Saturday, July 24, 2010

Force multiplier

(Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, Jackie Hudson, Dominican nuns who did direct disarmament Plowshares at a nuclear missile in Colorado, 6 October 2002)
If a nonviolent resister falls in a forest of oppression, will anyone hear?

More to the point, if that forest of oppression does not harbor a species of observer, will that nonviolent resister be effective?

Generally, nonviolent resisters need to regard media as force multipliers in our efforts to exert nonviolent force. Media--both alternative and mainstream--should be managed so that it recruits more numbers, more members of support for the goals of the nonviolent movement.

Personal conversations are the best way to recruit. It is also impractical to attempt to have personal conversations with everyone in order to bring them into a movement--at least and especially at the early stages of any movement. Once a movement is so widespread that it has generated enough volunteers to literally go door-to-door, phone bank to substantive numbers, and head out into public fora to personally meet and discuss with large numbers of the public, then the media has served its recruitment purpose and will function more as a natural help to the mass movement underway. But until that day, media is a field of contest that largely determines who prevails in the overall policy contest to which nonviolent resisters are a party.

The first, easiest, and ongoing commitment is to alternative media. This is how we communicate best amongst ourselves is by creating and using our own newsletters, websites, community radio stations, cable community access television, laptop video production for web distribution, etc. We need to mobilize the mobilizable and alternative media is how we manage it.

The next step--and in any good and vigorous movement the next step comes quickly--is that we need to place some emphasis on recruitment via mainstream media. We never stop using our own alternative media, but we also reach out to mainstream media to begin bringing in new members into our movement and to generate sympathy with and from those who will likely never be a part of our or any movement, but who vote. We need mainstream media or we cannot grow beyond our current numbers to any appreciable degree. Recruiting people one by one when you have small numbers of recruiters is exhausting and takes far more effort per recruit when the cultural wallpaper of mainstream media is ignorant of or hostile toward the views of your movement. The unspoken block to building a movement by ignoring mainstream media is that small numbers look like losers. If you come to my door and urge me to join your movement, one I know nothing about because I only consume mainstream media when I have time to consume any media at all, I will likely not sign on to a campaign I see as marginal and quixotic. But if I've been seeing or reading about your efforts in my media and you call me up or hand me a brochure in the public square, I may be inclined to show up at your next public demonstration for peace, human rights, civil rights, or environmental protection.

If your nonviolent resistance is bold, innovative and involves people who are morally unassailable and thus credible spokespeople for a potential movement, you can literally jumpstart an entire campaign with one direct action. Rosa Parks did this by sitting on a bus. College kids in Nashville did this by sitting at lunch counters. Dan and Phil Berrigan did this by burning draft cards with homemade napalm and again by hammering on a nuclear missile nosecone. This is unusual and involves significant creativity and the volunteer sacrificial actions of people who are above reproach. It can happen and should not be discounted as a possibility, but without innovation and actionists of moral stature who cannot be smeared, it has little chance of success. Is this fair? No, but that's irrelevant.

Some elements of some movements appear satisfied with the comfort of only appealing to their own alternative media, either cynically alienated from the masses to the point where building a movement is seen as impossible, or perhaps they get everything they need from their dysfunctional marginal effort and are not interested so much in changing public policy as in the catharsis of trashing symbols of the policy they hate. When your movement has these strands, regard them as a happy problem. You can work with most of them and protect your own movement from them if you are serious. It takes direct outreach and compassionate creation of shared rules (don't use that terminology with anarchists--shared and co-created norms is far better).

The public is keenly aware of any perception of secrecy and lack of willingness to be accountable for behavior and will either be hostile toward or choose to ignore movements that look like they avoid public reckoning and accountability. Someone who wears a mask and breaks one window is generally regarded as a bad person, a bad actor and as a representative of some group that deserves to lose. On the other hand, Cortright (2009, p. 125-126) notes that Plowshares activists can generate public approval by their open, public accountability, while masked demonstrators alienate most others. We in the Plowshares movement often do many $thousands in damages to weapons, far more damage dollarwise than the masked anarchists do, and yet we are treated fairly well in mainstream media and we help bring in new people to our movements--not often as fellow Plowshares resisters, but as new participants in, say, a public demonstration against a military base, or a class of weapons, or a war.

The military has its force multipliers. Media are the force multipliers of the successful peace and justice movements.
Cortright, David. (2009). Gandhi and beyond: Nonviolence for a new political age. (2nd ed.) Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

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