Friday, February 05, 2010

Accessing our creativity

Last night Nonviolent Peaceforce trainer Terri Shofner led a good group in a training she called Nonviolence Works, a lovely phrase with a couple of different meanings. I can almost see the all-electric vans full of highly trained conflict workers headed to a hot spot to interpose and de-escalate. On the side of the vans are logos of the gears of conflict and its nonviolent resolution with the organizational name, Nonviolence Works.

We did several great activities, from nonviolent bingo (Peace Loteria) to Massaging our World as visualized on the back of the person in front of us in our Nonviolent Rubdown Circle (great way to envision healing of each person who had taken the weight of the world on her or his shoulders), to a film and discussion.

The film was the episode from A Force More Powerful on Denmark under Nazi occupation during nearly the entire duration of WWII (which I used to think of as a long time, until Bush got us into Afghanistan and Iraq). The film showed the range of resistance tactics tried against the Nazis and the costs associated with each one.

Danes tried sabotage and work slowdowns and limited stoppages and strikes. They developed underground leadership that had great authority and eventually decided that the work stoppages achieved more benefit with fewer costs than any other tactic.

The Danes could possibly have avoided losing the relatively few they did to Nazi occupier murder had they been versed in the theories and dynamics of nonviolence, but I think part of what this means is not relying on historical episodes coupled with elements of theory from across the disciplines (which is really what Gene Sharp tries to explicate in his own way in his book Waging Nonviolent Struggle, and which other theorists since have done much more explicitly). In short, I think the best of both worlds--theoretical grounding and creative, evolving adaptive management) is what we really want (and I absolutely hope for each time I engage in action planning, action, and debriefing): use extant theory to make gains and blunt losses even as you experiment into new areas to test other possibilities of improvement and evolution of our most advanced nonviolent methods.

Use theory but strive to push it forward. In the Danes' case, of course, they ONLY had Gandhi and his contemporary analysts and evaluators, so they had a rich but still limited corpus of theory at their disposal. India hadn't even achieved freedom yet, so nonviolence was not too attractive in many ways. The Danes invented what they could, as you note, and evolved from almost a full stop to learning a great deal. Much of what they learned could really be attributed more to the history of labor strikes beginning in the late 19th century and maturing across Europe and the US through the early decades of the 20th century. The costliest components of their campaigns were more related to the maladaptive violent anarchists of the late 19th, early 20th century and the strongest and most successful pieces were taken (or could have been taken) from the most nonviolent but most committed labor actions. Gandhi's hartal was a more distant lesson that they weren't necessarily thinking about at all.

When the moral chips were really down--when the Nazis first ordered the Danes to execute saboteurs and then ordered the roundup of the Jews of Denmark--Danes showed their colors. Parliament dissolved rather than execute Danes for wrecking Nazi war production. Danes saved almost all their Jewish citizens by heroically hiding them and getting them into small fishing boats and across the sea to Sweden.

Imagine a world in nonviolent noncooperation with the Nazis. Perhaps they could have moved nonviolence forward by massive practical and theoretical leaps with such experimentation. Perhaps some of the 40 million who died in World War II might have lived. The more we can advance the theory and practice, the more sophistication and access to both creativity and control over our own destiny we can also access.

Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.

No comments: