We are not Enemies

Below, Veronica Pelicaric reports on her visit to Madrid, March 22-29, 2018.


Veronica at I Congreso Noviolencia Martin Luther King_MD (5).jpg

Invited by the 2018 Martin Luther King Congress, I went to Madrid to teach a three day workshop from Monday, March 26th to Wednesday the 28th. As I predicted before I arrived, it was a great experience.

I was lodged at Luis’s and Paola’s apartment, where they were also hosting and feeding a Cambodian refugee, Suleiman. It was amazing to see their openness and generosity and though the place was small and cramped, we managed a very harmonious week sharing this space.

On Friday night, the Congress (located in Madrid’s famous Matadero municipal building) opened with presentations from three people who set the foundation for understanding structural violence, which was the starting point for the whole event. The audience, consisting of about 150 participants, was balanced in terms of gender, age, and diversity, including many professionals (professors, doctors, lawyers, etc.).

The organizers decorated the room with big posters telling the story of nonviolent activists throughout the world during the 20th Century. They put a lot of effort, heart, and thought into the project. In the evenings we were graced with concerts by great singers and over 400 people came to Aba Taano African Gospel show on Saturday night. In true Spanish style, the show went on until 1AM.

On Saturday morning, the international team presented their organizations and different aspects of nonviolent resistance. I spoke after Ramesh, a member of Ekta Parishad in India.  Then came Sinisa, a member of Otpor, and Andrew from War Resisters International in England. During the hour of my presentation, I spoke of Pace e Bene’s work, CNV Week of Actions, and brought up the 3.5%, two hands of nonviolence, and more. I then presented the eight stages of social movements focusing on the civil rights movement. I ended with a brief statement on soul force, which made a big impact when the room went silent for a few moments.  

On Saturday afternoon, participants attended small workshops on six different subjects, followed by a World Cafe exercise. Sunday morning, attendees were taken through a very short version of Open Space, which could have benefitted from more time. We saw a man dressed as Jesus on a donkey and lots of people accompanying him wearing Capirote, traditional holy week hoods. Madrid is a very lovely city full of history and–hallelujah–not devastated by bombing during the second world war.  

All in all the conference was a big success, the first of its kind in Spain, even addressing Catalonia’s separatist effort and the Women’s March on March 8th.

Then came my workshop on the evenings of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  It was the kind of workshop I have always dreamt of facilitating: short, sweet, and to the point with diverse information and experiential exercises. I adjusted on the spot to accommodate the 16 participants and not repeat what had already been presented, instead explaining what needed clarification. The first evening I did a general overview of definitions, CARA, and so forth. I had translated a lot of material and brought good posters.

On Tuesday night I concentrated on strategic steps and phases, pillars, spectrum of allies, Swot, and more. I used a translation of a great text on Ubuntu for the “resolution and reconciliation” component. This made an impact as it was new to the participants. I spent a lot of time on Wednesday doing a short version of Pieces of the Truth (a work in pairs) and a simulation that included current issues in Europe. Every evening we went out for dinner with some of the attendees, among them a doctor and an architect, and I was thrilled by the feedback I got and the interesting post-sharing.  

ABC, Spain’s second most read newspaper, had published an article on the Congress that featured my presentation. We did not expect it to appear in hard print, but when we saw the newsstand in the airport on the day of my departure, we jumped for joy: there it was in the Easter news magazine! Two pages with our photo. We figured that given the Easter holiday, a lot of people would have time to read it. It meant a lot to the organizers who had worked so hard.  It meant a lot to me too, for Pace e Bene’s sake and for nonviolence. The piece of the article featuring us, Pace e Bene, is translated below.

Translation of the Article appearing in the Spanish newspaper ABC – featuring the weekly magazine Alpha and Omega Easter issue, March 29th, 2018. Read the original article in Spanish here.



The 2018 Campaign Nonviolence has brought some of the most prominent people engaged in social activism worldwide together in Madrid.  It offers support and training to thousands of organizations working for climate change, migrant, gender, and other issues. Bringing change without violence is what they care about.

How can we define nonviolence?  Veronica Pelicaric from Argentina, staff person for Pace e Bene, puts up both her hands in a STOP gesture. “I first say no to injustice, racism, war, poverty . . . but then I lower one hand palm up [she demonstrates] and I add:  ‘We are not enemies. I will not throw you out of my heart.  Together we can work it out.’”

Pelicaric is one of the expert activists from different parts of the world who came for the first Martin Luther King Nonviolence Congress held in Madrid from March 23-25, a few days before the 50th anniversary of his assassination which took place on April 4th, 1968.

The young pastor’s life had taken an abrupt turn when early on he agreed to lead the campaign against racial segregation. Dr. King then decided to apply to this struggle the same methods Gandhi had applied to his efforts for Indian independence.  Segregation, a problem long ignored by a large number or people in the USA, was put on the agenda.  A series of actions of great impact, as the one undertaken by Rosa Parks, created conditions for the culmination of the struggle in the March on Washington where the famous speech I Have a Dream was uttered by Dr. King. As Ms. Pelicaric clarifies, Rosa Parks’s action was not a haphazard situation, “She was a well-trained activist in nonviolence tactics in a school in Tennessee.”

It was not a bed of roses,  Pelicaric explained to Alfa y Omega. “Nonviolence requires tremendous commitment and sacrifice.  It is not enough to hoist up a few signs.  For actions to have an impact, we need to put our whole being into the fray.” What made success possible for those engaged in the Civil Rights Movement was the persistence demonstrated by thousands of Afro-Americans.

The bus boycott, for example, which lasted for 360 days, meant people walked to work for miles in all kinds of weather and conditions. Not to mention the brutality endured during the sit-ins in Nashville. And the patience and conviction exhibited throughout the dissatisfaction with nonviolent methods which led to violent eruptions (Stage 5 of 8 Stages of Social Movements). Nonviolence triumphed even over the brutal methods of the Ku Klux Klan as people stood by Dr. King steadfastly and young activists–even children–willingly went to jail in order to call the public’s attention to what was going on in the South.   

You need endurance and strong faith, Pelicaric claims, to uphold the struggle. She cites the work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan (Why Civil Resistance Works) who prove by examining and researching more than 300 revolutions throughout a century that nonviolent movements are twice as effective as violent ones.  

You must first and foremost change your focus. “We are looking in the wrong direction when we think we have to influence or change the power holders.  We are wasting our time; they know exactly what is going on and what they wish to accomplish. We need to reach with our actions the ordinary citizen, educate and alert her/him, arouse them from their indifference and move them to action. Power is with the people but they do not know this. We have more power than we think.”

This is the philosophy followed by Pace e Bene, an organization Franciscans gave birth to at the end of the ’80s responding to the threat posed by nuclear explosions in the desert of Nevada. Today, they organize actions to bring awareness and change to issues as diverse as climate change, racism, poverty, and gender inequality.

During the week of actions September 15-23rd, 2018, Pace e Bene will organize more than 2.000 nonviolent actions culminating in an event in Washington, DC. The focus of the actions will be to create impact in the social and political spheres.  While honoring the importance of these issues, it is important to remember that the basis of all action is soul force.  As one grows in the experience of this power, one sees more and more clearly where one is called to act within the scope of one’s environment and immediate surrounding. On the path of  “inner purification”–Gandhi’s words–Pelicaric points out, “we grow in conviction and strength, we become solid like a rock. That is why Gandhi said that nonviolence is the greatest power on earth, even more powerful than the atom bomb.”

Furthermore, Pace e Bene is a reference in ecclesiastical matters in issues of peace and disarmament in the USA. It has presented to the Holy See a request to revise the concept of “just peace,” which according to Pelicaric strengthens the church’s engagement with nonviolence and peace which started with John XXIII and is now even more highlighted by Pope Francis.

Veronica Pelicaric