Revitalising the Peace Movement for the 21st Century

ACTIVISM, 21 Aug 2023

Vijay Mehta – TRANSCEND Media Service

United We Stand–Divided We Fall

18 Aug 2023 – With a barely existing peace movement worldwide and a decline of the left and its ideas and values of freedom, social equality, progress and internationalism, how can we make peace activism work? Instead of being passive, helpless spectator, how can we uplift our focus on hope, be an optimist for building citizen power and be bold enough to use it for positive change and building a more peaceful and compassionate world?

What Is Peace Activism and Why It Is More Important Today than Ever

What is peace activism, why is it more important today than ever. When our causes are united, our movements should be too but why is it difficult. How can 21st Century peace and justice activists succeed in peace activism by uniting their organisations for achieving their goals as some well known movements have done in the past and are doing now.

According to Gene Sharp, an activist is a person who diligently and repeatedly tries to achieve some social, economic or political objective, especially by participation in protests, pressure, organising or resistance. Activists are at the core of most collective actions and are prepared to enter significant costs and act to achieve their goals. Sometimes they act alone, but often they seek to draw others into collection.

Activism is action that goes beyond conventional politics, typically being more courageous, energetic, passionate, innovative and committed for changing the policies of decision makers, leaders and governments by taking the destiny in your own hand to change the course of history. Although not automatically a pacifist, a peace activist chooses non-violent methods to prevent or end violent conflicts, to end non democratic rule, and to organise transition processes that are as peaceful as possible. In doing so, building bridges via dialogue with adversary is key. Today, activism is based on using old methods of protests with the new communication technologies of today, smart or mobile phones, social media, internet based crowd-sourcing etc.

Why peace activism is important, urgent and why it is needed more today than ever to bring meaningful change?  Because evil forces like populism, nationalism and militarism are rising and becoming a dominant force undermining peaceful, liberal values of democracy, freedom, civil liberties and rule of law. The world is being ripped apart by global corporations and international government alliances who are pushing for war, environmental destruction, economic exploitation fuelled by endless capitalist greed, hateful divisive ideologies including curtailing of human rights and civil liberties.

Global rivalries are mounting between US vs North Korea, Saudi Arabia vs Iran, China vs Japan, West vs Russia a serious situation which can trigger into a major war in the near future or a Third World War with the horrendous possibility of use of nuclear weapons. The warfare is already on full display and tearing apart in Ukraine, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Libya with death tolls in thousands, including mounting tensions and confrontations between Israel and Palestine. Gun violence is on the rise with American citizens are over-armed with nearly 400 million guns. According to Gun Violence Archive, weaponry has killed 24,000 people this year alone and already more than number of civilians killed in Ukraine and Sudan combined.

Our Causes Are ConnectedOur Movements Should Be Too

This dangerous and volatile situation we are in, it has become difficult to bring peace, exasperated by movements working on their own and not working together and hence failing to generate momentum for change. How do we break the hierarchy of elites – military, leaders, corporations, media who have a common agenda of continuing permanent wars, hegemony, exploitation of resources. Once we confront this reality, the answer becomes clear. We need to mobilise together to bring change to stop wars and militarism.

We live in an interdependent world in which most of the global issues (poverty, wars, terrorism, human rights violations, climate change crisis etc.) are interlinked. So for us in the peace movement, we need to create global frame works and mechanisms for taking actions on interconnected global issues by a united , holistic and multi lateral approach in collectively dealing with the threats and challenges of today.

How to Be a 21st Century Peace Activist

As a peace activist, how do we analyse TV’s airing of CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera displaying hourly barrages of human suffering and senseless murders coming from all corners of the globe? How do we understand political leaders and corporations of countries that need war to stay united in power and in profit. These war profiteers seek to propagate fear and perpetuate existential threats, so they get the support of government and public for the proliferation of ever more weapons and the required funds to continue permanent war agenda.

So how must a peace activist take meaningful actions to make the biggest impact of peace in the world? For this, we have to remember that firstly, the power resides in the people themselves. Government of the people can only work if they have the consent to be governed. Government requires the cooperation of the people, if the cooperation is withdrawn, the government will come to a standstill.

The strength of non-violence is so inherently powerful that it can sometimes succeed despite a lack of strategy or even a bad strategy. How to plan and implement a non-violent strategy for our own campaign and liberation struggle is the key to success.

Gandhi’s campaign for India’s Independence was based on truth, non-violence and love. He used this strategy to empower individuals, community organising (to village to national level) and the application of strategic non-violent action. He used a full range of social movement approaches including structure and momentum driven organisations focusing on concrete, winnable goals.

The handbook for non-violent campaigns lists four roles – the rebel, the reformer, the citizen and the change agent as four essential roles of activism which need to be present and can work efficiently for the movement to succeed.

The rebel is one who through non-violent direct action puts the problem / issue on the political agenda. The reformer is the one, who in the failure of existing channels promote alternative solutions and propose reforms to consolidate the movement’s success. The citizens make sure that the movement does not lose contact with its main constituency. It acts at the centre of society and protect against oppression. The change agent is the fourth and key role in any movement as it promotes education and convince the majority of the society to organise grassroots networks and promote long term strategies. While there are certainly tensions between the different roles, it is important to recognise that each has its own value within a social movement for its ultimate success.

The biggest opportunity today is to harness the potential of approximately 1.8 billion young people in the world, to train them in non-violent techniques to ignite their potential for peace and justice. We should get youth around the world actively involved in organisations, social movements, civic initiatives for peace-building, social justice, human rights and working to address violence and conflict issues in our communities, countrywide and internationally. By building a global solidarity and linking together, practitioners, activists, organisations and movements we can bring about fundamental shifts in how the world deals with conflicts, replacing war, ending global weapons industry with practical and effective means of overcoming them.

Some Examples of Peace and Justice Campaigns

There are countless amazing social movements who are doing exciting work in different regions of the world in the past and now that deserve to be celebrated. Some of such examples are, India’s Independence Movement, which non-violently achieved independence from the British in 1947, French (1789), Russian (1917) Revolutions and US Civil Rights movement (1950 – 1960).

To our credit, the peace movement was instrumental in ending the cold war and it had an enduring effect and a major impact in US government’s decision in not using a nuclear bomb to end the Vietnam War. That was all due to strong US, UK and other European peace movements.

The most remarkable progress in 2017, was ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) being awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons. With a very small team of workers in Geneva, ICAN was launched in 2007 and it interacted with over 468 partner organisations in 101 countries worldwide for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Popular movements involved in fighting the white supremacy, corporate greed and militarism, have reported a massive surge in engagement and support like the Women’s march and Black Lives Matter and many more. Black Lives Matter is an international activist movement, originating in the African-American community, that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people.

The shooting in Florida in 2018 produced a movement ‘Never Again’, where high school students in Parkland, Florida protested in thousands in rallies to demand gun control. Their authentic heroism, courage and determination, of these remarkable youth, can make a dent in the permanent militarism siege mentality.

Way Forward

Peace, anti-war, anti-nuclear, Human Rights, development, environment, and other organisations all need to work together for building a world that can end continuous violence, permanent wars and endless suffering.

Dalai Lama said, ‘Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, but one’s family or nation but for the benefit for the all human kind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for World Peace.’

How can we make the impossible happen? By having a vision and working for it. When president John F Kennedy set the challenge of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade in 1960’s he had no idea how it could or would be done, but he had a vision. When Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment, he believed that he and many others would one day walk free. In the beginning he had no idea how it could or would be done but he had a vision. When William Wilberforce famously committed to abolishing the slave trade, he had no idea of how it could or would be done, but he had a vision. Each took the first step without a roadmap, they committed their lives to a vision of a better world and the impossible happened and their vision became true.

We need partners between peace, human rights and environmental organisations along with leaders to solve some of the most urgent and pressing problems of eradicating poverty and inequality, mitigating climate change crisis and elimination of militarism and wars. So we need to work together in cooperation and partnership.

One of the paradigm shifts is the citizen’s ability to change, the virtue of alternative ways to resolve conflict with advocacy for establishing Ministries for Peace at Cabinet level and creating Peace Centres for spreading peace and managing divisions and communal violence.

Howard Zinn once said, ‘Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people can transform the world.’

Eventually, the power of all of us working together will bring change for building a peaceful future. Change happens when people demand change. Working together will bring change. Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. We all here and in the wider world hold the keys to unlock a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future as we are innovators, change-makers of today and tomorrow. We can move mountains if we work together.


Vijay Mehta is an author and peace activist. He is chair of Uniting for Peace, founding trustee of Fortune Forum charity, and board member of GAMIP-Global Alliance for Ministries and Infrastructures for Peace. His books include: The Economics of Killing (Pluto Press, 2012); Peace Beyond Borders (New Internationalist, 2016; and the most recent How Not To Go To War (New Internationalist, 2019) where he proposes that in countries and communities, in governments, private institutions and media, Peace Departments and Peace Centres be established to report on and promote peace.

Tags: ,

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Aug 2023.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Revitalising the Peace Movement for the 21st Century, is included. Thank you.

If you enjoyed this article, please donate to TMS to join the growing list of TMS Supporters.

Share this article:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

Comments are closed.