Grassroots activism is at the heart and soul of War Resisters' International. That is why this panel was scheduled for the final evening of the conference.
Each panelist was first asked to share a story of their work for peace and justice. Joanne Sheehan began by telling the story of the nonviolent occupation of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire, in the U.S. Joanne was a nonviolence trainer, organizer and participant in the campaign. Joanne told of how, to bring together large numbers committed to nonviolent principles, with an inclusive decision-making process, all participants were required to take nonviolence training, make a commitment to nonviolence guidelines, become part of an affinity group who made decisions by consensus, and agree to bail solidarity. 2400 people occupied the site, 1415 were arrested and held, while opposition to nuclear power became an issue that could not be ignored. It became a model for grassroots nonviolent action in the US and beyond.
Dr. Luis Nieves Falcon opened his presentation with stories of leading Puerto Ricans. He detailed the degradation suffered in U.S. jails by Alejandrina Torres, a political prisoner charged with "seditious conspiracy" for campaigning for an end to U.S. colonialism. Once released after almost 20 years in prison, Alejandrina continues to work for the betterment of her community and peoples.
Eduvina Vilches, a 70 year old pobladora, (grassroots woman) living in one of the many shanty towns peripheral to Santiago told of the continuous struggle of the poor to survive amongst poverty and social exclusion which brings lack of opportunities, crime, drug addiction and many other problems which keep the spiral of violence. She told of how she has devoted her life to grow her own many children and children from other relatives and other people as a way of keeping them away from these problems and give them a chance of a better future.
Panelists then shared stories from their movements that influenced them.
Joanne spoke of the stories she has heard while doing Listening Project Community Surveys. Listening Projects are a nonviolent tool used to encourage people to look deeper at an issues, while giving the organizers information to base future strategies on.
Luis Nieves Falcon spoke of Carlos Zenon, a fisherman from Vieques, who has spent his entire adult life in the nonviolent struggle for an end to the military occupation and bombing of his home, which has robbed him of livelihood, the health of himself and family members, and peace.
Eduvina told of how during Pinochet's dictatorship she helped musicians and artists, by taking care of their children whilst going to play or actions. This, so that they would be able to express the need for change and culture. She said that for many years they had almost no space to earn their living and so had no chance to have anybody around to take care of them while they were away. She would care for them, support their actions and at the same time encourage them to keep going. She also told them that she had never had the chance to study beyond elementary school for being so poor and that she had read the books she could find in local libraries or in the houses she used to work as a maid. By that she wanted to make sure that they knew that keeping culture alive was a way of avoiding poverty, exclusion and ignorance. It was also a way of preventing crime and addictions.
Joanne concluded by speaking about how storytelling works among women, how it has been used to build bonds across borders and time. Joanne told of two and a half days spent with a group of 18 women from 13 countries who came together to share experiences working for justice and peace. Gathering prior to the Hague Appeal for Peace, each woman told a story of how she had dealt with a conflict situation. Despite their diversity, they were able to come to common understandings on war (which they saw as including not only armed conflict but also daily violence against human beings), and peace (not only the cessation of firing, but the presence of justice and equality.)
In reflecting upon the international influences contributing to the diverse grassroots movements of Puerto Rico, Dr. Nieves Falcon cited the Plowshares disarmament movement, the Zapatistas of Mexico, and the WRI itself as key sources of inspiration and solidarity.
Eduvina said that poets, musicians and artists in general had helped denouncing all over the world what was going on in Chile and by that, and other actions, international solidarity became a reality. It also helped to create general awareness of all the arbitrary things that were taking place and the Chilean culture kept on a high profile.