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.

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