Monday, May 31, 2010

Shutting down the navy

(Each Trident submarine-launched missile is capable of killing most people in eight cities)

In the 1950s Nicolas Christophilos, a Greek physicist, predicted two things.

One, that airburst nuclear weapons would produce electromagnetic pulse that would interfere with electronics. That EMP theory was validated in 1958, when a huge open-air nuclear bomb was tested by the US in a test called Starfish Prime. Quite a bit of the Hawaiian islands blacked out.

Two, that the way around this if the Soviets did it was to build an extremely low frequency antenna that could withstand nuclear EMP and still send strike commands to nuclear submarines. He did so on the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction, that is, if the Soviets knew there was no chance they could launch a decapitating first strike, but rather could even kill most Americans and still suffer annihilation, they wouldn't do it.

So the US built the ELF system in Wisconsin, expanding it into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when the mission of ELF changed from MAD to NUTS, that is from Mutually Assured Destruction to Nuclear Utilization Target Selection and the US tried to develop the capability to strike offensively and destroy the capacity for response. ELF became central to that scheme and so it needed to be bigger to send signals to nuclear subs no matter if they were in the mid Atlantic abyss or under the polar icecap. ELF was the only was to do that.

So we in the peace movement began to try to shut down ELF. We were effective in raising concerns and in getting the citizenry to oppose it in both Wisconsin and Michigan. In the 1970s no elected official in Wisconsin would endorse the navy's project and in Michigan referenda were held in every Upper Peninsula county, where the navy was trounced with 80 percent voting against the navy.

But it turns out that democracy was the last thing the navy was trying to defend. They pushed it through and it was built. We resisted by all nonviolent means, (pictured are some Fast for Iraq folks, two of which did nonviolent resistance to ELF, that is Kathy Kelly--the curly haired woman--and Jeff Leys--the tall guy at the far end of the banner) and I will note that I was the first to go out and commit a peace felony to shut it down temporarily (in 1985, by cutting down a pole from which the antenna was strung), and I was the only one to do that sort of thing twice (again, with another person in 1996). Others also joined in the effort (pictured are Michael Sprong and Bonnie Urfer in the final Plowshares action at ELF)and a total of five such Swords into Plowshares actions were directed against the navy.

It was not until the tribes joined in our efforts that the navy finally gave up and dismantled their system. We had supported the tribes, the Ojibwe (Anishinabe) in their incredible battle for treaty rights and they used those rights to tell the navy they were going to open all the records and get involved legally. While the navy will never admit that was the reason they shut down, it was. After all, they had just taunted us the year before with a press release saying that they would be keeping the ELF facility operable for the next 35 years.

We did not support the tribes in order to get them to shut down ELF but it worked that way. Their treaty rights were simply the right thing to support. We stood with them at the boat landings when racists were screaming anti-Indian epithets and I guess they remembered.

It is long past time to defend the Earth and Her people rather than weapons and war. We defended treaty rights using nonviolent methods and we shut down ELF using nonviolence. The history of successful nonviolence is turning out to be more and more effective as we learn how it works and as we experiment with it. Time to change how we manage conflict. War should be a receding memory, not one stirred freshly and still creating more such bad memories.

Memorial Day for civilians: Honoring the innocent

(Far more civilians than soldiers or fighters have died from our invasion and occupation of Iraq.)
I would like to register two objections to Memorial Day.

First, we live in such a war culture that we have somehow come to only remember the killers and not their victims when we honor those who have died in war. It is received wisdom that on Memorial Day we revere and remember those who held guns or dropped bombs, and only if they wore a US military uniform. A rhetorical question asking if this is how we really wish to be is fatuous. We are this war culture. It has saturated us so thoroughly that even mentioning the civilians or those who wore other uniforms and who died in humankind's cruelest activity--war--is beyond the pale.

Second, the tone and tenor of this day befits a time before Gandhi figured out how to wage national defense without violence. War is now a completely unnecessary activity and richly deserves not support and honor, but consignment to the dustbin of history and replacement by an organized civil society. Those who engage in huge liberation struggle from their own unjust government or from foreign invaders can successfully use nothing but nonviolence and until that knowledge is acknowledged, we only shore up our commitment to more war when we participate in Memorial Day.

Many who truly participate in Memorial Day are focused more on remembering veterans of war, whether those veterans died during the war or not. I certainly think of my father, who served in the Philippines in World War II and who just crossed over four years ago, in this light. But I think of him every day, so I do not need Memorial Day to help me do that. Indeed, I have his photo as a 17-year-old, just graduated from high school, in his Navy uniform, about to head into the fray, and I see that photo on my bulletin board by my desk every day.

Of course, he's the same WWII navy veteran who gave me his memorabilia and told me to use it for peace somehow, so I took one of his patches ("Hell, I think it was for keeping my locker clean") and, on Fathers Day 1988, in a thunderstorm that night, I brought it plus my swedesaw to the navy's thermonuclear command facility in northern Wisconsin, and I dismantled part of it. This facility, Project ELF (Extremely Low Frequency)
consisted of a signal center fenced in and 28 miles of thick antenna strung on utility poles through the Chequamegon National Forest. It sent commands to nuclear subs by generating a signal using the native granitic bedrock, the Laurentian Shield, and the ionosphere, with a standing wave that penetrated the ocean to great depths, wherever nuclear subs might be.

So I nailed his WWII navy patch to a pole, notched it, and slogged in the dark storm to the next pole a couple of hundred feet away, and notched that one too. I went back to the first one illuminated by lightning flashes--including one that revealed a big buck deer bounding across the line in the storm, no doubt startled by the close clap of thunder. I did a small reverse cut and then put my hands on the patch and pushed, saying, "For you, Pop." I could hear the internal cracking of the pole and, in the driving rain, first that pole and then the second began to fall, then crashing to the Earth just seconds apart. A few years later, that same WWII South Pacific veteran would be the driver as two of us did a Plowshares peace action on the same antenna line, bringing down three poles and heading off to prison. My Dad drove the getaway car--not to get us away but just to get the car away. He was 70 when he did this, risking prison time for participating in this act of disarmament. So I honor that part of his memory.

A quarter century ago we did a Memorial Day in advance of the millions of civilians who were slated to die in any nuclear war. We did this in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the navy was expanding their command facility. Then I went out and cut down one of their poles and turned myself in the next morning, earning my first peace felony.

So Memorial Day is special for me. It is a holiday, but not a US national holiday in my own private view. My nation is the Rainbow Peace Nation and so Memorial Day for me is to remember the reason to struggle against war--that it kills far more civilians than it kills armed forces--and to reinforce the past struggles that pave the way for teaching humankind another path to liberation, another way to defend everything we love.

(The US killed approximately 2.5 million Vietnamese in the criminal war for hegemony, approximately 90 percent of whom were civilians.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Topkill, the new sporting event.

(Fill up the aircraft carrier with guns and Hummers, sail her to the BP spill site, extract all the people, and target shoot a nice hole in the hull, sinking it right over the well head. Continue with all manner of armaments until the spill stops.)

Training and competing together certainly builds bonds, sports historically were ritualized warfare but also alternatives to war, and the sense of fair play and appreciation for your opponent can be sharply evident in sports. Indeed, friendly competition is endlessly and creatively possible. I'm thinking right now of a sporting event to stop the oil spill by plugging the well with military items. Since the US is the nation most impacted, our military should set up a competition between armed forces to plug the well with all the national security items they have. I'm thinking army tanks and air force bombers (take all fuses off all bombs first). Keep dropping Hummers and drones on the well until it stops. Other countries and in fact gun owners could compete too
in many special categories. Drug cartels could join in for extra fun, and even al Qa'ida could field a team of explosives belts and improvised explosive devices. Keep tossing all the instruments of death down there and hope they do the job. ESPN would cover it with multilingual commentators. The TV graphics would be fantastic.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Conspiracy? Naw, it's just the war system

In the field of conflict resolution we discuss the 'conflict industry,' that is, the business of those who benefit from ongoing conflict in terms of power, status, and wealth. The obvious members include those who profit obscenely from selling weapons to those whose hold on power is directly connected to their role as champion in conflict. For these members of the conflict industry, a lack of conflict is a lack of business or a loosening of a grip on power. The weapons giants contribute heavily to political campaigns and are rewarded by votes in Congress for more funding for missiles and bombs. This is not a tricky dynamic to understand.
Johan Galtung systematizes this notion by his examination of what he calls the structure of imperialism.

This structure consists of a system of wealthy nations--he calls them center nations and he means they are centers of power and wealth-- and periphery nations. But key to understanding his description is the understanding of the fluid dynamics between center and periphery nations.
Each nation has its own center and periphery, he says. The center, the elites with wealth and power, are in league with the centers of other nations. In this structure, the center of the periphery nation relies on the center (the elites) of the center nation to guarantee access to enough weapons and intelligence to maintain their hold on power. In turn, the center of the center nation expects access to cheap human and natural resources of the periphery nations.
A classic client state relationship is Iran under the Shah. The US (with England's help) took out Mossedegh in 1953 and installed the Shah. Shah made sure massive oil profits went to US corporations--the real elite, or center, of the center nation--and, in turn, Shah was put into power and kept there by supplying him with weapons and other means of suppressing dissent. This corrupt and highly profitable robbery relationship continued for a quarter century until the Iranian people overthrew Shah. Sadly, they went from poor governance exerted over them by virtue of external meddling to poor governance over themselves in their theocracy, but they did extract themselves from the global structure of imperialism.
The cover for this system was handily the Cold War for half a century. Mossedegh was nationalizing Iran's oil so he was smeared with the communist label. Same with Arbenz in Guatemala. Communists in our backyard, so we install the generallisimos and our corporations profit from cheap labor, since the military power we provide is used to kill union organizers and anyone else who threatens the supply of cheap labor. This worked for nearly a quarter century in the Philippines under our boy Marcos, until, once again, the people rose up with People Power. The purchasing power of the average Filipino/a is improved ($3,500 annual, or about $1.75/hour), but still struggling near the bottom in our 'free' trade-dominated war system (free of links to human rights).
So corruption and violence is a necessary driver and product of a war system, and it's quite complicated in many ways, but the basic idea is relatively simple. Keep a local boss in power and he'll get you cheap human and natural resources. He needs violence and the threat of violence to accomplish that, so you give him weapons.
Add to this dynamic the Naomi Klein concept of disaster capitalism and you have completed the circle of understanding the trade-off that puts the profiteers in first place when disaster occurs and makes those human-caused disasters more likely. Oil spill in the Gulf? More profits for the clean-up crews. Katrina wipes out New Orleans? More profits for Blackwater and other private mercenary armies of occupation. Saber-rattling from North Korea? Better spend more on national defense.
In Pakistan, they understand that the war system is killing them. As a result, they see conspiracy in everything. Same with Palestinians--I just told one of my Palestinian students yesterday that pursuing a study of the restorative justice possibilities in Palestine would not precipitate a Jewish conspiracy against him, his immediate worry. It may feel like conspiracy all the time, but in reality it's just the überdynamic of the war system conflated with natural bad luck or other shortcomings. Telling the difference isn't always possible, but at least if we decouple the idea of fear controlling everything we can begin to live as though we are not in a war system, thus making it more likely that the war system indeed loses its power over us.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Civil defense is defense of civility

Since the Pentagon spent $4.7 billion on public relations this year, we might assume they put some topspin, backspin, slice, and arc in their game. They carry gauze, veils, and halos in their vast toolchest, and pull vats of mud and tar behind their warwagons, all to deal with the images of friends and enemies. All elites--military or corporate or rulers--do this.
In his classic Power in movement, Cornell professor of Government Sidney Tarrow traces the arguments and theories of what social movements are and how they work. He alludes frequently to what movements looked like from the beginning of academic and popular assessment of what they meant to themselves and to their opponents and to the public at large. Some of these factors result in natural tension that only nonviolence can resolve properly.
For Durkheim (1951) and most others, social movements were seen through the lens of the French Revolution and early 19th century industrialism (Tarrow, p. 5). Added to this, of course, were the adversarial styles of most labor fights in the first half of the 20th century, inflamed by the export of Leninist revolutionary vanguard violent philosophy. In many ways, the indigenous labor movements in the US were in fact hijacked by those who believed that power comes through the barrel of a gun or, at least, through the arc of a swinging club about to connect with the head of a cop.
In the case of the pictured 1934 Teamsters strike in my hometown of Minneapolis, the small Teamsters Union had a number of Trotskyist Communist League members who helped foment a mob mentality as they went out to strike in a climate of unregulated robber baron capitalism with goon squad paramilitary units. Indeed, most of my great uncles were truck drivers in Minneapolis then and one was hospitalized by these paramilitary units. When the cops shot and killed one of the strikers, that act triggered massive sympathy for the strike and literally half the population of the entire city were in the streets for the funeral.
Many in my boomer generation grew up with such links to direct battle for labor rights and these were the organizers who trained us. I will forever be grateful for their great lessons and will forever be internally battling much of the emotional content that they taught me to load into conflict. I spent the first years of my political life learning all their lessons and the next several decades unlearning and trying to replace many of their responses that shot straight to hate and violence. This is how collective memory works for all of us in our culturally specific ways and is why we have to work relentlessly and with great resilience to refashion those responses and the images that are created by our responses to social conflict.
Why? Didn't the French Revolution succeed? Didn't the Teamsters succeed?
Yes, but they also created victims and enemies that came back to haunt them again and again. Plus, any violence in any movement feeds into the ability of the elite who own and govern to tar and smear us with the Jacobin-Hoffa terrorist-thug brush of frightening violence and brutality. Those of us in any movement pay a dear price for the violence of others and we have to defend our movements against this vat of mud by creating a highly disciplined nonviolent force that creates and maintains that image of nonviolence. If we don't do that, we lose sympathy and recruitment falls. It shows we have no strategic plan and without that, as Sun Tzu told us 2,600 years ago, "Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
Movements need the strategy of growth and the tactics of imaging toward recruitment. That is best achieved by making our movements look inviting, lower risk, and fun, or, as Tarrow put it, in a carnival spirit rather than anomie and social disintegration.

References (Sid Tarrow pictured)

Tarrow, Sidney (1998). Power in movement: Social movements and contentious politics (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: Roots of research

Academic research into nonviolent conflict management began at least fifty years ago with the work ranging from Elise
and Kenneth Boulding (founders of many institutions that survive in some form today, such as the Consortium of Peace Research, Education and Development, which is now the Peace and Justice Studies Association) to Gene Sharp (founder of the Albert Einstein Institution).
The most integrated researchers have come from the mold of the above named. The Bouldings founded COPRED in 1970 with the mission of integrating the knowledge generation of peace researchers, the teaching applications of peace educators, and the work in the field of the peace activists.
By contrast, the Peace Studies Association, founded in 1987, kept a far more narrow mission, that of working only with post-secondary educators, not with K-12 peace educators nor with peace activists.
The two organizations merged in 2000 and PJSA is much closer to the Bouldings' original creation.
PJSA hosts the wide range of those who labor to research, teach and implement constructive conflict methods. Many PJSA members are active in their original disciplinary associations as well, which continues to give PJSA a robust agenda and rich conference context every year. Sociologists study the peace movements and other social movements, political scientists look at the hard-edged operations of governments, philosophers discuss ethical implications of our methods, psychologists examine the role of collective memory and other psychological phenomena on our methods of conflict management, historians parse out new information and analysis of peace and conflict campaigns and campaigners from the past, activists tell their stories, and the cross currents inform each other.
The Albert Einstein Institution is not a membership organization. It provides trainings but is not an activist group. It does research into civil resistance and publishes analysis. Its work is translated into many languages and in print around the world.
Arguably, without these and other organizations, nonviolent conflict management would be far less known and practiced on our poor Earth and more conflicts would be resolved violently.
If each organization stops one war per century, each will be amazingly valuable to humankind. If the next generation of such institutions, such as the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, can stop even more wars, we are on our way to solving the scourge of humanity.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: A Thoreau analysis

In our field of study of civil resistance and in the texts on nonviolence, we often include the germinal Thoreau essay, On Civil Disobedience (not the original title). There is much to admire about it and there are some limitations.

Thoreau was not a pacifist, though he did not pick up a gun himself. He wrote in favor of John Brown--a Christofascist who chopped off arms of opponents in Kansas and famously attempted to ignite an armed slave rebellion in his attack on the Harpers Ferry military post in 1859, instead helping to ignite the US Civil War two years later. While Thoreau wrote approvingly of the American Revolution, Thoreau never volunteered for armed service, though to be fair he died of tuberculosis just as the Civil War was fully ramping up in 1862, when he was just 44. His entire nonviolent resistance, admirable though it was, consisted of refusal to pay a poll tax and his grand price for this was one night in jail.

Why do we canonize his essay? It's brilliant and it's an American original. It's anti-imperialist (against the clearly expansionist Mexican American War) and it's a call for resistance to paying for such war and for any defense of slavery. It is also a challenge to act on conscience and it sets out an argument that one person of good conscience operating against immoral policy of any government is operating justly. His views were expressed with great eloquence and he had the academic's rare gift to also speak to regular folks.

So when we study civil resistance we ought to understand that Thoreau wrote toward strategic nonviolence in the sense that his stands were not pacifist in philosophy but that he happened to choose a nonviolent method--refusing to pay his tax that supported a war with which he did not agree. But was he attempting to organize a movement? Was he a campaigner? Perhaps in his own vague way he was, and he certainly has given the generations fodder for their own attempts to organize Americans toward offering civil resistance when it's called for. But Thoreau was not part of any organizational efforts. He was a persuasive essayist and chronicler of what Richard Gregg would much later call voluntary simplicity in the tradition of the Stoics and some of the Cynics in ancient Greece and Rome (Thoreau, a Harvard-educated scholar, translated from the original Greek and Latin). Thoreau was much more an individualist, a Yankee who advocated with great cogency for freedom and who believed in freedom for all.

As we teach our students to use critical thinking, we use our own in evaluating the context of the primary texts we offer to our students. Thoreau is a great gift to America and to the world; let's not misappropriate his beliefs, but rather use them as accurately as we can in the light of what we teach from each of our perspectives.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: Process paramount

Although Sarah Palin and others want us to be a Christian nation (in the Constantinian Just War sense) and are willing to create fictions to support that notion, Plato spoke at least as clearly as Jesus did to the Founders. Indeed, as I was walking in Washington one fine winter day, on my way down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Congressional end to the White House, I passed the Department of Justice and looked up to see, carved in stone at one top corner of the building, Plato's Conflict Resolution and Civil Resistance quote from 2,400 years ago, "“Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” As I was walking toward a nonviolent act of resistance to nuclear weapons that would soon land me in the clogged arteries near the heart of the justice system in D.C., the words spoke to me quite clearly. Justice takes work; even the rulings of the Supremes get overturned--one wave of demagogic hatred can wipe out the footprint of a good jurist.

Nothing in the world of nonviolence is carved in stone except aphorisms noting the permanence of impermanence. Nothing is set in concrete except the one concrete principle that the ends are the means, process is product, and nothing is ever settled once and for all (time).

Christians justify war. Monks get guns. Democracy is installed and forcibly shoved down the throats of those who never voted for it and never rose up seeking it--even as it naturally thus devolves in the mother country into bickering reactionaries jerking each other's chains and serving up kneejerk ripostes rather than authentic appeal to altruism. There is no system of governance nor belief that does not require constant upkeeping and generation-to-generation renewal, maintenance and evolution. The live spirit in a faith can be usurped quickly into killer identity politics and greed can move like cancer into the heart of free people who do not guard against it. For those overcoming injustice, impermanence is hope; for those who are sure they've established a timeless practice, time will teach better.

This is the calling to which educators answer. Yes, growth and progress are important, but protecting our intellectual flanks from revisionist invasion and occupation takes devotion to pedagogy and andragogy that is both critical and repetitive. I am currently teaching students for whom Gulf War I is ancient history from before they were born and the fall of the Berlin Wall is nearly writ in hieroglyphics. Lessons from the Civil Rights movement are suspect and Gandhi is a myth. These are all students who have come through high school, and few of those schools send on students with a good set of balanced and informed priorities.

Hence, the need to teach and the need to teach process. In the field of Conflict Resolution and Civil Resistance (CR2) the way we learn and the way we decide are the way we make friends and organize. It is all adaptive and process-oriented or it doesn't work. The mythos of violence is the quick and permanent fix. The way we teach CR2 is that all our work is iterative and necessarily redundant. My slogan, from Denzel Washington in the film Philadelphia, is "Tell me like I'm a fourth grader." Keep it simple, or at least add simple layers one at a time, and build up understanding of the complexities of conflict management and our methods.

Indeed, that is the message I use when discussing the finding of the Freedom House 2005 study, showing that nonviolence is far more sustainable if we want civil rights, human rights, and democracy. Violence is a poor producer of all those metrics over the long haul, so that whatever the revolutionaries were dreaming of achieving with violence is a chimera, a polluted process that tries to guarantee finality and thus assures ephemera. CR2 is not only the only chance at win-win, it's the best hope for an outcome that mirrors the path we take to get there. That is what students need to learn.

Frosty should last forever, right? Actually, he's a digital moment and a neural bit in three minds. He's lost a lot of weight and little Alexa is already taller and heavier. Will nothing stop changing? Sigh...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: When it gets an F

There are recordings in the British War Museum of those who served in the trenches and those who tried to advocate for the rights of conscientious objectors. One of the women interviewed recalled that young pacifists, inspired by Jesus, by notions of the women's peace movements that had attempted to forestall that war, and possibly by Mohandas Gandhi's then-new satyagraha in South Africa, would come into the peace office and say versions of, "If I have love in my heart and no weapons in my hand, I know I can walk onto a battlefield and no one would hurt me."

This level of naivite and blissful immaturity has often been associated with nonviolence, but those who practice it and chronicle it not only know about its efficacy but about its dangers. Nonviolence, after all, is not about pusillanimity and conflict avoidance, but rather about volunteering to sacrifice in the strategic hope that the social psychological gains will pay off. If I am innocent of hurtful intent and I demonstrate willingness to suffer, I will win the sympathy of others, and possibly motivate them to support us in some way. This is the wager.
(pictured is the 'tank man,' the most inspiring moment of the otherwise catastrophic struggle, when tanks were stopped by a lone protester)
Sometimes it works--more than half the time. But wandering out onto the field of contest without understanding the risks of failure is a setup for pain and bitterness. There is perhaps no more enduring agony of this phenomenon than the tantalizing success and then crushing defeat of nonviolence in Tiananmen Square in China in June 1989.

Assumption College nonviolence scholar Michael True taught in Nanjing University in China 1984-1985 and again during the 1989 democracy push. His teaching and writing about the 1989 events is a helpful addition to the literature about the nonviolent successes of Gandhi and King. True considers the aspects of strategic analysis offered by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins and he also incorporates first-hand knowledge of the Chinese culture at that time, as well as the implications of nascent globalization on that period.

True frames the Chinese episode differently than do some of the Chinese who were youth during that campaign. He sees the success and near-miraculous advances made by those youth from the dual perspectives of the long view of Chinese history and the short view of the history of strategic nonviolence. While direct involvement tends to sharpen and deepen emotional responses, the view of the analyst can temper those understandable swings from fear to euphoria to defeated despondency felt by the organizers who survived while so many of their comrades were killed or imprisoned.

One out of every five humans lives in China. There is no country more at the epicenter of the battles between ecofascism and ecofeminism, wealth via hyperconsumption and poverty, tyranny and democracy, sustainable growth and industrialized cancer, centralized planning and free market predation, freedom and subservience, and globalization or insularity. The 1989 movement was at the leading edge of the forces for nonviolence, freedom, democracy and sustainable development, making unprecedented gains and self-organizing millions of Chinese to do what had never been done in Chinese history, to seek nonviolent people power self determination.

China had no traditions to support either democracy or nonviolence. Students, workers, and even some peasants, came together to try to learn both and the pressure on them was enormous as they learned the lessons quickly under the media's unprecedented glare. Li Peng and Deng Xiaopeng, the 'Gang of Old' who had a long history of crushing rivals dating back to the 1949 independence war to smashing the Hundred Flowers campaign in 1957 and steadily on to all threats (mostly internal, from the vast stretches of suffering aspirational Chinese, region to region, year to year, movement to movement). Romancing the Maoists--we still see it in ultraleftists in the West--is ultimately a fascination with bloody centralized dictatorship with a 'people's' mask.

True points out that when student democracy demonstrations of 1986-1987 were repressed forcefully, there were no international repercussions, which may have emboldened Deng Xiaopeng in June 1989, certainly a caveat to the human family interested in promoting and protecting nonviolent actionists. Without pushback, dictators feel they can get away with murder and can transmogrify that into mass murder, which is what they did. This has been demonstrated elsewhere. When in 1993 Johan Galtung called on the international community to show serious support for nonviolent Kosovars, the world mostly yawned, and we saw the results of the arrogan Milosevic forces. Underestimating the needs of indigenous nonviolent movements for transnational support is an underexamined danger.

True arrived in China on the same day Mikhail Gorbachev did, May 16, 1989, and the tension was palpable. This rapproachment (first Soviet leader to visit in more than 3 decades) was exciting and frightening. Chaos in China is frequently cataclysmic, since social conflict has so few overt outlets and tends to gather and build up pressure before bursting. The Chinese leaders know they let some pressure out at their own risk and keep it clamped at their own risk, which might explain how their messages were not only mixed but contributed to the disaster. Gorbachev was seen as a beacon of freedom by students and workers and as a harbinger of collapse and power loss by the Communist Party in China.

In his 2001 Peace and Justice Studies Association conference workshop, True also discussed the unfortunate semiotics of the Goddess of Democracy statuein the square, which looked far too much like the Statue of Liberty, and allowed the ruling elite to brand the demonstrators as dupes of the West. Further, there were (possibly planted) Molotov cocktails and last-minute interference and sound system usurpation by some who were almost certainly agents provacateurs. Last, and stressed by many scholars of nonviolence, the ironically named Peoples Liberation Army is reported to have offered amnesty and a brief window to all in the square to leave. An unknown number--some say hundreds, some thousands--elected to stay and were in fact massacred by early morning, June 4, 1989.

Failures of nonviolence of this magnitude are lesson-rich. Innoculating against agents provocateurs, building government and NGO networks of external support, choosing images and metaphors carefully, understanding the true depth of fright of those with big weapons and many other factors are important to the calulations. Knowing when to punch out means knowing how to preserve the forces you have, though failing to stay when the moment promises great victory is the countervailing hope that can lead to tragedy. Having the best intelligence is key, of course, and if we are serious about promoting nonviolence, we need to teach more about failures and less about the same victories we all know.


True, Michael (2002). The 1989 democratic uprising in China: A nonviolent perspective. In Mallick, Krishna, and Doris Hunter (Eds.). An anthology of nonviolence: Historical and contemporary voices. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 253-266.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Teaching nonviolence: Nonviolence is negotiation

Some say the field of conflict resolution depends upon negotiation. True. Then they teach that civil resistance is what civil society does when unjust rulers refuse to negotiate. True. They teach that therefore teaching from a conflict resolution perspective is mutually exclusive from teaching from the civil resistance perspective. False.

Here is an excerpt from what Dr. King wrote in response to white clergy who criticized him for committing civil resistance in Birmingham in 1963:

"You may well ask: 'Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?' You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth."

In our Conflict Resolution studies we learn from the Harvard Negotiation Project about the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, the BATNA. This is exactly what civil resistance is. Not only do ordinary citizens have the power to change their BATNA during a conflict, good campaigners are as transparent about it as possible, so that the BATNA can be, in some cases, nonviolent deterrent power. A transparent campaign with a robust civil resistance component or potential will also change the BATNA for the ruler, which alters all conflict calculations.

Principled negotiation consists of four basic principles:

~Separate the people from the problem
~Focus on interests, not positions
~Invent options for mutual gain
~Insist on using objective criteria

Principled negotiation, which is one core method we teach in Conflict Resolution, is precisely what a good civil society campaigner incorporates into any civil resistance strategy. While Saul Alinsky may have advocated calling some of the people the problem, Gandhi would not have done so, nor did King, nor Cesar Chavez. OK, Serb nonviolence is an exception, with Otpur youth chanting for Slobodan Milosevic to "Save Serbia: kill yourself!" They used it to emphasize their determination to separate Milosevic from nationalism, and from national pride, and from Serbian self-interest. It seemed to work there.

Focusing on interests rather than positions leaves room for satyagraha but not for duragraha, that is, remaining open to good ideas for collaborative agreements that benefit everyone rather than squatting obdurately on one fixed position is stronger conflict resolution and more adaptive civil resistance. Roger Fisher and Bill Ury are careful to advise against compromising on principle and preparing to collaborate on practically anything else.

This leads to inventing options for mutual gain, and if we ever see peace in Palestine Israel, that is how it will happen. Indeed, that is how almost every successful civil resistance is concluded and how every successful mediation happens. The overlap is tremendous. When civil society is successful at isolating the dictator from his own armed forces, nonviolence can actually be seen not as negotiating with the dictator, but rather with other constituencies, and when all are satisfied that they will gain more than they will lose by working together, change happens.

Insisting on using objective criteria is precisely how recruitment in civil resistance campaigns happens. When police dogs bit African American children in Birmingham, or when the fire department blasted children with firehoses so powerful they would strip the bark off trees, most Americans were galvanized to support the minority struggling with dignity and nonviolence for basic human and civil rights. When nonviolence is the only tactic, it is much easier to frame all campaigns in this exact fashion, a search for what is fair.

So teaching civil resistance can be regarded as a component of teaching conflict resolution, or conflict resolution can be seen as an element in the civil resistance body of theory and set of tools.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Teaching Sharp strategic nonviolence

Gene Sharp is a US political scientist whose original study of nonviolence was from a profoundly personal philosophical pacifist point of view. He spent a year in US prison for refusing the draft to the Korean war in the early 1950s but was determined to understand how armed and unarmed struggle actually worked in order to see how unarmed struggle could be effective.

Some say his key insight is that the structure of power always rests upon the consent of the governed. His influences include 16th century French philosopher Étienne de La Boétie, who posited that all servitude is voluntary, and Mohandas K. Gandhi, who said that India was not taken by the British but was given to them by Indians and then who put those ideas about getting it back into play. Sharp's work has been to produce actual research and theory that explain this notion and provide design patterns for removing tyrants from power.

Since Sharp's original work on this was published in 1973, no serious teacher of nonviolence has omitted his works nor analysis. For many, his often impatient rejection of any discussion of philosophy or religion was unnecessary and even offensive, but what Sharp was doing was staking out new boundaries for the discussion of ruling power and how it is created and destroyed. He viewed all other considerations as distracting and contaminating, a threat to truly understanding his method. This, in turn, set up some resistance to his ideas by those who were more attracted to the philosophy or religious teachings of pacifism.

I believe we are finally seeing that false debate subside, but in its place is the much more sinister new one introduced by an odd bed full of those who seem chagrined that nonviolence can take the place of good old fashioned Marxist-Leninist violence and terrorism plus those who really are despotic and logically fear Sharp's proven theories. These opponents are no longer a friendly batch of pacifists who want to teach love and kumbaya without pesky strategies and political theory; these are intellectual thugs who resort to calumny and traducement and smear tactics that mirror the polemical dishonesty of Fox News, but from the left. If the stakes weren't so serious, the humor would be profound, watching ultra leftists squirm into bed with Ahmadinijad or Mugabe, as if we are supposed to reject the people power in favor of bloody dictators because Gene Sharp has also offered advice to those who didn't like Hugo Chavez's thuggish tactics.

Those who teach nonviolence have a sacred duty to explain this to students. Why? Because teaching nonviolence in some ways is like teaching violent combat. If all you offer is enough to get started, the potential practitioners know just enough to be dangerous to themselves. They cannot defend their adherence to nonviolence if a relatively sophisticated ultra leftist charges them with committing a service to the US empire. It's an easy defense, frankly, but it's one that should be discussed by nonviolent teachers and trainers to prepare students to withstand the inevitable attack.

Yes, Gene Sharp has been called the Machiavelli of nonviolence, but that ignores the unique attribute of strategic nonviolence, which is that the methods mirror the goals, as Gandhi also taught. When Sharp teaches people power, his work is directly responsible for reducing casualties on all sides, and that, for most of humanity, is a worthy goal in itself--and ultimately, we hope, the point of our entire enterprise of nonviolent practice.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PsychoSatyagraha: Teaching nonviolence

How were we thinking about nonviolence back in the day? Gandhi was a saint, right, and that's why he succeeded. End of story. It's all philosophy and religion and Gandhi was known as the Mahatma, the Great Soul, which motivated thousands to join him and--poof--the British left, enlightened.

Ah...not quite.

Richard Gregg (pictured) was inspired to visit and learn from Gandhi in India in the 1920s. He was a social philosopher who really began to translate Gandhian nonviolence into practical, explicable social organizing and conflict management models. He thought about the psychological aspects, calling what Gandhi did 'psychological jiu-jitsu', that is, using the power of the oppressor against himself, allowing the hatred and violence to expend themselves with far less harm than if those tactics (the oppressor's strength) would have been countered with similar but asymmetrically weaker hatred and violence. Gregg really influenced the western analysis of why Gandhian nonviolence might work.

Gregg's 1934 germinal work, The Power of Nonviolence, is still a classic, and the second edition, in 1960, included a foreword by the young Martin Luther King, Jr. Gregg also integrated the swadeshi philosophy in his own life, moving to a farm with Helen and Scott Nearing (pictured), who were quite influential in the nascent self-reliance movement in the US. Gregg coined the term voluntary simplicity and staked out an early claim toward our slowly developing notions connecting war to resource conflict to consumerism to ecological care to urban dependency to injustice. We are still learning this basic system of interlocking causes and effects.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Teaching nonviolence is Sisyphean, not for sissies

Colman McCarthy was a nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Post for more than 25 years. Now he devotes most of his time to teaching high school kids, and anyone else, nonviolence. His lesson plan, including a variety of readings, is available online. It is a great starter for any student of nonviolence, skewed mostly toward the philosophical side of understanding nonviolence, but with enough strategic material to bring the student forward in a somewhat integrated manner. He offers that freely to all and is also an adjunct for the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University. His curriculum is available and is used in community settings. Indeed, Peaceforce Oregon chapter leader Terri Shofner just concluded a nine-month community class, Adventures in Nonviolence, using McCarthy's materials.

How advantageous would it be to our cultural appreciation of nonviolence if McCarthy's teachings could be syndicated? When students get to military age, to voting age, they are so saturated and immersed in a war culture and the assumptions that culture carries that nonviolence is either never considered or simply waved off as (one of my students put it in a paper I read just this morning) "naive and immature." What if the cultural assumptions at least included nonviolence as a logical alternative to violence, so that our nation would not be regarded as weak if it put aside its arsenal of destruction and picked up the tools of civil society organization and mobilization instead?

I am asked, periodically, to guest lecture in high schools. I do so freely, as a volunteer, whenever I'm asked. The reactions are predictable. Most kids look at me with great incredulity. I know I'll need a few more sessions with them to make serious progress, but I give it a go. I can tell how they've been enculturated and I can tell what their teachers have been doing. Some student groups are fairly receptive, some are mildly interested, and some seem disinterested or even hostile. I can tell I've entered a war culture when I step into a US public high school.

Those who teach war get students totally prepared by our culture to slide right into the curricula without question. This is how we manage our international and transnational conflicts. We threaten, we arm, we base around the world, we have horrific weapons at the ready 24-7 on and under the seven seas and in more than 150 of the world's 192 nation-states on approximately 1,000 bases. Of course. This keeps us free and prosperous. These assumptions may not come with numbers but they are ubiquitous, the air that young intellects breathe, the soil from which their thoughts grow, the water from which their wisdom flows. Violence feels so natural to us.
(photo of vase depicting Persephone supervising Sisyphus)
We need more Colman McCarthys, willing to roll that rock of nonviolent education up the hill of the war system with youth year after year, giving them a new culture to try on, showing them new paths around the mountain to a new way of being, of waging conflict, of running their lives and steering our country. Each new crop of young ones comes soaked in the war system that makes the task of McCarthy--and the rest of us who teach nonviolence--truly Sisyphean. We begin at the bottom each time.

Over the generations, fed by great experiments and more education, the hill won't be so steep, nor so high. If we are good enough at this, we will change the slope of the war trainer from the long downhill slide, easy and frictionless, to an unscaleable cliff face--which, since Sisyphus himself was a killer, is some kind of cosmic justice. A global alliance of teachers of nonviolence can change the world.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Teachers of nonviolence

Who teaches nonviolence? This short look at a short list at some of the most accomplished scholars and practitioners is woefully incomplete. I've tried to highlight some who feature at least one of the following characteristics:
1. Research--conducts it, knows it
2. Practice--has done it, does it
3. Forward thinking--integrates philosophical and strategic
4. Charismatic--excites students
5. Mentoring--guides students who then do wonderful things

Gail Presbey teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy. She writes: "My favorite part about teaching you: Your openness to new ideas and experiences. When I pose philosophical ideas, you are interested and willing to debate them. Also, when I ask you to go into the community for service, you take up the challenge." She travels the world and engages in both research and practice, both of which inform her teaching.

Barry Gan Barry directs the Center for Nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University. He edits Acorn, the journal of the Gandhi-King Society, and co-edits Peace & Change, the journal of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and the Peace History Society. He is co-editor of Nonviolence in Theory and Practice, 2nd edition. His students love him.

Erica Chenoweth is a researcher into strategic nonviolence at Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut. Her work is at the edge of the field of determining what methods of struggle work under what conditions producing what results.

George Lakey is a professor and researcher at Swarthmore College. He was a founder of Training for Change and has trained thousands of nonviolent activists and community leaders over the decades. George brings long years of activism to his teaching.

There are many more professors, but also many nongovernmental organizations train nonviolent actionists who will do accompaniment, civil resistance, interposition and other forms of nonviolent action. As we educate, we introduce new social norms and that is how they change. I am so grateful for these tireless teachers and the hundreds of others who labor at offering humankind another method of conflict management.

Teach nonviolence: Early efforts

On December 5, 1987, a meeting was convened at the University of California-Irvine. Representatives of 23 peace studies programs attended and many others expressed their strong support for the initiative. This meeting explored the needs of peace studies programs, agreed upon the necessary steps toward meeting those needs, and formed The Peace Studies Association.

One early peace studies program was at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, a Quaker school. The academic major was launched in 1974 and has several tracks, none of which include the word nonviolence, and one of which is "Religion and Pacifism." The base and tilt of that program is the tradition of pacifism based on the Quaker Peace Testimony of 1660, which in many ways was the recognition of the dangers of trying to mix politics and religion. While the 1660 document was clear on pacifism, it also removed Quakers from their controversial role that had earned them so much oppression when founder George Fox allied himself with Oliver Cromwell and then Cromwell lost power. The identification of pacifism rather than nonviolence in many ways is adaptive for the Quakers but it made the introduction of the notion of strategic nonviolence into curricula somewhat harder. Indeed, while the core of the Earlham Peace and Global Studies program requires a 100-level "History and Theory of Nonviolent Movements" course, there are no other courses in the current major with the word nonviolence in them and "Marxism" is actually required in two of the tracks. Pacifism, not nonviolence, is the clear focus.

On the other hand, the first peace studies program established in the US, in 1948 at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, has been in evolution toward understanding movements at the curricular level since at least 1971 with its launch of Nonviolent Social Change, (newsletter dove logo) its newsletter devoted to understanding nonviolent movements. Ken Brown (photo: Kenneth Brown) and others have been the heart and soul of that evolution. They have helped students who wish to be a part of various mass nonviolent movements (at the School of the Americas protest, photo from Manchester College Peace Studies files) and they integrate their Church of the Brethren religious pacifism roots with a strong study of strategic nonviolence.

Another welcome initiative was the Plowshares Collaboration between Goshen College, Earlham College and Manchester College peace programs, though in the long and multipronged set of mission items the word nonviolence never appears.

Pacifism as an individual spiritual witness has marked the historic peace churches for more than 400 years. Entraining Gandhi's theories and practice of mass liberatory nonviolence has been much more recent, but it has happened far more seriously just in the past few years, as the early work of Gene Sharp has begun to bear fruit and shows its robust value. This slow incorporation of a more flinty-eyed idealism has been the result of Sharp's ongoing work and that of his many excellent proteges, many of whom have their own mentees and schools of thought and praxis.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Teaching nonviolence

(Nonviolence teachers, mother and daughter)
Students are skeptical about nonviolence when they come into class. They usually leave convinced that nonviolence is the most adaptive method of conflict management. How does this happen?

First, we come to understand nonviolence as a way to fight for respect without engendering the massive consequences that using violence usually brings. No one needs to prove they can beat up Mr Nonviolence. In fact, when I was in prison, one fellow came over to my cot in the middle of the gang room and, towering over me, looked at me scornfully and said, "I'm going to knock out your fucking eye. What are you gonna do with your nonviolence?" I paused and thought to myself (as the rest of the room grew so silent you could hear breathing), this would be a wonderful time for my creative nonviolent response to work. Finally I said, 'Well, that would be mean of you and I'd reserve the right to see you catch another case.' That message was quite confusing. The room held its breath for a minute and then came a twitterlaugh from one or two guys. Then the big guy hulking over me laughed. We were friends from then on. I broke all the rules and rewrote them in the moment. I cared for his face and mine, literally, and it worked (thank goddess).

Second, we learn that it is the only possible chance for a win-win outcome. When you use violence against violence, there will be one winner at the most, and often two losers. At least with nonviolence you have a chance for a win-win.

Third, we learn that, when we use nonviolence, at least we aren't contributing to the level of violence in the world. We can control our own behavior and no one else's. (Las Madres braved the Pinochet regime and helped bring it down without harming anyone) If we aren't adding to the violence we remove at least that reason for anyone else to be violent.

Fourth, it becomes clear that the success rates of nonviolence are superior to those of violence. The empirical comparative studies are becoming fairly overwhelming in their cogency and robustness. In any given conflict, bet on the nonviolent side and it is your best bet. (Otpur in Serbia, where 'powerless' students prompted the end of the Milosevic dictatorship) You may not always win, but it will be more than half the time. With violence, you are lucky to collect a quarter of the time.

Fifth, the costs of violence are becoming better known and are huge, to the ecology and economy, to all other enterprises, and to the well being of the masses of people. (Che Guevara was in on one successful violent revolution that brought in decades of a military government and he advised many unsuccessful attempts, such as this one in Congo)

Sixth, the beneficiaries of violence are now understood and identified. They are the owner class, the military officers, the war profiteers and those who can extract the wealth--human and natural resources--of conquered regions. People on the ground, the regular people, do not benefit. They pay.

Finally, the factors in transforming conflict from destructive to constructive are more well known each year as peace research identifies and exegetes them for us. The numbers and qualities of the tools in our chest are far more mastered than ever. Nonviolence is no longer about saving our spiritual butts. It's about winning.