Ain’t Gonna Study War: World Peace Forum 2006

Do we need another social forum-style gathering, with more meetings, seminars, workshops and plenary sessions? When it comes to the international struggle for peace, the answer is yes. With a cabal of cynical militarists aiming to perpetuate US imperialism through war, torture, spying and repression, the need for a global peace movement is stronger than ever. This is the idea motivating World Peace Forum 2006.

World Peace Forum 2006 will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia from June 23-28 and will bring together thousands of activists from dozens of international and local organizations to launch a global strategy for peace. Jef Keighley, executive director of the World Peace Forum told Political Affairs by telephone, “We want to use the process to come to a more conscious strategy of building a culture of peace and sustainability.”

Keighley pointed out that the World Peace Forum was loosely based on the ideas that have brought hundreds of thousands of people around the world to places like Caracas, Venezuela, Mumbai, India, and Porto Alegre, Brazil for the last three World Social Forums. The difference, he adds, is that the world social forums were organized with the specific point of not coming to a united conclusion or concrete agenda.

“We want to come to a conclusion,” Keighley noted. “We want to do social engineering to change public opinion about rampant military spending.”

The ultimate goal is to discuss and decide on measures that will “bring about a consciousness around the world where rampant military spending while people and the environment go wanting is social reprehensible,” Keighley added.

Alfred Marder, a member of the international advisory committee for the forum and president of the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities, echoed Keighley’s sentiment. “Hopefully there will be thousands of people coming to the Peace Forum who will be willing to work under the rubric of cities and communities working together to end war and build a peaceful, just and sustainable world,” Marder noted.

“I believe there will be a tremendous turnout,” he added.

Though many of the activities will take aim at the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, the picture is much bigger and more long-term. Keighley said that World Peace Forum’s long-term aim is to organize ways to convince civic politicians and city governments to adopt cultures of peace.

Vancouver, British Columbia is one of several dozen member cities with the UN-affiliated International Association of Peace Messenger Cities. As such it has a strong tradition of peace advocacy. For example, when the Canadian government, then under Liberal Party rule, agreed to the US missile defense “shield,” Vancouverites and the city government symbolically rejected the federal government’s decision and declared their city a “nuclear free zone.”

In fact, the idea for holding the World Peace Forum 2006 itself was sparked by members of the city council’s Peace and Justice Committee and quickly won the support of the city council.

Recent elections, however, have shifted the balance of power in the city council. Right-wing Mayor Sam Sullivan ordered the withdrawal of the city’s financial support for some of the events without consulting the organizations affected. Forum organizers expressed their regret that the majority in the city government “turned its back” on representatives of other cities around the world who are planning to attend the forum.

In a prepared statement, Forum organizers said, “At a time when global tensions are escalating, cities working together to promote peace constitute a new and dynamic force for peace efforts.” Organizers will continue to work with participants, the city government and other parties to make sure the funding is available and that the events continue as planned. A campaign to reverse the mayor’s decision was launched and literally thousands of e-mails and letters flooded his office. According to Marder, the forum will go forward regardless of the mayor’s decision. Keighley emphasized that the local approach to international peacemaking is crucial because cities, more than ever, are centers were huge portions of the world’s populations live. People depend on city governments to provide crucial services. But if national and international resources are wasted on nuclear arms buildups, so-called missile defense, aircraft carriers and war, those services cannot be delivered and people suffer.

This important issue will be highlighted during the 18th General Assembly of the International Association of Peace Messenger Cities to be held as a special session of the forum. Greg Speeter, president of the US-based National Priorities Project, will deliver a special report on the costs of war and militarization to US cities with a special focus on Detroit, Michigan.

Keighley said that decades-long project that will come out of forum aims to force military contractors to hold a bake sale to raise funds for aircraft carriers by creating “sufficient change in global political thinking” and funding priorities.

The forum will also focus on specific issues relevant to local communities. Ugandan participants will discuss the need to de-mine their country after decades of civil war, to abolish the kidnapping of young children to participate in militias, and to adopt policies that promote sustainability and stability. International women activists will hold meetings on domestic violence, women’s leadership in the peace movement and the call for economic and social justice.

Keighley also noted the importance of bringing people from the US to the forum. “We want a ton of Americans to come,” he said. Given the dominance of the US and its military, building momentum for a peaceful culture in the US is more important than ever.

Marder, who is also president of the US Peace Council, expects that US residents will make the journey to Vancouver in large numbers. Vancouver, he said, is close, it is a wonderful site to hold the forum, and it is relatively easy for people from the US to make it. But he warned that US people need to be prepared to listen and learn. “Sometimes we think we are smart, but if that is so why aren’t we able to stop our own leaders?” Marder wondered.

The US-based United for Peace and Justice coalition will chair a special plenary organized by the No-Bases Coalition, a broad international coalition of organizations that attempts to educate and activate local communities against US and other countries’ military occupation with military bases. The plenary is important because the US far outnumbers all of the rest of the countries combined with overseas bases.

Keighley also addressed concerns about holding such an important meeting in Canada. He remarked that forum organizers and participants don’t want it to be about bringing out Vancouver’s middle-class and white population to talk about peace. It is a global movement that seeks to impact and be impacted by many societies, nations, peoples and cultures. Future World Peace Forums will likely be held in Nanjing, China and Cheju Island, South Korea. The mayors and civil political leaders of both of these municipalities are lobbying to hold the 2008 forum in their cities.

World Peace Forum 2006 organizers expect as many as 5,000 people from around the world to come from all the continents and hundreds of international peace organizations and local community groups.

One important highlight will be the visit to the forum by the Japanese Peace Boat, which is currently in its 53rd voyage around the world. The Japanese Peace Boat was initiated by survivors of the nuclear bombings in Japan at the end of World War II and brings its call for abolition of nuclear weapons to cities around the world. Its 900 participants will dock at Vancouver, where forum attendees will board the ship meet the Japanese Peace Boat members and hold a session on nuclear weapons abolition. This meeting will be a continuation of the so-called Middle Powers Initiative, which launched an effort in the United Nations by 24 second-tier nations to cajole and embarrass the big powers into abolishing nuclear weapons.

Other important features of the forum include a peace walk to Sunset Beach, which is expected to attract as many as 100,000 people. Peace concerts at the Plaza of Nations and at the University of British Columbia and many cultural activities are planned in downtown Vancouver itself. Visitors may also enjoy the world renowned Vancouver International Jazz Festival, which will be held at the same time as the forum. The forum will also coincide with the World Urban Forum and the Earth Festival.

Forum organizers say that participants should come prepared to share their experiences with one another, to learn from each other and engage in dialogue, but not expect to simply sit in stuffy meetings and lengthy plenaries. It is both a time to educate and mobilize against the great dangers caused by US imperialism and its allies, but it is also a time to celebrate the growing strength of the world’s other superpower – the global peace movement.