Peace Activism and the Local Movement

As the global society grows more and more entangled in unsavory political, economic, and war-based national policies, the citizens of the world are finding it imperative to make our voices heard. We will not stand for the atrocities being committed by governments that supposedly exist to organize, protect, and serve their peoples. The war culture of militarized nations has bled out into the oceans, mountains, cities, towns, and forests of the world, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and destroying the environment one factory and one bomb at a time.

In our efforts to fight against falling deeper into a reality where war and aggression are accepted truths, there are two clear courses of action: the masculine and the feminine. They’re both equally important and equally as useful in bettering the world. Whether you’re a man or woman, you have both of these aspects at play within you, and the task of a balanced peace activist is to use both in conjunction.

The masculine path is that of direct political action. It means taking part in invaluable events like protest rallies and civil rights marches. It means putting yourself out there and speaking out against specific injustices you see in the world.

The feminine path is more inward. It’s about nurturing compassion within ourselves and using that as a tool for change in our local communities and environments. It draws upon the wisdom of civilizations who have come before, the ones who lived peacefully in communion with the natural world and with their neighbors.

I don’t mean to romanticize these cultures as relics of history either. Many peaceful societies still exist in today’s modern world. The State of Pennsylvania, for example, has a substantial Amish community — a culture lauded for being community-oriented and eschewing most modern technologies. One Amish family leaped into the modern commercial era by utilizing traditional Amish craftsmanship to build and sell structures to non-Amish homeowners. They were surprised at the demand for their work, and now they have a thriving business.

Appreciating and subsequently sharing the story of local ingenuity is a first step toward broadening one’s definition of nationalism. We can feel pride not only for our friends successes, but for the successes of people we hardly know. The feeling of pride is simply the recognition that they are doing something good for the planet; we’re all equally invested in that. If all our local communities, and subsequently nations, could come together and support one another, the work of peace activists would be all but complete.

Focusing on our local communities presents us with fertile ground to practice compassion for all things, and to spread peace in a subtle yet powerful grassroots way.  If small business owners, those most immediately dependent upon the local movement, took the simplest of steps to conserve energy, the entire community would reap the rewards. It bolsters a community’s sense of self-worth when their downtown is clean, green, and shows care for the planet. Whether a retailer or a consumer, involvement in local business is a way to make sure we’re walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

Moving away from commerce for a moment. Sometimes peace activism works on a level even more subtle than how a person interacts with their community. Sometimes change is entirely reliant upon self-reflection. One of my favorite examples of local activism that gave people the opportunity to first reflect upon their own intrinsic biases took place during the disability rights movement. The movement was broken down into addressing these three barriers:

  1. Attitudinal Barriers — low social expectations, bullying, and even cultural shunning
  2. Environmental Barriers — natural or constructed barriers, stairs for example, that separate a person with a disability from participating in everyday activities
  3. Institutional Barriers — laws and policies that discriminate against people with disabilities

Before any fully-abled activists could fight for the equal rights of their disabled brethren, they had to reflect upon who exactly they were fighting against. Who was it that was oppressing people with disabilities? After a period of mindful contemplation, more often than not the answer to that question was, “I am. I am oppressing the disabled a) simply by thinking of them as disabled and b) because I just didn’t see their struggle until now.” It’s similar to the revelation of privilege by many white North Americans during the Black Lives Matter campaign of 2016.

Thanks to the hard work of disability rights activists, the Americans with Disabilities Act now prohibits discrimination in the areas of “employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities” because of a person’s disability. It also established regulations — like building ramps and placing a handrail 34 to 38 inches above a staircase — so that a person was no longer intrinsically excluded from day-to-day activities because of a physical limitation.

You never can tell how change will best be enacted. Sometimes it’s through widespread peaceful demonstration and sometimes vociferous protest. Protest is an integral part of peace activism. But if we only know how to make change through external organized force, and never practice peaceful compassion inwardly, then there will be no such thing as peace in our time. We simply wouldn’t know what to do with the peace once we had it.

So instead of separating our tactics into “sometimes” this and “sometimes” that, we’d be best served to bring them together. There’s no better place to start than in your local community.

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