Monday, August 25, 2014

Thinking about peace teams

When nonviolent civil resisters intentionally confront a bad law--or a good law for a good reason--they know that part of what they are doing is heading out into the fray nearly impervious to provocation. They want the public to see that they mean it when they claim to be nonviolent. They want their opponents to believe it when they, the resisters, assert their nonviolence and confront a social bad in favor of a social good.

Their opponents usually have a legal right to use violence to enforce the law. Often, their opponents know that they have the resisters in a very hard dilemma. If the resisters back down, the opponents win public approval. If the resisters are violent--even in justifiable self-defense--the spin from the official channels will use that violent self-defense as an excuse, in turn, for the violence that the opponent actually started. Select moments of that violent self-defense will be featured again and again as evidence that the challenger movement is composed of liars. They are not nonviolent at all. Of course if the challengers never claimed to be nonviolent in the first place that is the easiest of all to defeat, as the record clearly shows again and again.

The wider public will usually dismiss the resistance if it shows any violence, especially if the resisters have to change public opinion on the issue. If the public is widely in support of the policy change or policy protection that the resisters are advocating, the amount and nature of violence on the part of the resistance is more negotiable. But especially in the early stages of the resistance, when much of the public often holds a status-quo opinion, the resistance needs to prove its innocence because it will be a phenomenon the wider public will reject on the flimsiest of evidence. Even angry expressions on the faces of nonviolent resisters will be used to justify almost all measures against them.

Is this fair? Of course not. It is simply reality. We either work with reality or accept that what we are doing is only for our own satisfaction, and we are not agents of change, just self-justifying and often self-righteous self-described "radicals." It is a bit like trying to fix the broken sewage system by denouncing the broken pipe in a haughty memo. Some of us may instead choose to head down into the sewage to try to fix that broken pipe. We will suffer for it, but at least we have a good chance of fixing it if we have also managed to bring the right tools and materials. We accept the reality and are determined to work with it, even though it's totally unfair. We want change.

This reality means we must be willing to suffer violence without returning it.
John Lewis beaten by Alabama state troopers on Bloody Sunday, 7 March 1965, generating mass participation that led to 1965 Voting Rights Act
We thus prove we mean it when we say we are nonviolent. We can achieve a number of things with that ongoing proof, including but not limited to:
·       keeping the public discourse focused on our issue rather than on our behavior.
·       gaining public sympathy, however grudging, if the police or soldiers or counterdemonstrators are violent to us.
·       gaining the trust of law enforcement and usually reducing the level of violence against us by reducing both the fear of us and imposing backfire costs upon them.
·       lowering the barriers to recruitment so that those who do agree see that we will not commit the violence that excuses and provokes a violent crackdown, and so our numbers generally rise.
·       allowing sympathetic mainstream media to change frames to show us in a better and better light.
Hence the need for peace teams, to help us create, cultivate, and defend our image of nonviolence.

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