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Posts tagged ‘nonviolence’

Non-violence In Syria

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Michael Nagler
31 July 2012

Syria: Lamp in the Storm

During the climactic “Quit India” campaign launched by Gandhi in 1942, there were outbreaks of violence. Earlier, in 1922, similar outbreaks had led him to suspend the non-cooperation movement. This time, however, he said, “let our lamp stay lit in the midst of this hurricane.”

This is very much the precarious situation of nonviolence in Syria today. A bit of background:

In the Quranic version of Cain and Abel, Abel says to his jealous brother,: “If thou dost stretch thy hand against me, to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee, for I do fear God, the cherisher of the worlds.” (Quran 5:28) In other words, the first murder is accompanied by the first act of nonviolence, a refusal to kill, even in self-defense, through mindfulness of a God who stands far above partisan conflict.

Islamic scholar Sheik Jawdat Said based his book, The Doctrine Of The First Son Of Adam, apparently the first book in modern Arabic to proffer nonviolent solutions to the region’s problems, on this verse. Said’s ideas were well received in some intellectual circles in Syria but did not lead visibly to any appreciable change the political or social environment. The wave of agitations touched off by the Iranian revolution (though it itself had, and still has, some nonviolent character)—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, to a limited extent Syria itself—were in one way or another nationalistic but not particularly nonviolent. But a group of young men (shebab) who had fallen under the influence of an open-minded teacher at a school that was soon closed by the regime were receptive to the ideas of the distinguished sheik. With the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2001 they began to take some modest actions that were, particularly in one case, provocative to the regime. They began to clean up the streets of their respective neighborhoods. This may not seem very revolutionary to us, but in Syria people did not feel that they owned their country. Inside they lived in clean, orderly houses, but the public streets belonged to the state—which did nothing about them. In other words, while it’s doubtful any of them knew this, it was a perfect example of a Gandhian “Constructive Programme:” taking matters into your own hands in a way that puts the regime in a bad light if, as often, they interfere. Which they did. There were arrests. The regime knew these shebab were giving the people back ownership of their country.

Then came Arab Spring. Protests began in Syria in late January of 2011. In the early months Opposition forces were creating defections among military and government—critical for the success of non-violent insurrections—but many of the defectors and others turned to armed struggle in the face of the repression. According to Erica Chenoweth, the author, with Maria Stefan, of the highly influential study, Why Civil Resistance Works, such movements usually require two and a half to three years to take hold. There have been cases of nonviolent campaigns persisting in the midst of armed elements on both sides, and sometimes even rising to capture the legitimacy of the opposition from those armed elements, usually with some international recognition behind them, and going on to win the struggle: South Africa, the Philippines, and at some point (inshallah) maybe Palestine. This is crucial because, as Chenoweth and Stefan point out, nonviolent insurrections are twice as likely to succeed and vastly more likely to lead to conditions of real liberty (yet to happen in Egypt). In Syria, however, the fledgling movement was rather quickly overwhelmed. Extreme violence creates mobilization challenges that fledgling movements may find difficult to overcome. Some movements manage to maintain—or even increase—participation in the face of extreme violence (the Pashtun Khudai Kidmatgars in 1931, Iran in 1977-9), whereas others find themselves in disarray.” As Bsher Said (Jawdat’s son) informed me, when people are arrested and questioned they generally tell their captors what they want to hear—“Oh, yes, it was armed gangs that did the killing.” It has prompted Bsher to comment, pointedly, that “If we could stop the lying we wouldn’t need a revolution.” So far the wall of fear has not cracked, so we are lacking the sine qua non of successful insurrection—or successful almost anything.

Yet, as Donatella Rivera posts in her recent blog, “The young people I met—including those who had been injured—said they have no intention of stopping their protests.” And while the state actors of the “international community,” even if they resolve their differences, feel that they can do nothing, or worse, global civil society is not so inhibited. There is more going on than I am free to describe here, unfortunately, because of security concerns and the delicacy of some issues, but nonviolence training, badly needed visioning of a future for Syria, reconciliation work, and weekly discussion groups across borders are all going forward. As for higher level operations, we all know that the UN has sent in some 300 monitors, the so-called “blue berets” (joined by a smaller number from the Arab League). But this is the main point.

Summing up the failure of the nonviolent movement of Syria so far, Bsher succinctly says, “we were not ready.” Well, neither were we—the watching world. Three hundred monitors? When it comes to blue helmets the UN is ready to field 16,000. These unarmed monitors are a great step in the right direction, but they should have been at least ten times more numerous and ‘armed’ with a more robust mandate. As Mel Duncan, founding director of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, shared, they must be ready to protect Alawites as well as Sunnis: anyone under threat. They should set up cross-sectarian teams who can call in international help to forestall retaliatory violence when the transition takes place. Duncan should know. Nonviolent Peaceforce and other Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping groups have been doing this successfully, and with almost no casualties to speak of, around the world since the 1980s, and have recently made highly successful contacts with offices of the UN.

Read entire Op-Ed at Nation of Change or Yes! Magazine.

Support Bahraini People

Dear Gabriel,

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the start of protests in Bahrain. Tens of thousands are expected to take to the streets to protest a government that has committed terrible violence against its own citizens.

When Bahrain’s streets awaken in protest tomorrow, will government forces crack down on peaceful demonstrators again? Will there be more tear gas, torture, killings?

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But we do know that tragedy is not inevitable.

Take action for a better tomorrow in Bahrain. Call on the Bahraini government and security forces to respect peaceful protest and assembly — today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come.

As protests enter their second year, the Middle East and North Africa remain in turmoil. As I wrote you over the weekend, the crisis in Syria is escalating. Civil society is under attack in Egypt. We can’t let violence against peaceful protesters rekindle anew in Bahrain.

If the Bahraini government keeps its promises — to end torture and excessive force, to release peaceful protesters from prison, and to hold those responsible for abuses accountable — it should have nothing to fear from nonviolent protests demanding political reforms.

Under pressure, Bahrain’s government has taken some positive steps forward — but human rights violations continue in the country. Scores of people sentenced to prison terms for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly during last year’s protests are still facing criminal charges.

Two of those prisoners, leaders of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association, face a critical hearing this coming weekend that could grant them their freedom — or keep them jailed for years.

The situation in Bahrain is dire, but it is not hopeless — and we can have tremendous influence. Bahrain takes its international image seriously. And since Bahrain is a country with such close ties to the U.S., the Bahraini government is uniquely susceptible to pressure from the U.S. government and U.S.-based activists.

Your action today could mean peace in Bahrain tomorrow. Tell the Bahraini government that you are watching closely — and that when tomorrow comes, you expect them to do the right thing for human rights.

With hope for tomorrow,

Sanjeev Bery
Advocacy Director, Middle East and North Africa
Amnesty International USA

Nonviolence in Syria

From Nation of Change
by Stephen Zunes
1 February 2012

Unarmed Resistance Still Syria’s Best Hope

The Syrian pro-democracy struggle has been both an enormous tragedy and a powerful inspiration. Indeed, as someone who has studied mass nonviolent civil insurrections in dozens of countries in recent decades, I know of no people who have demonstrated such courage and tenacity in the face of such savage repression as have the people of Syria these past 10 months.

The resulting decline in the legitimacy of Bashar al-Assad’s government gives hope that the opposition will eventually win. The question is how many more lives will be lost until then.

While the repressive nature of regime has never been in question, many observers believed it would be smarter and more nuanced in its reaction when the protests of the Arab Spring first came to Syria in March. Indeed, had the government responded to the initial demonstrations like those of Morocco and neighboring Jordan with genuine (if relatively minor) reforms and more subtle means of crowd control, the pro-democracy struggle would have probably faded rather quickly.

Instead, the regime has responded with live ammunition against overwhelmingly nonviolent demonstrators and with widespread torture and abuse of detainees, even as the protests spread to every major region of the country. The death toll as of this writing now stands at more than 5,000.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the opposition was relatively united and was able to take advantage of divisions within the ruling circles, the elites in Syria have been united against a divided opposition. Decades of human rights abuses, sectarian divisions, suppression of independent civil society institutions, ubiquitous secret police, and an overall culture of fear have made it difficult to build a unified opposition movement. Furthermore, the Israeli occupation of the southwestern region of the country, foreign invasions and occupations of neighboring Lebanon and Iraq, and periodic threats by Turkey, Israel and the United States have allowed the nationalistic regime to further solidify its control.

Another difference is that Assad is not a singular ruler, but part of a powerful oligarchy composed of top military officers, wealthy businessmen, Baath Party officials and others. Dictatorships that rest primarily on the power of just one man are generally more vulnerable in the face of popular revolt than are oligarchical systems where a broader network of elite interests has a stake in the system.

Syria has not had much experience in democracy. Its brief democratic period following independence was aborted by a CIA-supported coup in 1949. Following two decades of coups, countercoups, a brief union with Egypt, and chronic political instability, Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970 and ruled until his death in 2000. Despite that the republican Baath movement was founded in large part on opposition to dynastic succession so common in the Arab world, Assad was succeeded by his son Bashar. The younger Assad, while allowing for an initial wave of liberalization upon first coming to power, soon cracked down on dissent. Indeed, the only liberalization subsequently has been on the economic front, and that has primarily benefited only a minority of Syrians and greatly increased social inequality.

Read complete story at Nation of Change.

Nonviolent Resistance

From Inter Press Service and Nation of Change
by Karina Bockmann
26 January 2012

The Logic and Limits of Nonviolent Conflict

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the uprisings in Egypt that unseated an authoritarian regime and rekindled the spark of nonviolent resistance around the world.

The mass demonstrations that began on Jan. 25 in Cairo appeared spontaneous, ignited by the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution some weeks before. But according to Srdja Popovic, a seasoned organizer and founder of the ‘Centre for Applied NonViolent Action & Strategies’ (CANVAS) in Belgrade, that assumption is far from the truth.

A consultancy group for nonviolent resistance movements around the world, CANVAS prides itself on having trained pro-democracy activists from almost 40 countries in nonviolent techniques and strategies.

Members of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, a decisive force in bringing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, were disciples of the organization, which has been dubbed the ‘Revolution Academy’.

In CANVAS workshops, members of April 6 became familiar with forms of peaceful protest, creative provocation measures and practical advice on how to behave in critical situations. They took classes in fundraising and recruitment and gained valuable advice on how to attract new supporters to the movement.

Coupled with the revolutionary fervor that swept across Egypt throughout 2011 and is still visible on the streets today, CANVAS’ training of key young members of the resistance bore fruits of a legendary nature.

“2011 was the worst year for the bad guys ever,” said Popovic at a discussion in Berlin entitled, ‘Democracy Promotion – Democracy Export – Regime Change?’, referring to the many pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East that have come to be known as the Arab Spring.

Popovic easily counts himself as one of the ‘good guys’, given that he was a driving force behind the Serbian student movement Otpor! (meaning resistance) that peacefully toppled the ‘butcher of Belgrade’ Slobodan Milosevic from power in the year 2000.

Solid Strategies

Popovic is the executive director of CANVAS and, by extension, the chief trainer at the ‘Revolution Academy’.

A veteran organizer, he inspires professionalism, assertiveness and confidence when he speaks about the techniques of “how to get rid of a dictator” and of the importance of unity, planning and nonviolent discipline as “the universal principles of success.”

Assuming that a successful pro-democracy movement needs the support of just three to eight percent of the population, the chances of overthrowing dictators anywhere in the world are quite high, Popovic said, corroborating his assertion with the results of a report explaining ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’.

Authored by Erica Chenoweth, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, and Maria J. Stephan, a strategic planner with the U.S. Department of State, the report analyzed 323 violent and nonviolent resistance movements from 1900 to 2006 and concluded that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”

Chenoweth and Stephan examine campaigns like Gandhi’s struggle for Indian Independence from British rule in 1947, the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, the civilian-based movements in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004) as well as the ousting of foreign troops in Lebanon (2005) and the restoration of civil rule in Nepal (2006) and the Maldives (2008).

The study bolsters the ‘democracy export’ policy introduced by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan back in 1983, which is as dynamic today as it was more than two decades ago – in fact, Washington invests roughly two billion dollars a year in nonviolent global interventions, or what critics of the model call ‘hidden U.S. imperialism’.

Both authors argue that nonviolent resistance has a strategic advantage over violent resistance. Repressing peaceful protests could backfire, resulting in a breakdown of obedience among regime supporters, mobilization of the population against the regime and international condemnation or sanctions, which often serve to weaken those in power.

The authors go a step further to predict that key members of the regime – including civil servants, security forces and members of the judiciary – “are more likely to shift loyalty toward nonviolent opposition groups than toward violent opposition groups.”

When repression by state forces is directed towards nonviolent campaigns, the report estimates the rate of defection by security forces to be as high as 46 percent.

Popovic also stressed that nonviolent strategies against authoritarian rule, as well as the use of social media tools rather than weapons, are, in general, far less risky endeavors for individuals involved in the movement.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Powerful Roots

From Nation of Change
by Bryan Farrell
7 January 2012

Embracing Tree Huggers: The Powerful Roots of (Un) Armed Environmental Protection

Show the slightest bit of concern for the environment and you get labeled a tree hugger. That’s what poor Newt Gingrich has been dealing with recently, as the other presidential candidates attack his conservative credentials for having once appeared in an adwith Nancy Pelosi in support of renewable energy. Never mind that he has since called the ad the “biggest mistake” of his political career and talked about making Sarah Palin energy secretary. Gingrich will be haunted by the tree hugger label the rest of his life. He might as well grow his hair out, stop showering and start walking around barefoot.

But is that what a tree hugger really is? Just some dazed hippie who goes around giving hugs to trees as way to connect with nature. You might be shocked to learn the real origin of the term.

The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape. Not only that, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement (which means “to cling”) that started in the 1970s, when a group of peasant women in Northeast India threw their arms around trees designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as tree satyagraha, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

2011 – Spreading Nonviolence

From Nation of Change
by Jake Olzen
29 December 2011

2012: The Year of Nonviolence?

If 2011 was the year of the protester, 2012 may prove to be the year of nonviolence. What’s the difference? It’s as great as between yes and no. A crucial awakening that envelopes humanity’s collective struggle for justice, peace and democracy is happening; it is an awakening that clarifies the circumstances we embrace with a yes and those by which we respond with a vehement no. Like many I know, I often teeter between despair and hope–stuck in a kind of uncomfortable tension resembling Wendell Berry’s poetic instruction to “be joyful though you have considered all the facts” –grasping for some measure of sanity to make sense of all that is happening.

It is tempting to succumb to despair, what with the onslaught of major media coverage telling us all the bad news, dismissing the promising news, and ignoring the good news. Consider the challenges: the unraveling violence of the Egyptian revolution, the 5,000 killed in Syria, climate change and the instability and disasters brought by extreme weather patterns and an ill-equipped global populace with inadequate leadership, the threat of random violence and terrorist activity–Norway, Belgium, India, the US, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq–and state and cultural violence against immigrants, women, refugees, the poor, GLBTQ persons, and people of color. So where is the hope? Well, in 2011, the fires of our hope were stoked by the global protest movements–the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Occupy Wall Street–of millions of people rising up to say: كفاية …Basta…Enough! Resistance was in the streets and occupations in city squares. A resounding “no” echoed around the world–what Bernard Harcourt has perceptively termed “political disobedience”–signifying contempt, dissatisfaction, and rejection of entrenched governments and status quo economics. Dictators were ousted in Egypt and Tunisia. Revolutionary fervor was sparked by nonviolent action in Libya, Syria and Yemen. South Korean activists are poised to possibly shutter the building of a controversial US naval base with profound geopolitical implications. Afghan youth are getting organized–an incredible feat considering all the challenges they face. Palestinian nonviolent resistance and the Free Gaza movement is growing as are Israeli protests for social justice. In the US, activists and organizers in Wisconsin and Ohio occupied their state capitals to protest budget cuts and GOP anti-unionism. Undocumented students–DREAMers–took it to the streets and Senators’ offices. Environmentalists, farmers, ranchers, students and citizens staged sit-ins at the White House to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline–whose fate is still TBD but the resistance is growing. And then there was Occupy Wall Street. The movement propelled American activism back into public purview and is proving to be the era where a generation of young people–equipped with the tools, knowledge and experience of the civil rights and anti-war generations–are cutting their teeth in nonviolent social change. We are telling ourselves that there is reason to hope because we incarnate it.

The protests of 2011 are the harbinger of what we’ve already known–what we’ve been waiting and working for–that neoliberalism’s carte blanche as signed by the Washington Consensus is on the way out. The days of political regimes that are not truly democratic (and, apparently, equitable) are–at the very least in ideological terms–numbered. In the 00s, there was an explosion of social commentary on globalization: Thomas Freidman, Naomi Klein, Paul Hawken, Vandana Shiva. Paul Kingsnorth, a British journalist, penned a book whose title has stayed with me: One No, Many Yeses. The catchy, chant-like title offers a simple way to reflect on the the historical moment we are experiencing. As symbolized by Time‘s “Person of the Year,” there is a global “no!” to anti-democratic governments and unfettered capitalism. But at the same time, that singular no of protest is united by the multitude of “yeses” whose global resonance signifies the arrival of a comprehensive vision of nonviolence.

This yes to nonviolence signals the awakening consciousness that summarily connects us to that which is most important in our lives and our communities: the desire to be connected, to live without fear, to be healthy and be in healthy relationships, to be free to have self-determining and mutually-supporting ways of living, working, parenting, learning, teaching, creating, and, yes, even dying. Never before have we witnessed the acute, raw, powerful desire for life in such a way that so many diverse peoples are willingly struggling for that way of being.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Jim Douglass & Nonviolence

Excerpt from The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America by Alan Nelson and John Malkin.

JIM DOUGLASS

James Wilson Douglass was born on July 16, 1937, in Princeton, British Columbia, Canada. He grew up in Hedley, BC, a small mining town in the Rocky Mountains, where his father managed a gold mine. Douglass’ Irish Catholic mother had prepared to become a Dominican sister prior to marrying his father, a widower with four children already in their teens.

James Douglass studied nuclear engineering at the University of California Berkeley, and English and philosophy at Santa Clara University. He did graduate work in English at the University of Kansas, and earned an MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame. Before being inspired to work for peace, Douglass intended to be a nuclear-weapons designer and was in the U.S. army in 1955 and 1956.

From 1962 to 1965, Douglass succeeded in persuading bishops at the Second Vatican Council to condemn total war and to support conscientious objection. He has also spent time in jails for his nonviolent civil disobedience, resisting U. S. nuclear and military policies. In the 1980s, he led efforts in tracking and protesting the U.S. Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons “White Train” that carried nuclear materials secretly, and in the 1990s he traveled to Iraq to non-cooperate with the U.S.-led economic sanctions and wars against that country. Douglass and his wife, Shelley, together founded the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action; the Agape Community, which tracked the White Train, and Mary’s House, a Catholic Worker house in Birmingham, Alabama.

Douglass has written a series of four books on the theology of non-violence: The Non-Violent Cross, Resistance and Contemplation, Lightning East to West, and The Nonviolent coming of God. The Nonviolent Coming of God describes the ways Jesus of Nazareth embodied revolutionary nonviolence and taught it to the people of his day, who faced the choice between nonviolence and violent annihilation by the occupying Roman military forces. Jesus’ prophecy that we all must choose between nonviolence and annihilation is no less true today than it was in his own time. In his writing, Douglass maintains that the resurrection of Jesus – the nonviolent coming of God – is still happening today in the form of worldwide revolutionary nonviolence.

Especially important are the connections Douglass makes between theological, psychological, political, and economic aspects of peacemaking and revolutionary nonviolence. In ways congruent with much of the best contemporary and traditional psychotherapies, he speaks as a seasoned social-change activist and theologian about human growth and potential. He presents a theology (logic of God) and a psychology (logic of the psyche) of nonviolent peacemaking, as well as of personal and social growth and transformation.

Douglass does not call on people of non-Christian traditions to become Christians, but he does call on Christians and all religious and spiritual people to become acquainted with the centeral aspects of nonviolent peacemaking that all religious and spiritual traditions contain. Douglass’ writings and activism for social change have focused on nonviolent resistance to militarism, on noncooperation with injustice, and on compassionate witnessing to suffering as taught by Jesus and other religious teachers.

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

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