Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Christmas Tree Bomber and sacred warriors

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, whom I will call the Christmas Tree Bomber, has just done more to hurt Somali refugees, asylees and naturalized Americans than any other Somali ever has, if in fact he is guilty of the crime with which he's charged. The 19-year-old Oregon State University student was arrested for allegedly attempting to blow up a van full of explosives at the tree lighting ceremony in Pioneer Square, the living room of my town, Portland, Oregon.

Assume with me for a minute that these charges are true--after all, Somalis charged with explosives by the FBI in Portland have a poor track record of adhering to the truth. Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye was imprisoned under completely bogus charges in 2002 in Portland. He was the imam of the Islamic Center and was clearly targeted first and an effort to establish terrorist connections came second. He was arrested in a grand media event at the Portland airport with four of his children and headlines that the security dogs had identified explosives in his luggage. That was completely false. In the end, Kariye was convicted on a plea bargain of committing some violation of Social Security laws regarding his card, completely unrelated to terrorism, to Islam, to his naturalized citizen status or anything to do with the FBI's spectacularly failed fishing expedition. So the default setting when the FBI charges an Oregonian Somali with terrorism is heavy skepticism. Or at least that should be the response. But let's entertain the possibility that this young Somali American has intended to really slaughter innocent civilians at a nonmilitary target in a town with a relatively low military presence and one that has voted for peace again and again--we elect some of the most peace-oriented people to represent us. If this young guy really planned and attempted to kill us, what does he want?

If he did this, did this young man think through the effects this will have upon other Somalis? Does he think life will be better for Somali children in the US now? Did he contemplate how his act of truly lowlife bloodthirstiness will affect the attitudes of Portlanders, of Oregonians, and of US citizens in general? Does he feel that future generations of Somalis will gain from this? Does he believe that Islam will be a vindicated and respected religion because it was used to justify slaughtering people from a fairly secular city who just got together to watch a Christmas tree being lighted? Was he thinking that killing children--and the FBI claims he specifically said he was aware that he would kill many children and was eager to do this act--was he believing that this would be some act of a good Muslim, a defensive act to help rebuff American attacks on Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq? Did he suppose he would honor Allah or his faith? Is his thinking like other Somalis, many of whom were set into motion toward jihad when Clinton sent in troops with the UN in 1993? Was he affected by the mass death of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan by US bombs (civilian victims of US bombs in each of those countries outnumbered the civilians murdered on 9.11.01 in the US)?

What does he see in our culture that causes him to hate so mercilessly, if in fact he has done this? Could it be the ubiquitous fawning in our culture over the troops who are in Afghanistan, Iraq or other places, troops who are killing civilians in several Muslim countries even as I write this? Gauzy images of uniformed US military are all over the media, in the theaters, on many television commericials, on the lips of the president and many other officials (well, the lips of the president are a bit under attack themselves at this moment, but you get my drift). We don't merely valorize the US troops, we sacralize them and their activities by the images of square-jawed, ramrod-straight, devoted-to-duty warriors against a rippling American flag backdrop. Someone who was born Muslim in a poor country can be forgiven, I think, for being hurt at the idea that these US troops, with the largest military budget the world has ever seen, with the most devastating technology employed to kill in their hands--or flying overhead as armed drone aircraft and then shot by gunners thousands of miles away--that these troops are viewed as our saviors. These troops who are charged every now and then with raping young Muslim girls, killing old Muslim men, and mostly getting off, these troops are all lumped together as untouchable sacred defenders. Pictured are two UN peacekeepers on camera, swinging a Somali girl over a fire. How can this image be so viral in the Muslim world and so unknown to the average US citizen?

Now put a young Somali into two maytags of influence.

One, outraged Muslims who point to the dead children of dead Taliban, murdered by a missile from far above, guilty of being a child of a person who believes he is fighting invaders from yet another empire. The US has now been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets were. We are occupying a Muslim country long after deposing the leadership who offended us by harboring bin Laden. We are now creating a culture of resistance in Afghanistan as the memory of sheltering bin Laden gives way to the more recent memory of US troops coming in hot and heavy to villages. This Somali man might well be reinforced constantly by this influence toward jihad.

Two, the uncritical and sacralizing relationship between the US military and our civilian culture. When the anti-Islamic media machine goes into gear (as it is right now in the aftermath of this event), they will be claiming that there are few good Muslims because those who claim to be moderate don't condemn the jihadis. That is false--I've read literally hundreds of such condemnations--but to the average American it seems true. They consume Fox News and they are told this lie incessantly, they then fail to check other sources and that lie stands uncorrected by reality. Put that shoe on the other foot. Where are the moderate members of the US military, condemning drone attacks that kill children, condemning the killing of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and soon in Yeman and Somalia? Mohamed Osman Mohamud must surely wonder how much the lives of Muslims are worth when so many civilians can get killed by US troops and there is no mass outrage trying to end the occupations.

Does this justify the alleged crimes of Mohamed Osman Mohamud? Not to me, not to more than 99.9 percent of Americans, I'll wager. But do the crimes of bin Laden justify killing children--"collateral damage"--in Muslim countries? I'll also wager that many reasonable Muslims wonder when US citizens, US civilians, are going to condemn and stop paying for and voting for such violence. Von Clausewitz called it total war, in which civilians are seen as a part of the warmaking effort of the enemy and are thus legitimately targeted. International law has repudiated that doctrine, but we see it creeping back on all sides.

Do I want Mohamed Osman Mohamud locked up? Yes. Possibly for life, depending on how he can be rehabilitated. But then I want George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld locked up with the same conditions. They actually achieved their mass murder. Mohamed Osman Mohamud only thought he was going to, if in fact he did what the FBI accuses him of doing.

It is time to stop war and to stop worshipping warriors of all stripes, colors, religions, identities, ideologies and national origins. Mohamed Osman Mohamud might have thought he was acting to revenge his ancestors but what he was doing, if he did it, was to hurt Somali and Muslim children, just as our US troops are not making us more secure by continuing these wars, which instead are going to come home more and more the longer we allow it to continue, as we see right now, today. Liberating and securitizing our societies will either be done with nonviolence and in common or it will fail and fail and fail.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Nonviolent Shimmer

Back in the day, Saturday Night Live did a darn funny skit on Shimmer, the floor wax and dessert topping. Gilda Radner and Dan Ackroyd fought over a spray can that Dan claimed was a dessert topping and Gilda swore was a floor wax. Chevy Chase was the spokesman who then appeared to authoritatively explain that Shimmer is a dessert topping and a floor wax.

Some say nonviolence is strategic. Some say it is philosophical. I say it's Shimmer, a strategic philosophy of action. That is how Gandhi seemed to regard it; he certainly was strategic, devising actions that put the British into impossible dilemmas again and again. He was clearly philosophical about nonviolence, calling it the first article of his faith and the last article of his creed.

Yes, there are many nonviolent actions that are undertaken with no hope for the goal that would be the fantasy of the actor. Dorothy Day did not realistically believe she would cause the United States to disarm its nuclear weapons when she and other sat on park benches to protest the fatuous civil defense drills of the 1950s. Indeed, Dorothy often spoke and wrote about the inadvisability of being wed to the outcome of our actions, but rather to act on faith and with belief in taking a nonviolent stand.

That is strategic.

Dorothy sat down in Eisenhower's 1950s America with a couple of other women and within a few years had inspired and helped lead a movement of thousands (she is on the far right on a bench in this 20 July 1956 photo) , changing the views of Americans on the efficacy of civil defense and helping to galvanize the antinuclear movement. Just because she acted on pure faith with utter nonviolence didn't mean she didn't give a try to organizing around the question. And her organizing paid off, discrediting the notion of going underground to ride out a nuclear war that would instantly incinerate everyone in those shelters in cities and leave a shattered poisoned world for those in rural areas who had escaped immediate death from such a disaster. Her original three women on a park bench was powerfully strategic.

This is not a claim that she knew her strategy at that moment. But offering nonviolent resistance in faith, or with a nonviolent philosophy of abjuring harm insofar as we can, is a powerful act, often gaining an inverse power to the vulnerability of the actionist, thus turning the notions of strategy and philosophy around. Rosa Parks had some strategy in mind on that December 1st day when she sat down on the Montgomery bus 55 years ago in 1955, but mostly she just did what she regarded as the just, nonviolent thing. She enabled and inspired others to make strategic use of her act and they were able to do so much more effectively--much more strategically--because she was a hardworking, unoffending, prim and proper woman. Had she been loud and yelling about her rights, cursing the police, the movement would have lacked a strategic advantage of the public sympathy. She was bold but not offensive. That was her faith, her philosophy, and her approach to life. It was strategic. She set in motion the ten years of advancement for black people in the southern US.

Strategic nonviolence is also an act of faith. The more that the oppressor is convinced that you will not in fact crush him when he relinquishes power, the more likely it is that he will do so, and your credible claims of nonviolence, demonstrable by your repeated actions, give him that assurance. Your own commitment to nonviolence becomes a faith, a philosophy, as you realize the strategic advantage of not holding a secret card of violence in case all else fails. Certainly the bargaining that the apartheid government finally did with Nelson Mandela was first delayed because of that fear--Mandela refused to renounce violence--but then was made possible after a younger generation of South Africans committed to nonviolence gathered recruits and external sympathy and support, finally setting in motion the four years of secret negotiations with Mandela and others that culminated in DeKlerk's stunning announcement that Mandela was to be released and the African National Congress was no longer banned. It is very likely that this could have happened much earlier with nothing but nonviolence, but when it finally did it was related to the increasing faith by the white minority that there would be life after apartheid because the committed nonviolent leadership, including Desmond Tutu, had convinced them of that.

This dialectical relationship between strategic nonviolence and faith-based nonviolence is probably not perfect and is certainly not well understood in many cases. It needs much better historical exegesis, but it is for the most part a false dichotomy that can be much more reconciled than not.

Nonviolence shimmers. It is tasteful and puts a good glow on your movement and your arguments.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dear Darwin: Nonviolence is the fittest

"The U.S. military’s presence increasingly takes form not in permanent installations, but through bilateral agreements for military operations and maneuvers" (Lindsay-Poland, 2009, p. 80).

What is the extent of the US military around the world and how does that impact us daily?

The US military is everywhere, all up in everyone's business, spending taxpayer money on embedding anthropologists into combat units in Afghanistan, keeping satellites in orbit to track all important security events everywhere, conducting joint operations with the Ecuadoran army to stop drug trafficking at the Colombia-Ecuador border, swarming the German countryside from Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany (53,000 US troops), and on and on and on.

As a result, US security is severely eroded. We play like we are in control, we pump up fear of everyone everywhere, we spend money on the military as though there is no limit, and we can't even figure out that North Korea has thousands of nuclear weapons-grade uranium enrichment centrifuges until Pyongyang invites three American academics in to tour them. We send thousands of military vehicles to other governments along with extensive maintenance operations and we can't slow down drug violence coming into our nation as you read this. We pour $billions into Pakistan and 20 percent of their people report any favorable feelings about us. Pentagon spending has eviscerated our economy more than has any other economic activity and that is a direct security issue to each American. All this activity enriches an elite and impoverishes all the rest of us.

Fixing this takes radical measures, not "defense reform" that diddles at the margins. For a good beginning, listen to many former military officials who are calling this month for a fundamental reorientation of US military missions. Stop basing, training, supplying and creating the impression of control globally. Those same officials note that no one understands or keeps track of how the US spends Pentagon dollars, so we cannot even control our own budget lines, let alone everyone's business everywhere.

The better approach would be to draw in our horns and invest in nonviolence from the local to the transnational. Teach civil society how to become ungovernable in the event of foreign takeover. Work on making our domestic police disarmed. Nonviolence is an ethic and a commitment; you cannot replace a committed war system with nothing in a world overrun with humans, one that was 2.5 billion people the year I was born--it took humanity five million years of evolution and population growth to reach 2.5 billion and it's more than doubled in 60 years. If we don't learn nonviolence we simply have no hope. The natural resources needed to continue violence are radically unsustainable and their use pollutes what is left.

Nonviolence is evolution.

Lindsay-Poland, John (2009). U.S. bases in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Lutz, Catherine (Ed.). The bases of empire: The global struggle against U.S. military posts. New York: New York University Press.

Monday, November 22, 2010

How's that violent reaction workin' out for ya?

Gandhi always counseled that we had three basic paths, violence, nonviolence and apathy or avoidance. In a bit of a fit of pique once, he wrote what became known as the Doctrine of the Sword, in which he claimed he'd rather see someone fight back violently than slink away like a coward. Of all his blunders--and he made many, let's be a little honest here--that was his worst, not because he was wrong on a bounded, individual, specific basis, but because he thus authored his version of the Just War Doctrine.

Give people who either love violence, or don't mind someone else using it to protect them, a rhetorical inch and they will take a real mile. If Gandhi were around today, he'd be dashing about trying to answer all those who excuse violence with the smug assurance that even Gandhi would have approved, as is evident by his regrettable line, "I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence."

This was in the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre of hundreds of innocent civilians, perhaps more than 1,500, at the command of Reginald Dyer, the British officer who will go down in history as a criminal against humankind. That massacre was simply the worst act of direct terrorism committed by the British empire upon the restive India, but it came in the context of other violence and in the immediate aftermath of the passage of the draconian Rowlatt Acts, curtailing civil rights for Indians in India after some 1.3 million Indians had aided the British as they fought World War I, either as soldiers or in logistical support. It was also just as Gandhi was emerging as a leader in India, and many assumed his nonviolence was a cover for his plans to later use military insurgency. His Doctrine of the Sword was written in that context and all it was meant to do was to reassure everyone that he had no secrets, that he was openly honest in his choice of nonviolence. Indeed, he ended that piece of writing:

Meanwhile, I urge those who distrust me not to disturb the even working of the struggle that has just commenced by inciting to violence in the belief that I want violence. I detest secrecy as sin. Let them give nonviolent noncooperation a trial and they will find that I had no mental reservation whatsoever.

--Young India, Ahmedabad, Wednesday, 11th August, 1920.

In other words, he was telling those who hoped he had a violent plan after using nonviolence to gain some following that they should not use violence thinking that he secretly wanted it. Sadly, the earlier unfortunate sentence is repeated ad nauseam by those who don't mind misquoting Gandhi by lifting out a bit that he later explains quite well.

But this is how it usually is. Those who want to use violence can quote the Bible, the Qur'an, Augustine or Aquinas, and even Gandhi. Justifying violence is child's play, because so many want to believe it works in their favor. Show me a violent attack and I'll construct an argument based on these sources. Easy beans, violence is permitted, q.e.d. But most of those violent attacks were not done in the spirit of the 'proof' and none of them likely lacked alternative paths to management, if not resolution.

More than 1 million Afghan, Iraqi, US, British, Canadian, Pakistani, and other human lives, huge mountains of irreplacable natural resources and in excess of $1.1T from the US treasury so far--that is the cost of war since 9.11.01. Can we look at that cost and honestly say we had no logical alternatives?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Papal bull, misogynist fatwas, holy sh_t

Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side.
--With God on our side, Bob Dylan (also quoted below)

Some say that religion is the cornerstone of nonviolence. It is the foundation of nonviolence for some--I think of Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers, Thich Nhat Hahn, Aung San Suu Kyi, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Heschel, John Woolman and others--but religion is used to justify and even promote violence. It's in the DNA of many nations, certainly including the US.

Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.
Preachers tried to convert the natives, who had been doing wonderfully without Christianity, or at least the retributive, proselytizing-at-gunpoint variety so often used by second wave missionaries. Then the troops arrived and the conversions were mandatory, or Natives were driven from their lands, extirpated by ethnic cleansing and all to save their souls. Once we understand that any nonbeliever is really a nonhuman, we can kill them as an act of mercy.

There were plenty of good Christians who must have been confused once in a while as they pondered those verses in which Jesus seemed to actually say something about the topic and always chose nonviolence. He healed rather than murdered and he never carried a weapon. Let's repeat that: He never carried a weapon. Wouldn't that be refreshing in our gun-worshiping culture? He had no knife in the age of the blade. He had nonviolence.

Oh the Spanish-American
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns in their hands
And God on their side.

Bless the troops, grant us victory, tell us how to propitiate You. This is the god of war we worship, the same gods the Romans worshiped and the same false gods that Jesus came to challenge. They're baaaaaaack...wherever warriors seek victory and protection for their violence. And with victory comes the triumphalist certitude of the reality and superiority of our god. Not much was said about that after the Vietnamese threw us out of their godless communist country--presumably their victory was rebuke for our lack of frenzied faith.

Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.

The bending of history toward a religious justification for violence or for dehumanization of the enemy is harder in the first stages of war, before many atrocities harden hearts and make that objectification easy. Indeed, in the first Christmas season of World War I the shared Christian holiday nearly unraveled the reasons for war as German and English troops sang together across the No Man's Land, the zone of free fire between them. They were corrupted by that common spirit so profoundly that they emerged and played soccer together. This produced terror in high places--what if that real spirit of Jesus were allowed to spread? Troops were reprimanded and redeployed to other areas, breaking connections with the enemy. The common person's spirit of love for each other was quashed. It was back to the business of war as usual, with the blessings of the chaplains. Nine million died.

When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.

The Germans always had god on their side, and chose the members of another religion as the impure ones to sacrifice on that altar of that god. The Germans and indeed the rest of Europe became far less religious after WWII. They began to realize the costs of allowing themselves to be so manipulated by religion that they would attempt genocide based on faith was a truly twisted belief system. If anything, however, they became more spiritual even as they became less religious.

I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war starts
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.

Russophobia was the real religion of my generation. We lived in terror at some level, with the knowledge that the implacable, inexorable Red Army was patient enough to wait until the opportunity came, when our guard was down, and then they would march in, slaughtering those of us who survived their missiles. There was zero hint that they were nothing but a transitory threat, a system that lasted 70 years--not even a geological blink of the eye--for fear of which we were prepared to extinguish civilization on Earth.

But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.

Meanwhile, in a bid to stay relevant, the pope just decreed that good gay Catholic prostitutes can use condoms. Presumably, little children can use them as balloons too. And the imams are ruling left and right that women who satirize religion for oppressing them should hang. Other women who have affairs should be stoned. And women who are gang-raped should be stoned and hung, presumably. Fatuous fatwas specializing in misogyny. That should teach them.

Satan comes in many forms. I'd suggest that when religion justifies violence, that is satanic. Nothing can defeat the violence except nonviolence. Nothing can wipe out our enemies except making them our friends. An appeal to God is an appeal to love, not hate. Any prayer for military victory is an oath to the devil. This is the season of the Prince of Peace and he never carried any weapon except love and healing. A truly spiritual person is a disarmed person.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nonviolence for our Mother Earth

Some practitioners of nonviolence believe that if they are ecologically sensitive and recycle every scrap of paper they are more nonviolent. Some believe if they reuse plastic bags until they leak, at which point they recycle them, they are more nonviolent. Some folks believe that if they give away their automobile they are more nonviolent. I do all these things and I agree. I would also assert that nonviolent education and training is by far the most nonviolent practice we can adopt toward our Mother Earth. Recycle swords into plowshares.

Isn't that a tautology? Perhaps, but more importantly, it's a fairly strong truth. Fix our methods of conflict management and we fix the most massive environmental problems we face--or at least go the farthest toward fixing them. Global warming? Change how we handle conflict. Toxic pollution? Radiation poisoning? Switch to nonviolence. Water pollution, air pollution, soil pollution--all slowed the most by one change: to nonviolence.

As Robert Duvall yelled to John Wayne in Rooster Cogburn, "Bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!" But it's the truth, Jack. Those are the facts, Ruth.

Turn to nonviolence and the largest consumer of fossil fuel on Earth, the US Pentagon, can recycle tanks into plowshares and stop its major role in driving our poor policies that are based on our oil addiction. Stop threatening the world with war jets and the nation's largest creator of Superfund sites, the Department of Defense, can switch from pollution to bioremediation. Stop threatening life on Earth with nuclear annihilation and the Department of Energy will no longer be manufacturing the most reverse Midas Touch material ever invented, nuclear waste.

For years of documentation for these claims, check out the Center for Environmental Public Oversight, a project led by Lenny Siegel, by far the most involved and knowledgeable person in this regard. Stories verifying parts of this pop up from time to time, though the overall connections aren't made in the thorough, overarching, big picture way that I'm trying to state here.

This is due, I believe, to the lack of connection between those who advocate nonviolence and those who engage in environmental protection battles. Those who specialize, like Siegel, in knowing astonishing amounts about the military's harms to the Earth are not the same people who advocate and practice and research and educate about nonviolence. That is why I believe Thor Heyerdahl is so prescient when he said (quoted in Walker and Daniels),

In order to penetrate even farther into their subject, the host of specialists narrow their field and dig down deeper and deeper till they can't see each other. But the treasures their toil brings to light they place on the ground above. A different kind of specialist should be sitting there, the one still missing. He would not go down any hole, but would stay on top and piece all of the different facts together.

When we begin to piece together this picture, we find that the strongest defenders of Mother Earth are those who promote, teach, train, practice and educate about nonviolence as the radically more adaptive method of managing our human conflict. When our national well being is most degraded by our 'protectors,' who needs attackers? Our Pentagon has done immeasurably more damage to our environment than bin Laden could in a thousand lifetimes of his nihilistic idiocy. Indeed, al Qa'ida's objectives to destroy America are met economically and environmentally most effectively by our choices of response to his attacks. He played us like a fiddle and those who advocate violence are indeed fiddling while our Earth burns. Transforming our conflict management methods is the key to repairing all these problems and avoiding them in the future.
Daniels, Steve E., & Walker, Greg B. (2001). Working through environmental conflict: The collaborative learning approach. Westport CT: Praeger, p 24.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cycle of violence and enlightened self-interest

Raise your hand if you've heard of restorative justice. Keep your hand up if you can explain to us what it is. Keep your hand up if you connect it to nonviolence. OK, before I am accused of torture of Joshuan proportions (when Moses kept his arms outstretched all day until sunset so Joshua could slaughter Amalek and his soldiers, another quaint peace story from the Bible), let's explore why restorative justice might be connected to nonviolence.

Anwar al-Awlaki is a theologian of the Old Testament, the radical Muslim cleric who very well might have promoted terrorism all on his own, but he cites his experience in the US penal system as a heavy motivator.

"For the first nine months I was in solitary confinement in an underground cell. No interaction with any other prisoner was allowed for the entire nine months."

You can hear the recording of Awlaki saying this at the NPR site. As soon as he was finally released he began fiery anti-US, pro-terrorism Islamicist diatribes, recruiting others consumed with hate for whatever reasons.

Now, I've been in solitary confinement in the US, but never in an underground cell. My cell had no window, so it might as well have been underground, but the point is that nine months of retributive justice without even so much as a criminal charge or trial or conviction or sentence is going to make a person cross. Maybe the US officials who slammed Awlaki in for those nine months felt justified because of their vague hatred of radical Islamicists. But that was highly unprofessional, irrationally retributive, and we see the result: more irrational retribution flowing back. We really taught Awalaki a lesson: hate hate hate attack attack attack. How is that in the national interest? How does that protect Americans or anyone else?

No, I'm not against locking people up. I am against locking up people who are just getting questioned. That produces more violent impulses. I am opposed to locking people up and not attempting rehabilitation. In fact, I'm completely in favor of locking up both bin Laden and Bush, the underpants bomber and Dick Cheney, the shoe bomber and Donald Rumsfeld. Put 'em all in a bullpen and I'll volunteer to spend time with them every day in violence rehabilitation counseling and training. Keep them locked up until a qualified panel of psychologists can affirm that they are all no longer a menace to society, any society. But never ever give up on providing rehabilitation.

That is part of restorative justice, (yes, it's infinitely more complex than that, I know--you can put your hand down). It is far more in line with our enlightened national self-interest and it is part of a nonviolent response to terrorism. The violent response is a spur to more of the same, as we see again and again. The nonviolent response includes restorative justice and much more. It is time to begin.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sustainable nonviolence

Johan Galtung introduced the concept of structural violence, which is that the daily lives of oppressed people may not look like they are being shot or bombed, but if they are poor and others are rich, the very institutions of society are committing a daily violent suppression of those poor people. In the taxonomy of violence, then, we have physical violence and structural violence.

We also parse out direct violence into physical violence and psychological or emotional violence.

How helpful are these distinctions?

For the most part, all other types of violence still rest on physical violence, and it must be committed often enough to make the threat credible. This is the secret of the abuser who 'only' commits emotional violence with rare physical violence and it is the secret of structural violence as well, with police and other front line forces of violence present enough to deter most people from seeking justice as quickly as they might otherwise.

Historically, this structural violence has been associated with racial, ethnic, religious, and gender oppression, all of which is backed by the threat of physical violence. Legally, what is the distinction? Committing an act of violence with the objective of self-aggrandizement or simply to be cruel is a crime. Threatening to commit violence while demanding someone else's property is called armed robbery. Stealing someone else's property while they aren't looking is burglary and not nearly as serious. What we see in our US current form of capitalism is far closer to a bizarre synthesis of mob 'protection' and robber baron economics. It is structural violence in new and odd permutations.

First, the bailouts

Second, the evermore extreme income disparities.

The rightwing has claimed for years that the only reason that any social safety net exists is to pay off the ruffian elements who would otherwise spread their anarchy. They have accused liberals of trying to shut up lazy ne'er do wells with welfare. Now, of course, they are the ones who are fighting to get corporations more unearned benefits, bailouts and what Dr. Gary Askerooth wrote about years ago as an 'upside-down welfare state" that might be also characterized as "lemon socialism." The overpaid failures--in control of the banking system, the home loan lenders, the hedge funders, the leveraged buyout kings and so forth--say, "Give us massive aid or we will drag you down with us." This is like the mob telling the bartender to hand over a weekly payment or they won't be responsible for any damage that might occur--actually, they would be directly responsible for such damage, but that is the unspoken part. That is illegal for the mob but legal for Goldman Sachs and the rest of the predatory corporadoes who use the US taxpayer like the mob uses the bar owners. Pay up or get hurt.

Income disparity in our political democracy has been drifting farther from economic democracy each year. We now are worse than the former 'banana republics' such as Nicaragua, Guyana, etc. Our richest one percent controls at least one-fourth of all US wealth (24 percent almost four years ago and it's on a downhill slide for most of us). The elites have used highly subsidized demagoguery to help the Tea Party's astroturf constituency prevail in seeking an extension of obscene tax credits for the richest of the rich, the top one-tenth of one percent. The Tea Party ignorance has them supporting those who are most engaged in structural violence against the average member of the Tea Party and their allies in the Republican Party. At least some groups--e.g., African Americans, Native Americans--have a collectively firm grasp on that picture. Impoverished whites seem impatient with critical thinking and learning the facts and have as a result picked up their cherished guns and taken direct aim at their own collective foot.

The understanding of structural violence is key, and the promotion of alternative institutions based on the emergence of structural nonviolence is the answer. Developing a culture of peace, nonviolence, economic democracy and a robust social safety net is the kind of multipronged approach that might respond to our most disturbing trends downward.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Anishinabe and an unsung nonviolent victory in late twentieth-century Wisconsin

In the wake of the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, many Native Americans adopted civil resistance to fight for rights supposedly guaranteed in the 19th century by the government's treaties with their tribes. This true story is how one tribe in Wisconsin, using nonviolent strategies, prevailed in that fight.

In spring of 1986 I got a call from Walter Bresette, a Red Cliff Anishinabe (aka Anishinabeg, Ojibwa, Ojibwe, Chippewa) native American. Walter was a treaty rights leader for the 13 bands of Lake Superior Ojibwa and he said to me:

“Get a van full of people and meet me at Butternut Lake as fast as you can. We’ve got hundreds of whites swarming our fishers. They are attacking in boats and with wrist-rockets from the woods along the shore. Hurry.”

I quickly rounded up several hardy peace and justice folks and we headed south from the shores of Gitchii Guumii (Lake Superior) to meet Walter at what would become known as the Battle of Butternut Lake. Native treaty rights activists, their Native supporters and non-Native supporters were virtually 100 percent nonviolent, but we did join treaty rights opponents in battle. It was the opening skirmish in what would become several years of treaty rights wars - a war conducted with nonviolence on one side.

In the end, the bands of native Americans won, flat-out. Not only were treaty rights totally affirmed, they went from being bemoaned and denigrated by officials to championed and celebrated by many of the same government employees who had bitterly opposed those rights in the beginning.

At one point during the campaign, American Indian Movement (AIM) activists came north from Minneapolis to the boat landings just 60 miles away in Wisconsin. They were physically intimidating and in fact shoved one anti-treaty rights demonstrator over a police barricade, breaking the fellow’s arm. The Anishinabe leadership met with AIM and said, “Please don’t come back until you can do this the Anishinabe way.” AIM went back to Minneapolis and, when they came north again, to the Mole Lake area, they were dignified and nonviolent.

That the treaty rights struggle for the Lake Superior Ojibwe was waged with nonviolent methods doesn’t mean that it was waged using the actual word ‘nonviolence.’ I rarely heard that word, especially from the Anishinabe side. But the practice was perfect. It was not Gandhian nonviolence; it was Anishinabe nonviolence.

Anishinabe nonviolence

One afternoon in April, 1989, as the struggle reached its most furious point - including, from the other side, shotguns, pipe bombs and the most incendiary racism I’ve ever heard with my own ears - Walter called and told me to be in the Red Cliff marina parking lot by 5 p.m. “I want you to witness and write,” he instructed.

We met: Walter, me, a tribal judge and Francis. (photo of Walter Bresette and Frank Koehn) They hooked the boat trailer, made fast the boat, checked gear and we left for Lake Nebagamon, some 90 miles to the south and west and south again. On the drive, I sat in the back seat with Walter and I asked Andy, the tribal judge, “OK, you are a judge. Most, if not all, of the spearfishers are employed and need to be on the job tomorrow morning. We aren’t going to get home until at least midnight (it was after 7 a.m., barely in time for my 8 a.m. class), and you will probably give most of your fish to the Senior Center or the day care center. Why are you doing this?”

There was a long pause. At last, he turned partially toward me, glanced at me, returned his eyes to the highway and said, simply, “Fish have as much to do with this as coffee had to do with the Civil Rights struggle in the Deep South.” A little lightbulb went off in my head. Then we arrived as it was darkening toward a long night.

It was intimidating. There were at least 200 bellowing racists, yelling obscenities and generally acting like drunken bullies. There were two sheriff’s deputies with their yellow police line tape, four Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) official fish monitors, three spearfishers and one Witness for Peace - me. I got out of the car hoping my nonviolence training would work all evening, that I’d be able to defuse any violence toward my friends or me. The hatred was palpable, coming from both sides of the gauntlet - the boat landing down which Andy had backed his little boat. “Timber niggers!” was one of the milder racial epithets.

Walter emerged and stood looking at all those arrayed against him. He went back to the trunk, opened it, and took out his insulated blaze orange deer hunting suit and slowly put it on as we watched. Then he stood, arms outstretched, and stared into the hostile crowd pressing up against the tape and slowly turned around, first making himself visible and then making himself heard: “These people like easy targets. Well, here’s one for you!”

I have seen brave acts by many nonviolent warriors, but none braver than Walter in that moment. He and the three others were about to put into troubled waters, a lake where someone had shot at Francis and another fisher just the week before, missing them and blowing tree branches down on them from above. We were surrounded by people who evidently felt like one of the Anishinabe characters in a Louise Erdrich novel, who described some whites as believing that “the only interesting Indian is dead, or dying by falling backwards off a horse.” (Erdrich: 91) This mob looked and sounded as though it would have been happy to see the fishers swamped, drowned, bombed, shot or stabbed. And they had signs with provocative messages such as, Save a walleye, spear an Indian.

Usufructuary rights

The ancient Anishinabe had practiced spearing in the spring for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. There was no shortage of fish for them; they lived in a pristine environment of abundance and they took not for trophy or sport, but for subsistence. Indeed, even with the tragic and preventable pollution that today contaminates the fish even of remote northern Wisconsin waters, the fish often provide the best source of protein for many Natives subjected to the starch-and-carbohydrate-heavy, protein-deficient diet so common to those reliant on government commodities. (Vennum: 277)

The tribal leadership of the period of white encroachment had somehow foreseen what they needed to do. They had negotiated the usufructuary rights to continue to hunt, fish and gather in treaties dating back to 1837, 1842 and 1854. Those rights had been immediately abrogated in the nineteenth century, but after the Civil Rights era, many groups, including Native Americans, were determined to use robust yet nonviolent methods of assertion of their human rights and their treaty rights.

Fred and Mike Tribble, two Lac Court Oreilles Anishinabe brothers, were studying treaty law in college and realized the tribes still had many usufructuary rights to hunt and gather on off-reservation lands that were called ceded territory. These rights are similar to reserved mineral rights, for example, that cloud titles to much land in the US.

So the Tribble brothers tested the rights by committing an act of civil resistance; in 1974 they set their ice fishing lines on off-reservation waters in the ceded territory in full view of game wardens, and were charged. The court case made its way to the federal level eventually and the treaty rights were upheld after almost a decade of arguments, findings and appeals. (Bresette: 8) But those rights were only on paper until the enormous white backlash could be overcome, an opposition that included many state officials in Wisconsin. Thus, when fishers tried to exercise the rights, they were attacked.

Had the fishers or their supporters reacted with violence, it is certain they would have been crushed, and it’s quite likely that the court of public opinion would have continued to oppose those rights. But from a beginning point of public opposition to treaty rights in 1986, the tribes and supporters waged a nonviolent, stoic, witnessing campaign and were calm and dignified in the face of massive, virulent provocation. Public opinion slowly changed as tribal members displayed patience and suffering that whites could only admire, especially in the face of mindless hatred and sputtering, shrill venom. It was a classic formula for a nonviolent victory against all the odds. Americans love a David against a Goliath, especially when the David isn’t threatening anyone.

By 1992, when I was still writing for the newspaper Walter Bresette founded, the Mazina’igan: A Chronicle of the Lake Superior Ojibwe, I was at the GLIFWC (glif-wick) office one morning when a warden came in after a night at a boat landing in Michigan. The Wisconsin struggles had all played out, but the member bands in Minnesota and Michigan were still working through some final issues. “Well two treaty rights protesters showed up last night,” said the warden. We looked at him, concerned. “We talked and ended up toasting marshmallows together on a campfire.”

Nonviolent Anishinabe struggles, as serious as the death threats they faced, were waged fearlessly and essentially flawlessly. It was total victory.


Bresette, Walter, “A brief history of the Anishinabe,” in: Whaley, Rick and Walter Bresette, Walleye Warriors: An Effective Alliance Against Racism and for the Earth.

Conboy, Martin, Journalism: A Critical History.

Erdrich, Louise, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.

Schulke, Flip and Penelope McPhee, King Remembered.

Vennum, Thomas, Jr., Wild Rice and the Ojibway People.

Nonviolent roots, shoots, fruits

Indigenous mentoring

When some ponder nonviolence in this ahistoric era, they seem to dismiss it as an artifact from the historic peace churches in Europe; this is only a tiny part of the rich legacy of nonviolence, and not its most important thread. From Gandhi to King to Aung San Suu Kyi to Rosa Parks, Rigoberta Menchu, Cesar Chavez and countless more people of color, the traditional roots of nonviolence are apparent.

There are those, of course, who would deny that even Gandhi would count as a non-European initiator of nonviolence, since he was educated in London and took influence from Tolstoy, Thoreau and others. But his roots were not only clearly in his own culture, his direct mentors were virtually all Indians, beginning with his political mentee relationship to Gopal Krishna Gokale and others. (Erickson: 178) Further, Gandhi increasingly shed the ways of the West as he matured, reaching more deeply into his own indigenous roots for ongoing strength, wisdom and inspiration.

The same is true for the vast majority of Native American warriors of the nonviolent spirit, and is noticeable both in group-to-group nonviolent struggle and in community efforts to mitigate and eliminate the various forms of violence in Native American communities, where, for example, tribal men are often taught by their mentors that, before whites conquered Native nations, domestic abuse was virtually nonexistent because it was so powerfully frowned upon that there was a disincentive to engage in such negative practices. (Warters: online)

Peace education

One of the elements in a war system is an educational system that glorifies nationalism, excuses or even praises violence, teaches tolerance only as long as everyone wishes to be like us and intolerance otherwise, dismisses nonviolence, and focuses on dominant cultural stories, narrative and solutions.

One of the elements in a peace system, then, is an educational system where nonviolence is admired, where multiculturalism is valued as more than quaint appreciation for curiosities in funny costumes with bizarre customs, and where students and teachers believe that each culture offers a great deal for all.

Sometimes, in the context of a war culture, teaching peace generates fear, and, to the extent that this fear can be allayed and overcome, students and teachers can proceed toward learning how to help build societies that help humans live with each other and with the Earth. (Harris: 192) We've all been taught much about Native violence. Learning about Native American nonviolence is a challenge to each of these elements, and can offer significant steps to students and teachers intending to build a peace system.

Carrying peace education into the general discourse in society is what peace researchers Bertram I. Spector and I. William Zartman call the development of “knowledge and consciousness-raising (epistemic) communities.” (Spector and Zartman: 289) When vectors of information dissemination are used systematically, the conditions for consensus are created, social norms are morphed and we can even achieve global mores that are guarantors of some measures of peacekeeping and better conflict management. This epistemic approach can create global consensus so profound that outbreaks of previously acceptable, or excusable, behavior will not be tolerated. It can change the conditions of debate, e.g., from whether slavery is ever acceptable to how best to eliminate it when it appears. Learning nonviolent indigenous approaches to conflict management can be a significant element in this epistemological process.

198 ways, plus

Nonviolence scholar Gene Sharp assembled a list of 198 nonviolent tactics. Gandhi and King were creators of some, but many more tactics have been identified. Looking through Native American history, we may find all 198 used by one tribe or another, and they have, no doubt, added to that list. Examples are instructive.


When an unscrupulous sewage disposal company leased land from a tribal member of the Torres Martinez tribe in the Coachella Valley of California, it wasn’t long before there were literally half a million tons of human waste in a foul mountain on the 120-acre site. Locals asked for help from other organizations both Native and non-Native, such as the Indigenous Environmental Network, Greenpeace, the United Farm Workers and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation. They joined in a two-week blockade and, in conjunction with a court challenge, shut down the dump. (Lewis: 145)

That is the Native American spirit that will offer profound hope to Native peoples and non-Natives alike. When a tiny minority finds the moral high ground and can generate enough support, perhaps they can change social norms, societal practice and public policy. It has happened before and Native peoples offer shining examples of that peaceful path. We need not long dwell on the history of violent Native response to attack, robbery, invasion and other insult; many other sources do fine work in describing that history, though it sometimes serves to place nonviolence in context and so we ought to review some of that conflict at times. For the most part we ask instead, how can we learn from another Native history that has been invisible, ignored and discounted—the history of nonviolent tactic, strategy, philosophy and spirit? We do well to bear in mind the perspective of Theodore Roszak, who wrote, “People try nonviolence for a week, and when it doesn’t work, they go back to violence, which hasn’t worked for centuries.” (Terkel: 115) Importing Native nonviolence may seem counterintuitive to US-Euro peoples—and most Native peoples most of the time, for that matter—but in the face of the senselessness of ongoing dysfunctional violence, isn’t it time to discipline ourselves to conduct some worthy experiments with potentially helpful elements of other cultures, other people’s historical strategies that may offer new hope to old problems?


Erikson, Erik H., Gandhi’s Truth: On the Origins of Militant Nonviolence. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1969.

Harris, Ian M., and Mary Lee Morrison, Peace Education, Second Edition. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, 2003.

Lewis, Andrea, “Native American struggle for land, liberty, and a toxics-free environment,” in: Anner, John, Beyond Identity Politics: Emerging Social Justice Movements in Communities of Color. Boston MA: South End Press, 1996.

Spector, Bertram I. and I. William Zartman, eds., Getting It Done: Post-Agreement Negotiation and International Regimes. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2003.

Terkel, Susan Neiburg, People Power: A Look at Nonviolent Action and Defense. NYC: Lodestar, 1996.

Warters, Bill, “Native American men and domestic violence: An interview with Oscar Arredondo,” online:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vertigo, illyngophobia and humanity

We have fears. Since the onset of Meniere's Disease more than 20 years ago, I go through spells of illyngophobia, the fear of vertigo. This, for me, is the result of sudden attacks that make me unable to stand, the world is whirling, and I often vomit and just have to lie down, essentially paralyzed. Sometimes I'll get a warning feeling and that is how I know I have developed a sort of phobia. It is terrorizing, quite literally.

Interestingly, the long list of phobias to which we are susceptible includes those which are amusing to some, such as linonophobia, the fear of string. We get tetanophobia, a fear of tetanus, but how can someone be phobic about string? Well, a good investigative therapist might find out that the person was beaten frequently by a father who obsessively played with string--or that a string-loving cat had severely and frequently bitten and scratched the little infant. Perhaps either could create some sort of association with obscure, consciously unremembered roots.

I find it interesting that with the long list of phobias, many that seem completely obvious--tyrannophobia, fear of tyrants--there is no listed fear of violence. Why not?
A fear of violence is called being human. It needs no special name, as it is nearly universal, from birth, massively instinctual. What is sad is that there are some who are masochistic and sadistic, attracted to violence. The sickness of that may not be the fault of the sufferer, but in the case of the practicing sadist, that suffering is certainly spread around. I suppose the matchup between sadists who love to inflict pain and masochists who love to experience pain is up to those sick people, but our societal problems come when we act like a masochistic civil society. Indeed, that helps us understand nonviolent resistance in the first place; we need to stand and say, "I am not a sadist, so you may not kill and injure and threaten people in my name. I am not a masochist, so you may not expect my compliance when you rob from me to pay for inflicting violence on others."

Why is nonviolent resistance so rare? We are back to the normal fear of violence and other rough consequences. I've been grabbed, cuffed and stuffed, tossed in a cell, gone on trial and served time in jail and prison cells. What normal person would wish to be treated like that? None. The accusation by some that people who practice nonviolent resistance "want to go to jail" are 180 degrees wrong. I've met just one person in my entire 30 years of doing nonviolent resistance who might qualify for that description. I think she is either so free that prison is irrelevant to her or she is so institutionalized that life "on the outs" is a worse one than behind the walls. She is quite rare, unique in my not-so-limited experience.

But sometimes it is bad enough to prompt some of us fearful folk to offer up nonviolent resistance.

If it never gets that bad in your mind, please ask yourself if you are really paying attention. I am much more afraid of vertigo than of the power of the state to lock me up. The vertigo of violence is what our war system inflicts and if we ever wish to regain our balance, we need to overcome our natural fears.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Taking it to the streets

When is it appropriate to take our discontent into the streets in demonstration?
Some would assert that it is always time, and I understand that point. Showing (demonstrating) that there is opposition to poor policy is a way to unarguably indicate public opinion. If there are 100,000 Portlanders in the streets asserting something it is impossible for anyone to say, "Polls show their opinion is in the minority."

I think if we keep a few basics in mind it helps us to think about these situations...situationally.

Most importantly, if you aren't recruiting in some fashion, you aren't really moving it forward. Taking it to the streets can recruit or it can turn off everyone except a tiny handful of impotently enraged actors. Taking it to the streets to demonstrate commitment and an invitational stance, as well as willingness to sacrifice but not hurt others, can recruit.

If you are just out there to prove that you are more radical than others, without any strategy or forethought to a recruitment message, you are being unhelpful. I am thinking of one egomaniacal local who always brings a bullhorn and who takes it upon himself to drown out everyone with his harangues. Passersby are absolutely alienated and turn away in disgust. People who come to join our walk often bail early, sick of his stridency and monologic wall of sound. He's not a police agent, but he might as well be.

Attacking people with rage in your heart and a grimace on your face is not invitational to those who happen to see the photo or catch the news report. You quickly drive away potentially active participants when you show hatred. Think of the successful movements and the failures. You'll see my point.

This is why I have an increasingly hard time engaging with the antiwar movement in Portland, my town for the past decade. At our best we were moderating toward a family friendly spirit of our events, and the organizers were clear that they wanted such an atmosphere. In the past few years, however, the organizers have not concerned themselves with their public image nor have they lowered themselves to recruiting from mainstream society. They have spun a radical cocoon around themselves and are shrieking inside it, evermore enraged that others aren't joining them. Somehow, they seem to believe, growing more shrill by the season is what they need to do. It is not working except perhaps cathartically for those who emotionally need such public platforms.

Do they have cause to hate? Of course, and if they could learn the self-discipline that comes with commitment to nonviolence, they would once again be effective. But I attended one of the early organizing meetings for the October 9, 2010 rally and at about 25 minutes into the meeting I asked if there was concern for the image of the event and thus for the behavior of our own people. I was told by the man who had arrogated the leadership position to himself that, "If they're not attacking our people, I don't care what they do." That ended the discussion. No one else participated in it, the group moved on, and I just left. I am done trying to work with groups who don't care about how they come across to average folks, because like it or not, average folks are the only hope in nonviolence, they are the only latent power worth courting and developing. When they are properly engaged, they will act with dispositive authority.

When we organized in late 2002-early 2003 we cared for how we were seen by the mainstream media and we worked with them. We outreached to mainstream churches and unions. We declared our events 'family friendly' and we outreached to elements who wore masks and wanted to wreck things and told them to respect our organizing and not participate unless they could honor our consensed upon spirit. They responded positively and the movement grew, shattering and setting a new Oregon record every time we went out. It was a movement and if every American town had used that model, I wonder if we would have been too powerful to ignore? I wonder if we might have stopped an invasion?

We are apparently done with trying to build a movement in Portland. If anyone becomes interested again, I hope you'll contact me. I remain quite recruitable.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nonviolent communication as intervention

We were co-mediators, a former student of mine and I. We were asked to help mediate a conflict between a family and a non-profit organization. Of course the circumstances are confidential, but the lessons that emerged for me are provocative and weave the ethos of nonviolent communication into the competencies we strive toward in conflict transformation. Working with the parties, we helped enable them to transform the conflict from destructive to constructive.
Yes, the conflict is still there and it will flare up, but they all worked so hard, and pushed through so much pain, that I am impressed by the willingness to suffer the slings and arrows in the pursuit of something so elusive. They hurt each other over the period of weeks and multiple mediation sessions. They despaired. I despaired. My mediation partner despaired--somewhat.
But she and one of the family members seemed to have the most hope. I was dubious; how could people hurt one another so roughly, with such pointed words, and fix it? I had gone from overly optimistic to decidedly pessimistic, mirroring the wild swings of behavior from the most pained family members and nonprofit staff. And those of us who were the most doubtful about the chances for salvaging the relationship were the ones who spoke the most.
Charges. Counter-charges. The family v the organization. It was a conflict that involved children, so emotions erupted explosively, when hot buttons were pushed. I made too many observations, thinking they were somehow from a place of cooler professionalism, but the hottest members of both groups only used my statements as evidence of the others' bad faith.
Meanwhile, a family member, the Grandmother, who said little, and my co-mediator were doing the actually helpful communication. At one point, deep into the third of our four sessions, she told the lead of the nonprofit, "We asked for a mediation because you talked over us, you wouldn't listen."

There had been so many charges and countercharges by that time that the nonprofit leader simply treated that as yet another unfair accusation. But the seed was planted and it was done in a place of safety, which is sometimes all a mediation can provide. A place where those who don't listen can finally be told that.
The circumstances of the various episodes that had been described, all the events that led to and fed the elaborate character attacks were relegated to their proper, less relevant place, but that took some intervening time and another mediation session. The Grandmother had calmly stated the greater truth. There was no heat in that statement, only light.
My co-mediator did the heavy spade work. She pulled out the deeper information from the parties, probing, eliciting, turning to each of the aggrieved and asking them, in turn, to paraphrase each other, teaching us all better active listening. Finally, they seemed to feel, someone is actually helping us search for what is wrong.
Before the final session I had privately expressed strong doubts about chances for real progress. My mediation partner had said, well, we aren't going to show any of that--unhopeful is unhelpful. We don't want to discourage them from doing that eleventh hour miracle.
She was spot-on. We were mediating in a special room at a special time at another nonprofit organization gracious enough to host us. The staff person was sweet but clearly needed a commitment from us to vacate the room and the building by 6:30 p.m. We promised and I meant it. By this time, after this many sessions, all the parties knew I would end the session on time.
And so, at 6:26, four minutes before The End, my mediation partner asked for commitment from each party to honor the new boundaries that had emerged from her queries of the most angry and vocal parties. I started packing up the medation paraphernalis--the water pitcher, the glasses, the pens and pads of paper--and each of them flipped and made those commitments.
These people were making dates as we left. They were agreeing to regard some of the others' areas as essentially sacrosanct. The nonprofit people would not appear to be telling the family members how to parent their children or the children how to treat their parents. The family members would not second guess all the ways in which the nonprofit staffers conducted their activities.
Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.
— Leonardo da Vinci
'Aphorisms', in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, trans. E. MacCurdy (1938 ), Vol. 1, 98.
It was a diving catch, a beautiful thing to watch, to sweat through alongside everyone, and from which an elder like me could learn yet more lessons from his former student. The obverse of Leonardo's judgment about pupils is that it is a poor teacher whose student does not surpass him. It was my joy to be surpassed by my former student. Her emotional intelligence was far more dispositive in the end than all the cognitive case building. She and the Grandmother were the keys to breaking the logjam of destructive conflict, turning it into a knitting project for peace.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nonviolence v Nazis: Occupation novel

Denmark rising is a first novel by Barry Clemson, a new writer from Virginia--new since retiring from a variegated work life that included such a variety of positions and jobs that his storytelling truth is assisted.

The point of the novel is to illustrate how strategic nonviolence works. Research done in the preparation of the book (and video series that premiered on PBS in 2000) A force more powerful tells the average student of nonviolence (all students of nonviolence should start with A force more powerful) that Clemson has done his homework and is writing an authentic historical novel. His purpose is to produce reading material that is entertaining and teaches us the possibilities. He uses the artistic license of fiction to put fictional detail and dialog into a historical episode that helps us learn something.

Is every detail correct? No, nor is it supposed to be. In some ways, that is the truth of fiction, much like the notion that the majority of messages we send and receive in our interpersonal daily lives are nonverbal, yet they are sent and received. In a historical novel, the dialog and details are fabricated to show us the deeper truths.

The deepest truth of Denmark rising is that nonviolence is a legitimate and effective method of a 'powerless' society using strategic nonviolence to resist occupation by the far more militarily powerful invader nation. Clemson has life experience understanding this in an entirely different geographical and chronological experience. He was a member of the cohort of American youth who went to the Deep South in 1964 as part of Freedom Summer. He and about 1,000 other youth--mostly college students--risked life and limb accompanying African Americans who were brutalized and denied their civil and human rights at that time. Applying the counterfactual to both situations provides a clear contrast.

What if the Danes had resisted militarily?

What if African Americans had resisted militarily?

It would have been quite bloody and quite lethal in both cases and the outcome would have been guaranteed. Danes would have been crushed. African Americans would have been slaughtered.

But Clemson was part of another approach and it worked. There were costs, but they were far lower than the costs of violent resistance would have been. Clemson's work on Denmark makes that point in an interesting and readable fashion.

My wish was that he would have provided a much more serious and involved Foreword or Afterword to explain his research and sources. It is impossible to tell what he made up and what was documented fact. To the student of nonviolence, this would be helpful.

As a historical novel, Denmark rising is very good, with a rich look at what a civilian-based defense would look like and why it might work. Clemson doesn't make extravagant or unrealistic claims, he doesn't soften the Nazi ruthlessness, and he explores the psychological aspects socially and individually of this unusual and instructive historical case.
(pictured: Dane King Christian X, who rode daily through Copenhagen and kept his people united and rallied around their independent Danish national identity, even though the Nazis wanted to showcase Denmark as a protectorate, as part of their new empire).

Pick up copies for your holiday stockings. They are the best book value in quite some time at $10.

Keep researching and writing, Barry. You have a lot to offer us and there are precious few novels that we can bring to the cabin or the beach and gain both enjoyment and knowledge about how to replace our dysfunctional social conflict management methods.

Clemson, Barry (2009). Denmark rising. Norfolk, VA: Cybernetica Press.