Workshop 1: Strategies and Tactics: Future of WTR-PTCs

Led by Daniel Woodham (USA)

Report by Dominique Boisvert (Canada)

We were 11 participants (7 of them from Germany).

Since we had to focus on the future of our movements, we tried to recognise first the features of our current situation (study the map before departure).

We first acknowledged the perennial tension/diversity of our movement:

  • between WTR and PTCs:
    1. few people do both tax resistance and peace tax lobby (even though PTC serve as support for individual WTR witness)
    2. many WTRs would not stop resistance even with the adoption of a Peace Tax Law (do we want to pay all our taxes to Government provided none of them are used for military purposes or do we want to direct the military part of our taxes to peace groups or priorities?)
    3. PTCs are longer term projects while WTR is immediate refusal to be part of war
  • between conscience motivation (more individual) and more activist/militant motivations (more collective)
  • between us (tax peace or resisters) and the rest of the peace movement (dedicated to all sorts of various issues, from nuclear disarmament to anti-war in Iraq to alternative security, etc.)

We then tried to identify the relationships and common ground between all of us (at the Conference) and between us and them:

  • no to (all?) war and looking for alternatives
  • in favour of peace (but so general as to mean little)
  • most of us in favour of (total?) non-violence
  • individually ready to pay a price to achieve these goals (either as COs or WTRs)

The key issue being: how can we work together complementarily, stressing more (and building on) what we have in common rather than focusing on our differences/diversity? Such a new way of working/struggling together, in loose and sometimes temporary coalitions (rainbow coalitions) seems to be the most promising trend of current political and citizen movements around the world (the antiglobalisation movement, the ecological movement, the Seattle events, the vast anti-war marches of Spring 2003, etc.). That seems also a pre-condition to be able to reach wider public audiences. 

We can either look first at how much do we have to agree? or rather at how much can we do together? It is very often more difficult to agree on intellectual principles and wordings than on concrete actions. German participants gave the example of a common Peace Fair which was a success, even though the same participants were not able to agree on a common statement after the 9/11 events. The more we concentrate on specific platforms, the more difficult and restrictive it may tend to become. 

Some participants proposed the image of a wheel as the organisational model for us to follow: the common ground may be small but central (the hub); and from there, all sorts of spokes are expanding in all directions, more or less similar or close and sometimes apparently aiming in totally opposite directions; and contrary to a regular wheel, where the spokes are not linked to each other except through their own individual connection to the outer rim, our organisational wheel has to favour as many links as possible between the various spokes (some being connected to many all around the sphere, some others only to their close neighbour spoke, etc. Each of those links between spokes contribute to hold it together, to reinforce each other and to get it moving further.

Those links in action must be favoured locally, nationally and internationally: having some common action held on similar dates or weeks in many locations/countries help to build a sense of membership, of community and solidarity between far apart participants.

We must change our way of thinking: conscientious objection and non-violence are often seen as negative; but negation or refusal of war or violence, which are themselves an evil, a negative behaviour, should be seen more and more as positive (exactly as in mathematics, a negative plus a negative equals a positive).

We witness more and more small ad hoc groups being formed around specific issues or membership links (physicians against nuclear; artists for peace; neighbourhood committee against war in Iraq; etc.). This diversity has to be favoured to reach more people through their own channels and interests. Once again, the key challenge is how to build coalitions and add up all those forces instead of letting this energy for peace being scattered, split or wasted.

We clearly have to look for new kinds of actions: we can no more rely only on demonstrations or petitions; we have to use creativity, have more fun, reach to new and younger people where they are, etc.

The tax for war/peace issue has the advantage of being direct, concrete, personal involvement. Its main strength: it concerns everybody and help visualise the choices and priorities (money for war/military is taken away from more pressing social needs (the pie charts, the loony polls where people can choose where to put their money). Its main weakness: people think that the only way to participate is to actually refuse to pay military taxes (which implies more personal commitment and is usually only accessible to self-employed); we have to find concrete ways to allow for general involvement of people, including those whose taxes are deducted from salary by their employer.

We should insist on building strong (even if small) local peace groups or movements before trying to connect with larger groups or issues: nothing replaces a dedicated group of committed people, and we cannot bring to the larger group or issue more than what we already have gathered at our local level. 

Of course we must acknowledge major differences between the North and the South with regard to peace tax issues, though both are equally concerned with the priority given to military force and to the huge amount of money devoted to that part of the national budget. We have to ask southern countries what they identify as their principal needs in order to be able to give real effective support when we can.

Finally, there seems to be a new trend evolving in many countries: to move from mere opposition to war and violence into more positive alternative propositions. Simultaneously in various countries, people, groups and movements have started to initiate Dialogues about what could/should we do to replace the army/military traditional approach to security and conflict resolution which we condemn and refuse to be part of. And those dialogues take place at various levels: among ourselves as COs and peace activists, but also with other partners (like university research people) or authorities (senior civil servants, senior military personnel, more traditional lobby with politicians, etc.). United Kingdom seems to have developed this alternative approach to lobbying and Canada has initiated some kind of public discussion which has been proposed and adopted by the 10th WTR-PTC Conference as its international project for the next two years. Whether this new trend will prove to be significant or not remains to be seen, but one of the founding members of WTR-PTC Conferences said that he felt this was the only way to go for our movement.