Friday, January 29, 2010

Negotiate or nonviolent action? Yes

Nonviolence is not shirking from engagement, and it's not an attempt to crush the opponent. It's a third way. It seeks dialog. It listens. But it also insists that it must be heard. When, for example, we tried to get Senator Ron Wyden to take some leadership on the occupation of Iraq in 2005, we did not threaten that we would shut down his office, that we would campaign against him, or anything so blustering. I prepared a little leaflet to explain that we simply felt unheard and we were determined to be able to voice our analysis and intentions to him. I titled the brochure, Nonviolence is negotiation. My inspiration came straight from Martin Luther King Jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Here is an excerpt:

"You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue."

This approach is soft power but it is power. It is not power-over, but power-with. It seems to some as adversarial, but it actually seeks consensus and collaboration. The idea of a fine nonviolent campaign is that everyone is an ally or a potential ally.

There need be no contradiction between nonviolent action and negotiation. Indeed, it's best assessed and employed as a precursor, not a monological attempt to shout more loudly.

My friend Walter Bresette could really deliver a powerfully angry speech. When he and others used nonviolent direct action to stop trains carrying millions of gallons of acid across Bad River Ojibwe reservation in northern Wisconsin they were angling toward and achieved a seat at the negotiating table. They won their struggle. This is how we can Just Say Yes to both nonviolent action and negotiation.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

How to end war with nonviolence: An ecological approach

War has existed since humans began to write history.

War is natural. But is it inevitable?

There is one way to end war. Build a culture of nonviolence. Create a system of nonviolent conflict management that meets the needs of humankind. Grow an ecology of nonviolence with nested and related ecologies that tend to help the greater ecology of nonviolence produce peace.

How do ecologies work? James Lovelock proposed that Gaia, Mother Earth, is a self-correcting organism, an ecology, that achieves homeostasis by filling in gaps, by evolutionary experiments that can succeed when the time and conditions are right, so that a change in one component can be balanced by another change, even if it takes some time to come into balance following a catastrophe. This Gaian Hypothesis explains how Earth recovered from the Cretaceous Debacle, even though entire species and ecologies were ended. Others rose in their place and the grand planetary ecology eventually righted itself. Natural fluctuations, such as ice ages, did not become runaway disasters. Earth--life--knows how to evolve to preserve an atmosphere, soil, water and other necessary elements for life. Positive feedback loops, or mutually reinforcing dynamics, are blunted by new or evolved lifeforms that can eventually produce ecological effects in the aggregate that preserve a planet's biosphere.

Another public intellectual, Barbara Ehrenreich, in her germinal book Blood Rites, posited that war is a meme that also adapts to humanity to self-perpetuate. Indeed, war is so robust that it may one day consume humankind. The possibility exists and we know it. Life would not end, but we as a species may. War may be our fatal flaw--or we may in fact prove that we deserve our self-annointed name, Homo sapiens, the wise ones. We are the only species capable of drastically affecting the outcomes of our largest systems, war or peace, death or life.

We can end a particular war with violence or nonviolence, abject surrender or refusal to continue. To do that we can look to the literature on strategic nonviolence and plug in the components--mass organizing, media work, lobbying, noncooperation, electoral action, general strike--and we can succeed. As Barbara Deming said during the war in Vietnam upon her return from her visit there, Let's not forget the general strike. We could end this war in a month. Ending a war requires will and willingness to sacrifice. Mass organizing in self-replicating strategic campaigns could produce enough pressure to finish off a particular war, and it's sad that we can find the will to sacrifice for war but not for peace. Civil society will go to the mat for war but what will they do to end a war?

So this is a national conversation that we need to continue to have. The question is never decided when we are shooting other people. Those who want peace ought to continue to press for it and never give up.

Ending war, of course, is a different and larger proposition. Again, humanity has so much free will that few, if any, questions are ever permanently resolved. But we can work to create an ecology of nonviolence that will end war on Earth and will keep it ended if we maintain that ecology.

To achieve this we need to work on each subsystem. This feeds a nonviolent output into the larger and to the connected subsystems--and in any ecology, all subsystems are somehow connected.

Teaching peace journalism would help produce a media system intent on producing a nonviolent outcome.

Massive increases in nonviolent parenting education offered freely to young adults and all parents would help us produce generations who understood nonviolence and who could learn constructive conflict management from a young age.

Building down a violent military and investing instead in massive de-escalation and interposition training of teams deployable in all parts of the world would transform militaries into forceful nonviolent crisis managers.

Redirection of training for police from the use of violence to the practice of verbal judo and non-pain compliance techniques would put our civil society on a stronger path toward nonviolent conflict management.

If the moral leadership of our communities were to stand for nonviolence--the imams, ministers, rabbis and philosophers, publicly committed to constructive conflict management--that would help turn our huge civil society energy to a committed force for an end to war.

Our teachers could be trained, our educational systems could start to teach peace education from preschool to postgraduate. Civics education that taught the history of peace and how to make it would produce generations with new frameworks, new starting points of what is possible, and new outcomes.

When we are finally able to learn and believe that nonviolence is in fact the new pragmatism--and our post-1906 history shows us that abundantly--we can finally begin to elect the new pragmatists who will vote to fund this transition and skill it up.

As George Crocker said, look, we're going to win this battle, and we must, because if we don't, no one is really going to be around to worry about it. War is anti-life and our conscious evolution is no longer an option if we wish to be members of this Gaian community of life.

We have the research, we know the history, we have learned many of the lessons, and nonviolence is the greatest latent force on Earth, just starting to make itself seriously known. Once we overcome the centuries of assumptions about war and nonviolence we can go through that gate together to a new way of life. Nonviolent communication, nonviolent mediation, strategic nonviolent action and nonviolent sanctions with real power are not mysteries any longer. We are massively committed to war. If we continue that, we die. The biggest polluters on Earth are the militaries and the industries that serve them and the wars they wage. The biggest consumers of oil and strategic minerals are the militaries. Adding the structural violence deaths from the opportunity costs of spending so much on war and we see the failure to make faster progress on disease control, malnutrition, bioremediation and other ongoing human problems, and we see some of the greater costs of war.

Nonviolence is our option, our new flinty-eyed idealism, our new pragmatism. It will take a huge effort--almost as much as our ongoing efforts to wage wars and clean up after them.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn and the State of the Union

Howard Zinn has crossed over. He was a mensch, a historian and an activist. He was not convinced that nonviolence was always the answer, but he often provided expert testimony for nonviolent resisters seeking help in conducting a robust defense of their actions in opposition to militarism and injustice.

At the same time, we are all listening to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. It is both inspiring and chilling. He is justifying more military, more nuclear reactors, and more coal plants. His righteous rhetoric is great, and I hope more Americans understand that Republicans shame themselves constantly. But his actual policies are quite disappointing in many ways. Yes, he's a pragmatist, but he is also a brilliant orator. He builds up the citizenry's hopes in his integrity, and he seems to be working to honor his promises, but many of his promises are actually harmful.

Nuclear power is not a solution to any problem we have and will in fact exacerbate them all. They are the only power that is permanently poisonous.

An increased military budget is not wise, humane, or in anyone's enlightened self-interest. It squanders our resources and alienates our world neighbors.

Coal power is unnecessary and takes away sacred mountains, wild wooded creeks, our clean air and will worsen global warming.

There was no serious mention of disarmament, ecological protection, a drawdown of our 1,000 foreign military bases, energy conservation, cessation of small arms and light weapons exports, and no realistic plan for either ending our Afghanistan quagmire or making Rooseveltian strides toward full employment.

Barack Obama is possibly the only public speaker capable of telling us that he's going to violate us in the name of saving us and we all choke up with gratitude. He is truly charismatic, truly talented, and, I'm chagrined to say, truly unable to change the war system.

That all said, I am so very glad it was not John McCain speaking tonight. Bush was an emetic speaker, McCain would have been flogging a herd of dead peacenik horses. Obama, problematic as his policies are, is lightyears ahead of what we might well have endured otherwise.

Passive-aggressive or pacifist-assertive?

"Aggression comes in two styles--passive and hostile. Passive-aggressive behavior, like plain passive behavior, is failing to specifically address or make known your opinions and desires. With passive-aggressive behavior, however, rather than simply keeping one's feelings to oneself, one acts out. Fears, frustration, and anger are expressed in indirect actions such as sarcasm and other signals intended to be subtle expressions of conflict, dislike, disrespect, or disapproval. Being avoidably or habitually late for meetings and appointments, for example, is passive-aggressive behavior."
--Barbara Budjac Corvette, Conflict management: A practical guide to developing negotiation strategies, p. 155.

"I'm a combative pacifist."
--Grace Paley

Being passive aggressive is the style of those who are simply not confident in either their abilities to handle conflict or in their abilities to properly learn how to handle it. Most of us have some of those tendencies, and I think Corvette helps us most when she writes about healthy conflict avoidance accompanied by a clear explanation. When I tell a colleague that I am in disagreement with him and I'd like to learn more about why he feels the way he does, but now is not the time, then I've responded in a functional fashion that bookmarks the conflict without blurring the boundaries around our current work. He knows we will need to schedule a time to work through it; I have not been either passive or hostile, but I have avoided the conflict for 'a minute'.

If I just gunnysack my conflict it will come out at some inappropriate time and possibly toward some poor person who doesn't deserve my newfound 'courage'. Indeed, hostility is often merely analogous to referred pain and our failure to rise above passivity in the face of conflict with a more powerful party often translates into inappropriate hostility expressed toward some party who, in turn, we perceive to be less powerful than us.

Don't we wish we could all operate at a perfect conflict performance at all times? As I contemplate my own struggles to rise above the passive-aggressive or hostile-aggressive styles into the assertive and healthy realm I fully realize my own need to learn, relearn, self-forgive and get back on the horse and try that ride again with a better grip.

Now if our leaders could learn that we'd ratchet down our destructive conflict several notches. Sigh.

The confusion between passivity and pacifism is natural for anyone watching a passive-aggressive pacifist pretend to be above the fray. That confusion dissipates when a Grace Paley takes her pacifism to the party who is committing injustice or violence. Grace knew, and other assertive pacifists know, that engaged pacifism means going up to that thin but bright line demarcating assertiveness from aggression. Disengaged pacifism is sentimental and self-serving and rightly rejected by activists clamoring for action to stop militarism and injustice. But when they cross into aggression they learn that powerful oppressors will respond with brutality.

Grace showed that our ongoing challenge is to keep our eye on the line and stay as close to it as humanly possible, keeping the nonviolent and assertive pressure on the powerful, continuing to offer a healthy model to others. Of course, our methods of doing that vary and include developing alternatives as well as confronting the unhealthy power-over tyrants or tyrannical systems. Gandhi spun. Grace wrote poetry. Phil Berrigan built community. As Peter Maurin put it, our task is to build the new inside the shell of the old. Handling conflict in a healthy fashion is one of our most crucial and most difficult challenges if we wish to progress with nonviolence.

Corvette, Barbara A. Budjac (2007). Conflict management: A practical guide to developing negotiation strategies. Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gandhi GWOT

Mohandas Gandhi was devoted to Hindu-Muslim comity and based on that, he really launched the notion of what he called a 'peace army.' His love of Muslim-Hindu siblinghood is indeed what signed his death warrant.

As is often the case, his desire to get along with others caused those of his own group the most consternation. He was murdered not by jihadis but by a fellow Hindu who was acting on behalf of a larger Hindu fundamentalist organization. Yitzak Rabin was murdered by an Israeli for his role in the Oslo peace with Palestinians. Nonviolence is a very threatening concept to some, as is one element of nonviolence, forgiveness.

So Gandhi founded the Shanti Dals to try to bring peace to rioting Hindus and Muslims in India (Weber, 1996). Individually, he achieved remarkable success, going door-to-door in the poorest, most violent, most fundamentalist neighborhoods of both groups and begging them to abstain from further violence.

It is likely that Gandhi's final project, the formation of a Shanti Sena, or peace army, would have served two functions; it would have been organized toward providing internal peace in India and would have been a sort of civilian-based defense of the country from foreign forces. He may have also hoped that Shanti Sena would have been an international world police force designed to prevent war.

It is possible. It is the dream of those who believe in nonviolence. On a small scale, it is underway in some ways already, with valuable organizations like Nonviolent Peaceforce, Sri Lankan Sarvodaya, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, and so forth.

Ultimately, however, we must choose. We cannot have Obama's increasing military and a nonviolent initiative in any way associated with the American government, unless we are willing to sacrifice the volunteers on the nonviolent side. We cannot show the world a fearsome and lethal military and expect that world to be loving and friendly toward any nonviolent parties who don't also oppose the US military.

This is part of why nonviolence is almost always going to be a challenger method. In our era of massive military, choosing nonviolence makes us a counter-hegemonic movement almost no matter where we are, in opposition to the terrorists who strap themselves with explosive belts or who strap themselves into military aircraft. Nonviolence means opposition and it's not an easy path, but it's the only one worth taking if you wish to live recognizing the only tyrant with legitimacy--your conscience.

Weber, Thomas, Gandhi’s Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and Unarmed Peacekeeping. Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1996.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reality has a nonviolence bias

Most people hitherto have been skeptical of nonviolent resistance simply because they did not understand how it could possibly work. They might be less skeptical once they could see how the method could operate and be effective.
—Richard Gregg, colleague of Gandhi

How can nonviolence end war?

First, help educate people on the history of nonviolent success. They must know this or they will continue to regard nonviolence as counterintuitive, naive, wishful fantasy dreamt up by unrealistic utopians. When they learn that strategic nonviolence usually works and violence usually does not they may at least intellectually begin to consider it. Gene Sharp, Adrian Karatnycky, Maria Stephan and many more scholars offer just such research.

Second, help journalists--reporters, editors, commentators--learn that nonviolence has a growing track record of success and that the hidden stories are often newsworthy and provocative.

Third, teach children that they can always find an alternative to violence. This starts them thinking and problem-solving toward conflict resolution without destruction.

Fourth, challenge religious and moral leadership to be serious about promoting justice by peaceable means. If they do not do so, who will? If they do not promote a peace-oriented theology or philosophy, who will? If they do not square their actions and beliefs, who will?

Fifth, work with the business community to understand that peace is better for business than is war. Don't bother with the war profiteers; they seem so far from learning how to combine business and ethics that your effort is better spent with the business community that can truly benefit from peace as prosperity.

Sixth, help the human services organizations develop a structural analysis of the war system that induces them to take a pro-peace position. Opportunity costs alone are a cogent argument. If our methods of conflict management are taking the lion's share of the discretionary budget, they are far less capable of achieving the human needs goals.

In short, how does constructive conflict management--the nonviolence of mediation and the best democracy--help to reduce the chances of war? It does so as it might in any ecology; the output of each subsystem affects the output of the whole. Changing media, or education, or our spiritual organizations, or our business sector, or law enforcement, or the political system--changing ANY of the subsystems using nonviolence toward more nonviolence is how we will ultimately change the system so that nonviolence can in fact end war.

Gregg, Richard B., The Power of Nonviolence, second revised edition. NYC: Schocken Books, 1966 (original 1935). (43)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Teaching children to get it write

My students are often young parents, young teachers-in-training, or just students frustrated that they are just beginning to learn something about constructive conflict management as they take college courses. They want to know exactly how to teach nonviolent conflict management to children.

There are an enormous number of articles, workshops, trainings, curricula, activities books and both academic and trade books on this topic. I am only going to touch on one recent scholarly study that shows some research into one strand of this, how we can predict and affect children's abilities to respond to conflict in a nonviolent fashion meant to de-escalate it. The researchers looked at 364 urban 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

What they found, basically, was that when students are taught two skills that then seems to correlate with this ability.

One, strong narrative communication. They need to be able to listen to stories and tell their own stories with skill.

Two, they need to be able to specifically communicate to others about their own internal states.

The direct quote from their research findings:

"Qualitative analyses revealed a relationship between children’s response to conflict and their narrative skills, moral evaluations, and descriptions of emotion, intentions, and mental states. Children who reported the use of communication in response to conflict wrote stories containing very low levels of violence and also displayed attentiveness to others’ internal states and strong narrative form. In contrast, children whose narratives reported the use of retaliation in response to conflict were unlikely to report about internal states or to display strong narrative form."

What does this mean?

First, it's important to keep it all in perspective. Again, from the discussion of their specific research:

"Nine percent of the conflicts children chose to write about included acts of criminal or life-threatening violence. It is appalling, of course, to have such violence be a part of any childhood. However, it is important to note that the vast majority of the stories in our corpus described ordinary peer and sibling conflicts—the kinds of conflicts that have long been recognized as critical to moral and social-cognitive development (Piaget 1932; Shantz 1987; Shantz and Hartup 1992). Although these children lived in the middle of a city that was then third in the nation in violent crime (according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report), in neighborhoods where a majority of adults were afraid to walk outside (Kirby 2001), their lives did not appear to be defined or dominated by violence. For the most part, these children found good resources in their families and schools to help them understand and learn from interpersonal conflict."

That's the good news.

The bad news is the adults' role in many of the stories (these were true stories from the children's lives, according to the children). The response when kids did as they had been told, which was to seek adult help:

"There were relatively few stories describing the seeking of adult help, and they gave us a disquieting glimpse of how children assess the effectiveness of adult assistance. Several children reported being ignored when they sought adult help. (One-sixth grader attempted to tell the principal about being sexually harassed by a classmate in the haunted house, but ‘‘the principal was too busy.’’) In the large majority of stories that involved adult intervention, the adult role was to mete out punishment or to separate the antagonists. There were only five stories like the one in Example 5, in which an adult served as a consultant to help children solve interpersonal problems."

Some of these unresponsive adults were in the school system, some in the home. We have much work to do in both environments and we should do that work wherever we can.

The authors looked at the literature on this and at their own study and certainly recommend some measures for our educational system:

"Chen (2001, 2003) suggested to teachers of young children that although the first reaction to peer conflict in the classroom may be to squelch it, teachers should try to see conflict as an opportunity for social and moral development. When teachers view conflict as a manageable and important part of childhood, rather than as a threat, conflict can become a part of the learning that goes on within schools. When peer conflict threatens to disrupt ongoing instruction, teachers need to have an established classroom practice that allows them to postpone the conflict without suppressing it. By third grade, most students have learned enough self-control to be able to cooperate with a teacher’s instruction to ‘‘hold that dispute until we finish this lesson, and then you can take it up in the dispute center.’’ This can most reliably be successful if teachers have the support of a second adult in the classroom. Peer Mediation is a good example of a program that has given teachers support in implementing this kind of practice. Peer Mediation programs have been successful in helping schools to manage conflict not by attempting to suppress it, but by giving students the time, space, and assistance to talk through their conflicts with other peers (Johnson and Johnson 2001; Bell et al. 2000, Lupton-Smith et al. 1996)."

Finally, they had one last specific recommendation: teach children to be able to communicate about conflict:

"Conflict resolution interventions tend to encourage communication, sometimes with the use of a mediator (Johnson and Johnson 2001; Bell et al. 2000; Lupton-Smith et al. 1996). These programs, however, do not necessarily stress the development of children’s ability to communicate effectively. In the stories that children wrote for this research, they often reported unsuccessful attempts at communication as a response to conflict. Many of the children who described violence in their stories did not seem to recognize that the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and motives of the actors were relevant. We believe that children with strong narrative skills are well-equipped to solve interpersonal problems. They are likely to exercise social perspective taking skills and to make moral evaluations of conflict situations. Good storytellers will be able to explain their own motives and goals in ways that will be acceptable to their peers. Narrative is a site where meaning is constructed according to social and cultural expectations. Personal narrative writing and storytelling tasks can be used to facilitate the development of critical peacemaking skills."

One of the proven ways to enhance that set of skills is to work with children on keeping a journal. I'd recommend both Freedom Writers and Precious, two films that really show the power of the journal as both therapy and competency development.

Harris, Alexis; Walton, Marsha. “Thank You for Making Me Write This.” Narrative Skills and the Management of Conflict in Urban Schools. Urban Review, Nov2009, Vol. 41 Issue 4, p287-311.

So, while this doesn't answer all our questions about teaching children to handle conflict in constructive ways, it does offer some researched guidance that can inform us as parents and teachers who hope that our children will grow up with more advanced abilities to manage conflict than those we were guided toward in many of our personal histories.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Working with our capacities for nonviolence

When we consider our natural human reaction to existential threat we often automatically think 'flight or fight.' Is this correct?
1. Do people believe that humans are violent by nature?
2. If people believe that humans are violent by nature, are they more likely to engage in or approve of violent behavior?

First in my mind is the Seville Statement, the result of a conference on this topic and the construction of an opinion on the question by lead academics and academic associations from around the world. While it is now old, it has not been refuted or rescinded. In a nutshell, they note that while humans are naturally potentially violent they have the ability to override that impulse too. From Wikipedia (which has links to strong documentation):

The statement contains five core ideas. These ideas are:

1."It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors."
2."It is scientifically incorrect to say that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature."
3."It is scientifically incorrect to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than for other kinds of behaviour."
4."It is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a 'violent brain'."
5."It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by 'instinct' or any single motivation."
The statement concludes: "Just as 'wars begin in the minds of men', peace also begins in our minds. The same species who invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies with each of us."

In his germinal book On Killing, Lt. Colonel David Grossman outlined the reponses to perceived mortal danger.
Posing (bluffing, like a cat puffing up)
Surrender (exposing our jugular vein--works for wolves, leaves other species dead)
Creativity (this is our hope in nonviolence)

There are also ongoing studies that show how we respond to threat and how we define threat both consciously and unconsciously. Further, there are studies at both Stanford and the Medical School in Hamburg, Germany, that examine how we are instructed to perceive threat and how we can create neural pathways that are even beyond classical Pavlovian conditioning. Various portions of our brains are involved, mostly mid-brain and below, all the way to limbic (reptilian). In short, the implications for society, war and peace are enormous. Here is a piece of that meta-study abstract:

"In classical Pavlovian fear conditioning, a neutral stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) comes to be evaluated as threatening due to its association with an aversive stimulus (unconditioned stimulus, UCS), and elicits fear. In a subtype of fear conditioning paradigms, called instructed fear or anticipatory anxiety, subjects are made aware of the CS–UCS association prior to actually experiencing it. Initial fear elicitation during this type of conditioning results from the negative evaluation of the CS as a consequence of CS–UCS contingency awareness."

A meta-analysis of instructed fear studies: Implications for conscious appraisal of threat..
Authors:Mechias, Marie-Luise1
Etkin, Amit2
Kalisch, Raffael1
Source:NeuroImage; Jan2010, Vol. 49 Issue 2, p1760-1768, 9p

You can see from the citation it is brand new. This is exceedingly helpful as we learn how conflict affects us and how we can manage it toward peaceful outcomes. One researcher, Dr. Jo Groebel, pointed out that, for example, the identification of an extra chromosome in some serial killers was interesting but not a predictor because the vast majority of men who are afflicted with this (which seems to produce far more testosterone and possibly more aggressive responses) have never committed a violent assault. Thus, even strong impulses toward violence that seem to be especially hard-wired can be overcome. We do have free will, as contaminated as that may be by both our hard-wired capacities and mediated (instructed) fear/violence capacities.

Without critical thinking and training, we are often at the mercy of our mainstream 'if it bleeds it leads' media. This is part of why peace education and nonviolent training are so crucial.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ending our gun culture

On Tuesday, 19 January 2010, a rural Virginia man slaughtered eight people because, his neighbor speculates, he was worried that his sister and brother-in-law were planning to make him move out of the inherited rural home he and his sister inherited from their mother, who died in 2006.

How many of these mass murders must we endure—this one even included a four-year-old—before we address the painfully obvious logic that such events are almost always committed with legal firearms, and almost always would not have been nearly so deadly to so many if guns were not involved?

Yes, suspect Cris Speight could have conceivably attacked people with a vehicle, a knife, a baseball bat, or his bare hands. He might have murdered one or two in such a fashion, but it is far less conceivable that he could have slaughtered so many and then used—what, a spear, thrown in an unprecedented might toss?—to pierce the fuel tank of a police helicopter participating in the siege that eventually resulted in Speight’s arrest.

Guns exacerbate our national fascination with violence and reify the otherwise meant-for-entertainment violence in our media. Violent video games are, by themselves, relatively benign. Guns are used for hunting and, in the hands of some, as a deterrent to violence. But for those who are susceptible to mental breakdowns (isn’t that ultimately most of us at some point?), guns are literally massacres waiting to happen and our victims are out there, innocent and unsuspecting.

Ah, but there are those for whom guns are a harmless hobby, those who relish the history of the guns that won this land (for white people), that helped create our United States. Harmless? From the 21 January 2010 Washington Post story on this tragedy:

“Speight had collected at least 25 firearms, including black powder weapons, replicas of Old West era "cowboy"-style cap and ball six-shooters and many .223-caliber AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, which were among Speight's favorites.”

Ah, these quirky but responsible collectors of the cherished firearms that built this country.

Other gun lovers note that they support the need for gun safety training, which will make all these problems less likely or even non-issues. Again, from the news, referring to the future shooter’s application for concealed weapon permit in 1995:

"Roland B. Parris Jr. of Appomattox wrote to support Speight's gun application that year, saying that Speight had participated in a National Rifle Association high-powered rifle clinic and competition, which he excelled in. 'I can tell the character of a man after coaching him for two days on the rifle range,' Parris wrote."

Maybe two days of coaching shooters can show character, but perhaps the psychopathic tendencies are either not so apparent or are so deeply shared by fellow gun enthusiasts that they can sincerely approve. It is hard to tell, but it’s not helpful in either case.

All this may be true, but really, do we want a society in which sane, regular, law-abiding folks cannot arm themselves to protect against…against…against, um, other certified sane, regular, law-abiding folks with a legal permit to own and carry weapons that can, in moments, be used to massacre everyone in the room?

At what point will this circular logic shatter at our feet, to be rejected not just by pacifists but by those who don’t like to support conditions that lead to the senseless slaughter of children who happen to be in the vicinity of a person who is experiencing both an emotional meltdown and who has no prior criminal record but who is heavily, legally, armed? Will we ever grow enough backbone to take on and tame our self-destructive gun culture?

I suspect we will make progress toward this when we begin to share and catalog stories of unarmed de-escalation of those who are armed and threatening. I also suspect that once we begin to train our youth in these de-escalation techniques we will see some of that progress. These two steps are a beginning and others could make the journey swifter. May our best minds and most loving hearts help with these tasks and more. We clearly are in need.

Man is charged with murder in 8 Appomattox shootings, Washington Post, 21 January 2010.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Education to end war

Peace education represents a celebration of life rather than a support for the death-bearing values implied in violent militaristic cultures. Peace education confronts the horrors of these images and presents a vision of a different, nonviolent world.
—Ian Harris and Mary Lee Morrison, Peace Education, p. 229.

The resources a culture directs toward conflict can often predetermine the range of options it feels it has. Currently, the US spends more than $1T annually on its military, which is approximately equal to what the entire rest of the planet’s nation-states spend on their combined militaries, or about half the entire discretionary budget that Congress can spend (trust funds like Social Security are not discretionary). These funds are such an overwhelming commitment to militarism that they work their way into every aspect of our society, into every subsystem of our culture, and therefore each piece of society is more militarized.

Education is no exception. The direct influences are numerous, including the requirement that all schools receiving federal funding provide access to military recruiters. This is written into the No Child Left Behind Act that describes all the strings attached to funding education. Since education is mandatory age 5 or 6 either through high school or until age 16, 17, or more normally, 18, the vast majority of our youth are directly, by law, exposed to military recruiters. This is not only high school students. There are programs that bring the military into schools at almost every level, including even the Starbase program that brings the military into grade schools and brings elementary school children to military bases.

Other military influences on education are found in the curricula. History books focus far more on wars than on peace. Major DoD contracts are awarded to universities to do military research, which thus serves to set up a brain drain from the technical side away from civilian applications to military technologies. Often our finest young minds are seduced into exotic big-budget research into devising more sophisticated methods of murder instead of learning to combat cancers, AIDS, flus, heart disease, diabetes or other human health challenges.

Like the plumber confronting a flooded and damaged home due to broken pipes, the first step is not necessarily to bring in the brilliant new items, but to turn off the water main, to stop the flow of funding toward teaching destructive conflict management. Peace educators who are operating on a Marine base school find it generally harder to overcome debilitating disbelief in students compared to those who are teaching conflict resolution to Amish children or Costa Rican children who are surrounded by civil society that handles conflict without the heavy military presence.

Every term I teach approximately 150 new students and much of what I teach is counternarrative peace education to students who have been exposed to very little of it and who have instead been educated in our militaristic society. Each term many students express chagrin that they are only just learning conflict management techniques that they rightly feel should have been taught to them literally decades earlier. Like other peace educators, my teaching begins with the assumption that we can learn the hypothetical methods of constructive conflict management, and then we proceed to the principles and self-reflection practices that introduce students to an adaptive self-management model of conflict management processing. What they do, then, is learn how to learn to manage more and more of the conflicts in their lives in more constructive and less destructive ways. They love it and they know they can use it forever.

Then I imagine all colleges and universities requiring students to take even one such course, then all high schools, and so forth. The skill levels would escalate, the engaged and informed public would see the dysfunction of our “do you want to bomb someone or do nothing?” false dichotomy, and we would expect a slow turnaround in the norms that lead to so much armed conflict. We would expect more depth of analysis from our mainstream media and we would get it as more and more journalists would enter the field understanding the dynamics and methods of constructive conflict management.

So when I tell classrooms full of my students that they are the seed crops, I get nodding heads of understanding. They know they can change mores, norms and practices. They develop an inevitable sense of human agency.
Eventually, peace education can be crucial to ending war. Our students will make it so as they become the leaders and policymakers.

Harris, Ian M., and Mary Lee Morrison (2003). Peace Education (2nd ed.) Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Images of US: Exceptionalism=fundamental negative attribution error

On 6 June [1982], I was given the opportunity of addressing the congregation of a conservative church on the subject of the European peace movement and our objectives. I was pleasantly surprised to see the minister and her husband, the pastor, wearing “Swords into Ploughshares” badges on their white robes.…I was constantly surprised to find peace the topic for discussion at church discussion evenings. The subject which most concerned these meetings was the way American arms policy causes deaths in the Third World every day, and is also one of the factors responsible for the catastrophes of famine and disease.
—Petra Kelly, Fighting for hope (p. 63)

Petra Kelly was a German Green. The image of the United States throughout the world is vastly different than our image of ourselves. Indeed, a chart:

#1 arms exporter, Most foreign bases ever, Largest military budget, Unilaterally invades

US self image
Aid to defend democracy, Protect and serve, Self protection, Sacrifices for others

World image of US

War profiteers, Global empire, Militaristic, Domineering

Some would call this the fundamental negative attribution error. That is, when we make mistakes they are all with honorable intentions and pure motives. Some would call this hypocrisy or a double standard or grossly patronizing. What is so dangerous is that we are failing as a nation to correct the facts that add up to the image of global hawk, planetary predator, militaristic corporate raptor.

How do we fix it?

• Close overseas bases. We have hundreds of military bases—probably slightly more than 1,000 of them—on the sovereign soil of other people’s lands.

• Stop exporting arms. We can earn income in other ways. We can earn loyalty with other methods. We will never be an honest broker of peace and a supplier of arms concomitantly.

• Transform the military from aggressive and offensive and violent to protective, deëscalatory and nonviolent.

• Never ever invade another country with violent forces.

Of course there are many other practices and principles that can help positively change the image of the US in the world, and many plans for doing that. I only offer the most basic, and most structural. Achieving these would dampen the damage worldwide and would lead to many other changes that would be just and sustainable.

Changing the image of a movement is hard work. Changing the image of a nation-state is even harder. But it is possible and desirable. The journey of 10,000 miles, says the Tao, begins with one step.

Kelly, Petra. 1984. Fighting for hope. Boston: South End Press.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Identity as image

The root cause of war is this old, and now obsolete, mental division of the world into “us” and “them.”
—Winslow Myers, Living beyond war, p. 53.

Who we are in the eyes of others is the image we project, but of course it’s different for everyone who reads it because, as we know from the field of constructive conflict management, no two people’s perspective is identical. Thus, we try to project an image of who we mean to be and it’s perceived as that image modified by each person’s observational powers.

Some are affected by personal trauma and cannot see that we mean them no harm.

Some are affected by cultural bias and cannot trust that we have no secret hegemonic agenda.

Some are professionally trained to be suspicious of all who lodge a challenger message.

Some are mostly sheltered by their own narrow vision blinkered by their struggle for survival.

Many are overwhelmed by the clutter of contradictory information and infused with the media imagery that extrapolates from one version of reality into hyperbole and distortion.

How can we overcome these blocks to accurate perception of our identity? Primarily patient persistence.

For example, when I went out into the north woods of Michigan to physically dismantle a portion of the thermonuclear command center, I used my jail time to write letters to editors of small town publications. I did an interview on the local affiliate of public radio. I met with the editor of the only daily paper in the area. Although the first reaction in all cases was incredulity or hostility, careful reworking of the arguments, considerate reframing of the issues, and the simple discipline of restraint and establishing commonalities with the local people helped.

It was a bit like the Paul Newman character in Nobody’s Fool, when his adult son yelled at him and stormed out of the room. Newman didn’t retaliate. Another person said something cutting. Newman said, “Yeah, but I’m wearing him down.” I’ve never heard a line in any movie that more resembled how I feel when I endlessly try to persuade people of a particular point of view that is antithetical to their worldview. It’s doable, but it takes time.

And the same is true for identity. For nonviolence to break into mainstream consideration, we need to wear them down. We need to humanize themselves to themselves and then ourselves to them, to the majority.

Myers, Winslow. 2009. Living beyond war: A citizen’s guide. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Image and American security

"Leaders will often take steps--such as demonizing the enemy and mobilizing the armed forces and industry--to ease the process of waging war."
--Elizabeth Stanley, Security Studies, Georgetown University

Given the need for warmakers to properly demonize an enemy before most troops will kill them, before most citizens will support war and before most politicians will back the warmakers, it would seem like the potential victims would want to do everything possible to make that demonization difficult at best.

Examining the image of Americans in the minds of others around the world is a way to learn how it is possible for jihadis to get on airplanes and turn them into guided missiles. What is their image of Americans? How did they get that image? Are there ways to change that image so that Americans are not regarded as legitimate targets by these people?

American leaders are too focused on our image as it is presented to foreign heads of state rather than civil society in its various aspects. The most salient example is, of course, Saudi Arabia, where the heads of state--the leaders of the royal family--are nominal allies of the US. Civil society, on the other hand, hates the US, in part because they hate their own corrupt government.

We as a nation have proceeded on this basis far too long in far too many places. It was at the root of American imperialism, when we often installed military dictators and gave them all the military hardware and training they needed to suppress their own people. Our sordid history creating banana republics in Central America shows how far back this practice goes and explains the hatred for America that so much of the world feels. We vastly outspend all other nations on exporting armed threats, invasion and occupation.

But historically many people have also appreciated America. Why the 'double vision'?

I believe it's despite American tourism to some degree, and because of American volunteerism. We provide the majority of volunteers who go out internationally to try to help others. Those who do so from entirely altruistic motivations (not including the religious ones who have a proselytizing agenda) have created an image of well meaning, generous Americans, a contrast with the US military, which is also ubiquitous. The military has guns, the NGO volunteers do not. The military is resented, the volunteers are not (unless they are those religious zealots).

So in the end, I think, it's the nonviolent presence of US volunteers in so many countries that creates an ambivalence, a split viewpoint, in which the American people are loved and the American government and its armed agents are highly resented. Perhaps it's time to reassess how we portray ourselves to the world. Stop sending out uniformed, armed agents of death and domination and increase our outreach by volunteers who come to help but not threaten. That would enhance US security far better than trying to crush everyone with plenty of collateral damage to create even more who mean us harm.

The Christmas Tree Bomber in Portland fits directly into this. He was created by the FBI in the sense that they took his juvenile ideation and helped him bring it to the cusp of fruition. If we did that with every knuckleheaded adolescent boy, we'd have slews of fake nukes ready to vaporize everything from Mecca to Missouri. But now, watch, we will start hearing about drones used in Somalia to hunt terrorists and because of the this set-up, there won't be much of a peep of outrage.


Stanley, Elizabeth A. (2009). Paths to peace: Domestic coalition shifts, war termination and the Korean War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 189.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

¡Nuestras fuerzas, nuestra palabra!

One of the most complex and instructive case studies of image-making is the Zapatista rebellion launched with armed force in Chiapas, Mexico, on 1 January 1994, explicitly coinciding with the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Confusion about the nature and intent of the armed forces of the Zapatistas is understandable; they were not Cold War-style armed insurgents bent on seizing state power, but neither were they a decolonization revanche project (Evans 2009).

It is true that the Zapatistas did employ and enjoy the revolutionary mystique of their namesake, Emiliano Zapata, one founder of the Mexican Revolution. Since the launch of the 1994 armed struggle, however, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, EZLN) has not used armed force, claiming that they only did so initially in order to be heard.

The most sharply painful instance of the price of the image of violence and guerrilla clandestine activity was exacted on the Christian pacifist Mayan Chiapas villagers known as Las Abejas, the Nonviolent Bees, who were completely nonviolent and yet made the strategic and tragic error of announcing agreement with the goals of the Zapatistas, if not their methods.

The Bees were not only pacifist, they were open, transparent, and thus easy targets, and in fact on 22 December 1997 the ruling party PRI paramilitary forces slaughtered 45 of them who were praying in a local church in what became known as the Acteal Massacre.

While none of the PRI paramilitary were afraid of the Bees, they used the excuse that the Bees had endorsed the Zapatistas, conveniently ignoring that the Bees had explicitly not endorsed any violent means. The tarring of the Bees with the armed brush of the Zapatistas was a function of crude image management and offers a clear and unambiguous note within the unclear and ambiguous overall Zapatista experiment.

While ¡Nuestras fuerzas, nuestra palabra! (Our words are our weapons) is a Zapatista slogan, it was reality for the Bees, and they were massacred for not distancing themselves adequately from the image of the armed Zapatistas. With the usual cruelty of the armed revolutionaries, the Zapatistas have at times harassed Las Abejas for not being sufficiently revolutionary (Tavanti 2003).

Evans, Brad. 2009. Revolution without violence. Peace Review 21: 85-94.

Tavanti, Marco. 2003. Las Abejas: Pacifist resistance and syncretic identities in a globalizing Chiapas. New York: Routledge.

Strength through peace: Images of resolution

The focus of every activity of every peace and justice movement is recruitment.

Even if the focus is not recruitment, it is.

All decisions about movement activities ought to pass through a sieve that asks, Will this activity increase recruitment? If the answer is no, don’t do it unless you plan to modify it or supplement it so that it can recruit.

Isn’t this reductionist?

Yes, somewhat. But if this question is not central to the planning of any activity, how will the movement ever become effective? Nonviolence succeeds when mass action compels rulers to negotiate with movement representatives or risk a far worse consequence, even an existential challenge.

There is then a natural tension that occurs when the leadership of a nonviolent movement needs to convince others that success is possible, since success involves challenging and overcoming an opponent who is often simply fearsome. You need to convince the opponent you are a force strong enough to deserve a place at the negotiating table but not so frightening that he must crush you by any means. There is a natural frisson of fear and excitement at the possibility of something so dramatic as success. At the height of this tension is the drama that can break through normal media tendency to ignore nonviolent efforts (Harris 2002). Here is where an image of strength and power through nonviolence can generate the hope and raised expectations that social scientists say will assist recruitment (Kriesberg 2007).

It is then when a tipping point of power-flow to the movement augers success. Controlling this shifting, evolving image is how the challenger movement can break through the previously impenetrable walls and trigger mass recruitment and transformative change. Leadership that is exceedingly conscious of image can ride this tension to victory, as we saw in Birmingham in the summer of 1963 and in many other cases, when the oppressor’s failure to manage the image of the movement accompanied the shift.

Mere protesters suddenly sit at the negotiating table and gains are made from a position of power, as was so evident in 1996 in northern Wisconsin, when the civil resistance of Native Americans was so resolute, so dignified, and spoke with such cultural clarity to the threat of a mining corporation’s intentions to ship millions of gallons of sulfuric acid across the Bad River reservation. Tribal members set up a prayer fire and drumming camp on the tracks and the sheriff so admired their courage and calm that he refused to arrest them. Soon the tribal leadership were invited to negotiate and earned major victories.

On a much larger scale, in Poland, the trade union Solidarity went from outlawed status to negotiating partner as communist dictatorship crumbled in the face of overwhelming people power. These are the historical moments to which nonviolent movements aspire, when the militaristic imperial dictum Peace through strength is flipped and a positive peace power transformation produces Strength through peace.

Harris, Ian. 2002. Challenges for peace educators at the beginning of the 21st century. Social Alternatives. 21: 28-31.
Kriesberg, Louis 2007. Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (3rd ed.) Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Something to hide, fear, crush

A movement that explicates itself and appears to engage in deliberative dialog with all comers is a movement that doesn’t generate nearly as much fear and thus oppression as do movements which are covert, sneaky, deceptive, and generate an image of sneering superiority. Of course, it’s all culturally relative, but still more or less generalizable.

Serbia is an illustrative example. The Balkans are famous for fear-based terrorism, often inflicted by the state, and Slobodan Milosevic was an exemplar of that. He presided over an extremely nationalistic and conflict-prone regime marked by forcible annexations, concentration camps, ethnic cleansing, rape camps, and extraordinary suppression of minorities. Both internal and external powers attacked him violently and he strode through with swagger and an aura of the Serb standing alone in courageous defiance of all those who would attack Serbs. What finally brought him down was the unexpected soft power of nonviolence and community organizing writ large. The youth started it all, organizing demonstrations, mock conventions, humorous but highly political street theater, and a web and alternative media presence that was infused with joyous rebellion.

They kept at it, and eventually enlisted the mainstream political opposition leadership in a coalition that toppled the regime via elections, general strike, and the ultimate takeover of Parliament. The youth movement, Otpur, had open offices, frequent open public demonstrations and actions, and were markedly different than the youth demonstrations of western Europe and the US in that none of their demonstrators acted violently or covertly. None ever wore face coverings of any sort—no bandanas or masks to hide identities, even though the potential for police and army capture, torture, and worse was far greater than in western Europe or the US. I asked one of the Otpur organizers, Srja Popovic, if any of them ever wore masks.

He laughed. “Never! We wanted everyone to know that these were local kids, nice young people who simply wanted to work for a better future.”

Some of the kids were beaten at one point, when the government became desperate and tried to declare Otpur a terrorist group. This backfired on the government—the people knew better and Milosevic lost even more popularity as his policies produced war, international pariah status for Serbia, and economic hardship for Serbs.

Milosevic bet that his police and soldier brutality would provoke an in-kind response and thus justify even harsher methods ‘necessary’ to maintain domestic order. Instead, the nonviolent discipline and transparency of his civil society opponents clearly won the day. Milosevic lost the loyalty of his people, his police, his soldiers, and he lost the election and his power, and was turned over to the international community to stand trial. He died in prison and the trial was never concluded, but the effectiveness of transparent nonviolence was made quite obvious in that struggle.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Image, nonviolence, and lifting blocks to progress

In the 1980s there was a generalized conventional wisdom that the end of apartheid would be a bloody, brutal process of slaughtering minority whites by the black majority, who had been brutalized and who were the victims of massively systemic human rights violations. Nightmarish visions of machete or machine-gun wielding blacks, like the Mau-Maus (actually Kikuyu) of a generation earlier, in Kenya, featuring violence against the white occupiers (1952-1960), were the common fear.

Indeed, the change of the African National Congress immediately following that (1961) from nonviolent tactics to the formation of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the ANC, helped solidify those fears and assumptions, which carried for more than 20 years.

But a military uprising would have been enormously costly and the first cost of even some non-lethal acts of sabotage was swift—as soon as the ANC dropped its nonviolence 10 of its leaders were under arrest and convicted in the Rivonia trial of 1961 and the leadership was sent to prison. Mandela was one of them and the image of a violent insurgency served to make that movement more commonplace, not remarkable like the American Civil Rights movement featuring brave and innocent nonviolent resisters, but just another communist-linked decolonization insurgency. It deprived black South Africans of the worldwide status of clearly innocent victim and instead introduced the fear of the bloodbath.

Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and others languished in prison--many forget that they were essentially ignored for 20 years by the world. Violence can serve to justify such long incarceration, even when the violence was begun by the rulers, even when the insurgent violence is directed not at people but at infrastructure (as the Umkhonto we Sizwe sabotage was).

Then came a new generation of young black leaders in the townships who organized mass strategic campaigns, including brilliantly crafted boycotts both nationally and internationally, and apartheid fell. To add to the nonviolent toolkit, Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1996-1998 and the image of nonviolence in South Africa took on an additional layer of evolved practice right where it all began on September 11, 1906, in South Africa, when Gandhi announced his first campaign of mass nonviolent resistance, in this case to the Asiatic Registration Laws.

Like the improvements to nonviolent strategies that the American Civil Rights movement (1955-1965) achieved (such as immediately capitalizing on oppressor violence, as the students did in Nashville in 1960 when whites bombed their lawyer’s home), the South African TRC added a special tool to the box.

Whites were only going to cede power in South Africa if threats were diminished. The first threat was the bloodbath and the new generation opened a window that made the change possible without a slaughter. The second threat was arrest of most white leadership for provable crimes against humanity, and the white leadership demanded amnesty before stepping aside, and so it was written directly into the new Constitution (Vora & Vora 2004, 301).

We see in the South African case that image can retard or accelerate forward motion toward success. Reëvaluation and rehabilitation of image is a part of the ongoing work of any struggle. It’s not a question of justice—for those who subscribe to the Just War doctrine, violent revolution in South Africa was absolutely justified—but rather of efficacy. Convincing a dangerous oppressor that you aren’t going to stoop to his tactics once you win will get that victory far faster. Launching that positive feedback loop is made possible by image work.


Vora, Jay A.; Vora, Erika 2004. The effectiveness of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Journal of Black Studies. 34: 301-322.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Manipulation by the numbers

“If you don’t like how the mainstream media manipulates you, learn to manipulate mainstream media”
—Anonymous student

So, you are the person who has convinced your movement to care about its image. What are the steps involved?

Macro steps:

1. “We trained the nation,” said Srja Popovic, one of the student leaders who engineered the nonviolent overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic. Intramovement education and training is first.

2. Develop relationships with mainstream media reporters, correspondents, photographers, videographers, editors and anchors. Help them understand that your movement desires an image, is working diligently to train and educate itself to live up to that image, and is highly motivated to help them get the story and get it right.

3. Same with law enforcement. If they believe you are coming out to rock and roll they will cheerfully oblige, much to your detriment. Do not settle for any liaison officer. Work very hard to help each one learn that you are nonviolent, you are not sneaky, and you earnestly want to encourage them to fade back, in general, and let your people provide their own security and policing. Obviously, if your primary objective of your movement is in fact police brutality this is of a much more sensitive and difficult order, but it can and should be done or the police will work very hard to erode your image.

4. Develop conversations and working relationships with those who favor violence or random property destruction. Let them vent; it’s their strong suit. Appeal to their sense of movement manners, i.e., when you do all the organizing for a campaign or event and they aren’t part of the hard working planning group, they should show the respect for your hard organizing work that you show for theirs. This common understanding of how tough it is to recruit and organize is your strong link to them and they will generally respect it. Don’t dis them. Don’t tell them their methods stink. Stress that your leadership has been meeting and meeting and meeting and have consensed on the tone, tenor and practices of your events and you will not come to their events and try to act against their decisions—and you expect the same from them.

There are, of course, innumerable smaller steps involved in creating the image you feel will garner what Dr. Bernard LaFayette called “the sympathy of the majority, if not the active participation.” It involves a great deal of discipline, follow-up, relational upkeeping and anticipation. The greater the goal, the more complex and sustained your movement needs to be to overcome any image problems or erosion. The payoff is victory. You can change public opinion 180 degrees. It happens and it’s connected at least somewhat to the work you do to create and successfully defend and propagate your image to the constituencies who can do you the most good.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Full ‘False Dichotomy Alert’: Aggression or Apathy?

Well, we are asked upon the so-called national discourse around injustice someplace that Washington has deemed important to our national interest, do we want to bomb somebody or just do nothing?

Our entire mission in the field of Nonviolence Studies, Conflict Resolution, Peace and Justice Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies (or whatever permutation of alternative constructive conflict management you like) is to suggest, research, develop and call for the third path, assertion.

Here’s the image from my nonviolence training. You are standing in front of the group and you whip out your laser pointer. You point it pointedly toward the floor and make it visible to all, sweeping in a path in front of you. You say, “You are the aggrieved party; you are civil society in motion. On this side of the line, I am the oppressor. The difference between assertion and aggression is quite thin but quite bright and you need to get right up to that line if you want to be effective.

"Hang back and the oppressor can ignore you. Cross it and he now has his excuse to crush you by any means necessary and his means are very mean indeed. But when you are right up to that line, stepping back a bit if you sense you are over it into aggression, coming right back to it after any seeming defeat, you will win. That is assertion and that is the winning modality.”

The image of Montgomery black citizens walking miles to work every day for a year was assertion at its best. They won. One elderly woman told Dr. King, “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” Even Montgomery whites got it eventually, and whites across the country got it almost right away.

I watched the same with tribespeople struggling to regain their treaty rights in northern Wisconsin. They were out long hours, far past midnight as temperatures plunged, snow still in the woods, night after night, for three springs in a row (1989-1991). They were abused, but no one could humiliate them. The more racist the language and more violent the opposition to them, the more they persisted with great dignity and grace and the more the public polls switched to support them. They never reacted with hatred and violence to hatred and violence and they won enormous respect. They were right on that thin bright line, never once backing down when hundreds of screaming redneck racists surrounded small handfuls of them. The same ones would come back out the next night. I’ve never witnessed stronger nonviolence, better image creation, and a more swift change in public opinion as a direct result.

Creating an image of violent opposition, however justified, is maladaptive.

Creating an image of slinking, cowering, pusillanimous retreat is maladaptive.

Creating and maintaining an image of courageous assertion is most adaptive. It works and those who understand the vectors of image and recruitment will adapt and win.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Speaking truth to power

When I give nonviolent trainings I stress that the more decades I engage in nonviolence, study nonviolence and observe the consequences of the aspects of campaigns, the more I’m convinced that nonviolent resistance is one part action and nine parts media and training to influence others.

Going out to engage in action without worrying about the recruit
ing, training, liaison work, coalition-building and other aspects that bolster your power is simply ineffective. When we are all about individual spiritual witness or we are only concerned with burnishing our individual image to our radical compatriots we miss all of this by a wide margin.

Watching self-absorbed religious actionists sanctimoniously ‘speak truth to power’ in ostentatious gestures of devotion is certainly more satisfying than watching masked demonstrators flipping off cops and throwing bricks, but the idea is to effect change if possible, not to simply self-aggrandize spiritually or garner more radical credentials. As Jonathan Schell told us at one Peace and Justice Studies Association meeting, “I’m tired of going down in noble defeat.”

The first problem, then, is to examine speaking truth to power. Truth to the elite in power? Who cares? They aren’t listening. It’s long past time for us to think strategically, not like slaves to clichés. As Anne Braden reminded us just before many were about to be arrested at the White House in Washington for opposing war funding, “People are going to ask you if the president heard you. I want you to them, ‘No, that’s not who we were talkin’ to. We were talkin’ to the American people.” That is the power to whom we are speaking our best truth. Failing to heed Anne’s advice is a set-up for failure. Understanding that our power in civil society is mostly latent and dwarfs all the other powers in its potential is our first strategic imperative. Our work is to transform that latent power to real usable power and to keep it informed and nonviolent.

This means that we have to be able to communicate to the bulk of our fellow citizens. Burning US flags will turn most of them off. Tossing stones through plate glass windows will certainly alienate them. When Fox News became the media organizing power behind the Teabagger assaults on the town hall meetings on health care legislation they pushed their role to the maximum and were ultimately burned badly by the kind of hate populism that created an image of gun-toting, spittle-flying, screaming know-nothings. Most of civil society was unimpressed. Fox News failed to separate their analysis of what Americans like in their Hollywood movies from what they like in their national conversations. From the other side, the black block types completely fail to understand movement-building as precursor to success in public policy change or creation.

The program in which I teach is quite international, and this is part of what I try to impart to those who wish to have some political effect in America; you will either win the hearts and minds in the majority of our citizens or you will fail. Showing that you can speak stridently and cogently against the US policies is a distant second to winning sympathy for the affected people hurt by US policy.
So, when I work with Palestinian students who produce bombastic posters excoriating US policy I ask them if they want to vent or achieve success. Most say success. I ask them to take my word for what might work a bit better in our culture and we look at possible messaging strategies. The last thing they want to impart is that they are an inch away from donning an explosives belt and heading for the nearest pizza parlor. They need to create a far different and much more sympathetic image of Palestinians in the minds of Americans and for that they will need to be both vulnerable and statespersonlike. They need to make Americans want to help. They need to help Americans understand that innocents are suffering as a result of US foreign policy and that only the citizenry can require policy change.

When children were attacked by dogs in Birmingham in the summer of 1963 that moved Americans. When Rosa Parks, a hard-working, modest, composed African-American woman was arrested on 1 December 1955 for merely refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man, the nation reacted to that image and supported her.

In short, if we do not carefully craft a sympathetic image that Americans will want to help, protect, save or otherwise rescue from the bullies of the world, we will almost certainly go down in noble defeat. It’s hard work, but necessary. The image we craft is of our own making when we learn how to train our involved populace and when we work hard with our media to help them help us help others.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Communicable success

Using Nonviolent Communication techniques can help us avoid the image of defensiveness and its concomitant, the negative attribution error. Intraorganizational communication and communication externally benefits from:

(1) differentiating observations from evaluations; (2) identifying, experiencing, and expressing feelings; (3) connecting feelings to needs; and (4) making and responding to requests in order to contribute to human flourishing. These skills are used in three modes: (1) honest expression, (2) empathic reception, and (3) self-empathy (Latini 2009, 20).

It is unhelpful to ignore observable fact, including behavior. It is helpful to acknowledge how those facts elicit certain feelings that are connected to needs. To validate all parties in this form of communication is decidedly enlightened self-interest. It creates a sharply human image, a transparent and compassionate portrayal of both individual and movement, and strikes people as refreshingly kind and honest rather than brutally accusatory. This is the communications music that soothes the savage beast lurking protectively in each of us/them. This becomes the beginning of assertion that can promote nonviolent resistance to injustice even as it lowers the levels of fear and tension that can lead to higher costs for all parties. Nonviolent communication is civil discourse carried to a stronger, more powerful stratum.

Latini, Theresa F. 2009. Nonviolent Communication: A Humanizing Ecclesial and Educational Practice. Journal of Education & Christian Belief. 13: 19-31.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Images of aggression and consequences

When Rachel Corrie was murdered by the Israeli Defense Force military bulldozer driver in early 2003 it pierced the hearts of those of us who teach Peace and Conflict Studies in colleges and universities across the land. This young woman wrote beautiful and sincere pieces about wanting to help, about justice, about freedom and about hope. She went to Palestine Israel to help and she was murdered. Many of us in the field knew one or more of the professors who had been a part of sending her to her death. They were distraught. She could have been my student. I took it quite personally and still do. Indeed, at that very time I was advising a young student who looked remarkably like Rachel--blond, attractive, earnest, cheerful--and the practicum abroad experience she had found was with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, in Eritrea. I was hyper-cautious in my advising and even though this student did go to Eritrea, it was with a truckload of advice about how to proceed. I think that's when I started to get gray hairs.

As a constructive conflict teacher and writer, I find it valuable to look through several types of media on an ongoing basis to help me think about the factors involved in conflict management. I read our US papers of record daily (two of them, the New York Times and the Washington Post). I read alternative news services like Common Dreams, Alternet, Truthout, Antiwar and so forth. I read the far rightwing media (obviously, most of my 'reading' is headlines, settling into just a handful of stories daily from the spectrum).

The Rachel Corrie case was a classic example of image and aggression, image and sympathy, image and consequence.

The alternative media showed her as she was for the vast majority of her brief life--sweet, loving, contemplative, altruistic, joyful.

Mainstream media was non-committal and had little to offer.

The rightwing found one photo of Rachel in black hijab, face contorted in what looked like a hateful shriek, a raging and angry jihadi wannabe. I believe it was from some demonstration she attended in Palestine Israel, demonstrations often marked by such angry collective chanting.

That photo, that one image, was used remorselessly by the rightwing to 'prove' that Rachel Corrie was no more than a dupe for Palestinian terrorists who would be slaughtering Jewish children as they slept in a little kibbutz. That single image of Rachel Corrie slandered and slurred her own short life and excused her death to those who react with great fear and violence to the threat of Palestinian terrorism. With one snap of the shutter at one non-representative moment, the issue was settled for many. She courted what she got. She invited the worst and it happened. She chose sides, she threw in with the violent ones, and she paid the price.

A photo can be worth ten thousand lies.

Did that photo show Rachel Corrie running guns, sheltering snipers, or cheering suicide bombers who massacred innocents at a wedding? No. That photo showed her in one ill-advised moment of chanting along with Palestinians frustrated at ongoing indignities and brutalities. That photo showed her anger at injustice, not her intention to support or commit terrorism. But that nuance was lost when the rightwing cynically used that photo endlessly every time her case was considered.

While image should not be the arbiter of life and death, it can be. When we train nonviolent actionists we will either teach them to consider the effects of the images they produce or we leave them bare to the winds of war, standing undefended against the manipulation that can justify violence. The semiotics of a smile or a grimace are far more powerful than perhaps they should be, but that is reality.

Rachel's death and the foul misuse of one image to dampen controversy and the call for justice should teach us something. Honoring her sacrifice by learning from it, teaching about it, and helping nonviolent actionists become more effective and less vulnerable is the least we can do. Images that portray aggression are easily used to produce apathy. "Oh, she was one of those." How many people dismissed her death as just another combatant killed? That would have been much harder to do if she hadn't allowed herself that moment of chanting angrily along with the crowd. We who work in the world of nonviolence are not called to produce actionists who can prove how radically pissed-off they can be. We ought to be producing actionists who understand their highly nuanced role at all times when they take the field of conflict.

In the end, image is a function of a trained and disciplined set of individuals acting in concert to produce sympathy for victims. It matters a great deal.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Battle apathy with images of joy

In one of his television episodes, Michael Moore confronts the KKK. He wins. How?

No, he doesn't imitate some of the Klan-bashing mobs who scream and threaten.

No, he doesn't copy the dignified actions of the Civil Rights movement with sincere sit-ins or slow, calming songs.

No, you don't see him going to the house of the Grand Dragon, standing plaintively outside, ala Roger and Me and so many of his other films, vainly attempting to interview the top dog. He doesn't even self-emulate.

Instead, he brings his Love Squad, a racially mixed team of cheerleaders. They are dressed for it--cheerleading outfits, pon-poms, and they are all cute and smiling as they can-can kick, arms around each other, cheerily chanting:
"One, two, three, four!
We just want to love you more!
Five, six, seven, eight!
Even though you're filled with hate!"

Who could not love these young, chipper, smiling women, so clearly full of good will toward all? There they are, on national television, and the Ku Klux Klan members scowl impotently, losing sympathizers by the thousands as they project churlish, childish rage at the sweet Love Squad.

Adversarial conflict is a zero-sum game at best, and often a lose-lose race to the bottom. Nonviolence, especially when presented with joy and creativity, can spark sympathy and opens a portal to victory over a bad idea or unjust practice, even as it offers validation for the humanity of the instigator of injustice. This is not compromise; it is powerful moral and political jiu-jitsu. It destroys apathy by inviting the observer to join in the right, to belong with the good, to protect the sweet, and to be part of the fun.

It also overcomes the apathy of burnout from the effects of rage-against-the-machine, from the self-immolation of perpetual anger at perpetrators of hate and violence and injustice. We who practice the Joy of Resistance are in it for the long haul. Not the vapid joy of the ecstatic loopy but the real deep love of life that can roll right over the fires of hate and flow right into the caves of apathy, shining a love light on a struggle that is already based in love and inviting everyone along.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Nonviolence and image

At the teacher orientation at the college where I started teaching, Northland College in Wisconsin, I asked one of the psychologists if he might be willing to come talk to my nonviolence class sometime about the role of psychology in nonviolence. He looked at me blankly, asking, "What does psychology have to do with nonviolence?"

I looked quizzically back and said, "Well, without psychology we have no chance for nonviolence to work at all." That is not quite true, but close.

If someone is believing you hate him and you will use any tactics to hurt or destroy him, he will have all the permission and in fact prompting to use brutal tactics either in response or preemptively to stop you.

If someone believes you respect his personhood and only disagree about issues, he is at least inclined to let you live another day to lodge another fruitless protest. Fear is the precursor to most violence but fear is diminished bilaterally by unilateral refrain from violence. That is the beginning of the power of nonviolence. It is simply psychologically adaptive to lower levels of fear if you'd like to live to make the other strategies of nonviolence work.

May 2010 be the Year of Nonviolent Success
in Palestine
in Afghanistan
in the USA