November 11 is coming and so is that moment when we all stop in silence at eleven o’clock to remember. I sang in the choir at Remembrance Day ceremonies in school and veterans came and talked to us. We discussed Great War battle strategy in History Class. In the media, we honour our dead like their deaths were meant to be. But what exactly are we remembering?
In the ninety-five years since Armistice Day, the world has undergone a century of conflict and change. With each passing year, our national rhetoric becomes stronger and stronger; in order to remember those who died, war must be justified and inevitable. However, I think that we have lost something in all of our remembering: we are not doomed to use violence to create peace and end oppression.
In his book Evil Men, James Dawes makes the important point that our self-perceptions about the world as a violent place may not completely be correct. This is important: how we perceive the world impacts our actions within the world. The beliefs that we adopt create reality because of our subsequent activities that flow out of these perceptions. If, as a society, we believe that nonviolence is more powerful and effective than violence, we will devote our energy to developing those capacities.
It wasn’t until I was in university and decided to study social movements that I realized that the past is constructed of layers upon layers of meaning. How and what we remember impacts how we work for peace. If we remember the conflicts of the past century as inevitable, we are, as the old adage says, doomed to repeat them. However, if we look at nonviolent resistance as an option, a whole world of possibility opens up in front of us.
And the best news is that nonviolence works! Research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephen highlights that nonviolent resistance has been the most effective tool used over the last fifty years to create regime change, from oppressive to democratic. This whole video is worth a watch.
So, who am I remembering this Remembrance Day? I remember victims of violence, including the military. I remember those who are trying to create change with good intentions, even if I don´t agree with their methods. I also remember those who are working with different types of tools, nonviolent ones. Above all, I remember that violence does not have to be the answer. Our interpretations of our history do not have to lead us to war.
Here are some of the specific people and lived history I am remembering this year. Did you know that the Danes in Denmark during World War Two used non-violence to save the lives of almost all of the Jews in their country? And this is only one example of successful nonviolence throughout World War Two? During the dictatorship in Argentina the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were instrumental in raising public awareness of disappeared citizens and bringing down the fall of the dictatorship, even though many were disappeared themselves. Aboriginal women in Canada, especially in the Yukon, have lead nonviolent processes for over a hundred years in support of land rights and equality. For more information about daily acts of nonviolent resistance and discussion on theory, visit Waging Nonviolence.
But beyond the famous cases, I also remember people with the sheer determination to live dignified lives in the midst of conflict, such as the Colombians I interact with daily. I remember people who choose to actively be at peace with their enemies and to not given to despair. When I visited when Palestine for six weeks, we stayed with a family in Bethlehem. The Israeli army was controlling the water flow into Bethlehem and there was not enough to water the sage and flowers growing in the front garden. When the water came on all of a sudden in the middle of night, the first thing our hostess did was run outside to water the flowers. When it is still possible to focus on beauty, violence will never win.
I remember and I work for peace.