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Petra Kelly's enduring message of ecology, disarmament and human rights

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

"There can be no peace if there is social injustice and suppression of human rights. Peace is not just the absence of mass destruction." Petra Kelly

"Peace is more than the absence of war." Peace Brigades International, founding statement, September 4, 1981

When Peace Brigades International was formed in September 1981, Ronald Reagan had just become the president of the United States; the killing of Indigenous Maya peoples by the Guatemalan armed forces was entering its most violent period; the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in the United Kingdom had just been established; and within weeks, 400,000 people would march in Bonn, West Germany in opposition to the NATO decision to deploy 572 nuclear missiles in Western Europe.

Thirty-three-year-old Petra Kelly, who had helped form the German Green party in January 1980, was at that massive protest in Bonn on October 10, 1981.

By December 1982, Kelly had won the prestigious Right Livelihood Award for her work "forging and implementing a new vision uniting ecological concerns with disarmament, social justice and human rights." And by March 1983, Kelly was one of 27 Greens elected to the Bundestag, the West German federal parliament.

That same year, Kelly said, "Two military Germanies unified? Thank God never, because they would be frightening. We want reunification only if there is demilitarization."

On November 9, 1989, an East German government official announced that the Berlin Wall had been opened and people began dismantling it with hammers and chisels. The reunification of East and West Germany was made official on October 3, 1990.

In her essay titled Nonviolent Social Defense, Kelly wrote, "The ending of the cold war has brought little change in our militaristic outlook. As old weapons systems are dismantled, they are replaced by new, more sophisticated ones."

She then highlighted, "We spend billions on weapons research and millions training our young people at military academies. Why not invest in peace studies and peace actions? We need training centers, public campaigns, and educational materials. We need to support groups like Peace Brigades International that intervene nonviolently in situations of conflict. We need to work concretely to realize peace and nonviolence in our time."

In October 1992, the bodies of Kelly and her partner Gert Bastian, a former major general in the German army who had helped form Generals for Peace in 1981, were found in their home in Bonn. Kelly was 44 years old.

Twenty-seven years after her death, Kelly's words still offer inspiration.

Earlier this year, Phyllis Bennis of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies, wrote, "The Green New Deal must have anti-militarism at its core. Wars and the military render impossible the aspirations contained in the Green New Deal. And slashing the out-of-control military budget is crucial to provide the billions of dollars we need to create a sustainable and egalitarian economy."

The annual budget of the U.S. military now stands at C$921 billion. The German military has a budget of C$69 billion. Canada now spends $25 billion a year on the military and plans to increase that to $32.7 billion a year by 2026.

Kelly, who called for both nuclear disarmament and full demilitarization, wrote, "Even in Western democracies, the state seems invincible, and as individuals, we often feel powerless, unable to have much effect. We must remind ourselves that the power of the state derives solely from the consent of the governed."

In line with Extinction Rebellion of our present day, Kelly argued that "Noncooperation, civil disobedience, education, and organization are the means of change, and we must learn the ways to use them. Direct democracies will come into being only when we demand from our leaders that they listen to us."

Environmental protection, human rights, and transarmament -- shifting spending from the military to the public good -- were key in Kelly's vision of a better world.

We would do well to listen to her.

Brent Patterson is a writer, activist and the executive director of Peace Brigades Interntional-Canada.This article was originally published as "Petra Kelly on Peace Brigades International, disarmament and a way forward" on the Peace Brigades International-Canada website.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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