New Humanist

My March for Peace and Nonviolence

By Tony Robinson

First of all I have to say that I never planned to do this March!

In the end I did over 50 days of March I have been to 30 different countries in 4 different continents and by the time I reach home in Poland I will have taken 38 flights, spent around 200 hours on a bus and slept in at least 50 different beds!

What can I say about such an experience now?

First of all this for me has been the opportunity of a life time.  I have experienced the best of human kindness and witnessed the effects of the worst of humanity.  I have laughed a lot and I have sometimes been moved to tears.

In Japan we met Hibakusha, the bomb survivors.  One of whom said to us, “Thank you, oh, thank you!  It’s so important.”  I was translating these words while trying not to cry due to feelings of such great empathy for the terrible suffering that this lady has lived through and feeling totally unworthy of her thanks.  Rafa took her hand and led her to the microphone where he spoke to the crowd and while she held the World March banner.  When you are hugged by someone who has survived an atomic bomb, what you do as a human being becomes much more important.

In Korea we heard from families who have been divided for over 50 years by a disgusting barbed-wire fence that divides a people with a history going back over 5000 years.  You ask yourself, “How can this be?”  The people ask you to make the whole world know about this situation, to make it public and a source of international condemnation like the Berlin Wall was.  But today we have walls in many places: Israel-Palestine, USA-Mexico, South and North Korea, and the walls that you can’t see: the border controls that appear harmless until the moment that you discover that you share your name with someone on a list of criminals, or until you discover that you don’t have the required visa; and the walls in our minds, the difficulty to treat others as you want to be treated, the difficulty to recognise the humanity in people who are so very different to us, the difficulty to communicate with people who speak different languages and have a different way of thinking.  This March was also about bringing down these walls.

In Bosnia, we heard from activists who feel that they live in a pause between two wars: the last war and the next war that is sure to come because when peace is imposed without any steps taken towards reconciliation you can be sure that physical violence is not very far away.

In Serbia and Kosovo, we saw the results of war in the ruined buildings and the destroyed streets of Belgrade and Prishtina and for just one second you think you can imagine the horror of living in a place like that in the moment when the bombs are dropping, not knowing if this will be your last few seconds of life.  Of course, you can’t really imagine that horror, because what ever you can imagine is nothing compared to what the real horror is like.

In Mexico and Guatemala we heard about the problems of people smuggling; people who are struggling to find a way to make some money to support their desperately poor family members back home and you hear about the women who travel alone in search of work and who are therefore considered to be no more than common prostitutes worthy of rape, slavery, enforced prostitution and even death; because who would miss a common prostitute?

In Colombia we heard about the interminable wars between government and paramilitary forces, we heard about hostages, and teenage daughters worried sick about their fathers.  You see a country where 364 days of the year the theme is violence and on just one day of the year; when the World March is in town, the newspapers talk of peace.

In Bolivia, we saw for ourselves the disgusting situation of economic violence, the result of 500 years of naked exploitation by a colonial power which left their own descendents in charge to continue the exploitation, and you see the hope in a new indigenous led government – the government of Evo Morales – that, through a process of building a new constitution, nationalising the country’s natural resources, and repossessing land from landowners who had no right to the land in the first place, has brought pride back to peoples who used the tool of nonviolence – the ballot box – to create social change.

With this March not only have we witnessed the horrors, we have also seen that we were carrying the hopes of millions of people and we have learned as much as possible about nonviolent social change from the many examples we have met along the way.  As Dr Bernard Lafayette, Martin Luther King’s colleague, said to us in New York, “this March is not about yourselves, this is about your children and about the children who are yet to be born.”

In this March we have recognised the same music of rebellion against a violent system even if we have heard this same music played with different instruments.  We have felt the certainty that the music we are playing is the music that can change the world we live in.  To paraphrase Silo, we are a rainbow of diversity, we now know that the softness of our water can break apart the hard rocks.  And like David in front of an insolent Goliath, this March has shown the world that we can bring down those things that have seemed so solid and impenetrable until now.

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