Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Transform Now

On Saturday, 28 July 2012, three Plowshares resisters calling themselves the Transform Now Plowshares visited the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the only production plant in the US for highly enriched uranium, the HEU that makes a nuclear weapon possible--the same stuff that Mitt Romney wants Israel to bomb Iran over. There is no proof that Iran is making HEU, but Bomb First Ask Maybe Later Mitt and his sidekick Bomber Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister) are ramping up toward attack.
Our three peace people--Michael R. Walli (63), Sr. Megan Rice (82), and Greg Boertje-Obed (57)--cut through fences at the secure site and eventually reached the heart of the complex, unfurled banners, spraypainted peace and disarmament messages, and poured their own blood on the weapons site.

They were arrested and taken to Blount County jail, where you can write to them:
MARYVILLE, TN 37804-5022
Be sure to use the full name of the recipient and to use your full name and address in the return address or the notorious Blount jail staff will either just toss your mail or send it back. Some dear peace people protested there in 2010 and there were many troubles with the jail staff, mail being one but their refusal to medically attend to Fr. Bill Bischel was by far the worst.

The US government plans to pour another $80 billion of your tax dollars into more development of the next generation of thermonuclear weaponry just at the Oak Ridge Y12 complex. So we arrest dangerous nuns in their 80s and her two avowedly nonviolent friends for protesting this sort of illegal activity, we make plans with Israel to militarily attack Iran for possibly engaging in the production of HEU, and we wonder why the world regards us as unjust and bellicose.

This is the problem of violence, made infinitely worse with the use of the infinite violence of nuclear weapons. $80 billion in humanitarian aid to the worst poverty sites on Earth would radically alter the perception of the US, or $80 billion used to provide health care to US citizens would fix our health care system. Instead, we have sacrificial peace people trying to shine a light on this criminal waste of the fruits of our labors. Will we listen to them?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Basher the Alienator: Where is the nonviolence?

What role does nonviolence play in Syria? Basher al Assad seems determined to alienate the world except for sort of Iran, Russia and China and perhaps Venezuela and Cuba--their camaraderie is built on hating the US and justifying their own despotic suppression of dissidence in their own countries--and he's done remarkably well at uniting radical violent Islamicists with Hillary Clinton and Europe in their opposition to him. How weird is that?

Syrians could win with few casualties, could have whatever form of government they like, but they would have to commit to strategic nonviolence, meaning they would have to renounce their armed struggle, and then decide to protect their own people by using dispersed, low-risk nonviolent resistance punctuated by higher risk public square protest on a testing basis, all done while working to erode the pillars of support Basher al Assad's regime relies upon.

Part of the idea is to explore, define, assess, and probe those pillars for hidden weaknesses and exploit and expand them. The planning and execution of the strategy should be entirely indigenous, and externals should either butt out or seek to help by following the wishes of the Syrian nonviolent movement.

For example, what we see now is a stupid race to support this or that armed resistance, either the so-called democratic insurgents or the jihadis that want a fundamentalist Islamic state. The US has withheld arms out of fear of supporting jihadis but now the pressure is on to support the other violent fighters in order to deny victory to the Salafists. This is a stupid dynamic. If the US government cannot support whatever nonviolent movement might exist, it should remain uninvolved.

Far better is the example from Voices for Creative Nonviolence wherever they have gotten involved. This Chicago-based group is there, on the ground, in hot conflict zones, seeking out nonviolent groups from whom they take leadership and advocating for nonviolence back home in the US. In Afghanistan they found Afghan Youth for Peace, a group that is entirely indigenous. The support they give to AYFP is not meant to change their agenda or philosophy, but rather to simply show some solidarity with it. If the US government would have done this beginning in 1980 the entire cycle of violence and blowback and Operation Enduring Bloodshed might have been avoided. Instead the US taxpayer funded war against the Soviet occupiers and armed the mujahedeen, who eventually attacked the US on multiple occasions. This poor strategy causes pause in the case of Syria, but not for oil-rich Libya, where the violent insurgency received lots of weaponry from the US and where the US used their own air power to decimate Qadaffi's military operations.

For the $billions spent on gathering intelligence, the US government manages to do so without real intelligence that would tend to really advance democracy and instead serves the war/oil profiteers. How much more the US citizens would be served by taking the model of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

No tears, no white lies, no pain, honest gain

Do we want to hurt someone's feelings? If yes, this discussion is not germane.

Do we want to be dishonest? If no, this is equally irrelevant.

But if we need to work through a sticky wicket in which our honest communication with another is going to cause hurt feelings, we have a conflict. "The conflict consists in honesty and consideration apparently excluding each other" (Galtung, 2004, p. 12). This applies to those we care about personally and it applies to our conflicts with those we emphatically oppose and dislike.

A sketchy diagram of the general categories of options:

Here the standard Cartesian x coordinate is horizontal and goes from low honesty to high honesty, while the vertical y axis is low consideration for the other's feelings up to high care for the other's feelings. 1 is low honesty, low care for other; 2 is low honesty, high care for other; 3 is moderate care for honesty and other; 4 is high honesty, low care for other; 5 is high honesty, high care for the other's feelings. 

I hope we would agree that if the goal is constructive conflict, 5 is the ideal, in which we are frank and caring for the feelings of the other. Galtung notes that only with 5 will we have transcendence to constructive conflict, featuring authentic dialog. 

If nonviolent movements used this model, they would succeed faster. Every time we needlessly yell, label, vilify, insult or emnify the other, we cause pain and memory of that pain, and guarantee blowback or backfire and resolve to defeat us, which is Just Fine with some who themselves are so hurt or so immature that they cannot think strategically (Yay! We succeeded in hurting them! We'd rather achieve that than our stated goal!).

If we all used this model, even though it seems to demand the most time and effort, the results would be sustainable and stable to a far higher degree than we see.


Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Profiling and US

Rafil Dhafir is an Iraqi oncologist who was distraught about how both Saddam Hussein and the US-prompted sanctions were devastating his homeland. He had a successful practice in Syracuse, New York and created a charity to send a great deal of his own earnings back to Iraq. He was doing so until, in 2003, John Ashcroft devised a sweeping and grossly unfair dragnet designed nominally to stop funding terrorists, but which swept up Dhafir and which resulted in his prosecution and sentencing to prison for a stunning 22 years.
The government found plenty of illegal aspects of Dhafir's operations--he was careless about his Medicare bookkeeping and his charity was afoul of US tax laws--but it was the confluence of his violation of the crushing sanctions on Iraq and his Iraqi identity that drew his arrest, conviction, and bizarre sentence for sending humanitarian aid to people in dire need.

For donating $1.4 million of his own money to help children and other victims of Iraq's collapsed health care system (the government did not charge him with funding terrorists), Dr. Dhafir is in a small percentage of US prisoners sentenced to more than 20 years. Many convicted of rape, armed robbery, and manslaughter serve less time.

If you might like to write Dr. Dhafir, who has been sick:
Rafil Dhafir 
#11921-052- Unit HB 
Federal Medical Center, Devens 
PO Box 879 
Ayer, MA  01432

Friday, July 27, 2012

Excellent! F

In writing about how to finesse a response to a conflict, stated or unstated, Johan Galtung explains:
You need:

· a very quick definition of the problem: to find a both/and answer;
· creativity to find an answer of that kind;
· the presentation of the solution as a proposal, not as an ultimatum
(2004, p. 11).

What does he mean, "both/and" answer?

Galtung means that some language tips toward the evocation of defensiveness and will push a conflict toward destructive characteristics. We frequently listen for hints that our diplomatic (or passive-aggressive, as the two are synonymous in many cynical cases) discussant, opponent, intimate or interlocutor is attacking or judging us in some way. In some cases, we are quick to be offended because we recognize that judgment is possible and that judgment may not be favorable. Others can be prickly and take umbrage easily too, and some linguistic choices shove our minds and emotions in that direction ("Hey, Mr. Friedman, you are right about solar power; however, you were barking loony mad to support the US invasion and occupation of Iraq"). 

So, if our relationship is important, we find ways to say things that can be heard without drawing our visceral weaponry. But our partners are not stupid; they can smell a conflict betrayal when we use poor transitions such as "but" or "however" or "on the other hand." 

  • "You know I generally support you, but in this case I cannot."
  • "We would give you permission in many instances. However, this time we cannot."
  • "Your ideas are often great. On the other hand, sometimes they are not."

What Galtung recommends is a tweak toward the both/and or the yes/and response.

  • "You know I generally support you and in this case we need to continue to work on our challenges."
  • "We normally give you our blessing and in this instance we hope to dialog toward that."
  • "Your ideas are usually great and this time we intend to gain clarity as we progress toward agreement."
Since we are seldom able to summon burly orderlies and administer 20 mg of Midazolam intramuscularly, we need instead to use language and nonverbals to reshape potential conflict into possible collaboration. Is it always possible? No, probably not. But is it worth trying? Yes. Galtung's little method is possibly the lowest cost/highest benefit technique available. 

I was chatting about this with another Conflict Resolution professor and he laughed and told me the slippery slope extrapolative endpoint example was his old mentor's decision, upon reading a paper that had excellent ideas and was written without proofreading in a garbled syntactical trainwreck of incoherence, to mark it, "Excellent! F"

Indeed, that professor gets the Yes/And award. And, Robin Williams and the Two-Headed Monster win the Nice But award (so to speak).


Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Going, going, Negative!

Avoid negatives.
--Johan Galtung (2004, p. 10)
Conflict work includes de-escalation and preparing conditions for constructive management of the conflict. Conflict workers, says Johan Galtung, are advised to avoid negatives. Is this good advice? Is it possible?
For those who advocate, going negative is easy and tempting. I hate the violence that guns commit, for example, and I confess I also have come to hate guns and the thought processes that make them so desirable to so many Americans. Going negative when I write about guns and those who fight for more of them or who fight against gun control is something I succumb to, especially in the aftermath of something as egregious as the Aurora, Colorado shootings. 

But I know better. I am like the smoker who reads the label, believes in the research, and still lights up. As I type words that label gun lovers I know I'm being counterproductive and yet I do it. My anger overwhelms the finesse that I know will actually help. My rage at gun violence prompts my inner combative nature and my disgust with Americans who own guns in general and at those who defend guns in particular, and who argue against gun restrictions even more. I think of the young people whose lives were ended and, at age 61, I feel deep remorse and revulsion that all those years of life were robbed from innocent people. I go negative.

And then I get the pushback, the responses from those who feel attacked by me, and I either escalate or I begin to do actual conflict work that I know is effective, that I know how to do. I try to recover from my failure to heed Galtung and all the other outstanding conflict mentors. Sometimes I make the catch and sometimes I drop the entire ballgame.

Politics is an ambiguous, dangerous animal, often more negative than anything east of an actual gunfight--and, as we know from von Clausewitz, that gunfight is considered politics by other means. In a 2010 metastudy, Carraro and Castelli synthesize the findings of three research reports into a basic assessment of the tendencies of readers or viewers to respond to negative political messages in two ways. One, they perceive the source--the candidate making the negative message--as less and less of a warm human being. Two, they elevate their opinion of the candidate engaging in the attack as more competent. 

Yikes. So, what does this mean? That the tribe of Affable Americans will never see one of their own elected president? Or that we may elect someone who refuses to go negative but that we regard her as a friendly moron?

Balance is probably key. Yes, avoid negatives, as Galtung warns, but also bear in mind the first piece of principled negotiation, which is to separate the person from the problem. Or, in spiritual terms, hate the sin but love the sinner. Going negative about outcomes and behaviors--but not the people--is probably a good way to establish that there is a conflict and that you are competent to articulate your thoughts about it, but that you are respectful of every party to the conflict. You set the stage for actual progress. 

I know this research and I believe in it, but I still want to light up on those white male Republicans who love guns more than they love the children who are killed by the thousands every year in this nation with those tools of death, guns. So much for my warmth. Sigh. Maybe with a few more lifetimes I can learn to love the perps and show some warmth. In the meanwhile, I won't run for office.

Carraro, L., & Castelli, L. (2010). The Implicit and Explicit Effects of Negative Political Campaigns: Is the Source Really Blamed?. Political Psychology, 31(4), 617-645. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00771.x

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Peaceful light and heat: Solar development

Resource capture is at the heart of much of America's military strategy, procurement, aid to other militaries, foreign basing, intervention, invasion and occupation. The strategic nonrenewable resources that are overwhelmingly sought are dominated by oil, of course. Finding renewable domestic substitutes for oil thus affects three huge problems.

One, war. We can butt out of the affairs of oil countries and stop killing and dying.

Two, global warming and climate chaos. We can radically reduce our national carbon footprint.

Three, our economic slide. Our economy will be greatly assisted by a massive reduction in military spending on our 1,000+ foreign bases and huge seapower reach.

If we are to achieve this, it's time to start in earnest. This is beyond the reach of many Americans on an individual basis, so the government, the private sector, and nonprofits all need to get involved.

The most hopeful big move is the commitment and strategic plan and partnership between the federal government, utilities in the western US, and private sector solar electricity developers. This initiative, which has now begun to roll out, will generate enough electricity to power up to seven million homes in the next decade of development. Even most of the crackpot environmentalists are praising the Obama administration for a plan that carefully avoids impacting wildlife. Could it be that the kneejerks who have opposed wind power and other intelligent solutions have noticed that fracking after natural gas is wrecking more habitat than all the clean energy projects ever proposed?

Even the military wants to go green for strategic reasons. The recalcitrant ones are the usual war profiteers and petroleum corporations. We can affect this by our individual purchasing, but we need political pressure too.

Back in the day, in 1982, I bought my first solar electric panel and hired a very smart backwoods hippie to wire my solar cabin and install the panel. Of course, I lived in the far north of Wisconsin, where land was cheap. I paid it off in just a couple of years and built my little cabin without borrowing a nickel, for less than $6,000. Now I live in an urban area where even the most ramshackle home has a huge mortgage. I'm in debt until forever, but I love Portland, Oregon, so I stay. PGE, the local utility, at least offers a green power option, which costs a bit more but uses only renewable sources of energy. Citizen watchdogs tell me it's legitimate, so I've been purchasing on that option for years. However, unless most customers subscribe, it only means that my purchase is green but less of the power purchase for another customer is. Unless utility customers choose the green power in overwhelming numbers, my neighbor who chooses the standard dirty radioactive exploding tapwater plan just gets all his electricity from the dirty sources.

Efficiency is crucial and so is alternative production. Voting with our dollars, our opinions, and our votes for candidates who expand these clean and peaceful energy initiatives will get the job done. What a great legacy--be a part of the Great Energy Transition in our culture, our economy, and our nation. GET US cleaned up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Repeal the Second Amendment

Veronica Moser-Sullivan. Murdered. Six-year-old girls need to be protected from gun owners. Time to repeal the Second Amendment. Veronica was murdered in the theater, a place that should be safe, but she lives in the US, a nation more in love with its guns than they love their six-year-old girls. This is flat wrong.
The purpose of the 'right' to own guns was to be sure the government was afraid of insurrection--sure worked well in 1861, didn't it? The insurrectionists defended slavery--proud moment for the Second Amendment. Now, however, we need an insurrection that ends that right. Clearly, gun owners are a huge and powerful lobby. My question to them: When will you all grow a conscience?

Each justification for guns is more ludicrous than the next. Today I heard some ranting gun club official say on National Public Radio that if we restrict guns these assailants will blow up bombs. That is like saying if we outlaw sexual harassment there will be more rapes. Their logic is more full of holes than their targets. I prefer the theatrics of gun control advocates over the pyrotechnics of those who aren't fazed by the totally avoidable murder of Veronica and other children.

Insurrection is far more successful and sustainable using nonviolence. The results of research on methods of seeking maximal change (which is the toughest goal of all) are just as validity threat-proof as is the research that shows global climate change or evolution. Those who choose to discount science certainly are all around us and they are all dead wrong. No guns are needed if we decide, as a people, to overthrow our government, to secede, or to depose someone we regard as a dictator. Massive, strategic civil society campaigns have done the job many times around the world at a higher success rate than violence and with far more sustainable democratic, civil, and human rights as long term outcomes. Get rid of the guns. No longer needed.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Resurrection of insurrection or secession

Last week, July 19, 2012, Congress overwhelmingly passed the 2013 Defense Authorization resolution, approving another $607 billion for a combination of 'base budget' and wars-in-progress. The execrable vote, 326-90, including almost every R and most Ds. One state showed up strongly in the minority, Oregon, with all reps except Greg Walden (R) voting against the monstrous pork barrel.
The 'process' to get this vote included some obscene pressure tactics, featuring a lopsided 'hearing' from war profiteers who all warned of dire disaster defense debacles if we the people don't fork over all our money to them. Congressional shenanigans don't get more Buck (McKeon, California R and Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, the tool who called the hearing) naked--and now normal--than that.

Time to leave. Time for Cascadia to secede from the US. The definition of Cascadia varies--some want all of Washington, Oregon, and northern California to just say goodbye, but I think Walden and his eastern Oregon district should stay where they belong, with the US, and I'm not too sure about Washington or northern California, except certain places.

We need a new nation, even a small one, even if we have to form our own parallel institutions (even anthems, and may there be many to choose from) to make it happen in various ways until it can happen legally and officially. There have been some bids for this and I hope they continue and get more organized. We can meet in our living room for the time being, I'm sure, but the idea's time is coming. I would like to be proud to pay my taxes and to be a citizen. I am proud in those senses in Portland and, for the most part, Oregon, but we should look for the exit from the corrupt US. They should not control the western part of Oregon, which should be an inclusive, nonviolent, ecologically sustainable peace nation.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Parsing the problem

Conflicts can be analyzed, they can be understood. Johan Galtung (2004, p. 7)
Why would we pull a computer apart and try to fix it without trying to understand what parts might be designed to perform which function? Yes, like taking a look under the hood and seeing a burst hose releasing steam, we can occasionally diagnose some problems with just our five senses and some innate logic, and the same is true for our goal of managing conflict constructively. Sometimes conflict forensics shows nothing more complex than the  momentary equivalent of a burst hose or frayed rope and we can patch it up.
But real conflict forensics are a deep science that no one has entirely explicated and that science will save humankind from itself if given the chance. If we can learn to analyze conflicts that tend to become destructive, we can learn to create alternative paths to constructive conflict management. Learning to properly determine causation, learning what is mere coincidental correlative, and learning what possible options for successful nonviolent and nondestructive management are challenges to humankind just as important as learning about cancer and heart disease.

Conflict accounting is a neglected science as well, and one that can prompt productive inquiry. What are the costs of particular methods of managing conflict and what are the benefits? We can examine that generically and we can examine specific conflicts both quantitatively and qualitatively as well. Displaying an accurate cost/benefit analysis for a conflict can help us prioritize the search for alternative methods of resolution.

Some shoots another human being, perhaps dozens of them in a crowded theater. The first leap is toward one's hobby horse explanation and cure. For me, that is getting rid of guns. For others it is beefing up theater security. For some it is eliminating video games and for others it is outlawing violent movies. Some will call for mandated mental health care. These are all worthy notions generically and yet, for the specific incident, some are irrelevant, some are extremely costly and only marginally applicable, while other factors would be crucial in mitigating or eliminating the damage.

This incident, the real tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, should be met with a team of expert conflict analysts, not just a traditional metal detector model of law enforcement analysis. The team should not be ideologically identifiable and should produce a series of recommendations with costs and benefits associated with each policy recommendation. That is how an intelligent society improves its handling and preventive conflict measures. Instead, of course, we see election year politics rush to foreground and single component focus. This is how a willy-nilly society handles it all. I hope we begin to think a bit systemically soon.

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

From their cold, dead spirits

According to Pew Research, white men care more about gun rights than keeping guns out of the hands of killers. What is our glitch, our spiritual void, my fellow white guys? Can nothing but our fear and lust for unearned power rule this land? Will no amount of innocent blood touch our hearts enough to change? It is long overdue; time to feminize and colorize the gun debate in the US. Republicans desperately need to do some soul-searching. Where did they misplace theirs?

White Republican men Gun nuts respond in three rhetorical ways whenever anyone has the temerity to suggest that perhaps getting guns is a bit too easy in our hyperarmed nation.
One: "If more people had been there carrying guns the shooter could have been stopped faster."
Right. The wild west featured that ethos and yet it was found that the more guns were restricted, the safer citizens actually were. There were reasons we progressed out of Tombstone Territory. We are seeing why again (and again and again, daily with shootings of one or two, punctuated by occasional rampages) like we saw in
Aurora, Colorado
Tucson, Arizona
Virginia Tech, Virginia
Littleton, Colorado
Washington, DC
Jonesboro, Arkansas
Springfield, Oregon
and sadly, avoidably, many more

Two: "It's not the guns. Just look at the rate of gun ownership in places like North Dakota, yet there is little gun violence there. This is a people problem, not a gun problem."
True enough. So let states and local governments figure it out for themselves. Of course, the way to do that is to eliminate the stupid Second Amendment or change the makeup of the Supreme Court, since the dispositive ruling by them took away states' rights in this regard.

Three: "See? These people want to take away your guns!"
True. Time to melt them down and repurpose that material to plowshares. Long past time.

My real question here is, What happened to the spirits of those who are so addicted to guns? What is wrong with these people's souls? What would Jesus do? Surely no one calling himself or herself a Christian would own a gun, an instrument which has one purpose, to kill or threaten to kill. Love your guns or love Christ, but the two are mutually exclusive. Make your choice.

At least the politicians are standing up--not. One did--Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York. Thank you, mayor. Perhaps a few more will buck the trend back toward Deadwood Gulch. Americans seem resigned to more guns, toward lawlessness. Perhaps America is just too sick to recover, but that hopelessness isn't an option. The gun lobby, the NRA, the armed Tea Party, may not care about the three-month-old baby who was shot in the movie theater, but more of us should wake up and get involved, get rid of these killing machines.

Friday, July 20, 2012

MIC chugging toward cliff

As he left office in January of 1961, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Now, having failed to listen, more than half a century later, the entire enterprise is rattling toward the fiscal cliff. This was sold to the American people as a way to settle the debate by making all cuts automatic, but, as usual, Congress built itself a back door big enough to wheel out fleets of bombers and their lucrative contracts. We are now re-entering the same stale and skewed debate as we have for a long time--where to cut the federal budget. And of course the ongoing connected debate about taxing the job creators, the economic terrorists beneficent elites who make more than $250,000 and should not be taxed or they won't hire anyone.

But thanks to the peace movement and its intellectual workers in various places, we are finally having an actual debate at some level. Military spending is considered fair game by more and more Americans, who are beginning to get a handle on the qualitative concepts behind quantitative shell games and fearmongering propaganda.

Afraid of bin Laden? Bush and Cheney could never quiiiiiiite manage to get him behind bars. Stay afraid! He might be in a cave or in your closet! Give us most of your tax dollars and we'll keep his Muslim moles from blowing up your office buildings. Shut up. We take no questions. What? Are you unpatriotic? Questions only aid and comfort the enemy and that makes you an enemy too. We do not distinguish.

Now, however, bin Laden is gone and al-Qa'ida is fading--not so much because of the incessant pounding they take from the American military (at a cost of $hundreds of billions per terrorist leader, the most inefficient approach ever devised), but because they alienate everyone around them. The only way to spruce up al-Qa'ida with locals and outraged Muslims all over the world is to do exactly what we have been doing--occupy other peoples' land, humiliate Muslims in their own countries, support the royals and militaristic governments who oppress them, and be sure to terrorize them with drones and other air power that kills far more little girls than terrorist operatives.

Military members often see this and wander out of the foreign entanglement bewilderness with ideas that seem remarkably close to those held by many in the peace movement. Still, the chickenhawks in Congress and the Tea Party push and push to sacralize the military budget with their tired old cliches: "Support the troops" and "Now is not the time to cut and run" and give it all over for "our brave men and women in uniform."

There is so much at stake now and the choices are stark and meaningful. The era of compromising so that the military-industrial complex can belch out a few high-paying jobs while we also have enough to help our most vulnerable is over. We are at the crossroads Eisenhower warned would come, when humanity is hanging from an iron cross of war, when every dollar spent on the guns is a direct theft from those in need. All elements of these wars are coming home, from poverty and exploitation to ecological ruination and violence, from loss of civil rights to a slashed and increasingly useless social safety net.

Let the MIC run over the edge of the fiscal cliff and hold back our children and working Americans. It is one or the other this time, and the war machine is going over sooner or later out of sheer unsustainability. But civil society is sustainable if we craft it right. We simply cannot sustain the war system and we either rise up and cut loose from it or we go over the fiscal cliff with it. Our choice.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


“Conflicts pursued constructively are creative and form a necessary means of bringing about change.” 
 --Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse and Hugh Miall (2011, p. 124)
Why do these authors make this claim, that constructive conflict management is creative? Of course it's because managing a conflict in a way that is constructive creates a solution that everyone can live with; managing a conflict with violence is not creating, it is destroying. 
Searching for what will give all parties to a conflict something so that they are better off in some way--even if they are also worse off in another way--is a very creative process. Gandhi pioneered this, MLK developed it further, and Happy 94th Birthday, Nelson Mandela! And it's a collaborative process, since the basis of all constructive conflict is a co-created agreement, which also means it's much more sustainable than an imposed solution that seems fair to an authority, or seems advantageous to the one with the guns or the money.

It is this basic fact that offers hope. Nonviolent solutions are the only ones that can do this. Nonviolence is creative and not destructive, tending to create more of the same. Violence creates nothing except increasingly grotesque ways to destroy and also tends to create more of the same.

Yesterday, in my capacity as editor for PeaceVoice, I sent out a piece by David Swanson on the struggles of a Minnesota woman to get her town, Little Falls, to stop harassing her about her lawn signs, which were about peace and justice. The editor of a small town paper in another state called such views 'naive and dangerous' in an email response to me. He cited "people in the Mideast" who didn't care about such views.

Actually, the naive ones are those who believe that our military is sustainable, that people in the Mideast will attack us if we leave them alone, that free speech should only be for those who support war, and that the ecology or economy can long sustain the general assault of the least creative method of managing conflict--war. Naive and dangerous indeed, as we have plainly seen. 

Our best hope is our creative and collaborative search for nonviolent solutions.

Ramsbotham, Oliver, Woodhouse, Tom, and Miall, Hugh (2011). Contemporary conflict resolution (3rd ed.). Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The lay of the land

Community organizers begin their work by conducting a thorough analysis of the targeted neighborhood, where they analyze patterns of informal relationships, avenues of communication, support networks, personal and political allegiances, and sources of conflict.
--Mary Ohmer & Karen DeMasi (2009, p. 131)
My friend Walter (pictured with Frank Koehn) was a good community organizer. Not perfect, but very good. He was also a charismatic public speaker, which sometimes greatly amplified his effective organizing and sometimes interfered with it (when he was occasionally angry his speeches caused some to draw back, as explained in the health care debate context by consensus organizer Michael Eichler). One thing he did remarkably well was develop and upkeep relationships, the hallmark of the best consensus organizers.

Walter was Red Cliff Anishinabe, from a reservation on a peninsula into Gitchii Guumi, Lake Superior, a peninsula geologically connected to the Apostle Islands, with a beautiful bedrock of red sandstone, easily carved by the power of the ice and water of the sweetwater sea. Walter was an artist, a writer, and a speaker, coming to his political work with all those forms of power arrayed around him. His sensibilities were tuned to protecting what was left because it was beautiful, valuable, and was the legacy of the Creator. 

The eye of an artist serving the needs of the community harnesses special powers. Some evoke that protectiveness that can help people decide to commit beyond reason because it evokes prospect theory. That is, we can be drawn into a state of fearing loss more than excited by gain, and we can be convinced by a brilliant community organizer that sacrificing something ourselves in the quest to preserve the best of our community--its beauty, its wholesomeness, its children, its life-sustaining essence--is a worthy bargain. Helen Caldicott did that for many people on an international basis, convincing us that our risks in opposing nuclear weapons were worthwhile. Walter did that for many of us in the far north of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, convincing us that the Original People have a sacred trust relationship to the land, that we all need to learn that, and that the air, waters and land are worth defending.

Part of the power of the charismatic is the ability to make us feel acknowledged and cared for, as though the power of the charismatic is all focused on us, even as individuals. That relational style can change lives, alter directions, deepen commitment and involvement. Once, back in the early 1980s, sitting in my jail cell for a few weeks for joining five others in climbing a fence at a navy nuclear command center, I wrote a piece making the connections between nuclear weapons and Third World poverty. After I was out, Walter asked me out for coffee. He said, "I read your piece. You know you made me cry." Any writer knows that if you hear a comment like that you will love that person at some level forever. Walter's been gone for 13 years and I still love the guy. He took that gift and made us all believe that we were real, that we were important, that our gifts were appreciated, and that he noticed and evaluated it all. 

Community organizing is a demanding profession and a challenge for an activist. Consensus organizing--the inclusion of disparate and not necessarily obvious partners--is the trickiest, but the most effective. I'm still learning from those I've known and will never be a master, but it is how we connect and pull together, so it is worthy and is the alternative to living in a world solely organized from the top down, a world of victims instead of players. Walter was a player and helped us all lace up and take the field with him. This is the necessity of good community organizing.


Ohmer, Mary L. & DeMasi, Karen (2009). Consensus organizing: A community development workbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.