War: What is it Good For?

Thursday November 27 saw the arrival of Lancaster University’s first ever “peace festival”, held in Alexandra Square. The organiser, Nat Walker, said that the main idea of the event was about “spreading awareness” of ethical issues and working towards a future of “peacefulness and equality”. You might think such aims are commonplace these days, with climate change a global agenda, and charities constantly advertising for more money, yet how often do you question everyday moral issues?

The atmosphere at the festival was excited, with brightly coloured banners and passionate stall-holders all trying to convert the typical apathetic student into ­­­an ethical enthusiast. Leaflets abounded, while some stalls also had fair-trade chocolate and home-made cake to entice people.

While on a fairly small scale, the event was completely free, and most of the university’s ethical groups had representation present. The Green Committee for example, had large bags to be filled with cans and bottles for an inter-college effort to improve recycling. The winner would receive money for their chosen endangered animal. There was also the chance to join a petition to save seals by boycotting Canadian seafood products.

The LGBT chose to decorate their stall with handprints, and offered free copies of the ‘Pink Paper’ for interested on-lookers. ‘Speak’, a national charity, were offering the chance to write your own suggestions of how the world could be made more peaceful on a blackboard, with a view to creating an exhibition from the photographs.

Also in attendance were Amnesty International, Stop the War, Students Against Racism, the Labour Club, and People and Planet. The interactive element of many of the stalls made what could have been a slightly intimidating, possibly even ‘preachy’ event into an approachable, friendly gathering of like-minded people.

The second part of the festival occurred later that evening, with an open mic night at Pendle Bar. Despite a late start, the bar was decorated in colourful banners, and politically based leaflets were dotted around on tables. The main attraction of the night was Danny Chivers, a professional performance poet from Oxford, who got into the activity after winning the first Slam Poetry event he entered. He described performance poetry as a “way of communicating” to people that the more traditional forms of protest may alienate. Lancaster student Pete MacMillan also performed some of his poetry, while Fraser Welsh played several songs on the guitar. Many other students also volunteered poetry or speeches.

While the audience turnout was low—I got the impression that most people present were already involved in one of the ethical groups—the mix of poetry, speeches and live music helped to ensure there was something to interest most people. The topics were diverse, ranging from light-hearted looks at recycling and consumer culture, to the weightier issues of terrorism and domestic abuse.Some Lancaster students at the event found it “inspirational” with a “good atmosphere”, and rated the event as a good night out. Others, however, felt slightly alienated by the “overly left wing overtones” of the evening.

Altogether, the two-part peace festival can be concluded to have been a success even if it only persuades one person to act more ethically. In a wider way, it provided students with not only access to information on such issues, but in the case of the evening, a fun and alternative night out. Organiser Nat Walker hopes the event will become an annual occasion, so come along next year and maybe we can bring back the caring, hippie culture of the sixties, at a time when the world really needs a difference to be made.

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