"There are probably more people engaged in civil disobedience now than during the Vietnam War, and most of them are engaged for religious reasons," Prof. Richard Falk of Princeton's Center for International Studies told the 200 people assembled at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Finally , the stirring in the room indicated, people were getting something to fire them up.
Falk was part of a panel that had been addressing itself to the weighty question of "individual responsibility for illegal military uses of force, aggression and crimes against peace in general" and he had much to say that was aimed directly at his listeners, for the most part grass-roots citizens, many of them church people, engaged in local politics and social action.
A Daylong Conference
They had come to a daylong conference with layers of names and titles, most of them unwieldy, but the hook for everyone seems to have been the phrase "individual responsibility," in this conference formally called "First Popular Assembly on Individual Responsibility and Arms Control; Individual Responsibility for International Crimes: From Terrorism to Torture."
In the face of problems ranging from the threat of nuclear annihilation, to world anarchy, to a crisis-riddled republic, the mood of the participants made it clear they were people who do not want to run and hide. Rather they were prepared to take on the task of righting the world, the sooner the better, and in many instances, were already at work. They had been drawn to Thousand Oaks, as one disgruntled man said at the lunch break, for "empowerment."
During the morning session, however, it had seemed that the audience and the experts were ships passing in the night.
Not only had Howard Stark found nothing to empower him at the morning session, he said he felt left out. Treasurer of the Ventura County Democratic Central Committee, activist in Amnesty International, the nuclear freeze movement and the Conejo Valley Contadora Group, he called the morning session "a discussion among eggheads. They intellectualized it. They left us out. They should bring us in. I came to learn about the individual role we can play in peacekeeping."
Three hours later that same Howard Stark was thanking Prof. Robert Woetzel for a great day.
Woetzel, president of the sponsoring Foundation for the Establishment of an International Criminal Court and chair of the hosting Church-State Circle at California Lutheran, had downplayed some of the dissatisfaction that emerged at the close of the morning session. "Wait until afternoon," he advised.
The intellectuals were indeed out in number on the panels, throughout the day. Most however, were not ivory-tower types, but actively engaged legal scholars, other academics and high-level United Nations staff from this country, the Soviet Union, Poland, Sudan and Canada.
All of them support Woetzel's idea of having an international criminal court where individuals, in government and private life, could be held accountable. (The International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, settles disputes of nations or certain international organizations.) It is an uphill struggle, Woetzel is the first to acknowledge, because nations, especially the more powerful ones, resist international jurisdiction over them.
During the conference, however, Woetzel and others stressed that with the growing incidence of terrorist acts and prevalence of torture, there might be a climate produced where certain nations would welcome a court that could "get them off the hook."
The problem with Saturday's conference was not the underlying issues of international law and a court to uphold it, but something of a misperception of what the day held in store. People came, many said, expecting not to sit back and listen to the experts, but to actively participate in a popular assembly. And the individual responsibility they expected to hear about was their own , whereas much of the conference was devoted to the notion of holding individuals responsible for crimes involving international economics, including arms trade, crimes against humanity such as terrorism and torture, and military force.
Finally, as promised, in the afternoon, Falk and several other panelists pulled the two together: In the face of international lawlessness, what could individuals do?
Citizens had the right, Falk told them, to demand a lawful foreign policy. He said there was a growing demand that was reaching the magnitude of the movement against royal absolutism that swept 13th-Century England and resulted in the Magna Charta.