Saturday, April 30, 2011

50:1, or the two percent solution

The history of violence goes all the way back in human history and prehistory. The history of organized, mass violence dates back at least 5,000 years and possibly as many as 11,000 years or more in humanity's dedication to resolving conflicts "once and for all" by killing off the perceived problem, that is, the people.

Meanwhile, humankind has known about mass nonviolence for only 100 years, one-fiftieth of the timespan we've been learning to master violence. So, in our group-to-group conflict history as a species, we've known about one method for 100 percent of the time and the other competing method just two percent of that time.

So, let us call nonviolence the two percent solution.

Awareness of the power of nonviolence has been quite slow, but is now unstoppable. Indeed, if scholars in Security Studies and Political Science are not conversant with it, they are behind the curve. Thirty years ago, it was not much considered beyond Religious Studies and the small handful of Peace Studies programs. The wave of nonviolent liberations of the 1980s and early 90s started to change that significantly and the colored revolutions and now the Arab Spring have thrust nonviolent studies into the center of the mix.

We know that these civil society movements may have acted in pacifist modes while the campaigns were ongoing, but we also know that this was mostly strategic, not philosophical. Timothy Garton Ash (2009, p. 372) observes, "Only a very few of the leading actors in these histories are true pacifists, like the Theravada Buddhists of Burma, according to Christina Fink, and it seems to me, Pope John Paul II--offering an imitation of Christ rare enough among Christians."

Teachers: teach nonviolence and earn some respect from students who will see that you can teach what helps them understand the world.
Students: Insist that your teachers learn about strategic nonviolence and help you learn too.
Parents and children (from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young):
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you'll know by.

Roberts, Adam; Ash, Timothy Garton (Eds.) (2009). Civil resistance and power politics: The experience of non-violent action from Gandhi to the present. New York: Oxford University Press.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Weaving our own safety net

The world of commerce is an important world. We need to participate and we need to reform if we want to feed hungry people. The world of politics is important--crucial--in seeing to the reform that can house homeless. But the beginning of all of that policy work starts in the heart and in our customs or it flops at the societal levels.

Tunisians, who launched the Arab Spring with their nonviolent ouster of kleptocratic US ally Ben Ali in January 2011, are teaching the world about this. The UN and nongovernmental aid organizations have watched in amazement as Tunisians, often of very modest means, embrace refugees from the violent insurgency and brutal backlash in Libya. Officials say this is unprecedented, generous, and has meant that the flood of Libyans have produced very small, not very large, refugee camps. The Tunisians just seem culturally tilted toward hospitality, even under serious duress. From a story in The New York Times by Scott Sayare:

Abdallah Awaye, 35, a thin, sun-darkened man and the owner of the house, described his gesture as a matter of obligation and pride. “This is how it is, these are our customs,” he said. “If there is something to eat, we will eat it together. If there is nothing to eat, we will have nothing together.”

What can we learn from this?

I'd ask this question: Is the reputation of the Tunisian people going to be higher or lower than the reputation of the US and NATO, as the former showed how nonviolence can bring down a decades-entrenched dictator and then how open-armed sharing can comfort those who flee from the natural result of a violent insurgency?

I'd also ask: Will the Tunisian people lose or gain by this strategy of opening homes, feeding people, and generally producing a throng of grateful guests rather than sullen refugees?

Research has shown that Darwin's dictum, the survival of the fittest, documents that collaboration is usually at least as fit as is physical strength and brutality. Yes, the shark is an ancient species, but so is the turtle. Yes, we have the Donald Trumps--in a speech to Republican women cheering him in Las Vegas he "said he wouldn’t help struggling nations such as South Korea or Libya without payment" (AP).

What are the relative costs and benefits of such behaviors and attitudes? I think nonviolence and violence as competing models of conflict management have complexities and considerations that, in the end, tip toward the evolutionary superiority of nonviolence. After all, even the shark doesn't produce massive radiological and chemical pollution that ruins its own habitat, but the war system is doing exactly that. Can we infuse our own culture with a generosity that once again attracts admiration around the world instead of the fear and loathing we seem to engender by our massive military?

AP (29 April 2011). Donald Trump calls leaders ‘stupid’ in profanity-laced stump speech in Las Vegas. Washington Post.

Sayare, Scott (28 April 2011). Thousands Fleeing Qaddafi Bask in Tunisia’s Hospitality. The New York Times.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fast action

Gandhi fasted more than a dozen times, once penitently when his people murdered police. He fasted for an end to Untouchability. He fasted more than once for an end to Hindu-Muslim bicommunal violence, and once he fasted against a British official for that man's accusation that Gandhi was promoting violence.

Cesar Chavez fasted many times as well, showing that the fast was not just a swami-guru phenomenon from India, but could be effective even in modern America. His most successful fast was his first, which was in opposition to, and in penance for, his own union members and supporters who were engaging in sabotage and other property destruction. "Thousands of farmworkers streamed to Delano to pledge their Loyalty to Chavez and vow allegiance to his nonviolent creed," noted David Cortright (2009, p. 92). At the conclusion of one 25-day fast for peace, Chavez accepted a piece of bread from Bobby Kennedy.

There are a number of considerations involved, including, but not limited to the following:

Will the fast be effective?

What will the effects be?

Do those likely effects work toward the goal of the campaign?

Is a fast likely to enhance a campaign or distract?

Can the campaign spare the energies of the faster?

If no one knows who the faster is, the effects will be minimal or nearly nonexistent. The faster or fasters need name recognition beforehand or it needs to be created. This takes media energy and is risky. If the fasting person is not particularly sympathetic--if the person appears mentally unstable or as though it is simply a publicity stunt--a cause can be hurt by such negative imagery. If a person unilaterally decides to fast for a cause and then expects others to publicize the fast, to work to support the fast, or to somehow draw attention to that person engaging in that action, supporters do well to think through it. There are not many Cesar Chavez or Mohandas Gandhi charismatic leaders who can engage in a fast and cause a good number of people to flock to them out of concern.

I've only engaged in one serious quasi-public fast that I started, and it was a learning experience. It was after communication with my action partner, Donna Howard, when we were both in jail awaiting trial for our Plowshare action of Earth Day, 1996. I wanted to draw attention to our judge's hostility toward international law, which was the basis of our legal opposition to the thermonuclear command facility we had partially dismantled. Donna and I traded days and passed off the fast back and forth, much like Cesar Chavez had passed his fast on to others. We continued for months, bringing in others in a Fast Friends community, people who supported Plowshares direct disarmament actions. I coordinated all the days via snail mail from my jail cell. It was very sweet, and it eventually became necessary to have multiple people fasting every day, including people from many states and even overseas. We failed to get the judge to either recuse himself or allow international law, but the experience was educational and empowering for all of us. We didn't expect nor did we seek personal approbation and in fact were delighted to step back and honor those who picked up the fast. We never tried to publicize the fast in mainstream media because that takes so much contextualizing for unknown people. Cesar Chavez is fasting? Everyone instantly understands. A couple of random Plowshares peaceniks are fasting? Are they nuts? Who cares? Let 'em croak! But our peace community totally got it and participated. It was more of a bonding action than a bridging action.

Fasting is powerful. It needs to be done carefully or the power can skew in unintended directions. Each culture conceives of the fast differently and each situation is unique. It needs serious appraisal before use.

Cortright, David. (2009). Gandhi and beyond: Nonviolence for a new political age. (2nd ed.) Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Half fast insurgencies

Most modern insurgencies last about a decade (Connable & Libicki, 2010). For most of those years, human mortalities are high enough to classify the conflict as a war, that is, in excess of 1,000 "battlefield" deaths. These days, an infant in a minivan who is hit by a Hellfire missile shot out of a drone is a battlefield death.

Try to find a nonviolent insurgency in which the mortalities rise to the level of classification as war for even one year. Then look at the timelines. Yes, it took Gandhi 28 years to complete the nonviolent liberation of India, but he was just the warm up act. It took African Americans in the Deep South just three months to end segregation in Nashville. It took a year for Filipinas to overthrow Marcos with nonviolence. It took about 10 months to topple Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia once nonviolence started.

So we can look to history and find Hundred Years War and a Six Day War. We can find decades of nonviolence unable to liberate either Tibet or Burma and we can find nonviolent insurgencies that are successful in days in Tunisia and Egypt. There are no hard and fast rules except, in the end, we get much more gain for much less pain with nonviolence.

Connable, Ben; Libicki, Martin C. (2010). How insurgencies end. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Banana Republicans

There is one budget in our federal spending that is devoted to preparing to commit violence and actually committing violence against humans, the Earth, and all the things we humans have built. That would be the Pentagon.

There is one budget in our federal spending that accounts, year in and year out, for about half the discretionary spending authorized by Congress. No other federal budget comes close to the size of this whopper. That would be, yes, the Pentagon budget.

There is one budget in our federal spending that is rarely discussed in mainstream media. That would be, as we all know, the Pentagon budget.

Why is this? Why do all the other, life-enhancing, budgets--health care, education, environmental protection, housing, etc.--why are they responsible for our deficit? Why is Planned Parenthood slashed when it's time to institute austerity measures? Why is the United States Institute of Peace--a budget of microscopic significance that arguably could save this nation $trillions by avoiding wars--why is that budget suddenly the one to eliminate in order to tighten our belts?

Meanwhile, corporate robber barons living larger and larger flaunt their riches while middle class workers sink into poverty, widening the income gap in the US to banana republic levels not seen since the Great Depression.

Ah, we say, well, what can we do about it? We cannot just shoot the rich. We cannot defeat the US military if it wants all our money.

No, we cannot, nor should we, shoot the rich. But we can begin to even the playing field without shooting or threatening to shoot anyone. And we can defeat the US military even though it (and especially its contractors, such as the weaponeers) wants all our money. Think of what other people with far less power (we might think) have done with nonviolence in the past few years. A partial list:

  • In 2011, in Tunisia, the people finally stopped allowing this.
  • In 2011, in Egypt, they rose up.
  • In 2005, in Ukraine, the people saved their democracy.
  • In 2000, in Serbia, the people toppled their warmonger leader.
  • From 1989-1991, Eastern and Central Europe arose and ended the Warsaw Pact domination of their societies and then ended the brutal empire of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union itself.
  • In 1986, in the Philippines, the people evicted the US, stopped a civil war, and saved their democracy.

This is but a small beginning list of what nonviolent people power has done. Are we so sedated in the US that we cannot manage a wee bit of an uprising when it's needed? Those in need are in the minority for the moment. But if we could one time organize those who are already impacted, including homeless or in foreclosure, uninsured, underemployed and unemployed (the estimated 20 percent or more of adults as calculated by rogue economist John Williams), plus those who are getting closer to the line of disastrous consequence daily, plus those who might just care about others, we might have a movement with clout. We can reverse this trend toward militarized protection of the tiny number of elite at the expense of the rest of us, but we have to want it, we have to work together, and we have to commit to nonviolence (this is not a philosophical commitment to pacifism, as you may easily discern by looking at the button list above, but rather a strategic commitment to a method of conflict management that works). If those factors ever line up, the war profiteers will fall and the rest of us will rise. If we wait for them to make the decision--whoops, they already made it, and we are living the result. Only we can change this.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Obama lives up to all his promises!

Today President Obama ordered Guantanamo Bay Torture Center and Geneva Violation Facility shuttered and all prisoners turned over to a new center of Transnational Warrior Rehabilitation.

"The least I can do after these years of fruitless dithering," was his side comment as he signed the Order.

In a flurry of Executive Findings and Orders, the busy President commanded all troops out of Iraq within days and all US weapons out of Afghanistan within one month. "The peace prerogative of the president, the will of the commander-in-chief," was his note to the witnesses.

In a pleasant shock to humankind, he announced that the US would disarm, dismantle, destroy and dispose of all nuclear weapons within one year, or as quickly as those processes could be technically accomplished.

"Finally earned that old dusty Nobel I've got sitting on the mantle," he said with a wry smile.

Pakistanis were shocked into an apparent reversal of their public opinion showing that, until today, most citizens of that country regard the US as an enemy, when they heard that US leader Barack Obama had ordered the immediate cessation of all drone flights over their country, an end to all military aid to their corrupt ISI and military, and a dramatic increase in humanitarian aid to Pakistani nongovernmental nonviolent development groups. Radio and television polls in Pakistan, while nonscientific, seemed to reveal a sharp turnaround in public opinion as a direct and immediate result.

"The US is determined to make amends for decades of poor aid decisions that promote violence where we should be helping end the legacies of the colonial and imperial era," said the president as he issued his order.

In this most productive and sweeping set of presidential abrupt peace orders ever, the president ordered the Pentagon budget to serve true security in the following specific line items:
1. Shift all weapons monies to military base bioremediation for decades of pollution.
2. Close all bases located on any other nations' sovereign soil and use those savings to train 400,000 Americans in nonviolent de-escalation, interposition and intercultural conflict competencies.
3. Use remaining leftover funds to provide work, health and education benefits for all US veterans so that the social safety net for them is 100 percent effective.

"We will become a nation deeply admired and respected as the leader in the peace race," announced President Obama as he finished his historic day he called Hope and Change, Part One. He glanced at his wife and daughters who were beaming at him in the Oval Office. Michelle said, "We can't wait for Hope and Change, Part Two!"

Cheers on April Fools. Hey. Could happen. All we need is People Pressure One to make it so.