Monday, 11 November 2019

24 Hours of Peace

Peace means so many different things to different people. Peace is not just an absence of war, it is the creation of a world in which all people are safe to make a life for themselves. On Saturday, in advance of Remembrance Sunday, Hannah in the Manchester XR group organised a vigil for the 1700 environmental defenders who have been killed between 2002 and 2018. People all over the world die defending the natural world and protecting their land and lives from destruction, often at the hands of illegal loggers or miners, in collusion with the authorities.  About a dozen of us sat in St Peter's Square for an hour, and talked with a visitor from Brazil about the reality of life for campaigners in the majority world.

I spent Sunday night at 24 Hours of Peace. This has been a piece of theatre taking place from 11am on Sunday 10th through to 11am on Monday 11th November at the Royal Exchange Theatre. It was created by Neil Bartlett from 100 interviews that were done with campaigners and peace activists across the country; mostly just ordinary people discussing their work, how they came to be doing it and how they feel about the fight for peace in the world. Some work directly with victims of violent conflict, some teach about conflict resolution and others are active in political campaigning and direct action. While some of the interviewees seem to drift in to political activism for others their role comes from troubles within their community or country and for others it is trauma within the family. Whatever the route they all have in common a huge personal commitment to creating change and working to make the world more peaceful. The theatre performance was sometimes quite harrowing as people describe their own experiences or the lives of the people they are trying to help. It was punctuated by a rhythmical repetition of lists of people's names, ages and locations, and some of the key ideas that many of them shared. The project was intended as an extension of the two minutes silence that is intended for people to reflect on the sacrifice of soldiers and the hope for a world without such sacrifice. Many of the speakers questioned the role of the military and its acceptance by our society, the way the news becomes an agent of despair, making conflict seem inevitable and creating a feeling of weakness and powerlessness in the face of global conflicts. Neil himself spoke about the need to get past antagonism and see each other as equally human, to find the common ground and expect good from others as a means to solving conflicts. The message was very much that there is no magic route to peace, but that asking people what they imagine for their lives is an important starting point. The recording of the performance will be repeated on Resonance Radio on Wednesday and I believe may be available to listen on the website also. I particularly enjoyed Derbhle Crothy who told the story of a woman from Northern Ireland who set up the Women's Coalition and was involved in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement.


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