A few weeks ago, from the 23rd-27th of September, I flew down to Melbourne to join up with the Swan Island Peace Convergence. After much time discovering, talking about, and being convicted about the nonviolence at the core of my own Christian faith – and what it means to follow in the footsteps of a nonviolent Messiah – I thought it was about time to back up my words with some action.
Apart from a protest or two, this was the first time I’d ever been involved in nonviolent direct action. The first day we arrived was a day to hang out, share a meal, prepare some banners, and get to know one another. I had the pleasure of creating a banner which said ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ with my new friend Alan from the U.K., who’d recently been over in London showing his support for Julian Assange (currently taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy). Later on, we had time to learn about what was happening over in Afghanistan, about Australia’s involvement in the war, and the significance of the Swan Island military base.
The next day involved training and preparation. One thing that both surprised and delighted me was just how much planning, organisation, and training goes into a successful nonviolent action. A local Uniting Church had kindly let us use their premises to hold workshops on nonviolence – the principles behind nonviolence, the tactics we were going to use, and practice. One of the most important things I took away from the training was that to truly cultivate a nonviolent lifestyle – and be involved in nonviolent action – we must first deal with the violence in our own hearts. At one point in the workshop, we had the opportunity to stand by a quote which impacted us most – from people such as Martin Luther King Jr, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, and Malcolm X – and share why it did. I remember standing by a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. Though I don’t remember the exact quote, I remember what the main idea behind it was: that love is the foundation of nonviolence. At the core of nonviolence, we act out in love; exposing the injustice being carried and hoping to turn our enemies into friends. We don’t seek revenge with our enemies, or overcome injustice with more violence. No; we hope to see oppressor and oppressed reconciled, and chains of injustice broken, through love in action.
The next day, we were up early to start the blockade. Candles were placed across the road, banners were up, and we stationed ourselves in front of the entrance, singing and sharing. It wasn’t long before the police came, and military personnel started lining up in their cars. After a number of failed attempts to move us out of the way, due to our persistence in continuing to block the entrance with our bodies, the police gave up and we had successfully blocked the base. After a victory song in John Farnham’s ‘You’re the Voice’, we set up camp out the front of the entrance. Picnic rugs, games, handball, kicking a footy, and hanging out together as a peaceful community: embodying the alternative to the systems of violence and domination that exist in our world.
Throughout the rest of the day and into the next, we managed to continue blocking the base, until we made the decision on Wednesday afternoon to end our blockage with a peace march through the streets of Queenscliff. Earlier on Wednesday, some of us gathered together to plant a vine and fig tree by the entrance to Swan Island, to act out an ancient prophecy found in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 of the Bible –
“They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”
We then shared the Eucharist (or ‘communion’) together, reflecting on – for us as Christians – the peaceable Kingdom that is breaking into our world; the Kingdom we strive to embody through inclusive, authentic community. Later that night, we had an opportunity to Skype the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (http://www.youthpeacevolunteers.org/); a grassroots movement of young Afghani’s seeking a life of nonviolence and non-military solutions for their country. For me, this was such an important moment. It served to give me perspective – along with the Eucharist and the planting of the vine/fig tree. These were the reasons why I chose to put myself ‘in the way’, and do my little part to non-violently ‘drive a spoke’ (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would put it) into the wheel of injustice that is the war machine. Many Afghans are calling for us to stop ‘intervening’ in their country. They’re calling for another way to progress forward, that doesn’t involve war. They’ve had enough of living under the constant terror of war and poverty. And the presence of foreign forces there isn’t helping. Have we not yet learned that the situation isn’t improving; with the thousands of civilian deaths, hundreds of our own casualties, and recent ‘green-on-blue’ attacks? The people of Afghanistan are calling out for a better future: one in which they can work towards a more peaceful future. Things haven’t improved, and we’ve just passed the 11th anniversary of the start of this unjust, unwinnable war.
As Martin Luther King Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As a follower of Jesus, I can’t sit idly in my own comfort and choose to turn a blind eye, knowing what I now know about Afghanistan. Just as I hope to work to end injustice through caring about issues of extreme poverty, the environment, homelessness, or the oppression of our own Indigenous people, I too hope to challenge injustice through non-violently resisting the war. And I will continue to do so, as I truly believe that a day will come when peace will flood the earth. As Robert F. Kennedy once said –
“Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”