"[We] will break before we bend ... The world is my country" – Derby anti-war activist Alice Wheeldon, who was framed for plotting to murder the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, in a letter from prison, February 1917.
The First World War centenary (2014-2018) will be accompanied by a tidal wave of events, exhibitions, TV series, books and commemorations. However, one key aspect of the War's history is almost certain to receive little or no attention: the history and stories of the people and organisations that opposed the conflict.
Moreover, this history - of police raids and buried documents, feminist peace initiatives and clandestine printing presses, striking German munitions workers and communities of resistance in Huddersfield, Hackney, and Bradford (among other places) - appears to be largely unknown even to contemporary activists.
To help counter this omission Peace News (PN) will research and produce a series of ten highly-visual colour posters, celebrating key figures and events from the First World War anti-war movement – including figures and events from Germany & the Global South - bringing their stories and chutzpah alive for a new generation.
Featuring the distinctive graphic art of Emily Johns, these posters will be distributed widely at WW1-related events throughout 2014 as well as serialised in PN itself.
- a secret soldiers' pact to shoot to injure rather than to kill;
- the gleeful, even mischievous, appropriation of a pompous prosecutor's words for use as anti-war propaganda;
- the network of refuges for war resisters on the run in Sheffield, Liverpool, and Leicester;
- the jailing of one of the century's greatest philosophers (who had already been dismissed from his college and banned from "prohibited areas" amounting to one-third of Britain for his anti-war activities, and who subsequently managed to smuggle a letter out of jail, hidden in the uncut pages of the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society);
- the conscientious objectors shipped to France and sentenced to death, saved by the sexual charisma of a famous aristocrat;
- the Jamaican man who refused to be conscripted on the grounds that the European Powers "have oppressed and tyrranised over my fellow-men" while "I am not given ordinary privileges as a citizen".
We will also be commissioning and publishing complementary work from five contemporary poets, and using these and the posters as a springboard for a series of public events – including exhibitions in London, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, one or more strategically-placed billboards in London, targeted media work, and a UK speaking tour.
We are also co-hosting a major public event with Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain (Penguin, 2011) - one of the few histories of the conflict to foreground the war's opponents, and a major inspiration for this project - in London on Friday 17 January 2014.
'To the Belligerent Governments': "The victory you seek is a victory which shall perpetuate your empire over mankind; keep Humanity bound in fetters to your cruel and senseless systems; maintain your castes and your monopolies; strengthen your embargo upon the peoples' liberties; leave your heel firmly planted on the peoples' necks." - E.D. Morel, co-founder of the anti-war Union of Democratic Control, May 1916, jailed for six-months for sending an anti-war pamphlet to Switzerland.
Why you should pledge on Kickstarter
David Cameron has called for a "truly national commemoration" of the World War One centenary "that captures our national spirit". Moreover, the Government has announced an 'advisory board' for its commemorations, heavy with ex-military and former Ministry of Defence (MoD) staff.
"The World is My Country" aims to use the reclaimed histories of the First World War anti-war movement to:
- Contest the dominant narrative that military heroism and obedience to authority is a uniquely noble form of self-sacrifice;
- Raise awareness among the UK public that the First World War was actively opposed by many people at the time; and
- Inspire contemporary campaigners with the courage, tenacity and humanity of their activist forebears.
We've already raised the lion's share of the money needed for the project, but our budget requires that we raise at least £3k on Kickstarter in order for us to do everything that we want to to make this project maximally effective, including the production of a booklet version of the posters with the background information that can't be included on the posters themselves.
Writing decades after it had finished, Bertrand Russell wrote that he had resisted the First World War because he "felt that for the honour of human nature those who were not swept off their feet should show that they stood firm".
Please help us to celebrate those who "stood firm" and bring their stories alive for a new generation.
"[T]he brunt of modern war falls upon non-combatants, and the conscience of the world cannot bear the sight ... Do not humanity and common sense alike prompt us to join hands with the women of neutral countries, and urge our rulers to stay further bloodshed?", Emily Hobhouse, letter to "The Women of Germany and Austria", written by Hobhouse and signed by 100 British women suffragists, Christmas 1914
Who will do the work?
The design and artwork for the posters will be created by PN 's co-editor Emily Johns. The posters will be researched by PN 's War News editor Gabriel Carlyle.
PN co-editor Emily Johns' acclaimed artwork has been used by a wide variety of UK campaigning organisations, including Friends of the Earth, The Land is Ours, the Women's Environmental Network, and the Activists' Legal Project. In 2005, her work was part of the Remember Saro-Wiwa Project's "Living Memorial" to Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Her current touring projects include: Conscious Oil: Myth and Mind in the Age of Petroleum; and Drawing Paradise on the 'Axis of Evil', the latter countering the drumbeat for military intervention against Iran. Her web-site is www.emilyjohns.org.uk.
Gabriel Carlyle is PN's War News editor and co-author (with Maya Evans) of From Hastings to Kabul: My Christmas with Refugees, Justice Seekers and Peace Volunteers (Voices for Creative Nonviolence, 2012). Formerly a researcher with the anti-sanctions group Voices in the Wilderness UK, he was a core organiser of PN's 2011 Rebellious Media Conference with Noam Chomsky.
"Freedom's battle has not to be fought on the blood-drenched soil of France but nearer home – our enemy is within the gates" – Birmingham socialist William Holliday in a speech at the Birmingham Bull Ring, May 1915. (Holliday was arrested and sentenced to three months hard labour for this speech).
Risks and challenges
One of the major challenges for this project is choosing the right ten people & movements to represent for the posters. For one thing, finding relevant visual materials almost one hundred years after the events (and from an era when photography was not as run-of-the-mill as it is today) is often tricky. But we also want to avoid some of the better-known examples, while still including a diverse range of interesting stories.
We already have quite a long list of strong ideas, including five that we're definitely committed to. Nonetheless, in addition to drawing on the existing research, consulting specific people and institutions, and digging around in various archives, we're also going to be drawing on the wonders of the internet for suggestions, stories and leads. If you would like to suggest a topic for one of the posters then please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A risk is that no one will want to invite us to come and speak in their area.
Supporters can help us avert this by offering to host an event for the speaking tour, which we currently anticipate spanning the second half of 2014 (though we might well be open to suggestions for earlier in the year, depending on what they are). Again, please contact email@example.com.
We have two people working on this project. If either of us falls ill this will hold up the progress of the project. However we have given ourselves a long production time so that we can be flexibly ill.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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