Friday, February 20, 2015

Hit her now! Use non Native activists to bring her down!

Some people have recently brought some terrible charges against an Indian for raping a boy.

OK, take two: Some people have recently decided to bring accusations against a senior Native American spiritual adviser for raping a boy.

Well, not quite. Take three: Some tribal members and some white allies have recently decided to bring accusations against a Native spiritual adviser for raping a boy.

OK, let's refine that: A few enrolled tribal members and some white allies have made accusations against a tribal spiritual adviser for raping a boy 15 years ago.

Ah, perhaps to tune it up and make it precise, a few enrolled tribal members and some white allies have recently made accusations against a tribal spiritual adviser for statuatory rape of a boy 15 years ago, when the boy was 17 and the spiritual adviser was 23. But far more importantly, they--a few tribal members and some white "allies"--have focused on a Native leader who, they say, has not persecuted the alleged perpetrator nearly enough.

This is a concerted effort to bring down a tribal activist who has been very effective in stopping or slowing massive predatory extractive polluting corporate industry.

These challenges to her authority come just as she is being effective in slowing and possibly stopping the Keystone pipeline, generally regarded in the environmental community as "game over" if it is built.

No, I am not going to get into names, nor details, nor even which tribe/s or tribal organizations are involved. But I will say this: How convenient. How handy to have this old accusation in someone's pocket, ready to use. The activist leader under attack had nothing to do with the alleged sexual misconduct. The tribal activist leader under unrelenting attack from some tribal members and white "allies" knew absolutely nothing about any of this until relatively recently. But this tribal activist leader has been singularly effective in amassing a unique coalition of tribal, white, and transnational individuals, leaders, organizations, and entire movements to oppose the Keystone pipeline.

If I were a government or corporate or oil industry operative, I'd pull the pin on discrediting this key activist right now. This is exactly the time to use this bit of old but provocative information. This is the time to neutralize this Native American leader.

Especially because, in documented messaging, she has attempted to use restorative, not retributive, justice with regard to the alleged perpetrator.

This is a frustrating bit of writing to read because no names are forthcoming. But it is to ask us all to carefully consider gossip, innuendo, rumor, and "politically correct" moves on effective leadership. It reminds me of J. Edgar Hoover moving on MLK when King was the ONLY person capable of uniting black, red, white, brown, and yellow people. Now is the time to cast doubt on this Native leader, make her appear to condone sexual predation or at least avoid intramovement conflict.

There needs to be direct, irrefutable evidence to convince me that Native leadership should not be trusted when they forcefully, steadily, and valiantly defend Mother Earth. Non Native allies should think twice and three times and many more times before making allegations that impugn such crucial leadership at such a critical time.

Really. Don't be tools.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Conflict chicken and egg

Which came first, the weapons and testosterone, or the verbal skills to manage conflict without violence?

We have no particular way to know for sure, but language, conflict, creativity, and violence all seemed to co-evolve in connected, sometimes dependent sequences. Tools were creative; thieving was destructive and caused conflict, avoided by further creativity in word and gesture. Weapons made everything possible and everything worse, especially when used against other humans. They do not equalize so much as they breed domination.

How far along are our nonviolent de-escalation techniques? German psychiatrist Dirk Richter (2007) asserts that evidence is scant that psychiatry has learned much about verbal de-escalation. I don't think that the folks who do just that every day in formal settings during operations by groups that have de-escalation as their primary mission would agree. These groups are proliferating and include such organizations as Nonviolent Peaceforce, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Muslim Peacemaker Teams, Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence and more. Dr. Randy Janzen is a professor at Selkirk College in British Columbia who has launched a database and case studies of such groups and their efforts. His work is to compare to the UN peacekeeping operations (2013) and he indicated that results show a clear advantage to unarmed peacekeeping in the limited but growing numbers of examples available to examine.

What if police were unarmed? Obviously, the first requirement for that would be the repeal of the stupid Second Amendment so that a society awash in guns could begin to rid itself of them. That will take a long while indeed.

If Black Americans knew that white cops would not be coming in guns blazing perhaps they would not be so rightfully apprehensive and resentful in the presence of police. When, on 16 July 2009, Cambridge, Massachusetts police got a call that two African American men were breaking into a home, was it unreasonable that police should ask for some proof that the man who had just forced open the door was the actual owner (Staples, 2011)? Why didn't Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard and a man known to presidents, go find proof or simply ask the officers to accompany him to any of his neighbors' doors to verify his residence? Why didn't police believe Dr. Gates? Why did the Harvard professor, a smart man, challenge the authority of the police? Would he not want police to inquire of anyone else, no matter how distinguished in appearance, who broke down the door of his home? Did the police really not know the luminary they were harrassing? Did Dr. Gates believe every cop should know his face and reputation? Of course, the cops and the doc all claim to be the calm cooperative ones trying to deal with rogues and belligerents.

From a Peace and Conflict Studies perspective, it appears to be a blustering group of manly egos afflicted by testosterone poisoning overlain by institutional racism and tinged with classism. But I wasn't there. Would it be different if conflict were managed nonviolently?

Conflicts are "natural, inevitable, and esential parts of social life" (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2012, p. 3). There will be conflict when interests clash, when scarcity seems to be shared unequally, and when someone or some group exerts power over others instead of power with them. It is made more likely and worse when certain actions, scenarios, and even skin color evoke collective memory of injustice.

Still, even with all those stressers, we can do it nonviolently. Men need to gain some self-awareness of the testosterone problem that tends to flood many of us with nearly uncontrollable rage under some circumstances. Luckily, we mostly do control that rage. If we didn't and if we consider how many guns exist in America, we would expect a daily slaughter into the thousands instead of an annual slaughter into the thousands.

So all this means we not only have the legacy of the stupid Second Amendment (more guns per capita than any nation on Earth and the notion that this is good thing) but the legacy of past injustices of white to black, white to red, white to pretty much everyone, men to women, and rich to poor. Exacerbating these harmful legacies is the lack of nonviolent communication education and nonviolent conflict management skills in our children's education.

We have a long way to go. Time to step up and on and on...


Janzen, R. (2013). Determinants of success in UN peacekeeping operations. International Journal on World Peace, 30(4), 87-89.

Kriesberg, Louis, & Dayton, Bruce W. (2012). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (4th ed.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Richter, D. (2007). De-escalation in mental health care: a review of non-physical conflict management techniques. BMC Psychiatry, 71. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-7-S1-S146

Staples, R. (2011). White power, black crime, and racial politics. Black Scholar, 41(4), 31-41.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Institution of higher learning to enforce dictates at gunpoint

Where I work, Portland State University, the Board of Trustees decided to create a "real" police department for the campus, replete with armed "sworn" officers, possibly with a SWAT team for those special campus moments (we've been known to have large peace demonstrations), and who knows how much militarization awaits our urban downtown campus, one that has historically been fairly diverse, international, bustling, a marketplace of ideas, and a place of learning. Students come with high ideals and find an environment that has welcomed those striving ideals.

Since it's working, let's change it! If we arm campus cops and give them all police powers we can stop this diversity of thought and create new tensions and conflicts where only debate and critical discourse used to happen. We need to do this in order to keep up.

Our highest administration university leadership is virtually all white, so they are unconcerned with the ongoing and unsolved problem of American cops, campus cops elsewhere, and Portland cops specifically shooting unarmed people of color. Portlander Perez was unarmed. Sery was never indicted.
If the group you are worried about isn't affected, why worry? Any cost/benefit analysis will count any costs to white elites very highly and costs to people of color much lower. Indeed, having attended the final three PSU Board of Trustees meetings, giving testimony at the two of them where testimony from random uninvited professors and students was allowed, it was painfully obvious that almost all of those supporting bringing guns to campus were white and most of the people of color in the room were skeptical or outright against it.

As the father of two African American sons, I am dead-set against any guns on campus for any reason. Of course, I would be; I am a pacifist. But I also try to use some critical thinking.

Turns out that the research indicates that when the armed cops are hired, the smarter ones tend to be better at auto-impulse control and will probably shoot fewer black guys who are reaching for their cell phones (Kleider, Parrott, & King, 2010). Good to know. I'd recommend limiting the new armed hires to African American women Ph.D. students. They would be least likely to shoot the star basketball player as he pulled a Snickers candy bar from his man purse and they would protect the elite white ruling class Just Fine.

There is one text (of three) I use in one of my courses (Intro to Conflict Resolution) that might be required reading for all campus cops (actually, they should all be required to take all my classes, but that's another involved argument), and the title is Conflict management: A practical guide to developing negotiation strategies by a National Defense University law professor, Barbara Corvette. She is a military educator but she also has produced a great primer that can help our future strapped officers decode communication and respond with smarter and less violent strategies.

Best of all would be if the Board of Trustees had second thoughts, smarter thoughts, and reversed their poor decision to bring in guns. I mean, we are a smoke-free campus, possibly on our way to being a fragrance-free campus, but now we want to bring in guns? How does this track in our forward-thinking west coast town? There has never been an active shooter on campus but the Portland police have murdered numerous unarmed young people of color. How can this decision to court the same disasters on campus be viewed as just, fair, or correct?


Corvette, Barbara A. Budjac (2007). Conflict management: A practical guide to developing negotiation strategies. Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Education.

Kleider, H. M., Parrott, D. J., & King, T. Z. (2010). Shooting behaviour: How working memory and negative emotionality influence police officer shoot decisions. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(5), 707-717. doi:10.1002/acp.1580

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The hidden benefit of nonviolence: Down with bosses and up with democracy

In the birthing days of the Soviet Union, the evils of the elites were obvious--pampered royals lived in opulence while workers and peasants lived in squalor. Hard work was rewarded with poverty and repression (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). The bloody revolution, however, replaced one set of royal bosses with a different set of communist bosses. Dissent was tolerated by neither czarist Russia nor Marxist Leninist USSR. Freedom was a concept unknown to most living under either regime.
How could this be? The overlords were overthrown in the name of the workers, of the farmers, of the peasants who worked the land to give everyone sustenance.

Ah, but who claimed all the credit for the revolution? The violent vanguard. They took the power by gun and kept it by gun--helped by a state apparatus of spies, servile law enforcement, brutal interrogators, corrupt judges, and harsh gulags. Workers were anything but free, were emphatically not running any dictatorship of the proletariat, as claimed.

Lucky that never happened in the US, where the revolution was also violent, right?

Well, we are still talking about rich white men, mostly slaveowners, so let's not get all that gooey, please. It is true that American white men did a reasonably good job of freeing white men from King George. It is not true that the American Revolution did a single thing for African Americans (even though the first one shot dead, Crispus Attucks, of Boston Massacre fame, was free black, certainly doing little for him). Indeed, the Constitution defined them as 60 percent human. Tell me that's not shameful.

Similarly, the American Revolution did nothing but grease the Bad News Skids for Native Americans. If anything, it hastened the loss of land and rights for the original people. In fact, those first ones were the last ones to gain rights that white Americans have taken for granted for more than 220 years. I mean, it wasn't until 11 August 1978 that Native Americans were legally able to practice their own religion. So much for the separation of church and state applying to all.

So in many ways the liberation by gun of the United States was not entirely the shining example of freedom it might have been if the revolution had been nonviolent, but that is a moot historical question in most ways. It was what it was and it is what it is. The primary point is that even the most well intentioned and noble violent insurrections leave the power with the elites who take credit for waging the war. When a revolution is nonviolent, there is no guarantee of blissful perfection but the claim of power by the gun=freedom is missing.

I don't want to honor a Washington, a Ho Chi Minh, a Vladimir Lenin, a Fidel Castro, or any other violent power-grabber. Give me instead the people of Chile, rising up to nonviolently overthrow Augusto Pinochet, or the people of India evicting the British empire and Gandhi refusing all political position. These are the imperfect but far more egalitarian revolutions (Tell it, Sinead!).

Nonviolence is a flop. The only bigger flop is violence. (Joan Baez)

The stats gathered by Freedom House researchers (hardly a lefty or pacifist group!) bear this out. Wage your revolution with nonviolence and your chances for democracy, human rights, and civil rights improve dramatically.


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

Karatnycky, Adrian; Ackerman, Peter (2005). How freedom is won: From civic resistance to durable democracy. New York: Freedom House.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Thrash blindly! Bang head! Real action!

One major misconception--one of many--about nonviolent activists is that they must be willing to risk their lives and freedom to achieve any change. Indeed, goes the myth, the ones who fling themselves willy-nilly at the system are the ones who can win and who are the heroes.

Actually, it is usually the prudent ones who are victorious in the end (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). Yes, they are often hurt and imprisoned, but the greater the strategic approach, the less, generally, they are treated with raging brutality.
For too long, and far too often, some critics of nonviolence have associated careful actions with a principled approach involving religious mandate or philosophical stance (Coy, 2013). However, it is simply untrue in many cases over a fair amount of time and learning these histories can assist in any strategic planning.

One of the primary core causes of conflict is face, or respect, or dignity (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2012). In turn, many nonviolent activists have a strong sense of dignity when offering nonviolent action of any sort. You have your nuns and priests who solemnly bring hammers to weapons and engage in Swords into Plowshares actions, usually accompanied before and after by prayer. You had Dr. King and his fellow ministers leading the Civil Rights movement from churches and all their actions were quite dignified. So this association of a moral, or religious, approach with deliberate, even prayerful, action is natural.

But there are many other careful and dignified actions that are purely strategic, without a great deal of nonviolent philosophy. These are simply adaptive; police, soldiers, and thugs both hired and ideologically driven are far less likely to attack and hurt or even kill nonviolent activists who are balanced, stable, serious, transparent, dignified, and calm. This calm method is thus quite strategic if by strategy we mean the most gain for the least pain--that is, the best choices in a cost-benefit analysis.

So when the Anishinabe practiced their treaty rights despite death threats from racist white opponents, and when they practiced those rights with perfect nonviolent discipline, they were doing so from a strategic standpoint. They were warriors and philosophically not nonviolent. They decided, simply, to use the most pragmatic approach possible and it was victorious.

This is not to say that a strategic approach might not yield over time to a new philosophy. That is my story. I began as a young activist with an unformed philosophy, only attracted to fighting for racial justice and against the stupid war in Vietnam. Over time, as I engaged in nonviolent action and both took and gave nonviolence trainings, my faith in nonviolence became my philosophy.

So the strategic value of careful actions sometimes overlaps with the philosophy of nonviolence but sometimes does not. No assumptions should be made in this regard, except that more investigation is usually a good idea.


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

Coy, P. G. (2013). Whither Nonviolent Studies? Peace Review, 25(2), 257-265. doi:10.1080/10402659.2013.785331

Kriesberg, Louis, & Dayton, Bruce W. (2012). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (4th ed.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Finding the cleavage, applying the leverage

In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, ushering in Prague Spring, Alexander Dubček famously called for "Socialism with a human face." Faceless tanks from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its Warsaw Pact ran down democracy activists in the streets of Prague and rolled Dubček out to pasture. So much for the humanity of that brand of socialism.

In 1980 the democracy activists in Poland took a different approach. They made only "industrial" demands, not political ones (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). They saw more clearly from the disastrous results in 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Prague that calling for the reform of the political system would be interpreted as revolution and would be summarily and remorselessy crushed.

What was so perfect about the Polish experiment was that they stuck to their primary demand for collective bargaining rights--only wanting an independent union in a satellite country to an empire that built its rhetoric around union rights, workers as heroes, and the mighty power of the working class. This harnessed the trumpeted values of the oppressor, even a codeword for leftist action--"Solidarity"--creating an opening, however small, that we see again and again in successful nonviolent struggles.
This approach can also reveal the hidden cleavages between ideologues who really intend to slaughter all opponents and more realistic, pragmatic members of the ruling class who just want to maintain their enjoyable lives of privilege. Once those cleavages are found, the best nonviolent movements find the wedge issues and pointed tactics that exploit that heretofore masked fault line and they drive the wedge hard.

Poles were philosophical about it all. Supposedly, in the 1950s, the joke there was "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's just the opposite" (quoted by John Kenneth Galbraith). It took trial and error to find the wedge issue and exploit that in order to stop the system from exploiting them.

Some day, we hope, humankind will study nonviolence more than violence and will prepare for nonviolent struggle more than for war. When we see that we will see these strategies applied much faster, much more often, with greater, quicker, less costly and more frequent success. The Solidarity activists reinvented some of what Gandhi did in several of his struggles, beginning in South Africa in 1906. They recreated the dynamics that the US Civil Rights movement created in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and the 1960 Nashville sit-in movement.

These methods are not rocket science, but for them to overtake and surpass the methods of violence it will take education, investment, and much more ongoing preparation. Anything less is a disservice to humanity.


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