The art of peace making
in a time of permanent war

Being a description of the modus operandi
of Peacebus.com for its Mission to Darwin

During Anzac week i was one of a dozen or so faith based activists - Quaker, Catholic Worker and Buddhist - who gathered at the Silver Wattle Quaker Centre near Canberra to join in prayer and to plot Putting an End to War.

A week of discussion, theory and practice in the arts of of faith based nonviolent action was the promise of our convocation; how to turn permanent war into permanent peace for this and future generations was its challenge.

And its fruit were many, including an exemplary piece of faith-based peace witness during our time together at the gates of HQ Joint Operations Command, the high security command centre of Australia's war making.

Another was the tangible sense of movement for peace, that refreshing feeling of spirit moving across this land in this time of apathy, despair and perceived powerlessness. This was affirmed to us by how respectfully we were received by both the police in attendance and the base personnel.

But best of all outcomes was the deep joy of spiritual companionship we knew there. Such is the nature of bearing witness in the companionship of uplifting friends that, not only do we talk truth to power, we also bear witness to each other and are blessed with mutual uplift.

At that Silver Wattle gathering, i sought blessings for a Peacebus Mission to Darwin to organise community based resistance to the recently established US Marine base there.

Peacebus.com is both a website and a vehicle of protest. It is equipped with laptop and dongle, banners and flags under its bunk, and on its roof racks: bamboo poles for banner rigs and the horn speaker of a mighty impressive PA. And i, itinerant peace activist, am its grey nomad captain.

There is a lot i could write about Peacebus and the folly of inviting in the US Marines to occupy our land and to prepare for war in the Pacific.

But the prompt to write this came from the challenge of my uplifting Silver Wattle companion Brendan Caulfield-James who, after i had referred to Sun Tzu's classic Art of War, asked "What is the art of peace?"

Good question! What is good practice ("skillful means" is what Buddhist call it) for making peace in this time of permanent war?

In response i offer the following Peacebus prescriptions and aphorisms, the fruit of many years of community organising, many seasons of creating cultural movement.

Seize the day. Persevere with the good.
The night is deep. When it comes to war and peace, successive ALP and Liberal governments have demonstrated they are more loyal and more responsive to the US Embassy than they are to the will and the welfare of the Australian people.

Furthermore time is short. Death certain and the time of death uncertain.

Better to act out of despair now than wait for wishful hope to deliver in some uncertain future.

The cost of fear and passivity is a life less lived.

By contrast a life lived in faith and courage is a life lived in creation and revelation.

Embrace impermanence. Understand that all phenomenon social and physical are in flux and what seems so massive and immutable now, is sure to change. Every thesis is pregnant with its antithesis. Every excess will unravel. Every tide will turn.

So stand before Fate the Annihilator and choose to persevere with the good. Choose to act fearlessly and hopelessly for peace. Now.

Turn off the Tv!
It's not only the brain rot of the constant stream of corporate lies it broadcasts. Nor its agenda of deception and distraction. The medium itself is toxic. No matter what the content, the fruit of Tv watching is the inculcation passivity, fear and disempowerment.

In truth we live in a hi tech global enthrallment. But the world of appearance was ever thus. Most people are asleep most of the time and the prophets who wake us up are ever few.

So turn the Tv off. Especially the Tv news, which serves to alarm, distort and confuse. Get your news information from the web or better still from awakened friends.

Look and you will see. Listen and you will hear.

Personally i am not convinced that a Tv set can ever have anything more important to say than a gum tree or a sunset. Or a friend.

Turn towards kindness
The Tv diet of manufactured desires, loathings and hysterias, creates mental confusion and robs us of time. Turning Tv off gives us time and space to inhabit real time, real locale, community.

Look about and notice where the kindness in your life is coming from.

Turn towards it. Walk towards it. Run towards it! Return it. Extend it. Help out best you can. Make service your path. Dedicate every word, deed and breath of your life to bringing peace to these times for this and future generations.

In Buddhism of all the virtues which carry one across this world of suffering the practice of generosity is considered the supreme and the most difficult to attain. It is a virtue fundamental to peace making.

Understand that not only will the revolution not be seen on Tv, nor will peace come with a corporate sponsorship and full page ads in the Murdoch press.

Nor will peace come with a government grant or a well paid job.

More will it come from the rich and powerful.

Nor will it come with public liability insurance.

The movement for peace can only come from the generosity of the friends of peace who offer up their time, their talents and their cash however meagre.

Peace is the goodwill of good people. It will come from the poor and the marginal and from liminal social zones. Like the birth of a king in a stable, the arrival of its prophets surprise and humble us.

Speak up and speak out
Listening deeply and reflecting in silence are great virtues. But creating cultural movement requires more; it requires voice.

Find your voice for peace.

Speak from your heart and say your fears for the fruit of endless war. Challenge goverment lies. Speak plainly of your desire for peace.

Speak up in your family, amongst your friends, in your work place, and on the path with strangers. Always listening carefully too; listening for the words that touch your heart and the heart of your your listener.

In this time of pumped up consumerism, the soul searches for authenticity.

The humble and tentative voice searching for truth is a more penetrating and more powerfully persuasive than any billion dollar corporate ad campaign. Find that voice.

And cultivate public oratory.

See protest actions as training opportunities for public speakers. Draw people forth and encourage them to speak up.

You will note that once a person has found courage to speak publicly and is affirmed, they will have the courage to seize opportunities to speak up in other contexts too.

Reach out, link up, do something!
Join with like minded friends and do something together. That might be going to a protest action together or participating in a meeting seen advertised on a community notice board.

Or it might be something you initiate. For example a picket at your local military base or a media ambush of your local lying member - something as simple and as daring as holding up placards behind as s/he fronts the cameras.

Remember small in beautiful. And easier to organise.

Make art that builds community
Whatever the event you create or participate in, work to make it artful.

Artful both in conception and in execution. Conceive of protest however small as theatre with a big story behind it, a mytho-poetic narrative. Aspire to poetry. Choose locations with strong symbolism and meaning for your local community.

Prepare banners, placards and props and the take time and effort to make them visually beautiful. A good picture is worth a thousand words. A good slogan can excite the imagination of masses.

Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry. Best we can.

At this end of a long career as an events creator, i now never take on an organising project which does not involve me making something. Making i find concentrates my mind on the organising task and also that, using my hands, liberates my imagination from the logical linear obsessions of text.

The process of making can also be a means for engaging people in the project and building community around it. It can also be an opportunity for getting some pre-event media attention of the happy faces with paint brushes kind.

For example the 2012 Yeppoon Peace Parade was preceded by a series of weekly sewing circles of local ladies who prepared 20 splendid flags. Not only did the flags make a glorious spectacle, they also served as a means for promoting the event, a photo story in the local paper and a word of mouth appeal for flag bearers.

"Best we can." is my organising mantra. The object is not perfection but service in the art of the possible. Doing something is infinitely better than waiting around for the perfect moment and the perfect conditions. Just do it! Learn as you go.

Agitate and celebrate
What builds community best is celebration.

What makes an event celebratory is participation in ritual.

What makes them bonding is the engagement of our mammal brain senses.

As an event organiser ask yourself, how can i make this event: welcoming, convivial, visually beautiful, pleasant on the ear, high touch, yummy and fragrant?

Visualise the event in a much detail as you can. Imagine what participants will be saying afterwards. "Oh i loved those flags ..." and so on. This is a kind of magic, a magic of manifestation. Pray and expect miracles.

But don't let your event become just another pass time entertainment, another band concert. Keep the witness intent of the gathering in focus.

Invent or borrow rituals, create liturgy and aspire to the sacred. The higher we reach in collective spirit, the deeper and more enduring our bonding.

The path to a big celebratory event is a series of small celebratory events.

Organising successive events gives momentum to your cause.

Build resistance
In the forming, storming, norming, decaying process of group evolution, hang in with the first two and keep with the momentum of event making.

If a meeting becomes bogged down in talk of constitutions, procedure, grant applications and obligations or public liability insurance, head for the door and take the path to where you can be helpful organising the next event.

Community building bears sweet fruit for us mammals we love to belong and sooner or later means including, excluding and scapegoating. If you are a maker of cultural movement, expect to feel rejection and hostility. Particularly from the ones nearest in view and mission.

Persevering with open heartedness in the face of this is when faith is tested. And courage too.

Aim to build more than community; take it beyond the comforts of belongingness and niceness. Address the oppression directly and build resistance as you go.

Here another mantra: "Build community. Build resistance. Community resistance. Sustainable resistance. For peace. For justice. For the Earth ... to the dust!"

We must start from where we are and work with what we got. There are plenty of talkers in the woods and many would-be controllers of the efforts of others. But precious and few are people who act, organise and get things done.

If you are one, blessed be. If you are not, support and assist those who are.

Be visible. Be heard. Occupy public place and public imagination
Click activism is a delusion, a belief as inane as believing that having an opinion about some thing somehow makes one a powerful citizen.

Opinion is worthless without action. Feet on the ground and crowds in public place is what brings on change. The great fear of tyrants is people power, the mob in the streets!

Be visible. Organise occupations of public place. With flags and banners make your occupations eye catching and transformative. It's a liberation for the fearful to come out from behind their screens and feel proud and strong in public place.

Assert your right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. If these freedoms are not exercised regularly they will be denied.

The Occupy movement has tended to long term occupations and there are some fine examples of long time occupations, the Canberra Tent Embassy the outstanding one, 40 years this year.

But be warned that long term occupations demand big commitment because, along with the pioneers and prophets, they attract the mad and the broken. Provocateurs too.

Easier to see your action as a show with a clear beginning, middle and an end; in, make your point, and out again before trouble collects. The zen of resistance.

Beware the limitations of consensus
Consensus decision making is good for building inclusion and identifying group policy. But when consensus decision making becomes ideology and an end in itself, it leads to lots of talk and little action. And mediocrity in action at that.

One wouldn't build a house using consensus decision making. Or produce a movie or a stage performance. Nor events. For such tasks we mammals look towards hierarchies of skill and experience.

So it is when producing events of peace witness: respect elders, encourage and support leadership, and foster individual initiatives. Go for creative daring ahead of safe repetition and replication.

Cultivate the cops
Give notice, negotiate events with the cops and seek their counsel.

Police liaison is an art form and it warrants cultivation.

A sure sign of progress in peaceful social change is when the cops are friendly, cooperative in removing obstacles and unwilling to bust heads.

There will always be things the police cannot tell you and, if an action requires surprise, things you cannot tell them. But strive to build trust and respect none the less.

Music to my ears when i hear a police officer begin negotiations by saying: "I respect your right to protest ..." I recall with gratitude the bloody struggles of the ancestors who won those rights. And send a prayer.

My experience is that police officers feel good about themselves, their role and their institution when they are protecting the right to freedom of assembly and speech.

And if your event is artful in its presentation and respectful of the mores of the locale, they will be even more happily cooperative.

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These are some of the views and skillful means which Peacebus will be offering to resistance building in Darwin.

In Darwin, I will seek support from the Larrakia people, concerned Darwin residents, faith based groups, union activists and others to organise a campaign which occupies public space and is visible and vocal in calling for the Marines to be deported and the US military banished from this land.

I am in no illusion about the magnitude of the task; after all it took the Japanese over 60 years to eject the US military for Okinawa and they haven't left yet.

But the journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step and i am proposing an early step be a popularly supported Peacebus Mission to Darwin this June - August.

May this campaign be the beginning of the end of the US/Australia alliance which has cost us so dearly in terms of wasted lives, squandered tax dollars, the theft of the commonwealth and the imposition perverted social policies such as neo liberalism and the Drug War.

May the fruit of my actions peace in the Pacific, peace in our times and peace for future generations.

Graeme Dunstan
12 June 2012


Mission to Darwin Peacebus mural design courtesy Softly Dunstan of Mighty Nice.

 

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