Friday, December 12, 2014

Give the campus cops de-escalation training, not guns

Should the campus cops be armed?

As a pacifist, I Just Say No.

As a member of a peace team, I oppose all violence and all threats of violence. Carrying a gun is a threat of violence.
Where I teach, Portland State University, has just decided to arm up the campus cops. These 'security officers' can't even manage to handle their current duties, which include unlocking doors. For more than a year I've been unable to walk into the stairwell that is closest to my office. I have to take the long way around, often several times per day, because suddenly they stopped opening those doors. And when I teach weekend classes, it's totally dysfunctional. These folks can't manage to open buildings or the connecting walkways between them for the whole weekend, even though students are paying full tuition for weekend classes, same as any other class day, and deserve a functioning campus, or at least unlocked doors to buildings and classrooms. It's pathetic.

Give 'em guns? So when I argue with them, as I frequently do, about unlocking doors, they can bark an order and, when I'm not compliant, take me down or tase me or just shoot me? A (now retired) cop running buddy of mine told me years ago, "You know what the two favorite words are for any cop? Resisting arrest. Then we get to do whatever we want to you." Of course, no actual resistance is necessary; just irritate the sworn officer and they do what they want, say what they want, and usually get away with murder, if that's what they feel like doing.

"Sworn" should mean that everything they say or write in the course of their employment should be tantamount to sworn testimony, thus punishable like perjury would be if it's false, which is fairly common. Beat 'em, lie about it, and you are good to go if you are a 'sworn' officer.

Oh, come on. Campus cops wouldn't be like that. Actually, they would. My university's Board of Trustees, without the benefit of a great deal of germane data and research, voted last night to make them "sworn officers." This makes them actual cops, not friendly campus security any more. Strapped with big guns and big attitudes. Dominating. Racial profiling with serious and potentially lethal consequences at the other end of the very different process. Hands up, don't shoot. I can't breathe.

As the US convulses in the wake of more and more murders of unarmed people of color and people with diagnosed mental health issues, my university ignores the facts, the trends, and just decides to join the bad guys. It is shameful. The intersection of armed cops, escalation of crime classification, racist cop aggression, and Grand Jury malfunction is a tragedy-producing confluence.

What I tell my students is that during my years as a community organizer I learned a number of life lessons, many having to do with resiliency and persistence. Never. Give. Up.

We were defeated year in and year out in our efforts to shut down a military base. We had legal defeats in both civil and criminal courts. I was in the first group to get arrested in nonviolent civil resistance, I was the first one to commit a nonviolent felony in civil resistance to it, I was the only one to repeat that and earned a three-year prison sentence my second time around. Lose-lose-lose-lose, with more than 100 years incarceration amongst dozens of nonviolent resisters. Senator Feingold and Congressman Obey tried for years to get the base closed and failed. How many losses do you swallow before you give up?

As many as it takes. We won. That base is shut down and dismantled, even though the US thermonuclear Navy said very publicly that they intended to keep it open until at least 2030. Never. Give. Up.

We may see our campus cops sporting heavy lethal firepower, but if we never quit challenging it, and if we get enough creativity and nonviolent persistence on our side, we will disarm them again.

Never. Give. Up.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

NOPE--Not On Planet Earth

Help the rural folks in southern Indiana who face contamination from depleted uranium--lots of it.

The editorial board of the rural paper the Madison Courier, serving southern Indiana and northern Kentucky, is urging citizens to make public comments on the US Army's request to basically abandon 2,000 acres of the Jefferson Proving Ground where, from 1984-1994, depleted uranium rounds were tested. Millions of unexploded rounds, in addition to 162,000 pounds of DU in the soil, remain on that acreage and the Army wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow them to just keep it fenced off and not only leave it dirty but stop monitoring it.

With defenders of our country like these, who needs ISIS?

Cancers, birth defects, and other consequences are certain. DU remains radioactive for geologic time spans.
Fallujah baby, born to mother exposed to DU
The radiation from DU causes these health problems and literally kills people even if the UXO is never exploded. Unexploded ordnance that sits leaching its ionizing radiation into the soil means into the groundwater and surface water. It is mobile. It will get into the food chain.

The US has wasted enormous amounts of people and money developing, testing, producing, and shooting this godawful material, totally illegal under the basic rules of international law on war if we believe that outlawing poisonous weapons applies. As it stands, some nations have banned DU and many international organizations have urged very specific international law doing so.

The public has until Dec. 18 to provide input on the NRC study. Send email comments to - http: and search for Docket ID NRC-2014-0097 (click on Comment Now) or by regular mail to: Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: 3WFN-06-A44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001. Put Docket ID NRC-2014-0097 in the subject line.

The days of divide and conquer should end. We should stand with those who are being mistreated, from Ferguson to Madison County, Indiana, from Staten Island to Camp Lejune.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Activist lottery

Apathy. What could it hurt? So we don't vote; voting is such a bother. So we skip the public hearing, even though we sort of have opinions on the policy that is being considered. Who has time for such tedium? Letters to the editor? To politicians? Ugh. In the famous phraseology of Dick Cheney, we have other priorities.

What happens when enough of us say, oh please, with more than 300 million Americans, why bother to vote or speak out or act on injustice, environmental protection or peace? What good is my little bit? And when I do finally write a letter to a politician he answers with a form letter basically saying Dear Occupant, Thank you for your views, which I shall certainly keep in mind when I next vote (against them). Why bother?

Bother because this apathy is producing a corporatocracy, an oligarchy. Democracy is increasingly a 'use it or lose it' proposition. Discouraged? Join the ranks. But please continue to show that you can jump in there to help create momentum when it needs to happen.

Pretend each time you vote, you speak out at a public hearing, you hold a sign, you write a letter to either the editor or an elected representative, that you are buying an Activist Lottery Ticket. You could win big this time, who can say? Remember those times you favored one candidate a great deal over another candidate and you actually voted and your person actually won? OK, for the just, environmentally conscious, and peaceful those times are generally rare. But it happens. Think of those times, not all the times you voted or wrote or demonstrated or attended a hearing and your side lost. Those are disempowering memories, unless they are analyzed to reveal correctable problems.

It is not your place to solve all the problems, to paraphrase just about every wise sage who ever pronounced, but it is your responsibility to do your part. Don't be wedded to outcomes for your emotional state. We seem to lose a lot. Rather, analyze for errors, correct your approach, and try again. Eventually, you get good at it and you begin to win more often.

Try today. Could be your lucky number.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Taking war profiteering to new depths

Barack Obama has named his successor to Chuck Hagel, the lackluster Secretary of Defense. Now Obama wants Ashton Carter, a clear indication that he means to do absolutely nothing to curb the obscene, obese, offensive military budget in his final two years in office.
Reassuring everyone that these high-profit big-ticket weapons systems are very important for everyone who matters*
*rich elite owners who want to grab fat hunks of your federal taxes yet again

Carter's specialty is spending as much as possible on as many capital-intensive projects as he can remotely justify. This is nothing new, however, his expertise in procurement is not an expertise in saving taxpayer money, but rather an expertise in draining the military budget away from labor-intensive expenses and pouring it massively into big-ticket private enterprise war profiteering boondoggles. Lies to justify that seem Just Fine to him.

In a classic case of corrupt revolving door phenomenon, Carter went from private enterprise weaponry investment advisor (for Global Technology Partners) to the big buyer role for DoD, starting in 2009. He has been the overseer of well more than a $trillion in spending. Your money, Pentagon weaponry, war profiteering at its most brazen.

This would be a great time for Republicans to show how much they really oppose waste, fraud, and abuse. Halt the nomination. Of course the Conflict Industry (those who profit in money, status or power from destructive conflict) need someone like Carter in the driver's seat at the Pentagon in order to maximize milking the American taxpayer, even if it means that driver risks plunging the US economy straight over the next fiscal cliff. Where there are profits to be made, why worry?

We the People are really busy. We are trying to finally put a halt to police murdering unarmed people. We are trying to stop climate chaos. We are trying to end the fracking that is ruining enormous riches of pure groundwater across the country. We are sort of overwhelmed and we don't need this. We are hoping for some relief, so it is especially disturbing in this moment to see Obama usher in another bloody war profiteer into the agency that wastes more money every year than the GDP of many a nation.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Dear Inner Judge: You're fired

Can we stop judging one another? Probably not; it seems to be fairly ingrained in our mental processes to judge other people. I believe I've witnessed other people who are not judgmental but it's certainly something I struggle with. Conflict is not only fueled by judgmental attitudes, it is further exacerbated by faulty, unfair judgment.

If my partner wants more affection than I'm giving her, she is 'needy and dependent.' But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is 'aloof and insensitive.'
 (Rosenberg, p. 16)
Setting aside our Inner Judge is, for most of us, a task that feels artificial, yet can help enormously in our conflict de-escalation. It removes us from the charge of hypocrisy or oppressor and slowly helps us build authentic relationships based on unconditional respect for the other's humanity.

Psychologists describe the fundamental negative attribution error, made by many of us when we contextualize and thus excuse our own actions or the actions of those we intend to defend; circumstances left me with no option except this behavior. He shot the man because he was afraid for his own safety. They rioted because they want justice.

However, when another engages in the same behavior we are more likely to attribute that negative behavior to the very nature of that person. He is white--just his nature. She is black--that behavior comes naturally to her. He is just a nasty guy; she is just an inconsiderate woman. The misattributions can be group-based or individually dispositionally oriented, but the effect is the same. I screw up and it's not my fault; you mess up and it's due to your flawed nature. It is not merely a heuristic --shortcut-- process; it makes us happier, says research findings.

This does not mean we use no judgment; we should be quite certain of our principles. But they should relate to behavior, not to the essence of another's humanity--love the sinner, hate the sin.

Dunbar, et alia (2014), found in their study that one way to mitigate this faulty but tempting logic is to train on a computer game named MacBeth. Education about this is great, but actual training creates those neural pathways that can change our options when we are faced with decisions we used to make almost without thinking about them. Training ourselves to recognize and reject the attribution error and other flawed thinking can professionalize our response to conflict to some degree.

Most of us need some of this training, whether via a computer game, or intentional reflection and education, or through group exercise. If we could fix this we might have a happier family, a more just and deliberative workplace, cops that didn't murder unarmed people, and even war. I'd say it's worth some effort.


Dunbar, Norah E., et al. "Implicit and explicit training in the mitigation of cognitive bias through the use of a serious game." Computers In Human Behavior 37, (August 2014): 307-318. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed December 4, 2014).

Rosenberg, M. B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life (2nd ed.). Encinitas CA: PuddleDancer Press.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

How to stop police murder

Police were just legally cleared of criminal conduct by a grand jury, of murdering yet another unarmed African American, Eric Garner, a New York city man who was choked to death by an illegal chokehold. Cops were encountering no physical resistance from this poor man, choked out on the sidewalk while he was being filmed saying plaintively, "I can't breathe." This was clearly murder to any objective person viewing the horrific nightmarish scene of 17 July 2014. Garner was unarmed and unresisting; his murderers are unindicted.
Unarmed, unresisting, pleading for a simple breath--Eric Garner murdered by NewYork city cop
The various groups demanding justice for this seemingly sickening unending number of outright murders of unarmed citizens (who have been mostly African American men, some African American women, and some people with mental health presenting problems) seem to be dividing amongst those who favor "working within the system" and holding legal vigils, or, those who favor rowdy demonstrations confronting cops, and starting to use some minor violence. The latter seem now to be working up many justifications for self-defense violence, signaling a possible escalation, since cops have been violent all along.

Those who are violent will lose. Those who only hold legal demonstrations will lose. Rather than these two proven losing strategies, what might actually gain some ground?

First, the principles of strategic nonviolence, in general and some more specific:

  • Commit to absolute nonviolence (you don't want to have to continually revisit this).
  • Commit to victory.
  • Initiate the campaign with a small group of strategic thinkers.
  • Decide how to decide (again, you do not want to endlessly change how you make decisions).
  • Begin inviting leaders and independent individuals into your strategic circle, refining your campaign to a goal you can all support and one you all believe you can win in three months or faster (after which you declare your next goal and repeat).
  • Once your base coalition is large enough to impress the public, announce it and invite others to join.
  • A victorious campaign will be a multipronged campaign, not just public demonstrations (e.g. civil court, criminal court, legislative, executive power, cultural events).
  • A victorious campaign will seek to cause loyalty shifts amongst the police, not cause them to close ranks and ramp up violence out of fear. 
  • A victorious campaign will ceaselessly train to be sure nonviolence is a tactical commitment that is constant and steady and cannot be thwarted by provocation from police (or their agents).
  • A victorious campaign will work harder on media than on the actions themselves. Each action will get much more positive exposure by a major commitment to media work (mainstream, social, alternative, print, digital, radio, television). 

High risk actions taken by a handful of people with great numbers of supporters can boost recruitment.
Violence done by any party will backfire. Violence done by the movement will excuse the violence done by cops, even if the cops start it. Violence done by cops will backfire if it is met with complete and documented nonviolence. Is it fair that cops have a lower standard than do movements? Of course not. If it were all fair, no struggle would be necessary.

The idea behind refusing to use defensive violence has nothing to do with justification. By normal American values, it's fair, excused, and justified. It will never be portrayed as such and never accepted by the wider public as justified. Acceptance by the wider public is key, especially when it's time to activate another prong of the campaign.

High risk actions undertaken by those with outstanding nonviolent discipline will reveal the powerful contrast between violent police and nonviolent movement people. When you have determined that sympathy is high, launch the low risk elements. Perhaps a work slowdown, or a symbolic walkout, or a consumer boycott, or a sick day--some mass action that carries little or no risk as you have calculated it. Take advantage of the outrage felt by the general public when they first consider the shooting or choking or beating of your initial unarmed victim, then the additional outrage they feel when you are dignified in your civil resistance and still get arrested for occupying the mayor's office. That is the time to call for simple, doable, low/no risk mass participation.

It is at that crucial time you start to win. You cause a divide in the elite, which used to look like a monolith but now is divided, since your mass action is costing a portion of them increasingly. That is when they call you to the negotiating table and you can make serious gains.

This formula is not new. Gandhi used it. The Danes used it to withstand Nazi occupation, as did the Norwegians. The Gold Coast masses used it to evict the colonizers and rename their country Ghana. Southern Rhodesians used it to create Zambia and freedom for all. The Filipinas used it to evict the US, depose the US puppet Marcos, and stop a civil war that was about to launch. Rosa Parks and the bus riders won in Montgomery using this method and black South Africans won their freedom using this method. None of these struggles were identical in any way except they broadly followed this method. So when I hear, "It's not your grandmother's Civil Rights Movement, " I know they need to assess if they are stating the obvious--no two struggles are identical--or if they have chosen another losing strategy.

Please, let this movement win. Each time police murder another unarmed person it is just heartbreaking and feeds more pain, fear, hatred, and possible retaliatory violence. For this movement to win, it must grow. For it to grow, it needs to follow this general, proven path to victory. If anyone wants to lead us toward this, please sign me up and invite me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Doing the work of the owner class

It is in the interest of the elite owner class to have police be highly intimidating, which can only happen if they use violence often enough to be a credible deterrent to those who seek a more equitable society. That violence needs to be justified. When protestors are 100 percent nonviolent and are assertive but not aggressive, police violence is not tolerable to the wider public and serious nonviolent activists know this.

I can almost picture the directives issued to the agents provocateurs:
  • Riot
  • Scream with rage
  • Throw things
  • Shut down mass transit 
  • Break windows
  • Accuse anyone who tries to keep it peaceful of being a sellout
  • Shove media crews
  • Threaten cops

 All these tactics alienate the average person and make them more grateful for cops, more likely to excuse police brutality, and far less likely to feel further sympathy for victims of police violence or for claims that police violence is systemic. All these tactics freeze the development of a movement and ultimately can even roll back advances made when the movement was strictly nonviolent.
Ferguson. Was this done by rioters or agents provocateurs to alienate protesters from general public?

The movement seeking justice for Michael Brown and seeking reform in policing in the US is mostly nonviolent, which is making some advances possible. To the extent the movement features the behaviors listed above, it stays relatively small. Yes, it's national, but it's generally far smaller in each locale than it could be. The movement needs to succeed for the good of us all.