from Ireland's 'organizer and host', Rob Fairmichael
The morning plenaries opened with somebody telling their own personal story in 15 or 20 minutes. These were always an inspiring start to the day. We all face difficult struggles of varying kinds; some may be more mundane, some more dangerous and risky, some more varied, but all represent the struggle of an individual to be true to themselves and to overcome violence and live nonviolence. Siva Ramamoorthy's journey from nonviolence to violence and on to nonviolence in Sri Lanka was one; the gun which he felt would liberate him became with time a burden and a pain. But keeping the faith in the face of the mundane can be difficult in a different way. While we listened to people who might be considered to have a particularly interesting story I hope that part of the message is that anyone there could be sitting in the hot seat telling their story. We all have a story. And that was part of the Triennial message as well.
The theme groups which participants followed for four mornings in a row were at the heart of the Triennial conference. This was where people had a chance to really get to grips with one topic.
After lunch there was an opportunity to take part in workshops which anyone could offer, i.e. if you wanted to put on a workshop you put on a workshop and if people were interested they came.
This is an important counterpoint to the morning programme in that it allows everyone an equal opportunity. There were a few people from around Ireland that I was involved in specifically inviting to run workshops. Again I would assume a very varied response but there was a broad choice so hopefully something for everyone. And there was also an opportunity for specialist interest groups regarding work with women, or nonviolence training, to get together.
The evening plenaries, after dinner, were a time when people were already getting tired but an opportunity for everyone to hear usually a few presentations and engage in plenary debate. As well as different aspects of story-telling and strategising from several continents, this included Glencree talking about their work primarily with victims and combatants of the Northern Ireland troubles. One interesting story that I heard from Michael Randle in the evening plenary was the origin of the CND symbol (also featured in Peace News (Culture and Resistance. PN 2448) in a piece by Andrew Rigby) -use that next time someone accuses it of being a 'broken cross'! Florencia Mallon's point about honouring the stories that don't make it into the history books was an important one. Analysis was made of changes since 11th September 2001. And it is always a privilege to hear directly the stories of struggles that people are engaged in, whether in West Papua, Vieques, Israel or elsewhere.
There is a difficult act to do in arranging enough social and cultural programme and not too much. After a day's work, with an ending time for plenaries at 9.30 pm, 10.00 pm is a realistic starting time and this is already late for many people, particularly for those not native (English language) speakers for whom listening to English as lingua franca was tiring.
An excellent local drama production (The Day the Music Died by a community drama group from Finglas) was an amazingly human, and at times humorous (without detracting at all from the seriousness of the topic) look at a seminal event in the troubles in Northern Ireland. It was really impressive, both play and presentation. Also impressive in a different way was Mary Begley and friends leading traditional music sessions several evenings (a number of participants contributed songs).
My own contribution was playing music to a written paper I had produced which everyone received, 'Musical musings on Irish history and culture'. This intended (in 22 or 23 pieces over a couple of hours) to both run through various aspects of Irish history and culture, and to introduce a range of Irish musicians, singers and groups so people had a quick introduction. The edited paper will be included on the INNATE website (look under 'Other resources' on the home page). It was two and a half thousand years of Irish history and culture in two and a half hours. The final celebration/party evening only started after 10pm; in future I would recommend the business programme ending at 6.00 pm so people get a decent evening of it. Irish musician Tommy Sands was great, but it was too late for some people to attend or perform in the extempore performances which we hoped. That said, it did not prevent inveterate night owls partaking in a drumming session which kept on until nearly 3 a.m. -I was pleasantly surprised that DCU's security men let it run until then. We were certainly going out with a bang.
Meeting old friends and making new ones is an essential part of such a gathering. That and the craic and story telling that goes along with it. How could you not be amused as Gernot Lennert 'proves' that Ireland is really Turkish? Or laugh with the antics of assorted performances, intentionally humorous or not.
On the free afternoon a 'marketplace' where locals offered various trips in various directions around Dublin to the internationals. I led a group of twenty or more on a guided tour around the centre of Dublin, giving the socio-political spin along with personal anecdotes. (I forgot to tell them about the time the car we were in was swooped on outside the GPO, one special branch car in front, one behind, and we were questioned -all for being dangerous disarmament activists in a 'neutral' state!).
A home stay programme enabled Triennial goers to stay with Irish hosts for a few days. Many people were fixed up with accommodation during the Triennial or afterwards either informally or through the WRI structures. And despite the relatively small numbers for the pre-organised home stay programme I think it was important to offer it, both for those who wanted to be organised and for those who might not have got to meet people who would offer them accommodation. The opportunity to stay in homes was an important component of being in Ireland and it is something I would like to see for future Triennials.
We had a small but useful seminar in Belfast, with WRI Triennial attenders from four continents, the Monday after the Triennial ended.
Small groups of internationals travelled during the Trienniale to visit local activists, or to take part in local peace events. E.g Hiroshima day.
Business sessions topped and tailed the Triennial. One question of debate was whether the next Council (annual meeting) should take place in Columbia or whether it should be a stand alone conference. So it was a question of how to engage with the Colombian situation, and engage with Colombian activists, rather than whether to (it was decided to hold the 2003 Council there). Another piece of business encouraged engagement on the anniversary of the attacks on the USA on 11th September.There were less people than anticipated, a couple of hundred in total. A conclusion on the content might be that there were too many stories and not enough strategies. While involvement from Ireland was lower than I would have liked, I got the impression that those who did come and engage got a tremendous amount out of it, and I hope that INNATE will be able to maintain a relationship with most of these people.
There were people we knew wanted to come (i.e. people we had links with) who were not granted visas, e.g. from Kinshasa, Congo. The Department of Foreign Affairs' ruling that people had to have travelled outside their own country before (and returned) before getting a visa to Ireland was both insulting and illogical -but we did know there were people who wanted to get a booking simply to get into the country. If Foreign Affairs used as part of the criteria whether people had links with the organisation concerned, or shown involvement in the same field, then they would have been on more solid ground.
There were many, many great people there. I include in this very substantially the workcampers, provided through Voluntary Service International (SCI) who were impressive and did a fantastic job; without them the logistics could not have functioned. Likewise the interpreters who kept Babel babbling on. The daily magazine provided an instant record and news of what was happening that day. Ordinary activists and individuals from around the globe were often inspiring. The WRI staff kept their remarkable cool throughout. And after all was said and done I did feel privileged that the Triennial had come to Ireland and to have been part of such an event.