Thursday, February 27, 2014

End poverty or I'll shoot!

Hard times, hard times come again no more...

Ending extreme poverty (starving, sick, homeless without a social safety net) on Earth, said Jeffrey Sachs, could be done for about $175 billion per year for 20 years, after which humankind could work on garden variety poverty.

The 34 nations of the The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) could handle this by devoting a small percentage of their gross domestic products to this world-changing project. Of course that 34 includes some sketchy ones, such as Italy.
The US could handle it by eliminating nuclear weapons and overseas military bases and bring US military members home to defend the US (for those who like a violent defense). Nuclear weapons themselves are not so expensive--a "mere" $11 billion per year--but their delivery systems are ginormously costly to research, develop, procure, and operate and plans to spend much more, not less, on more and more nukes. Each Trident submarine costs about $3 billion, plus $77 million to maintain each year. Each B61 bomb costs more than 1.5 times its weight in gold. Virginia-class cruise missile-carrying submarines (30 planned) are more than $2.7 billion each, plus operational $50 million annually each. Overseas military bases and operations run more than $90 billion annually (not including warfighting supplements, which were many hundreds of $billions each year from 2002 until the Iraq drawdown).
The US could simply whack the $175 billion from the total military budget in some way that matched what the American people felt was appropriate. Look at it and see what you think:

Really, are we better off trying to be boss of the world or maybe earning the love and gratitude of humankind? We cannot do both. The legacy of the US military right now is generations of radicalized Muslims hoping for revenge, general antipathy from the Americas south of Texas, the greatest contributor to global climate chaos, the largest number of Superfund sites, and a flood of US weaponry fueling conflict everywhere. What if we turned off all those spigots and ended extreme poverty instead on planet Earth? Think it would make a difference? Think folks might notice? Think we'd feel better? Think your God would be happy?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Justice v reality and the nonviolent fix

In 1837, 1842, and 1854 the Anishinabe (Ojibwe, or Chippewa) chiefs signed a series of peace treaties with the encroaching hegemonic US government. Those treaty rights all gave up a great deal of land to the US, reserved some land for the tribes, and reserved usufructuary rights for tribal members. Of course these rights were immediately abrogated. Seven generations later, two college kids from the Lac Court Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin conducted a civil resistance action, fishing off-reservation but in the ceded territory protected by those treaties. They were cited and they took that case to court, winning eventually in 1983, in a case that legally reaffirmed those treaty rights. Tribal members were still not able to practice those rights because the state was obstructing them and the white citizens obstructed them. So the tribes began a campaign to openly practice those fishing rights and were met with virulent racism.

It took three years of disciplined nonviolent action by tribal members to finally win the hearts and minds of the people of the state and the elected officials. So the law might have been on the books, but it took a great deal of direct action and nonviolent persistent public action to finally conjoin the law with reality. Nonviolence fixed it.

In 1960 the college kids in Nashville, Tennessee conducted a sit-in campaign to bring local and state laws into compliance with federal laws. They won. Nonviolence fixed it.

In 1961 the college kids from across the south joined the Freedom Rides with others who "proposed to send an integrated team of activists rolling across the South on commercial bus lines, to have them test compliance with a recent Supreme Court ruling that required the desegregation of interstate buses and terminals" (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000, p. 329). It was a rough campaign, with many beatings and arrests. They won. Nonviolence fixed it.

One of the components of each of these struggles was the discipline of the nonviolent activists, coupled with the open oppression by the racists. These public actions showed the contrast between the demonstrating victims and the hate and violence of the oppressors. It created backfire, which helped lead to victory. There were efforts on the part of the brutal oppressors to squelch the backfire through the methods found in Brian Martin's research:
1. Cover up the action or situation.
2. Devalue the target.
3. Reinterpret what happened.
4. Use official channels that give the appearance of justice.
5. Intimidate or bribe people involved. (2007, p. 206)

In all these cases, the campaigns for justice were able to counter the five methods attempted by the oppressors. This was done by a combination of nonviolent discipline and competent messaging.

Perception thus becomes reality, and reality catches up to the law, but only via education, training, courage and persistence. Nonviolence makes the law worth more than the paper on which it's written.

Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Martin, Brian (2007). Justice ignited: The dynamics of backfire. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Robocops love roboresisters

In his studies of the 'Lucifer Effect,' Philip Zimbardo finds that anonymity is a concomitant to evil. In other words, if we feel anonymous, we more easily access our inner devil and can feel more disinhibited in our conduct, more likely to engage in evil behavior.

How does this work out for those who might like to run a nonviolent campaign?
There are two essential conditions for a backfire. First, something occurs that some people think is unjust, unfair, disproportionate, disgusting, disquieting, or upsetting...The second essential condition for backfire is communication to receptive audiences. This can be by directly witnessing the event or via reports, photos, and the like.
--Brian Martin, 2007, pp. 205-206
When riot geared-up police beat down nonviolent, peaceful protesters, that is often communicated to a public that becomes upset and supportive of the protesters. The face masks and thickly protective padded riot uniforms elicit the pejorative "robocops."

When resisters in Guy Fawkes or V for Vendetta Anonymous masks, or face-covering bandanas run through protests and fling a few rocks or bottles at the cops, that is also often communicated to a public that then becomes upset.

So the link between disinhibited behavior that can be regarded as evil and the backfire effect that erodes public support are linked and apply equally to everyone. This is usually lost on protesters who are so convinced of their correctness that they believe anything is justified. Those are the ones who usually descry nonviolence as a waste at best and in service of the state at worst. They can corrode all public sympathy for a movement and retard forward progress until they are dealt with.

Even if the movement has successes with this radical flank, that anonymity-driven evil will interfere with gains.

 We see that right now in Ukraine, with the violent fascists smearing the reputation of the vast majority of nonviolent activists. Russia has an excuse to pull a promised fiscal bailout as a result and the general hue and cry is that the violent fascists proves the backing of the US and EU, clearly a plot hatched by the West. This takes away the idea of agency of the people of Ukraine, but it's a handy conspiracy idea for those who love those sorts of conspiracies. Thanks, rightwing fascists!

There is no substitute for accountability and transparency. Open identification helps all movements to establish movement identification as nonviolent and noncombatant, something to support, or at least protect. Why would we toss that advantage away?


Martin, Brian (2007). Justice ignited: The dynamics of backfire. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pushback against nonviolence

For those of us who advocate nonviolence, we get pushback all the time, which comes from a variety of sources.

  • Students who are products of standard curriculum, which is often utterly bereft of any meaningful information on nonviolence.
  • Members of the public who are products of a media saturated in violence as the ultimate solution to everything short of gum disease (even then...?).
  • Ultra rightwingers who know that violence is the only man-up way to handle conflict. They are often countryfolk. 
  • Ultra leftwingers who are more enamored of street violence than actual victory. They are often city/suburban folk.
Ironically, I get less pushback from many military vets, especially those who have seen combat. Most of the romance of violence is gone for them. They are much more likely to support a violent defense of the country and less excited about supporting foreign adventures. For decades I've suspected much of the pushback I get is from those outside the four groups listed above, people who might actually see that nonviolence has worked perfectly but are too afraid to step up so they instead construct rationalizations for their disavowal of nonviolence. Hey--it does take work and it can be risky. Some folks like the self-justified mask over indolence or cowardice. My challenge to them is that I have a long history of effective nonviolent activism and I am the most indolent and cowardly dude ever!

So how tricky is this? Gene Sharp wrote:

Nonviolent struggle does not require acceptance of a new political doctrine or of a new moral or religious belief. In political terms, nonviolent action is based on a very simple insight: people do not always do what they are told to do, and sometimes they do things that they have been forbidden to do. Subjects may disobey laws they reject. Workers may halt work, which may paralyze the economy. The bureaucracy may refuse to carry out instructions. Soldiers and police may become lax in inflicting repression or even mutiny. When all these events happen simultaneously, the power of the rulers weakens and can dissolve. 
So we can see that society has constituencies worthy of focus. First, however, do no harm. Be certain the general image of your campaign is sympathetic and non-alienating. That needs to be maintained or much of the other work will falter. Recruitment generally involves three major steps:

1. Gaining sympathy
Understand what your constituencies want that you can frame so they will understand that this is what you want. Point to those who are suffering and can elicit the most sympathy. Be completely nonviolent so you don't commit infractions that lose sympathy, and carry it to the level that avoids both rage and whining.

2. Gaining support
Note what is needed. Get sympathetic people to ask for you. Can you find some moral leader or well loved celebrity or other person of status to announce her support and urge others to do so as well? Money, in-kind, letters to decision-makers, and other support roles are critical.

3. Gaining participation
Encourage those who have taken the first two steps to consider taking action with you. Stay at home for a day. Stop buying something in particular. Show up at a demonstration. Hand out flyers. Carry petitions and get signatures. Testify at a public hearing. Even carry a sign or risk arrest.

When a movement achieves the state that Gene Sharp describes, it wins.
It may not win in a day, but neither does blood-in-the-streets violence. Open minds grasp this and most people have more open minds than we know. If they aren't open, work on prying them. Expect that pushback and try to be patient. Americans in particular are in a general state of deep denial about nonviolence, which is to be expected, after all, from people whose government has the biggest empire of military bases the world has seen, the largest military budget in the world by far, and the biggest movie industry cranking out box office smashes that portray radically unrealistic violence. So promoting nonviolence is an uphill struggle and worth every step and push.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Staring into the water at the bottom of the cliff: When to dive

You know what the problems are, right? You know various organizations are struggling to solve them. Your organization is addressing some grievance and wants a policy change. You've tried an appeal to the decision-makers. You've done a great deal of public education on the issue. You have lobbied in the halls of those who make the decisions. You are doing as much media outreach as you can.

But it all seems stalled. At what point do you consider direct action, possibly nonviolent resistance?

This is a tough calculation for groups that really do want to win and not merely go on record as being fashionably radical. Seriously. What happens when the decision-makers make a move against you? Do you think the law enforcement system is going to go easy? Are young people going to destroy their lives by getting involved?

These were thorny issues in 1959, when Reverend James Lawson was trying to initiate some interest in applying Gandhian nonviolence to the problem of Jim Crow segregation in the American South, and in particular in Nashville, Tennessee. He saw clearly from his own training in India and from his analysis of the locus of power and latent power in society that "Nonviolent action was more than a technique of social action for Lawson; it was a means of tapping more fundamental sources of power" (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000, p. 314).

In other words, there are times when, to the conflict forensics analyst like Lawson, the potential power of civil society might be much more available than at other times, and he had calculated that this was one of those times. Perhaps in another atmosphere and set of social conditions he might not have urged people to consider organizing to take risks--certainly the parents of black college kids in Nashville were not happy to learn that their child had been arrested by a Southern police force and thrown in jail. They had worked all their lives to provide this opportunity for their child to do much better than they had been able to do in racist America--and it looked to them as though this upstart movement might rob their child of a future. Indeed, there was great logical fear for the very physical safety of these youth, not to mention the danger of being tossed out of college, getting poor marks on a transcript, and getting a police record. Black kids already started from a profoundly disadvantaged position.

But Lawson persisted and others joined him. And they won. The result was that the disadvantages diminished, giving the black students a new starting point a bit closer to equal opportunity. Lawson had analyzed the potential correctly and had set in motion a series of struggles that changed history.
Jean Wynona Fleming, a Fisk University student, sits in a Nashville, Tenn. city jail cell on March 25, 1960, after her arrest at a downtown Moon-McGrath drugstore lunch counter. Blacks swarmed into the downtown area and resumed their protests against segregated eating facilities with sit-in demonstrations at nine restaurants.
(Photo: Jimmy Ellis, The Tennessean)

These are not easy factors to understand as you contemplate taking the step of nonviolent civil resistance. The consequences can be rough. Some factors to consider might include but not be limited to:

  • numbers
  • timing
  • opposition
  • potential for change
  • public mood
  • political environment
  • potential support
  • potential recruits
  • likely consequences
  • available lawyers, media workers, funders, political allies, sympathetic leaders
  • likelihood of success

No one can predict it all, and the chain of effects of one small act of resistance can lead to a change (or no change) in the strength of any of these characteristics. So what Gandhi did, and what Lawson did, was to methodically assess, think hard, and then make a move or not. Making your decisions using a strong sieve of many assessed factors will give you extra resolve and resilience in your struggle. We see that when it's done right and we see the downside when it's done without much forethought. Anger is a good motivator and a lousy strategic planning shortcut. Controlled anger is useful and it can be harnessed and used to pull many forward with you toward victory. Jumping off that cliff without knowing how deep the water is, how far down it is, and where the rocks are is a poor program; learn as much as possible, test it hypothetically and decide when the dive will be as clean and successful as possible.


Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Empirically an empire

Is the US an empire? Well, since we emerged as a nation rejecting the status of colony of an empire in favor of freedom, our historical rhetoric has been anti-empire. Crunch the numbers, however, to show how we are crunching others into the evolving US empire, packing more and more of them into a creaky, groaning crate.

We have troops stationed in most countries on Earth. WTF!? Even if we omit the nations where 'only' US covert operations are in progress, take out the nations in which 'only' armed contractors--mercenaries--are operating paid by you and me, and don't consider the nations with small armed US teams of fewer than 100 members total are engaged, the US still has at least 100 military personnel in more than 150 of the world's 193 nation-states.
Give me an "E!" Give me an "m!" "p!" "i-r-e!" What's that spell? Watch it swell!

There are two serious aspects to this, at least. One, most people hate seeing armed--or even 'just' uniformed--troops from other countries on their sovereign soil. I have a hard enough time see uniformed military personnel amongst civilians in my own land--of course, I'm a pacifist and I would--but I can scarcely imagine seeing a uniformed and armed member of any other military in my country. Try thinking of a Chinese unit, armed in uniform, in your town. Do you feel your blood rising and an urge to tell them to leave and go home? Imagine how the rest of the world feels with the US there, armed and dangerous and acting like it's Just Fine to be in their country. We are breeding generations of hatred for our nation by acting like an empire even if most of us don't want to believe we act that way. Two, it's ungodly expensive and a massive drain on the US economy and on each US taxpayer.

Let's fix this. We hear mutterings of hope now and then, but little is actually done. In 2012, President Obama was going to start this (even that liberal bastion, Fox News, was mostly in favor), but instead the numbers above reflect reality from a year later, from summer 2013.

Support those who want to see this slowed, stopped, and reversed--even the closest US ally, the UK hates this. Let's start building more affinity and love for the US, not resentment and rage.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Insta-revolution? Apparently, to the privileged nonparticipant

We all get more information every day than we can consume, digest, sort, understand and use. When I was a lad, it had barely begun and most information was still relatively slow or even stationary and needed to be traveled to. Now it comes streaming at us as though we are all college freshpeople tied to the Facts Tracks and the Knowledge Train is bearing down upon us. The problem is separating the dross from the gold, the true from the false, the observed from the opinion, and the proven from the anecdotal. Good luck to us.

For example, we all now know that if you want to overthrow any old political system, just tweet a call to the masses, who then rise up and do the deed. Easy breezy.

Really, not so much, right?

Not only do conditions have to be ripe for an uprising, networks need to exist, and those networks need some shared values, shared grievances, and shared propensity to undertake their struggle using adaptive methods, i.e., nonviolence. Preparing the network with the capacity to pull this off takes a great deal of work and it almost all happens below radar.

This is how it was with African Americans in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s. Ironically, it was war that most prepped that demographic for some sort of rebellion. African Americans died in World War II just as whites and everyone else did. When African American troops came home from fighting for freedom overseas and had none in the American South, they were righteously angry, an anger which generalized into the African American population nationwide. An ongoing injustice is bad enough, but when oppressed people get drafted or even enlisted and found no reward for their sacrifices they expect more respect (mortalities were not compiled by race until the Korea War so numbers are not known, according to the Congressional Research Service (Leland & Oboroceanu, 2010)).

So when James Lawson showed up in Nashville in 1958 after his three years studying Gandhian nonviolence in India for this express purpose, the network of African American anger and intent to bring about change was already formed. It just needed to be activated and steered toward an effective method.

Lawson formed a study group. "Although no one outside their small group was paying much attention, the students were preparing for a frontal attack on what was called Jim Crow, the system of racial hierarchy in the American South" (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000, p. 307).
Lawson and one of his groups in 1960.
As is almost always the case, those who weren't oppressed had no clue about the sense of injustice that would lead to an uprising. And even if they started to catch a clue, they would never know where to look. The college kids were the ones.

Movements wax and wane, but some keep them alive in the lull between wars or between major struggles to disarm. Liz McAlister spoke to us in 1995 at St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, when little was happening toward peace or disarmament. "You are keeping this candle lit in dark times," she told us just before we were about to go out and get arrested the next day at a local military base. Liz knew. She had been in the epicenter of the movement to stop the Vietnam War for years, not only getting arrested herself, but giving up her status as nun and marrying arguably the strongest nonviolent resister to the war in Vietnam, Phil Berrigan, who in turn gave up his status as a priest. They founded a resistance community, Jonah House, which permanentized nonviolent resistance preparation and execution to militarism. Phil served 11 years in prisons for his militant nonviolence.

The hard work of movement building and movement maintenance is what ultimately makes the 'sudden' victories possible. Yes, the addition of social media into the mix of messaging has been a great tool--even one that was suddenly supported by the US government during Arab Spring, which of course massively fueled the false accusations that the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were US-engineered (the US could not mobilize people, it could only offer support to something already in motion on the ground by indigenous populations). But it will prove its worth over time by adding to the preparation for mobilizing as much as it proves its worth as the communication tool to swiftly mobilize.


Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Leland, Anne & Oboroceanu, Mari-Jana (2010). American war and military operations casualties: Lists and statistics. Congressional Research Service. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Protected by or from?

A Tennessee judge has sentenced an 84-year-old nun--Sr. Megan Rice--to nearly three years in federal prison. She trespassed with two other nonviolent activists into a US nuclear weapons facility in Tennessee and--gasp--did so by using wire nippers to breach a fence and then--gulp--poured a baby bottle of her own blood on the bomb factory. As if those acts weren't enough to ship that Sister to Guantanamo, she and the others spraypainted peace slogans. OMG--elderly nuns don't hardly get much more dangerous than this.
Sister Megan is off to prison to cool her heels and, we can only hope, get some rehabilitative counseling so she can eventually return as a productive member of society. I mean, she's 84, which the new 44 for nuns, right?

OK, inventory Sister Megan's character to see what needs to be fixed. Violence? Never been. Robbery, thievery, or burglary? Never done. Scofflaw attitude? Well, see, there we have the problem. Sister Megan and her fellow defendants Greg Boertje-Obed, 58 (the youth contingent) and Michael Walli, 65, argued that since the nuclear bomb facility violates international law to which the US has signed and ratified, there needs to be a reconciliation of the laws. They are hoping for rehabilitation for the law, not so much themselves. For this civic attempt the two men have been smacked with 70 months in prison--more time than the total Gandhi served in his entire life.

This was also the defense of other Tennessee cases--all the sit-ins in Nashville and elsewhere beginning in January of 1960. Those defendants were also nonviolent and were also arguing about a tension in the law--that local and state laws did not match federal laws. Jim Crow segregation, they said, needed to be challenged legally, even if that meant that some people of conscience needed to break the lesser law nonviolently in order to bring forward that question. We all know how that worked out. We hold those 1960s nonviolent Civil Rights activists in high regard. One won the Nobel Peace Prize and is the only American for whom we have a holiday. Another is still a highly beloved and respected Congressperson from Georgia. Two others still work to help activists around the world succeed with nonviolent struggle.

How do you rehabilitate someone who has lived a life of service, performing works of mercy, is absolutely nonviolent, and whose actions betrayed not a single whit of self-aggrandizement? 

Sister Megan Rice and her co-defendants are trying to help us protect our children, our grandchildren, and all of life from these unsoldierly omnicidal threats to life on Earth. We need more protection by these sorts of people, not from them. Thank you, Sister Megan Rice. Shame on you, Judge.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Remaining relevant over the decades

James Lawson was a Conscientious Objector in the Korean war--unofficially. He could have had a ministerial deferment or official CO exemption, but officially Lawson was a draft resister and went to prison for his nonviolence (Ackerman &  DuVall, 2000). Even earlier than that, he had done actions confronting segregation as young as his high school years. All this peace and justice activity made him the older veteran activist when the actual Civil Rights era rolled around. He became the nonviolent trainer to a movement, whipping the nonviolent shock troops into fighting shape-- for a Gandhian sort of cage match pitting the fierce racists of the South in the early 1960s against his highly trained young army of activists determined to break the back of Jim Crow racial segregation. His methods were vastly superior--the kids won.

James Lawson is still active. He is still engaged in intelligent analysis, noting at the 40th anniversary gathering of the veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that the job of dismantling racism was far from finished (Zengerle, 2000). Most young black activists and their allies would concur.
Lawson also calls for an end to US militarism as a globalized power-projecting force. At the annual institute named for him--the James Lawson Institute, first held in the summer of 2013 in Nashville--he rose to offer that analysis and that challenge to those who practice nonviolence.

Much of the most directly usable conceptual advice from the Civil Rights movement to today's youth activists comes in succinct form from Lawson who was, after all, the primary initial nonviolence trainer for the Sit-In movement in 1960 and was one of the architects of the various successful movements that gave us the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Lawson is spot-on in many of his most salient points to activists, including but not limited to these lessons learned then and still key:

  • Strategize, plan, and prepare your campaign; don't just run it crisis to crisis.
  • Recruit with a serious strategy and devotion of purpose and resources or face defeat.
  • Develop highly trained and disciplined activists that will weather all attack with skill and calm.
  • Make certain everyone has a role and no action is undertaken that excludes other people--even as you exclude certain destructive behaviors.
  • Focus on one winnable issue at a time and sequence your campaigns for a series of successes that build upon each other.
  • Maintain unity of purpose, behavior, and adherence to decisions. Do not fall prey to divide and conquer.
Will young activists listen to Lawson? If they do, and with the new tools they command (e.g. social media and other tech advantages) coupled with the research that now undergirds nonviolence more than ever, the next generation will show us some major progress toward peace, justice, and environmental protection. If they dismiss him as just another white-haired activist from back in the day, they will have a much steeper climb to much smaller victories and much more loss to discourage them. 

So we'll see!

Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Zengerle, J. (2000). Laughter and Forgetting. New Republic, 222(18), 14-15.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Holding it together even when we are insulted

From time-to-time I recall being privileged to join Diane Nash and two others on a panel at the University of Minnesota-Duluth back in the day, the title of which was "Nonviolence and Public Policy." I was further fortunate in spending a few hours in the company of Nash as we enjoyed the campus in-between an earlier class and the evening panel discussion. Nash, to me, embodies many elements of what we consider in my field of Peace and Conflict Studies when we discuss identity conflict.
Diane Nash "following" from the leading edge, Nashville TN, April 1960

Whatever your identity groups are, there are three basic stances that can result from them.

One, you may be in the powerful majority, hegemonic, dominating others.

Two, you may be in the powerless minority, intimidated and often exploited.

Three, you may be in a society that dominates and exploits no identity group and thus just happy for your own identity and everyone else's. That is the utopian vision of the "Peaceable Kindom" that Liz McAlister and others have contemplated. She and others recommend living right now as though that utopia is the reality, even as we nonviolently resist any oppression suffered by anyone.

So, with regard to identity groups, these stances in ethical terms might be considered negative or positive depending on each person's attitude and practices within that society.

The negatives might include being complicit or actively participating in using one's identity group to suppress others, or in some internalized oppression if you are a member of an oppressed identity group. Internalized oppression can result in support for the oppressor--either in self-loathing acceptance of oppression or in collaboration with the oppressor in order to jointly oppress members of your oppressed identity group.

The positives might involve a member of an oppressed identity group rising up in nonviolent resistance and taking steps to formulate a win-win outcome, making society better for all and dampening potential future retribution by parties that lose in a struggle.

Everyone has multiple identities and in my time listening to Diane Nash it became apparent that the Civil Rights movement was anything but a simple black and white conflict. Still, the common complaint Nash mentions in speeches, in our conversation back in the 1990s, and in various interviews that are written about, is "humiliation" (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000; Ownes & Wilson, 2013). As a young black woman from Chicago, she was not raised in Jim Crow segregation where there were signs for restrooms by race, service to whites and not blacks in many restaurants, and many other clear and blatant expressions of identity repression. This united African Americans and in Nashville the movement was organizing toward the next big campaign. The first was school desegregation that resulted in Brown v Board of Education in 1954, legally ordering school desegregation, but that had the street phase in the late 1950s in places like Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, putting it into effect. The second campaign was the Montgomery bus boycott, with its 1956 victory.

Nash and her fellow activists won that campaign, the sit-in struggle. But she told me of other internal struggles in the movement and each one carried that identity-humiliation factor. Women were subordinate. Youth were overruled by the older ministers. Gender is certainly an identity issue (and many are now noting that gender is not a biaxial male-female divide, but rather a rich continuum with major clusters of identity groups at various points). Age is another identity group (as all new cohorts earn various names and descriptions).

Southern racists succeeded, generally, in vicious enough oppression to unite African Americans no matter how their identity group was further factioned, but the internal struggles within those circled wagons were fierce and sometimes lifelong. Nash really wanted me to understand this. "We sometimes grew very frustrated with the dictates of the SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference--the ministerial association MLK led] in general and Martin King specifically," she said. "We would start rolling our eyes and referring to him as 'De Lawd.'" She had high praise for Ella Baker, who urged the youth to form their own group, which they did, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC. And the struggles of women within the Civil Rights movement were legendary--the most infamous moment of all was when Stokley Carmichael said the proper position of women in the movement was on their backs. Was he being 'funny'? Many women didn't feel the humor and most of us, men and women, still don't. He was being as funny as a white Southern gentleman using the "n" word, and no matter how wide the smile, it feels like a smirk. Identity groups don't like being smirked at.

So we may find unity at one level in a movement and bifurcation at other levels. and the task is to prevent the latter from factioning the former, a monumental but crucial aspect. It is all work, and persistence, and more patience with each other than we think we can muster.

Ackerman, Peter, & DuVall, Jack (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

OWENS, D., & WILSON, W. L. (2013). UNSUNG HEROINES of the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. Essence (Time Inc.),44(6), 126.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Teaching nonviolence

Nonviolence is nice, right, but when does it work? Right--when it's practiced on a mass scale, as Gandhi mentioned to Dr. Channing Tobias and Dr. Benjamin Mays, two African-Americans who traveled to India to meet Gandhi in 1937 (Ackerman & DuVall, p. 306).

Americans and others were always traveling to India to meet Gandhi and he helped them think about his new way to change policy from the bottom-up. Gandhi met with African-Americans, Quakers, and leaders of women's rights movements from the US, as well as other pilgrims from other countries. He was the wellspring, the innovator, the originator of systematized strategic nonviolence, although he was quick to note that everything he was doing was in the spirit of experiment.

When we think of the American Civil Rights movement, we think Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe we also think Rosa Parks, possibly James Lawson, Bernard Lafayette, Diane Nash, John Lewis, and a few others if we have studied it at all. Most are unaware of the Mays role. If you are a teacher, Mays is your role model.

Mays, born in South Carolina in 1894, grew up battling to get educated, even against his own father's wishes (Powers, 2013). He scuffled and picked up degrees in the South, in Maine, and in Chicago, and became a professor, including a stint at Howard University--where he was when he visited Gandhi--and eventually became president of Morehouse College for more than a quarter century, from 1940-1967, nurturing two generations of those who would lead the nascent Civil Rights movement. He urged them on, challenged them, and steered them toward the knowledge he felt would best attack racial segregation laws and other social injustices. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a star pupil. Arguably, Dr. Benjamin Mays is the most influential teacher to the most influential movement for social change in the history of the US.

What a light to aspire toward.


Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

POWERS JR., B. E. (2013). Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography. Journal Of Southern History, 79(4), 998-999.