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To build something bigger than oneself

It was the network-based way of working we continued during the giant demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2003, say peace workers.


The situation for the peace movement is not as disappointing as one might get the impression of in Ny Tid's article about the declining support for traditional Norwegian peace activism ("Goodbye, peace activism?" In Ny Tid 11–2016), Hedda Langemyr and Erik Strøm believe. They are respectively general manager and chairman of the board of the Norwegian Peace Council, the umbrella organization for 20 different Norwegian peace organizations. Ny Tid met them at Fredshuset in Oslo, where they share an office with eight other peace organizations, to talk about the future of the Norwegian peace movement.

Networking and central competence centers can play just as important a role as community-based activism, says Strøm and Langemyr. "When I was the Youth for Nuclear Weapons leader in the 1980s, we had 3000 members," says Strøm. "In Brandbu, where I come from, we were able to gather hundreds of people in demonstration trains against the nuclear threat. But in the 1990s, the peace movement experienced a setback and lost members, ”he says. "From the Gulf War in 1990 onwards, the conflicts we had to relate to character changed. It was no longer a single conflict that could be worked on evenly over time, but a multifaceted reality where it had to respond quickly to different conflicts. During the wars of former Yugoslavia, we began to learn how to work in a new way by building international networks across organizations and borders, including with people outside the traditional peace movement. It was this way of working that we continued during the giant demonstrations against the Iraq war in 2003. ”

Hedda Langemyr

Ström further points out that the demonstrations against the Iraq war were based on networks that arose to work on this specific issue, based on countless committed individuals and organizations outside the traditional peace organizations. Among these were the church and the trade union movement, while the Norwegian Peace Council and others played an important role as coordinator. “What we learned from this is that the most important thing we need to do in the peace movement is to establish these networks to organize the engagement that exists in the people. What we need first and foremost is offices and contacts who can provide guidance to people who want to do something, and which the media and politicians know so that they have a natural place to go. Traditional organizational building is not an end in itself, but one of several tools we have for achieving political goals. ”

The work of the peace organizations became more difficult after the SV entered government in 2005.

Activism and debate. Much of the discussion is about prioritization. In a situation where the traditional peace organizations have fewer members than before and quite limited with state aid – should one prioritize building outward-looking spokespeople, or should one prioritize conducting internal organizational development?

Hedda Langemyr believes that the work of the peace organizations became more difficult after the SV entered government in 2005. “Then much of the defense and foreign political opposition disappeared from the Storting, and thus also from the media. Without debate in the Storting, no interest from the media – and without media coverage, less engagement and knowledge of the population, ”says Langemyr. “The paradox is that while media interest declined, Norway stepped up military activity abroad. The decline of media interest is also linked to the fact that many of the large and smaller media houses got a lot of competition from Google and Facebook, and for financial reasons had to cut their budgets for depth and digging journalism. Economic survival and gain have in many places trumped the media's role as the fourth state power. This makes it all the more important that we, in the peace movement, prioritize participating in the public debate in the media, and in the debate that is actually taking place in social media. Facebook is also the primary digital platform for most newspapers in this country, and it is in social media that the meeting between the various word exchanges on defense, peace and security is happening. ”

Both Langemyr and Strøm are keen to bring out what the peace movement has succeeded in recent years, especially the building of the Peace House in Oslo as a discussion and meeting place for people from different environments concerned with peace and security policy. "The peace movement has a lot more impact than we realize, reaching farther than before," Strøm believes. “For example, look at the criticism of the recently adopted long-term defense plan that came from the Left and the KrF. This shows that the broad agreement on Norwegian security policy is no longer as established as before. In the Armed Forces, too, many share the peace movement's view that it is not right to invest so much in expensive US military equipment and to have a military system designed to be used outside of Norway. "

Erik Strom

"Whether to prioritize activism or public debate is in a way a 'hen or egg' debate," Langemyr believes. "I am concerned that we must use a lot of energy to be present in the debates to set the agenda and advance the peace issue, but also to build bridges between the established, overly stagnant public conversation about these things and the increasingly full backyard in social Media. It is a prerequisite with visible voices and extensive digital information work to stimulate activism. In addition, it is important to help strengthen the democratic debate so that not everyone just talks to each other in their own echo chambers. If the opposition to the current foreign and defense policy is not expressed in the media, the danger of the emergence of parallel digital societies increases, which becomes so preoccupied with opposing that they only make the opponent suspicious, instead of helping to inform and cooperate. In such a polarized and partly parallel exchange of words, I think it is important to promote a few spokespersons who build position and credibility in several of these camps over time. It also means that we participate in debates related to defense policy choices, security policy issues and play ourselves relevant in a wider range of issues, and connect with relevant actors in the existing exchange of words. "

"From the Gulf War in 1990 onwards, the conflicts we had to relate to character changed."

Look at Værnes. Both Langemyr and Strøm highlight the demonstration recently held in Trondheim against the permanent deployment of American soldiers at Værnes as a positive example of how activism can be reconciled with networking. "There was just a network of local people there who could get help with organizing the Peace Council in Oslo," emphasizes Langemyr. "What peace activists in Værnes need to get something done is not first and foremost to bring in people from other villages nearby, but to be able to draw on the expertise and resources that we manage at the Peace House. We travel a lot around the country and help build local events and networks. ” However, Langemyr also has some critical remarks about the demonstration held in Trondheim. “The demonstration was cross-political; both the Norwegian Peace Council, Red, the SV and the Left stood as organizers, the AUF held an appeal and the MDG was joined. But in the pictures that came from the demonstration, only Red and SV flags were visible in addition to some NKP flags and Tjen Folket banners. Such self-marking helps to stir up the notion that peace activism is an external left phenomenon. It shows the need for the peace movement to also manifest itself in ways other than traditional actionism. Peace politics does not have as strong a party political kind of side as some of our grassroots activities give the impression, so our task is also to build wider platforms that can include more actors. This applies not least to the trade union movement, the church community and to a greater extent more political parties. ”

Strøm is critical of the example used in the article in Ny Tid – that it is important with local peace organizations around the country to still be able to get an outlet for their commitment if, for example, you move from Oslo to Kristiansand. "The point is, no matter where you move, you should know that you are part of one National discussion, ”he emphasizes. “The community has changed in recent years. What a lone peace activist needs is not another lonely peace activist, but to be connected to knowledge-based networks. For example, many in Northern Norway are very critical to the deterioration of the relationship between Norway and Russia, and in Trøndelag many are critical to the establishment of US military bases. They want to channel their involvement into activism around the specific issues they are concerned about, but they do not necessarily want to become members of an organization with all that it entails of regular meetings, discussions and the like. But they can address the issues they are concerned with in local newspapers, local demonstrations or in the local team of political parties. What these people need is, first and foremost, assistance in facilitating meetings and well-known spokespeople who speak their case in public, ”says Strøm. "The most important thing we can contribute to in the Peace Council and the House of Peace is to make it easier for people around the country to get involved locally and to experience building something bigger than themselves."

ps. This is a longer version than the one printed in the newspaper. ed.

Aslak Storaker
Aslak Storaker
Storaker is a regular writer in Ny Tid, and a member of Rødt's international committee.

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