Maya Garfinkel – Activist and Campaigner for Peace and Disarmament
Prospects for Peace and Development
Thank you the Foundation of Dialogue and Solidarity of United Nations for inviting me to speak today. My name is Maya and I am the Canada Organizer at World BEYOND War. I’m speaking to you from Montreal, Canada, on unceded Kanien’kehá:ka Territory.
World BEYOND War is an organization dedicated to the abolition of war. Now, this is no easy task even when a particular war isn’t dominating televisions and media outlets. I won’t say in time of peace, because for decades now there have always constantly been numerous wars, usually with several of them involving the U.S. and Canadian military, always with virtually all of them involving U.S. and Canadian weaponry — frequently U.S. weaponry on both sides.
As a result, world beyond war is committed to addressing the institution of war, not just the war of the day. As part of this mission, we addresses four sets of myths common to war support: that war can be inevitable, justified, necessary, or beneficial. After all, most people live without war and without ever suffering from war deprivation. Most human history and prehistory is without war. Most war in history bears very little resemblance to war today. Nations have used war for centuries and then not used war for centuries. Most participants in and victims of war suffer from it. The idea that a war can be just is a carefully designed myth. Wars are very carefully and laboriously maneuvered into, huge energies going into fending off peace. Not a single humanitarian war has yet benefited humanity. War requires major preparations and conscious decisions. It doesn’t blow across the world like the weather or a disease.
But, importantly, we believe that there are alternatives to preparing the world for war, and there are alternatives to using war in the moment of being attacked by someone else using war. In fact it is possible to stop arming the world, to support the rule of law and cooperation, and to prepare unarmed defense strategies.
Through organized nonviolent actions, occuptions have been ended in places like Lebanon, Germany, Estonia, and Bougainville. Coups have been stopped in places like Algeria and Germany, dictators overthrown in places like El Salvador, Tunisa, and Serbia, armed takeovers by corporations blocked in places like Ecuador and Canada, foreign military bases kicked out of places like Ecuador and the Philippines.
For us, nonviolent activism means growing the global anti-war movement and pursuing our three main organizational goals without the use of violence. These goals are designed to serve the ultimate goal of implementing World BEYOND War’s blueprint for an alternative global security system (AGSS)– one in which peace is pursued by peaceful means. These three goals are as follows:
- Demilitarize security
- Manage conflict nonviolently
- Create a culture of peace
I think it is important to note that nonviolent activism is not passive or unassertive, at least it doesn’t have to be. After all, in practice, it can look like many different things. The spectrum of nonviolent resistance spans the spectrum of political confrontation from traditional forms of political participation such as voting and letter-writing, to using one’s body to block a truck full of military weapons from being transported or confronting key decision-makers.
At World BEYOND War, we believe that such nonviolent activism, at whatever scale or form your context allows, is key to building power at the local level and winning real, concrete improvements in people’s lives, while growing the global anti-war movement.
Now, unsurprisingly, our approach is frequently criticized by those who don’t believe in or understand the efficacy of nonviolent activism. After all, the myths of war are extremely pervasive and infiltrate not only people’s perceptions of conflict in and of itself, but also the ways in which we should be opposing conflict and making change in the world. For us, choosing to engage in nonviolent activism means choosing to embody the values that we want to be reflected in the world around us. In my time at World BEYOND War, I have seen the power of being that kind of an example, especially for folks who feel powerless and demoralized when they look at the world around them.
Now, at this point in the conversation, a few key critiques typically begin to bubble to the surface. Most prominently, I hear things like: “that’s nice and all, but if you actually want to get things done that’s not gonna fly.” However, nonviolent activism is not only a powerful example that embodies the ways we want the world to deal with conflict but it is also a highly effective tool for making change.
Researchers Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan have demonstrated statistically that, from 1900 to 2006, nonviolent resistance was twice as successful as armed resistance and resulted in more stable democracies with less chance of reverting to civil and international violence. In short, nonviolence works better than war. We also know now that countries are more likely to experience the onset of nonviolent campaigns when there is a greater amount of mobilization globally. Nonviolent resistance gives rise to nonviolent resistance gives rise to nonviolent resistance. We work to help local groups and individuals around the world start and continue that spark in their community with issues that matter to them.
So, how does this actually work day in and day out? World BEYOND War operates through a network of grassroots, decentralized organizing model focused on building power at the local level. It’s critical to us that chapters and affiliates have the tools to organize in their own communities based on what campaigns resonate most with their members, while at the same time organizing towards the long-term goal of war abolition. I’ll delve into those specific campaigns momentarily. For organizational context, as of now individuals in 193 countries have signed our peace pledge. We have 22 chapters in 12 countries and 93 affiliates around the world. We are proud to be funded by small-dollar donors. This broad reach is made possible by combining our long-term goal, war abolition and implementation of an alternative security system, with decentralized and local organizing on the ground.
With war abolition being such a broad and intersectional issue to tackle, activists and organizers have a wide-array of campaigns to work with through World BEYOND War. Broadly, these include:
- Close Bases
- The closing of U.S. bases and the removal of U.S. military personnel from foreign countries are critical to the elimination of war. This campaign is a major focus for World BEYOND War.
- Our friends at Save Sinjajevina and our allies in the struggle to protect a mountain in Montenegro from becoming a NATO military training ground are making progress.
- Demilitarize Police
- It is critically important to ban militarized policing whether or not your local police force is currently engaged in it.
- We offer tools, including a sample petition and resolution, to assist those looking to demilitarize their local police force. What’s more, we provide some key real-life examples, including in Charlottesville where a petition for demilitarization of the police garnered over 1,000 signatures and inspires a resolution stating that Charlottesville Police Department will not receive military weaponry from the U.S. military, or military-style training from U.S. armed forces, a foreign military or police, or any private company.
- We recognize that U.S. wars start in high schools. The tentacles of a massive Pentagon web extend to high school cafeterias and main offices. We must focus some of our attention on the alarming pace of the militarization of America’s public schools.
- While this campaign has been developed for the US, we are able to work with non-American groups and individuals to adapt resources to other countries.
- Grassroots-led war divestment campaigns are springing up all over the world, from students organizing to divest university endowments, to municipalities and states coming together to divest public pension funds. Divestment means organizing to remove public and private assets from weapons manufacturers, military contractors, and war profiteers.
- Public pension and retirement funds especially are often invested, directly and indirectly, in weapons companies. Teachers and other public servants whose interests lie with promoting human needs have their retirement security tied up with maintaining or enlarging the war industry. Every dollar currently invested in weapons and war is a dollar that could be better spent on job creation, education, housing, healthcare, food security, and so much more.
- On Monday, November 7, 2022, the Corvallis City Council in Oregan, United States unanimously passed a resolution to prohibit the city from investing in companies which produce weapons of war. The resolution passed following years of advocacy work by the Corvallis Divest from War coalition and World BEYOND war.
- Stop Arms Trade
- Weapons shipments should be blocked, arms fairs closed, blood profits protested, and the business of war made shameful and disreputable. World BEYOND War works to protest, disrupt, and reduce the arms trade.
- n 2022, Hundreds of people have blocked access to the opening of CANSEC, North America’s largest weapons and “defense industry” convention at the EY Centre in Ottawa. 40 foot banners saying “Blood On Your Hands,” “Stop Profiting From War,” and “Arms Dealers Not Welcome” obstructed driveways and pedestrian entrances as attendees attempted to register for and enter the convention centre immediately before Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand was slated to give the opening keynote address.
So, given all of these potential entry points into the world of World BEYOND War non-violent activism, how can someone even begin to delve into these issues? That’s where our chapters come in. World BEYOND War chapters advance WBW’s mission to abolish war by hosting events, campaigns, and activities focused on peace education, weapons divestment, & closing military bases. The chapter system doesn’t just facilitate specified, local approaches, it also funnels international WBW resources to the grassroots level. We provide resources, training, discounted books, online courses, email listserv, publicity, volunteer recruitment and more.
I could go on about the many other individuals and groups who have also taken up the call to action and taken it upon themselves to act in the interest of war abolition and peace-building but, for the sake of time today, I’ll let you check those out on our website. In the meantime, I hope you come away from this discussion with a bit more of a framework for understanding how we combine education and action in the pursuit of war abolition and the construction of a better world from the grassroots. Thank you for your time and attention.