Friday, April 03, 2015

It's the law--look it up

This week, the first week in April 2015, Marxist insurgents in Turkey gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a gift. First, they attacked and killed a prosecutor in Istanbul. Then one of them attacked a police officer in the same city.

A gift? 

Certainly. Erdogan's immediate response was to vow to hunt down the "dark forces" behind the two attacks. He now has justification for cracking down on his political opposition using any methods at all. 

Or does he?

Turkish activists showed that they do have a nonviolent civil society opposition with the beginnings of a large and disciplined force with commitment and resiliency. They demonstrated that beginning 28 May 2013 with a simple protest in Gezi Park in Istanbul, a protest of the government plans to bulldoze that park, but the protest quickly widened to oppose the increasing Islamisation of the country under Erdogan's more and more brutal rule. Eventually, an estimated 3.5 million of Turkey's 80 million people showed up in parks and encampments in some 90 locations in Turkey and in dozens of foreign towns featuring Turks in diaspora. 

Nonviolent Law #1: All violence backfires. 

So, while the opposition to Erdogan was recognized as almost entirely nonviolent, and even though the previous research on many other stuggles over the past century showed that the 3.5 million sustaining participants ought to have been enough to cause the end of the Erdogan regime, he clung to power and indeed is more Islamic and more draconian than ever. 
Turkish police and a demonstrator: Photo from user @CemSa

The failure in Turkey is not unrelated to the context of violence backfiring from another source, the US and Europe. Muslims everywhere came under great and increasing pressure to regard the US and much of Europe as the enemy when Bush and Cheney lied to justify invading Iraq. The massive war crimes against that ironically fairly secular Muslim country have changed all the games, drawing the fastest growing religion on Earth toward a clash of civilizations faster and faster, leaving us looking at (and bombing) the new self-annointed caliphate under ISIS. Any country with a Muslim majority is now being sucked toward that clash and Muslims all over the world are vulnerable to the cycle of backfiring violence. Turkey, more committed historically to secularism than any Muslim majority country, is fast losing that rational, democratic, enlightened nature too, which is a true pity.

Humanists, peace-lovers, and liberals across the board have argued against and dismissed the Huntington notion of a clash of civilizations, but it's being created by our seemingly endless militarism, great exceptions like the new nuclear deal with Iran notwithstanding. It is painful to watch the stuck-in-the-ditch-of-violence approach as it either outright fails or manages to create an even larger problem each and every time. It. Never. Fixes. The. Problem. Nev ver. 

And so those who dismiss nonviolence as a western idea and who point to the general failure of Arab Spring and its sequelae such as Gezi Park really need to answer for the other half of the equation, that is, that violence is a western thing. Britain violently invaded and colonized Iraq in the early 20th century. The US not only overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran but then supported Iraq and Saddam Hussein in its 1980s war on Iran, including supplying Saddam with the ingredients for chemical weapons, which he used against Iranians and his own Kurdish people (and which Iranian hardliners evoke to trump the 1979 hostage situation evoked by US hardliners). The US supports a Saudi royal family that is astonishingly misogynist and also conducts frequent beheadings in public. We support the counter-revolutionary brutal government in Egypt and we've massively armed Israel every year for decades with zero strings attached, no matter what their human and civil rights record. Our violence is utterly western. 

Nonviolent Law #2: All rulers are vulerable to committed nonviolent resistance.

It may well be that the autocratic governments of the region--from the royals in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Qatar or Bahrain to the generals in Egypt or the theocracy in Iran--are less vulnerable to nonviolence, requiring larger numbers, more discipline, and greater endurance than some other countries that fell to mass nonviolent movements. If so, then that is what is required. All despots can be taken down with nonviolence, but it may take that additional percent of the populace and additional period of time. And anyone outside the country in question needs to be very careful not to exacerbate the problem by getting directly involved except at the request of the actual people on the ground in their own country. 

We need a whole living body of law devoted to nonviolence. Research and practice, reflection and study, adaptation and commitment, analysis and innovation--these will conspire to write the entire corpus. Let's keep it going. It is what gives hope in the face of growing ignorance on all sides. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Communication or verbal attack? Managing the sympathy gap

When a dictator (or cop, or boss, or whomever) overpowers you and hurts you, or attacks your friends and harms them, do you react with verbal attack? Do you engage in character assassination? If you do, is that violent or nonviolent?

It is neither. Nonviolent communication is a tough act but it is strategic. Verbally throwing down and launching ad hominem assaults is not violent, but it is not nonviolent. Some analysts call it "not violent," a sort of junk category into which they toss behavior that does not advance a cause, a campaign, or a movement, but is not physically violent. Some call it verbal violence. Whatever we call it, that sort of behavior is not strategic. It tends to produce more oppressive violence and it tends to dry up public sympathy for those who use that sort of pugnacious language.

Nonviolent communication, wrote the late Marshall Rosenberg (2003), "guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention" (p. 3).

Some of you are naturally great at this. Some of us need daily, even hourly, reminders. I certainly struggle with it when I'm outraged by hurtful conduct. My outrage is proportional to the gap between the level of hurt and the innocence of the victim. That gap is widest and open longest when the response is assertive nonviolent communication. That sympathy gap can shut fast if actual violence is the response but will also narrow significantly if the response is some sort of snarling reaction instead of assertive nonviolent communication.

Do brutes deserve nonviolent communication? Probably not. Do you want to build your movement for justice, for freedom, for environmental protection, for peace? Then be careful not to start closing that gap. The quintessential gap-slam came when the US was attacked on 9.11.01 and pretty much the entire world expressed dismay and sympathy until 7 October when the empire struck back. Since then it's been all downhill to ISIS. On a smaller but quite important scale, we saw the sympathy gap narrow significantly after the Ferguson, Missouri policeman murdered Michael Brown and nonviolent protests gave way to riots. The sympathy gap took a big hit in the Eric Garner chokehold murder when two NYPD officers were in turn murdered by an African American fellow who used social media before the murders to establish his motive and intent as related to the uprising against police violence.

Direct violence is the fastest and most certain way to smash the sympathy, but even verbal violence--even just hate-filled facial expressions and angry chanting--will start to close that gap and that gap is always directly related to recruitment of both supporters and activists. Using anything but strategically sound nonviolent communication is like leaving power and influence on the table. Someone else will grab it. Don't let them.


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

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Death cults and marginalization

When I was just 13 years old, I started refusing to go to church with my mother and sisters. It was a church I had gone to all my young life. I had prayed hard. A lot. I tried to believe. It was, in my young eyes, just hypocritical. Later, I would come to call it a bizarre cult. I was raised Christian Scientist, following Mary Baker Eddy. The entire experience was due to my great grandmother, at age 16--who was born just five years after Lincoln was shot--being "cured" by Christian Science.

So, outside of that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

All religion in my family was intense and matriarchal. My grandfathers were both Catholic but I set no foot in a Catholic church until great grandfathers and others died. My father was a sketchy Lutheran because his mother was, and I have never once been in a Lutheran church. All that was irrelevant. I was a child in that family so I was a Christian Scientist because my mother, her mother, and her mother were. I had no use for doctors nor of medicine. Prayer would heal me. I was a perfect child of God. I was made in God's image and likeness.


My father let my mother take me to Christian Science church every Sunday. I liked the other kids. I strongly disliked most of the Sunday School teachers. Indeed, they were the ones who made me understand the hypocrisy.

But my father would not countenance the cultlike idiocy that many Christian Scientists practice, eschewing medicine. He made us get our shots and doctors' appointments. He kept it sane. When the notions of Christian Science are followed in any fundamentalist sense, people die needlessly. I would not generally call them a death cult but their reason-free faith produces pain and death that I saw up close and felt personally. They are marginalized by a culture that has enough faith in actual science and enough faith in the separation of church and state to allow this bizarre behavior in all but the most extreme cases, and the law even stays out of those, mostly.

How I wish my father could help out ISIS idiots today. They are like Christian Scientists on some cocktail of meth, crack, big guns, charisma, steroids, and head-banging diminished capacity. They say they want to take the world back to the seventh century and as for the end of the world, bring it on. They are emotional children without capacity for grown-up empathy nor diversity of thought. They literally have a capital punishment in mind and intent for much of the world.
Abu Mohamed al-Adnani said any opportunity to "shed a drop of blood" should be taken

And we do see that, with the stated intent, goals, and territory controlled by ISIS, they do want and intend to kill millions, perhaps billions, of humans. They currently control areas comprising some eight million people. They have taken areas in Iraq, Syria, Lybia, and are eyeballing Sicily. Italy wet its pants recently, and for good reason.

So? How can humankind stop this ghastly infestation?

We know violence doesn't work. Indeed, arguably, our violence, however justified by our doctrines, has produced the widespread ISIS terrorheart compassionless rage and urge to return to the glory years of a few centuries ago. So let's imagine that we abjure violence, that we see the necessity of inventing or synthesizing existing methods of engagement that use any and all methods except violence. Rather than the complex war machine with destruction as its practice and threat, what are elements of alternatives?

  • negotiation
  • stop all arms transfers to the region
  • seize assets, including financial assets, of the terrorists and all their people
  • promise no further use of military methods
  • close US military bases in the region
  • arrest and try ISIS personnel, even by abduction if necessary (Simon Wiesenthal model)
  • massive support for nonviolent civil society organizations in the region
  • promote peace education throughout region
  • promote positive development in region
  • promote treaties with all state and nonstate actors in the region to stop all violence
  • empower the UN
  • support interfaith initiatives in the region
  • end import of oil from the region
  • model and support transparency
  • model and support environmental protection
  • model and support indigenous sovereignty
  • accept that the people and powers in the region will redraw their own maps that the European cartographers redrew for them during the age of colonialism and imperialism
  • promote reconciliation
  • promote reparations from countries that have benefitted unfairly from the oil found in the region
  • elect US politicians who are smart doves instead of kneejerk hawks

There are many more professional, developmental, academic, and civil society initiatives that could slow, blunt, stop and reverse the violence in the region. We might still see some sort of caliphate, but it could be contained using nonviolent methods much more surely than the failed and failing attacks back and forth that we see now. Let's stop being a death cult and see if others might notice and follow our lead. Let's reduce ISIS to the joke it should be.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hit her now! Use non Native activists to bring her down!

Some people have recently brought some terrible charges against an Indian for raping a boy.

OK, take two: Some people have recently decided to bring accusations against a senior Native American spiritual adviser for raping a boy.

Well, not quite. Take three: Some tribal members and some white allies have recently decided to bring accusations against a Native spiritual adviser for raping a boy.

OK, let's refine that: A few enrolled tribal members and some white allies have made accusations against a tribal spiritual adviser for raping a boy 15 years ago.

Ah, perhaps to tune it up and make it precise, a few enrolled tribal members and some white allies have recently made accusations against a tribal spiritual adviser for statuatory rape of a boy 15 years ago, when the boy was 17 and the spiritual adviser was 23. But far more importantly, they--a few tribal members and some white "allies"--have focused on a Native leader who, they say, has not persecuted the alleged perpetrator nearly enough.

This is a concerted effort to bring down a tribal activist who has been very effective in stopping or slowing massive predatory extractive polluting corporate industry.

These challenges to her authority come just as she is being effective in slowing and possibly stopping the Keystone pipeline, generally regarded in the environmental community as "game over" if it is built.

No, I am not going to get into names, nor details, nor even which tribe/s or tribal organizations are involved. But I will say this: How convenient. How handy to have this old accusation in someone's pocket, ready to use. The activist leader under attack had nothing to do with the alleged sexual misconduct. The tribal activist leader under unrelenting attack from some tribal members and white "allies" knew absolutely nothing about any of this until relatively recently. But this tribal activist leader has been singularly effective in amassing a unique coalition of tribal, white, and transnational individuals, leaders, organizations, and entire movements to oppose the Keystone pipeline.

If I were a government or corporate or oil industry operative, I'd pull the pin on discrediting this key activist right now. This is exactly the time to use this bit of old but provocative information. This is the time to neutralize this Native American leader.

Especially because, in documented messaging, she has attempted to use restorative, not retributive, justice with regard to the alleged perpetrator.

This is a frustrating bit of writing to read because no names are forthcoming. But it is to ask us all to carefully consider gossip, innuendo, rumor, and "politically correct" moves on effective leadership. It reminds me of J. Edgar Hoover moving on MLK when King was the ONLY person capable of uniting black, red, white, brown, and yellow people. Now is the time to cast doubt on this Native leader, make her appear to condone sexual predation or at least avoid intramovement conflict.

There needs to be direct, irrefutable evidence to convince me that Native leadership should not be trusted when they forcefully, steadily, and valiantly defend Mother Earth. Non Native allies should think twice and three times and many more times before making allegations that impugn such crucial leadership at such a critical time.

Really. Don't be tools.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Conflict chicken and egg

Which came first, the weapons and testosterone, or the verbal skills to manage conflict without violence?

We have no particular way to know for sure, but language, conflict, creativity, and violence all seemed to co-evolve in connected, sometimes dependent sequences. Tools were creative; thieving was destructive and caused conflict, avoided by further creativity in word and gesture. Weapons made everything possible and everything worse, especially when used against other humans. They do not equalize so much as they breed domination.

How far along are our nonviolent de-escalation techniques? German psychiatrist Dirk Richter (2007) asserts that evidence is scant that psychiatry has learned much about verbal de-escalation. I don't think that the folks who do just that every day in formal settings during operations by groups that have de-escalation as their primary mission would agree. These groups are proliferating and include such organizations as Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and more. Dr. Randy Janzen is a professor at Selkirk College in British Columbia who has launched a database and case studies of such groups and their efforts. His work is to compare to the UN peacekeeping operations (2013) and he indicated that results show a clear advantage to unarmed peacekeeping in the limited but growing numbers of examples available to examine.

What if police were unarmed? Obviously, the first requirement for that would be the repeal of the stupid Second Amendment so that a society awash in guns could begin to rid itself of them. That will take a long while indeed.

If Black Americans knew that white cops would not be coming in guns blazing perhaps they would not be so rightfully apprehensive and resentful in the presence of police. When, on 16 July 2009, Cambridge, Massachusetts police got a call that two African American men were breaking into a home, was it unreasonable that police should ask for some proof that the man who had just forced open the door was the actual owner (Staples, 2011)? Why didn't Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard and a man known to presidents, go find proof or simply ask the officers to accompany him to any of his neighbors' doors to verify his residence? Why didn't police believe Dr. Gates? Why did the Harvard professor, a smart man, challenge the authority of the police? Would he not want police to inquire of anyone else, no matter how distinguished in appearance, who broke down the door of his home? Did the police really not know the luminary they were harrassing? Did Dr. Gates believe every cop should know his face and reputation? Of course, the cops and the doc all claim to be the calm cooperative ones trying to deal with rogues and belligerents.

From a Peace and Conflict Studies perspective, it appears to be a blustering group of manly egos afflicted by testosterone poisoning overlain by institutional racism and tinged with classism. But I wasn't there. Would it be different if conflict were managed nonviolently?

Conflicts are "natural, inevitable, and esential parts of social life" (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2012, p. 3). There will be conflict when interests clash, when scarcity seems to be shared unequally, and when someone or some group exerts power over others instead of power with them. It is made more likely and worse when certain actions, scenarios, and even skin color evoke collective memory of injustice.

Still, even with all those stressers, we can do it nonviolently. Men need to gain some self-awareness of the testosterone problem that tends to flood many of us with nearly uncontrollable rage under some circumstances. Luckily, we mostly do control that rage. If we didn't and if we consider how many guns exist in America, we would expect a daily slaughter into the thousands instead of an annual slaughter into the thousands.

So all this means we not only have the legacy of the stupid Second Amendment (more guns per capita than any nation on Earth and the notion that this is good thing) but the legacy of past injustices of white to black, white to red, white to pretty much everyone, men to women, and rich to poor. Exacerbating these harmful legacies is the lack of nonviolent communication education and nonviolent conflict management skills in our children's education.

We have a long way to go. Time to step up and on and on...


Janzen, R. (2013). Determinants of success in UN peacekeeping operations. International Journal on World Peace, 30(4), 87-89.

Kriesberg, Louis, & Dayton, Bruce W. (2012). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (4th ed.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Richter, D. (2007). De-escalation in mental health care: a review of non-physical conflict management techniques. BMC Psychiatry, 71. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-7-S1-S146

Staples, R. (2011). White power, black crime, and racial politics. Black Scholar, 41(4), 31-41.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Institution of higher learning to enforce dictates at gunpoint

Where I work, Portland State University, the Board of Trustees decided to create a "real" police department for the campus, replete with armed "sworn" officers, possibly with a SWAT team for those special campus moments (we've been known to have large peace demonstrations), and who knows how much militarization awaits our urban downtown campus, one that has historically been fairly diverse, international, bustling, a marketplace of ideas, and a place of learning. Students come with high ideals and find an environment that has welcomed those striving ideals.

Since it's working, let's change it! If we arm campus cops and give them all police powers we can stop this diversity of thought and create new tensions and conflicts where only debate and critical discourse used to happen. We need to do this in order to keep up.

Our highest administration university leadership is virtually all white, so they are unconcerned with the ongoing and unsolved problem of American cops, campus cops elsewhere, and Portland cops specifically shooting unarmed people of color. Portlander Perez was unarmed. Sery was never indicted.
If the group you are worried about isn't affected, why worry? Any cost/benefit analysis will count any costs to white elites very highly and costs to people of color much lower. Indeed, having attended the final three PSU Board of Trustees meetings, giving testimony at the two of them where testimony from random uninvited professors and students was allowed, it was painfully obvious that almost all of those supporting bringing guns to campus were white and most of the people of color in the room were skeptical or outright against it.

As the father of two African American sons, I am dead-set against any guns on campus for any reason. Of course, I would be; I am a pacifist. But I also try to use some critical thinking.

Turns out that the research indicates that when the armed cops are hired, the smarter ones tend to be better at auto-impulse control and will probably shoot fewer black guys who are reaching for their cell phones (Kleider, Parrott, & King, 2010). Good to know. I'd recommend limiting the new armed hires to African American women Ph.D. students. They would be least likely to shoot the star basketball player as he pulled a Snickers candy bar from his man purse and they would protect the elite white ruling class Just Fine.

There is one text (of three) I use in one of my courses (Intro to Conflict Resolution) that might be required reading for all campus cops (actually, they should all be required to take all my classes, but that's another involved argument), and the title is Conflict management: A practical guide to developing negotiation strategies by a National Defense University law professor, Barbara Corvette. She is a military educator but she also has produced a great primer that can help our future strapped officers decode communication and respond with smarter and less violent strategies.

Best of all would be if the Board of Trustees had second thoughts, smarter thoughts, and reversed their poor decision to bring in guns. I mean, we are a smoke-free campus, possibly on our way to being a fragrance-free campus, but now we want to bring in guns? How does this track in our forward-thinking west coast town? There has never been an active shooter on campus but the Portland police have murdered numerous unarmed young people of color. How can this decision to court the same disasters on campus be viewed as just, fair, or correct?


Corvette, Barbara A. Budjac (2007). Conflict management: A practical guide to developing negotiation strategies. Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Education.

Kleider, H. M., Parrott, D. J., & King, T. Z. (2010). Shooting behaviour: How working memory and negative emotionality influence police officer shoot decisions. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(5), 707-717. doi:10.1002/acp.1580

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The hidden benefit of nonviolence: Down with bosses and up with democracy

In the birthing days of the Soviet Union, the evils of the elites were obvious--pampered royals lived in opulence while workers and peasants lived in squalor. Hard work was rewarded with poverty and repression (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). The bloody revolution, however, replaced one set of royal bosses with a different set of communist bosses. Dissent was tolerated by neither czarist Russia nor Marxist Leninist USSR. Freedom was a concept unknown to most living under either regime.
How could this be? The overlords were overthrown in the name of the workers, of the farmers, of the peasants who worked the land to give everyone sustenance.

Ah, but who claimed all the credit for the revolution? The violent vanguard. They took the power by gun and kept it by gun--helped by a state apparatus of spies, servile law enforcement, brutal interrogators, corrupt judges, and harsh gulags. Workers were anything but free, were emphatically not running any dictatorship of the proletariat, as claimed.

Lucky that never happened in the US, where the revolution was also violent, right?

Well, we are still talking about rich white men, mostly slaveowners, so let's not get all that gooey, please. It is true that American white men did a reasonably good job of freeing white men from King George. It is not true that the American Revolution did a single thing for African Americans (even though the first one shot dead, Crispus Attucks, of Boston Massacre fame, was free black, certainly doing little for him). Indeed, the Constitution defined them as 60 percent human. Tell me that's not shameful.

Similarly, the American Revolution did nothing but grease the Bad News Skids for Native Americans. If anything, it hastened the loss of land and rights for the original people. In fact, those first ones were the last ones to gain rights that white Americans have taken for granted for more than 220 years. I mean, it wasn't until 11 August 1978 that Native Americans were legally able to practice their own religion. So much for the separation of church and state applying to all.

So in many ways the liberation by gun of the United States was not entirely the shining example of freedom it might have been if the revolution had been nonviolent, but that is a moot historical question in most ways. It was what it was and it is what it is. The primary point is that even the most well intentioned and noble violent insurrections leave the power with the elites who take credit for waging the war. When a revolution is nonviolent, there is no guarantee of blissful perfection but the claim of power by the gun=freedom is missing.

I don't want to honor a Washington, a Ho Chi Minh, a Vladimir Lenin, a Fidel Castro, or any other violent power-grabber. Give me instead the people of Chile, rising up to nonviolently overthrow Augusto Pinochet, or the people of India evicting the British empire and Gandhi refusing all political position. These are the imperfect but far more egalitarian revolutions (Tell it, Sinead!).

Nonviolence is a flop. The only bigger flop is violence. (Joan Baez)

The stats gathered by Freedom House researchers (hardly a lefty or pacifist group!) bear this out. Wage your revolution with nonviolence and your chances for democracy, human rights, and civil rights improve dramatically.


Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Karatnycky, Adrian; Ackerman, Peter (2005). How freedom is won: From civic resistance to durable democracy. New York: Freedom House.