Thursday, May 31, 2012

Nonviolence is the future

As Pope Paul VI asserted on January 1, 1972:
If you want peace,
work for justice.
The Occupy movement largely failed to create an identity group of the 99 percent in the US, and instead, ironically, often succeeded in pushing middle class citizens into supporting the status quo. Sigh. If you want justice, create a sympathetic image. That's my corollary to PPVI's New Year's aphorism.

We know about the US income and wealth inequalities. What about Earth?
Three areas—North America, Europe and the rich Asia-Pacific (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand)—own 88 percent of global household wealth.
(Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, & Miall, p. 418).

This leaves Latin America, Africa, the so-called Sub-Continent, and the Middle East (even including oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Iran) sharing just 12 percent of global household wealth. As long as this disparity exists, are we surprised that the Southern Cone has "gone socialist" (except Colombia, whose citizens are still terrorized by paramilitaries from right and left and by their own US-supplied military)? Is it news to us that all societies in the Middle East and most of them in Africa are staunchly anti-US? Some are Islamist, but that is in many cases more of an identity refuge than a real ultimate goal. If people feel oppressed and cheated, they will assert some serious identity just to feel self-respect.

The world is awash in weapons, the US military is clearly incapable of enforcing the US economic advantage much longer as asymmetric struggle (both violent and nonviolent) is gaining in ability to create impasse or even victory over the US or US-backed regimes that have guaranteed the flow of profits to US corporations for decades. Our new role on Earth is undefined, but nonviolence will need to be central to it or we will continue to decline, not just in material wealth, but in willing partners. 

We can wait until it's on top of us or we can begin to change now, proactively. We can choose to lose or we can win alongside everyone else. If a superpower develops strategic nonviolence, it will clearly be by choice. The secret is, this would be the wise choice, the choice of a citizenry with enlightened self-interest.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The nonviolent consumer

The sale of booty futures is a tool of the weak against the strong: it helps to fund groups that are too poor or too feeble to capture territory on their own and might otherwise be forced to surrender. 
Michael Ross (2003, p. 32)
From coltan to oil to gemstones and more, the discovery of merchantable natural resources in a country is regarded as great news. Exports, cash from abroad, jobs and infrastructure--this is progress.

Unfortunately, war profiteers frequently intercede, selling or providing (for future favors, including debt bondage) weapons in exchange for cheap raw materials. Warlords or dictators take the weapons, seize the land, treat laborers like slaves, pollute with impunity, and steal all the profits while ruining the indigenous lifeways. This is a common story, from Afghanistan to Sudan, Angola to Colombia, and on and on.

What does a peaceloving person do about this?

There are many suggestions made by Ross and others who helped construct the World Bank study on natural resources and violence. Most have to do with transparency, trade legitimacy verification and other supranational agency initiatives. And indeed, in 2009 legislation was introduced, killed in committee, and then added to another bill that passed in 2010 about the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular, and the Securities and Exchange Commission implemented rules to enforce the law, which requires conflict mineral auditing and reportage for materials coming from the DRC. Nice start--now go global with that sort of transparency. There are two more things Americans in particular can do to mitigate this general problem.

One, lobby relentlessly against any and all US arms exports. Period. Stop treating arms like rewards, which is what Obama did by shipping more guns to South Sudan (as if two million dead Sudanese wasn't enough). Just like legal domestic sales of arms, many quickly go underground. Sanctions against rogues and warlords are easily circumvented by the tsunami of weapons sloshing from sea to sea in containers and flying through the air in cargo planes. Stop it. Stop giving and selling weapons to 'friends' and anyone else. Make it a campaign issue. Quit pumping gasoline on the fires of war. Support any legislation that curbs or bans arms sales to anyone.

Two, consume much less new stuff. Go, Goodwill, go! Take a little while to go saling, as they say, in neighborhood garages and yards. Rummage at the thrift stores and churches. Check out Craig's List for those treasures that others have already purchased new. Buy locally made goods out of local natural resources when you can. Buy conflict-free products every chance you get. Bike, bus, and walk. The connections between oil and arms continues to devastate so many. Conflict oil, indeed, is a redundancy.

Ross, Michael (2003). The natural resource curse: How wealth can make you poor. In Ian Bannon and Paul Collier (Eds.). Natural resources and violent conflict: Options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Riding together

I’m a passenger riding on Interstate 5 in southern Oregon, heading from Grants Pass to Portland. It is Memorial Day and the freeway is humming along, the forests are thick and green, and we are well fed and headed home after a weekend in the California Redwoods, looking forward to our work—in the case of the adults—and to school, for the seven-year-old. Everything is right; what could be wrong?

The world’s powers are in a race to control, own, access, exploit, and sell the remaining fossil fuel, strategic minerals and  every last of the increasingly scarce and commensurately expensive natural resources in every corner of the planet.

In the US in particular, the economy is so hollowed out from military overspending that a crash is coming that will make Bush’s fiscal diving act of 2008 look like a tiny warm up.

Global warming is producing bigger storms, melting glaciers, weird droughts in places that don’t normally have them, floods in places that never have them, rising seas, vanishing polar caps, and a land grab by the oceans that will drown more lowland and ports than can be handled by a more crowded mass of hungry humans.

The countervailing trends are in motion too.

The car I’m riding in is getting 54 mpg and up. More of these are on order than can be fulfilled by Toyota and as efficiency is achieved so will economic success for any corporation or nonprofit that develops it.

In my town, Portland, Oregon, there are sometimes signs in yards in the middle of frontyard gardens that identify the yard as part of cooperating with a Food Not Yards effort. The gardens with the signs are probably being worked by some neighbor who wants space to garden and doesn’t have it. The owner of the house probably has no time or desire to garden. Together they can share and each gets more. Less gets shipped, less sprayed with poisons, less packaged with landfill plastic.

Americans want an end to the occupation of Afghanistan. We are sick of the bottomless pit of corruption and death we have helped to create in that poor country.

Americans would prefer a society with less inequality and a smaller gap between rich and poor, with a larger middle class.

Alternative energy and alternative institutions are on the rise. They are developing capacity to replace old dead-ender paths.

Finally, finally, Americans get that the military budget is the problem, not the solution. This is despite a relentless battering of propaganda from the war profiteers and their agents in the publicity business (aka the media).

So we’ll see if peace, equality and care for the Earth prevails. The race is on. One side is life and one is death. Opinions are changing, but opinions are not enough. Action is required. Voting is not enough; indeed, voting is the mere icing on the cake of real, robust, functioning democracy. Work on your part of this puzzle at least a little bit every day and a lot on many days. This is for you if you are young and if you are old then you are doing it for your children, grandchildren, and the unborn. I'm old and should just take the rocking chair, but that seven-year-old needs a bright future and my work is never done--and neither is yours, if there is a little one you care about.

No one can take your place. Together, rewiring toward collaboration, we can learn to think in new ways and open new possibilities for problem-solving without killing and stealing. From Gandhi all the way forward to Arab Spring, we are seeing more Hebbian Learning, that is, if our thinking is fired together, it's wired together. Nonviolence is going viral and is our best chance. Piaget started us thinking about how children can develop as individuals and as society. We see this sort of societal constructivism and we need more.

Tomorrow I will return to my carless life of biking or riding mass transit, gardening and political activism. The Redwoods and wide blue Pacific ocean and the company of a mother and precious child all reinvigorate my intentions because I see how much we have to lose. Not on my watch. Not on ours. Let’s fix this.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Walking the talk: Lawrence Wittner as activist intellectual

On August 4 [2004], together with a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster, I addressed a gaggle of reporters from the Asahi Shimbun and other major [Japanese] newspapers, who probed my thoughts on the current state of the nuclear disarmament movement. (If only the U.S. press showed a fraction of their interest!).
--Lawrence S. Wittner (2012, p. 228)
Lawrence S. Wittner is a name you recognize if you've read much of anything in the scholarly literature about the history of anti-nuclear movements worldwide from the beginning of the nuclear age. Or you may know his name if you've read about US foreign policy. On the other hand, you could be familiar with his name if you've read histories of peace movements. There is also a strong chance you've read a historical analysis commentary of his in the media, either alternative or mainstream. Wittner is a serious historian whose working class roots and Russian/Polish Jewish heritage gave him a strong sympathy for those who have been persecuted and exploited. These sympathies may be felt by many academics but Wittner's history is one of putting his activism and public utterances in front of those who were in a position to harm him professionally. His story is one of a person of serious intellectual capacity whose career was pushed and pulled aside and around by those in the academy whose allegiance is to the status quo rather than to academic freedom or peace and justice education.

Over the years I've benefited from Wittner's scholarship and his translation of academese into plainly understandable writing. His latest book, now that he is emeritus and 71 years old (Happy Birthday May 5, Dr. Wittner!, a Cinco de Mayo serendipity day), is his memoir, a delightful and typically Wittnerian volume in some ways, and an outlier from his oeuvre in others. He is thoroughly profession in his familial research all the way back to three generations before him in the persecuted Jewish communities in Poland and Russia to his New York immediate family roots, digging up historical data that grounds his story in a solid societal and cultural fashion.

From his early days at Colombia to Madison, Wisconsin, to his Ph.D. in history from Colombia University at age 26, his academic career was increasing golden, but he had the professionally maladaptive habit of publicly speaking and writing from his conscience about peace and justice issues. This kept him on the move, unable to gain tenure for a long time indeed, and when he was grudgingly awarded what was long overdue it was at a backwater university, the State University of New York-Albany, where he remained until retirement. Had he been about self-aggrandizing careerism his foreign policy writing would have served US corporate and national interests, instead of favoring peace and justice for all. His activities would have served the Rand Corporation instead of local labor unions and anti-apartheid activities, just to name a couple of his unpaid challenger movement activities.

The book reads like a novel with occasional dryly mordant wit and the rare but interesting account of some of the internal academic struggles that reveal how petty many of us in that world can be. At times Wittner names names, but sometimes uses pseudonyms. He is modest where he should be and frank about his capacities where he needs to be (e.g. noting his nonathletic skill set but his intellectual abilities). He lets his commitment, conscience, and heart speak for themselves.

If you are a writer, a teacher, an activist, or aspire to any of these, I recommend this memoir. It is a blunt and revealing look not just at a life of the mind impacted by a life of the conscience, it shows a great deal about our subcultures and dominant culture through these lenses.


Wittner, Lawrence S. (2012). Working for peace and justice: Memoirs of an activist intellectual. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Command and control of our national discourse

The DoD’s five regional centers for strategic studies are of critical importance to the US military apparatus, and are a direct intellectual and strategic advisory support to the now six regional unified commands. They regularly produce a wide range of reports and strategy recommendations. NESA staff members, for example, have published a prolific array of materials since the founding of the institute in 2000 (Lawrence 2008). Their academic productions reflect an evidently broad strategy in targeting different audiences, ranging from monographs, book chapters and conference papers, to security journal articles, military briefing papers, and mainstream op-eds and commentaries. This is hardly surprising of course; the DoD, after all, has been fully versed in the power and import of discourse for some time.
--John Morrissey, Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland  (p. 442)
From CENTCOM (motto: We own the oil) to NORTHCOM (motto: Mother of all launch platforms) to AFRICOM (motto: Just when you thought the colonial era was over) to EUCOM (motto: Nice place for a tactical nuclear war) to PACOM (motto: Rule, America, America rule the seas) to SOUTHCOM (motto: Hola, hand over your resources) to STRATCOM (motto: Crear dos, tres, muchos Darth Vaders), the imperialist agenda of US-based corporate culture could not easily sustain itself without a shadow army of intellectuals exerting their expertise first in an honestly imperial manner to each other and to political and military commanders, but then in a different way to the public. It's called propaganda.

The creation and growth of the rightwing militaristic pro-predatory capitalist intelligentsia is well known. Special university chairs--endowed with funds and an ideological agenda--and rightwing think tanks, as well as individual professors and 'independent' researchers, all produce the data and recommendations that help guide imperial actions, but they also reconfigure their rationale into justifications that resonate with the general public.

Thus we have the spread of democracy, humanitarian interventions, right to protect, defense of freedom, war on terror, war on drugs, free trade, human rights, and other laudable goals co-opted to serve an agenda for the owner class, the corporate control elite, also known as the conflict industry. These are the people who get rich off of others' misery and tell us through their academic shills and prostitutes that they are patriots.

Blunting that endowed onslaught isn't easy. We have needed to create alternative media, social media, and our own distribution attempts to mainstream Americans in order to begin to change the national discourse. We are overmatched in every respect. Taxpayers are forced to fund the Pentagon, which spends more on messaging and propaganda than it spends in military aid to Israel--close to $5B per year. That money, added to corporate and wealthy donor support for the military industrial complex, can buy some of the smartest intellectual firepower. It can even sidetrack conscience. Many academics who knew better in the late 2002-early 2003 timeframe said nothing to mainstream Americans about the Big Lies leading to the invasion of Iraq. Many of those peace educators knew they risked getting fired if they spoke out too publicly and they weren't ready for that risk.

So we continue to slide toward war with Iran and we hope US academic smartypants will jump in and say the obvious, describe the stupidity and clearly unjustifiable nature of that idea, and help cause public opinion to shift strongly against such a disastrous policy play. Some spoke up last time about Iraq, just as some spoke out against the US military in Vietnam. Some have spoken for a long time and have kept that flame lit. We hope and we help.


Lawrence J D (2008) Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies: Building
relationships, enhancing security. Joint Force Quarterly 50:105–108.

John Morrissey (2011). Architects of Empire: The Military–Strategic Studies  Complex and the Scripting of US National Security. Antipode, 43(2) 435–470. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00774.x

Up against the wall: Unindicted profiteers for war crimes and crimes against humanity

War is crime.

When my father graduated from high school at age 17 he rushed to volunteer for WW II and fought in the South Pacific, in the US navy, stationed in the Philippines.

When I was 17 I was involved in the antiwar movement--and so was my father. We radicalized together and both of us came to the view that war is crime. He supported my peace activism and my slow conversion to nonviolence.

The evidence continues to amass that war is not just a crime, but it is the worst way to manage conflict. The war that radicalized my father and me is still claiming casualties, and I don't mean hoary old US vets finally succumbing to Agent Orange cancers--they've already done that by the thousands. I lifted one of them--my long-gone brother-in-law suffering miserably with more than 40 inoperable tumors--onto his deathbed in 1995. Those cancers take 5-25 years to develop and the Wall in Washington would need to be doubled in size if we wanted all US war mortalities carved in that stone.
But a Wall to memorialize all the war dead from Vietnam would need to be at least 60 times larger than that. Vietnamese were killed too, and continue to be killed, many of them born long after the end of the war. Like the legends of Japanese soldiers hiding in caves in remote South Pacific islands long after the end of WWII, unexploded US ordnance fights on, often located near the surface of the Earth in fields in that agricultural land, and continues to kill farmers, children, and animals. Those old devices are predicted to continue killing for up to 300 years. Little immortal war criminals sold to the US by patriotic corporations at high rates of profit. War is in the interest of the ruling class, not the rest of us. When Occupy sees that root of the problem, perhaps we can really Occupy the Pentagon and Occupy the War Profiteer Corporations. Sign me up.

Time to evolve. Nonviolent conflict management is humankind's next great step. Hypothetical exercises are interesting--name me a human conflict and I will construct a justification for violence on the part of all conflict parties or I will construct a nonviolent plan to manage the conflict--but the real costs of war and the preparation for war are simply misery for the masses and opulence for the war profiteers.

Step one: Outlaw war profiteering. Make all Pentagon contractors nonprofits. Take the profit out of war and start societies where crime doesn't pay.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My issues! Read all about 'em!

Activists have now devolved to the point in the US where they claim to be in the streets about an issue but instead of knowing about, discussing, or focusing on the issue, they immediately claim victim status and only focus on how the police are treating poor poor them. This is clear in Chicago right now, where NATO is meeting, where protesters and cops are filling the streets, and where the protesters can only talk about the cops, not NATO.
Oh, the police are so rough on me! All I did was call them pigs, give them the finger, scream at them from behind my mask and chant! I am the issue! My issues! Read all about 'em! I am utterly innocent, I play no productive role in society, I contribute nothing to democracy, but everyone should only worry about ME ME ME!

The babies who were killed by NATO bombs in Afghanistan? How boring. The NATO failures in the Balkans, from bombing civilians to ignoring genocide? That's old news. NATO is sucking up all the political air in the geopolitical room and all the militaries of NATO military alliance countries are driving a global recession? How can that possibly be nearly as interesting as the bruise on my arm from the cops!?

Over the years I've been given more than 30 stitches in the face from cops, a broken nose from deputies, and in my feckless youth I was charged twice with assaulting officers. Like any immature activist, it took me a while to develop a life philosophy that went beyond the narcissism of the Bill Ayres/Bernadine Dohrn sort. My time in numerous jails and three prisons isn't something I'm whining about however. That time was used to offer resistance to a war system, not to engage in running fake battles with irate cops who were all too happy to teach me who was rougher. I took the field, made some mistakes, took some lumps, and may take more in the future. But to the extent we as activists get all caught up in promoting the story of our own suffering at the hands of law enforcement, we drop the ball for the vulnerable ones we are supposed to be defending when we fill the streets.

OK, I'll stop here. My point, I hope, is made. I learned years ago that I'd rather work with the cops to allow them to help me exercise my First Amendment rights. Most of them actually want to when they are approached like actual human beings. What a concept. If we want to transform the war system, let's do it rather than taunting the cops and then acting outraged when they lose their humanity and pound the snot out of us.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sort the wars--and stop them

Interstate conflicts are conflicts between states. Ethnonational conflicts are conflicts to determine the identity of the state. Ideological-government conflicts are conflicts to decide the nature of the state. Economic-factional conflict are conflicts to control the resources of the state.
--Oliver Rambotham, Tom Woodhouse, & Hugh Miall (2012, p. 415)

I have students who come to class sure that there is one underlying reason for war and that all other reasons are secondary. "It's all about religion." "Underneath all the wars are the competition for resources." "You'll always find basic ideology at the root of all war, even if the players are proxies."
But wars are each uniquely caused and uniquely tragic. Each are uniquely avoidable.

The field of Peace and Conflict Studies has enough of a research base now to offer the problem-solver a hypothetical path toward nonviolent management of all conflicts. This was not true in the past--we had to rely on philosophy and values and our own ideologies, none of which were ever going to produce replicable results in the real world. But now, thanks to social sciences, historians, and brave peaceworkers in many societies, there is a corpus of case studies, narratologies, quantitative research and other knowledge that allows us to construct a hypothetical prevention strategy for any likely war.

This, of course, begs the questions, why don't more of us know about this, why doesn't Congress seem to understand this, and why aren't the experts being sourced by policymakers and mainstream media? Americans are looking for hope, hoping for alternatives, and have now finally achieved a majority opinion to end the occupation of Afghanistan and reduce the grotesquely bloated military budget. But where are the policymakers who can deliver on these desires?

They will come around. It is going to be like Abba Eban predicted about the Israel Palestine conflict, that the parties will do the right thing--after they've exhausted all the other alternatives. The key to progress is to get more peace expert voices into the public conversation earlier and earlier, offering other choices. Imagine that in the 1980s, when the US helped lure the Soviets into invading Afghanistan, when the US then gave military aid to Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the other mujahedeen, and then when the US engineered a 1990 Saddam sucker punch by helping to lure them into Kuwait, fed lies to the Saudi royals to convince them to allow US soldiers into Saudi Arabia, and then rolled into war on Iraq followed by a decade of killer sanctions. Peace educators were aware then of the alternatives, many of which would have prevented that long sad chain of events that helped ultimately produce the invasion of Iraq in 2003 justified by a pack of lies.

We never had the moral margin to kill innocents. Now we have no more economic margin for the endless waste of the Pentagon war machine. It is long past time to insist that mainstream media access the peace experts whenever conflict is in the news. The potential savings are massive.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Just say no NATO

Thousands are gathering in Chicago and today is the start of official protests against the official NATO summit. What are some objections to NATO and what are alternatives?

NATO is not a body for governance, yet it acts like one. Rather than intervention in world affairs by a military alliance--which is all NATO is--we should be intervening with nonviolence, as envisaged by Richard Falk, Johan Galtung, Elise Boulding, John Burton, Edward Azar, and other founders of the field of Conflict Resolution (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, & Miall, 2011, p. 399).

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. It was in part a response to the Berlin blockade and in some ways marked the official beginning of the Cold War. It used all the models of war, demonstrated the dominance of military thinking, and, sure enough, prompted the formation of the enemy, the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact in 1955. The Cold War was in full frenzy.

Meanwhile, the Conflict Resolution field was just forming, taking its mission from a variety of problems and potential solutions. The problems included 500 years of colonialism, the Nazis and their genocidal rampage with the collaboration of the most highly educated people in the world at that time--the German citizenry, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the willingness and ability of humankind to threaten planet death, as though that were sane), and the nascent Cold War battle for global hegemony by two command-and-control systems, East and West, dictatorial communism or predatory capitalism behind a fig leaf of 'democracy.' No other field has attempted any brief so audaciously, so systemically, or with such a scope of problem-solving. Is it any wonder we revere our founders and continue their work with hope for success for humankind?

NATO is the old guard, the ancien régime of human thought, based on destruction or the threat of destruction. NATO is ripe for dissolution. It bombs and invades, drone-kills and violates sovereignty, and arrogates unto itself this right to kill. It justifies the slaughter of Afghan children by pointing to how bad the Taliban is, while the Taliban justifies insurgency and terrorism by pointing to foreigners attempting, yet again, to rule Afghanistan. NATO kills in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other places which it unilaterally decides are harboring enemies of any of the now 28 members of the military alliance, but most specifically the capitalist system centered in the US.

The alternatives are many, but combining the nongovernmental and supranational nonviolent interventions, geared toward reducing, remedying, and replacing the structural inequities that largely prompt insurgent violence and terrorism--that is what Conflict Resolution researches and practices.

So we have some choices. Thank you to all nonviolent activists who are in Chicago right now, urging us all to make the choice to end military alliances, including NATO, and explore different methods of seeking true security based on a global community instead of a global military contest that kills the Earth, humans, and life. Those who maintain nonviolence will further the cause and those who mistakenly use violence or even property destruction in the middle of mass action will not help. A wise humankind will choose to dismantle NATO and use nonviolence to address all our problems. NATO is the past, and if we want a future, we will choose a different way forward.


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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Moving the needle

The United States of America, the only nation to ever drop nuclear bombs on anyone, has more than 6,000 live, locked and loaded thermonuclear weapons, most far larger than the two bombs that killed two cities in Japan, all on sophisticated delivery systems that can be programmed to annihilate any country on Earth immediately and wreck the global environment for geological time spans.
Israel has at least 300 nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to all its regional opponents minimally and almost certainly has backpack nuclear capacity to deliver nuclear bombs with hyper accuracy to any opponent anywhere.

Iran has zero nuclear weapons.

So, who is under credible mortal threat? Iran, even though that country has nary a single nuke. US officials from Obama to H Clinton and so forth are clamoring all over themselves to make these military threats, the sort of stick-in-the-eye that will cause misjudgments and escalates chances for stupid disasters. Iran's diplomats call these sorts of threats "mistakes" and they are exactly correct. Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu calls Iran insincere. That's rich, coming from the nation with the most secret nuclear weapons ever, even if it's an open secret.

From a basic conflict transformation standpoint, there is a clear need to search for, find, and push the reset button with Iran. The US has grossly interfered with Iran far more than Iran ever interfered with the US. Name a US leader who was deposed by Iran. You cannot. But all Iranians know that the US and UK overthrew their democratically elected leader and installed their own puppet. This is not ancient colonial history; all this is in the span of my lifetime (OK, I'm old, but my point is this is living history, not generations past, for Iranians). Mohammed Mossedegh was elected, was overthrown by the Brits and the CIA in 1953, and the totally unelected royals were installed for 27 brutal years before the nonviolent revolution that get our puppet, the Shah, out and, for better or worse, ushered in the theocracy that Iranians can at least call their own. The US has so thoroughly undermined democracy in the Middle East that the hypocrisy needle is all the way over, spiked at maximum, and all Iranians still fester about this.

Now, as part of the NDAA, this language is official US policy:
"It shall be the policy of the United States to take all necessary measures, including military action if required, to prevent Iran from threatening the United States, its allies or Iran's neighbors with a nuclear weapon."
This is a new step, almost a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or an October 2002 vote to authorize war before the hoax even occurs. It is Congress saying, basically, don't come to us with more lies seeking permission to blast Iran--we give up right now. Go ahead whenever the mood hits you. How did your representative vote on this new low, this war-encrusted pork barrel for war profiteers giving up democratic rights, fiscal probity and peaceful intent?

Worst of all is that nonviolence offers sustainable, equitable solutions to these conflicts, but nonviolence cannot favor the one percent, so it is largely ignored until people bypass official methods and 'go native.' Nonviolence is an indigenous, grassroots method of hope. Nukes are despair. We have not chosen wisely.

Friday, May 18, 2012

American activists and the art of self-sabotage

A certain degree of revolutionary romanticism exists among some American progressives.
          --David Cortright (2009, p. 112)

This week thousands of activists are protesting the NATO summit in Chicago, and with excellent reason, as NATO continues to act like the US-driven global hegemon, stepping on sovereignty of other nations and side-stepping civil society bodies such as UN. But how will the protesters fare? Will they win our hearts and minds or irritate most Americans?
One perennial and legitimate question that bothers and challenges social activists is, Am I working to achieve change at the right level? If we win this campaign to defeat an expensive weapon system but we fail to change the American pattern of consumerism and exploitation, did we really do any good?

Yes, we did. A nonexistent weapon system cannot be part of forcing people in other lands to work for poverty wages. If it never gets built it cannot pollute our groundwater at the various stages of manufacture, component by component, ecological niche by niche. The money that would have been poured into that weapon system can be used to provide healthcare, environmental clean up, alternative energy infrastructure and jobs--or it can remain unspent and not contributing to the massive military-caused national debt.

A very different and unhelpful question bothers and controls a certain percentage of activists, which is, Am I radical enough in deed and reputation? All too often, the concern for actual victory--which is usually achieved by lots of strategic planning and a great deal of hard organizing and careful outreach and mobilization work--comes in a distant second to the careful creation and maintenance of a revolutionary romantic image. Power fists, screaming at the cops, wearing menacing looking radical accoutrement--masks, black, tattoos, fierce piercings, spiky everything--this shows my true revolutionary character, my radical thinking, my obviously superior stance. Trashing cop cars and store windows is on the road to extremely cool revolution. Indeed, the scarier I appear, the more cred I have with those who count--all the other highly individualistic souls who dress and gesture nearly identically. 

Why didn't Cesar Chavez think of that? Where was Gandhi when they passed out the masks? Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were sadly lacking in face metal. And those kids in Serbia--they didn't even call the cops pigs.

Oh, that's right, Chavez started the United Farm Workers successfully. The nonviolent Civil Rights movement went on a decade-long winning streak. The Serb kids in Otpur ("Resistance) toppled Slobodan Milosevic. They all won.

And the movements featuring masks and window-smashing generally lose. But losing only makes us angrier, more full of smash-and-dash righteous rage. So let's stick with the romance of radicalism. Winning is for losers.

So we'll see which way it goes. If that movement can create and defend its image to appeal to all of us, they will win sooner rather than later. Working with media can help and while Fox News is impenetrable, the goal should be to get friendly with media and get friendly with average folks. Stop the self-sabotage. Get in it to win it.
Cortright, David (2009). Gandhi and beyond: Nonviolence for a new political age. (2nd ed.) Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.