Daniel N. Clark on the founding and core principles of Peace Brigades International

Published by Brent Patterson on

In this 55-minute video, Peace Brigades International co-founder Daniel N. Clark talks about the beginnings of PBI and its core philosophies of making space for peace, nonviolence and non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision making.

The video is from April 1, 2001 and features Clark speaking from Walla Walla, Washington with a Lafayette College class in Pennsylvania.

At the beginning of his talk, Clark notes that he began to think about “social defence” after US President Jimmy Carter reinstated in July 1980 the requirement for all 18-25-year-old male citizens to register with the Selective Service System.

The Selective Service System is a US government agency that maintains information on those who are potentially subject to military conscription.

It was around that time when Clark was thinking about “organized, unarmed intermediaries” and a “non-violent peace brigade” that he was invited to what would be the founding meeting of Peace Brigades International in August-September 1981.

He further noted the founders decided it was time for another experiment with Gandhi’s vision of a Shanti Sena (Peace Army) articulated in 1931 as a “living wall of men and women” who would interpose themselves between conflicting parties.

Clark also notes the World Peace Brigade model from 1962 that also sought to engage in non-violent intervention in areas of crisis and conflict.

He explains: “What we are trying to do in Peace Brigades basically is to create a political space for people in their own countries who want to act. It’s our goal to create a space that is safer than it would be without an international presence for them to act nonviolently.”

With an international presence, he explains: “It lessens the ability and proclivity of the security forces to attack them, to kidnap them, because the reality of it is if we have an American, German or Spaniard there with a camera and putting themselves in the same situation, then the stakes are higher. It’s going to be known all around the world.”

Clark also highlights: “People ask isn’t this too much to ask for someone to go to a foreign country and expose themselves to attack and maybe even death, torture, all of which may not have happened, but are possibilities.”

He then notes: “It’s important to put this in perspective, we don’t think anything about asking people to join the army, navy or the air force. Why is it so different and unusual to ask someone to go out without killing anybody to uphold values?”

Clark also talks about PBI’s Emergency Response Network (that twenty years after his talk still co-exists with our growing social media presence).

And interestingly with respect to the armed opposition movements at that time, Clark notes: “It’s not our position to criticize guerilla movements, they are living their own reality… We don’t tactically advise anybody to whether they should take violent or non-violent action, it’s our role is to create space for those who want to act nonviolently.”

To watch the full video to hear more from Daniel in his own words, please click here.


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