Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Public education

Understanding war and peace in a systems sense is grasping the outcomes and the factors that produce it. The US is part of the global war system; indeed, it ranks 85th on the Global Peace Index and, if anything, is destined to slip as other places begin to see the realpolitik of peace and change their institutions to seek it.

“In systems theory, attention is given to the role of social learning and culture in the way in which social systems change” (Ramsbotham, Woodhouse, & Miall, 2005, p. 46). That social learning is happening elsewhere and seems to be passing us by. Obama spends more on war than any president since FDR. John Roberts runs a court more concerned by far with spreading guns amongst Americans who shoot each other or themselves at a rate of just about 2,500 per month. Congress fights tooth and nail against health care as an American right, only 'reforming' itself by forcing another 23 million of us to purchase private insurance from corporations. Where is the social learning?

In the US, reliance upon guns and bombs, military bases and threats of violence, reveals a surrealpolitik in an era of oil pollution, economic recession and redundant proofs of the nonsustainable path of war. And where is the social learning about oil? We are incurring the wrath of Muslims and Mother Nature alike through our dysfunctional addictions and somehow seem to believe that the laws of the universe just don't apply to us because we are Americans. We get to occupy other's lands, we get to arm their oppressors from the Royal House of Saud to Hosni Mubarak--and then claim to be spreading democracy while instead spreading the wholesale terrorism of the client states against their own citizens, who then turn to retail terrorism eventually.

I haven't owned a car in years. I either bike or take mass transit every day and I'll be 60 soon, an old man. I've earned my windshield time, my personal auto ride into town to the university, haven't I? I'm an American, so I get to pamper myself and ignore the fate of the Earth. My knees aren't doing all that well; why don't I preserve myself better by the security of a private car? Who cares about the Gulfs--Persian or Mexico? Well, I guess I wish I could treat myself as more deserving than the children and grandchildren, but somehow I can't bring myself to get in line with my baby boomer generation of selfishness.

And what of my housemate Terri? She earns a great living in high tech many miles out in the far-off suburbs, she's in her 40s, her knees aren't that great, and she's the single Mom of a five-year-old. Of course she should have a car--preferably an SUV, since she'll no doubt be a soccer Mom soon, once little Alexa starts school. But no, they pedaled off this morning to the day care some three miles in one direction and Terri will turn right around and pedal nine or ten miles back in the other direction to catch a bus to work. How positively unAmerican! What if everybody did such things?

Oh, that's right. If everyone did such things we would not be engaged in two wars nor would we be watching the Gulf of Mexico get murdered and the beaches and mangroves of the southeastern US get tarred and feathered.

Ramsbotham, Oliver, Woodhouse, Tom, and Miall, Hugh (2005). Contemporary conflict resolution (2nd ed.). Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Speaking truth to power

All power to the people! was the ignorant but well meaning shout of the 60s, from whence I came (b 1950, teen and young adult in 60s). I claim ignorant because all the power is already in the hands of the people, of the populace, if only they would awaken to that fact. This is always true, whether they have taken it or whether they have let it languish. This is true in the most advanced, participatory, direct democracy and in a brutal closed dictatorship. The question is not how to take power from the leaders, but rather how to stop ceding it to them. Indeed, Gandhi noted that Britain had not taken India, India had given itself to the empire. With just 100,000 troops, the British empire held command over 300 million Indians--until they stopped cooperating.

This is how a war system operates in our name, around the world. We let it. We could stop it, but we don't. We pay our federal taxes, half of which go to war, war preparation, or the cost of past wars. We do that every year. We vote in politicians who promise peace and vote for war. We do this every two years.

And the endless reports on how poorly these dollars are actually spent has no discernible effect. The multiple and endless failures in Afghanistan produce a liberal Democratic president who escalates the war and Republicans who criticize him for not escalating it more. Each and every US program there is a failure, even though the Pentagon paints a huge mural of rosy success. Independent reports peel off that veneer and show the sad and predictable truth. From the New York Times: "Despite spending by the United States of $27 billion on the training of Afghan security forces since 2002, the report found that even top-rated Afghan units could not operate independently and that the ratings of many security forces overstated their actual capabilities."
(Heck of a job, Stanley; you're fired)
This week we see the spectacle once again of the US committing more massive amounts of money so desperately needed to create US jobs sent into the deep pockets of the war profiteers. Congress will vote on pumping another $33 billion from your paycheck into the veins of this war. How will your representative vote? Will you tell him or her how you feel about this? If we wanted to, we could be power speaking to our public servants, "Vote no." Or we can whine and sigh and pay up for more blood on our hands. Those are our primary choices.

Back in the day, this required a piece of paper, and envelope, a stamp, finding addresses, writing a letter, and mailing it. In our easy democracy it is pick up a phone or click your mouse:
The Capitol Switchboard is 202-225-3121. Ask to be connected to your Representative's office. Try to get the Foreign Policy Legislative Assistant on the phone; tell whomever you get to speak with that you urge the Representative to vote no on war funding and to co-sponsor McGovern's bill and vote for McGovern's amendment; try to get them to say how the Representative will vote; report back to us any result of your query at the following link:


Words fail

Orwell lives and newspeak rules. War is peace and loss is profit. Building bombs is disarmament and requesting more for war is never doing so.
Sometimes one just has to shake one’s head in our Brave New Age of Newspeak (to mix my dystopic fictions), a generation past 1984 (and two generations past its publication, when it was meant by Orwell to satirize Soviet propaganda), when Barack Obama wins the Nobel Nuclear Peace Through Strength Prize and gives a speech justifying two wars while dissing nonviolence as not up to the task.
Eloquent as our first African American president is, the facts articulate for themselves cogently.
President Obama turned in a budget that plots a steady increase in spending on nuclear weapons this year and for the foreseeable future, if we can peer all the way to 2020. This is a president who claimed to want to end nuclear weapons on Earth. One has to wonder, then, if he plans to take these weapons to another planet, or if he simply said one thing and did another. His budget for new production of weapons-grade plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and bombmaking uranium at Oak Ridge in Tennessee is escalating the nuclear arms race with…um…Ghana? The Maldives?
One of the firm promises candidate Barack Obama made was that he would never do one of the reprehensible war supplemental requests so odious during the Bush years. These budget busting porcine additions have simply engorged the privatizing phenomenon beyond anything in US history. He continues to break this promise again and again, the latest another $33 billion, enriching elites, impoverishing everyone else. All this war spending is creating enemies, creating fewer jobs per $billion spent than any other kind of spending, and is therefore robbing our depressed economy of job creation. He is spending more on the Pentagon than any president has since World War II in 2009 dollars, outspending the most furious years of the Vietnam and Korea Wars. Obama’s Pentagon spending is greater than either Bush, greater than Johnson’s or Nixon’s, greater than Truman’s. All this is done as the G20 is pressuring the US to cut deficits, but we are moving at an accelerated pace in exactly the wrong direction. Obama's America ranks 85th in the Global Peace Index and, if anything, is slipping. Indeed, the GPI found that:
"A 25 percent reduction in global violence would free up $1.8 trillion USD annually - enough to pay off Greece’s debt, fund the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and meet the EU’s 20-20-20 climate and energy targets."
Is it any wonder that our people can scarcely imagine a peace society, a peace system, a demilitarized culture? But we continue to try to envision it. We try so hard that candidates must lie to us in order to get elected. It is unpleasant to call Barack Obama a liar. I was amongst the millions who were so happy he was elected. It felt like the maturation of America. Now it feels like the hoary hands of the war gods are gripping the throat of our dreams of peace. We seem unable to loosen that grip and we just pay up and shut up. The world is waiting for us to wake up. I join that prayer for our engagement, our stirring from slumber. The costs (pictured in part in these final photos) are too great and growing impossible to sustain.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Comparing apples and...landmines?

Nonviolence is force. Violence is force. The questions about the two methods include:
• Can serious change happen more readily with nonviolence or violence?
• If violence can impose higher costs, why choose any other method of challenge to oppression and injustice?
• Can nonviolence impose different costs than can violence?
• What are the long term outcomes of the two methods, that is, are there any significant differences?
• Which is faster?
• Which is cheaper?
• Which method is more natural for humans?
• Which method entails more risk?
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the questions that arise when a movement considers how it will wage conflict, engage in contest, challenge injustice or solve massive social problems in a society structurally committed to ineffective practices. And no short piece can address all these questions adequately.
• Can serious change happen more readily with nonviolence or violence?
Joan Baez said a violent revolution is a contradiction in terms. This may or may not be an overstatement, but in a 2005 study of 67 regime changes over the previous 33 years, nonviolence had a higher success rate (Karatnycky).
• If violence can impose higher costs, why choose any other method of challenge to oppression and injustice?
The idea should be to come out further ahead with a method, not just to come out ahead of the opponent. If I gain $50 but spend $49, my gain is $1. If I gain only $10 but spend only $3, I’m further ahead. Those who do the demography of war show us wars that gained victory for one party but cost millions of lives, billions of dollars, a massively damaged environment, huge human costs of rehabilitation and care for the injured, and both individual and social psychological costs, with far lower costs on the nonviolent side (Sharp, 2005). The costs of overthrowing Milosevic were for some cell phones and bumperstickers, t-shirts and press releases.
No one even did any long prison sentences nonviolently resisting him and he was toppled.
• Can nonviolence impose different costs than can violence?
Nonviolence cannot draw blood or it no longer qualifies as nonviolence. Nonviolence can destroy an investment climate by boycotts and strikes (Sharp, 2005). Violence can destroy everything. Nonviolent force both demoralizes and converts opponents, causing loyalty shifts more surely than does violence, which usually—but not always—increases resolution and defensive commitment (Popovic, Milivojevic & Djinovic, 2006). When negotiation convinces a violent opponent that the nonviolent challenger does not intend to destroy the oppressor but will never cease in imposing costs until the oppression lifts, space can open up for a victory (Lynd & Lynd, 1995).
• What are the long term outcomes of the two methods, that is, are there any significant differences?
Real measurement of the metrics of civil liberties and human rights in the aftermath of regime change show a significant but not inevitable advantage to nonviolent methods (Karatnycky, 2005). Further, violent conflict has a longer trail of vulnerability to the resumption of hot conflict as the result of a triggering action (Darby, 2001). The overwhelming costs to women and children of most modern warfare, in which civilian casualties are higher, is enduring (Mertus, 2000).
• Which is faster?
This is highly situational and contextual (Zunes, Kurtz & Asher, 1999). It took Gandhi from 1919-1947 to free India from British rule using nonviolence. It took decades to free Guatemala from a string of military dictators and juntas. It took four days to liberate the Philippines using nonviolence in 1986. A military coup can happen in hours. There are no firm conclusions here (Sharp, 2005).
• Which is cheaper?
Nonviolence. In every case, people power is simply not capital intensive. Net victories are far less costly with nonviolence (Ackerman and Kruegler, 1994). Even preparing for violent conflict is massively expensive (Sivard, 1996).
• Which method is more natural for humans?
In some situations, violence seems quite natural for humans, and in others, nonviolence is almost intuitive. Risk assessment and collective memory about atrocities affect the conditioned responses (Gregor, 1996; Groebel & Hinde, 1989; Grossman, 1995).
• Which method entails more risk?
Risks are highly situational and are mitigated along with potential rewards. Paying others to engage in violence is only risky to an economy. Imposing costs using nonviolent methods such as boycotts or sanctions can be risk-free (Swiss Confederation, 2001). Both methods can be mortally risky.
These are not moral considerations, but all ethical and moral choices have psychological components (Teichman, 1986). If you kill my daughter as collateral damage in an otherwise just war, do you think I’ll stop feeling overwhelmingly hurt by you and eager at some level to see you suffer? If you do, you have a higher opinion of me than I do of myself. The descendents of those British defeated and evicted by Gandhi seem positively favorable toward India but still quite nervous about Germany. Some argue for mixed methods (e.g. Evans), but one might also argue that such methods expose the nonviolent actionists to more risk than the violent actors face in some cases (Weber, 1996). Indeed, in the case of the Zapatistas, it is clear that the Acteal Massacre of the nonviolent parishioners was in revenge for those nonviolent resisters refusing to repudiate the violence of the Zapatistas. Research into collective memory shows passive-aggressive behavior repeatedly in human history.

Ackerman, Peter and Christopher Kruegler (1994). Strategic nonviolent conflict: the dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers.
Darby, John (2001). The effects of violence on peace processes. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.
Evans, B. Revolution without violence. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice, 21:85–94
Gregor, T. (Ed.) (1996). A natural history of peace. Nashville TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Groebel, Jo, and Robert A. Hinde (1989). Aggression and war: Their biological and social bases. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.
Grossman, Lt. Col. David (1995). On killing: The psychological cost of learning to kill in war and society. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Karatnycky, A. (2005). How freedom is won: From civic resistance to durable democracy. New York: Freedom House.
Lynd, Staughton. & Lynd, Alice. (1995). Nonviolence in America: A documentary history (2nd ed.). Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books (original 1966).
Mertus, Julie A. (2000). War’s offensive on women: The humanitarian challenge in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. Bloomfield CT: Kumarian Press.
Popovic, S., Milivojevic, A., Djinovic, S. (2006). Nonviolent struggle: 50 crucial points, a strategic approach to everyday tactics. Belgrade, Serbia: Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies.
Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.
Sivard, Ruth Leger (1996). World military and social expenditures 1996. Washington DC: World Priorities.
Swiss Confederation (2001). Targeted financial sanctions: A manual for design and implementation. Providence RI: Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies.
Teichman, Jenny (1986). Pacifism and the Just War: A study in applied philosophy. New York: Basil Blackwell.
Weber, Thomas (1996). Gandhi’s Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and unarmed peacekeeping. Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press.
Zunes, S.; Kurtz, L. R.; & Asher S. B. (1999). Nonviolent social movements: A geographical perspective. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gandhi v the dragon

"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."--J. R. R. Tolkien (pictured)

The dragon of structural violence is what Gandhi wrestled with as he sought justice via the methods that would create the least misery for all. So, while he eschewed violence entirely, he used methods that caused loss of income for some back in England, and, I might add, loss of income for many in India at a few points too.

But he did something that those who commit violence can never do. He went directly, in person, to those most affected, and explained it to them in detail and apologized for their losses. He did that when he asked village headmen, employed by the British government, to quite their jobs as he sought to make India ungovernable. He did that most amazingly and innovatively by insisting that when he traveled to England to negotiate with the government of the empire he stayed in the poorest neighborhoods most affected by his boycott of British cloth, the Manchester mills working class section. He earnestly outreached to them in person, told them about bonfires burning British clothing, and they loved him. There is no record of anyone doing such a thing in human history of conflict until then. Impossible with violence. The enemy general going door-to-door to explain why he needs to kill your son? I don't think so. It was flat-out creative, brilliant, and successful. He told them about the dragon in India, the crushing poverty created by British extraction of human and natural resources, and they understood that he was only trying to create more justice with no violence. They accepted their hit, literally, smiling. Astonishing.

Gandhi and khadi--the original spinmeister.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nonviolence is force

"Should we use force against Ahmadinijad or should we just ignore him?"

"It is sometimes necessary to use force. That's why we have a military."

These are the kinds of assertions that make us realize how much work we have to do if we believe that we should use strategic nonviolence, which is largely about force. Do we wait around for a murderer to grow a conscience or do we step in to force that murderer to stop? Force is necessary in the short run and the short run will always be here in that the next situation calling for force arises very quickly, or even concomitantly.
Our society swivels a collective gimlet eye upon such notions. How can we nonviolently force anyone to do anything?

Gene Sharp compiled a list of such methods, about which we must make some notes. One, it was done in 1973, so the list is now much longer as creative actionists from around the world have devised new methods. Two, many of the methods are not coercive and some are. Three, some of the methods are both coercive and will not produce much pushback--these are the optimal--and some are coercive and will produce a response, possibly brutal.

Sharp has written many books that can help contextualize those actions and discuss the power dynamics in them so that actionists on the ground, in the moment, wherever they are, under any circumstances, can perform their own particular calculations to find the best methods.

If we only act from our conscience and are not thinking about results, we don't need Sharp, we don't even need philosophical or religious counseling. We can just act because each of us is a sovereign human, even if no one else recognizes that sovereignty. Gandhi, in fact, said that the only dictator he listened to was the small voice from within.

But if we wish to achieve results--even if we believe logically that the chances of such achievement are small--we need to think about force.

Gandhi eschewed the word force in one sense and embraced it in another.

He claimed that none of his actions were meant to force the British to do anything.


He said that to preserve British dignity. He forced them all the time and he well knew it--and they well knew it. It was a subtext, Gandhi's diplomatic approach to kickass nonviolence. "Hello, you brutal, unfair, greedy, smug oppressors. I'm going to smile at you whilst beating your butt again, and we are going to pretend together that I am a saint who loves you and would never do such a thing. If you break ranks it will get worse. If you kill me, shudder to think what 300 million aroused and enraged Indians will do to your 100,000 troops. They will eat them for breakfast. So play as nice as you can and let this test match begin. See you on the pitch."
Did I just Americanize and westernize Gandhi? Yes. Would he disagree with me? Yes, for attribution. No, in my opinion, to himself, at least in the basics.

Nonviolence is not a cattle prod with variable voltage, but rather a far more complex approach than the most elaborate military assault, campaign, or even war. At the end, even noncoercive inducements are coercive. That is, even when I give you something with zero overt expectation of a quid pro quo, you and I and everyone expects reciprocity.

So the attempt to separate nonviolence from coercion is, for the vast majority of actions, futile and irrelevant. If I am sitting in at my senator's office trying to get him to vote against more funding for more war, I am on my best behavior. I am not acting falsely--I go inside and summon it authentically, or I may abandon my discipline just when I need it the most. This is exactly why nonviolence is most effective when it appears to be unforceful. I force the police to either treat me reasonably well or face poor publicity. On a much larger and more profound stage, Gandhi forced the British to treat people decently or face opprobrium and even hostility in India and abroad. Remember little England presumed to run the world in that era and had vast lands that weren't hers in her empire. She needed the consent of the ruled in all cases or the empire would collapse. She lost that first in the US to violent insurgency in a seven-year war that killed 40,000-50,000 from battle and disease.

Then Britain lost India to nonviolent force and the mortalities never reached the level in any one year that demographers classify as a war. Gandhi showed a better way, though his first effort took so long that most decolonizing struggles chose the American model, which was ironically supplied by Soviet AKs and Leninist doctrine.

Nonviolent force is usually a redundancy, and the more the actionists claim to exerting no force, the more they are exerting moral force in a social psychological inverse relationship. The literal translation of satyagraha is truthforce and that is illuminating, isn't it?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

From payback to pay it forward

When I'm in pain about something that happened to me or to someone else, the next person who offends me may get a double reaction. Is this fair? No. Is it human? Yes. And it also multiplies the pain, since that second person now has been hurt by me and will carry that until releasing on someone else. The old syndrome of the wimpy man beating up his wife or kids because everyone has been intimidating him all day is stereotypical but too often true and generalizable. Only with a rational self-confrontation can we begin to understand and correct our own behaviors, and we usually have to keep reminding ourselves of that. Those who deal with others in their work learn it professionally or they are poor professionals. That is part of the potential value of the study of conflict resolution and nonviolent theory and practice. It takes some of the mystery out of conflict transformation and makes nonviolent success seem less like a miracle and more like a logical outcome.
Dr. Maciej Bartkowski of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict looks at some of these questions as they might relate to nonviolence challenging extreme violence. For example, in the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos became more and more violent even as the opposition moved more and more toward nonviolence, meeting the escalating violence with professionally disciplined nonviolence.(Filipina nonviolence professionals pictured) He looks at it through various lenses, including a very rational supply, demand, and competitive products model. When radical response is desired, violence is often in demand because it is what people have understood as the most robust response. Fighters volunteer to supply the demand. If we are vigorous on the nonviolent side we can offer the competing product, nonviolent responses and challenges. It requires great levels of competencies and one of those competencies is our adherence to a code of conduct that may feel counterintuitive when cathartic violence attracts many.
Writ small, this requires us to think like professionals. I recall counseling my own father, at one point, when he was beside himself with frustration at his mother's (my grandmother's) behavior and attitudes. My father was a psychologist, a counselor, and I turned it on him. "Pop," I suggested, "treat Mabel like a client." He thought about it, tried it, and told me it was enormously helpful, and even allowed him to regain some love for her as he was able to set aside his current exasperation and think of some of the nice times when he was a child. Creating these internal boundaries between our emotional triggers and our actual behavior is key to making progress on the interpersonal as well as the international fronts.
Nonviolent professionals. That's quite a concept. One of the best new initiatives is Nonviolent Peaceforce, a transnational nongovernmental professional conflict management and transformation organization. They train quite seriously.
Alternatives to violence present the way to pay it forward, to frontload our environments with examples of more adaptive ways to approach our conflicts. Professional discipline might offer us a way forward, even when we are surrounded by those who continue to try to take out their pain inflicted by someone else upon us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Media kills or cures: Promoting nonviolence

In the late 1970s I was involved in a movement to shut down a nuclear weapons command facility. We generated little notice and a few recruits (pictured).

Just a few years later, Randall Forsberg (pictured) started the nuclear freeze movement and brought a million people to a peacewalk in New York. We realized we had not been learning how to use media to recruit.
You are in a movement. You have realized that you need to recruit more numbers to your ranks. You need to create political pressure to get the policy change you seek. In short, you need media.
The dream: Major media takes the content of your brochures, your position papers, your manifesto, and puts it on page one. Since you are not the Unabomber, you don't take that fantasy too seriously. Instead, you begin to think about media strategies and tactics to operate as nonviolent civil resistance strategies and tactics.
Media gets you public attention, relevance, significance, and some possible protection. So how do you message to get the best help from the media? Your message is fact, perspective and transmits your connection to others as well as your credentials to offer a credible message.
There is no faster way to engage in leveling the playing field than to use media.
These are easy principles and they all swiftly degenerate into lots of hard work.
Failing to control the message will fail to recruit support and participation.
Messages are authentic and simple. They resonate with shared values. Use the values base to draw others to your approach. The more elements and the more confusing the long list of positional demands in your message, the more your recruitments cancel each other out.
Ride the policy wave. Be a player in the dialectic. Your timing is crucial. Like a surfer, you watch the building waves behind you and you learn when to switch to high energy and all the muscle you can bring to bear.
Control your image. Rachel Corrie's image justified her death. Nicolas Kristof specifically features the suffering of young girls in order to gain more resources and justice for everyone, because research into public opinion shows that sympathy for young girls outranks sympathy for all others. When someone turns on a television to see members of an antiwar demonstration burning soldiers in effigy your message for that demonstration will negatively affect recruitment. You may gain 11 burn-it-down nihilists and lose 1,100 working citizens. Think in terms of net gain.
A great part of your people power should be devoted to media. The older I get and the more campaigns I work in, the more I'm convinced that our work should be one part action, four parts discussion and negotiation, and five parts media. Whatever the ratio or priorities of your group, move media up high and get the people power to make it happen.
Gentle personalism. There is no substitute for relationship advantage. Don't let the default arrangement be the unchanging status quo. If an editor isn't your friend, make her your friend. If a reporter doesn't know who you are, invite him out for coffee, have a couple of things in writing, but don't give him those things until you are shaking hands goodbye for the day. This apparently unfair and biased approach is simple human nature. It works and ignore it to the detriment of your campaign, your movement, and your personal cache as a news provider.
Grab 'em by the throat in the first few seconds and never let go. National Public Radio aired a segment that included an interview with a long-retired movie director who was asked how he got the interest of the viewers. "I grab 'em by the throat in the first few seconds and never let go," was the response. Make your pitch, your press release, and your own writings center on stories that illustrate your point. Start with the story, make your point, mention the story again, and you are happily helping the mainstream media operative to help you.
In our little case to shut down a nuclear weapons command site we did learn how to use the media eventually. We generated stories in many local, state, and regional media, and even into national media such as the Christian Science Monitor and surprisingly even one long story in Asahi Shimbun, a huge Japanese newspaper. Despite the US navy telling us that they would keep the facility open for another 30-35 years, it's shut down now. I think we did a good job, finally. It's never too late to learn.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

War: the gift that keeps on taking

"The Boeing Co., Defense, Space and Security, Global Mobility Systems, Long Beach, Calif., was awarded a $1,528,454,053 contract modification that will procure eight C-17 aircraft."(pictured)
Sigh. I get these every day. You can too, if you are as masochistic as I am. You can get them in your emailbox daily from the Department of Defense. You can subscribe to all DoD media releases, and so you'll also get each report each time a US soldier is killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Who benefits--Boeing shareholders and corporate executives benefit the most--and who dies? Follow the trails of money and blood. Rich people die of natural causes with their artificially high wealth. Poor people die in battle in artificially created conflicts.
Since the US spends a nominal $895 billion in the next year, plus the other budgets that don't get officially counted as military (e.g. Veterans Affairs or nuclear weapons or military spacecraft), we are spending approximately $2.7b/day on the military. This works out to something close to $2m/minute. Pretty soon that adds up to real money.
All this--100 percent of it--is paid for by taking it from the paychecks of working Americans. We are dragging, carrying and toting the entire war machine on our shoulders and what do we get for it?
DoD and its contracting corporations are responsible for more Superfund sites than any other sector of the US economy. DoD is the largest single consumer of transport fuel in the world. Domestic abuse is widespread and increasing in the military. Brain injury is common and commonly untreated.
All these 'benefits' come out of your paycheck. Isn't it time to ask about our spending priorities and isn't it time to call a halt to the supplementals that Obama promised he would never do? We are about to see yet another Bush-era-style vote on yet another $33b above and beyond the DoD budget for more war.
Meanwhile, the jobless recovery continues to pauperize more and more Americans--how do you create enough jobs when each $b spent on the military creates the fewest jobs? even as it consumes more of our strategic oil and minerals that will never be available for anyone to use. Oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico and our money is spewing into the Persian Gulf--and now, increasingly also into Afghanistan.
Time to declare victory and go home. If you are worried about security in Afghanistan or Iraq, donate 10 percent of the US military budget to the UN and simply make it their problem. They will make $100b go a long ways, Iraqis and Afghanis will settle their differences with no more violence than we have introduced and enabled, and our national security will be enhanced. We will be free to cut $200b from our military budget immediately and begin substituting alternative methods for our own defense even as we enable the UN to develop alternative methods to gain and maintain security in the world.

Freedom always slightly more than a stone's throw away

This is a film that is about a community’s struggle to avert the “Security Fence” that cuts through the West Bank and into Palestine lands. A village named Budrus undertook the kind of resistance most common in the first intifada, mostly nonviolent with some episodic stone-throwing. In the end, the methods worked, especially after the solidarity shown by internationals and Israeli peace activists. The fenceline was moved to miss the village and though they lost many olive trees, it could have been much worse.
Palestinian protests have a singular style, usually involving a rhythmic call-and-response chanting, the crowd and the bullhorn. “Boop-bada-boop-bada-boop-boop-boop,” goes the rhythmic chant from the bullhorn. The crowd answers back with the same line. It might be “Budrus is the great mother of heroes!” or “You can shoot but we won’t murder!” Of course, it sounds strident and defiant to most IDF soldiers and to most of the non-Arabic world who might see it on the media in Israel and around the world, since far more Palestinians speak Hebrew than IDF soldiers understand Arabic. Angry appearing chanters led by a bullhorn might give courage and some measure of unity to participants, but it does little to win sympathy from Israelis who see it on the media, not to mention Israeli Defense Force troops right in front of them. The Palestinians give off an image nothing like the images from the Civil Rights movement, the United Farmworkers in the days of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, or the Filipinos and Filipinas who interposed between two great army factions of the Philippines in February 1986. They are responding to great injustice and no one can blame them, yet that spirit is still anything but invitational. The tone and stones are liabilities, yet the unending willingness to resist is a great asset.
Ayed Morrar is the Budrus village leader who works hard to transform the resistance landscape. He's a man with children he's barely known, as he's been so consumed with being a Palestinian fighter, in and out of prison, and he draws together the local members of opposing forces of Hamas and Fatah first. He has to handle the visiting Hamas leadership gingerly, noting that they are in the offices and not the field, yet they treat him and his campaign as though they are unimportant while demanding all the respect for themselves. He is clearly weary of finessing them. His vision for victory is playing way past them, way past the destructive civil war between Fatah and Hamas, way past the stone-throwing youth, and yet he must deal with all of that cultural and political baggage as he throws his shoulder to the wheel anew every day.
Ayed came to the screening of the film at Tufts and his authenticity and humility are endearing and engaging.
His style--the nonviolent bulldog--prevails, especially when his 15-year-old daughter, Iltezam, decides she is going to join the resistance on the front lines. She brings in the women, Ayed relents, and they courageously move into areas known for their lethality. When Iltezam leaps alone into a hole in front of a bulldozer that is uprooting olive trees, our hearts leap into our throats, afraid for her life. We all know what happened to Rachel Corrie, an American whose life was far more high profile than a poor Palestinian girl. Her courage, her nonviolent intuition and discipline, her leadership and modeling of how to be effective and inclusive, sits at the center of this story for some of us.
From the film's website: "The movie is directed by award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha (co-writer and editor of Control Room and co-director Encounter Point), and produced by Bacha, Palestinian journalist Rula Salameh, and filmmaker and human rights advocate Ronit Avni (formerly of WITNESS, Director of Encounter Point)."
Bacha, a Brazilian who seems to be a fearless filmer, apparently did much of the actual filming, at least that is what I took from her Skyped-in participation in the discussion following the screening. The film is making a difference and will, it it hoped, continue to educate the world about the issues, and about Palestinian attempts at nonviolence. Perhaps the responses of the world will help Ayed Morrar as he struggles to help his country learn the strength of nonviolence and the relative weakness of the counterproductive violence--however justified--that in fact gave the Israeli government the excuse to seize more Palestinian land in the first place, something Bacha shows poignantly with scenes from suicide bombings of buses in Israel that gave the rationale to the IDF spokesperson's argument as she interviewed him about the security fence.
Hamas and Fatah have their styles of resistance, and thus Palestinians lose, little by little, every year. They should emulate Budrus. Fimmakers around the world should emulate Bacha.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A strong moral oak in our human ecology

(James Lawson then and now)

In late 1959, as most of the United States snoozed, politically, safe and secure in the knowledge that we represent the creator of modern democracy and the pinnacle of freedom and human rights on Earth, James Lawson began an insurrection. Although many in monochromatic America could not conceive of anyone challenging the rule of the majority as anything other than a dupe of the commies, James Lawson was training young people in the art of nonviolent combat so they could, in fact, strengthen our democracy.
Democracy is more than two cats and a mouse deciding what's for lunch.
And so Lawson, a young minister from Pennsylvania who had studied and taught for three years in India, began to train young black and white students in Gandhian nonviolence in Nashville, Tennessee. Jim Crow segregation had been legalized in the South beginning with the Supreme Court decision Plessy v Ferguson in 1896, which had lasted until nonviolent civil resistance by Rosa Parks began the process that resulted in Brown v Board of Education in 1954.
"December 6, 1955, is the day I heard about the Montgomery bus boycott," said Lawson in an opening speech to the Fletcher Summer Institute 20 June 2010. "I was in India and it was front page news. It gave hope to millions around the world." It was civil society rising up to gain human rights and that struggle became Lawson's and he came home to help lead it. "The bus boycott lasted 381 days and it did not begin with the use of the word nonviolent," said Lawson. Rather, it was a natural upwelling of the longing for justice by the most powerful and most legitimate means at hand. Only gradually did the movement acquire the Gandhian theories of mass action, stamping civil society struggle with its own improvements and adaptations.
"I didn't learn to sit-in from studying Gandhi," said Lawson. "That had been used by CORE and others, and we decided to start with that in Nashville." The young Congress of Racial Equality had used sit-ins in restaurants in Chicago and elsewhere beginning the late 1940s, but when Lawson decided to apply that technique in Nashville, he took another element from Gandhian struggle, from the salt plant campaign, when waves of satyagrahis came to the gates and were beaten down, showing the world the brutal injustice of British rule in India.
"So when we did our sit-ins," said Lawson, "we had 600 trained to engage and they did that in waves, like the salt manufacturing challenge in India."
Taking the best from one campaign, stitching it together with the best from another campaign, and framing it to fit perfectly into the self-image that Americans had created of themselves in that day was a public policy stroke of pure genius that proved itself victorious quite quickly. The first Nashville sit-in was in February 1960 and by April the mayor of Nashville, Ben West, had told the irresistable resisters that they were right and that Nashville should and would desegregate.
"It was scientific," said Lawson.
Indeed it was. And of course he was keying off of the subtitle to Mohandas K. Gandhi's autobiography, which was The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Humankind at its best operates just like this. Put together pieces of the puzzle in new ways, create something new out of disparate components and study the results.
We are still learning from James Lawson and I was so privileged to shake his hand and join a standing ovation when he finished. It was so fitting when Jack DuVall, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, announced the new James Lawson Award for Nonviolent Achievement, which will be given annually beginning 2011.
I was nine years old when Lawson started his Nashville experiments with truth and I'm an oldster now. Lawson still stands like a strong oak in our human ecology. I pay great tribute to him for helping America to live up to her ideals and I offer his model to our nation now as a curative for the national need to be strong yet civil, as we continue to engage our own democracy and work to make it better. Lawson still shows us the path forward.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Referred pain and nonviolent communication

In the 2000 census there were 181 reported incidents of violence or threatened violence to census takers. In 2010 that number more than doubled to 379. Upon learning that a person had come to their door from the government, people shot, stabbed, threw chairs, loosed dogs, and threatened these workers, most of whom make about $15 per hour for this episodic canvas.
What did these workers do to deserve such horrific treatment? They were available and they were from the government. Were they spies, collecting evidence to prosecute someone? Were they agents from criminal investigative agencies or were they undercover mind control specialists from the al-Qa'ida-communist-Obama enslavement project? Apparently, in the minds of these poor deluded enraged Americans. One would think it was an army of Tutsis sent to command the Hutu masses and the brave few rose up with machetes to try to trigger a righteous Tea-for-Terrorist spy-icide.
We have become such a coarse people. When Gandhi was asked by a reporter, "What do you think of Western Civilization?" he responded, "That sounds like a good idea." No doubt Gandhi gave a small smile and other signs of respect as he gently chided the British rulers and slowly removed the pillars of their support. His approach won, but we seem to believe now that someone who acts like Gandhi is a wimpy loser. We need to emulate the Tea Party and stand up to King George by dumping census workers and civil discourse into the harbor.
What do we expect? We invade countries illegally and unilaterally. We treat guns like a human right and health care like a privilege. We bail out Wall Street financiers and bail on average Americans. The fat privileged elite are too porcine to stop supporting and the poor--the bottom 20 percent of humankind whose income is so flat that the richest 20 percent make 82 times more, the worst disparity in human history--the poor are too small to notice.
Thus we come 'round to the theories of nonviolent communication and constructive conflict communication. People will be heard. They will speak. They will ask for justice. If ignored or redirected, they will speak again, using different phrasing or speaking louder. Finally, they resort to violence. It is the ultima ratio regum, the final logic of the king--that is, war. Or, writ tiny, it is the renter sending the pit bull after the census taker in the name of standing up to the government.
Are census workers taught to deal with such exigencies? They aren't even allowed to carry pepperspray against pit bulls, so clearly the entire approach hasn't been worked through very carefully. But beyond the symbolic doubling of these attacks in the last decade is the question of civil discourse and simple civility in our society. The prongs of incivility range from the frustration of economic insecurity to encouragement of rage to the overcrowding of our land to the lionizing of the violent path of the warrior and the lack of training and education toward civil discourse in our schools. Parenting is poor. Teaching is inadequate. Media heaps it on daily--Glenn Beck is just the point of the spear--and the comments section of our online news sources are a minefield of ad hominem attack and vulgarity. In short, the erosion of our civilization is underway.
Countering this will take a personal and cultural approach. On the Portland State University campus we are launching our version of training for civil discourse. Oregon State University already has done this. Our K12 peace educators, many of whom work in special charter schools devoted to raising gentle and effective little communicators, work on this in more and more places. More and more media are moderating comments to encourage civility. We need this kind of effort in all our institutions, in our homes, in our media and in our public spaces real and virtual.
We will see how we have done by 2020. Perhaps by then we will not see the pain of people so easily referred from justified anger at oppression to rage at an innocent census worker. If that is so, we all will have done good work of our own on this. This is only one metric of many, but it's one that will come predictably every decade and is worth examination and action.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hate spineless? Remember shameless

Many of us are disappointed with Barack Obama's administration as they exhibit all the political courage of any wet-finger wind-direction opportunists. Escalating the doomed and bloody occupation of a nation that has never allowed this for too long--Afghanistan--bombing tribal people to death in Pakistan in order to save US pilots from any risk whatsoever, taking a loooooong sllllllllow retreat from a nation that was illegally invaded and occupied, and failing to close Guantanamo, much less prosecute US war criminals who violated international law signed and ratified and made the supreme law of our land. In all these matters and more, the Obama administration has lacked the backbone necessary to stake out something better and then see it through.

However, let's glance now and then at the alternative, the shameless warmongering corporado war profiteering Republicans, embodied this week by Joe Barton (the one with the obviously patriotic tie), a Texas Republican congressman. He doesn't merely apologize for the environmental criminal corporations, he apologizes to them. In the clip in NYT he manages to apologize to BP executive Hayward three times for Obama setting up an escrow fund for the victims of the BP oil gusher, about which BP has certifiably lied many times already.

Phil Berrigan, militant nonviolent co-founder of the draft board raid movement and the Plowshares direct disarmament movement, and co-founder of Jonah House nonviolent resistance community, watched the national and international news on TV one evening at the old row house in Baltimore. I was visiting. It was in the Caspar Weinberger-Ed Meese-James Watt era. The instant it finished he snapped it off and turned to stare at me, shaking his head, and said, "Shameless. They're shameless, Tom."

Aye, Phil, bless your memory, they still are.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nobels, rogues and MIA

The Nobel Peace Prize is generally regarded as the planet's most prestigious acknowledgement of those who strive for peace. However, it misses badly quite often and has caused those who study peace and justice to think about who gets in who shouldn't get in and who is missing by mistake?

Henry Kissinger? Please. He's a signal war criminal with massive crimes in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Chile and Ford knows where else. He's the Nobel Laureate with the most blood from the most nations on his hands.

Menachim Begin? Wow. As a member of Irgun, he was in on blowing up the King David Hotel and killing 91, mostly civilians, 22 July 1946, in the bloody campaign to drive the British out of Palestine in order to make it possible to seize that land to found modern Israel. As a militant Zionist founder of Israel, he helped formulate and execute massive ethnic cleansing, driving Palestinians from land they had lived on and villages in which they had lived for generations. Real Nobel material. He was dragged along to Camp David by Jimmy Carter and though he expressed great hatred for Anwar Sadat of Egypt (who in turn thought little of Begin), they were both awarded the Nobel for the Camp David Accords.

And what can we say about the five-times nominated Mohandas Gandhi, the man who gave humankind strategic libratory nonviolence? Never got one of those darn trophies. He only did more to free Dalits from the caste discrimation and near-enslavement than anyone ever had. He only reached out to Muslims for decades, becoming the only Hindu many of them trusted in an environment of massive ethnic and religious bicommunal hatred and violence. He only gave humanity a way to win without war.

The Nobel was generally reserved for white folks until about 1960 and Gandhi was held to extraordinarily higher standards in the critical reports the Nobel committee wrote in reviewing his nominations.

In these ways and more, the Nobel is a deeply flawed award and process. And that continues. Barack Obama was given the award for a nice nuclear disarmament speech without having achieved a thing for peace and in fact gave an acceptance speech in Oslo that justified war. It was an international embarrassment. The Norwegians mean well and sometimes get it right, but do not confer much on a Peace Laureate without doing your own background check. And do not hold your breath waiting for nonviolent civil society leaders to get an award from the Nobel folks, especially if those civil society leaders are in opposition to the US. Kathy Kelly gets nominated frequently, for instance, and will never get one, as she's only a pacifist who has served the victims of US wars, she's only a pacifist who has served time in several US prisons for her nonviolent resistance to the militaristic empire in which she is a citizen in contest with the largest military ever anywhere anytime on Earth.