Monday, January 31, 2011

Forgiving the unforgivable

"In peace, children inter their parents; war violates the order of nature and causes parents to inter their children."
— Herodotus

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish carries burdens no parent should have to shoulder, unimaginable to most of us. Father of eight--six girls, two boys--his wife died of leukemia 16 September 2008. Then, in a horrific attack by his country's occupying army upon his nonviolent home, three of his daughters were slaughtered on 16 January 2009, just four months after the untimely death of his wife.

Who among us could blame a father living under occupation for using such an outrage to instantly turn to hate and revenge? Losses like these are only imaginable to those who have experienced them. The absolute worst fear of any parent is what Herodotus expressed two and a half millennia ago. It is an abomination of nature and this is part of the reason some humans seem to instinctively abhor war as grotesquely unnatural. Dr. Abuelaish, a healer and peacemaker, is clearly one of those evolved beings.

His memoir of his own impoverished upbringing as a Palestinian refugee, his successful struggles to gain an education, his life and work as a career medical doctor in an occupied land in conflict with his life as a husband and father--literally blasted by the occupying army one awful awful day--is chronicled in his remarkable response, I shall not hate: A Gaza doctor's journey on the road to peace and human dignity.

For their war crimes, I'd like to see all members of the Israel cabinet, IDF officers, and anyone connected to Operation Cast Lead--the 23 days of horrific military attack on civilian neighborhoods in Gaza from 27 December 2008–18 January 2009--made to read and reflect on this book. It should also be assigned reading for Hamas and all their dysfunctional leaders. Lacking that power, I've assigned it to my Nonviolence class. They are thinking about this man and what he can teach students of nonviolence all over the world.

Cast Lead was a perfect example of the idiocy of waging asymmetric warfare using violence. Hamas precipitated that attack by its maladaptive Qassam rocket attacks that were flatly terrorist in that they had no accuracy and were just shot in the general direction of Israel. Cast Lead was 23 days of focused hell, retribution exacted with great precision against the very sort of targets Israel was so outraged by--civilians. In the end, the asymmetry was perfectly symmetrical, literally two orders of magnitude. There were 13 Israeli mortalities and a reported range of Palestinian deaths that average almost exactly 1,300. So a 100:1 ratio seems fine to both Israeli leadership and Hamas, neither of whom expressed regret about deciding to attack the other.

While Dr. Abuelaish has no theoretical knowledge of strategic nonviolence, he is a Jedi master of the inner jihad that can produce a natural nonviolent expert. He is hurt beyond belief and yet refuses to hate. I've met him twice and his authenticity is palpable. From his honest and painful memoir to his open and disarming presence, it is clear that he is extraordinary in his ability to confront his losses, acknowledge that they are overwhelming, and then work to make life better for those he loves.

His love extends much further than any victim's normally does. He speaks and writes lovingly of his family, his Gazan neighbors, but it extends to many Israelis and in the deepest sense to all humanity. His philosophical nonviolence is individual and profoundly intrinsic, even though he credits and quotes the Quran. He would quote any text he was raised with, and, as it happens, his text is the Quran. It gives him peace even as it affords ammunition for many violent Muslims who cite it to justify abominable acts of retribution, even against girls and women.

If anyone can help heal the conflict in the Middle East through plain personal power, this man, surrounded by the images of his daughters, is the one. He has no brilliant strategic plan based on sophisticated application of elegant nonviolent methods; his gift is in ending the encrusted layers of accumulated grievance burdening both parties. Dr. Abuelaish cuts the chains of hatred that drag down Israelis and Palestinians in their frothing swamp of atrocity and revenge.

There is much more to think about in this regard. Let's all start by getting this book, which is helping support the foundation for girls' advancement in the Middle East, the foundation Dr. Abuelaish started to honor his own daughters, Daughters for Life.

The first time I saw Dr. Abuelaish was when we in the Peace and Justice Studies Association hosted an M.K. Gandhi Award to him in Winnipeg, Manitoba in October 2010. I cried. Then I went to hear him speak at Powells Books just a day after the second anniversary of the killing of his three daughters. I cried again. Then I watched him on Democracy Now! and cried again.

I have photos of a little girl who lived in our Whitefeather Peace House and a little girl who lived in a different peace community I lived in back 25 years ago, both of whom brought enormous joy into my life. They are on my cork board in front of me as I work. I can no longer think of Dr. Abuelaish without thinking of those little girls and cannot see those photos without thinking about his loss. If he can rise to victory over hatred we all are called to learn from him.

Abuelaish, Izzeldin (2011). I shall not hate: A Gaza doctor's journey on the road to peace and human dignity. New York: Walker & Company.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Washington needs to listen

Joe Biden should practice some reflective listening right now, as he represents the Obama administration's evolving views on what is going on in Egypt. Instead, he is either going rogue or floating trial balloons to see how we respond. He says, for instance, that he knows Hosni Mubarak "fairly well" and that "he is not a dictator" like the communists in Eastern Europe.

No, of course Mubarak is not like the communist dictators in Eastern Europe. None of them accepted detainees from the US and then tortured them, as Mubarak has. Mubarak has kept the Arab street in his country from taking power, has refrained from bringing desperately needed assistance to Gazans in deference to Israeli wishes, and has accepted $billions in US military aid. He does what he is told by successive US administrations. None of the dictators in Eastern Europe ever did these things. And many of them, such as Poland's commie dictator Wojciech Witold Jaruzelski, fought against the Nazis in World War II, unlike Mubarak, who only fought against Israel.

But Joe should admit where Mubarak is a great deal like those dictators of yesteryear. They imprisoned people who insulted them and so does Mubarak. They imprisoned independent journalists who didn't toe the state press line, and so does Mubarak. They lived well while most of their people were poor, just like Mubarak. Many of them took years of Soviet military training, just like Mubarak did from 1959-1961. And all of them relied on violence against their own people.

Hosni Mubarak shares one other thing with the dictators of Eastern Europe. They all eventually lost power and were deposed by people power. All their guns, tanks and bombs didn't save them.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kind of intelligent

The bloody carnage of the past 100 years should have convinced even the dullest among us that violence within and between societies is now self defeating and colossally stupid.
David Orr, At the End of Our Tether: the Rationality of Nonviolence, p. 236.

Watching the impotence of the massive militaries of Egypt, Tunisia, and other nations--militaries composed of people of all levels of intelligence--as they do damage to their own people and alienate themselves from their own futures, we might wonder about kinds of intelligence. There is the standard IQ, the intelligence quotient, and that is now 99 years old, first developed by William Stern in Germany in 1912. In 1983, Howard Gardner's Frames of mind discussed multiple intelligences, mostly concepts such as social intelligence and emotional intelligence.

But a new one is needed, an Ahimsic Intelligence we might call it, that tries to see systemically, ecologically, even as it practices compassion toward all life. I don't believe anyone can achieve the kind of Ahimsic Genius that would enable anyone to become completely harmless and still function, but it seems to me that this is our next great test as a species.

Clearly the fruitarian Gandhi taught us many valuable lessons, moving down the food chain far more than Jesus reportedly did, so I think he was a more Advanced Ahimsic, but the deep challenge to us, I suspect, is to develop that sort of intelligence that integrates the macro, micro, and temporal, to help us see seven generations down through time and make decisions that are wise, compassionate and ahimsic for ourselves and life. These decisions are multidimensional, along several continua.

If humankind applies all these intelligences, we will become nonviolent. May our collective Ahimsic Intelligence develop fast enough to begin to repair the damage our IQs have wrought.

Orr, David W. (2008, April). At the End of Our Tether: the Rationality of Nonviolence. Conservation Biology. pp. 235-238. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00902.x.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Intifada gone viral: Panning for news gold

It is vitally important, of course, to believe everything reported in the various corporate and state media. How else can we get the real news? That darn Internet is sketchy and we can all have a good laugh when we think of crackpots who post and claim all sorts of wild things. Tinfoil hats is how we write them off. It is easy to find Holocaust deniers and not a few who claim that Dick Cheney is from another planet. So who can we trust? (Hint: I'd bet on the other planet crowd)

As with kissing frogs until you finally get that prince, or panning for gold in a cold gravelly stream, it's a matter of looking closely and realizing that there is always more worthwhile to discover, but it may be in association with a lot of junk. You develop a practiced eye, you learn from experience that even the hotshot award-winning journalists can make mistakes, and that some outstanding analysis and important news can be found in unregarded corners.

So, when the last election was held in Tunisia, for instance, on 25 October 2009, Zinedine Ben Ali won a landslide victory, with 89.62% of the vote, keeping his beloved visage on public buildings in 20-foot-high mugshots, just where Tunisians wanted him, right? Just a bit more than a year later, the streets filled with those who mysteriously flipped their support to demands that Ben Ali leave, which he did. The Korea Times reported that he managed to take along some 1.5 tons of his country's gold as he left. Could it be that Ben Ali really didn't have all that support when the votes were cast and counted? I think a relatively tiny amount of common sense would suggest exactly that, even though the US continued to send him military support while Human Rights Watch cited the election as deeply flawed. The people verified that and have continued, rejecting Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi's assumption of power. They have stayed in the streets and he has announced that all cabinet members who were Ben Ali loyalists will now be replaced. The Tunisians in the street are saying, great, and you must leave too. Always on top of things and keenly able to predict the future because of their mammoth budget, the CIA is, as of this morning, still showing Ben Ali as the acting President. Whoops, turns out the CIA can't even predict the past. Well, they are still smarting from their failure on that Berlin Wall, Cold War thingie 21 years ago. We can only hope more $hundreds of billions help them with their PTSD.

Meanwhile! Those yumpin' Yemenis have joined the party, with the Egyptians out ahead of them. The Arab street got heat. In Cairo, Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei has now been water-cannoned and is under house arrest--again, all paid for by US military funding and support that goes back to the Carter administration, when Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin agreed to accept massive US bribes in exchange for peace. These bribes have continued and we now see the military aid to Israel at about $3 billion annually, enabling Israel to ignore world opinion as it "settled" the West Bank, which is Palestine. It also funded the 30-year reign of Sadat's successor, Hosni Mubarak, by giving him $billions annually to keep his own people quashed. They are unquashing now. And anyone, even Leon Panetta, could have predicted that the growing amount of US military aid to Yemen would backfire into more opposition at some time. The US doubled down in Yemen and it has only seen more al-Qa'ida activity and widespread hostility to the US and its own government.

So, with these undemocratic, US-propped-up regimes becoming rapidly unpropped, what is the US response? Obama has tried to stay close enough to the curve to avoid landing totally on the wrong side--a bit reminiscent of Reagan suddenly switching at the last instant on Marcos and Aquino in the Philippines in 1986 and then later we saw Bush Senior flip flop on South Africa, but there has been no acknowledgment that the US has effectively kept real democracy at bay in the Middle East for decades, even as we have trumpeted that we have brought it to Iraq by force of arms. Iraq actually passed Israel as the Numero Uno US military aid recipient. That's obviously working out as more IEDs and suicide bombers continue to show the desperate results, as hyperarmed US troops vainly try to beat insurgent swords into plowshares.

So, you ask, why do we pour that money into rotten regimes? Who benefits? I know this is a shocker, but it's the owners of the war system. The aid that goes to anyone (except our 51st state, Israel) must be spent entirely on US war corporations. This is nothing more than a massive shift of your hard-earned money into the pockets of the war profiteers and it does nothing for the honest spread of democracy. It does everything, instead, for the erosion of the US image and we now see the fumaroles from Arab civil society showing signs of the Final Eruption. Those who have been transferring knowledge about strategic nonviolent struggle to civil society are the ones who are helping the most to enable the uprising to remain nonviolent, but that is so pitifully small in the big picture that all we can hope is that, like the Filipinas, like the Serbs, like the Estonians and others, the masses will somehow manage to make it both raucous and nonviolent. The bad old days of blood in the streets as a revolutionary imperative are no longer necessary in any way. May the Arab masses show the world their cost-effective version of a Velvet Intifada, a transnational wave similar to the Central and Eastern Europe wave of 1989-1991.

Stay tuned, but keep switching sources. Lots out there, but those nuggets need to be spotted by your increasingly sophisticated eye.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Feel a draft?

It was 38 years ago today that the draft ended and it hasn't come back, but its shadow looms across the American bad memory landscape, only dying out as my generation passes on and the baby boomers lose their boom. Why did it end, why did it start, and why isn't it back, since we are in a couple of wars now with more threatening?

The draft ended because civil society had grown to despise it. When the citizenry finally comes to despise something, elected officials eventually get it and act, often because enough of the unresponsive ones are defeated in elections. The rest begin to understand that a shift in public attitude makes it adaptive for them to shift too. The US history of the draft--and the resistance to it--is complicated and shocking in some cases.

The draft during the Civil War was a lightning rod issue for both class and race and the parties were not what we might assume from our notions of what parties stand for today in the minds of many.

Democrats were "antiwar," but like so many who call themselves antiwar, they were anti this war, not pacifists at all. Indeed, in the early 1860s they often referred to the war of secession as the "nigger war." They stoked the fears of poor whites, warning that if Lincoln, that meddlesome Republican, managed to free the slaves, the north would be flooded with free blacks who would take all the factory jobs and all the unskilled or low-skilled work, replacing the immigrants from Ireland and elsewhere. When Lincoln pushed through a stronger draft law, poor whites rioted in New York City in what were really race riots but which are known as draft riots. Eleven black men were lynched during the five days of rioting, starting on the Monday morning, 13 July 1863, after the draft lottery began. Huge crowds of white men beat blacks, white owners of businesses that served the black community, abolitionists, black women and they even burned the black orphanage, though they did permit the 233 children to escape. Fear of job loss fanned by inflammatory rhetoric and the most uncivil public dialog produced a chapter so ugly in the history of New York and America that it is not a big feature in most school history texts. It should be.

America had accepted the draft after Pearl Harbor, even though the threats from Nazi Germany had allowed Congress to pass the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, the first peacetime draft in US history. Dave Dellinger and some other nonviolent men from the Union Theological Seminary openly resisted that, refused to register, and were sent to prison. In a complete reversal of the racist draft riots of 1863, the World War II pacifists who served prison time organized against segregation in the prisons and succeeded in changing federal prison policy, achieving desegregation in some prisons before it would be achieved 15-20 years later in "free" society around those prisons in the South.

Draft resistance in Vietnam was sketchy at first and pandemic near the end. January 27 is a satisfying date to recall that end to involuntary servitude. The resistance to that draft in that war was complex and ranged from the stupidest (which, as a boy of 17 in 1968, I almost did, until I finally came in contact with the draft resistance movement), which was to enlist in one branch of the armed forces in order to avoid going to Vietnam, to the most principled, which was to publicly burn one's draft card and head off to prison. There were many shades of response, from the Bill Clinton model (stay in school long enough to remain exempt from the fighting) to the Ben Spock/Dave Dellinger model (even if you are not of draft age, you commit nonviolent civil resistance to it and risk imprisonment) and everything in between.

By the time it finally ended, US civil society opposed it and the generals and politicians learned to avoid it at all costs. They are the new draft resisters, using other methods to conscript nowadays. They love it when the economy tanks and young people are desperate for GI benefits, a job, and even housing. It's the Darth Vader approach: Luke, come over to the dark side. Young people, boxed in, see one way out as the recruiters shine bright lights on their option. It's not called a draft now, but it is a defacto poverty draft and I look forward to the day that ends. I hope we can all join in working to create other attractive options for our youth or we will continue our slide toward a militarized culture. Meanwhile, a moment to honor the end of the draft on this day in 1973. May it never come again.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beyond the rhetoric

Barack Obama gave the 2011 State of the Union and it was a fine speech, hitting many notes that inspire us to want to be better parents, better workers, better citizens, better students, and better teachers. He swore to protect the most vulnerable and to fight to close tax loopholes for the rich. One of the best moments was his rousing finish, when he told the story of Center Rock, a Pennsylvania drilling company that responded to the Chilean mining disaster by designing a drill rig that rescued the 33 trapped miners. That touched hearts. That was about saving lives using ingenuity and technology, not taking lives with more bombs and more guns.

Sadly, however, President Obama did not address the truly massive, tough budget issue, the military spending that has eviscerated our economy and set the stage for the recession, joblessness and foreclosures. Instead, he called for a five-year freeze on all the life-affirming human service spending and vaguely and briefly boasted that even the Pentagon is helping by cutting back:

The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.
--President Obama from the 2011 State of the Union address

This is grossly misleading. With an annual budget in excess of a $trillion (by the time you add in the many military items, such as nuclear weapons, that don't officially fall into the Pentagon budget), the DoD and Congress are contemplating a cut of some $78 billion spread out over several years. This is a tiny percentage of the bloated budget, and should be an insult to the intelligence of every hardworking American. While health care and education and environmental protection are frozen or slashed deeply and our ability to threaten the entire world is barely dented, it is highly disingenuous to pretend that we are truly changing to an economic model that is sustainable or sensible.

The other sour note in the address for anyone who is interested in positive peace and in helping our young people:

Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.

No thank you. I prefer to try to get more of our young people into jobs where they don't carry guns, where they don't grab joy sticks in a trailer in Creech Air Force base to shoot missiles at civilians thousands of miles away. I want them to be safe and I want them to do work that helps instead of hurts. I want to demilitarize rather than further militarize our campuses. Being gay-friendly is supposed to make the military attractive and the war system suddenly great? No thank you.

There are other, stronger, more future-oriented ways to manage conflict than to carry on as though killing and destroying is our human destiny. I heard not one word about teaching peace and conflict resolution skills to our children or to our students. The investments in solar and wind power are necessary and welcome. But where is the investment in different ways to resolve conflict? This would take a tiny percentage of what is currently poured into the war system and would return huge gains and benefits in the form of saved lives and taxpayers' funds.

The state of the US is stuck in the war system and nothing will be truly fixed until we turn in another direction, toward a peace system. It is a shame that isn't happening.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Khan flicked

Can Muslims ever possibly develop a disciplined notion of mass nonviolence?

Within days after September 11, 2001, the place where I teach, Portland State University, had organized and conducted a talking heads panel of professors wise in all things Central Asian for our enlightenment. I learned quite a bit but there were some missing pieces, I felt, that might offer us a way forward that didn't include armed attack. Most salient to me was the legacy of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as Badshah Khan, a close ally of Gandhi's as the huge area known as India struggled for independence from Britain. British law and occupation was odious. Mohammad Raqib (2005, p. 114) notes conditions:

The Frontier Crimes Regulation, a set of laws widely seen as repressive and unfair, was adopted to fight anti-government activities in the settled districts. The police were given the authority to destroy buildings that were used by anti-British elements. Authority to inflict collective punishment was also given to police to punish families, villages, or even whole communities for the acts of one person.

Khan was a giant both physically and morally, a devout Pashtun Muslim, and the honorific Badshah Khan--"Khan of Khans"--was bestowed on him by all the other Khans. He decided that Pashtuns should resist British rule using a Muslim variant of Gandhian nonviolence, involving a special nonviolent fighting force called the Khudai Khidmatgar, the "Servants of God." These Muslims took a pledge of nonviolence to the death, the kind of commitment from a warrior culture that was sincerely, totally committed. Khan had the same devotion that Osama bin Laden would garner from his suicide squads on 8.11.01, but these estimated 100,000 nonviolent warriors were nonviolent.

So, to answer the original question, yes. When a Muslim group decides to only use nonviolence and when they make that pledge in the name of their faith, they are as devoted to nonviolence as the Hindu Gandhi or the Catholic Cesar Chavez. If a Muslim leader demonstrates the kind of leadership the world witnessed in Abdul Ghaffar Khan we might see an end to the seemingly endless occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine with far less bloodshed. While nonviolence is apparently counterintuitive to so many, it has worked and may work again. The insurgents in Tunisia deposed Ben Ali with almost no violence--certainly no organized violence--and Palestinians are giving nonviolence more chances.

Badshah Khan is dead--long live Badshah Khan!

Raqib, Mohammad (2005). The Muslim Pashtun movement of the North-West Frontier of India—1930-1934. In Sharp, Gene. Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finding common ground in a battlefield

The efforts to build any nonviolent movement are hampered by those who favor violence. However, the numbers of people who favor violence because they are pathologically drawn to it are very small; most favor violence because they have no logic that tells them that nonviolence can actually work. The logic is there, but not taught and not held as a primary value. While nonviolence as a fine philosophy has been around for millennia, nonviolence as a way to wage serious struggle is barely a century old, and, in reality, not much more than half a century, since it took Gandhi--the originator of globally known effective mass nonviolence--until almost mid-20th century to gain his victory. In short, for most humans, nonviolence is a nice idea that they don't equate with effective liberation or national defense. (pictured above: Paul Chappell)

Efforts may be needed to support the determination to continue the struggle. The participants must believe their action is justified, the gained objectives will be worthwhile, and the means of action have been wisely chosen. Their morale is likely to increase if the resisters understand the techniques well and if the goals and means of struggle are, or can be, related to the general population’s accepted values (Sharp, 2005, p. 388).

Where is the common ground, then, to identify and reify shared values? How can a pacifist like me hope to convince dedicated violent warriors? Of course, I can cite histories, such as Gandhi, Kenneth Kaunda and Bill Sutherland, the Filipinas, the Civil Rights movement, the Serbs, the Estonians and much more--and I do. I can refer people to the great research done by Erica Chenoweth, Maria Stephan and many others, and I do. But for many who trust the warriors who serve in the armed forces, I like to refer to people like Bob Helvey and Paul Chappell. (watch the Kentucky video on the Chappell linked site) They are authentic soldiers and genuine students of strategic nonviolence.

Finding common ground in nonviolent struggle with Quakers and Anabaptist peace believers is usually easy, but they are a tiny minority. Similarly for adherents to Jainist nonviolence, certain strands of Buddhism and other philosophical and religious pacifists. But when we can establish a cadre of former warriors who have not necessarily converted to philosophical pacifism but who hold that in fact strategic nonviolence is the most effective way to win with the fewest costs, that common ground with the majority of citizens at least has a beachhead. Then it's up to all of us to take and hold more such common ground with more of our fellow citizens.

Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tossing a wide net

The act of protest may be intended primarily to influence the opponents—by arousing attention and publicity for an issue, with a hope to convince them to accept a proposed change. Or, the protest may be intended to warn the opponents of the depth or extent of feeling on an issue, which may lead to more severe action if a change the protesters want is not made. Or, the action may be intended primarily to influence the grievance group—the persons directly affected by the issue—to induce them to take action themselves, such as participating in a strike or an economic boycott (Sharp, 2005, pp. 398-9).

How do we achieve our goal using nonviolence? What kind of message do we craft? And to whom do we send it for what purposes?

All too often those who attempt to get a change in some policy fail to ask the questions they need to ask in order to get the job done that they wish to accomplish. Many times, it seems, it's a set of assumptions about the goal, about the methods, and about how to construct the campaign. This can have some negative results if some crucial constituencies are ignored or alienated. Sharp mentions two groups, the grievance group and the opponents, presumably a group exerting and enforcing some sort of injustice. But what about those who don't consider themselves in either group? The apathetic millions or the alienated majority is ignored at the peril of the grievance group, since those people might become either supporters of the oppressive group or supporters and allies of the grievance group, depending on the message sent and received.

So, for example, as Dr. Bernard LaFayette points out in the film A Force More Powerful, the Civil Rights movement in the US was undertaken by a grievance group that was perhaps 11 percent of the population. The majority had been apathetic, and the grievance group--African Americans, especially those denied basic civil and even human rights in the segregated South--could not win until they had the sympathy, if not the active participation, of the majority across the country. The messages sent by the Civil Rights movement were of great grievance but also of nonviolent intention and commitment. They responded to violence with immensely courageous nonviolence and slowly but surely convinced the majority of Americans to support them.

The minute the message changed to Black Power, violent self defense and Burn, Baby, Burn rioting most support screeched to a halt and began to reverse. MLK, John Lewis and a few others tried heroically to keep to the nonviolent message and conduct and could not convince broad swatches of the national grievance group to join them, which ended the advances for African Americans. The correlation is clear. From 1955-1965 almost all African American protest and resistance was nonviolent. When that gave way to a "diversity of tactics" all the political gains stopped, social indices froze and the racists were given the arguments they needed to Keep Fear Alive. Images of Newark, Detroit and other cities in flames and Huey Newton and Black Panthers with weapons killed off almost all the forward movement toward a meeting of the hearts and minds we needed.

Raise your hands if you think the oppressors learned lessons from this. Raise your hands if you think perhaps some of those who promote violence or hate in various movements might be police agents hoping to ruin the image and message of the nonviolent movement?

Yes, those who raised their hands are quite correct. Indeed, this has been proven again and again in court, from the Black Power movement to the anti-Vietnam War movement to the movement against nuclear weapons and on and on. These agents urge violence and the more simplistic and angry movement people go along. Then it comes out that the movement was duped by this and then the next movement gets fooled by it. Are we slow learners, incapable of discipline or just so angry that the first thing we shoot is ourselves in the foot? I mean, in the aftermath of the demise of the Honeywell Project in the late 1960s, precipitated by acts of throwing bricks through corporate windows and generally appearing nihilistic and enraged, it turned out that this was prompted by police undercover provocateurs. The Honeywell Project, begun in the 1960s in Minneapolis to struggle against the manufacture of cluster bombs that were slaughtering so many innocent civilians and livestock in Vietnam, won a $30,000 settlement by proving that the police provocateurs initiated all the violence.

The Black Panthers were badly infiltrated, as were the Black Muslims (one of Malcolm X's bodyguards was working for the police, for instance). The antiwar movement suffered similarly.

So, when someone advocates a diversity of tactics nowadays, do eyes roll and are they rejected? Of course not; it is the opposite. When those who advocate strict nonviolence speak up, the eyes roll and the so-called peace movement leaders often brush them off as puritanically obsessive about their pure nonviolence. In short, lessons unlearned. The exceptions to this include the campaigns led by Catholic Workers and some others who are philosophically committed to nonviolence, but the general leftist movements or progressive movements get derailed frequently by accepting this so-called "diversity of tactics," code for violence or undisciplined rage of some sort. Those who permit this are rarely police agents, but they may as well be, since the ultimate effect is to erode and shrink the movement.

When women in Britain fought for the vote, they used some violence. American women never did. British women started their struggle earlier and won the vote later. Certainly the approach taken by Alice Paul and other committed pacifists won hearts and minds much faster in the US.

We have a long road of learning; may we begin soon.

Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging nonviolent struggle: 20th century practice and 21st century potential. Boston: Extending Horizon Books.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Body image and social movements

Authenticity, honesty, sincerity and transparency are hallmarks of a movement that tends to both win friends and supporters at the same time it tends to reduce opposition and the desire to punish and destroy the members of that movement. On the other hand, rhetoric about peace or nonviolence accompanied by snarling facial expressions, strident chanting and clenched fists is often simply not believed. Responses are predictable.

Kinesics, the interpretation of body language cues, can drastically influence the course and outcome of a disagreement, a street protest, and even the received message from leadership. Right or wrong, most humans tend to make those interpretations. Are the penetrating stares you are receiving a sign that the others are interested in listening to you carefully and respectfully, or are they signs of hostility and aggression? All else being equal, many humans tend to interpret any discrepancies in the worst light, guarding against being duped. Convince your opponent that you have bad intentions and you can expect the worst.

Anxiety and/or anger can be shown by tone of voice, tension in the facial muscles, clenched teeth, clasping objects, dilated pupils, general body activity rather than stillness, stiff posture, perspiration, short glances, or averted stares.
--Barbara Budjac Corvette, Conflict management (p. 93)

There are reasons for many of the guidelines we often use in many movements. Appearing harmless is consonant with nonviolent rhetoric and consistency is how the sense of authenticity is conveyed and eventually believed. Open, visible, empty hands, palms up, show a willingness to expose a nonthreatening, unarmed and well intentioned attitude. This is very different from obsequious groveling, which is logically and normally distrusted. Meeting the impassive stares of the SWAT team with a look of concerned commitment is dignified and does not tend to draw down brutality.

I've been in countless street actions and confrontations at military bases. Yes, I've been harmed, physically, but that is rare and never when once I'm known to guards, police, or whatever physical troops are on hand. Showing up once, getting shoved around, and bringing a poor attitude from that point on is a guarantee of a downward spiral of abuse. As a very young man and not at political actions I responded to police aggression with my own physically defensive reaction. I did this twice and still carry the scars. I guess I am blessed that I learned this the hard way without besmirching the image of any movement.

Why court willful misinterpretation of our sincere actions for peace and justice? Training and roleplaying can reduce these problems to almost nil. Leadership that is calm and genuine sets a tone--bellowing and raging speakers tend to froth up less stable members of any movement and concomitantly sets all the warning lights flashing red amongst police and military. Bullhorns and stridency are how we guarantee we alienate instead of recruit. Is this really our goal?

The idea is to win. Winning happens more often by invitation, not alienation. Smiling faces are going to draw participation more than grimaces of rage, however justified that rage may be. Whether nonverbals are 90 percent or 50 or 10 percent of the message received is a debatable research question--I certainly don't get more than 10 percent from watching a quiet conversation in Urdu (or in English with the sound turned off), nor do I feel as though I only get 10 percent from an emoticon-free email. But larger movements work more effectively than smaller ones--this is really not debatable. Learning to give off the right message without saying a word is part of movement recruitment strategy and training.

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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nonviolence v corporate policy

Nonviolence is often studied as a method of changing public policy and liberation, which is appropriate but not nearly inclusive of all the problems nonviolence can solve. Most of the same principles used in liberation and public policy struggles can be applied to struggles to affect corporate policy.

Our first task is to decide it's possible, and to do that, we can look to cases of successful application of the tools of grassroots agents of change to corporate problems.

Battles for labor rights, wages, the 40-hour week, and recognition of collective bargaining units have long relied primarily on nonviolent struggle, rank-and-file participation and carefully chosen techniques that apply positive and negative sanctions to strengthen negotiations and outcomes.
From AJ Muste advising and leading the textile workers just after World War I to the formation of many unions in the 1930s, to Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers' campaigns of the 1960s and many more such efforts, nonviolent grassroots initiatives have changed corporate and industry policies many times.

The Nestlé boycott of the late 1970s (1977-1984 and periodically on and off when Nestlé is found in violation) by Infact led to a cessation of the unethical marketing of infant formula in places where it led to unhealthy babies and impoverishment of the mothers. Infact went on to help force GE to sell off its nuclear weapons corporate interests by applying that same consumer boycott strategy used so effectively by Chavez to involve the larger public in helping migrant laborers gain basic rights. That boycott faced plenty of corporate media pushback and its own ultimately unsuccessful boycott of the boycott, since GE was so wired in to major media, especially NBC. Indeed, the boycott can even be used to develop and effect the same kind of 'divide and conquer' strategy used so effectively by empires on colonial peoples. By boycotting South African white businesses seriously and long enough, black South Africans and their recruited allies from around the world were able to get the South African business community to split from the hardline apartheid government, setting the stage for a peaceful transition to democracy. Long before that, the citizens of Montgomery used the boycott of the bus system to split the ruling segregationists from the practical business-minded leaders who watched the bus company losing money for months, just because they could not end segregation. Sowing division based on fear of economic punishment is a legitimate technique that, if done in an organized fashion, works more often than pure moral appeal.

Corporations have taken not just the right to influence lawmaking—with fifty-six paid lobbyists now in Washington for every elected officeholder—but even the right to initiate and organize lawmaking to benefit them.
--Frances Moore Lappé (2006). Democracy’s edge: Choosing to save our country by bringing democracy to life (p. 90).

OK, corporations are slicker now, more sophisticated, and know how to run things with more tools and stronger techniques. Does that mean we throw in the nonviolent towel and give up? Nope. Not unless we intend to see our economy continue to favor the aggregation of money at the top and poverty at the bottom, with the concentration of both continuing to increase. If we need to fight both public policy and corporate policy simultaneously, we can do that. If we decide to, we can make corporations behave using the boycott and if we decide to, we can make Congress behave using the vote.

Yes, those are big "If"s, aren't they? If we hope to make it work, we have to pick one winnable battle after the next and start doing all the things necessary to victory, that is, publicize, recruit, educate, grow coalitions, start more conversations, bring in intellectual power and celebrity power, create an image of what the problem is and how to fix it, and make it seem possible. In other words, develop both buzz and loyalty to an idea, forcing that idea into the highest priority level for more and more people.

So, if the numbers of corporate lobbyists writing and handing over those written bills to elected officials is problematic, a multipronged campaign is the answer. Boycotts, buycotts (buying substitutes that weaken offending corporations and strengthen those whose behavior is better), competing bills outlawing the practice of corporate authorship of law, and more tactics that meet the public interest can be launched as the power of the coalition grows. Developing the narrative that convinces the niche markets and the general public alike is the work of many talented thinkers who do the research and use the results to design a strategy that succeeds.

In the end, looking at the history of nonviolent grassroots success, we see that the people were radically outspent and the corporations were overwhelmed by people power. That is the common story. They have the money power; we have the people power. The corporations are winning right now. Sometimes they have lost. In our current climate, our brief is to save our nation from them, our people from them, and even to save them from themselves, since they seem incapable.

Can we do it? Yes. Will we?

Lappé, Frances Moore (2006). Democracy’s edge: Choosing to save our country by bringing democracy to life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Paying them to PSYOP us

In early 2005, many Americans were shocked to learn that the Bush administration was spending $254 million annually, twice what the Clinton administration spent, on public relations contracts to produce and distribute hundreds of ready-to-serve news segments broadcast on local and network stations.
--Frances Moore Lappé (2006), Democracy’s edge (p. 229)

How does democracy survive and thrive if it cannot emerge from an uncontaminated pool of public discourse? Just as we rejected the McCarthy-era House of Unamerican Activities abuses, so too are we now confronted with the problem of funding the very slicksters who pump out propaganda directed primarily at eroding our democracy enough so that they stay in power. Paying people to fool us is not why we pay taxes, thank you very much. Well, we wish it weren't. The $254 million mentioned by Lappé is a little slush fund alongside the ongoing tsunami of Pentagon propaganda funding, some $4.7 billion in 2009, employing more than 27,000 just to sell the war department's line of thinking to citizens from Birmingham to Basra, from Kansas to Kabul. They have the ironic chutzpah to call their Pentagon operation Joint Hometown News Service and when they produce news pieces for radio, television, advertising, opinion columns for newspapers, commentary for talk radio, and 'news' stories online, in print, in audio files or on film, they do not reveal that this is Pentagon-prepared. It has sent me back to re-read that old classic, Animal Farm. There it is, the new truth. The funny thing is Orwell was satirizing the commie governments of the left, but nowadays it's the militarized governments--and I personally see militarism from any quarter as a functional rightwing stance--who are using this approach less crudely and thus more effectively.

Spinning this self-referential news loop can spiral back to haunt us when those who actually believe in an informed citizenry seriously decide to help democracy, as when Wikileaks opened up a can of whupass in the form of 92,000 leaked documents in July 2010. In that opened can we found that the Pentagon was using the same fool-the-natives trick in Afghanistan as they used so speciously in Iraq, which is to pay editors and others to plant Pentagon-friendly stories in those countries. The covering structure is called provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs, civilian-military hybrids tasked with rebuilding Afghanistan, presumably in the image and likeness of a US colony).

If we are trying to suggest to the world that a theocratic government is not appropriate, why do we do everything at our disposal to erode the faith that we hope develops, the faith in a free press, the faith in an informed citizenry, the two faiths that buttress the overarching faith in the people that is faith in democracy?

Lappé, Frances Moore (2006), Democracy’s edge: Choosing to save our country by bringing democracy to life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jasmine revolutionaries

What we see now in Tunisia is wondrous with dangerous challenges and potential for beauty or catastrophe, democracy or theocracy, peaceable liberation or bloodbath. The forces working to undermine this uprising, which has already succeeded in deposing President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (who ruled since 1987 as a dictator in practice) in what is being called the Jasmine Revolution (for the national flower and the general nonviolent conduct of the protesters), are numerous and both internal and external. Statements of support are sometimes genuine, sometimes superficial, and the whole affair makes the powerful very nervous. When those in power are jumpy, everyone else is at risk.

Reporters, reflecting this general fret, seem to be sure to inquire on the ground or in interviews via phone, What about fundamentalists? Is this an Islamist revolution? The subtext is always, Will this former client state of the US now be on the side of the terrorists? Will we see a state that violates human rights like Iran? A nonviolent revolution is great, but is the result going to be even more polarizing than the original problem?

Tunisia is, after all, the most northern country in Africa, on the Mediterranean Sea, and has a long history of complex conflict with Europe, including the Punic Wars with the Roman empire that resulted in some of the earliest environmental warfare when Cato the Elder convinced his Romans to attempt to make Carthage more like the Sahara to the south, by salting the fields to make agriculture impossible.

That failed, and Tunisia has long been an agricultural exporting nation from its northern fertile farmlands. Massive corruption, proven by recent Wikileaks documents showing the enormous flow of resources to the Ben Ali clan, may have been the final triggering bit that brought so many thousands into the streets in what became a de facto general strike.

Part of the shakiness of the West is that, following the Lebanese civil war of 1982, Tunisia hosted Yassir Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which is certainly related to the jubilation amongst the citizens of Gaza that has been so widely reported recently. The other anti-democratic governments in the region and in the rest of the Arab world are frightened too, even those hostile to the West, such as Syria, whose leader squeaked out his latest victory in the polls with just 97.6 percent of the counted votes. That kind of democracy, the kind with one party on the ballot and your thumbprint alongside any write-in vote, is indeed threatened by the kind of Jasmine Revolution in the neighborhood. Indeed, from Saudi Arabia to Syria, Arab dictatorships have suddenly decided to lift some austerity measures and have been more generous to their people. Thus, whatever happens, the Tunisians have already helped common folk throughout the region.

May the flowers of nonviolent revolution continue to blossom in peaceful turmoil.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Misquoting and misunderstanding King

Historian William Loren Katz brought to my attention the egregious misuse of the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr by Pentagon counsel Jeh C. Johnson on 13 January 2011. In his speech about Dr. King, Johnson incorrectly claimed that, were he alive today, Dr. King would have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is positively Goebbelian and Orwellian in its bald backwardness. Of course, what do we expect from an institution that has chaplains bless atomic bombers in the name of Jesus, as they are about to go incinerate scores of thousands of civilians? What else is new for a warrior organization that--in a mirror image of al Qa'ida or the Taliban--drenches its rhetoric in pseudospirituality, sending in born-again Marines with white phosphorus weapons to burn people alive in Fallujah? The evangelicizing of the US military toward a view of a heavily armed, vindictive Jesus is a well documented phenomenon, so why would we expect anything different when it comes to warping the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr?

Just for the record, Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr were nonviolent. Hello? The Prince of Peace did not fool around when he noted that those who live by the sword die by the sword. He not only refused armed protection, he reputedly healed the Roman slave, Malchus, whose ear was cut off by one of Jesus's well meaning followers. Whether Jesus did this or not, his words as we read them in the Bible were all about healing and forgiveness, never about using violence to attack or defend. He carried no weapon except his own personhood. Martin Luther King Jr agonized and prayed over this very question in the 1950s, when his home was bombed on 30 January 1956 and he owned a handgun for protection of his family. King's prayer resulted in his own disarmament, when he and Coretta made the decision that advocating for nonviolence meant that he could neither have a gun nor have armed bodyguards, a very radical departure from the norm but one he clearly felt was a watershed in his own effort to live a truly spiritual life in accordance with his faith.

Donald Rumsfeld lied about WMD in Iraq and he lied about Saddam Hussein being in cahoots with Osama bin Laden. Pentagon spokespeople lied about the Gulf of Tonkin and the lies stretch all the way back to the casus belli of the Spanish American War. They lied about the dangers of radiological weapons to humans, about the effects of Agent Orange, and about Gulf War Syndrome, denying compensation to foreign civilians and US military personnel alike. Why would we expect the officials at DoD to suddenly start telling the truth about Dr. King or anything else? When they are caught in those lies, they stutter about bad intelligence or unclear circumstances, but the pattern is stark.

I know soldiers and Marines who really have gone into these wars with intentions of helping, and often they do, exhibiting great skill and care. We've talked and we've agreed to disagree about the necessity of being armed, but I will freely assert that plenty of US military members really strive under dangerous circumstances to help Iraqis and Afghans on the ground, in the countryside, villages and towns. What I find such a betrayal is that their commanders at the highest levels continue to manufacture false statements about so much and thus put civilians and US troops alike at greater risk. Dr. King was clear as a bell that a nation that continues to spend its treasure on military adventures while cutting social programs is approaching spiritual death. The Pentagon is pushing us toward that spiritual death even as it is shoving our environment and economy over the cliff.

It is time to take King seriously and rethink our entire notion of security. His vision has a future for all. The Pentagon vision is a nightmare of lies and violence.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Solving the shooting problem

Looking at any phenomenon we can ascribe three sets of causal conditions: necessary, contributory, sufficient. The outcome is impossible to achieve without the necessary causes, the outcome is more likely to be achieved by adding more contributory causes or by making existing contributory causes more powerful, and the outcome occurs when all the necessary causes are met and enough contributory causes are powerful enough to reach sufficient.

So, for example, we can look at the shooting in Tucson and speculate that the causes may be described something like this:
Necessary: exposed victims, gun and ammunition availability, motive, willingness to kill, ability to shoot victims.
Contributory: lack of funding for mental health care system, poor oversight of gun dealers, limitless gun and ammunition manufacturing, incendiary and objectifying public and political speech, cultural predisposition toward violent solutions to conflict, little or no conflict management education or training for children or young adults, glorification of violent warriors, nation at war, sacralizing violent warrior conduct, violent movies, violent video games and more.
Sufficient: all the necessary and some combination and level of contributory.

Understanding causation in this way helps to separate arguments that tend to place all blame on one condition or the other. We can discuss any occurrence more rationally when we don't blame it all on one cause, such as gun and ammunition availability. We can speculate about how to mitigate the chances that such tragedies will occur again by removing or reducing one or more of the necessary causes or the contributory causes. We can come to understand some of the complexity and teach ourselves how to think together toward solutions.

This also gives us all something to do. If, for example, I can vote for a person who is running for office with promises to fund more mental health outreach and treatment so that more potentially violent people can get relief and support before they descend into the stages where they might harm themselves or others, I can volunteer to help in that person's campaign, even if they have no intentions of addressing the other necessary or contributory causes. Or, if I'm a gun owner who would never hurt another, I can publicly announce that I am voluntarily giving up my gun because I am now convinced that only gun owners can bring about the changes in norms and laws that would possibly greatly reduce one of the necessary causes (necessary to the alleged shooter in Tucson, certainly, and to others such as the Virginia Tech shooter, the Columbine high school shooters, etc.). The individual opportunities for meaningful action open widely when we assess all these factors, don't they?

We will never eliminate violence, but any steps to lessen the amount and reduce the frequency of these episodes are to the public and private good. We will never eliminate cannibalism either, but we've fixed our laws and norms to attenuate that problem radically, haven't we? We will never eliminate slavery, but we've addressed most laws and most norms to greatly reduce such outbreaks globally. We have the tools and training to get these jobs done; what we lack, often, is the calm public discourse and courageous individual decisions to implement the many aspects of potential solution. We as an intelligent society full of intelligent people can approach this collaboratively if we intelligently choose to do so.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Our duty despite the evidence

Last night I went to a peace meeting and at some point in the discussion I raised my hand and was eventually called on. I started to talk about the use of media in promoting nonviolent struggle and how that helped recruit more sympathizers and helped lead to some victories. I was interrupted by a woman who has been an activist for as long as I have--decades--and she went into a long harangue about our failings, our lack of victories and achievements and that she had no hope and that organizing anything was not worth it. Since she had interrupted me, I continued to try to finish my thought for my final sentence, but she kept talking over me and someone said, "Listen to her, Tom." I did. Her statement turned that meeting around. When someone else tried to say something, she responded. When a group self-facilitates that poorly, so that amongst 25 or so in attendance one person is allowed to respond in turn to everyone, that meeting is victim of a self-fulfilling prophesy and is indeed not worth the time. When she responded to yet another person and the group allowed her to dominate it, I felt called to the kitchen to do dishes, which was a much better use of my energy.

Why would anyone hope and continue to organize when things were hard? Isn't that the time to sensibly give up? I think Cesar Chavez thought about that and made his clear and lifelong decision.

We are suffering. We have suffered, and we are not afraid to suffer in order to win our cause.

Chavez went on to say:
We have suffered unnumbered ills and crimes in the name of the Law of the Land. Our men, women, and children have suffered not only the basic brutality of stoop labor, and the most obvious injustices of the system; they have also suffered the desperation of knowing that the system caters to the greed of callous men and not to our needs. Now we will suffer for the purpose of ending the poverty, the misery, and the injustice, with the hope that our children will not be exploited as we have been. They have imposed hunger on us, and now we hunger for justice. We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.

Indeed, when the poorest of the poor, the most downtrodden with the least reason to hope, when those people decide, en masse, to get a job done, they succeed far more often than they fail. I'm glad Cesar Chavez didn't look around him at the overwhelming racism, poverty, injustice and decide not to organize.

I think of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) who keep struggling year after year against the obscene injustice of the religious fundamentalists in Afghanistan, whether they are Taliban or whomever. These women have been attacked physically, morally, emotionally, financially, and as mothers, wives and daughters. They have nothing. No money, no schools, no jobs, no social safety net and no power that is discernible or traditionally understood. Yet they never give up. Never. They oppose US and NATO occupation just as deeply as they oppose the violence and brutality of the fundamentalist Islamists who rule when the invading foreigners don't. They have no reason to hope. I'm sure the woman from last night's meeting would tell them to stop. I'm sure they would tell her to please be quiet and let the planning proceed. And I have enormous hope that RAWA will prevail against all odds.

Hope is our duty, despite the evidence, despite the string of hard results and losses. Hope, sometimes, is the only thing we have left.

To be a Negro in America is to hope against hope.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.
Anyone who is working for a better world has hope. Anyone who has no hope should stay home or at least stay silent and allow those who have ideas and intentions to figure out what to do next. The sociologists who study social conflict and movements have pointed out again and again that the best way to recruit is to give hope, what they called raised expectations. We who come out in hope and dreams are not little children who need patronizing--or matronizing--protection from our own futile ideas of what might be possible. We need help, we need support, and we need everyone's contributions to the brainstorms that lead to new plans for change. Without everyone's creativity, we are poorer and slower to win.