Commentary. At 50 years, the Perugia-to-Assisi peace march is finding fresh urgency in a troubled world.

Active nonviolence is back into action

The peace movement has gone back into the streets, and this time they’re marching. Fifty five years have now passed since the first Perugia-Assisi event organized by the active nonviolence theorist Aldo Capitini against all wars and the inequalities that generate them.

In an international political scenario marked by the Cold War and the fear of the risk of a nuclear holocaust, not only intellectuals but also religious and lay movements took to the streets to send a message in contrast with the dominant ideologies in matters of war, peace and conscientious objection. The flag of peace and a movement of movements were born that would welcome trade unions, NGOs, grassroots communities and leftist organizations. In 1985, in the midst of the difficult test of the movements against the Euromissiles, one of the most attended demonstrations against military spending took place.

Coming to recent times, the memories of many images of the marches of the early 21st century in the times of “humanitarian wars” and “preventive war” against terrorism are still fresh.

With the appeal “Stop the bloodshed! Stop the wars!” launched by the peace table and the Network of peace, there are strong concerns about our present load of “tensions and conflicts.” Alongside the traditional appeal against all wars, it now includes other key political themes, or, as they put it, “complex problems ignored and undervalued for a long time”: poverty, the “destruction of jobs,” environmental devastation and climate change.

From this perspective, the movement also proposes a reinterpretation of the issue of terrorism: It was never explicitly mentioned in the appeal, but it is still a key factor in the rampant security rhetoric in Europe and the United States that “increases the fears, accentuates divisions, poisons relationships and pushes the solutions away.”

The appeal says: “We do not like today’s Europe, but that does not mean we can throw it away” and go back to the national borders, the walls and boundaries. Today more than ever, the migration issue is presented as a prism that reflects the contradictions of our societies in their closing and social involution process. This is aligned with the reflections on World War II advanced by Pope Francis about a month ago in Assisi and, at the same time, it is part of a common history with the many souls who make up the movement of struggle for a development model alternative to the neoliberal order.

The Perugia-Assisi march, moreover, has always been an open space where the dimensions of the testimony of peace, characteristic of a certain type of pacifism from different philosophical and religious veins, is not disconnected from the political commitment and contamination with the variegated alter-globalization cultures. In recent demonstrations, there has been a decline in participation, due in part to internal fractures that have marked the story of the march since the 1990s.

The movements are betting on a re-engagement around new urgencies and propose a way out of that state of permanent war, which today plays into the political future of Europe and the world.

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