Sunday, October 31, 2010

When extremism is reasonable

There is nothing moderate about real nonviolence.

Nonviolence is a lifestyle that would be moderate indeed in a culture that practiced the values of nonviolence amongst its members and toward others. Nonviolence in the US and many other places in the world is quite radical, quite immoderate, and usually some form of challenge to the status quo.

The essence of nonviolence invites extreme positions, since the consequences of disagreeing with someone who is nonviolent will not be a broken nose or gunshot wound--it's seen as just fine to engage in robust argument with such a person. So nonviolent activists fight amongst each other all the time, sometimes failing to practice the excellent communication skills that best protect them when they take their most cantankerous, contrarian selves out into the wider world of non-pacifists. Listening to pacifists argue about vegetarianism or public policy or strategies is not always a model of nonviolent communication as we could best practice it, though sometimes it is.

Dr. King famously noted in his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail that we who proclaim some nonviolent or justice value publicly are often labeled as extremists, and he welcomed that label, noting that "Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists."

Five years later, just a month after King's assassination, the most radical nonviolent faction of the antiwar movement went into a Selective Service office in Catonsville, Maryland on May 17, and took the files of young men who were all likely headed to Vietnam and burned those files in the parking lot outside. They stayed to publicly witness this and pronounce that war so immoral and so extreme that it was best challenged by acts of extreme nonviolence, extreme love. Their action was so extremely challenging in an extreme time that it created a nonviolent firestorm of copycat actions, at least three dozen of them across the US, jamming the Selective Service system enough to help slow the war machine.

Like the extreme act of Rosa Parks sitting down on a bus in contravention of decades of Jim Crow segregation, like the sit-ins at lunch counters that were extreme statements made publicly by up to 600 young nonviolent resisters at a time in the South, like the extreme act of black people attempting to register to vote in Selma, Alabama and elsewhere in the head-stomping South, these extremists who burned draft records of young men classified 1-A effectively did something both quite real and quite symbolic. Because it was nonviolent, it was not viewed by most Americans as terrorism that needed to be stamped out by any means, which gave it a window of dialog opportunity. That act of burning draft files and remaining on the scene to be accountable for their actions created a powerful and complex message. Dan Berrigan, one of the Catonsville Nine, finally did with one phrase in a court statement to their critics what King had done with his famous letter, reframing the perspective and cracking open conversation that led to widespread movement:

"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children."

Like the best of all nonviolent actions, it both heightened the confrontation and deepened the invitation. Of course this is not reasonable when we are discussing routine civil society public policy matters such as how the city park budget is spent (unless there are really mortal issues at stake, presumably). Staging a big noisy action with a sit-in to try to force a city council to put in more swing-sets is going to be regarded as counter-productive by most rational citizens. But when a draft is sweeping away hundreds of thousands of young men to fight a war of unprovoked invasion and occupation in a land across the world that never threatened us in any way, interfering with that machinery of death can be a way to call the question, to bring the public into the conversation where there had been so little conversation previously. The so-called Catonsville Nine did just that.

“Seven men and two women, all but forgotten by a new generation, had raised the ante and posed thorny questions that are far from resolved. When is military intervention, governmental deceit, a nuclear first strike, or the overwhelming power of the state over individual rights justified, if at all?” (Polner & O’Grady, 1997, p. 216). A wonderful interview of one of the Catonsville Nine, the late Tom Lewis, and a scholar of nonviolence, Michael True, includes some of the original film footage of the action.

The acts of nonviolence that do the most to help us create and develop much needed national discourse are almost always greeted initially by dismissive claims of extremism. One of the strategic questions posed to all who try to work for peace and justice is, "How can my actions spur the kind of public awareness that creates critical truth-seeking conversation where little has existed?"

Polner, Murray, and Jim O’Grady (1997). Disarmed and dangerous: The radical lives and times of Daniel and Philip Berrigan. New York: HarperCollins.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grassroots nonviolence is conflict resolution

One wonders if we are ever going to experience a change of consciousness in this nation that will enable civil society to draw upon its latent power for good, for assertion, for really engaging well in constructive conflict. How many lessons do Americans need before they stop leaning on the crutch, the dysfunctional and inappropriate weapon of violence?

The world was taught another method of waging conflict by Gandhi, though every time the best of his methods were ignored in favor of something deemed faster or more convenient or easier--that is, violence--then all bets were off. Kriesberg (2009, p. 19) noted:

“The Satyagraha campaigns and related negotiations influentially modeled methods of constructive escalation. The strategies of nonviolent action and associated negotiations were further developed in the civil rights struggles in the United States during the 1960s. For many academic analysts, the value of conflicts to bring about desirable social change was evident, but the dangers of failure and counterproductive consequences also became evident."

Unlike conflict scholar Kriesberg, too few other conflict scholars have paid attention to conflict waged from the grassroots, from civil society. Too few conflict practitioners have learned to wage it in an integrated fashion, weaving back and forth from negotiation to civil resistance to implementation to civil resistance to negotiation and so forth. Joan Bondurant analyzed Gandhian nonviolence campaign by campaign--when are we going to get a solid, grounded theory that explains how this works in broad brushstrokes?

My hypothetical is that the difference between nonviolent reformer and nonviolent revolutionary is that the reformer picks a winnable goal and strives for it without a vision for much beyond that. The nonviolent revolutionary envisions a different system, one of egalitarian, nonviolent, liberation of all, sustainable relationships, conflict management systems that don't include retributive justice or war. Then the nonviolent revolutionary works with value-affinity kith and kin to construct one winnable campaign after the next, all toward the vision. It is a lifetime effort and thus must be sustainable for the revolutionary over decades. One must learn to handle and defeat frustration and savor victories, even if one must learn the art of reframing in order to declare them.

The violent revolutionary, however, has it far worse. If, as does happen some 26 percent of the time, he succeeds, he is then in power and must defend that revolution by force of arms against enemies internal and external. There is no end to the violence and it becomes a lifetime of bloodshed without cessation until death. If, as is the case in 74 percent of the cases, he fails, then he lives in ignominy or in more bloodshed as he mounts another war. Either way, it's a life of carnage and killing, never knowing if you've just killed another innocent as collateral damage or if you've just killed a better human than yourself.

The failure of nonviolence often produces counterproductive consequences. So does the failure of violence. So does the failure of apathy and conflict avoidance. While Kriesberg (pictured) is correct that we learn to choose our battles and our methods carefully or risk failure, our chances for success with nonviolence are best, are greatest, and can win without causing massive losses for anyone. It is long past time to end war. It's a stupid problem and humanity needs a nonviolent intifada to shake off war.

Kriesberg, Louis (2009). The evolution of conflict resolution. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict resolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 15-32.

Head stomping gene?

Do you enjoy learning? Do you like making friends? Are you the kind of person who enjoys learning about different people and seeing if they might be new friends of yours?

If you are, don't feel like you are to blame. Turns out that you are not only genetically programmed toward checking out different cultures, but you are likely a flaming liberal too.

The logical follow-up is to track the genetic predisposition toward getting a smaller, vulnerable creature surrounded, down on the ground, and then bravely stomp on her head--and later tell an interviewer that it would never have happened if the police had been doing their job (wasn't that Eichmann's defense?). I think that gene is far more ancient, reptilian, and manifests itself in the most lizardy part of our central nervous system. I like to call it the Rush Limbic gene.

These porcine southern white males who can actually justify this kind of atrocity to themselves apparently have no clue as to how horrific their behavior is to folks. There was a reason the rest of us told them in 1964 that they weren't brave, they have no excuse, that we were in fact now passing the Civil Rights Act that, we hoped, would let them gracefully grow up and stop their bullying. We tried to affirm those victims the next year further with the Voting Rights Act, which again rewarded nonviolence with legal protections.

Was the young woman blameless? No, she was beyond assertive as she moved aggressively toward Rand Paul with her sign; Fox News was fast to point out that aggressive protester behavior. Did that justify a head stomp? Even Fox News affirmed it did not. What is a fact is that if the head stomper had been black he would have been cuffed and stuffed at best, shot dead instantly possibly, by the Kentucky police. But the courageous head stomper was free to go on television later, on his own terms. Mr. Plucky Defender of the Free World would not allow the cameraperson to film his face, so all you saw was his piously folded hands with his wedding ring prominently displayed.

Imagine who gets to benefit from that marriage. One wonders how often his wife and children have been down with their heads on the (hopefully metaphorical) curb? The Louisville Stomper (actually from Paris, Kentucky) is quite an example of the Tea Party manly political movement--he's unemployed with a working wife and somehow found $2,500 to donate to Rand Paul. What a mistake, Mr. Lincoln. You know you should have let them secede. They could have ethnically cleansed all the African Americans and anyone with the compassion gene and we in the North and West would have been so much better off.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A day in the life, gratitude for the small things

As we stood on the pier with our peace leaflets and peace signs, members of the public lined up to tour the navy battleship. It was the summer of 1998 in Duluth, Minnesota and the tradition was that the ship docked in Duluth for a week or two in order to recruit and we gathered to counter-recruit. That particular year was my favorite because my eldest son was living with me again after his own years away, first in the navy himself and then in Pennsylvania and then Michigan, working as a salesman.

Cleve is not an activist. He's just a guy. He's a very smart man--the kid started reading Greek mythology for fun when he was nine. And he's funny--his spontaneous mirth bursts out on its own and always has. He's amazingly athletic--he also started lifting weights when he was nine, just because. He went on to be a track and football star in high school, setting state records in Wisconsin. He joined the navy eventually after partying his way out of a college football scholarship, finding his biological Dad, and feeling like a failure. The navy was not a good four years for him. But his natural goodness, strength, intelligence and balance won out in the end, and I was enjoying his time back in my home.

So when I told him we were going to meet the navy recruiting ship, I didn't expect him to show up. That was never his thing. But there he was, standing with us, a tiny group opposing the invasion of the US navy. The entire dock was devoted to the ship--Catholic Worker Erik Torch called it coming to worship the warship. People lined up to take the tour. We were smaller than a minority. We were a microminority.
One of our members, Donna Howard, was standing with a sign that had some spiritual message about the nonviolent Jesus. As one man was about to board the ship, he shoved her, hard, and she staggered back. The man dashed up the gangplank and then leaned over the side of the warship, big guns bristling behind him and above him, and yelled triumphantly, "Didn't Jesus say an eye for an eye?!"

We just gaped. How do you respond to such profound brainwashing and heart damage? Well, no, actually, sir, he said that was the old way and he was bringing a new way. Um, you might want to skip forward out of the Old Testament to the new part and review it a bit.

Cleve and I still laugh about it. He is African American and he has dealt with the depths of ignorance in our nation and he still loves it. He sees the worst sides of people and shakes it off, always eventually coming back to his natural joy in life. He's never been particularly nonviolent, but he's always been generous and never cruel. When dealing with threats, he's met them with such good humor and self-confidence that he wins more friends every time he is in conflict.

Our work is forever. We all have life sentences if we wish to bring more peace, more hope, and more nonviolence into our world. Each of these days out in the fields of peacework brings its lessons and its memories, all as precious as the people there. Cleve is good, Donna is doing wonderful work, Erik has a young family, and I hope the angry man who so radically misunderstood the message of Jesus has also learned something since our moment together.

I give thanks for them all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Whitefeather, Walter, Whale Rider and Gandhi: Our future

Larry Cloud Morgan—Whitefeather of the Ojibwe—was the one person I have known in my life who was obviously a Holy Man. I may have met others—and everyone is sacred—but Whitefeather was so very clearly a man of Holy nature.

Walter Bresette—a fearless Anishinabe warrior coming into nonviolent leadership—and I continued a dialog about nonviolence and the warrior way for the final 12 years of his life, a dialog we continue in my heart. Walter and Whitefeather are the two about whom I feel as Philip Noel-Baker, the European diplomat, did about Gandhi when he said, in February 1948 eulogy, His greatest accomplishments are yet to come.

I still miss Walter and Whitefeather every day and this is an homage to them and other Native practitioners of an evolved nonviolent warrior way. Bea Swanson, also crossed over, was another Minneapolis-based Anishinabe activist who brought her Native presence and small hand drum to many peace demonstrations, giving her spirit and imprimatur to the work of the peace movement in the northern Heartland. Those Native women and men, acting inside a peace movement but clearly motivated by their own traditions, raise questions about the complexity and nature of cultures so thoroughly branded as warlike.

My own people, as a Scot-American, are not many generations removed from the indigenous blue-painted people who fought Romans, Vikings and the British. We are fed from our roots and the roots of others can create new paths for all of us. Like Pai, the young indigenous Maori girl in the beautifully inspiring movie Whale Rider, we can honor traditions even as we improve on them. Like real-life Kenyan Wangari Maathai—founder of the Green Belt movement and recipient of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize—we can change the nature of indigenous leadership and image to bold and peaceful, nurturing and connected, rather than the fear-induced image of the Mau-Mau wielding a machete.

This leadership model—indigenous and nongovernmental, peaceful and modest—is a paradigmatic shift from the old top-down man who negotiates peace with a military stick in one hand. (French: 172) Nonviolence is the next Big Step for humanity and Native Americans have already written many chapters in the instruction manual.

As Jerry Mander reminds mainstream Americans, the issues of Native Americans are not ancient history; the worst massacres on them were perpetrated when my great-grandparents were young adults. (Mander: 132) Like the great racehorse Seabiscuit, the tribes have been grievously injured—but do not ever count them out. We owe them unremittable debts, and we have much to learn from how they used to do things and how they comport themselves today.


French, Hilary, et al., “Laying the foundations for peace,” in: Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2005. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2005.

Mander, Jerry, “What you don’t know about Indians,” in: Yuen, Nicky González, The Politics of Liberation: An American Studies Primer, 4th Edition. Dubuque IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2003.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We always negotiate with terrorists

They all say it:
Ronald Reagan said we don't negotiate with terrorists.
George W. Bush reiterated that, with frequent, far more articulate affirmations of that policy by Condoleezza Rice.
Indeed, as Peter R. Neumann described, we often negotiate with terrorists:

The British government maintained a secret back channel to the Irish Republican Army even after the IRA had launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street that nearly eliminated the entire British cabinet in 1991. In 1988, the Spanish government sat down with the separatist group Basque Homeland and Freedom (known by its Basque acronym ETA) only six months after the group had killed 21 shoppers in a supermarket bombing. Even the government of Israel -- which is not known to be soft on terrorism -- has strayed from the supposed ban: in 1993, it secretly negotiated the Oslo accords even though the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued its terrorist campaign and refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.

That is the very short list, of course. The Unabomber's manifesto was printed. Ronald Reagan took the mines out of the Nicaraguan harbors. Nixon started to leave Vietnam. The IDF left Gaza. Even state terrorists can be moved with negotiation.

And at this moment, we learn that NATO is helping facilitate negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban in Afghanistan. From a nonviolent point of view, what are the arguments?

We should never negotiate in violation of our principles and if our principles are pacifism, how can we negotiate with those committed to violence?

We should always negotiate with anyone who is willing to talk because that is our only chance to transform destructive conflict into constructive conflict.

There are problems and promises in both positions. When in discussion with representatives from terrorist groups, why would any good negotiator allow anything on the table that is violative of basic human rights? If everything is on the table, that is one amoral negotiation. Never negotiating with terrorists, then, is really some combination of admission of poor negotiating competencies and assertion that all the terrorists want is bloodshed, not justice.

So, negotiate, yes. Always. And quarantine certain items while searching for other ways to satisfy terrorists demands. Hamas wants sovereignty. They don't get to shoot Qassam rockets into kibbutz school classrooms. A good negotiator can work with this. Identify what state terror practices Israel is using and get those on the table while keeping Israel's right to exist off. Is the balance hard? Not morally, but certainly it requires world class negotiation--and isn't this a world class problem?

Karzai needs to talk with the Taliban and the US needs to leave. Talk is how Afghanistan will regain its autonomy, its sovereignty. At some point, Karzai will either join the Taliban in that one aspect or he will lose whatever credibility he has with the people of the unnatural country of Afghanistan.

And at some point, other talks will redraw national boundaries to reflect cultural, linguistic, tribal, ethnic and historic reality. The state terrorism inflicted on that region by European colonialism carries a long violent legacy, and the borders of Afghanistan are a classic case. Declaring a country that is formed by dividing all the ethnicities and clumping pieces of them together was not the idea of the Afghans. It was imperialistic divide and conquer, with the Durand Line bifurcating the Pashtuns and then parts of other territories in the north were also stitched on to part of the Pashtunstan shoved into Afghanistan. The country was created by outsiders and it was thus born deformed and unstable.

Eventually, all this will be negotiated and all the state terrorists and irregular terrorists can either talk it out or the violence will continue. Engaging the minds instead of the drones seems like a no-brainer to me.


Neumann, Peter R.(January/February 2007). Negotiating with terrorists. Foreign Affairs

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Invading, occupying, displacing

When Europeans came to the western hemisphere, they received a warm welcome, which they abused. More Euros came, and more.

Certainly, the numbers and tactics of the invading force changed all that initial friendliness, though the diversity in reaction persisted. By 1862, all but the most desperate or enraged could see the writing: there were approximately 31,000,000 whites and just 300,000 Native Americans. (Hastings: 3) No one can fight violently against 100:1 odds, especially with such an arsenal asymmetry amplifying the numerical tilt.

Some tribes fought at the time and still suffer; some negotiated a chance to live and fight in other ways on other days. Some, like the Yaqui from Sonora, fought the Mexican government and fled to the US, where they were not prosecuted, nor were they deported, in a rare instance of justice. (Spicer: xv)

The diversity of those stories can tell us much. The nostalgia for the gentle spirit of pre-contact Native cultures lives on in many who evoke that spirit as our dominant cultures tentatively explore the possibilities of nonviolence. Like Words in the Wind of the Wampanoag Nation, who opened a Fellowship of Reconciliation event with her poetry evoking compassionate and tender tribal practices, the collective memory of some stands in contrast to the collective memory of a warrior culture. The warrior image is wilder and more exciting, but the calm and caring Native American is just as justifiable an image in the mindseye of those who try to remember the greatness of the tribes.

Since the evolutionary experiment of Native Americans was disastrously interrupted, and since postmodernist thought can lead us to appreciate cultures that seemed to be on paths that might be ultimately sustainable and superior to the technoWest, we do well to look again at Native wisdom. (Griffen: xi)

It was there; it’s been stereotyped and generally disregarded and it will serve humanity well if it regains its richness and carries on its experiments. Stories are not always told with good intentions; our mass media often remind the critical listener and careful reader of the Iktomi stories, the Lakota tales of the spider, including the Iktomi’s own use of stories to the ants. “He told them a story--pretty soon they went to sleep so he ate them up.” (Penman: 107) Indeed, our mass media is a kind of spider telling us the stories that put our best sides asleep so the spider can gobble us up. It happened in the US as Native peoples were demonized and war on them was justified. This has happened to justify every war the US has fought, starting even before there was a US, in colonial America, and it has continued to this day.

The challenge to the peace scholar is to apply the theories of nonviolence from many sources to the various practices of Native American conflict management. Indeed, I'd like to offer a provocative opening statement that, I hope, challenges better and more thorough researchers to deeply and thoroughly examine this question. When warrior cultures do not make war, but transform to peaceful methods, they bring a new power to conflict.

I offer the core thesis—that Native Americans often practiced and still practice excellent nonviolent conflict management but have been not much credited with that practice, by mainstream culture or even by themselves. When we learn that the strength of the warrior can be transferred into nonviolent struggle, we open many doors for many individuals and even national groups. That would be a good thing.

Griffen, David Ray, introduction: Gier, Nicholas F., The Virtue of Nonviolence: From Gautama to Gandhi. Albany NY: SUNY Press, 2004.

Hastings, Tom, “Bury my toxic waste at Wounded Knee: the long Indian ecowars,” Drifts, 80:14, 7 May 1992.

Penman, Sarah, Honor the Grandmothers: Dakota and Lakota Women Tell Their Stories. St. Paul MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

Spicer, Edward H., “Refugio Savala, cross-cultural interpreter,” in: Savala, Refugio, Autobiography of a Yaqui Poet. Tucson AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 1980.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Counting coup on war

Larry Cloud Morgan was in the next room, I knew, under the physical control of the bailiffs in the federal court in Kansas City. He and the other three members of his trial group—calling themselves the Silo Pruning Hooks—would be coming into court shortly after more than three months in lockdown. I wore my ribbon shirt that day, in honor of Larry, a man raised on two reservations in northern Minnesota, Leech Lake and Cass Lake.

Finally, Helen Dery Woodson entered, smiling at all of us in the spectator sections. Then the priests, brothers Carl and Paul Kabat, both Oblates. At last Larry came in, his blanket draped over his shoulders. He paused, great round Buddha face looking out at us serenely. He spotted me, red ribbon shirt blazing to him, and he broke into a mirthful big smile and bowed directly to me. This was a man who, with his debilitating diabetes, had already been a terrible county jail for more than three months and who was facing a rigorous punishing trial that would likely end in a guilty verdict and the charges against him totaled a possible 25 years in prison. Only a bodhisattva could remain so floatingly calm and even happy under such circumstances. Larry qualified. I’ve never met a more powerful nonviolent warrior.

This is a gentle, prayerful, Native American who took a sledgehammer to a thermonuclear missile silo in the name of removing those instruments of fire from Our Sacred Mother the Earth. I use the present tense when I think and write of Larry, though he moved on the early summer of 1999, because he is ever-present. He is with us. He is one of those rare humans whose mystical yet very real connections to a powerful nonviolent spirituality challenges us to learn more about its roots.
North American history offers tantalizing examples of men and women like Larry, warriors who, using peaceful methods, seek justice, offer sacrificial protection, and remain above revenge and retaliation.

History is even more full of the stuff of human kindness, common decency and general gentleness offered by Native Americans to each other and to whites, but this excellent behavior is often ignored in favor of those who rose in bloody rebellion against US-Euro usurpers. "If it bleeds it leads" is the journalist’s motto and, sad to say, often the unwritten rule for the historian. We need an alternative examination of even a handful of these indigenous leaders and their tribespeople who can teach us how to survive our self-inflicted war system. Even in death, these nonviolent Native warriors offer us greater lessons than all the militaries of the world combined. Looking back at their struggles can afford us a glimpse into a possible future of hope, an evolved way to make conflict into a great creative force instead of the destructive disaster it has become under the Euro-US paradigm.

From Larry Whitefeather Cloud Morgan in prison:

Larry Cloud-Morgan

day 25 in Moon of Dark Red Calves

Greetings in the Spirit Great and all that shall flower, come spring. "I am free," "So Free." This soul of Native soil is finally free. We are the Children. We are the Old Ones. The gates of Auschwitz and Dachau are one with the gates of Silo N-5. We are the welders who collected their lucre at the expense of 6 million souls. We are the Chaplains, who pray for the pilots of Nation Death, as they bless the Bomb. As the engines roar, and the blinding mushrooms of infamy inscribe in the heart of history forever, that moan and cry of - Water! Water! We are Hiroshima. We are Nagasaki. . . We are El Salvador. We are Nicaragua. We are Guatemala. We are Oscar Romero, Maura, Ita, Doroihy, and Jean. We are N-5. We are tried. They say we are guilty. But we are Free! Free! Free to seek and live the Truth which guides this journey called Peace. They think they own our land. They try to own our lives. They believe they own our soil. But they shall never own our soul! We are peace. My gratitude, my heart, my hope, is yours this day.

Whitefeather of the Ojibway, Larry Cloud-Morgan

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reset employment

One of the most perduring problems in any effort to turn a war system into a peace system is that we have a destructive conflict industry, that is, people who profit from destructive conflict. From the lawyers who benefit from fighting in court with each other to the war profiteers who hope our foreign policy guarantees enough angry enemies to keep dutiful voting taxpayers in line, we all lose to these relatively few. They are often the majority of Richistan, the ones who are vastly wealthy because of a philosophy that Ronald Reagan clearly enunciated when he told his Director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, "Defense is not a budget issue."

But it is a budget issue, a budget problem of staggering proportions, far more serious and destructive than subprime loans or credit card debt. Military spending has hollowed out our entire economy and left millions unemployed because the money has been spent on capital intensive military programs instead of labor intensive civilian programs, on death-dealing instead of life-enhancing economic sectors.

When the military wins the budget battle, as it does every year, education suffers, infrastructure decays unchecked, the environmental pollution is often unmonitored and even more often unremediated, and all other sectors of our lives are impoverished. This will go on until the economy completely collapses and we have some type of revolution or we will finally start intelligently on a different path.

In a nation with a functional unemployment rate approaching 20 percent (add the "discouraged workers" to the underemployed to the Department of Labor actual filing unemployed numbers), one might hope we are approaching that decision point. The Washington Post reports, for example, that Americans are fed up with the 1.9 million federal workers who make more than their private counterparts and have the best benefits, while many who are struggling in the private sector have no benefits. The standard politician's response in this Reaganista-tainted era is to cut federal workers and subsidize private owners of poorly managed corporations who show massive losses due to bad executive decisions. Don't you love the free enterprise model that tells us from the cradle that in capitalism the smartest companies who offer the best service are the ones who survive and thrive? Not under lemon socialism, the practice of bailing out bad corporations. They are too big to fail and 19 million unemployed Americans are too small to notice.

Imagine, instead, that federal workers made very low wages, but got high benefits. Imagine that every unemployed American could work if she or he simply signed up and showed up for one of these federal jobs. Pay would be minimum, but it would mean that we would finally have universal health care and perhaps even some educational benefits that would enable our workforce to earn while they learned. It's an old idea, pioneered in India by Gandhi,

who said that academic learning should only be half the educational time and trade labor in the garden or carpentry or other manual labor should be the other half of the children's time. That model, extended to all Americans, could enable the poorly paid but safety-netted federal worker access to community college or university courses and, over a period of years could help them earn degrees. We used to believe in this country that educating our workforce was in our national interest, and we might get there once again.

How could we pay for all this? Major slashes, deep cuts to the military budget. Close all foreign bases. End all nuclear programs except clean up. Stop trying to rule the world. Transition from a hyper offensive imperial military to defense to the ultimate peace system of nonviolent defense. We would save hundreds of $ billions annually, better spent on keeping Americans working and learning that fighting, killing and dying. The world might actually like us again, which would be a welcome benefit. And we would demonstrate care about our young people finally, something they rightfully wonder about.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Humanizing conflict

The sun that looks down upon us today, and gives us light and heat, sees that our hearts are true, and that what we do is good for the poor red man.
—Blackfoot, Mountain Crow, 1873 at Crow Agency,
Montana (Vanderwerth: 157)

The theory and practice of mass liberatory nonviolence comes to us in the original from peoples of color, from Gandhi and then from other liberation struggles in Africa, Asia and America. The roots of the philosophies and cultural practices that informed the various movements for liberation and defense are sometimes clear and traceable and often obscure and require informed guesswork. The research into nonviolence and into Native cultures is constantly underway and under revision. The synthesis between the two is a relatively unexplored arena.

Even the origins of Native Americans is anything but a settled question, with the upending of the Clovis peoples as the original humans on the continent by digs in Chile and many other locales showing evidence of earlier inhabitants, some of whom probably pushed north. (Dillehay: 15) With two peoples, probably quite different from each other, pushing north from the far south and the other groups pushing south and east from the Bering Strait land bridge some 12,000 years ago, can we make categorical statements about peoples and their culturally developed methods of dealing with conflict? Probably not easily at this juncture. But where the record exists, it is worth noting, especially in the context of developing conflict management methods that can operate with some success in asymmetric struggles. Nonviolence is a logical option, in many cases, for cultures in conflict with more militarily powerful and morally underdeveloped conflict practices.

Objectifying the Originals: Just War on Natives
A well known tenet of the theory of killing and violence, of war and invasion, is that we must objectify the enemy before sending soldiers against them. When we can do that, we remove the proscriptions we naturally feel against killing them. Indeed, when they are no longer human, when they can be equated with vermin of some type—either subhuman or superhuman—we can feel naturally able to act in self-defense, even when we are committing horrific acts of invasive, unjust, brutality against fellow humans. While various Native Americans--from those who greeted the starving Pilgrims and taught them to survive, to Sacagawea and on and on--treated the aliens well, the invaders responded with such avarice and disregard that violent conflict eventually began. But the patience of the original people was tremendous. Those who actually choose to read the recorded comments of Native Americans throughout US history will find, as Dee Brown points out, “words of gentle reasonableness coming from the mouths of Indians stereotyped in the American myth as ruthless savages.” (Brown: xix)

Dehumanizing the Other is not hard; indeed, it seems to come naturally to humans, whether they are oppressors or victims in shock at their shackles. The objectification of indigenous peoples by invading colonizers is easily recognized and commonly understood by those who listen to mainstream discourse in the dominant culture. One must go deeper to hear and understand the response from the oppressed. In her brilliant work describing the life of blacks in the Deep South before Civil Rights, Maya Angelou writes of the common perception of whites: “I couldn’t force myself to think of them as people--Whitefolks couldn’t be people because their feet were too small, their skin too white and see-throughy, and they didn’t walk on the balls of their feet the way people did—they walked on their heels like horses.” (Angelou: 21)

Explaining the inexplicable is possible if the Other is not human. How could white people be so intensely and purposefully mean and cruel? It seemed to be impossible until they could be understood as another species entirely. For the dominant identity, it works to make the other identity either less than or more than human; either makes the Other nonhuman and potentially an unreasoning threat that can only be dealt with using coercion, which, to most, implies a threat of extreme violence. We may even need to drive an entire population away—away to another place, a reservation, another nation. If the worst comes, it may be a regrettable necessity to completely eliminate them from the planet. Thus, dehumanization devolves into ethnic cleansing, which in turn degrades into genocide under the most awful circumstances.

Robert Drinnon and many others document this phenomenon in various scholarly works examining the process by which EuroAmericans perpetrated Manifest Destiny on what would become the United States of America. The slaughter, the injustice, the blatant robbery at gunpoint, the genocidal attack on inhabitants of a rich land—all justified, all made possible by learning to twist the images of who these original inhabitants were. When whites and Indians battled and the whites prevailed, it was a military victory. When Indians won the day, it was a massacre. Often the cultural mythology that described Natives as brutal and violent was more akin to the psychological phenomenon we know as projection, i.e., we take the worst behavior of which we know ourselves capable and assume the foe will engage in it at every opportunity.

Thus, for example, when Daniel Boone—basically a greedy real estate entrepreneur who had zero tolerance for rights of the original inhabitants—explored Kentucky in search of free real estate to peddle, he wandered at will through the vast forests, paranoid that the “painted savage red man” would come upon him, discover his scheme to steal their land and lifeways, and foil him. (Drinnon: 133) He needed to make them seem stealthy, sneaky and intolerant, and he did so with zeal. This justified his conduct, his rapacious and invasive robbery of great swatches of territory. This fits precisely with classical conflict theory from Coser to Levine and Campbell and others, which holds that real conflict is generated by perception of threat from another party based on an understood conflict of interest. That perception thus causes hostility, in-group solidarity and identity and, ultimately, acts based on this created ethnocentrism. (Polkinghorn: 86)

At any time, of course, the local Natives could have dispatched Daniel Boone with little trouble, but they never did. They lived and let live, but that trait was ignored. When they were violated, they sometimes struck back, but generally the initiation of violence was a US-Euro event. And the anthropologists tell us that, generally, even an unprovoked raiding party fatality amongst the plains tribes would only result in an equivalent retributive raid, not in a vengeance of great bloodletting. In one recorded event, a Hidatsa party killed one Hunkpapa. “The Hunkpapa also followed custom by accepting the death of one of their number without attempting to wipe out the whole party. Had they sought to revenge the loss of their comrade, one scalp would have sufficed.” (Peters: 98)

During that period, 1763-1776, the British Empire had declared that the lands west of the colonies were Indian lands. The Proclamation of 1763 was, for the most part, a recognition that tribes were becoming increasingly hostile to the unjust theft of their lands, and that they were beginning to organize larger coalitions to militarily oppose British expansion, including strategically aligning with France during the North American extension of the Seven Years War in Europe, known in North America as the confusingly named French and Indian War. It turned out that the French were not objectifying Native Americans nearly as much as the English, that they were assimilating into tribal life and tribes were assimilating into French colonial life, that the French and Indians were intermarrying and trading on a more equal footing. The British, by contrast, were imperial conquerors who attacked, subjugated and naturally alienated the tribes. (Zinn: 125) The complexities of these relationships and alliances further diversified Native American conflict management models.

Angelou, Maya, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. NYC: Bantam Books, 1971 (original 1969).

Brown, Dee, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. NYC: Henry Holt, 1970.

Dillehay, Thomas D., The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistory. NYC: Basic Books, 2000.

Drinnon, Richard, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating & Empire-Building. Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997 (original edition 1980).

Peters, Virginia Bergman, Women of the Earth Lodges: Tribal Life on the Plains. North Haven CT: Archon, 1995.

Polkinghorn, Brian D., “The social origins of environmental resource conflict: Exposing the roots of tangible disputes,” in: Byrne, Sean and Cynthia L. Irvin, Reconcilable Differences: Turning Points in Ethnopolitical Conflict. West Hartford CT: Kumarian Press, 2000.

Venderwerth, W.C., ed., Indian Oratory: Famous Speeches by Noted Indian Chieftains. NYC: Ballantine, 1971.

Zinn, Howard, The Future of History: Interviews with David Barsamian. Monroe ME: Common Courage Press, 1999.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Counting coup and evolution of conflict work

Historians tell us that humans began to transit out of the hunter-gatherer stage of development approximately 11,000 years ago in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, as humans learned first agriculture, then stored grain, then walled cities to protect the stored grain and those with some centralized wealth and power. Standing armies to raid and to defend are said to be a result of this “progress.”

A provocative question: If the evolution of Native Americans hadn’t been interrupted by the invasion of Europeans, would they have developed a civilization without armies and maybe even violent conflict, skipping that step (or misstep) in societal evolution? This is a legitimate question, since Native Americans had been innovating with practices such as counting coup, which is a variant of playing tag—only very dangerous when your opponent is violent. “The greatest coup of all was to ride up to an enemy, merely touch him with a weapon, and ride away unharmed. This kind of hit-and-run warfare required a mount as well-trained and quick-witted as his rider,” wrote anthropologist Virginia Peters. (Peters: 94)

If the truest, most honorable warriors were willing to risk their lives to count coup on an opponent without intention of harming that opponent, we can only marvel at the nonviolent psychology and wonder where it might have gone.

And make no mistake, Native Americans were quite diverse in their conflict management models and decisions vis-à-vis the invaders. Read the classic first chapter in historian Howard Zinn’s groundbreaking A People’s History of the United States, titled “Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress.” The “Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts,” according to Columbus’s own journal. (Zinn: 1)

His use of some of the passages from journals of the participants is illuminating; the Arawaks were friendly, loving, trusting, vulnerable people, peaceful and generous. Evidently, contact amongst the tribes pre-European invasion must have been peaceful enough to warrant a general attitude of open, welcoming invitation. Indeed, one might logically conclude from this evidence and other histories (as some have), that Native Americans are more likely to develop nonviolent conflict management competencies than are descendants of Europeans. Studying the history of the invaders makes that conclusion a bit more plausible and it bears no relationship on faulty essentializing, but rather on observed and compared cultural practices. As Columbus and his followers abused that trust by enslaving, killing, displacing and robbing Native Americans, that relationship grew more and more tragic.

Peters, Virginia Bergman, Women of the Earth Lodges: Tribal Life on the Plains. North Haven CT: Archon, 1995.
Zinn, Howard, A People’s History of the United States. NYC: HarperCollins Publishers, 1980.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


“Contemporary terrorism, however, does pose a particular challenge to diplomacy, in the sense that terrorists loathe the diplomatic rules of engagement, such as communication and negotiation” (Jönson & Aggestam, 2009, p. 48).

While it's a great idea to try to essentialize your enemy if you are a part of the war system, I'd throw down a challenge to those in the field of conflict resolution to try to understand terrorists and learn to communicate with them. Looking at the history of many terrorists and their groups, one might well understand them in the context of understanding a weak passive aggressive boy who is powerless under the normal playground rules but who is plotting to get back at the bully who threw him into the fence and took his lunch money so casually. Bullies often act with such imperious entitlement that they don't see that the boy was trying to communicate when he asked "Please don't rip my shirt!" just before the bully ripped the boy's shirt.

Osama bin Laden is a case in point. He sees himself as the champion of the Muslims who have suffered the multiple tears in their social fabric and in the ancient tapestry of their common culture. He stood up to the Soviet bullies in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was befriended by the Americans.[photo: 1980s Pakistan ISI, US CIA, mujahedeen in Afghanistan] He helped to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan with a decade of guerrilla warfare along with many mujahedeen. On the heels of that came Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and bin Laden returned to his Saudi Arabia government to offer the services (using communications) of his al Qa'ida fighters, highly organized and ready for action to defend against secularists like Saddam. The Saudi royals told him no, the Americans will do the job. Suddenly, infidels in the most sacred Islamic nations and bin Laden's messages (also known as communications) to the Arab world, to the Muslim world, and even to western journalists like Robert Fisk and Peter Bergen--and thus to all of us in the West--was that he didn't like four things:
~Military aid to the corrupt governments of the Middle East
~UN sanctions on Iraq, even though Saddam was still his enemy, since the bulk of those suffering were children and other innocents
~Military aid to the Israeli Defense Force who enforced the occupation of Palestine in contravention of UN resolutions
~Infidel troops in holy lands

All this communication went unheeded and he jacked up the message to militarism, which in his case was quite weak and thus terrorism. He also claimed that all citizens in the US were participants in the war on Islam, since they elected the people who did these things and then paid their taxes to fund it. Wow. Still communicating. It was an echo of James Baker III, who, when asked about the civilian casualties in Iraq, explained that it was up to the people of Iraq to replace Saddam, so we needed to consider them culpable too. Gosh, since we live in a democracy, that makes bin Laden's argument for violating rules of war even more cogent than Baker's. As a pacifist, I reject them both, but let's at least be fair.

So, before we say they the terrorists don't want to communicate, let's look at whether they've tried and are just 'round the bend from our failure to listen and negotiate.


Jönson, Christer & Aggestam, Karin (2009). Diplomacy and conflict resolution. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict resolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. pp. 33-51.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ethical bankruptcy of violence

Yet another young one from the US has laid down his life in the losing struggle to militarily force Afghanistan to recreate itself in the image and likeness of the US, of us.

This particular one was from Louisiana. All states have sent their sacrificial ones to the slaughter, and armed them to be part of slaughtering Afghans while they are there.

When Afghan insurgents kill American troops, let us be quite clear that this is not terrorism. This is insurgency and the insurgents have at least as much permission under our Western construct of the Just War doctrine to attack military members of a foreign occupying force as that occupying force has to attack the terrorists who were operating, allegedly, from Afghanistan.

And so how does this violence work, philosophically? How does permissible war work when both sides are operating under the rubric of Just War as we have understood it from Aristotle to Augustine to Aquinas to the international rules of war in the modern secular version?

The answer is that it doesn't work except to promote a basic might-makes-right anarchy of the gun. Constructing the justification for both sides in many violent conflicts is pathetically easy, often even without the BushCheneyRumsfeld model that features barenaked lying. Honestly, we can invade Afghanistan when forces inside their country launch a devastating attack on our soil, if we subscribe to a Just War doctrine. And insurgents can legitimately shoot our armed forces when we get there under the same set of rules, hairsplitting attempts at logic leaping notwithstanding. So it devolves into what we see, a contest of sheer stupidity, of long slow drain of blood and treasure all around and personal enrichment of the war profiteers.

What makes this different and even more urgent than ever?

  • We have no more treasure to drain--it's all leveraged now from our children and grandchildren.

  • We cannot continue the military's assault on resources and environmental quality. They are the worst on Earth.

  • We know smarter, better, sustainable and less expensive ways to manage these struggles now. There are nonviolent answers to all the conflict processes.

Can we hear Evolution calling? Time to grow up...time to lay down the bombs and guns and study war no more. Study nonviolent methods, learn them well, and show that we are wiser, finally.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Oh-That's-Right-Indigenous-People-Were-Here-First Day

Yes, October 12th is tomorrow and that is the day that Indigenous Turtle Islanders mourn as There-Goes-the-Neighborhood Day, when, 1942, Chris Columbus pulled over, jumped out, and began the greatest theft in human history, of an entire hemisphere.

In 1492
Columbus sailed outside.

He finally came ashore

and started genocide.

Some archeologists believe there were about 30-40 million indigenous members of more than 500 nations in North America and many more to the south. In what would become the continental US, genocidal practices reduced that number to approximately 30,000--nearly completely genocided. The remains of a diversity of fascinating human evolutionary experiments were barely allowed to continue--pushed or tossed or driven onto the worst land under oppressive laws and deep prejudice, and many assumed it was just a matter of time until they died out and the continent would not be bothered with the original people any more.

The original people are still only 1.3 percent of the US population, but that is better than it was. Approximately 2.5 million are FBI--full blood Indian, and 1.6 million more are enrolled in tribes but not full blood. No one knows for sure how many folks across this land actually have original people as one or more of their ancestors.
(Yurok basketweaver)
Lucy Thompson, Yurok, wrote a book to her people back in the early 20th century. She dictated it to her anthropologist husband and in it she stated that she was the last to know many of their ways and she anticipated that no Yurok would be left soon. Indeed, there are fewer than 6,000 in the entire US and only a dozen elderly members still speak the language. Still, Lucy never thought they would come back at all.

That is just one tiny part of so many stories of theft, murder and genocide and let us please take this day to especially honor the spirit of the Original People and vow to stop public policies that continue to oppress them and deprive them of lifeways they still value and deserve. (Yurok sweatlodge)

Take a moment. Think about it. For the Original People, Columbus Day is a day of deep mourning. These people are hurt, traumatized, and yet rising again. They speak with beautiful, if quiet, voices of hopes for their children and grandchildren. They speak of peace amongst people and peace with Mother Earth.

I wish to be their ally. I invite you to join in that support.

The gini is out of the bottle

Since 1998, the Gini index for the United States has risen to 0.47, the worst among industrialized nations (Ohmer & DeMasi, 2009, p. 36).

The Gini coefficient is essentially a number between 0 (perfect income equality) and 1 (one person has all the income). How is this related to nonviolence?
No justice, no peace.
Civil society is not happy when Poortowns are the norm with gated enclaves of Richistan.
Is the Gini coefficient the sole index of civil society activity toward upheaval? Of course not. Impoverished people who believe they have no chance of success will suffer much more silently.
Income gaps are not nearly as important if the lower income strata still have relatively comfortable lives.
The Gini coefficient does not measure the social safety net, which can at least protect the lowest income stratum from complete catastrophe.
Nevertheless, the index is important and connected to everything else. So the news of the home foreclosure epidemic only fueled unhappiness in civil society in the US as it built, and now that some of the beneficiaries of the massive bailout largess have declared a moratorium on further foreclosures for a time, one might think the Obama administration might be relieved and even try to claim some credit (Finally, it seems they are listening to me!).
But no, even as his own party is increasingly calling for a government-ordered moratorium on home foreclosures, and as the Republicans are rising to defend foreclosures, and as the Ds are about to take a severe spanking and slip into minority-party status and out of congressional leadership for at least two years, the Obama spokespeople are taking a murky, nuanced, cheesy and slippery approach, guaranteed, once again, to provide comfort to corporations and their Republican lawbots while sending victims of the war system-induced recession into worse hopelessness and despair. Smooth!
At what point, we wonder, will civil society really engage in this? The Tea Party is answering that from their side and their factions are more or less ready to rise up, more or less violently. The point is not to freak out about that, it is to realize that, if we believe that civil society is ready to rise up in substantial numbers, our work as nonviolent activists is to harness that toward nonviolence. As it is, the hatemongers and gun-toters are making great strides, leading us toward a demagoguery from the far right or a fascist suppression from the government. Nice choice!
Those who hope the uprising will use nonviolence are those who hope for safety for their families and friends. Those who jump in and help still have a chance to steer the justifiable rage toward a positive process. We may not achieve a Gini of 0--perfect equality--and we may not stop all the violence, but it is really time to reach out and help civil society realize that nonviolence is how we can most successfully change the game.


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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hi from a domestic terrorist

So, it turns out, the FBI's forever investigation of us, the Catholic Workers, is just ticketyboo with the Department of Justice and its Office of Inspector General, which just issued a report on the FBI's actions.
I rarely read government reports and laugh out loud, but this one bonked me square in the funnybone in a few places.
My friends at Jonah House are still being targeted and harassed by the FBI under the rubric of RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Peace is a real racket, at least according to the FBI and DoJ.

We Catholic Workers are labeled domestic terrorists. Yes, we are pacifists. But throwing your blood on a nuclear bomb ratchets up your rep several notches with the Hooverville crew. Quite literally, they called throwing blood on a military facility an act of domestic terrorism, and the DoJ OIG agreed. Just think if the Catholic Worker hockey team ever played the FBI and our Canadian lads bodychecked an agent. They would probably go nuclear in response to international terrorism and the US DoJ would back'em up.
My favorite is that they are still calling us communists. That misses the old error by a whole millennium, for goshsakes. We laughed at those who called us that in the 70s and 80s, sneered at those who still did in the 90s, since the Cold War was reported to have wrapped up, and only the FBI and DoJ could be so mired in the past that they continue this bizarre goofiness.

There is also the weariness of such an ahistorical view that the FBI claims it doesn't investigate "lawful civil disobedience." Is this Freudian notice that our legal arguments have been now validated by the FBI? Or is this just inept linguistic comprehension? I suspect the latter. What is lawful law breaking? We think we know, but the FBI hasn't seemed inclined to agree with us.

My only personal regret is that the activities I have been involved in didn't rise to the level of generating investigation, at least not any worth mentioning. I will have to do better.