A Workshop with keynote speaker Herman Verbeek

In a first round, reactions to Herman Verbeek's lecture were collected. Franco Perna had expected more directives for our future activities in the direction of national and international politics. How does the speaker think we could best achieve our stated goals?

Verbeek answered in an affirmative way: reconsideration of action forms may be necessary. Progressive parties often lack in analysis, there is a shortage of insight and knowledge about political systems and the way they affect action. At present one sees “numerous islands of alternatives” without cohesion. As an example he mentions that in the Netherlands only 4% of the population is member of a political party, and of those again only 1% is actively involved. So the conclusion is that there exists a wide gap between movements and the political system. Verbeek signals it as a great danger that an ever-smaller number of people are involved with the political parties at all levels. Asking for a show of hands it turns out that within this conference we are doing better than average on the point of membership, but nobody shows to be personally active in the party of his/her choice. What could be the reason, he asks.

A friend from Great Britain says that she is a member of the Green Party, which avowedly strives for centralisation, whereas she favours the opposite.

A Dutch participant states never to have experienced any form of solidarity from within the parties with our struggle, that they hardly are aware of our work.

Svend remarked that in earlier times people knew what they wanted and what they knew and they went purposeful after these aims. Nobody nowadays is capable of seeing what is right for mankind in the future. Peace and justice, what do these words still mean? Life has become so complicated that we have lost sight on the right way to go.

Which purpose, then was the question, do we consider still worthwhile striving for?

Verbeek does not consider our predicament our own fault. We have become strangers in our own houses, in our own mind.

There are other powers at work beyond us, doing these things to us. (He gives a definition of the consumer’s society). The first step towards independence is the first step towards consciousness and towards greater democracy. In this view it is not enough to work at grassroots level. It is important to get experience in political work, penetrate into centres of economic and political power in order to find out what life is all about now. Those who penetrate presently are career people. No changes can be brought about if we don't get more deeply involved, operate on the level where decisions are taken.

A British participant reflects about the political structures being all wrong. People in political parties gravitate towards the top and once there they stay put, while loosing their roots in the basis of the movement.

The more reason to get involved yourself without making the same mistake, says Verbeek. Try to bring about the necessary changes from within the parties. The danger for war tax resisters is that no change will come about if we don't get ourselves to the places where changes are made.

Jan de Voogd stressed the need for a new economical system, for developing new models for the future. People need new ideals to get them out of their lethargy.

Verbeek stressed again that changes are necessary, not only on the personal level, but restructuring of the political scene is needed. As an example he mentions the World Food Programme, for which he sits himself.

A friend from England remarks, that Herman's lecture for her got extra weight, because he spoke as a Christian, being a Catholic priest. It is important to enter politics from a Christian/Quaker background in order that the churches can see how people do modify their lives in accordance with the needs of our times.

Verbeek reiterates that church and society are, according to him, indivisible and therefore church and politics cannot be separated either. A problem in this respect is the gap between the church and the basis which is indispensable for support as well as the individual act of getting involved in the political world. As examples he mentions Martin Luther King and Bishop Romero, who entered politics because the decisions that really matter are made there.

Concluding it was said that if we abstain from interfering in the world of economic and financial power the churches are posing no threat to these. Political infiltration at all levels is what must happen. Our struggle for justice demands that we partake on a daily basis, and it needs restructuring continuously.

A Dutch friend agrees that it is important to keep in touch with the political world, but he finds it unpractical to work on two levels at the same time. We need to concentrate, channel and direct our energies. People in politics must not feel isolated from the rest, because they can be related to much that goes on at grassroots level.

Verbeek complains that often so little of what is going on at a local scale does get on to the political responsible people. At this point Herman Verbeek had to leave us.

A small discussion emerged between Svend and Jan about our mechanised world, as we see it round us, and the freedom of choice to participate, yes or no, in that. How can we still offer an opening to young people that get this automated world shoved down their throats to develop a vision to keep building a just society?

After this the chairman closed the meeting, repeating Verbeek's last appeal to us all.