PBI founder Daniel N. Clark: “We are like the street arm of Amnesty International”

Published by Brent Patterson on

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The founding statement of Peace Brigades International was released on September 4, 1981. Eleven people wrote that statement, including Daniel N. Clark. He was at the first meeting that began on August 31 that year on Grindstone Island, Ontario that discussed our purpose, structure, key principles, and name.

PBI-Canada executive director Brent Patterson recently met with Daniel, and we share excerpts from their talk as part of the recognition of PBI’s 40th anniversary.

The discussion began with a reflection on our founding statement that highlights: “We are forming an organization with the capability to mobilize and provide trained units of volunteers. If hostile clashes occur, a brigade may establish and monitor a cease-fire, offer mediatory services, or carry on works of reconstruction and reconciliation.”

Daniel notes this original vision soon evolved into protective accompaniment: “It was out of our work in Central America where we were interposing our bodies between potential assassins and kidnappers and government forces and people without guns in their hands just trying to speak their mind and make their request about information about disappeared family members and economic justice. It became very clear we could provide a service by interposing ourselves as internationals who had some spotlights and credibility between these out-of-control armies to protect people.”

In terms of PBI’s continuing core principles of non-hierarchical, consensus-based decision-making, Daniel recalls: “That definitely has its roots in Quakerism that had also made its way into the general peace movement in the 1960s and 1970s.”

On PBI’s principle of non-partisanship, Daniel says: “If it’s only about who has the most guns, or the most people to bear them, none of us are safe, but if we can stand up for truth and justice, while not cutting the humanity of the opponent, we could be of greater use as the world tries to resolve its conflicts.”

He also highlights: “At the same time, we are agents for justice. We place our folks in situations where we are animating and strengthening popular movements. PBI does work to balance power and to animate popular movements because that’s where the need is and that’s where we put our volunteers.”

Daniel further comments: “We are partisans for justice. In a way we are like the street arm of Amnesty International. They don’t do onsite actions; they investigate and publicize. We are trying to make a system that is just.”

Daniel also spoke about PBI’s early decision not to criticize armed resistance movements.

He says: “There are many ways up the mountain. Even Gandhi said to the consternation of many that if the only way to achieve liberty and justice were armed, he would use violence. But he said that isn’t the only way. We weren’t going to go in and tell people suffering under oppressive situations that they were wrong, rather we wanted to animate and enable people who didn’t want to use violence or couldn’t use violence. The different approaches of violence and non-violence don’t mix well, but it was a reality.”

Forty years after the founding meeting, Daniel says: “I’m very impressed where PBI has gone over the years. PBI is quite amazing to me thinking about our original time when $5,000 was a lot and back when we didn’t even have internet or email. I’m very pleased and a little bit proud where this has all gone.”

And looking ahead to the coming years, he notes: “I would like us to see us move from adopting treaties on human rights and the environment to enforcing them. The US has clearly violated the Nuremberg principles when it dropped nuclear bombs on non-combatants. I would like to see if there is capacity for PBI to have a presence when there are governmental leaders violating international law. That is a potential broadening area.”

For more on 40 years of PBI solidarity, please see our Anniversary Timeline.

And to watch a 55-minute video of Daniel speaking in 2001 about the founding of Peace Brigades International and our core principles, please click here.

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