Saturday, April 10, 2010

Plowshares the nonviolent Che Guevaras?

Though he was brilliant and brave, Che Guevara was sadly misinformed and mistaken in his revolutionary theories, which attempted to generalize the lessons learned in the foco uprising of a tiny rural-based armed resistance in Cuba begun in a very minor way in 1956 with most of the estimated 5,000 war dead occurring in the 1958-59 period. Those lessons told Guevara that he could go to other developing countries as they decolonized and form small rural bands of revolutionaries that would be supported by the people and who would be able to topple colonial powers or domestic thugs supported by imperialist foreign powers.

It was called the triggering theory, or foco.

It is arguable that this notion has cost more lives in Africa, Asia, and South America than any other idea. Universalizing his theory--based on urban uprisings led by the armed vanguards of Marxist-Leninist theories, but substituting popular armed groups "in the mountains" instead--he hit the road to bring this great news to all oppressed people. Even though he was killed in the attempt in 1967 in Bolivia, his theory was spread so it could give hope and then crushing losses to so many.

But the idea did work, after a fashion, in Cuba. Part of the concept was inspiration and it doesn't take a large group to do that. What Guevara failed to see was that you must hit precise notes to generate inspiration, and those notes must be timed exquisitely. His ideas were crude, as are many new notions.

I'd suggest that Plowshares actions (original Plowshares Eight in photo), when done in certain ways at certain times, can serve an analogous function, inspiration and a spark to recruitment.

But they need to be framed properly and tirelessly explained. They need to be explicitly and undeniably nonviolent. Transparency and personal accountability are also requisite characteristics. But without the repeated explanations, they will fall flat. The sacrificial nature of such actions will be easily dismissed by mainstream citizens if they somehow associate Plowshares actions with violence or religious lunacy, but if they can be characterized successfully as actions undertaken by regular folks who are simply passionately willing to sacrifice to protect others using methods that never hurt people, that can be powerfully touching to some.

Some have charismatic spokespeople who can generate public sympathy and support.

Some have popular members who can spark lower level actions.

Some put on a world-class trial that persuades many of the correctness of their activities.

And some of us are just dogged. I am not a charismatic speaker. I am not a moral leader. What I did that helped our cause was that I wrote an article or a letter to the editor every day while I was in jail awaiting trial and in the months of incarceration following conviction and sentencing. Friend Mike Miles sent me a list of media addresses and I was disciplined about being sure to write one a day, sometimes more.

Most of these letters or op-eds were printed, I believe, launching many local discussions and generating some interest. So there are many ways in which the sacrifice offered by Plowshares can be used by a movement to make gains. Wasting this is not helpful to either the movement or the resister. The tip of a spear is of no value without the heft of the shaft, and the little tip of Plowshares people in jail and prison means little in a practical sense unless a movement can be brought to action by the sacrifices and appeals of the resisters and their allies.

Working to make a strong contribution of every style of nonviolent resistance is how the best organizers pick up followers and supporters. The willingness of Plowshares resisters to risk 18 years in prison (longest sentence to date) can be used to help activate folks and should be. All nonviolent actions should be integrated in the most helpful fashion into the overall campaign to shut down some piece of the war machine. It has been done and should be done more.

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