Sunday, September 05, 2010

Union needed

One of the most central holy grail tenets of nonviolence is unity. After all, change can only occur with it, violent or nonviolent. Ballots, bodies or bullets--the three Bs of change, are all predicated upon bringing together masses of people.

Philosophically, or religiously, nonviolence has historically in the east and west meant individual witness, often associated with noncooperation in a personal commitment to a mandate derived from sacred text as interpreted by a sect of Jainism or Buddhism in the east or Christianity in the west.

Scientific, secular, scholarly analysis of nonviolence has often ignored the natural dialectic, or ascribed only anecdotal and case-study importance to it. This is as it should be, but a comparative systemic correlate study--using both quantitative and qualitative methods--needs to examine the interplay between nonviolence and faith from multiple perspectives.

The most emailed story on NPR this week gives an introduction to the notion that faith can help societies evolve into more advanced and compassionate, cooperative, high functioning states. Scientists are exploring those links.

Certainly, however, a faith-based commitment to war isn't the path to a more compassionate society, even though it has produced temporary advantages for many imperial powers over the millennia. Our challenge is really to look at the long view; a military force may be of great advantage when the Earth has resources to support it, but emphatically no more. The US in many ways is like the man who leapt out of the high-flying airplane, is sailing at very terminal velocity toward the Earth, and is just passing the top of the 828 m (2,717 ft) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the tallest building in the world, where a maintenance man on the roof shouts to the hurtling man, "How's it going?" The flying man shouts back, "So far, so good!" The long drop through the atmosphere is like the long military history of humanity. So far, so good. God is on our side.

But Mother Nature is not. The military in the US is the largest and most sophisticated military the world has ever seen and is responsible for more Superfund sites than any other sector of the economy, more consumption of oil than any other sector of the economy, and in many ways exists to protect its own food supply. It is joined by all other militaries of the world in its ruination of the environment, from mere but sheer habitat destruction by troop and transport movement to ordnance testing, to more long-lasting destruction of air, water and soil despoliation by pollution. A river's water is only usable for certain things once it has been too polluted to drink, after all, as we see in many places in Eastern and Central Europe, where the Soviet-controlled Warsaw Pact militaries had even fewer environmental regulations than the scant few ever applied in the US. Quite simply, the era of the military is ecologically closing out. Evolution will slam that door hard for societies not prepared. God works in mysterious ways.

So, out of this cauldron of science and belief, conflict methods and philosophy, comes the stew of natural consequence, evolving in its own iterative dialectic as nature changes. The systemic results of the addition of a variable change when the system is undergoing its own meta-change--what used to be a natural consequence is now different, since nature Herself has been altered. With the addition of faith in nonviolence, which has been relegated to a marginal status labeled quaint and naive, we see the new dynamic as favoring a robust, developed nonviolent approach to social conflict.

All of which brings us back 'round to unity on this Labor Day weekend. We need consensus first around methods of conflict management and then we can seek it about what else we wish to see. This is how Gandhi approached it so long ago and it's still the most adaptive order of things. In the sociology literature, a great deal of credit for the aphoristic dictum, "Organize the organized" goes to the secular side, e.g. Saul Alinsky, but Gandhi certainly showed how to do that in South Africa and then India decades before Alinsky did that in Chicago. He appealed to those from all religions in India and urged them to commit to nonviolence from their own religious perspective. To the extent he succeeded, he liberated his nation. Later, Martin Luther King Jr did the same in the churches in the South and joined with the churches in the rest of the US. Cesar Chavez did that too, stitching together a coalition at one point using Roman Catholic unity to bring in Filipina workers to what had been a purely Hispanic labor movement. Solidarity did that by evoking the Polish pope in the freedom struggle in the 1980s. Corbin Harney, praying in Shoshone and urging all to join him from their own faith orientation, brought together a movement to halt the US military and the Department of Energy from further wrecking our western lands.

This mutually reinforcing dynamic, then, is part of how we move past our problems without creating more of them. It is applicable using the unity in both religion and in labor unions, two of the bodies of organized members of society that should naturally commit to nonviolence in order to advance toward the common good. In a democracy, that can be done with an effective combination of smaller masses brought together into a larger mass.

Consensus organizers work to develop deep, authentic relationships and partnerships among and between community residents and stakeholders, and members of the external power structure to facilitate positive and tangible community change (Ohmer & DeMasi, 2009, p. 1-2).

In other words, stop organizing worrying so much initially about trying to influence the ones in power. Build the base first and then when you approach the members of the external power structure they will be all ears, ready to listen and negotiate as equals. This is the confluence of principled nonviolence and strategic liberatory nonviolence. It is as Indian as Rasgulla, as American as apple pie. It's Labor Day weekend and time to partake, to recommit to organizing our faith communities and our workers, grounded in faith-based strategic nonviolence.


Ohmer, Mary L. & DeMasi, Karen (2009). Consensus organizing: A community development workbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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