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Northern Ireland: The Nonviolent Front

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey, the daughter of an IRA gunman, led the 60s civil rights movement at Queen's College in Belfast, and was electedto the British parliament in 1969. Later that year, she was jailed for inciting neighborhood resistance to British troops. She has survived many assassination attempts, in which she has been shot eight times. Though she is a member of neither the IRA nor Sinn Fein (the political party associated with the IRA), many considerher the conscience of the Irish Republican movement. For many years the former parliamentarian's main activity has been building nonviolent resistance networks, work which is completely ignoredby U.S. news media. Coverage is worse in the U.K., where it is Ilegal to broadcast anything that Devlin-McAliskey says. The ex-MP came to Detroit rightafter an IRA bomb killed civilians. In the storm ofdenunciation which followed, it seemed that both the IRA and the peace process were big losers. Yeta fewdays after her visit, the British government admitted that it had held talks with Sinn Fein. Though fighting goes on, there is reason for optimism. Military stalemate, anti-war feeling in Britain, and Irish political reahties enhance the chances to end a quarter-century of troubles. Devlin-McAliskey spoke on "Pathways to Peace" last November atDetroit's Gaelic League. Afterwards, she answered audience questions, one of which was: "Would you comment on your position of nonviolence in the struggle?" What follows is heranswer to this question. nthink if s a very important question, this question of nonviolence. People see it as an intellectual decisión within the oppressed community - that some people make an ntellectual choice to work nonviolently. and others make an intellectual choice to work violently. It doesn't happen like that. The community begms to work nonviolently. Whetherthe nonviolent methods which they use are demonstrations, sit-ins or protests, the reaction of the state to them s violent. Then, asyou have to protect yourself against the violent reaction of the state, you find yourself forming up another network of activity, which is also nonviolent. A great deal of work is done to support prisoners and their families. Then, asyou begin toprotectyourselfagainst those situations, you find that you become isolated from the state and punished by other state mechanisms. By financial mechanisms, by political and social mechanisms, you become isolated and marginalized. The next nonviolent mechanism is to provide alternative resources in the community that has become alienated from the state. There are communities in this country that would understand that experience. What do you do in a town like Coalisland, where nobody trusts the pólice? What do you do when somebody has their house burgled? You don't go to the pólice. Nobody trusts the pólice. People believe if you teil the pólice they'll merely use that opportunity to get into your house, and if they find the person who did it, they'll use the fact that they know that he's a thief to pressure him into being an informen So what do you do when the normal frameworks of democratie society are not open to you? You have to créate altematives, and you try to créate nonviolent altematives, ways of redressing those problems. On a community level, the housing project where I live has organized to physically improve our own conditions. We practically redesigned the estáte. We fought with the authorities to have the project upgraded on the lines we designed. We ncorporated into the design a community house. We didn't want a derelict building that we could fall down the stairs of; we wanted a house on the project where people can meet. The community itself services it. We provide facilitiesforourownyoungwomen with children, particularly of benefit to single ents - some of whom are single because they are not married, some single because they are deserted, some single because their partners are in prison. We have in the afternoon, for kids coming in from school, an opportunity for help with their home study. Thafs basic nonviolent work that's done in the community. It's done by the same people, by and large, who are going out at night to take statements from families who have had their houses raided, who are trying to créate the documentation to give to the human rights groups. One of the prime examples is the Cullyhanna Justice Group, which was formed when a young man was murdered ata vehicle checkpoint by the British Army, He passed through the checkpoint, he was allowed to proceed, and a soldier, for reasons best known to himself, lifted his weapon and shot the driver. Then, of course, the whole state machinery said the driver was a terrorist, that he failed to stop Now that community organized. The young widow - she was 22 - called her fnends and her neighbors and she organized. They went around and they took statements themselves. Ifs the kind of work pólice should do. They identified all the eyewitnesses. They drew up their dossier of evidence. They gathered money They invited independent people with credibility, from other countries, to come and to be the panel of judges. Then they invited people from all over the country to come to their court and hear the evidence of what happened, and to judge. There's a video of it. It's a model of how a community can organize in response to this kind of murder. They were effective in drawing so much attention to it that the state was forced to argüe a new, different argument, and finally forced to charge the British soldier with murder. That goes on all the time. but it receives no recognition. In the midst of that. things often happen whereby a person makes an individual choice, that they have come to the end of the nonviolentroad. That for them, therejustsimply is no more elbow room. They have filled in as many forms, they have done as much human rights documenta tion, they have given as much support at as many funerals as they can do. They have done as much of it as they can do, and n theirown feeling they' re getting nowhere. So people by and large don't make an intellectual choice to join an army . They fight the violence of the state with everything they've got, until the state leaves them with nothing else. Then they say "OK, I fightyou the way you fight me. because l've nothing else to fight with. I might as well give my own life, because people are getting killed anyway." Pat Farrukin got killed for being a nonviolent civil rights lawyer. Gina Campbell got killed for being an electoral organizer. People get killed, and so at some point people say, "Well l'll teil you, I am not going on my own." Thafs where the armed resistance comes from. People say it to me, and I understand the argument. People said it to me in the midst of an ambush where four young people were killed. They said, "Bemadette, are you going to defend them with bits of paper? By the time you get to the European Human Rights Commission on that case, there'll be six more dead." Thafs the way it moves. The nonviolence thing, thafs what everybody wants to do. But as Nelson Mándela says, nonviolence presupposes the oppressor has a conscience. And our oppressor doesn't. If s understandable that people get involved in violence. But the mainstream continúes to be nonviolent organization. Not simply of resistance, but of alternativo structures to the whole machinery of state repression. We do believe that at the end of the day, that's what will carry us through to the next phase. We will be prepared for the next phase. We have ideas of constitutions and forms of administration and civil rights protections and how the economy would run . Thafs all nonviolent.