Sunday, May 18, 2014

Support Syrian strategic shift to nonviolence

As anyone can plainly reason, when anyone gets violent, the conflict in question tends to degenerate toward more violence, with a natural human vengeance for any violent attack driving that series of responses steadily downward toward the worst in human nature. One side gets violent, the other side responds in kind, and the race to the bottom is underway. We can all name any number of examples.

What happens when, at some point, a strategist gains the ear of a sector of the conflict parties and mentions that continuing this response is maladaptive, costly, and ineffective? Is there any hope that a violent conflict can somehow right itself increasingly toward nonviolence?

Of course. We saw that in the Philippines, in South Africa, in the Balkans and elsewhere. Violence begins to lose its luster when logic begins to replace the limbic system response. That is when nonviolence can save the day.

Many of us are hoping for that in Syria. The hearts and minds are there--arguably, the Syrians have the strongest faith in themselves, faith that seems quite lacking from those who are external "supporters," whether that is Putin supported al-Assad or Kerry and Obama supporting the "Free Syrian Army" or its other violent insurgency factions. The external supporters may not be crucial to the defeat of their violent foes--neither al-Assad nor the various armed insurgents are close to a military victory and all those parties are further than ever from winning hearts and minds--but they certainly can protract the misery by adding weaponry to the scene.

Zack Baddorf (2013-14) found evidence that, far from disappearing, the nonviolent civil society resistance in Syria is increasing.

There is increasing rejection of the clearly failing violent insurgency--one that is linked here and there to radically differing positions and interests and demographics, from the US to al-Qa'ida to various religious or ethnic bases. There is also a growing worldwide realization that strategic nonviolence is an effective tool available to insurgents who don't have foreign patrons or a big bank account. Nonviolent uprising can be run without funding from kidnapping or drug sales. It is by far the most pure form of democratic opposition to an autocratic regime and can be led by housewives banging pots, students sitting in blockade, strong statements from moral and ethical leaders, and small business owners refusing to sell to any armed force.

Well, what can we do if we are not Syrian and if we don't live there? We can do many things, including but not limited to:
  • write to or visit to lobby our federal elected officials and tell them to stop funding or giving war materiel to violent insurgents
  • educate our fellow citizens about the poor practice of our government in sending arms to Syria
  • support Syrian refugee assistance groups, such as the Syrian American Medical Society,
  • support Syrian civil society groups
  • encourage churches, mosques, and various other affinity groups to support nonviolence in Syria (the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor (2012) rightly noted that only nonviolent resistance tends to work toward a free Syria for all, rather than one dominant group)
While most militarists bemoan the Obama administration's decision not to engage in a military response similar to that of Libya, it is becoming more clear by the month that such shortcuts only cost more in the long run. Find the Libyans who now love the US because Obama led the air attack on Qadaffi--oh, that's right, Libyans generally hate the US and even killed our ambassador to underscore that hatred. Adding to the violence gains little in the long run and usually is a substantial net loss. We can still help Syrians by working to stop the flow of arms and the materiel of war to that suffering country.

Baddorf, Z. (2013). Practicing Nonviolence in Syria. Progressive, 77(12/1), 54-55.

Monitor's Editorial, B. (2012, May 14). Nonviolent tactics may be Syria's only path to freedom. Christian Science Monitor. p. N.PAG.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

May 17, 1968

It was 17 May 1968 and the Catonsville Nine were ready to enter that Maryland draft board, ready to act on their long plan, ready to go up in flames. They entered the Selective Service office--the draft board--and found the files marked 1-A, the next round of boys to be sent to kill, die, wound, be wounded in Vietnam. Every single fighting man, every single Vietnamese civilian and fighter--everyone in that criminal war was wounded. Even those of us who were mere conscientious objectors to that war were spiritually wounded, knowing our brothers were doing those godawful things and having hideous things done to them.

My friend Greg came back in a chair, a paraplegic. My friend Jeff lost a toe to his own hunting rifle in a bid to make himself undraftable. My friend Dave became a medic and dropped out of sight. Dave's girlfriend's brother was killed. Every young American male of able body was a target and an agent of imperial America. Every one of us across the land knew of these remarkable lousy things happening to friends and family. For nothing. No Vietnamese had fired a single shot at America. No sampans were coming up the Hudson or Columbia or Mississippi rivers. It was not our fathers' war; it was unjust and illegal, immoral and spiritually bankrupt. By 1968, even our strongest religious figures were proclaiming that and sacrificing themselves to make it known.

The Berrigan brothers and seven others were opposed to the war and indeed, rapidly became opposed to all wars. This was Dan's natural temperament; Phil, however, had been a soldier in World War II, fighting his way across Europe, and only came to the peace movement via the Civil Rights movement. Phil only became a pacifist after being exposed to Dr. King and some of the other radical Christians.

So several of these radicals took metal wire mesh wastebaskets full of the 1-A draft files (1-A meant first to be drafted), brought them to the parking lot outside the draft board, poured homemade napalm on them, lit them up, and stood in prayer, waiting for their arrest, which indeed came. While incarcerated, the pacifists were criticized by some other clergy. Dan Berrigan, master of the image and figure of speech, wrote in response,
"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children."
 Part of their planning were many discernment discussions and communiques. Their code word for their upcoming action became "99 and 44/100 percent pure," which was their tongue-in-cheek use of a sudsy commercial for a liquid soap--one of the main ingredients from the Green Beret recipe for the awful flaming weapon that would hit on a child's skin, stick, and burn through to the bone. The Catonsville Nine used that corporate ad language to satire the corporate frame of manufactured purity, to self-deprecate their own tendencies toward moralizing in the face of such massive war crimes, and to simply engage in the sort of gallows humor that has to lighten the knowledge of the terrible prices paid by everyone in war, even including the nonviolent resisters on their way to prison.

This one action--not the first draft board raid, but the one which literally and figuratively caught fire--continues to this day, with the draft board raids of the Vietnam War era giving way to the Plowshares movement. Those of us who engage in this sort of thing believe in public accountability--we don't skulk, flee, wear masks, or avoid responsibility. This is one of the primary differences between these actions and the smash-and-dash sneaky actions that alienate Americans. The style of the Catonsville Nine and all who have followed in their footsteps may cost the individuals more, but it builds sympathy and following and participation. Indeed, in a country increasingly looking more like an oligarchy, this is what democracy looks like.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The military and its crime spree illustrated by Ben Tre

God save us from those who would 'save' us.
"It became necessary to destroy the town to save it."
--Unnamed US major from a Peter Arnett story in The New York Times, 7 February 1968, about US bombing of a Vietnamese town

There are two rogue sectors most often in overall noncompliance with environmental law--fossil fuel industries and the military. When they coincide it's even more egregious. It is astonishing how much brazen disregard the US military has for the land they claim to defend but instead despoil. The latest outrage is the announced intention of the Air Force to use the "solution to pollution is dilution" approach on Cape Cod, concerning pollution from Camp Edwards. The primary two sources are fuel spillage and leakage as well as chemicals from a firefighting training area.

Historically, the militaries of the world have created environmental havoc and have always just been above the law. But as they become less relevant perhaps we can ask them to be more considerate. If we focus on making the military completely irrelevant through a combination of strategic nonviolent approaches we can end the long destructive relationship between the forces who are supposed to protect our lands and their ruination of that land. If there were ever an irreducible statement reflecting that twisted relationship and the sick logic of militarism, it was that statement by the US major about the poor Vietnamese town of Ben Tre.

Cape Cod is Ben Tre. Albuquerque is Ben Tre. Much of the world is Ben Tre and given the threat of nuclear weapons, Mother Earth is Ben Tre.

We need another model of protection. Fire the military. Learn strategic nonviolence.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Avoiding the contamination of the provocateur starts with commitment

I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.
--Lily Tomlin

Watching movements implode from a failure of self-disciplined nonviolence is painful. Inadvertently, I participated in both sorts of movements over decades, and only in retrospect am I finally able to apply some conflict forensics that help me understand my own experience.

I was part of a movement in northern Wisconsin to get rid of a US Navy thermonuclear command base that sent commands to all US nuclear subs of all classes. We wanted that cleared out, not just NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), but NOPE (Not On Planet Earth).
I was also part of several peace and justice efforts some 200 miles southwest, in Minneapolis.

The movements in northern Wisconsin were led by and primarily affected by Nancy and Max Rice, founders of Dorea Peace Community. They were convinced pacifists. Max was almost killed in an attack on him by virulent, violent racists in the Deep South during the Civil Rights movement. Nancy was on the board of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and went to meet with them once or twice a year in Nyack, New York. They convinced us to move from protest to resistance and they were quiet leaders for the initial actions. I was first arrested with Max in our campaign's very first nonviolent action on Labor Day, 1983 (although we had been doing nonviolent sabotage in Michigan beginning that summer). Then I was arrested with Nancy at the next nonviolent action. Their grace and calm philosophy permeated everything we did and I learned so much from them. Then we got reinforcements from Jonah House, more radical pacifists used to robust nonviolent resistance and high discipline, Barb Kass and Mike Miles. The core of our leadership was philosophically and religiously pacifist. There were no doubts about our codes of behavior nor about our commitments.

On the other hand, I never knew who or what I might find in Minneapolis. There was a large group of activists who fancied themselves more radical than anyone and who flirted with violence, wore masks sometimes, and regarded all cops and all corporate officials as the enemy. The Minneapolis movement that did the best job in keeping them from doing damage to their movement was the Honeywell Project, since that movement had been destroyed in the 60s by allowing that sort of activist free rein. Turns out many of those 'radicals' were agents provocateurs, either police themselves or agents of the police rat system ("Go out there and stir up violence and we will keep you out of prison for the crimes we've caught you for."). They eventually found that in a Freedom of Information Act motion.

The Minneapolis radicals were pretty puffed up with themselves, always seeing themselves as the real radicals, though I can't think of a single victory they achieved. I guess radical=ineffectual. (Ukraine could have gone so much better than it did if they would have kept their 2005 discipline, for instance).

On the other hand, once the Jonah House folks moved to our woods and were part of our leadership, we met the actual radicals, the Berrigans and others who went nose-to-nose with the War System and fought it to a draw with movements like draft board raids (which helped grind the Selective Service system to a near halt in the Vietnam War era) and the plowshares movement (which features individuals or small groups physically dismantling weaponry and then turning themselves in so the case could be argued publicly). I knew in short order who the radicals were. 

This is why, over the years, I've been interested in and exploring ways to allow movements to grow without the eroding effects of the violent ones who scared away the masses needed to effect real change, and who gave the elite rulers all the justifications to smash our heads. One of my conclusions is that each campaign needs a trained team of nonviolent security workers to confront and blunt all such provocateurs. The so-called "radical flank effect" is often seen as a way to make the rest of us look moderate by contrast and therefore strengthen a movement, but the evidence belies that assumption and turns out that movements with a radical flank are less effective, that is, achieve their stated goals less frequently.

Not so fast, says Mark Anner (2009). Some Central American labor unions have been substantially strengthened and their goals more easily achieved by the radical flank effect of having a threat to organize a transnational left-wing union, which makes management/owners more eager to negotiate with more collaborative, conservative, local emerging unions. Fair point, under the right circumstances, but that sort of radical flank is more politically ideologically radical, not burn-it-down-and-invite-brutality radical. This, I believe, is why the highly disciplined implied threat of self-defense justified rhetorically by Malcolm X might have been on a path toward Dr. King, while the overtly guerrilla army stance of armed Black Panthers invited and got state terrorism and relegated them to a footnote status. Malcolm X was a brilliant, charismatic rhetorical genius, not a military leader. Huey P. Newton began brandishing arms and quasi-Special Forces berets in the streets, virtually demanding police attack. Tragically, the police complied. I was a boy then and hated the police. Now I'm an old man and I get the emotional need to threaten them, but cannot see a single advantage to the community in doing so.

Hirsch-Hoefler, Canetti & Pedahzur (2010) studied the radical flank parties in Israel and determined that they also were purely ideological, both secular and religious, and were essentially challengers from within the electoral system and a parliamentary system at that, where outlier groups can much more easily have a say than in our representative majority-rule democracy. Still, it is of interest that when those radicals attempt to do in the streets what they routinely do in the Knesset, they are thumped by the IDF and rendered unpopular and ineffectual with almost a PLO-level of say-so. This distinction is unresearched, to my knowledge. Simply put, once voting and rhetoric move into the streets, the really only acceptable radicalism is radical nonviolence.

One more academic study of a radical flank phenomenon (Isaac, McDonald & Lukasik, 2006) shows that the demonstrative model of union organizing has not been effective in the private sector but helped vitalize and mobilize a generation of public sector employees. One might wonder, however, if that train has run out of tracks since the economic derailment of the Great Recession, as evidenced by the sincere and doomed efforts by public employees in Wisconsin and by the machinations undermining the US Postal Service. While the study was quite robust, it needs a bit more longitude to gain the validity necessary to establish overarching conclusions. 

In the end, robust and disciplined nonviolence, combined with the reconciliation and invitation that is part of the basic pacifist philosophy, has the most strategic value. When movements learn that (and they could do so by asking practitioners who have done this), they move further, faster. When they incorporate all this into a strategic plan, they generally win. As Lily Tomlin notes, sometimes the efforts of just one key person can shift an organization, a campaign, or a movement. That could be you. Why not?

Anner, M. (2009). Two Logics of Labor Organizing in the Global Apparel Industry. International Studies Quarterly,53(3), 545-570. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2478.2009.00546.x

Hirsch-Hoefler, S., Canetti, D., & Pedahzur, A. (2010). Two of a kind? Voting motivations for populist radical right and religious fundamentalist parties. Electoral Studies, 29(4), 678-690. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2010.07.003

Isaac, L., McDonald, S., & Lukasik, G. (2006). Takin' It from the Streets: How the Sixties Mass Movement Revitalized Unionization. American Journal Of Sociology, 112(1), 46-96.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

All your fault: All your opportunity

It's all the fault of the consumer and the homeowner. That is the normal redirection from elite war profiteers. Lead in your child's blood that leads to sickness and loss of IQ? That must be because you allowed that child to eat paint chips from old paint that contained lead, or because you didn't replace your plumbing pipes.

Turns out that a significant source of lead in groundwater and surface water is from weapons manufacturing (Anielak & Schmidt, 2011).
So what? We need those weapons. We never know when Putin might send in masked men to a Russian enclave such as the New York metropolitan area, where there are more of the 851,174 Russian-speaking immigrants than anywhere else in the US. Hey, for that matter, Putin may have also targeted Pikesville, Maryland, or possibly Wishek, North Dakota, two more communities with concentrations of Russian-speaking immigrants. From South Ossetia to Crimea to eastern Ukraine to Eureka, South Dakota--you never know who or where is next. So we must remain ready, weapons stockpiled and more to come. And if some of those weapons or any of that ammunitions gets a little past their expiration "best if shot or launched by" date, we need to destroy them and make more. Any pollution is irrelevant and besides, the feds have made promises (Powers, 2005). You can trust them. They promised that the nuclear weapons pollution would be all contained and cleaned up by 1998, so why worry?

Might there be another way to handle conflict? Some way that doesn't involve so much dirty killing industry?

Civilian-based defense is the ecological choice and the human life choice. It is in fact up to us indeed. We can let the military go, stop the arms manufacture, revoke the Second Amendment, and train ourselves in nonviolent defense of our land and communities. This will be a complex process. We should get started.


Anna M. Anielak, RafaƂ Schmidt (2011). Sorption of Lead and Cadmium Cations on Natural and Manganese-Modified Zeolite. Polish Journal of Environmental Studies, 20(1), 15-19.

Powers, M. (2005). DOE Pledges 'Fence to Fence' Cleanup of Los Alamos Site. ENR: Engineering News-Record,254(10), 14-15.

Sharp, Gene (1990). Civilian-based defense: A post-military weapons system. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.