by Megan Bilas
Witness for Peace Northwest kicked off its first “Face the Displaced” event of April at Meaningful Movies in the basement of Keystone Congregational United Church of Christ. I was surprised to see how many people were in attendance at this event. After all, who would want to trudge out in the cold Seattle rain on a Friday night? In spite of the dismal weather, the evening proved to be very productive in raising awareness about Colombia.
The first event of the night included an introduction by Regional Organizer, Colette Cosner. Many in the audience were shocked to hear that Colombia has the second worst humanitarian crisis in the world. A perceptible gasp filled the room when this comment was made. This introduction was followed by the showing of Shoveling Water, a Witness for Peace documentary detailing aerial fumigations conducted by the U.S. in the “War on Drugs.” The image that affected me the most was that of emaciated children whose families make their living off of farming coca. Most people think of rich drug lords when they think of the drug trade, few realize the meager existence coca farmers and even fewer how US policy contributes to that existence.
Witness for Peace Colombia delegates shared their personal stories after this showing. You could tell how much visiting Colombia had impacted them, especially as tears welled up in the eyes of one of the delegates. The transformative power of travel was evident throughout the presentation.
The second part of the night involved audience members breaking off into smaller groups to make portraits of displaced Colombians and to discuss what they had just seen in the documentaries. The audience was made up of a variety of people including Meaningful Movies regulars, students, Witness for Peace delegates, immigrants to the U.S., and different social justice advocates. The diversity produced varying reactions during the small group activities. Some groups were busily working away to finish their portraits while others had placed their portrait materials aside to discuss displacement and US foreign policy. I heard individuals discuss other options to solve the War on Drugs other than aerial spraying. A couple from Colombia challenged what they had been shown in the documentaries and were not sure that the entire story was being presented. Some people, including other Colombian immigrants, reacted to this statement and disagreed with the claim.
This night demonstrated the fact that a story is never really one-sided and multiple views can exist over the unfolding of a single event. The case of Colombia, in particular, needs to be examined from multiple angles. There are many different issues and perspectives that need to be taken into account. They key to resolving any conflict is to consider multiple opinions and viewpoints in order to reach the truth of the matter. Discussion, even if it represents contentious views, is what brings important issues into light. One of the problems in regard to U.S. policies toward Colombia has been the lack of any sort of dialogue and, consequently, the lack of any significant attention toward events transpiring there.
Witness for Peace Northwest’s kickoff for National Days of Action for Colombia revealed the importance of local community dialogue for effective global justice initiatives. Although the simple construction of a “Face the Displaced” portrait may not seem like a huge effort toward resolving Colombia’s problems, it represents the surfacing of a crisis that has been mostly hidden.