Allison Pytlak, the Control Arms Coalition‘s Campaign Manager, discusses how she got involved in advocacy and what it’s like to do work that makes a difference.
Tell me how you got started. I have been very lucky. After I finished my undergraduate degree in International Relations, I was a bit lost and unsure of exactly what I wanted to do and what opportunities were available to me. I began to volunteer with Mines Action Canada – the Canadian member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) – in Toronto. Through them, I attended a Youth Leadership Forum that was taking place on the sidelines of a diplomatic conference related to the Mine Ban Treaty. In one of the sessions, I listened to a woman from Uganda recount the story of how she lost her leg to a landmine while riding a bus in the countryside, hours from any form of medical service. I was struck by her courage and strength, and horrified to realize how common her story is. At this same conference I met for the first time the hundreds of individuals who are committed to eradicating landmines and realized the truly transformative power of civil society to render change and impact lives in real ways. Shortly afterward, I became an intern with the ICBL in Geneva, and ever since have worked almost exclusively in international disarmament and arms control campaigns.
What interests you most about what you’re doing now? First, I feel very strongly about the issues that I work on. It’s ludicrous to me that arms are so poorly regulated, and that so much human intelligence and innovation goes into making the things with which we can kill and hurt one another. Weapons are truly terrifying to me, as well as sad in so many ways. Second, I really enjoy the challenges that come with advocacy and campaigning. Nothing is easy or guaranteed and so you have to stay sharp and think two steps ahead. When you do well, you’ve actually earned it.
What’s been your biggest accomplishment? Biggest challenge? The day that the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted was amazing. I have not been working on the ATT as long as many other people have, but to hear the words “The Treaty is adopted” was a great feeling and extremely emotional. It’s been wonderful to be a part of this process and watch international law take shape. The partnership and cooperation between governments and civil society has been very special and I feel privileged to have been involved.
As for challenges, well, of course there are so many – some big, some small. What I find the hardest to deal with is negativity from others, or even hostility about the Treaty or arms control more generally. Differences of opinion are fine, but there are some people out there who can be mean about it and that is very discouraging.
Who or what inspires you? I am most inspired and motivated when either our Control Arms Coalition comes together or I have the opportunity to travel and meet people who are working so hard, every day, to bring about change and sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances – with few resources and real political obstacles. We have some coalition members who are extremely dedicated and don’t give up; some have survived conflict and personal loss. They work on a shoe-string budget to get their message out and really believe in what we are doing. They inspire me.
Why is peace sexy to you? What does “Peace is Sexy” evoke for you? Peace brings happiness and well-being. What isn’t sexy about that? I think the Peace is Sexy initiative is great and goes a long way to show that standing up for something and making change is about confidence and determination; qualities that for me are definitely sexy.
What is a simple thing you do to create peace? What is something you do everyday? Well, many days are not peaceful! They include controversy, argument and difference of opinion. But in finding that middle ground and working out differences with others, there is peace. Separately, exercise brings me much peace of mind. I grew up studying classical ballet and still enjoy taking a class from time to time; running and yoga also make it possible to just tune out and be in the moment and let stress and pressure slip away.
How would you like Peace is Sexy to make a difference in what you are up to? Keep doing what you are doing and get the word out anywhere that you can! There is a perception that people who work in NGOs are not sexy and that working for good causes is somehow lame. This couldn’t be less true! Our sector is made up of beautiful, vibrant and motivated people. If we want to get anywhere in building a more peaceful world, then peace itself needs to be re-cast as something intriguing and compelling.
Where would you like to see your passion go in the next 10 years? 20 years? 100 years? At the moment I am about halfway through a Master’s degree program, which I am doing on a part-time basis. I am really looking forward to completing my studies over the next two years. I am also keen to do some field work. It’s likely that I will continue to work in arms control and disarmament. I would really like to see more progress be made on nuclear weapons – whether it be reducing existing stockpiles or banning them entirely.