Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nonviolent energy

Is there any relationship between the energy sources used by society and strategic nonviolence? That seems dubious, perhaps, to an average citizen who has no particular feelings about either, who pays no attention to either, and who neither seeks nor finds much information about either. Nonviolence? Most think Gandhi and King, quaint, from different times. Energy is just what we need to keep us moving along and we want it at a low price. Yes, there are some news stories about some controversies around energy issues, but the mainstream citizen is primarily regarded as a consumer first, a voter second, and in neither case is it in the interest of the elite-owner one-percent class to have the average person know much about either energy or nonviolence.

In his 2012 book, The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources, Michael Klare (p. 10) frames the picture as the elites and the captains of society might see it, that only scientists are warning about dire environmental consequences associated with fracking, tar sands, and other complex energy extraction technologies. The powerful people want it to happen. It all spells profit.

So how is that connected to strategic nonviolence?

Nonviolence, as understood by average folks and indeed many campaigners, is a moral witness, a personal obstruction of a morally objectionable practice, offered in resistance, based in conscience, unattached to results. The lack of attachment to results is a self-protective stance that helps activists avoid burnout as they lose again and again. But strategic nonviolence offers a way out of the hopelessness that informs the nonattachment by providing a different framework that resets the posture of strong campaigners toward victory.

Nonviolence was used again and again to oppose nuclear power, across the US and the world. It won sometimes and lost sometimes. The stories of victory, such as the shutdown of the Trojan nuclear power plant in Oregon, stand in contrast to the stories of defeat, such as Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, despite strong nonviolent opposition--even including the 1981 nonviolent civil resistance that resulted in a record 1,900 arrests.

Now we see much more nonviolent opposition to hydrocarbon extraction, transport, and burning. This is mostly related to the science that proves the anthropogenic causation of global warming and climate chaos. So we see hundreds arrested starting in 2011 in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, arrests in Michigan, Washington DC and other tar sands actions.
But will this nonviolent struggle win or lose? If all those arrests didn't stop Diablo Canyon, what needed to be different? How can climate change activists win now?

As we try to integrate the theory and practice of conflict resolution into strategic nonviolence we can see a strengthening of both and that more robust practice can help design a more winning series of campaigns. Some of the elements:
  • Use nonviolent resistance as a BATNA, a best alternative to a negotiated agreement, which means that you constantly ask to negotiate. This is in stark contrast to many years of civil resistance offered as an end in itself. Get to the table. Develop a dialog, a partnership, with your adversary. Talk is cheap and cheap is good when you create your cost-benefit analysis, isn't it?
  • Design each campaign to be winnable in months, not years or decades. The goals that take longer are movements. Long campaigns usually suffer recruitment losses and success gets elusive. Winnable means reducing the stated immediate goal, increasing capacity, or both. Winning in increments is ultimately faster than losing big for long periods.
  • Develop multiple prongs. Speakers should be educating the public in any available venue. Lawyers should be filing briefs, lawsuits, and motions. Entertainers should be holding benefits to raise consciousness and resources. Citizens and professional organizers should be lobbying elected officials. Media workers should be flooding mainstream, alternative, and social media platforms with information. Volunteers should be phone banking and canvassing door-to-door. Officials should be called upon to hold public hearings and organizers should hold them if politicians or agency people won't. Start letter writing and petition campaigns. Push push push in all arenas.
Victory is totally possible and totally depends on "the people." The elite absolutely rely on maintaining that false image of a bubble of invincibility. Pop it. Show yourself and others that you have an alternative form of energy--people power. Go win.


Klare, Michael T. (2012). The race for what’s left. New York, NY: Metropolitan.

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