Friday, August 25, 2023

Working Alternatives


As I write this, I’m looking at a box pulled from the cubby hole under our eaves marked PBI (Peace Brigades International). It is full of paper from my time working with this international peacemaking effort. We must have used up a forest, as I was only one of many digesting all the paperwork: minutes of meetings, proposals for future work, reports from projects, budgets and newsletters. The box is packed with all of it. Eventually, of course, the paper was replaced by internet folders and files.
It was my experiences in India that led me naturally to PBI. Gandhi had experimented with the Shanti Sena in India, a “peace army”. When there was conflict and violence in the country, the Shanti Sena volunteers would appear as a nonviolent, non-partisan presence. They would make themselves known to the major players on both sides of the conflict and place their bodies between those who might do violence.

It seemed to me the Shanti Sena idea had international potential. Unknown to me at the time, others felt the same way and were beginning to take steps toward development and implementation. One of those original founders I knew personally from my time in India, Narayan Desai, son of Gandhis’ personal secretary. I met another founder on a campus ministry trip to California, when he encouraged me to join a preparatory gathering coming up in Canada. The founding meeting was held at Grindstone Island in 1981. I was unable to attend because of work responsibilities but was encouraged and excited by the outcome and initial organizing.

When they began looking for a person to begin organizing PBI in the U.S. in 1986, I applied. A second candidate also applied. We were both invited to meet with others to evaluate the need and determine who might be the best candidate to direct this new venture. It was a new hiring process for me, not competing with each other, but all of us together determining the best fit. We mutually decided I would be retained part time as a Field Associate.

This began a several year commitment to the support and development of this international peace making effort. After my initial short-term work as a Field Associate, I served on the Directorate for PBI-USA for several years. Toward the end of my active relationship with the U.S. country group, I served as a U.S. representative to the International Assembly; having watched PBI grow from a few founders to a vital, engaged, international organization, with active projects in several countries.

When invited by Human Rights organizations in a country, PBI would evaluate whether they were able to be an asset in that country, and if the answer was yes, they would send volunteers to “accompany” human rights workers and their family members. Governments were informed, in person, of the PBI presence. This way, those who might do violence were aware the world was watching, through the eyes of those international volunteers. In the meantime, should those present need support, an emergency response network was available to send messages to appropriate authorities at a moments notice from many PBI country groups.

In all of the work PBI has done, in projects all over the globe, they have not lost a volunteer to violence and they have protected human rights defenders who surely would have lost their lives without these international volunteers. PBI has become a model for pro-active peacemaking and violence prevention on an international scale.

My attendance at the General Assembly in Switzerland was an experience in conflict resolution. Representatives were present from every PBI country group and all of the Projects active at the time. We were being asked to make decisions about the future of PBI that impacted all of those disparate parts in different ways. It was obvious from the first day, there were some dramatic differences of opinion about the way forward. Positions were passionately held. It occurred to me it might be a long and torturous gathering. But since the organization had always held consensus as a hallmark of the PBI decision making process, all present had consensus experience. 

The most passionate persons with differing opinions volunteered for a working group, and with the help of experienced facilitators (peace-makers and proficient in 3 languages), helped the group come to consensus on recommendations by the final day of the meeting, with unanimous support for their work from the gathering. I thought, “if only, if only internationals in conflict would try this, instead of quickly reaching for weapons and violence.”

PBI was soon followed by the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Using some of the ideas and personnel developed by PBI, the Peaceforce soon became another international organization, more truly “international” than PBI, but still mostly ignored by governments and media. But like PBI, the NP began doing exceptional peace-making work behind the scenes. Eventually, not satisfied with being ignored, the NP has pursued a relationship with the United Nations and now has a representative there.

Each and every day, volunteers in these organizations are saving the lives of many threatened by violence all over the globe. They are training those threatened in “civilian protection,” accompanying the threatened, demonstrating an alternative to violence, and challenging governments and decision makers by their very presence to seek nonviolent paths to peace.

PBI and the Nonviolent Peaceforce are making a difference, showing the world an alternative. If only we gave them a token of the support we give the war makers! We must continue to implement their peace making processes on a larger and larger scale. There is no rational or ethical justification to continue wasting human and earthly treasure on the altar of war when we ignore nonviolent alternatives!

Carl Kline