The other day I passed a peace vigil being held on the front steps of the State Library in the city. Since I was on the other side of the street, I crossed to see if I could maybe lend some support. What I found when I reached the event were a group of scruffy looking people, under a makeshift tent, with slogans painted everywhere stating things such as "Bush is the real Satan" and "Stop Bush's campaign of evil."
I have plenty of scruffy opinionated friends: I am in the arts, computing, and teach at a university; that I could deal with. What really disturbed me was the sense that this was a hate campaign, rather than a peace campaign. The emphasis seemed to be "if we could only get rid of that fascist dictator who calls himself the leader of the free world, then all would be right with the world." Doesn't this sound familiar? "If we could only get rid of that embodiment of evil, Osama bin Laden, then all would be right with the world." These protestors only knew what they were feeling, just as those who are now warring with Afghanistan only know what they are feeling. They are all expressing their anger. However, if we want to draw people to the cause of peace we need to do more than just express a feeling, we need to express eloquently and convincingly our reasons for wanting peace over vengeance.
I believe to get the world on side we need to do more than simply protest, we need to rally. We need to come together intelligently and with compassion. We need to present ourselves in a way that cannot be easily dismissed as merely another group of ragamuffin extremists, who may be potential terrorists. We need to take the lessons of previous peaceful movements and use them once again. Situations such as war, dictatorship, the removal of civil rights, do not happen without a group of people agreeing to perpetrate these acts, and another group agreeing to be the victims. Removing leaders will not stop a problem. A community choosing to change things will.
Here are the guidelines I would like to see used to create a more effective group statement.
Make no one the enemy.
I do not mean simply the apparent leaders, though they are included. I mean any group of people. Together we create peace, peace requires everyone's efforts, not just a righteous few. See everyone as a potential supporter. Take action to reach as many people and groups as possible.
Represent the facts without distortion.
If people find any reason to question your position, then they can use it to totally disregard your entire message. Stick meticulously to the truth. Investigate your facts, enlist people who understand how to scrutinise and interpret facts and statistics. Be careful about the use of emotional language. Some people do respond to manipulation, others resent it, and it lowers the integrity of your message. I want to see rallying that can be respected, whether people agree or not. A wonderful resource for this is a book called Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley, published by Prentice Hall.
Present yourself to the best effect.
The early civil rights sit-ins actually insisted on a dress code. This is an effective means of getting your message across. If you can get your rally group to wear suits or at least neat casual, you will look dedicated enough to present yourself well, more people will be able to identify with you, and you will look less like yet another group to dismiss and/or feel fearful of.
Make your stand clear, easily understood, and easily remembered.
Use simple direct language to describe your core position. Make your core principles readily available, with easy access to more in depth representation of your aims, such as at a Web site. A symbol that then represents these things and forms a rallying point can be useful for memorability.
Give people easy steps for involvement.
I have seen some causes ask for far too complex and/or difficult involvement from their supporters, and are then disappointed by the public response. Many people have jobs and families that take up most of their time. So give these people easy ways to let the world know where their hearts lay. Have people wear a symbol they can make themselves or have easy access to, such as a leaf, a flower, a ribbon. If you want them to contact their political representatives, give them premade letters they simply need to sign, and have a list of addresses you can refer to in order to give them their particular representative's address. One warning: do not use e-mail for this purpose, it has the same effect with a representative as spam does for you. Instead of calling for an indefinite boycott, ask that people boycott on a specific day. You can always repeat this boycott if need be. All ongoing boycotts should have organisers prepared to notify people when the boycott has achieved its purposes and has ended.
When you have public rallies be sure to train your rallyers how to do so peacefully while facing adversity.
I believe no one should be required to face brutality. However, those willing to do so for a cause need the methods and the practice to do so successfully. Ways are available for people within a rally to support one another by agreeing to rally in shifts, perhaps learning methods on how to dodge or block blows, organising the group so that older and weaker members may group in the middle of a rally where they are protected by the bodies of the younger rallyers, etc. Those who later choose to join a rally, and may not have been prepared, might be given a handout with rallying guidelines.
Keep everything about the group and its activities as open as possible. You want to avoid hidden agendas twisting your message. Again, strive to be a movement that can be respected whether or not someone agrees with you.
Be compassionate with yourself, your rallyers, and those who you are drawing to your cause.
We are all still human. We are all still doing the best we know how. Different people have become convinced that different methods work best. This does not make them bad. They may simply need the opportunity to consider other means, or you may even need to re-consider your means. You may make mistakes, your compatriots may make mistakes, everyone will need to be able to forgive each other and themselves on a regular basis in order to continue this work, however long it may take, and sometimes it can take generations. It is not up to one person to change the world, it is up to all of us, and each and everyone of us is important.
Copyright © 19 October 2001, Katherine Phelps