As with most conferences, today began with introductions, there were many attendees from across the US representing the Peace Tax Fund and the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. There was a representative from the German Netwerk Friedensteuer the Belgian AKtie VRedesbelasting (VRAK) as well as people coming from Norway, Argentina the UK and across Colombia.
We introduced ourselves by explaining what had led us to the conference. Some people could name an exact time and place where they had a ‘moment of conscience’ which led them to conscientiously object to war. Others were attending just to find out more about conscientious objection in Colombia and conscientious objection to military taxation.
One of the first things that I noticed about the participants at the conference was the age difference between participants from Colombia and those from Europe and the US. In the UK and I assume in much of Europe and the US conscientious objection is a term which is not commonly heard anymore. Conscription ended in the UK in 1962 and therefore the idea is seen to be from the past rather than a current issue. In the UK we have moved on from conscientious objection to military service to conscientious objection to military taxes. However, we should always remember that not everyone is where we are and being a CO is a very live issue for many young people across the world.
Many of the reasons given by those from Europe and the US about what led them to conscientious objection and peace tax were stories about parents and grandparents. Some examples were more abstract and were based upon something that the person had read or seen in the media. By contrast those from Colombia tended to have had experienced conflict and conscription first-hand. The examples given by the younger Colombian conference participants were about problems to do with war and violence that they had experienced themselves.
The need to share ideas and work with other COs around the world has never seemed as important to me as it did today. Today I learnt that we are all on different places along the road to being able not to kill, at different places in the struggle, but we are all campaigning towards the same end.
Later in the day participants were asked ‘what most helps you take action on what your conscience is telling you?’ a recurring theme in answer to this was community, friends and family. This was summed up beautifully by one participant as: ‘support from others helps to overcome the fear of the consequences of taking action.’