Monday, April 12, 2010

Seeing through the lies of violence

If you practice nonviolence, you tend to favor transparency. Peace is open; war machines benefit enormously from secrecy (the military covered up the My Lai massacre--hundreds more than just these two poor Vietnamese in photo--for as long as it could, just as it covered up the 2007 massacre of civilians in Iraq until this past week).

And so ecological damage, civilian death, loss of civil rights and human rights, and even major disasters quickly are wrapped in the cloak of "national security" and you no longer have a need to know.

Democracy, on the other hand, is predicated upon having an informed electorate. How is voting and accountability meaningful without transparency? Indeed, there is an inverse relationship between violence and democracy, violence and transparency, war and an informed electorate.

Does this mean all government records should be open to all? Of course not. Any government records that pertain to any individual who is not a public official are private, not public, information and need to be closely guarded.

But the days of "you need to shut up about what the military says because they know more than you and we need to follow them" should have gone by the boards when the Founders wisely put the elected civilian leader, the President, in charge of the military.

Sadly, because military secrecy is indeed necessary when we decide we have enemies we need to crush, transparency is lost. And that works out very well for war profiteers, because they can act with impunity in nearly every way if we are in a state of fear and we believe the only ones who can defend us are the armed forces.

It is indeed pretty much a consensus amongst those who theorize, study, and practice nonviolence that transparency is the ideal and that even in the midst of the most serious nonviolent conflict transparency is almost always the rule and certainly lowers costs. All this is precisely the opposite of violence, which should again reveal the natural connections between nonviolence and more robust and healthy democracy--and show again the disconnect between violence and democracy.

I'd like to do what Sam Day did in Madison, Wisconsin, when he invited police to nonviolence trainings in preparation for the resisters getting arrested. That level of transparency is so very healthy and cuts way back on incidents of police violence against resisters.

In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan we sent out media releases whenever we planned to dismantle the US thermonuclear navy's survey through portions of four state forests in preparation for expanding the command facility. We copied the sheriff. That is transparency that worked quite well to recruit support and sympathy from all, even though it meant that we risked arrest more directly. This is a risk we took willingly.

(secrecy for military bases, even when people drinking the migrating pollution in the groundwater develop cancer, as though they have no right to know)

Deming, Burrowes, Zunes, Sharp, Lakey and other theorists all include transparency as a component and concomitant to nonviolence. It simply makes more sense, though it would be wrong to claim consensus. Phil Berrigan and some others were fairly secretive, which they deemed necessary to the Plowshares movement. I chose to experiment toward more transparency and it worked very well toward gaining the community trust so necessary to convincing my fellow citizens that my acts were reasonable.

Without making it into a fetish, I'd propose that transparency should be considered a necessary ingredient in any successful nonviolent campaign.

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