Reflections on Antimilitarist Roots: War Resisters League International June 2023 Conference

Gathering of people in a circle talking to each other with

Photo from War Resisters League International with author Theo Kayser at bottom right

After attending this year’s War Resisters’ International conference (the first since the pandemic for this international cohort of which the US’s War Resisters League is a member) I’ve been asked by friends in the peace movement “What did you learn? What were your takeaways?” And even now as I put these words down I don’t know that I have a great answer to these questions. 

Sure I attended a workshop on the tactics Wage Peace are using in Australia to combat the arms trade/manufacturing there (rather than write articles they livestream low risk actions such as interrupting meals at hotels where arms traders are congregating and read facts/convey stories they’d otherwise put in an article). I did hear more about the need to support conscientious objectors all over the world (the plenary speaker from Belarus but living in exile in Lithuania shared that COs from her country who had fled not wanting to participate in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were being pushed by host countries to serve in Ukraine’s military instead). And I even learned from friends in Columbia about the need to counter “militarized masculinities’ ‘ (views of manhood as being tied to domination or “protecting” women and children with violence and war).

But even more than concrete tactics that we can use to make a just peace, I left with a sense of awe and inspiration and renewed energy from my fellow attendees. 

Sometimes it can feel like the peace movement is tiny, that our efforts are small and insignificant when faced with the immense apparatus of the war machine and the seeming apathy by so many other normal folks out there.

Maybe there is in fact some truth to that, but my experience at the WRI conference was a reminder that there are people on our side all over the world, people acknowledging that “war is a crime against humanity” and working to end militarization and its causes.

large group of people gathered posing for a photo with screen in background with antimilitarist roots projected

Antimilitarist Roots Photo from War Resisters League International

While I block the entrance to a nuclear weapons plant in the US, folks in Montenegro occupy a mountain and brave the elements to prevent NATO forces from using it as a training ground and in Nepal there are efforts to build a pan-Asian network resisting the arm’s trade. While activists in South Korea dance on top of tanks, in Germany they are comically changing military recruitment advertisements and in Columbia indigenous people are fighting for their rights to live on their land in peace.

I don’t know if all this makes for a good article. My paltry effort at recounting the energy and inspiration is no substitute for being in the room. Maybe that’s all the more reason for you to put a bit of those withheld war taxes to try to make it to WRI’s next gathering in 3 years? (or some other congregation of like minded folks)

It might be a difficult road ahead of us and for every two steps forward it might feel like there is a step back, but we aren’t alone in these anti war efforts and as one Israeli CO shared with the gathering “I believe in the end we will win. We have won before and it is only a matter of time.” 

Post by Theo Kayser