Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
(Fill up the aircraft carrier with guns and Hummers, sail her to the BP spill site, extract all the people, and target shoot a nice hole in the hull, sinking it right over the well head. Continue with all manner of armaments until the spill stops.)
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Tarrow, Sidney (1998). Power in movement: Social movements and contentious politics (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
In our field of study of civil resistance and in the texts on nonviolence, we often include the germinal Thoreau essay, On Civil Disobedience (not the original title). There is much to admire about it and there are some limitations.
Thoreau was not a pacifist, though he did not pick up a gun himself. He wrote in favor of John Brown--a Christofascist who chopped off arms of opponents in Kansas and famously attempted to ignite an armed slave rebellion in his attack on the Harpers Ferry military post in 1859, instead helping to ignite the US Civil War two years later. While Thoreau wrote approvingly of the American Revolution, Thoreau never volunteered for armed service, though to be fair he died of tuberculosis just as the Civil War was fully ramping up in 1862, when he was just 44. His entire nonviolent resistance, admirable though it was, consisted of refusal to pay a poll tax and his grand price for this was one night in jail.
Why do we canonize his essay? It's brilliant and it's an American original. It's anti-imperialist (against the clearly expansionist Mexican American War) and it's a call for resistance to paying for such war and for any defense of slavery. It is also a challenge to act on conscience and it sets out an argument that one person of good conscience operating against immoral policy of any government is operating justly. His views were expressed with great eloquence and he had the academic's rare gift to also speak to regular folks.
So when we study civil resistance we ought to understand that Thoreau wrote toward strategic nonviolence in the sense that his stands were not pacifist in philosophy but that he happened to choose a nonviolent method--refusing to pay his tax that supported a war with which he did not agree. But was he attempting to organize a movement? Was he a campaigner? Perhaps in his own vague way he was, and he certainly has given the generations fodder for their own attempts to organize Americans toward offering civil resistance when it's called for. But Thoreau was not part of any organizational efforts. He was a persuasive essayist and chronicler of what Richard Gregg would much later call voluntary simplicity in the tradition of the Stoics and some of the Cynics in ancient Greece and Rome (Thoreau, a Harvard-educated scholar, translated from the original Greek and Latin). Thoreau was much more an individualist, a Yankee who advocated with great cogency for freedom and who believed in freedom for all.
As we teach our students to use critical thinking, we use our own in evaluating the context of the primary texts we offer to our students. Thoreau is a great gift to America and to the world; let's not misappropriate his beliefs, but rather use them as accurately as we can in the light of what we teach from each of our perspectives.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Although Sarah Palin and others want us to be a Christian nation (in the Constantinian Just War sense) and are willing to create fictions to support that notion, Plato spoke at least as clearly as Jesus did to the Founders. Indeed, as I was walking in Washington one fine winter day, on my way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Congressional end to the White House, I passed the Department of Justice and looked up to see, carved in stone at one top corner of the building, Plato's Conflict Resolution and Civil Resistance quote from 2,400 years ago, "“Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” As I was walking toward a nonviolent act of resistance to nuclear weapons that would soon land me in the clogged arteries near the heart of the justice system in D.C., the words spoke to me quite clearly. Justice takes work; even the rulings of the Supremes get overturned--one wave of demagogic hatred can wipe out the footprint of a good jurist.
Nothing in the world of nonviolence is carved in stone except aphorisms noting the permanence of impermanence. Nothing is set in concrete except the one concrete principle that the ends are the means, process is product, and nothing is ever settled once and for all (time).
Christians justify war. Monks get guns. Democracy is installed and forcibly shoved down the throats of those who never voted for it and never rose up seeking it--even as it naturally thus devolves in the mother country into bickering reactionaries jerking each other's chains and serving up kneejerk ripostes rather than authentic appeal to altruism. There is no system of governance nor belief that does not require constant upkeeping and generation-to-generation renewal, maintenance and evolution. The live spirit in a faith can be usurped quickly into killer identity politics and greed can move like cancer into the heart of free people who do not guard against it. For those overcoming injustice, impermanence is hope; for those who are sure they've established a timeless practice, time will teach better.
This is the calling to which educators answer. Yes, growth and progress are important, but protecting our intellectual flanks from revisionist invasion and occupation takes devotion to pedagogy and andragogy that is both critical and repetitive. I am currently teaching students for whom Gulf War I is ancient history from before they were born and the fall of the Berlin Wall is nearly writ in hieroglyphics. Lessons from the Civil Rights movement are suspect and Gandhi is a myth. These are all students who have come through high school, and few of those schools send on students with a good set of balanced and informed priorities.
Hence, the need to teach and the need to teach process. In the field of Conflict Resolution and Civil Resistance (CR2) the way we learn and the way we decide are the way we make friends and organize. It is all adaptive and process-oriented or it doesn't work. The mythos of violence is the quick and permanent fix. The way we teach CR2 is that all our work is iterative and necessarily redundant. My slogan, from Denzel Washington in the film Philadelphia, is "Tell me like I'm a fourth grader." Keep it simple, or at least add simple layers one at a time, and build up understanding of the complexities of conflict management and our methods.
Indeed, that is the message I use when discussing the finding of the Freedom House 2005 study, showing that nonviolence is far more sustainable if we want civil rights, human rights, and democracy. Violence is a poor producer of all those metrics over the long haul, so that whatever the revolutionaries were dreaming of achieving with violence is a chimera, a polluted process that tries to guarantee finality and thus assures ephemera. CR2 is not only the only chance at win-win, it's the best hope for an outcome that mirrors the path we take to get there. That is what students need to learn.
Frosty should last forever, right? Actually, he's a digital moment and a neural bit in three minds. He's lost a lot of weight and little Alexa is already taller and heavier. Will nothing stop changing? Sigh...
Friday, May 14, 2010
This level of naivite and blissful immaturity has often been associated with nonviolence, but those who practice it and chronicle it not only know about its efficacy but about its dangers. Nonviolence, after all, is not about pusillanimity and conflict avoidance, but rather about volunteering to sacrifice in the strategic hope that the social psychological gains will pay off. If I am innocent of hurtful intent and I demonstrate willingness to suffer, I will win the sympathy of others, and possibly motivate them to support us in some way. This is the wager.
(pictured is the 'tank man,' the most inspiring moment of the otherwise catastrophic struggle, when tanks were stopped by a lone protester)
Sometimes it works--more than half the time. But wandering out onto the field of contest without understanding the risks of failure is a setup for pain and bitterness. There is perhaps no more enduring agony of this phenomenon than the tantalizing success and then crushing defeat of nonviolence in Tiananmen Square in China in June 1989.
Assumption College nonviolence scholar Michael True taught in Nanjing University in China 1984-1985 and again during the 1989 democracy push. His teaching and writing about the 1989 events is a helpful addition to the literature about the nonviolent successes of Gandhi and King. True considers the aspects of strategic analysis offered by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins and he also incorporates first-hand knowledge of the Chinese culture at that time, as well as the implications of nascent globalization on that period.
True frames the Chinese episode differently than do some of the Chinese who were youth during that campaign. He sees the success and near-miraculous advances made by those youth from the dual perspectives of the long view of Chinese history and the short view of the history of strategic nonviolence. While direct involvement tends to sharpen and deepen emotional responses, the view of the analyst can temper those understandable swings from fear to euphoria to defeated despondency felt by the organizers who survived while so many of their comrades were killed or imprisoned.
One out of every five humans lives in China. There is no country more at the epicenter of the battles between ecofascism and ecofeminism, wealth via hyperconsumption and poverty, tyranny and democracy, sustainable growth and industrialized cancer, centralized planning and free market predation, freedom and subservience, and globalization or insularity. The 1989 movement was at the leading edge of the forces for nonviolence, freedom, democracy and sustainable development, making unprecedented gains and self-organizing millions of Chinese to do what had never been done in Chinese history, to seek nonviolent people power self determination.
China had no traditions to support either democracy or nonviolence. Students, workers, and even some peasants, came together to try to learn both and the pressure on them was enormous as they learned the lessons quickly under the media's unprecedented glare. Li Peng and Deng Xiaopeng, the 'Gang of Old' who had a long history of crushing rivals dating back to the 1949 independence war to smashing the Hundred Flowers campaign in 1957 and steadily on to all threats (mostly internal, from the vast stretches of suffering aspirational Chinese, region to region, year to year, movement to movement). Romancing the Maoists--we still see it in ultraleftists in the West--is ultimately a fascination with bloody centralized dictatorship with a 'people's' mask.
True points out that when student democracy demonstrations of 1986-1987 were repressed forcefully, there were no international repercussions, which may have emboldened Deng Xiaopeng in June 1989, certainly a caveat to the human family interested in promoting and protecting nonviolent actionists. Without pushback, dictators feel they can get away with murder and can transmogrify that into mass murder, which is what they did. This has been demonstrated elsewhere. When in 1993 Johan Galtung called on the international community to show serious support for nonviolent Kosovars, the world mostly yawned, and we saw the results of the arrogan Milosevic forces. Underestimating the needs of indigenous nonviolent movements for transnational support is an underexamined danger.
True arrived in China on the same day Mikhail Gorbachev did, May 16, 1989, and the tension was palpable. This rapproachment (first Soviet leader to visit in more than 3 decades) was exciting and frightening. Chaos in China is frequently cataclysmic, since social conflict has so few overt outlets and tends to gather and build up pressure before bursting. The Chinese leaders know they let some pressure out at their own risk and keep it clamped at their own risk, which might explain how their messages were not only mixed but contributed to the disaster. Gorbachev was seen as a beacon of freedom by students and workers and as a harbinger of collapse and power loss by the Communist Party in China.
In his 2001 Peace and Justice Studies Association conference workshop, True also discussed the unfortunate semiotics of the Goddess of Democracy statuein the square, which looked far too much like the Statue of Liberty, and allowed the ruling elite to brand the demonstrators as dupes of the West. Further, there were (possibly planted) Molotov cocktails and last-minute interference and sound system usurpation by some who were almost certainly agents provacateurs. Last, and stressed by many scholars of nonviolence, the ironically named Peoples Liberation Army is reported to have offered amnesty and a brief window to all in the square to leave. An unknown number--some say hundreds, some thousands--elected to stay and were in fact massacred by early morning, June 4, 1989.
Failures of nonviolence of this magnitude are lesson-rich. Innoculating against agents provocateurs, building government and NGO networks of external support, choosing images and metaphors carefully, understanding the true depth of fright of those with big weapons and many other factors are important to the calulations. Knowing when to punch out means knowing how to preserve the forces you have, though failing to stay when the moment promises great victory is the countervailing hope that can lead to tragedy. Having the best intelligence is key, of course, and if we are serious about promoting nonviolence, we need to teach more about failures and less about the same victories we all know.
True, Michael (2002). The 1989 democratic uprising in China: A nonviolent perspective. In Mallick, Krishna, and Doris Hunter (Eds.). An anthology of nonviolence: Historical and contemporary voices. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 253-266.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Some say the field of conflict resolution depends upon negotiation. True. Then they teach that civil resistance is what civil society does when unjust rulers refuse to negotiate. True. They teach that therefore teaching from a conflict resolution perspective is mutually exclusive from teaching from the civil resistance perspective. False.
Here is an excerpt from what Dr. King wrote in response to white clergy who criticized him for committing civil resistance in Birmingham in 1963:
"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."
In our Conflict Resolution studies we learn from the Harvard Negotiation Project about the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, the BATNA. This is exactly what civil resistance is. Not only do ordinary citizens have the power to change their BATNA during a conflict, good campaigners are as transparent about it as possible, so that the BATNA can be, in some cases, nonviolent deterrent power. A transparent campaign with a robust civil resistance component or potential will also change the BATNA for the ruler, which alters all conflict calculations.
Principled negotiation consists of four basic principles:
~Separate the people from the problem
~Focus on interests, not positions
~Invent options for mutual gain
~Insist on using objective criteria
Principled negotiation, which is one core method we teach in Conflict Resolution, is precisely what a good civil society campaigner incorporates into any civil resistance strategy. While Saul Alinsky may have advocated calling some of the people the problem, Gandhi would not have done so, nor did King, nor Cesar Chavez. OK, Serb nonviolence is an exception, with Otpur youth chanting for Slobodan Milosevic to "Save Serbia: kill yourself!" They used it to emphasize their determination to separate Milosevic from nationalism, and from national pride, and from Serbian self-interest. It seemed to work there.
Focusing on interests rather than positions leaves room for satyagraha but not for duragraha, that is, remaining open to good ideas for collaborative agreements that benefit everyone rather than squatting obdurately on one fixed position is stronger conflict resolution and more adaptive civil resistance. Roger Fisher and Bill Ury are careful to advise against compromising on principle and preparing to collaborate on practically anything else.
This leads to inventing options for mutual gain, and if we ever see peace in Palestine Israel, that is how it will happen. Indeed, that is how almost every successful civil resistance is concluded and how every successful mediation happens. The overlap is tremendous. When civil society is successful at isolating the dictator from his own armed forces, nonviolence can actually be seen not as negotiating with the dictator, but rather with other constituencies, and when all are satisfied that they will gain more than they will lose by working together, change happens.
Insisting on using objective criteria is precisely how recruitment in civil resistance campaigns happens. When police dogs bit African American children in Birmingham, or when the fire department blasted children with firehoses so powerful they would strip the bark off trees, most Americans were galvanized to support the minority struggling with dignity and nonviolence for basic human and civil rights. When nonviolence is the only tactic, it is much easier to frame all campaigns in this exact fashion, a search for what is fair.
So teaching civil resistance can be regarded as a component of teaching conflict resolution, or conflict resolution can be seen as an element in the civil resistance body of theory and set of tools.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Gene Sharp is a US political scientist whose original study of nonviolence was from a profoundly personal philosophical pacifist point of view. He spent a year in US prison for refusing the draft to the Korean war in the early 1950s but was determined to understand how armed and unarmed struggle actually worked in order to see how unarmed struggle could be effective.
Some say his key insight is that the structure of power always rests upon the consent of the governed. His influences include 16th century French philosopher Étienne de La Boétie, who posited that all servitude is voluntary, and Mohandas K. Gandhi, who said that India was not taken by the British but was given to them by Indians and then who put those ideas about getting it back into play. Sharp's work has been to produce actual research and theory that explain this notion and provide design patterns for removing tyrants from power.
Since Sharp's original work on this was published in 1973, no serious teacher of nonviolence has omitted his works nor analysis. For many, his often impatient rejection of any discussion of philosophy or religion was unnecessary and even offensive, but what Sharp was doing was staking out new boundaries for the discussion of ruling power and how it is created and destroyed. He viewed all other considerations as distracting and contaminating, a threat to truly understanding his method. This, in turn, set up some resistance to his ideas by those who were more attracted to the philosophy or religious teachings of pacifism.
I believe we are finally seeing that false debate subside, but in its place is the much more sinister new one introduced by an odd bed full of those who seem chagrined that nonviolence can take the place of good old fashioned Marxist-Leninist violence and terrorism plus those who really are despotic and logically fear Sharp's proven theories. These opponents are no longer a friendly batch of pacifists who want to teach love and kumbaya without pesky strategies and political theory; these are intellectual thugs who resort to calumny and traducement and smear tactics that mirror the polemical dishonesty of Fox News, but from the left. If the stakes weren't so serious, the humor would be profound, watching ultra leftists squirm into bed with Ahmadinijad or Mugabe, as if we are supposed to reject the people power in favor of bloody dictators because Gene Sharp has also offered advice to those who didn't like Hugo Chavez's thuggish tactics.
Those who teach nonviolence have a sacred duty to explain this to students. Why? Because teaching nonviolence in some ways is like teaching violent combat. If all you offer is enough to get started, the potential practitioners know just enough to be dangerous to themselves. They cannot defend their adherence to nonviolence if a relatively sophisticated ultra leftist charges them with committing a service to the US empire. It's an easy defense, frankly, but it's one that should be discussed by nonviolent teachers and trainers to prepare students to withstand the inevitable attack.
Yes, Gene Sharp has been called the Machiavelli of nonviolence, but that ignores the unique attribute of strategic nonviolence, which is that the methods mirror the goals, as Gandhi also taught. When Sharp teaches people power, his work is directly responsible for reducing casualties on all sides, and that, for most of humanity, is a worthy goal in itself--and ultimately, we hope, the point of our entire enterprise of nonviolent practice.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
How were we thinking about nonviolence back in the day? Gandhi was a saint, right, and that's why he succeeded. End of story. It's all philosophy and religion and Gandhi was known as the Mahatma, the Great Soul, which motivated thousands to join him and--poof--the British left, enlightened.
Richard Gregg (pictured) was inspired to visit and learn from Gandhi in India in the 1920s. He was a social philosopher who really began to translate Gandhian nonviolence into practical, explicable social organizing and conflict management models. He thought about the psychological aspects, calling what Gandhi did 'psychological jiu-jitsu', that is, using the power of the oppressor against himself, allowing the hatred and violence to expend themselves with far less harm than if those tactics (the oppressor's strength) would have been countered with similar but asymmetrically weaker hatred and violence. Gregg really influenced the western analysis of why Gandhian nonviolence might work.
Gregg's 1934 germinal work, The Power of Nonviolence, is still a classic, and the second edition, in 1960, included a foreword by the young Martin Luther King, Jr. Gregg also integrated the swadeshi philosophy in his own life, moving to a farm with Helen and Scott Nearing (pictured), who were quite influential in the nascent self-reliance movement in the US. Gregg coined the term voluntary simplicity and staked out an early claim toward our slowly developing notions connecting war to resource conflict to consumerism to ecological care to urban dependency to injustice. We are still learning this basic system of interlocking causes and effects.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Sunday, May 09, 2010
1. Research--conducts it, knows it
2. Practice--has done it, does it
3. Forward thinking--integrates philosophical and strategic
4. Charismatic--excites students
5. Mentoring--guides students who then do wonderful things
Gail Presbey teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy. She writes: "My favorite part about teaching you: Your openness to new ideas and experiences. When I pose philosophical ideas, you are interested and willing to debate them. Also, when I ask you to go into the community for service, you take up the challenge." She travels the world and engages in both research and practice, both of which inform her teaching.
One early peace studies program was at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, a Quaker school. The academic major was launched in 1974 and has several tracks, none of which include the word nonviolence, and one of which is "Religion and Pacifism." The base and tilt of that program is the tradition of pacifism based on the Quaker Peace Testimony of 1660, which in many ways was the recognition of the dangers of trying to mix politics and religion. While the 1660 document was clear on pacifism, it also removed Quakers from their controversial role that had earned them so much oppression when founder George Fox allied himself with Oliver Cromwell and then Cromwell lost power. The identification of pacifism rather than nonviolence in many ways is adaptive for the Quakers but it made the introduction of the notion of strategic nonviolence into curricula somewhat harder. Indeed, while the core of the Earlham Peace and Global Studies program requires a 100-level "History and Theory of Nonviolent Movements" course, there are no other courses in the current major with the word nonviolence in them and "Marxism" is actually required in two of the tracks. Pacifism, not nonviolence, is the clear focus.
On the other hand, the first peace studies program established in the US, in 1948 at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, has been in evolution toward understanding movements at the curricular level since at least 1971 with its launch of Nonviolent Social Change, (newsletter dove logo) its newsletter devoted to understanding nonviolent movements. Ken Brown (photo: Kenneth Brown) and others have been the heart and soul of that evolution. They have helped students who wish to be a part of various mass nonviolent movements (at the School of the Americas protest, photo from Manchester College Peace Studies files) and they integrate their Church of the Brethren religious pacifism roots with a strong study of strategic nonviolence.
Another welcome initiative was the Plowshares Collaboration between Goshen College, Earlham College and Manchester College peace programs, though in the long and multipronged set of mission items the word nonviolence never appears.
Pacifism as an individual spiritual witness has marked the historic peace churches for more than 400 years. Entraining Gandhi's theories and practice of mass liberatory nonviolence has been much more recent, but it has happened far more seriously just in the past few years, as the early work of Gene Sharp has begun to bear fruit and shows its robust value. This slow incorporation of a more flinty-eyed idealism has been the result of Sharp's ongoing work and that of his many excellent proteges, many of whom have their own mentees and schools of thought and praxis.
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Students are skeptical about nonviolence when they come into class. They usually leave convinced that nonviolence is the most adaptive method of conflict management. How does this happen?
First, we come to understand nonviolence as a way to fight for respect without engendering the massive consequences that using violence usually brings. No one needs to prove they can beat up Mr Nonviolence. In fact, when I was in prison, one fellow came over to my cot in the middle of the gang room and, towering over me, looked at me scornfully and said, "I'm going to knock out your fucking eye. What are you gonna do with your nonviolence?" I paused and thought to myself (as the rest of the room grew so silent you could hear breathing), this would be a wonderful time for my creative nonviolent response to work. Finally I said, 'Well, that would be mean of you and I'd reserve the right to see you catch another case.' That message was quite confusing. The room held its breath for a minute and then came a twitterlaugh from one or two guys. Then the big guy hulking over me laughed. We were friends from then on. I broke all the rules and rewrote them in the moment. I cared for his face and mine, literally, and it worked (thank goddess).
Second, we learn that it is the only possible chance for a win-win outcome. When you use violence against violence, there will be one winner at the most, and often two losers. At least with nonviolence you have a chance for a win-win.
Third, we learn that, when we use nonviolence, at least we aren't contributing to the level of violence in the world. We can control our own behavior and no one else's. (Las Madres braved the Pinochet regime and helped bring it down without harming anyone) If we aren't adding to the violence we remove at least that reason for anyone else to be violent.
Fourth, it becomes clear that the success rates of nonviolence are superior to those of violence. The empirical comparative studies are becoming fairly overwhelming in their cogency and robustness. In any given conflict, bet on the nonviolent side and it is your best bet. (Otpur in Serbia, where 'powerless' students prompted the end of the Milosevic dictatorship) You may not always win, but it will be more than half the time. With violence, you are lucky to collect a quarter of the time.
Fifth, the costs of violence are becoming better known and are huge, to the ecology and economy, to all other enterprises, and to the well being of the masses of people. (Che Guevara was in on one successful violent revolution that brought in decades of a military government and he advised many unsuccessful attempts, such as this one in Congo)
Sixth, the beneficiaries of violence are now understood and identified. They are the owner class, the military officers, the war profiteers and those who can extract the wealth--human and natural resources--of conquered regions. People on the ground, the regular people, do not benefit. They pay.
Finally, the factors in transforming conflict from destructive to constructive are more well known each year as peace research identifies and exegetes them for us. The numbers and qualities of the tools in our chest are far more mastered than ever. Nonviolence is no longer about saving our spiritual butts. It's about winning.