Ellen Elster

We in the peace movement want to change the world, and to have some influence of the course of events which affect all our lives. But we are frequently unclear how we would like to achieve this: do we want to make changes from the bottom or from the top? Do we want to have influence at a decision-making level, or through raising consciousness at the grassroots?

We usually dream about a movement that grows from the grassroots. Isn't that what the WRI programme on nonviolence and social empowerment is all about?

On page 35 Julia Kraft describes social empowerment as a process where people find their own power and use it to shape their own lives and to influence the course of events taking place around them. They practise this power against oppression and exclusion and for participation and human rights. WRI's purpose is to bring together people who have the strength to stand against the tide of predominant ideas within their society and to resist war.

From my part of the world, Norway, I sometimes wonder if this is more a theory than a reality, or at least if there is something missing. I will give you an example.

A few years ago the campaign opposed to building new gas power-plants collected more than 2000 signatures from people who committed themselves to take action and be involved in civil disobedience if necessary. But if needed -- would they turn up? Perhaps I am being rude in questioning their commitment. But take the experiences from the antiwar campaign against the NATO bombing of Kosov@ last spring, where many people joined our protests because they wanted to do something. However, when it came to actually doing something direct, many people withdrew from the campaign -- they seemed to be afraid of getting too deeply involved.

For a while now I have observed the tendency of Norwegian NGOs to become more "professional", which means that they become more oriented towards the authorities in order to attempt to influence political decision-making, both nationally (governmental system) and internationally (eg through the UN system). This way of working takes a lot of time, and that time is spent away from the grassroots and volunteer base.

Taking this path might mean a shift of strategies for NGOs who want to try to have a larger impact in society. Is this what WRI means by influencing the course of events?
Ellen Elster lives in Norway and is on the War Resisters' International Council.

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