Building Communities of
Sustainable Resistance

by Graeme Dunstan


Within every country,
so the prophets and martyrs tell us,
there is another land,
a land where nobody is master
and nobody slave,
where there are no rich and no poor,
where justice reigns.
It surfaces now and again,
in promises, in flights of fancy,
in struggles, in designs and fabrics.
It is lost, and found, and lost again;
but it is always there,
for the human spirit is its home.

Eileen Haley,
introduction to the Utopia Quilt Project 2004

I do not have to convince you, dear reader, of the depth of the darkness. The rise of corporate piracy, the spread of poverty and desertification, the news of punishing wars of the rich upon the poor and the return of jailers, torturers and tyranny, is there on the TV screens, in the newspapers, and behind the lies, plain to see.

But what will we do? What is the path forward? How shall we live?

Ancient and noble questions these and questing after them has led me on many a path to peace, to many a teacher's door, to many a hall, to many a protest, and to many a friend. From Duntroon cadet (yes, folks this year I will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Class of '64) to Dharma bum.

For over 30 years now, since being a student organiser of the resistance to the US war on Indo-China, I have been working for peace, organising celebrations that create the experience of peace as something tangible. Community building events, public joy in public places.

These days I call it: building communities of sustainable resistance. By which I mean: life affirming and tyranny resistant community, community as if the future matters. For all beings.

Done some big gigs in my time, planted more than a few seeds from which big events have grown, but these days I am a grey haired pensioner nomad and happy to work at small scale. I prefer events that can unfold from my van, Happy Wheels, and still accommodate my travelling companion, Jennifer the Maremma and me.

Small is beautiful and it maybe the only antidote we have to the mass grip and the mass hypnosis of corporate media. In these times when statecraft is defined as the ability to lie on grand scale, maybe kindness and truth spoken lightly and from the heart of a friend is more penetrating and subtly more enduringly influential.

Notice the huge shift of belief away from the Howard government since the post 9/11 offensive by the US military. No more do the economic rationalists crow loud in the market place. The media did not change, liars in public office continued to tell lies with the full support of the Murdoch media like before. But something has shifted in the people, something invisible as plant growth, yet never stopping, never holding back from life, more pervasive than radio talk back jocks dare admit. supported the Labor team in the local government elections in Campbelltown last March. In the early 80s I was the first cultural development officer employed by that City now with a population 140,000. My friend from that time is now Mayor, Brenton Banfield, and he headed the Labor ticket. I dressed Happy Wheels with his placards and trawled the public housing estates of Minto and Macquarie Fields, speaker horns on the roof racks, calling people out to vote. "Human Need not Corporate Greed" was my signage.

A well organised campaign, the Labor team swept to office getting 7 of the 11 seats. What was particularly well organised about it was the outreach to the various refugee communities in Campbelltown. Brenton not only visited the Buddhist temples but also the mosques. A band of Bangladeshi's manned polling booths for him and Islamic men and women in saris flashed smiles and peace signs to me as I passed in Happy Wheels. Here was reverse Hansonism! How far we had come in such a short time.

And not just in Campbelltown and Camden in the southwest, but all across the west and north west of Sydney suburbia too, Labor swept to office. Only in Sydney, where the pro 'War on Terror' Carr government and the Sussex Street Labor Party is known - and loathed - did Labor suffer defeat.

And the key change factor, I reckon, was that in the week before ALP leader, Mark Latham had said off the cuff that he would bring the troops home for Christmas. For the voters in these far-flung suburbs this was like getting a scent of rain before the breaking of a drought.

Now I have no more trust in Mr Latham than I do in Mr Howard when it comes to dealing with the corporate media and the US Ambassador. But I do have huge faith in that thirst for justice and the underground, never faltering stream of the cultural movement for peace.

The Prime Minister John Howard and Rupert Murdoch will lie, tell lies on top of lies and lies about lies forever with all the vast media apparatus at their command. But somehow they have been out manoeuvred by something with meagre resources but a much more penetrating influence.

The peace movement! You and I and all who are and have been visible for peace, we who stand up and speak out, however humble.

At the time of the invasion of Iraq last year we seethed and grieved and the corporate media was happy to tell us that we had failed. They had opinion polls (liars can figure) to prove their point. Denial. And now illusions shaky building is falling down.

Because peace is patient, like water staying true to its nature, flowing around obstacles, and like rain flowing to the sea, drops become trickles, trickles become streams, and streams, mighty rivers.

Community building then is the core work of peace making. My Rainbow Region friend and mentor, John Allan (aka Ajanh Witij Vajiromano), calls it Sangha building.

John Allan teaches the Buddha Dharma in Byron on Monday nights (Belongil Fields from 7 pm) and Lismore Tuesday nights (Kwan Yin Centre from 6.30 pm). He has been on the Dharma path for over 30 years and he has been my friend and companion in cultural movement over many seasons. Witij and I are once again in collaboration presenting bush Dharma retreats at Wat Buddhalavarn, a Buddhist forest monastery supported by the Lao community of southwest Sydney. See and

People familiar with Buddhism will know that Sangha means the community of monks, more generally the community of awakened ones (and, since sentient beings are of the Buddha essence itself, a wider meaning is all beings and life itself). The key ritual of Buddhism is the three prayers of refuge, the so-called Triple Gem, Buddha-Dharma-Sangha. So it goes: "I go for refuge to the Sangha, to the company of awakened ones."

Witij tells that in Pali the word derives from the same word as thread or string. Hence the idea of the Sacred Thread, the thread of uplifting friendship (kalyanamitta) that guides us on the path.

Ananda, the Buddha's cousin and life time companion said to the Buddha one day, two and half thousand years ago: "I begin to understand that noble/admirable/uplifting friendship is most of the Holy Life".

"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that!" replied the Buddha. "Noble/admirable/uplifting friendship is the whole of the Holy Life".

These Bush Dharma retreats at this time are small, known to very few, but to me they are most powerful and affirming thing that I do for peace.

I dream that they are the most auspicious thing I do. Path finding for peace, it is as if Witij and I, our admirable friendship and our admirable friends, the Wat Buddhalavarn Sangha and our Lao hosts, are building the foundations of a highway to carry generations upon future generation of Shambala warriors.

The Buddha had a lot to say about peace making of course. One of his teachings was: "Don't waste time cursing the darkness. Just one candle will dispel darkness."

So be a witness for peace. Become a light unto the world. Or how about a lighthouse? Or a lantern factory?

On Saturday 19 June my friend Bodha and I arrayed lanterns at the Lismore Lantern Festival and we were just two of some 8,000 others lighting up the longest night. It was a wonderful, magnificent event. All praise and love to director, Jyllie Jackson, Lady of the Lismore Lanterns.

The Lantern Parade was huge and spectacularly beautiful, with its sculptures of light and lit up carnival bands. The fire and light performance engaged a caste of hundreds. And supporting it all was a vast army of volunteers working together to create art and peace. Here was the very taste of peace. And it was beautiful!

Ten years ago I founded that event, much, much smaller then, and now I am absolutely marginal to its production and its success, just another face in a crowd of kind faces, in a happy crowd of kids, young families and grannies.

You can imagine the gratification in my heart when I heard the compere, Jeni Dell, white robed like some angelic Druid, announce: "Like all Lismore Lantern Festivals this event is dedicated to world peace." Ahhh!

So back to the question: what will we do? what we will we do? what will we do?

Here are this old man's thoughts.

Be here & now! Choose life; choose change; choose creativity; choose peace.

Turn off the TV. Turn towards kindness. Reach out to friends. Be patient and generous. Build Sangha. Do it by example.

Listen with your heart and speak from your heart. Stand tall. Be visible. (Rumi says: plant your flag in an open field.)

Make art that makes community; art that makes peace. Visual, aural, tactile, verbal, cerebral - whatever and in whatever medium. In the furtherance of peace, be of service.

Do it with a friend or three. Start small. Be brave. Be persevering.

Organise, organise, organise. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

Many ideas. Here is just one to illustrate. An annual Peace Carnival is being planned for Byron Bay to celebrate the United Nation's International Day of Peace. See A good idea in itself and it has come out of the meetings of the Byron Peace Council which was formed prior to the US invasion of Iraq. Anne Whittingham is steering it as her dharma practice. For more information contact Anne at byronpeace

Now the Rainbow Region, the semi tropical, big rivers, north coast on New South Wales, Australia is renowned for its flag art and at this time Benny Zable is far and away the master leading the dance.

To enhance the Peace Carnival a community arts project is proposed, a Peace Flag Expo.

The vision is that a host of flags be sewn up and arrayed; peace flags of many different designs, colours and shapes: Flags on shopfronts, avenues and portals of giant flags, marker flags lining beaches, little flags whirled by dancing girls, flags on parade and flags on the Cape, the Byron Lighthouse flapping and floating colour.

Thinking globally, making art locally. For peace. Ten thousand flags.

Starting small, setting up sewing circles, encouraging new designs, working together and building the event up over the next few years. Byron flying the colours of peace for the UN, a beacon to the world. Plus a colourful community celebration of peace, local art and culture affirmed, an export industry created, a skilling up and a dissemination of the tools and practices of peace.

One could go on and on, but ideas are cheap. What is precious is the willingness to take up the work of manifesting, the willingness to begin with steps however small and faltering.

May the Earth become a garden of peace.

May all beings be truly happy.

Graeme Dunstan
25 June 2004

First draft published in the July 2004 of Here & Now, "the monthly Magazine for Byron Buddhas", which is produced and distributed in Byron Bay, Australia (circ. 2000).


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