By Gina Spigarelli
“I thought it was great, all of it,” said one community member, reflecting on the celebrations around the 15-year anniversary of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó (CdP for its acronym in Spanish).
“Fifteen years! Can you believe it? These events are the kinds of celebrations we need as a community to give us the strength and endurance to keep on fighting for our lives and our community,” said one man who has been a part of the community process since the CdP was founded in 1997.
On March 23, CdP members from all of the community villages as well as national and international supporters of the CdP travelled to the community village of San Josecito, where we gathered in the newest community kiosk. The kiosk was built last year as a monument to all of those who have been killed while trying to build a peaceful alternative to war in the Peace Community. For the celebration the kiosk was lined with photos of resistance from the CdP as well as from other communities in resistance around Colombia. Human rights organizations all around the world sent banners and letters, and community members themselves made posters.
Padre Javier Giraldo summed up 15 years of the community’s history. He spoke of the massacres and displacements and deaths, and he also spoke about the process of resistance and how certain beautiful things came out of the dark history. He talked, for example, about how the idea of self-sustenance came out of the food blockade. He talked about how women’s work groups formed in response to men being killed and displaced. He talked about how alternative education came to be because traditional teachings about the state and the war didn’t ring true in the community’s experience.
International solidarity groups spoke about their work with the CdP and how this community has the ability to inspire people all over the globe. Liza Smith spoke on behalf of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and talked about the ten years that we have spent permanently accompanying the village of La Unión. There were many speakers from the CdP itself, men and women who now are 30 years old and raising their own children. They talked about being the youth when the community was being founded and how it has affected their lives and their ability to build an alternative for their kids. Community members spoke about how far they have come and about the current culture of death that surrounds them.
After a lunch prepared at the community kitchen, the entire group marched through San José where the community was founded, just as they did 15 years ago to the day, and then hiked the two hours up through the jungle to La Unión. During the march, men, women, and children held photos of family members and neighbors who have been killed. They carried everyone who has been a part of this process with them.
In La Unión, the group toured the Agricultural Center, which is the community’s response to being completely self-sustaining. One resident said, “We are so proud of this village and all we have done here. We are thankful for the accompaniment that makes this possible and we are happy to be celebrating 15 years of resistance during which we have built a healthy alternative to the reality of this zone, which is war.”
Everyone gathered in the central kiosk, built to commemorate the community leaders killed in La Unión in the 2000 massacre, and watched a video made by Oxfam during the first year of the community. “Honestly, this video just makes me laugh. We were so young. We were so excited about what we were starting and at the same time had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It was the first time any of us were interviewed on video, the first time we were asked to talk about the community for people that weren’t a part of the process,” said one man.
His wife added, “That video also serves as a nice piece of historical memory, because in that first march there were so many of us. Thousands of people started this community together, and over the years so many of those people have been killed or displaced or disappeared. Sometimes it’s hard for me to watch those interviews and think of all the people we have lost in this fight. It also reminds us where we came from. In those years we did everything together. We had community meetings twice a day; we paid attention to where everyone was at all times for all of our safety. It’s hard to believe how far we have come.”
While there is certainly a lot of pain in the war zone, both historically and today, the community is an example of effective peaceful resistance. All during the day we reflected on where the CdP came from and who was lost on the way, on what was built and how. Then, in the evening, the music was turned up really loud and men grabbed partners and headed to the dance floor. Because the community is 15 years old, and even though a high price was paid to turn 15, there are still people here resisting. And that is reason enough to dance.