Dylan Mathews: My hopes for 2021

Dylan Mathews: My hopes for 2021

Wes Hicks Via Unsplash
When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The opening line from Amanda Gorman’s transcendent poem, is no doubt how many of us felt at the start of the year. But like so much of her poem, I find many reasons to be hopeful as we look at the year ahead.  

Here are my top three hopes for 2021:

My first hope is that despite the devastation caused by COVID19, we don’t forget that local peacebuilders continue to build peace and adapt their work, despite the exodus of expatriate staff from most countries and under the most restrictive conditions. 

2020 was hugely disruptive and traumatic for many people, but peacebuilding continued. Led by local communitiesAt Peace Direct, we’ve been advocating for a transformation of the system for almost 20 years, so that community and people-led peacebuilding efforts are placed front and centre of strategies to build sustainable peace in every country.  

As a result of COVID-19, this is exactly what happened in many places, born out of sheer necessity, not enlightened thinking by the international community. Could this positive change that emerged from the horrors of the pandemic somehow be sustained? Could international organisations and donors shift gears and become the cheerleaders and supporters of local efforts rather than the rule setters, architects and decision makers? 2021 may be the year that the tide starts to turn, and I’ll be putting Peace Direct’s efforts into pushing for this change. 

My second hope is that we all remember that building peace requires the efforts and energy of us all, and that democracy alone does not guarantee peace. The violence that we witnessed at the US Capitol is a stark reminder that we should never take peace for granted. Real lasting peace is a process that we all need to work towards, including in our own communities.  

Far right extremism in the US has grown, largely unchecked, for many years. It’s also an ever-present threat in the UK and other European countries too. It is hypocrisy to condemn and mourn the violence and instability overseas while failing to notice the slow burning fires in our own backyard. As Gorman said in her poem, we’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. I hope that we can support local efforts in our own communities as well as those in conflict affected countries around the world. At Peace Direct we’ll be thinking of how to amplify the voices of local peacebuilders in the UK and US and connect them to peacebuilders around the world. 

My third hope for 2021 is that we finally invest in young people as peacebuilders.  

For decades young people, particularly in poorer and conflict affected countries, have been dismissed as troublemakers or a ‘risk’ to the security of their country rather than as peacebuilders, leaders and drivers of growth and prosperity.  

Our support for youth led peacebuilding efforts around the world reminds me what remarkable progress can be achieved if we invest in young people. I hope that governments no longer pay lip service to the huge ‘potential’ that younger generations offer. It’s time to put words into action, and I hope the UKs new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office begins to invest in this huge pool of talent and energy globally. If proof of this talent is needed, let’s not forget that it was a 22-year-old skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother who dreamed of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one, and in doing so lit up the world in an instant. 

To quote Amanda one last time, 

if we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made. 

This is what our partners and hundreds of thousands of peacebuilders around the world are doing every day. It’s up to all of us to build bridges, and I hope in 2021 that you will all join in this effort too. 

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Click below to watch Amanda’s poem.

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