Saturday, December 17, 2011

Inspiration as strategy

“Feeling good, not engaging in violence, or being willing to die, when you have not achieved the goals of your struggle, does not change the fact that you have failed” (Sharp, 2005, p. 436).

I am a veteran of the Plowshares movement, that is, a tiny global campaign to disarm directly, by hand, using simple hand tools, in an effort to do a few things, including (this is not the same list for each of us who have done this, but it is meant to include the rationales I have heard from others and written about myself, though I am in the minority view with regard to some of these overarching goals):
  • to bypass all the military, legal, and governmental barriers to disarmament and decide to simply start the process by hand, unilaterally.
  • to act in accordance with one's most profound ethical, moral, or faith and spiritual obligations.
  • to demonstrate a willingness to sacrifice one's freedom, one's material possessions, one's property, one's business relationships, one's time with loved ones, one's health and even one's life in order to begin disarming ourselves.
  • to challenge others to do something, even something minor or relatively easy.
  • to refuse to be a part of a war system.
  • to use the most powerful nonviolent methods at our disposal to show that not all power comes from bombs and guns.
  • to tell the rest of the world that there are some who disagree completely with the model of violence and threat of violence.
  • to make and take a stand for the children, for the next ones to come, to hand off a better world to them.
While the movement has anti-nuclear weaponry roots and the majority of the acts of direct disarmament have been directed at components of the nuclear arsenal, several of them have been done on 'conventional' weapons. The idea at heart is to personally interpose, do something real but effectively symbolic, and then to take personal responsibility for one's actions.

There have been more than 80 of these sorts of acts of direct disarmament since the original King of Prussia act by eight radical nonviolent peacemakers on 9 September 1980. The chronology of the actions from 1980-2003 was compiled by Catholic Worker and Plowshares resister Art Laffin. My own efforts were from 1985 and 1996, the first alone and the second in partnership with Donna Howard. Artie gets a few facts wrong in both of these descriptions, but he captures the sense of all the actions he describes. He is our movement historian and we are all grateful to him and his collaborator on the book about the movement, Sr. Anne Montgomery.

What I have come to realize over the years is the strong connection between mass movements of low or no risk--such as peace demonstrations, vigils, electronic organizing--and the high-risk nonviolence such as Plowshares or international accompaniment--is that the high risk actions can help convince others to also get involved in some way. Every Plowshare action resets my commitment to peace more firmly than if all I ever saw was a street demonstration or a social media posting. Every time I read about a Muslim Peacemaker or Christian peacemaker or Peace Brigades International or Nonviolent Peaceforce action I am far more challenged to carry on than when I learn about a petition or a peace march. This is just how we are. The peace warriors help us act in smaller ways, just as Rosa Parks helped Montgomery African Americans boycott the buses and walk every day for a solid year. The actions of the many are vastly more effective than the actions of the few, but the 'concentrated' acts of a Phil Berrigan or Susan Crane can draw us to the 'dispersed' acts like walking, talking and writing for peace.

Fortunately, we can reframe our high risk actions when we connect them to mass actions. Did Rosa Parks succeed? No, she was arrested and fined. She failed. But the instant that masses acted in smaller ways to support her goal, she was a wild success and she changed American history. It is this dynamic that the Occupy movement overlooks when it sticks to a 'leaderless' dogma. We need inspiration in order to get masses of us to give our perspiration. So failure and victory are often a matter of framing and persistence. Learning these skills is strategic. Being strategic will give us more nonviolent victories.

Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.

No comments: