Colombians celebrated as historic peace agreements were signed in August 2016. Now the public will vote on the agreements in an upcoming referendum. Image credit: Agencia Prensa Rural

Civil society groups understand that peace must be understood separately from political interest
The public debate around peace in Colombia has become frenetic, showing up different shades of a society that agrees on the imperative for peace, but not on the means to achieve it. A majority support the recently finalised peace agreements, but many also struggle with some of its key features: amnesty for ex-combatants and the possibility of political participation for rebels. The difficulty of this decision and the burden of responsibility for peace has shown in the ferocity of debates. Rational argument and acceptance of different points of view have been replaced by animosity, the path to peace obscured by political and ideological difference.

But there are those who understand that peace must be understood separately from political interest. Civil society groups, many of them led by young people, are keeping their distance from political parties and political leaders, activating their own movements and campaigns to promote peace and reconciliation. The young people involved in these movements realise that peacebuilding is their generation’s challenge. They accept that there is uncertainty and risk involved in accepting the peace agreements. But for them any peace is better than no peace, any uncertainty better than a future with guns, guerillas and war.

What follows is a description of the most popular of these youth movements. Though the movements were only established after negotiations ended, they are already enjoying widespread support and mobilising large numbers of campaigners.

Sí me la juego: I am in

This is a movement that broadly translates to mean “I am in”, created by a group of influential people that act to mobilise youth and promote the ‘Yes’ vote.

Natalia Currea, a core supporter, explains: “We speak in a positive tone. The 'Yes' vote is hope. The possibility of a different future for the generations to come, to dream a different country, to open dialogue spaces that did not exist before. These will never exist if war continues.”

Si me la juego acts as a network, making connections with and supporting other ‘Yes’ movements and actions such as marches and gatherings. They strongly believe everyone can promote the ‘Yes’ vote through talking about the vote, following social networks to stay up to date with events and developing communications that specify the benefits of ending armed conflict.

Paz mi Pez: everyday peacebuilding

Building peaceful environments is an individual responsibility, and everyone can put it into practice every day

Peace my Friend is a movement founded by 25-year-old Angela. She argues that violence in Colombia comes not only in confrontation between illegal armed groups but also in the hostile way people interact with one another. She decided to start her own campaign to promote a simple message: building peaceful environments and relationships is an individual responsibility, and everyone can put it into practice every day with their friends, relatives and neighbours.

Speaking to Angela about the key messages Paz mi Pez aims to promote, she answers that people should leave behind their fears about change, and understand that voting ‘Yes’ to approve the peace agreements it not just about giving Colombians hope, but giving hope to other countries that are facing civil war and armed conflict. It is a huge opportunity to take on behalf of future generations.

Through social media and outreach events, Angela encourages small acts of kindness in everyday settings, whether at home, at work or on the bus. In doing so she hopes to foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance in Colombia, believing this to be a vital step towards a long-lasting peace. After the vote, the movement aims to support peace education for children and young people.

Jóvenes de paz: defeating political apathy

Peace Youth is a participative platform of young people from the small city of Villavicencio. These young people see a great enthusiasm for debate about the peace agreements among their peers. But they also see apathy and disillusionment with political processes. Peace Youth aims to convince other young people that the vote on the peace agreements is different from other political events in Colombia. There are no political parties, no candidates, no nepotism. Instead there is a remarkable opportunity to build a new society, free from guns and violence.

Oscar, 26, a political scientist is one of the leaders of this social movement. He is convinced that young people will be the ones responsible for peace building in Colombia. To reach this goal it is important to have new leaders, and more innovative and transparent politics. 

Peace Youth reach out through events and advocacy work. Last week, they organised Planting Peace, an event spreading the message that peace is a national responsibility. They argue that a vote endorsing the peace agreements will be a seed of peace, one that will need to be nourished and cared for by every Colombian. In mobilising their peers to vote ‘Yes’ to the agreements, they hope to secure the foundation for building a peaceful society in Colombia.

Jóvenes por el Si: countering media bias through performance art

Jovenes por el sí focuses on the optimism that results from the possibility of a country living in peace

The Youth for Yes movement is already active in 10 different cities and has united students and young leaders from universities across Colombia. The group is concerned about media bias relating to the plebiscite. They fear that media sites and newspapers are selectively sharing polls that have ‘No’ votes leading and that this will influence voting.

Alex Bahamón, one of the members of the movement, explains that by reading the full document of the peace agreements it is not possible to identify all the benefits that peace would bring to the society. With this idea on mind, Jovenes por el sí is focusing on the optimism that results from the possibility of a country living in peace.

In response, they seek to promote the ‘Yes’ option independently of traditional media. They use art and symbolism to highlight the positive aspects of the peace agreements. Flash mobs and street demonstrations are typical of their style. They even organised a faux-wedding where supporters married a ‘Yes’ vote.

Organising for peace

These organisations are a sample of the vibrant civil society that is growing around the plebiscite vote. Youth are celebrating the opportunity for peace, convincing others of how positively peace could transform Colombia and rallying people to go out and vote.

In building a new Colombia these groups may well end up as the political elite of the future. Perhaps the best advice they can follow in this moment comes from Martin Luther King Jr: “Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”