficult. The idea of putting an end to war at the moment seems virtually impossible. Then there was the reality of conflict within our small group of activists. Human relationships are incredibly complicated, but it remains a valid question: how can we talk about a peaceful world when we can’t even keep peace within our affinity group? (Having said that, nobody died from disagreements within our group. There is definitely a difference.)
But I guess that leads us to the question of post-activism. Because the truth is that in the end, it won’t be direct action that ends war, but lives committed to peace and justice. As terrible as war is, it really is just a consequence of a society based on competition and selfishness.
It’s easy to block a road, it’s not even that hard to walk through the bush for two days to stand in front of a convoy of tanks. It’s much harder to live a life based around principles of peace. But that is the challenge ahead of us. So to everybody who asked me over the last few weeks what my alternative to war is, the answer is come hang out with me for a day. The alternative is what we’re trying to create.