What does the PBI tagline “making space for peace” mean?

Published by Brent Patterson on

The tagline and Twitter hashtag for Peace Brigades International is #MakingSpaceForPeace. What does that mean? It may seem obvious, but it’s worthwhile to take a moment to try to reach a working and shared definition of the word peace.

The Quaker peace activist Ursula Franklin has stated, “Peace is not the absence of war but the absence of fear and the presence of justice.”

Novelist Arundhati Roy has further noted: “What does it mean to the millions who are being uprooted from their lands by dams and development projects? What does peace mean to the poor who are being actively robbed of their resources? For them, peace is war.”

And Martin Luther King, Jr., in a sermon given in March 1956 titled When Peace Becomes Obnoxious, said, “If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace. In a passive non-violent manner, we must revolt against this peace.”

The founding statement of Peace Brigades International appears to echo these understandings of peace: “We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action, which no longer can be ignored. This heritage tells us that peace is more than the absence of war.”

How do we then make space for this peace?

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has noted, “A feminist approach to peace and security is one that defines true human security not by stockpiling weapons or issuing threats, but by dismantling structures of oppression and injustice through negotiation, cooperation and redistribution of resources.”

That implies challenging militarism.

Militarism can be seen as the antithesis of feminist principles, as it represents both the threat and use of power over others, the valuing of hierarchy over consensus, the negation of consent, the normalization of aggression, and a rationalization of violence.

We have seen this in the militarized responses used – by the state through its armed force or by the police – to quash Indigenous resistance to extractive megaprojects that lack consent and to assert power over those who defend the land, water and Mother Earth.

There is arguably then an intersection between militarism, structures of oppression, environmental conflicts and ecological destruction.

This is in part why Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies has stated, “The Green New Deal must have anti-militarism at its core.”

She writes, “Wars and the military render impossible the aspirations contained in the Green New Deal. And slashing the out-of-control military budget is crucial to provide the billions of dollars we need to create a sustainable and egalitarian economy.”

As such, if militarism is the prioritization of arms over the social good, the analytical links can also be made from there to the heavy carbon footprint of the world’s militaries and the militarization of borders to stop those displaced by climate breakdown.

Michel Forst, the now former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, further makes the link to the threats experienced by the land defenders who Peace Brigades International accompanies.

At a forum co-organized by PBI, Forst highlighted, “States must go to the root of environmental conflicts, such as imbalance of power, making nature into a commodity, impunity and the current development model.”

PBI’s principles speak of resistance to structures of violence, including socio-economic exploitation, and note, “PBI, with its experience and international presence, endeavours to overcome injustice and violence in order to build a humane society” and “create space for peace and to protect human rights.”

That concept of making space for peace has been further described by PBI as: “International accompaniment is used as a tool for conflict transformation, fulfilling the dual role of both protecting victims of human rights violations as well as encouraging human rights defenders to continue their activities in the face of threat.”

That articulation says that those who seek “to protect and perpetuate their sphere of power” will “stigmatize and neutralize” the social movements that challenge their power, and that our accompaniment “can contribute to the construction of a new discourse that recognizes the legitimacy of these human rights concerns.”

Within this understanding of making peace, we can see how human rights defenders create a positive tension in society as they advocate for change.

As King, in many ways a criminalized human rights defender himself, wrote in a Birmingham jail cell in April 1963, “I am not afraid of the word ‘tension’. I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

Twenty years ago, PBI-Canada also described our work as follows: “Through protective accompaniment to organizations and communities, PBI seeks to reduce violence and open up political space for social change.”

Therefore, from our history and these quotes, making space for peace can be understood as making space for social change, making space for nonviolent action, and making space for economic justice, human rights, solidarity, equality, feminism, Indigenous rights, and living in harmony with the Earth.

Top photo of Ursula Franklin by Mark Neil Balson.

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