Reflection on the Raising Peace Festival

Wies Schuiringa,  New South Wales Regional Meeting

Some things seem like a good idea at the time and then grow into a substantial enterprise. Early 2020, Quakers were invited to join a small group of peace organisations in Sydney to participate in an in-person exhibition by peace organisations in the week of 21 September to coincide with the UN Day of Peace. The peace and justice committee in NSWRM had not been very active for a while and I was interested enough to find out what this invitation was about and if Quakers could raise its profile at such an exhibition. Covid19 had not entered our country or lives, remember those days, and I thought that our WW1 banners might get another airing at this exhibition.

Our witness for peace comes in many ways and is anchored in our Meeting for Worship.  At our in-person Yearly Meetings we often had a local, public witness for peace, our Quaker grannies held several public demonstrations, Quakers are involved with other organisations such as Mayors for Peace or Religions for Peace, Quakers support ICAN and IPAN. The Peace Testimony is a cornerstone of our Quaker faith and practice; it is important in our personal lives or smaller circles and is also a witness to the wider community that this is a valid value and cause to pursue. As we become an ageing and smaller faith community, our working together with other organisations might become more important to be able to “hold our banners high” for the cause of peace.

Due to Covid19, the 2020 event was reduced to one short afternoon with a restricted audience. There was no exhibition and several speakers addressed the more political angle of the world’s inability to curb militarism. I attended hesitantly as Covid19 was about.

Early 2021, before the Delta variant hit, the plan was revived to have an in-person exhibition by peace organisations in September. I had started to organise the agendas for our Raising Peace Zoom meetings and chair the meetings to get a focus on what would be possible. Word had started to spread and other organisations were showing an interest to join. A program developed for themed days with talks and films, speakers were approached, display areas measured up and divided between organisations. In July the Delta variant had come to Sydney and we pivoted to a Zoom only event that had become an 11- day festival by now.

Some highlights of sessions

It was decided to have the first full day organised by Indigenous organisations and four substantial sessions developed.

The keynote speaker was the ambassador of Costa Rica to Australia, Mr Armando Vargas Araya. In 1949 Costa Rica abolished its army and has not had a standing army since. The constitution enshrines the right to peace and neutrality. Costa Rica has been under threat of invasion by its neighbouring countries that was settled by negotiation and assistance by international mediators. The ambassador strongly condemned the military expenditure around the world and called for civil society to speak up. Costa Rica is by far the most stable country in Central America. Education and health services are free.

Access was organised, for 48 hours, to watch the film The Third Harmony on a screen at home. This excellent film documents the global non-violence movement in-depth. The following day a panel discussion about the film was organized and the film’s author, Michael Nagler, retired academic joined from the USA. The discussion was also in-depth and moving as the author said that he had wanted to make the film for decades and is everything he has stood for in his life. I can highly recommend that we, Quakers organise to see is this film and be inspired to work for peace.

Reflection on organising the festival

I felt that the process to organise the festival became based on Quaker processes: a distributed model of decision making, all ideas respectfully heard, session organisers encouraged and supported to find their speakers and to develop their preferred session format as well as to ask for help if they needed it. A trust developed that each session organiser and participating organisation would be working well. Few of the organisers had ever met in-person and it was surprising that such a cohesive subculture developed on Zoom. Attendance at the meetings remained high, between 15 and 20 people right up to the last week before the festival. The mood at that meeting was “bring it on, we are ready”.

It was agreed to have a website to support the Raising Peace festival to hold information from the participating organisations, some recordings of the talks, articles, list upcoming events and actions, etc. In this way, the website would extend the impact of the festival as otherwise, apart from photos and personal memories, all would be gone. The AYM peace and social justice fund made funding available to support the development and maintenance of the website. At this stage, the event was still going to be in-person.

As the event grew and more organisations joined, the website became essential for information about each of the 37 sessions and to provide the link for the Eventbrite session registrations for the 1055 people who registered to attend sessions. The website now also holds the Zoom recordings of each of the sessions.

The evaluation of the festival has been very positive and a need expressed for more events that show a diversity of working for peace: from developing personal and interpersonal peaceful attitudes and habits to local initiatives for more peaceful relationships to actions to curb militarism at national and international levels. The subject areas covered a wide range: Indigenous relationships, the environment, education, faith, women’s organisations, international relationships, the future of peace in Afghanistan, Pacific countries, UN peacekeepers. There was no indication that one way of working for peace was regarded as more relevant or important than other ways.

The festival started on the day of the AUKUS announcement and in the previous week Kabul had fallen to the Taliban. Militarism with its make-belief of glory and with its abject failures became part of the festival presentations. There is a hunger for a different narrative, a different identity as to who we are as a nation and not be swept up in the magnificence of war technology, our export earnings from this, the forgetting of the utter misery of violence begetting more violence and the perceived irrelevance of working for peace.

What started as a mild interest to join several peace organisations and to show the WW1 banners at an in-person exhibition has become a significant movement that acknowledges working for peace in its many different ways.

Raising Peace in 2022

Raising Peace will be holding a three day event in Sydney around Anzac Day and another event around the 21st of September in 2022. These events will be in-person as well as on Zoom. Have a look at the website.


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