When I was thirteen I went to a peace rally in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I live. Like many other people in the community I was impressed by the emotional atmosphere, by the incredible feeling of love and togetherness. Then I went off to school in England.
Although my parents had never brainwashed me into thinking along rigid lines, as so many others had done, the world in which I grew up consisted of one religion only. In England I found a totally different environment. Horizons were broadened; an unexpectedly different outlook opened up. My community had taught me, in its sly way, to judge people by their religion. During this year away I began to judge people by their character.
When I returned home to Northern Ireland a friend told me about the youth section of the Peace People, known as ''Youth for Peace.'' Remembering the rallies, and with my newly acquired open-mindedness, I decided to go along. I was very zealous - sure I could change people's thinking spontaneously - in at the deep end before I knew it, selling Peace by Peace, the newspaper of the Community of the Peace People, on the streets of Belfast, trying to get across the message of peace in a dozen ways.
It took me quite a time to realise that if I wanted others to listen to a different point of view I'd better listen to what they had to say. It took another year of listening, of gathering bits and pieces of information, slowly maturing and growing up, to understand this fully.
Then in 1980, just as Northern Ireland seemed to be facing one of the greatest crises of the present troubles, I went away again to school in England. Violence erupted all over Belfast. People who were normally open-minded were suddenly turned, through fear, into extremists.
During my end-of-term visit home I could feel the tense atmosphere. The two communities had by now been pushed so far apart that one side had no idea what was going on in the other community. It seemed as though it was time for me to sort out my ideas and philosophy so that I would have the courage to make a decision. Signing the ''Declaration of the Peace People,'' would be a dedication to nonviolence - saying that the only acceptable solution to the problems of my country was a nonviolent one.
It was a difficult decision to make because it often seemed that violence was at least a temporary solution to terrible problems, although centuries of violence and counterviolence in Ireland should have taught us that there was nothing permanent in such an answer. Violence was no longer a side effect of social, economic and political problems; it was now a problem in itself. But what choice did one have except to become as involved as possible in peace work? I was nineteen.
During the next few months I gained a lot of experience and strengthened my convictions. At the end of last June an important decision loomed up. I had applied for a degree course at an art college. Should I continue my education or take a year off and work full-time with the Peace People? I chose to take the year off.
We're developing all the time - developing not only our own leadership but even taking part in the running of the Community of the Peace People. This Christmas season we are fasting for three days. We want to draw attention to our sincerity, for young people are often not taken seriously, and we want to recall the real meaning of Christmas-peace and good will towards all men, not feasting. And we also want to say that two-thirds of the world are starving through no fault of their own.
The commitment I've made is an educated one, not purely emotional. It's better to take an active stand for peace than to wring one's hands. Peace is not a no-hope cause, nor is nonviolence impractical. The more people who know this, the more results we'll see. Here is the Declaration we sign:
I have a simple message for the world from this movement for Peace.
I want to live and love and build a just and peaceful society.
I want for children, as I want for myself, life at home, at work and at play to be a life of joy and peace.
I recognize that to build such a life demands of me, dedication, hard work and courage.
I recognize that there are many problems in my society which are a source of conflict and violence.
I recognize that every bullet fired and every exploding bomb makes that work more difficult.
I reject the use of the bomb and the bullet and all the techniques of violence.
I dedicate myself to working with my neighbours, near and far, day in and day out, to building that peaceful society in which the tragedies we have known are a bad memory and a continuing warning.