Sunday, January 15, 2012

Unrest in peace: Marv Davidov crosses over

It was 1968. He was in his mid-30s and I was just 17, a young and new activist, fired up by exactly the same two issues that he worked on, and led us in, Civil Rights and ending the war on Vietnam. His ramshackle office was on the West Bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, my hometown. I stopped in to find out more. He was alone, thick black hair, wide smile, stentorian yet intimately friendly voice, ready to give a youngster his time and explain what they were doing. More than two hours later, I finally left. In that period, he screened the new 'commercial' they were about to run on local television and described the support they were giving to African Americans living in extreme poverty in the Mississippi Delta country. He was patient and instructive, encouraging and generous.

Marv Davidov just crossed over. He was 80, giving interviews up to the end. He taught three generations of us to be better activists in his campaigns such as Liberty House, Honeywell Project and the resistance to Alliant Techsystems military manufacturing. Whoever is doing movement history or social change analysis and has a course on the use of humor, should have a unit on Marv "Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Gefilte Fish" Davidov.

Marv led thousands of us in nonviolent resistance to Honeywell in the 1980s. They were making guidance components for Pershing II missiles and still making the infamous anti-personnel cluster bombs so ruinously cruel to civilians from Vietnam to El Salvador and then on to Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever Honeywell or its hand-off corporation, Alliant Techsystems, could peddle them to brutal governments.

When agents provocateurs infiltrated us in the 1960s they were the ones leading the way with bricks and stones, committing relatively minor acts of violence but managing to turn the public against the Honeywell Project. Marv never stopped his activism, but it took the aftermath of the first Plowshares action in September 1980, as the defendants in that one toured the country speaking, to reignite the Honeywell Project. Fr. Carl Kabat, in one of his wild talks (his fire-breathing only dampened by his foaming sputtering) challenged a Minneapolis crowd to do something. Sister Char Madigan asked what would be most helpful. Marv said, "How about restarting the Honeywell Project?" So they did.

Honeywell was one of the top Pentagon contractors, taking in $billions annually, running 13 factories in the Twin Cities area during the Vietnam War and they just kept selling those criminal weapons, a huge and powerful corporation. Marv the impoverished activist and a couple of nuns v a behemoth war corporation with plants and offices worldwide? Snort. As if. Honeywell had been eating well at the public trough for decades.

In a decade, Honeywell sold off almost all its military operations, denying publicly that grassroots activism was a factor. So the grassroots activism continued against the spin-off until they moved to Virginia. In other words, Marv or the ones who came after Marv won ever single struggle.

I was so happy that St. Thomas University's Peace Studies program put that old Jewish activist to work as an adjunct--Marv had no academic credentials, he was a living peace and justice movement encyclopedia who offered first-hand accounts to students of his actions and his friends actions, friends like Barbara Deming, Staughton Lynd, John Lewis, Diane Nash and many hundreds more--people who changed US history toward peace and justice in hundreds of ways. What a gift to those students.

Was Marv perfect? He was not. He was the Abbie Hoffman of Minneapolis, prone to bipolar disorder, and would work nearly 24-7 to get a big project done successfully and then would call and pour his heart out for hours, distraught by the deterioration of movement relationships. He had many of therapists--we heard Marv and we comforted him in his hours of need. We knew his heart was in for life and he needed us to hold that heart for him or it wouldn't work. We begged him to stop smoking. He told me, "Well, I know it's hurting me; I'm not schizophrenic about it, not like the war profiteers who are killing the Earth they live on." Good point, Marv.

If we had 1,000 Marv Davidovs the 1,000 rich and powerful ones who presume to control the lives of millions would have no chance. Marv created many young activists and so he lives on. He taught me things I learned nowhere else and now I pass them along to my students. Marv Davidov is dead--long live Marv Davidov!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Justice and nonviolence: Pair boards the ark of the moral universe

How do we address conflict in ways that reduce violence and increase justice in human relationships? (Lederach, 2003, p. 20)
John Paul Lederach asks the key question for our field of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. How we answer that question determines our future as a species.

Morally, the very least we can do is work to decrease violence. This makes justice possible because it it means that the citizenry can work democratically to seek justice rather than having a ruler use violence to impose his version of justice.

It is easy to wrestle with the question of violence and nonviolence. Nonviolence is vastly superior in every way. But to properly understand this, we need to grapple with the notion of justice, since we find so many misusing that term to justify horrific crimes.

Is the system of laws all that there is to the concept of justice? If so, we have achieved what some have called natural law, that is, law that aligns with some perfect cosmic, universal justice. In the era of the Lawgivers, the dictators who presumed personal juridical omnipotence, the likes of Hammurabi and Moses

 claimed to have a hotline to God. They gave us versions of the retributive justice approach, an eye for an eye, which has informed the laws of many nations from East to West, North to South. No, my liberal friends, these precedent-setters were not just the progenitors of the philosophy of laws that have been self-inflicted in the West. They both arose in what we now call the--what?--Middle East. They gave us this extraordinarily cruel tool called the law and it is the basis of Roman-English Law as well as Sharia. What?! Yes, the foundations are the same.

No, I don't mean that Roman or English Law quotes on and on from the Qur'an, like Sharia Law does. But Mosaic Law starts with that twisted idea of justice--equal harm for harm and so does its later follow-on, Roman Law, as does its other even later scion, Sharia Law. While much is different, the bedrock of inflicting vengeance rather than seeking compensatory and relational repair is more or less equally in the building blocks of both. The corpus of Roman-English Law has really resisted more than accepted the influence of Jesus, that is, the idea of reconciliation, and of course Jesus is no real influence in Sharia Law either.

I am not arguing that a new model of justice, a restorative model, should be based on some faith in Christ, only that the idea of Jesus, at least as given in the Bible, would seem to align with many of the indigenous approaches to justice that focus on relational repair rather than meting out revenge as justice. Yes, Jesus lines up quite well with many indigenous philosophies of justice and seems to be fairly squarely opposed to the retributive models, whether they are other indigenous, Confucian, Roman-English, Sharia, or the dictatorship of the elite representatives of the proletariat as we have seen and continue to see in communist countries.

"The arc of the moral universe is long," said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "but it bends toward justice."

Looking at the universe through the lens of violence results in a very fuzzy image of justice. Looking at the universe through the lens of zero-sum (to the extent you win, I lose, and vice-versa) also results in a poor image of justice. But bending those lenses toward nonviolence and reconciliation slowly brings it all into proper Conflict Resolution, a clean vision of where we need to go. Thank you, Dr. King. May we all gain a more clear image of the path of nonviolence as it leads us toward a better future.

Lederach, John Paul (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books..

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Evolving away from extinction

Conflict can be understood as the motor of change, that which keeps relationships and social structures honest, alive, and dynamically responsive to human needs, aspirations, and growth. (Lederach, 2003, p. 18).
 When John Paul Lederach writes about conflict, he makes it sound like conflict is our BFF. Excuse us, John Paul--how were our wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq  that which kept "relationships and social structures honest, alive, and dynamically responsive to human needs, aspirations, and growth"? When my neighbor with the barking dog tells me to go to hell, how is that conflict helpful at all?
What Lederach is really writing about--and what he practices in our society and all over the world, for decades--is conflict transformation, that is, a transition from the negative sorts of conflict to positive. That war can be transformed, though it would be best to intervene much, much earlier, to turn the path toward a constructive, productive conflict that produces keen insights in response to hard challenges. That should be the essence of democracy, the system that theoretically eliminates violence from politics because we peacefully transition with universal suffrage.

Where the Lederach model is so helpful is when we try to improve the essence of the best of democracy, which is not the tyranny of the majority, but rather the protection of the minority. Democracy is not supposed to be the dominant ethnic group deciding who can be discriminated against in a 'free' country. Lederach was writing about the escalation of conflict using methods that would generate social change where it was needed, which is almost impossible to achieve using anything except nonviolence and its higher levels of conflict skills.

When coercion is necessary to protect the vulnerable, it is most effectively accomplished using the Lederach thinking, so that the coercion isn't as likely to produce sustained resentment, but is rather more likely to produce wider appreciation for the stories and humanity of all parties to a conflict.

So, yes, conflict is our new BFF, if we use it to achieve more positive growth, structural nonviolence, a deeper mutual respect among conflictual parties, and a blunting and mitigation of the natural human desire for revenge. The only ones to get even with are those who helped you. Nonviolence can eliminate the revaunchist by making him reasonably satisfied and less desirous of sharing his pain, since no pain is inflicted with nonviolence. This is our evolutionary path, if we wish to see this evolutionary experiment continue.
Lederach, John Paul (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Dear Warmongers: Re-assess your campaign

Didn't you feel a little blip of happiness when Herman Cain decided to 're-assess' his campaign? Admit it, you got that little thrill today, too, right, when Rick Perry announced he was heading back to Texas to 're-assess' his campaign. According to The Washington Post, "The Texas governor’s campaign blanketed the Iowa airwaves with more than $4.5 million in TV ads -- more than any other candidate -- but came in fifth place, garnering only 10 percent of the vote as of late Tuesday." Shucks.
And now, finally, Americans have begun to respond to the long and persistent pressure from so many of us who have been criticizing the military budget for being destructive, bloated and obese for so long. Secretary Panetta announced that the New Normal for the Pentagon will be One War at a Time.

Just go re-assess your campaigns, warmongers.

OK, maybe I'm counting my war profiteering cuts before they actually take place. We will see how it actually plays out, when the actual Republican RomneyNominee starts attacking Obama for being a wuss on war. We may see a total reversal, though that would be sort of like ebola, which doesn't spread far because it spreads so fast that it kills off its hosts before they can live long enough to move much among potential victims. So far, our Pentagon budget has been more like AIDS, a slower killer of the economy.

In the midst of all this, as the Taliban opens an office to thinkpeace in Qatar (OMG!), the warmongers must be getting nervous. The only way to keep profits at that ebola level--which, it seems, they are now addicted to--is hot war. If I were Iran, I'd start taking the US blufftalk more seriously. The war profiteers loved the two-war strategy and now that it may be an addiction that we will no longer support because it's killing us, they have to arrange their wars Just So. One at a time.

So, Iran, we hope you back off. You are dealing with some greed-crazed warmakers and every stupid move you make strengthens the likes of Rick "Loose Nukes" Santorum. Yikes. We continue to try to take away their powerful hold over the economy and our taxes, but we are only making slow progress. Please re-assess your campaign to get The Bomb. We know, we know--it's nuclear apartheid that Israel has them, the US has them, and you are not allowed. But the right thing to do is to get rid of all of them, not build more to 'even out' the evil.

Perhaps 2012 will be the year that the people finally get the governments under control. There are some promising signs. Let's keep up the pressure.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A long lineage

Talk to many young activists in the US and you would believe the world of grassroots politics really began with the Occupy movement. Right, before three months ago, nothing happened. I read a piece the other day by two young (or at least woefully inexperienced) activists who boasted that the Occupy movement was really something:

Despite the jeering of the corporate media, the Occupy movement is not going to fade away, burn out or be crushed like the radical movements of the 60s and 70s. The Occupy movement is going to change the world.

OK, then. I'll try to keep a grip on the safety rail.

On the other hand, what did that movement want? Did it achieve its goal? How hot is that, if most Americans could not even tell you what the goal of a movement might be?

Let's try to keep a bit of perspective.

It's true, the Civil Rights movement faded away. That's because it won civil rights everywhere it tried to. It was hijacked by the Black Power movement, the Black Panthers and succumbed to riots, so it was unable to continue its agenda, but every time any movement in the US goes violent it gets crushed. Otherwise, it usually wins.

The radical movement to fight homelessness was sort of started long before the 60s or 70s, but it did reasonably well--some towns much better than others, of course. Still, if the writers cared to look for it, that movement not only continues and often succeeds, it actually has developed institutions that address those issues. The combination of the Catholic Workers, the late Mitch Snyder and his Center for Creative Nonviolence, and in Portland, Oregon, Sisters of the Road Cafe, have spun off many other functioning alternative institutions that help.

The radical movement to end the war in Vietnam would have succeeded much earlier if it wouldn't have had all the 'radical' help from violent warmongering opponents of war, like the Weather Underground. Once again, get violent if you want to prompt the crushing of a movement.

The safe energy movement also had roots far before the 1970s, but that is the decade it got big. I see no sign that it has faded away, been crushed, or burned out. The battles continue, and have been ongoing all along. It's just a broad front, in case the hotshots from Occupy who wrote the bragging piece hadn't noticed. Oil, nukes, coal--even tar sands. We have been both fighting the bad actors and developing alternatives all along. It could be, however, that our young writers have failed to notice the multicolored thread that runs throughout these movements, going back to the 60s and 70s and much further.

I assume that because we only had some victories and have not completed the process of abolishing nuclear weaponry, the writers believe we have burned out, faded away, or have been crushed. Really? We have pressured governments pretty impressively from the grassroots side. We prodded them into the INF treaty in 1987 and into closing down plants and bases. Yes, we have more to do. Go get 'em, Occupy. We occupied them a lot, from Greenham Common to Seneca Falls, to our little peace camp in the north of Wisconsin. We have won our share of these struggles and welcome the newbies. We may be dying off, but we have not been crushed, faded away, or burned out. If all we have done doesn't enable you to finish the job, we vote to be disappointed.

The sustainability movement of the 1970s (and earlier) has grown, literally, into a massive organic agricultural system. The pups who wrote the piece have zero idea what we faced when we started organic farming all those decades ago. They clearly take those struggles for granted, if they've even thought about them.

The list goes on. Native Treaty Rights were essentially unheard of by the general public until the 1970s and many of them have now been restored, without discernible burnout or crushing or fading. Native activists continue to win more than they lose. I didn't see any Occupy statements about Native Rights (OK, I cannot keep up, I admit, and I would bet eventually they mentioned that issue in at least some towns).

We have a long, long history of grassroots movements in the world, in the US, and they didn't start, nor did they stop, in the 60s and 70s. That is poor thinking, ahistorical, and all of us should approach history with humility and a willingness to learn. When the youth start dissing the struggles that allowed them to start so far down the road, it is a demonstration of arrogance and hubris that suggests tough times ahead. When the youth launched the successful rebellion in war-torn Serbia, they did it with lots of energy and respect for all.

Gay rights have been a long, long struggle and that movement gets it. Young people, trust me, you would not recognize the world that Act Up and many other organizations have changed.

I hope Occupy does change the world. I hope they learn that others have too. We are a species that will suffer a great deal before we rise up, but rising up is what many many have done all along. We owe them. I'm old and may be personally fading, but the movements have been in play all along, as millions of us well know.