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The Basis of Peace is the Security of the Commons


“In order to understand a thing, one must change it.” Maria Mies

“Maintaining a culture of peace requires an economic solution.” Albino Forquilha

Peace Education is the matrix of the work of activists in social movements and is a personal commitment best described as example, example, and example. It is our task to be that example, to work and educate ourselves so we can be effective in our communities and the world. We must connect all the issues of peace to life; relate our longing for peace to the longing for justice, equity and dignity for all. Our work includes the constant articulation and examination of our vision of a peaceful world. It is how we construct that connection that we address ourselves to here today.

Educating Ourselves To Educate Others.

Herbert Marcuse said: “the success of the dominant ideology is to make unthinkable the possibility of alternatives.” Our first task is to overcome the dominant ideology that war and injustice are inevitable, that human nature is violent and warlike. That is a fallacy. Most people live their lives in peace and settle disputes without violence in their family and community life.

For people to accept policies of violence, leaders have to appeal to greed and fear as they resort to lies, half-truths and demonization of the other, blatant manipulation of patriotism and cultural differences, in other words, propaganda.

Appeals for unity and support by leaders mean that they do not want to deal with internal problems of injustice. Leaders want the powerless to fight and die for them and their benefit. They use the threat of an external enemy to perpetuate the status quo that reinforces their power and coercion and the threat of punishment to force men (mainly) to join the killing brigades. Our societies call cowards those who refuse to fight and kill.

Our education systems reinforce this ideology. School history is full of battles, brave leaders, great victories and the right to the loot of war. Militarism is a given-an accepted part of our life. Today politicians use the greatest modern tool of education or brainwashing, depending on your persuasion – television – to “educate” us all in the glory and inevitability of violence. Religious leaders, all who profess love and peace, endorse and bless violence at times of conflict.

Militarism is more than guns; it is an addiction to force, to the idea that might is right, whether in the home or the world. Militarism is such an inculcated addiction that we do not see it in our daily lives. Why do we decorate and honour those who kill? Why do we greet important visitors with an “honour guard” of armed soldiers, rather than a guard of children, street cleaners or nurses-the people who represent life in our community? Does that seem funny? Why? Is it because deep in our hearts we thrill to the power and spectacle of massed disciplined uniforms and powerful armaments? That we really do not see street cleaners or nurses as heroes of our society, or children as our hope and happiness?

Yet, some men do love to be soldiers. All cultures are full of the mythology of the bravery and beauty of dying (and killing) in war. History and literature extol the purity of military life and the comradeship of soldiers. Military life has its appeal for many men and it is more than just testosterone. In our globalized world young men face a bleak future, the unemployed marginalized men of both the minority and majority world lack purpose and place in most societies. The military offers them status, a uniform, a gun and action. Remember our horror when we learned that East Timorese youth joined Indonesian militia and harassed and killed their own people. After years of living in poverty in a militarized society the perks of the job must have been irresistible.

The Insecurity Of The Commons

In a world where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and more numerous the reason for this chasm of inequality can be found in the exploding theft of our commons. There are few geographic frontiers left for imperialist powers since the break up of the Soviet Union. Most of the world is firmly in the grip of corporate globalization. Biotechnology has invaded and is conquering the natural world, from the genes of our bodies to the secrets of plant life. A devil’s breakfast of global trade deals and institutions-WTO, TRIPS, NAFTA, FTAA, WB and IMF etc.-serve up the world and its resources to the powerful alliances of state and commerce based in the minority world, primarily the USA, and control our lives. Those that resist these forces know that globalization is backed by the threat of military conquest – the use of the world’s most powerful military allied with arms manufacturers -the only industry specifically protected under trade agreements.

Many of us thought there was nothing left to conquer, but we were wrong. Under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) we lose our commons; the fabric of our diverse societies- water, land, resources and our institutions of caring and community-is vanishing. Education and knowledge are being privatized and commodified for profit; information about our bodies and bank accounts is used without our consent.

All societies have developed experience and wisdom for the common good. From caring for the land to caring for the sick, we have found ways to serve ourselves and our communities. This wisdom is discounted if it can’t be used for profit or privatized so it can be. We are in danger of destroying the concept and practice of sharing for the public good. Under the GATS regime nongovernment service organizations and government services at all levels, from health to public utilities to museums, will be forced to privatize-sell out to profit making corporations.

In British Columbia, everything from the administration of public electricity to ferry services to maintenance of health institutions to the sale of alcohol is being privatized by a corporate-controlled government showing the way to destruction of the commons even before GATS is finalized.

This shatters the concept of public service.

Where workers are unionized, unions are under attack. Workers in privatized facilities either lose their jobs permanently or must accept poorer wages and working conditions. Many jobs in Canada have been moved to India, where cyber technology makes it possible for the job to be done for a fraction of the cost here.

Our shops sell goods made in Asian and Latin American sweatshops where women and girls work in appalling hardship to support their families dispossessed by global agriculture agreements and loss of land to corporate agriculture. Other women are forced into the global sex trade and unprotected foreign domestic labour. For unemployed young men with wounded pride and anger, crime and violence in their own families and communities are preparation for military careers. Women are not liberated by the almost slave labour of globalized production, but they are used up and discarded when they outwear their usefulness. Their value to their own societies is diminished. When women move out of communities there is a breakdown in the commons of community cooperation, societies become unstable as traditional values, and their wisdom is no longer respected. Women and migrant workers, generally, are mistreated abroad, but few governments are willing to protect their migrant workers because they send back large sums of vital foreign currency home. They are often the main source of external income for many countries. Globalization makes a military life appear attractive to men who think they have no other future. At the same time, injustice, scarcity and privatization are presented as ethnic and religious differences. Patriotism creates paranoia. People who no longer have a place in a stable community and who drift to seek work or opportunity are easy prey for diversionary war propaganda. Globalization, 3 the greed of corporations and complicit politicians, is not blamed for destruction of social and natural environments; particularly not by corporate media who fan the flames of civil strife and never present alternatives to the seeming inevitability of globalization and militarism – nor give reports of peacemaking within areas of conflict. War, like spanking, is even presented as kindness.

Disconnection Is Critical For A System Based On Profit

In Wild Politics Susan Hawthorne explains that disconnection is vital for the success of globalization and accompanying use of force. Children have books where they must draw lines between dots to reveal the picture hidden in the disconnection. It is time we connect the dots and understand the global powers that influence our most private thoughts and affect our daily lives. In Canada, like India, are citizens who live, sleep and die on the streets. More than one billion people live on 40 rupees ($1.25) a day. In the USA every person contributes 120 rupees daily to military spending; in the European Union, every cow gets 80 rupees a day in subsidies.

Without connection, peace and security based on cooperative use of the commons are abstract mysteries with no power to inspire or motivate us. Only the acceptance of universal connectedness will end our alienation and create understanding of consequence.

Saskatchewan is home to a peaceful population of hard working people; it was also a Canadian pioneer in social programs although it is not our richest province. About 25 years ago social democrat politicians there made the decision to allow the mining and export of uranium. (Canada is the world’s largest exporter of uranium.) Their rationale was that as agricultural revenue declined the mines would pay for social programs. That uranium fuels nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons, and lies in mounds of so-called depleted uranium used in weapons in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Twenty nations of the world, including Canada, stock depleted uranium weapons in their arsenals. Depleted uranium spreads deadly radiation that will go on killing until our sun goes dark. How can nice people decide that poisoning another nation’s environment is a fair price for their health and social programs? Do they have to see, as I did in Iraq, a hospital full of blind, deformed, tumour filled babies before they understand?

The founder of McDonald’s industrial food said:

“We cannot trust people who are non-conformists. We will make conformists out them in a hurry. The organization cannot trust individuals; the individual must trust the organization.” There is little difference between that expression and the slogan**: “My country, right or wrong.”** Of the world’s 100 largest economies, 50 are corporations. Corporatism is overtaking patriotism, using the same weapons of propaganda and power.

The commons of shared wisdom and the ability to make connections are crushed to ensure the success of globalization and militarization. Government policy is also being privatized. Corporations and right wing think tanks with their vast budgets now virtually dictate policy and formulate trade agreements for compliant governments who manipulate the public. In the film, THE CORPORATION, the director of The Fraser Institute which advises the British Columbia and Canadian governments proudly said:

“I will not be happy until every square inch of the planet is privatized.”

Marcuse’s alternatives are being relentlessly destroyed; regional and community interests are being replaced by globalized theft. The commons of communication is lost as most of the world’s media, including so-called entertainment, is dominated by corporate greed and deceit. Media has become the most powerful form of social control. History and memory are obliterated by media, governments and education systems. People cannot realize their vision of justice and peace without securing the commons of shared history, communication and wisdom. When vast numbers of people leave their own societies to become refugees, migrant workers, soldiers and economic flotsam on shifting economies, they lose their commons, their culture. Their departure weakens their home communities as war and globalization cause mass human movement across the globe.

Conclusions And Action

We are all educators. If we are committed to our cause of peace, it is a lifetime commitment.

We must restore, create and disseminate our own commons of knowledge and history. We cannot depend on an information system that denies the possibility of peaceful alternatives. “**We can be our own media” (**Rosalie Bertell, at the UN Women’s Forum in 1995). We can be our own writers, musicians, publishers, film makers, historians, artists and teachers. Being our own media means to present the basis of peace as more than understanding of a particular conflict, useful as that is.

The global pillage of our commons by globalization and militarism is creating more poverty and injustice daily as a few gain obscene wealth. Wealth is the problem to be addressed, not poverty. Many poor people live a vulnerable life of constant danger, 4 but the wealthy feel threatened by the majority and very threatened by those of us who present positive alternatives to economic and military violence. It is the rich who are truly vulnerable; they live in heavily guarded enclaves, hoping money, armies and weapons can save them.

Peace education embraces the necessity of regaining, enhancing and developing democracy and human dignity as the basis of peaceful world. To have a world of peace we must develop a cooperative self-sufficiency as security against global violence and over consumption. Wealth is dignity and freedom from want and fear – not the accumulation of money and goods. National wealth can be transformed into a secure commons, including fair taxes and an end to the spiral of military spending.

Most countries signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and swore to uphold and enforce them, yet rarely enforce publicly committed moral obligations to treat one other as equal; that includes women, those of other religions or background, the disabled and children. Our governments say they must comply with trade agreements so they change our laws and living conditions, nearly always to the detriment of the common good; but disrespect, violence and abuse of other people are still tolerated and incorporated in law. Yet there has been some progress.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell says in Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War that a fundamental change in core values is possible and has many precedents. Many societies have changed their values about women, children, animals, and people of different sexual preference. The changed values are recognized and some are legislated as public attitudes have changed, even if they are not always adhered to. The Declaration of Human Rights is the basis for a peaceful world.

Conflict this decade is based on the lust for oil or the lust for minerals and plant resources and water: from Colombia to Myanmar, Iraq to Uzbekistan, and East Timor to Nigeria. Peace workers connect the issues and peace action includes reclaiming the world’s resources for shared sustainable use. We can be optimistic about the new awareness of today’s activism. We are finally connecting the dots of greedy corporations, rampant arms trade, consumerism posing as happiness, the glorification of violence, trade deals and conflicts where the most vulnerable-the unarmed-are killed, raped, injured, and displaced.

Fair trade has become popular and widespread. There are successful campaigns against sweatshop labour; ethical investment is growing in the minority world as ethical shopping and voluntary simplicity gain acceptance. We are organizing successful boycotts against corporations who profit from and fund war, destroy the environment and abuse their workers and deny them basic human rights. The growing reaction against the WTO and other trade agreements, started by social movements, is being adopted by some governments.

The USA-UK war on Iraq was not stopped by the millions who organized against it. Success will require more than 5 million people demonstrating on one day; we will have to organize 500 million, a critical mass. The peace movement matured in this struggle. It made the links between militarism and the global theft of resources. We saw the commons being invaded and grabbed. We learned that peace, justice, cooperation, democracy and sustainability are inseparable.

Everywhere the dominant paradigm of violence and greed is being challenged by a new paradigm based on cooperation and compassion. Hopeful links are forged between political and social movements, particularly in Brazil, Venezuela and Bolivia. As our movement matures, we develop new political actions that are not based on elitism or hierarchy, which cannot be corrupted or co-opted. We build our visions as we oppose the corrupt systems in power; we shall construct as we deconstruct these unjust, unsustainable structures. This is the greatest challenge facing our movement today-to take power and use it wisely-and one we all need to take home and discuss. Our future as educators and activists is in the work of transforming our visions into action. This new global resistance in all its diversity — from the forests of British Columbia to the streets of Washington and London, the river valleys of India to the farmland of the world-is all wonderfully connected. Our resistance, based on a vision of peace, justice, sharing and love will overcome greed, violence and deceit. Diverse, grassroots, non-hierarchical — and connected — movements are the model for the peaceful future we are determined to build. Creative resistance gives our lives meaning and develops the compassionate will to work; it gives the lie to the imperative of selfish consumption, gives truth to our deepest longing, it gives us companions in the struggle who never cease to inspire and help us.

A culture of peace is a culture of economic and social justice and respect for all life.

Knowing is not enough; act for peace and justice.

Theresa Wolfwood Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation, Victoria, BC CANADA

A longer version of this paper, originally presented in Jaipur, India (2004) is available at



Bertell, Rosalie. Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War. Women’s Press. UK. Chossudovsky, Michel. The Globalization of Poverty. Third World Network. Malaysia. Hawthorne, Susan. Wild Politics. Spinifex Press. Australia. Mies, Maria. with Vandana Shiva. Ecofeminism. Zed Books. UK. Mies, Maria with V. Bennholdt-Thomsen. The Subsistence Perspective. Zed Books. UK.


Wolfwood, Theresa. Creating a Culture of Peace: one less weapon at a time-a story from Mozambique.

Wolfwood, Theresa and other speakers at Women Stop the GATS conference, Cologne, Germany. English report: and


Briarpatch, Canada. CCPA Monitor, Canada Peace News, UK Press for Conversion, Canada. The Ecologist, UK. The New Internationalist, UK & Canada Third World Resurgence, Malaysia.

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