Thursday, December 25, 2014

Shoot down the stupid Second Amendment

What country fetishizes, lionizes, valorizes, idolizes, and sacralizes guns as much as does our United States? OK, possibly Mozambique--the only country with an AK47 on its flag, but really, it's long past time to end this obsessive "My Precious" attachment of Americans to instruments of death.

This morning, December 25, 2014, of the nine top stories from US Reuters, six were about shootings--four new ones and two about the national movement against shootings of citizens by police. This pandemic of sick violence, punctuated by mass killings of children, has gone on far far too long. It is long past time to repeal the stupid Second Amendment.

The fate of the Second Amendment should have been sealed when the US Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that past rulings by their predecessors were wrong, that in fact the amendment that provided for a "well regulated militia" really guaranteed every individual the right to own a gun. Wow. That is an interesting reading of the English language. What the Supremes have done is to not only warp the meaning and make it into twisted law, but to further prohibit states and local governments from declaring their places free of legal guns. The conservative court once again rules against the power of states, a principle that used to be associated with darn liberals who wanted to make sure everyone had the right to vote, for example, even though they weren't properly white enough. Now when a city or state wants to outlaw firearms, too bad. The conservatives took away their powers and rights in favor of Big Brother.

The only logical path, given the clearly decided role of the Second Amendment, is to repeal it. American people are tired of mass shootings and police shootings and family fued shootings and sibling shootings and accidental toddler shootings and teen suicide by gun (highly popular).We are exhausted by the proliferation of death, of threats, of bloodshed, and by the NRA/gun industry moral garbage spewing forth every time someone challenges the ubiquity of guns.

Repeal the Stupid Second Amendment. Surround it, grab it, bring it in the back room, pull down the shades, and end it. OK, petition for it, get it on the ballot, and get it done by enough of the US populace, by enough people in enough states, to get it consigned to the dustbin of history.  Merry Christmas, people. Peace.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Leadership and a collective culture: How America polices against movements, even from within

I've been with the peacekeepers, witness for peace, vibeswatchers, march marshals, or whatever you might want to call us, in several movements for a few decades. I'm used to the abuse.

We are scornfully called "peace police." Well, if a movement wants to succeed, it had better police itself or the armed government police will do it for them. Those of us on peace teams are there to help movements keep from embarrassing themselves and from being misrepresented to mainstream America as favoring violence. Nota bene: I have never ever TOLD anyone to do anything when acting as a peace team member; we ask that movement participants respect the code of conduct to which the organizers (aka leaders) have committed.

Oh, that's right, in America, since we are such an individualistic culture, we are not supposed to respect leadership; in fact, we should deny that it ever exists in any proper movement. We should allow any and all behavior because we deeply respect the diversity of opinion and no one represents the movement; everyone speaks for himself or herself, in any moment.

Yelling? Great.

Cursing at others? Fine.

Tossing blocks through windows and looting? Free expression.

Punching a few folks out? Diversity of tactics.

In fact, if you want to chant loudly, "What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!" that is just tickety-boo.  Land of the free...who frankly are confusing freedom with license, but no one seems able to either stop them nor to effectively put them in a separate status as NOT part of the current movement against police murder of unarmed civilians, mostly African American.

Lucky thing it wasn't like that in Gandhi's struggle to liberate India or it might never have succeeded. Lucky thing that wasn't the way the (Dirty Word Alert!) leadership (gasp!) ran the Civil Rights movement from 1955-1965 or it would never have achieved so many gains. Good thing that Kwame Nkrumah and his friends led the Gold Coast out of colonial occupation to become Ghana using his nonviolent discipline. And Kenneth Kaunda and a few others certainly were in the leadership of the nonviolent decolonization and nation-creating movement that tore Zambia from Rhodesia. The list goes on and on and on. Show me a nonviolent struggle that won and I'll show you leadership.

So what happens when there is no leadership? Anything goes. Valiant efforts may be made to claim that a movement is really nonviolent, but that claim needs to be solid, steady, and made early and often. Just happening to mention it is not enough. Indeed, my very favorite Occupy was the one in Salem, Oregon, when each morning General Assembly began with a collective read-out of their Code of Nonviolence, stating what they would do and would not do. This reaffirmation is key if mainstream media, the public, and police and even judges are to get it. Every event should feature that in all publicity in writing, from the stage, podium, or megaphone, and police should be told in no uncertain terms that they should trust the group to patrol itself and that, in fact, it will go much better if the police stand down and stand back.

See the thing is, with absolute nonviolence, you can do a lot. Indeed, after causing many thousands of dollars of damage to a nuclear weapons command facility (and shutting it down for an unknown period of time), in an appearance before a quite hostile rightwing Republican judge, my co-felon and I explained nonviolence and why that act was nonviolent. The judge finally said, Oh stop telling us about nonviolence. We all know that your activities were nonviolent. Wow. We had caused a series of huge poles strung with thick cable antenna to come crashing to Earth, breaking the system. He understood it was nonviolent! It's in the transcript. We had explained that our actions were carefully planned for many months, involved no fire or explosives or anything that could have gotten out of our control, and that we knew no one would get hurt.

Movements have agents provocateurs, whether they are actual police members or sometimes will infiltrate as a part of the rat system, which brings street-cred criminals into the ranks of a movement in order to push and promote and provoke violence and violent imagery. Earth First! had them. Black Panthers had them. Animal rights groups have had them. Ferguson protests had them. We in the Honeywell Project in Minneapolis had them--they shut down our movement in the 60s and two smart young staffers FOIAed records that proved it and that movement won $30,000 in damages, helping to fund that movement again in the 1980s. It's something we can expect. The goals of such provocateurs (or their handlers):

  • get impressionable ones to also call for "self-defense" or "shut it down" or "burn it down" 
  • make the public more afraid of the protesters and grateful for the police
  • justify further police violence
  • create apathy amongst the public who begin to see the fight as violence v violence, not their fight

And so, in the end, if we want to destroy a movement, be sure to hang back and not criticize those who want to use violence and still call themselves part of the movement. The struggle for this frame is crucial. It is strategic. Reveal the gap between innocent unarmed nonthreatening people on one side and armed brutal ones on the other and you begin to win. Allow hijacking like those who call for tossing bottles or stones at the cops and you reverse all wins and head to loss. A culture that can produce the astonishing tech that we produce but which cannot manage to figure out these basic human emotional pieces will continue to feel the tragedy of police violence and other disasters for a long time.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Violent ones! You got your wish--and it will hurt the movement tragically

Since the terrible gunning down of young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, I've been arguing against those who increasingly call for "armed self defense" against police violence and for similar strands of argument for justified retaliatory violence when cops act like thugs and murder African Americans. At each occasion, I have been scorned by those who equate nonviolence with passivity. Often, but not always, those heaping ridicule have been young white males. I believe that they believe themselves to be superior allies to African Americans who have suffered so much injustice for so long.

I also believe they don't have a strategic thought in their heads. I get the emotional flare up when we can watch the thugs calling themselves NYPD choke an unarmed family man to death, on film, no indictment. The compound crimes beg for justice.

Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley
Was the benighted man who just executed two NYPD officers and then took his own life acting in the belief that he would be lionized by the movement that has been in the streets of virtually all American cities in the past weeks and months? Did he think he was acting in their name? Apparently.
The slain police officers: Rafael Ramos, 40, left, and Wenjian Liu, 32. CreditNew York Police Department

Brinsley, the shooter, sent out an Instgram message, “I’m putting wings on pigs today … They take 1 of ours. Let’s take 2 of theirs.”

Knowing what this will do, Al Sharpton, the families of both Eric Garner and Michael Brown all denounced the murder.

So, those who have been calling for such violence against police have their wish now. Last evening I was out with many hundreds of others first in an African American church and then in the rain on a long walk to the site where Kendra James, a young unarmed African American mother of two was mercilessly shot down and allowed to bleed to death by Portland police 11 years ago. The national movement has fed into the local movement and now I wonder what will happen.

Certainly the cops nationwide now have far more sympathy from the public, who are instantly made grateful for the cops who protect them, by the cops who come to work prepared to risk their lives, and now in the fresh memory of two cops--neither of them white--who have been slaughtered while sitting in their patrol car. Cops in New York city have already declared war and the consequences will be predictably nasty for regular folks, including those who have been demonstrating against police violence. It is going to get ugly fast there, much more violent, and the public will allow it much more than they have. These murders, done in the name of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, may destroy a movement. We shall see.

Those who have been calling for this now have their wish. I wonder if they are well satisfied? If they never actually cared whether a movement succeeded or not, I suppose this feels thrilling to them--their rhetoric, no doubt, inspired the killer. As someone with two African American sons and as someone who has been working on these issues for a long time, I remain deeply opposed to violence on any and all sides for any and all reasons. All violence backfires. The backfire against a largely nonviolent movement is commencing and those who have advocated for violence have much to answer for.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Give the campus cops de-escalation training, not guns

Should the campus cops be armed?

As a pacifist, I Just Say No.

As a member of a peace team, I oppose all violence and all threats of violence. Carrying a gun is a threat of violence.
Where I teach, Portland State University, has just decided to arm up the campus cops. These 'security officers' can't even manage to handle their current duties, which include unlocking doors. For more than a year I've been unable to walk into the stairwell that is closest to my office. I have to take the long way around, often several times per day, because suddenly they stopped opening those doors. And when I teach weekend classes, it's totally dysfunctional. These folks can't manage to open buildings or the connecting walkways between them for the whole weekend, even though students are paying full tuition for weekend classes, same as any other class day, and deserve a functioning campus, or at least unlocked doors to buildings and classrooms. It's pathetic.

Give 'em guns? So when I argue with them, as I frequently do, about unlocking doors, they can bark an order and, when I'm not compliant, take me down or tase me or just shoot me? A (now retired) cop running buddy of mine told me years ago, "You know what the two favorite words are for any cop? Resisting arrest. Then we get to do whatever we want to you." Of course, no actual resistance is necessary; just irritate the sworn officer and they do what they want, say what they want, and usually get away with murder, if that's what they feel like doing.

"Sworn" should mean that everything they say or write in the course of their employment should be tantamount to sworn testimony, thus punishable like perjury would be if it's false, which is fairly common. Beat 'em, lie about it, and you are good to go if you are a 'sworn' officer.

Oh, come on. Campus cops wouldn't be like that. Actually, they would. My university's Board of Trustees, without the benefit of a great deal of germane data and research, voted last night to make them "sworn officers." This makes them actual cops, not friendly campus security any more. Strapped with big guns and big attitudes. Dominating. Racial profiling with serious and potentially lethal consequences at the other end of the very different process. Hands up, don't shoot. I can't breathe.

As the US convulses in the wake of more and more murders of unarmed people of color and people with diagnosed mental health issues, my university ignores the facts, the trends, and just decides to join the bad guys. It is shameful. The intersection of armed cops, escalation of crime classification, racist cop aggression, and Grand Jury malfunction is a tragedy-producing confluence.

What I tell my students is that during my years as a community organizer I learned a number of life lessons, many having to do with resiliency and persistence. Never. Give. Up.

We were defeated year in and year out in our efforts to shut down a military base. We had legal defeats in both civil and criminal courts. I was in the first group to get arrested in nonviolent civil resistance, I was the first one to commit a nonviolent felony in civil resistance to it, I was the only one to repeat that and earned a three-year prison sentence my second time around. Lose-lose-lose-lose, with more than 100 years incarceration amongst dozens of nonviolent resisters. Senator Feingold and Congressman Obey tried for years to get the base closed and failed. How many losses do you swallow before you give up?

As many as it takes. We won. That base is shut down and dismantled, even though the US thermonuclear Navy said very publicly that they intended to keep it open until at least 2030. Never. Give. Up.

We may see our campus cops sporting heavy lethal firepower, but if we never quit challenging it, and if we get enough creativity and nonviolent persistence on our side, we will disarm them again.

Never. Give. Up.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

NOPE--Not On Planet Earth

Help the rural folks in southern Indiana who face contamination from depleted uranium--lots of it.

The editorial board of the rural paper the Madison Courier, serving southern Indiana and northern Kentucky, is urging citizens to make public comments on the US Army's request to basically abandon 2,000 acres of the Jefferson Proving Ground where, from 1984-1994, depleted uranium rounds were tested. Millions of unexploded rounds, in addition to 162,000 pounds of DU in the soil, remain on that acreage and the Army wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to allow them to just keep it fenced off and not only leave it dirty but stop monitoring it.

With defenders of our country like these, who needs ISIS?

Cancers, birth defects, and other consequences are certain. DU remains radioactive for geologic time spans.
Fallujah baby, born to mother exposed to DU
The radiation from DU causes these health problems and literally kills people even if the UXO is never exploded. Unexploded ordnance that sits leaching its ionizing radiation into the soil means into the groundwater and surface water. It is mobile. It will get into the food chain.

The US has wasted enormous amounts of people and money developing, testing, producing, and shooting this godawful material, totally illegal under the basic rules of international law on war if we believe that outlawing poisonous weapons applies. As it stands, some nations have banned DU and many international organizations have urged very specific international law doing so.

The public has until Dec. 18 to provide input on the NRC study. Send email comments to - http: and search for Docket ID NRC-2014-0097 (click on Comment Now) or by regular mail to: Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: 3WFN-06-A44M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. 20555-0001. Put Docket ID NRC-2014-0097 in the subject line.

The days of divide and conquer should end. We should stand with those who are being mistreated, from Ferguson to Madison County, Indiana, from Staten Island to Camp Lejune.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Activist lottery

Apathy. What could it hurt? So we don't vote; voting is such a bother. So we skip the public hearing, even though we sort of have opinions on the policy that is being considered. Who has time for such tedium? Letters to the editor? To politicians? Ugh. In the famous phraseology of Dick Cheney, we have other priorities.

What happens when enough of us say, oh please, with more than 300 million Americans, why bother to vote or speak out or act on injustice, environmental protection or peace? What good is my little bit? And when I do finally write a letter to a politician he answers with a form letter basically saying Dear Occupant, Thank you for your views, which I shall certainly keep in mind when I next vote (against them). Why bother?

Bother because this apathy is producing a corporatocracy, an oligarchy. Democracy is increasingly a 'use it or lose it' proposition. Discouraged? Join the ranks. But please continue to show that you can jump in there to help create momentum when it needs to happen.

Pretend each time you vote, you speak out at a public hearing, you hold a sign, you write a letter to either the editor or an elected representative, that you are buying an Activist Lottery Ticket. You could win big this time, who can say? Remember those times you favored one candidate a great deal over another candidate and you actually voted and your person actually won? OK, for the just, environmentally conscious, and peaceful those times are generally rare. But it happens. Think of those times, not all the times you voted or wrote or demonstrated or attended a hearing and your side lost. Those are disempowering memories, unless they are analyzed to reveal correctable problems.

It is not your place to solve all the problems, to paraphrase just about every wise sage who ever pronounced, but it is your responsibility to do your part. Don't be wedded to outcomes for your emotional state. We seem to lose a lot. Rather, analyze for errors, correct your approach, and try again. Eventually, you get good at it and you begin to win more often.

Try today. Could be your lucky number.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Taking war profiteering to new depths

Barack Obama has named his successor to Chuck Hagel, the lackluster Secretary of Defense. Now Obama wants Ashton Carter, a clear indication that he means to do absolutely nothing to curb the obscene, obese, offensive military budget in his final two years in office.
Reassuring everyone that these high-profit big-ticket weapons systems are very important for everyone who matters*
*rich elite owners who want to grab fat hunks of your federal taxes yet again

Carter's specialty is spending as much as possible on as many capital-intensive projects as he can remotely justify. This is nothing new, however, his expertise in procurement is not an expertise in saving taxpayer money, but rather an expertise in draining the military budget away from labor-intensive expenses and pouring it massively into big-ticket private enterprise war profiteering boondoggles. Lies to justify that seem Just Fine to him.

In a classic case of corrupt revolving door phenomenon, Carter went from private enterprise weaponry investment advisor (for Global Technology Partners) to the big buyer role for DoD, starting in 2009. He has been the overseer of well more than a $trillion in spending. Your money, Pentagon weaponry, war profiteering at its most brazen.

This would be a great time for Republicans to show how much they really oppose waste, fraud, and abuse. Halt the nomination. Of course the Conflict Industry (those who profit in money, status or power from destructive conflict) need someone like Carter in the driver's seat at the Pentagon in order to maximize milking the American taxpayer, even if it means that driver risks plunging the US economy straight over the next fiscal cliff. Where there are profits to be made, why worry?

We the People are really busy. We are trying to finally put a halt to police murdering unarmed people. We are trying to stop climate chaos. We are trying to end the fracking that is ruining enormous riches of pure groundwater across the country. We are sort of overwhelmed and we don't need this. We are hoping for some relief, so it is especially disturbing in this moment to see Obama usher in another bloody war profiteer into the agency that wastes more money every year than the GDP of many a nation.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Dear Inner Judge: You're fired

Can we stop judging one another? Probably not; it seems to be fairly ingrained in our mental processes to judge other people. I believe I've witnessed other people who are not judgmental but it's certainly something I struggle with. Conflict is not only fueled by judgmental attitudes, it is further exacerbated by faulty, unfair judgment.

If my partner wants more affection than I'm giving her, she is 'needy and dependent.' But if I want more affection than she is giving me, then she is 'aloof and insensitive.'
 (Rosenberg, p. 16)
Setting aside our Inner Judge is, for most of us, a task that feels artificial, yet can help enormously in our conflict de-escalation. It removes us from the charge of hypocrisy or oppressor and slowly helps us build authentic relationships based on unconditional respect for the other's humanity.

Psychologists describe the fundamental negative attribution error, made by many of us when we contextualize and thus excuse our own actions or the actions of those we intend to defend; circumstances left me with no option except this behavior. He shot the man because he was afraid for his own safety. They rioted because they want justice.

However, when another engages in the same behavior we are more likely to attribute that negative behavior to the very nature of that person. He is white--just his nature. She is black--that behavior comes naturally to her. He is just a nasty guy; she is just an inconsiderate woman. The misattributions can be group-based or individually dispositionally oriented, but the effect is the same. I screw up and it's not my fault; you mess up and it's due to your flawed nature. It is not merely a heuristic --shortcut-- process; it makes us happier, says research findings.

This does not mean we use no judgment; we should be quite certain of our principles. But they should relate to behavior, not to the essence of another's humanity--love the sinner, hate the sin.

Dunbar, et alia (2014), found in their study that one way to mitigate this faulty but tempting logic is to train on a computer game named MacBeth. Education about this is great, but actual training creates those neural pathways that can change our options when we are faced with decisions we used to make almost without thinking about them. Training ourselves to recognize and reject the attribution error and other flawed thinking can professionalize our response to conflict to some degree.

Most of us need some of this training, whether via a computer game, or intentional reflection and education, or through group exercise. If we could fix this we might have a happier family, a more just and deliberative workplace, cops that didn't murder unarmed people, and even war. I'd say it's worth some effort.


Dunbar, Norah E., et al. "Implicit and explicit training in the mitigation of cognitive bias through the use of a serious game." Computers In Human Behavior 37, (August 2014): 307-318. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed December 4, 2014).

Rosenberg, M. B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life (2nd ed.). Encinitas CA: PuddleDancer Press.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

How to stop police murder

Police were just legally cleared of criminal conduct by a grand jury, of murdering yet another unarmed African American, Eric Garner, a New York city man who was choked to death by an illegal chokehold. Cops were encountering no physical resistance from this poor man, choked out on the sidewalk while he was being filmed saying plaintively, "I can't breathe." This was clearly murder to any objective person viewing the horrific nightmarish scene of 17 July 2014. Garner was unarmed and unresisting; his murderers are unindicted.
Unarmed, unresisting, pleading for a simple breath--Eric Garner murdered by NewYork city cop
The various groups demanding justice for this seemingly sickening unending number of outright murders of unarmed citizens (who have been mostly African American men, some African American women, and some people with mental health presenting problems) seem to be dividing amongst those who favor "working within the system" and holding legal vigils, or, those who favor rowdy demonstrations confronting cops, and starting to use some minor violence. The latter seem now to be working up many justifications for self-defense violence, signaling a possible escalation, since cops have been violent all along.

Those who are violent will lose. Those who only hold legal demonstrations will lose. Rather than these two proven losing strategies, what might actually gain some ground?

First, the principles of strategic nonviolence, in general and some more specific:

  • Commit to absolute nonviolence (you don't want to have to continually revisit this).
  • Commit to victory.
  • Initiate the campaign with a small group of strategic thinkers.
  • Decide how to decide (again, you do not want to endlessly change how you make decisions).
  • Begin inviting leaders and independent individuals into your strategic circle, refining your campaign to a goal you can all support and one you all believe you can win in three months or faster (after which you declare your next goal and repeat).
  • Once your base coalition is large enough to impress the public, announce it and invite others to join.
  • A victorious campaign will be a multipronged campaign, not just public demonstrations (e.g. civil court, criminal court, legislative, executive power, cultural events).
  • A victorious campaign will seek to cause loyalty shifts amongst the police, not cause them to close ranks and ramp up violence out of fear. 
  • A victorious campaign will ceaselessly train to be sure nonviolence is a tactical commitment that is constant and steady and cannot be thwarted by provocation from police (or their agents).
  • A victorious campaign will work harder on media than on the actions themselves. Each action will get much more positive exposure by a major commitment to media work (mainstream, social, alternative, print, digital, radio, television). 

High risk actions taken by a handful of people with great numbers of supporters can boost recruitment.
Violence done by any party will backfire. Violence done by the movement will excuse the violence done by cops, even if the cops start it. Violence done by cops will backfire if it is met with complete and documented nonviolence. Is it fair that cops have a lower standard than do movements? Of course not. If it were all fair, no struggle would be necessary.

The idea behind refusing to use defensive violence has nothing to do with justification. By normal American values, it's fair, excused, and justified. It will never be portrayed as such and never accepted by the wider public as justified. Acceptance by the wider public is key, especially when it's time to activate another prong of the campaign.

High risk actions undertaken by those with outstanding nonviolent discipline will reveal the powerful contrast between violent police and nonviolent movement people. When you have determined that sympathy is high, launch the low risk elements. Perhaps a work slowdown, or a symbolic walkout, or a consumer boycott, or a sick day--some mass action that carries little or no risk as you have calculated it. Take advantage of the outrage felt by the general public when they first consider the shooting or choking or beating of your initial unarmed victim, then the additional outrage they feel when you are dignified in your civil resistance and still get arrested for occupying the mayor's office. That is the time to call for simple, doable, low/no risk mass participation.

It is at that crucial time you start to win. You cause a divide in the elite, which used to look like a monolith but now is divided, since your mass action is costing a portion of them increasingly. That is when they call you to the negotiating table and you can make serious gains.

This formula is not new. Gandhi used it. The Danes used it to withstand Nazi occupation, as did the Norwegians. The Gold Coast masses used it to evict the colonizers and rename their country Ghana. Southern Rhodesians used it to create Zambia and freedom for all. The Filipinas used it to evict the US, depose the US puppet Marcos, and stop a civil war that was about to launch. Rosa Parks and the bus riders won in Montgomery using this method and black South Africans won their freedom using this method. None of these struggles were identical in any way except they broadly followed this method. So when I hear, "It's not your grandmother's Civil Rights Movement, " I know they need to assess if they are stating the obvious--no two struggles are identical--or if they have chosen another losing strategy.

Please, let this movement win. Each time police murder another unarmed person it is just heartbreaking and feeds more pain, fear, hatred, and possible retaliatory violence. For this movement to win, it must grow. For it to grow, it needs to follow this general, proven path to victory. If anyone wants to lead us toward this, please sign me up and invite me.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Doing the work of the owner class

It is in the interest of the elite owner class to have police be highly intimidating, which can only happen if they use violence often enough to be a credible deterrent to those who seek a more equitable society. That violence needs to be justified. When protestors are 100 percent nonviolent and are assertive but not aggressive, police violence is not tolerable to the wider public and serious nonviolent activists know this.

I can almost picture the directives issued to the agents provocateurs:
  • Riot
  • Scream with rage
  • Throw things
  • Shut down mass transit 
  • Break windows
  • Accuse anyone who tries to keep it peaceful of being a sellout
  • Shove media crews
  • Threaten cops

 All these tactics alienate the average person and make them more grateful for cops, more likely to excuse police brutality, and far less likely to feel further sympathy for victims of police violence or for claims that police violence is systemic. All these tactics freeze the development of a movement and ultimately can even roll back advances made when the movement was strictly nonviolent.
Ferguson. Was this done by rioters or agents provocateurs to alienate protesters from general public?

The movement seeking justice for Michael Brown and seeking reform in policing in the US is mostly nonviolent, which is making some advances possible. To the extent the movement features the behaviors listed above, it stays relatively small. Yes, it's national, but it's generally far smaller in each locale than it could be. The movement needs to succeed for the good of us all.

Monday, December 01, 2014

In honor of the innocent ones

On 25 November 2014, the Albina Ministerial Alliance--the association of African American ministers in Portland, Oregon--held a rally to stand with the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri who are protesting both the shooting of unarmed young black man Michael Brown and the failure of the Ferguson grand jury to indict the cop who shot him. I went because it was called by the AMA and I have respect for them.

I have no idea if the event is a one-off or if the AMA intends to build a movement to achieve a particular goal, since no goal outside of end the killing of citizens by cops was mentioned as a goal by the main AMA speaker. That is a great goal. It is calling for the deepest systemic change possible because no differentiation was made between armed and shooting victims who were then killed by police, knife or toy gun-wielding victims, and unarmed people who were killed by police.

It is legitimate to have that overarching goal, but in terms of recruiting sympathizers and activating the public, it is far more strategic to draw that clear line. Killing a gun-wielding suspect is a Bad Thing that will be seen as a shoulder-shrugging "tough luck" problem by much of the public. Killing an unarmed person is radically different. Lumping them all together is what the "radicals" want and it's what the police hope happens, since then the public will default back to the "too bad so sad" moment just before they go on about their lives.
Kendra James, 21-year-old mother of two

So this is my special honor of Jose Mejia Poot, Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, Aaron Campbell, and James Chasse. None of them were armed AT ALL (several others were shot dead carrying knives or toy guns). All of them were in some way afoul of the police and, amongst all of them, the reason for being afoul of the police involved exceedingly minor glitches, the most serious of which was the only white person, James Chasse, who was seen--gasp!--peeing in public into some bushes. Yet they all suffered what amounted to summary execution by cop. Were they all innocents? What kind of question is that? Of course not, none of us are. But they were all innocent of anything that approaches a capital offense in the US legal system. In that sense, they were all innocents.

There are thousands of facts, some relevant, some irrelevant, associated with each victim. I only want here to make that note. All have been murdered by police since I moved here in 2000. The first three--Poot, James, Perez--were killed because the officers claimed to be afraid, though none were armed. Really? No human Portland Police Bureau member has been shot this millennium (one poor dog was), but they have killed five unarmed people. Even the feds have noticed.

This is flat wrong. How can we stop this? Some ideas and I hope others come up with more and smarter possibilities:

  • cameras for all officers that they cannot turn off and that instantly send recorded footage to both the police and civilian oversight for archives
  • insist on ongoing de-escalation training (which includes mental health issues, basic nonviolent communication, "verbal jiu jitsu," and intercultural communication and conflict management)  for police, by initiative and referendum if necessary
  • develop new contracts for police that make them legally culpable for any misbehavior
  • a new law that requires a detailed paperwork for each time a gun is drawn
Each of these goals might require a campaign and each is achievable. If these are all completed and the problem doesn't stop, more measures would be needed. Do we want to face this again? Or is it long past time to fix this?

Monday, November 03, 2014

A novel approach to nonviolence: The Dandelion Insurrection

review: Sun, Rivera (2013). The Dandelion Insurrection: Love and revolution. El Prado, NM: Rising Sun Pressworks.

There are three types of novels about nonviolent power.

One, the sort that is essentially magickal, wherein nonviolence works because the author dreams it so, in a world that we all know would be so so nice but which is fantasy, a bit of "wet panties peace fancy." Walker.

Two, the kind that seems to claim real strategic power for nonviolence, but which uses violent threat as a sort of dark deus ex machina, a kind of "better agree with Martin or you're stuck with Malcolm" story, showing great imagination right up to the line of scrimmage and then bringing in the "realism" of violent insinuation. Callenbach. Starhawk.

Three, a tale that could well be quite real, based on the sort of Atwoodian extrapolative fiction and then the application of proven strategic nonviolent elements parachuted into a dystopian world ripe for either fatalistic surrender or go-for-broke unarmed revolution.

I've been waiting for that third category for decades, repeatedly disappointed, wondering if anyone would grow the chops for the task. Now, happily, Rivera Sun (who grew up during my waiting years) gives us this novel in this new genre. It is a masterpeace.

A young writer, Sun nevertheless rivals Kingsolver in her command over poetic use of figures of speech, action verbs, storyline coherence, and surpasses so many in her distinctive trilingual use of French, Spanish, and English--but which is eminently understandable to the essential American readers (monolingual American being a redundancy).

When corporations own government, when speech is no longer free, when work camps succeed the prisons, and when we have a real security state (in other words, about a half-step logically downward along our current slippery slope), we will have a fertile ground for uprising. Will it be a Tea Party Revolution in league with a Sagebrush Rebellion--an armed insurgency? Sun has other ideas and hers are the new domestic realpolitik. She foresees nonviolent force, building from a combination of experiential knowledge gained from our many cases with all their lessons learned and fed by an American sensibility of freedom and innovation.

The Man from the North produces his writings that touch people. He is nearly myth, but Sun lets us meet him. He's just a guy with a gift.

Zadie is his beautiful former sex worker romantic dream girl whose idealism matches his. Where he is at a loss, she is most effective. Where she cannot make progress, his talents move it forward.

Along the way, the people who have so many special talents enable the growing influence of their Dandelion Insurrection to waft on the breezes of rebellious communication and collaboration across the country, taking root in some fashion wherever they alight.

Can nonviolence save the US? Can we ever imagine that brown, black, white, red Americans could band together and end the slide into a corporatacracy of violence and destructive extraction?

Hint: Yes, and this story is the first realistic version. Sun uses the knowledge generated by the Civil Rights Movement, Gandhian actions, the Serb revolution, Cesar Chavez, Arab Spring, Serpaj, the colored revolutions, Gene Sharp, Stephen Zunes, Hardy Merriman, Jack DuVall, Maria Stephan, and Erica Chenoweth without every once straying into pedantic hortatory. The novel retains its imaginative storyline with an andragogical style so hidden it never gets in the way.

Get it. Give it. Lift it, hold it, blow its seeds to the winds of your social surroundings and allow the knowledge to ride wherever, to sprout all around us. Secret: you can get a signed copy by skipping the giant corporate bookstores and dealing directly:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

ISIS crisis and j-frames

Why is it that our US citizenry has such different views of the ISIS crisis? Some want to bomb, some blame former [OK, technically Vice-] President Dick "Never Miss a War Profiteering Dollar" Cheney. Some note the inhuman nature of ISIS beasts who behead journalists, and others say that none of this would be happening if the US would not have invaded, occupied, and fake-democratized Iraq. Some news sources correctly note that ISIS is a terrorist organization, and is quite organized in both military and financial matters, and that they are not, in fact, a return to a Saddam Hussein-style secular strongman governance of a territory, but are a far worse option than Saddam ever was (even though they fail to state the obvious, that attacking and overthrowing Saddam by western forces was exactly what made ISIS possible, possibly inevitable).
ISIS fighters, 30 June 2014, Syria, Raqqa province (Reuters/Stringer)

Of course there is no single factor differentiating our opinions, but one factor is the practice of war journalism versus peace journalism. When war journalism frames are used, we look at current acts of violence, we learn that we are the victims and they are the perpetrators, and we look very little at the historical context that brought us to this terrible point.

Peace journalism frames give us all agency, seek to identify parties to the conflict who might have nonviolent alternatives that meet everyone's needs, and do not seem to build the case for vengeance.The history of the idea of peace journalism goes back to the 1960s and Norwegian innovative peace and conflict scholar Johan Galtung, although he didn't propose the names for the practices until the 1970s and didn't seriously begin looking at it in some detail until the mid-1980s. Now there is a growing body of actual research on his concepts, and increasing debates about the validity of pieces of his analysis. 

Some say peace journalism is just classically good journalism while others label it as advocacy journalism. In my view, the more correct view is to examine both his variables and his overarching ideas separately and then to modify how we think about these frames in a way that in fact meets the needs of human beings.

Good journalism as practiced by those identified in the advocacy media will certainly be justified in gatekeeping in favor of their goals. When I write a story that I hope will further the goal of peace with justice, I choose who I interview and choose which questions to ask them and which of their answers to feature. Is there any other way? The only alternative is to ask perhaps one open-ended question and then include the entire transcripted answer, which is how almost no one practices journalism. Media mediates. We deliver usable copy, digestible and addressing a limited number of reader/viewer needs. We will all gatekeep.

Good journalism as practiced by free press journalists is utterly objective and is open to all facts, reports on everyone's foibles and corruption and coverups, and seeks to offer the widest palette of possible options.

Most peace journalists would regard the reasoning of an ISIS member as driven by the history of the conflict, the imposition of structural violence by various forces, the cultural context, and would seek to establish a platform for empathy for that ISIS member, if not his actual practice. There is value in this, but it needs to be reconsidered, I think, by those who claim to see the utility of peace journalism. A far stronger frame, featured far more deeply and frequently, would bring in the voices of those who pursue nonviolent paths toward win-win solutions, both indigenous to the conflict region and from the expertise examining the conflict from around the world. This is much more in line with the field of Peace and Conflict Studies and with the aspirations and efforts of global peace movements.

We need more journalists who investigate from these two frame constructions. They need to seek out two bodies of knowledge and give them to us in readable, usable formats.

One, who are the people and organizations working for win-win nonviolent solutions on the ground in the conflict areas?

Two, what do peace scholars and high-level peace think tank and high-level peace activists recommend?

When our mainstream press begins to include more of this sort of journalism, we will see an increase in peace, a decrease in bloody mayhem, a transition from a war economy to a peace economy, a shift from a political war dynamic to a political peace dynamic, and a general elevation of the human spirit, environmental protection, and much more egalitarian prosperity. Journalism is important.

Reference List

Fahmy, Shahira, and Britain Eakin. 2014. "High drama on the high seas: Peace versus war journalism framing of an Israeli/Palestinian-related incident." International Communication Gazette 76, no. 1: 86-105. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 13, 2014).

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Flipping social norms from violence to nonviolence

How ironic is it that the more violence is considered "a part of life" the more it is regarded as just a private matter when it happens between family members (Hsu, Huang & Tu, 2014)? In a deeply inquiring study of 13 familial dyads (parent-adult child) that experience diagnosed mental illness in the adult child and violence perpetrated on the aging parent, such violence is normalized and, at the same time, so shameful that parents who are victims rarely seek help.

Suggested de-escalation techniques point toward negotiation with intent for win-win outcomes. They also point away from giving in and granting a sense of victory to the violent. 

Indeed, are there subcultures in our society in which violence between loved ones is just "a part of life"? Is it so private that when it spills out of an elevator ride it takes several minutes and several witnesses to even assist the battered victim? No man will 'interfere' with Ray Rice as he stands around waiting for his fiance to regain consciousness following his brutal knockout punch. They all stand around, seemingly regarding her misery as a private thing between the mighty man and his property, his woman.  

There was no one around to de-escalate the two before the violence and it took months (from February to September) to seriously sanction Rice. He should be incarcerated and in rehabilitation treatment, kept separate from potential victims until he is not regarded as a danger. 

A deep degree of opprobrium, coupled with a clear societal intent to ultimately achieve a better method of conflict management, is needed and so difficult to achieve when controlled violence is what we expect from our football players, our cops, and our military. Rice probably thought that, since he rendered his girlfriend unconscious with one punch and didn't beat her much after that, it would be regarded as within the bounds of proper behavior for someone as big and tough and important as he is. Certainly that is what we forgive all the time with our police and we honor it when military attacks kill. Only the pesky peaceniks spoil the unanimity by pointing out the immorality of accepting "collateral damage" (murdered children and other noncombatants). 
Eric Garner, unarmed and never attacking anyone, murdered by New York cops
When violence is never ever heroic we will be a long way toward a nonviolent world. Our champions, our defenders, should all be nonviolent and never violent. This is a long struggle for far better norms, social mores that will lead to a world that works for all. 

Hsu, M., Huang, C., & Tu, C. (2014). Violence and Mood Disorder: Views and Experiences of Adult Patients With Mood Disorders Using Violence Toward Their Parents. Perspectives In Psychiatric Care, 50(2), 111-121. doi:10.1111/ppc.12028

Monday, September 08, 2014

Peace teams and EI

In our high-tech lives with phones distracting us and algorithms reading us, we realize that we are being manipulated by AI, by artificial intelligence. But what of the role of EI, our emotional intelligence? AI can help us organize a social movement; can EI give us the tools to build that movement and bring it across the goal line to success?

EI is the variable in research on mediation and outcomes that can mark the difference between success and failure. Learning to appraise our own and others' emotions, say researchers Michael Boland and William Ross (2010), gives us the edge.
Certainly persuasion is vastly improved when we channel and resonate with others while remaining self-aware. Guiding others back to what we commonly call rational behavior is made vastly more possible when we anticipate and recognize what will escalate and de-escalate others, and use both proactive and responsive methods to help them stay in their strongest cognitive zones.

In the field, when we are demonstrating our numbers and opinions, emotions can run high. If they spill over into dysfunctional expressions--dehumanizing, labeling, foaming rage and even violence--our movements can appear irrational, dangerous, and in need of control. If we can control our own movement and instead evince emotions that evoke empathy and resonance, we gain in public acceptance and participation. We make police look irrelevant at best, or positively unwelcome if they misbehave--rather than excused for misbehavior if our movement seems out of control.

Hence the need for peace teams with high EI, able to help the movement maintain control of the narrative by de-escalating or redirecting those who cannot manage to get a grip on their emotions in any adaptive manner.

Can EI be learned?

Speaking personally, EI is not my natural gift. I'm just an old hockey player from Minnesota who was trained in young to react with an adversarial, zero-sum approach to life in general. What my teachers made me realize, as I slowly entered the world of nonviolent social struggle, is that I can overcome my deficits by focus, by centering, by calmative self-talk. Sadly, for someone as pre-loaded as I am, I have to start afresh every time. Happily, I know I can get there. This is what makes me confident in the power of EI and nonviolence. My profound flaws can be overcome and so I am convinced anyone's can. We can reduce defensiveness, promote and provide empathy, and decrease hostility, all products of EI and all good for neutralizing threats to our movements.

I love working with folks who seem centered pretty much all the time, with an extremely high EIQ, so to speak, like being influenced by Gandhis and Kings. They are rare and we pretty much all love them. What I realize is that I can get there with preparation and for limited periods before backsliding to my natural low-EI condition. This is why I see so much hope in our ability to defuse hot rising conflict that imperils our campaigns.

Reference List
Boland, Michael J., and William H. Ross. 2010. "Emotional Intelligence and Dispute Mediation in Escalating and De-Escalating Situations." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 40, no. 12: 3059-3105. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 8, 2014).

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Peace Team values

We are building our team slowly, persuaded by a stubborn belief that where you stand determines what you see.
--Kathy Kelly, founder, Iraq Peace Team
(WNV/Iraq Peace Team). U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing.
When a peace team is trained in nonviolence, what can it accomplish? Peace teams have done all of these things listed below, and more. Peace teams have: 
  • stood in witness against war.
  • monitored and defused violence between hostile whites and Native Americans trying to practice their treaty rights.
  • kept street demonstrations from erupting into riot.
  • stopped physical violence by police and demonstrators.
  • brought an international presence into ethnic conflict zones.
  • stopped violence between KKK, police, and angry public.
  • helped keep public demonstrations and controversial events more civil, even in disagreement.
  • helped movements and campaigns create and defend their images of nonviolence.
  • drawn attention to killer sanctions imposed on civilians.
The experiences of members of peace teams are widely varied, of course. Some have simply trained for an hour, worn an armband, and walked along with a peaceful demonstration without incident. Others have been kidnapped in war zones and a couple have been killed. Many have experienced some form of de-escalation of violence, either in-progress or highly likely. 

Those most at risk are those who operate internationally, in hot conflict zones, requiring translators. They are often misunderstood at first and only gain trust of the local people over time, which is natural. They are almost never supported by any government. 

Why do it? My answer is to refer to the button points above. What if we train and train and only stop one act of police brutality? What if we act as peace team members at six demonstrations and only de-escalate one person who would otherwise have beaten someone? What if our peace team actions only really help one campaign achieve its goal because their goal was highly desirable and we kept them from alienating the public? Perhaps for some these possibilities don't measure up to our preferred use of time. For others, the chance to help in these ways is worth some time and effort. We see the values of a peace team.

Reference List
Kelly, Kathy. 2003. "A Witness to War." Progressive 67, no. 1: 23. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed September 7, 2014).

Friday, September 05, 2014

What is it? Thinking about definitions

What is it, this nonviolence? Who gets to define it? A kindergarten teacher is nonviolent when she puts a vase of fresh flowers on her desk and smiles at her little students, right? A young man who publicly refuses to be drafted during an invasion of another country is nonviolent, certainly. How about an old man who writes a letter to the editor arguing for peace on Earth? And really, how about a rich man who makes money entirely by playing the stock market from his home computer? That's nonviolent, eh? How about the police who pulls over the black motorist to check him out solely because he feels like it, and never pulls his gun nor does he even touch the motorist, only detains him for some questions and a computer check? Hey, the cop might have been armed but he never used violence, so that was nonviolent, right? Hmmm...

What about the little girl who is grabbed by the man and she kicks him in the groin to escape? Certainly we can't fault that, and who is going to accuse her of violence? For that matter, how about a nonviolent protester who is grabbed and smacked by the cops? Can't that protester defend himself without being called violent?

Perhaps our concept needs modification. There are several ways to do that. One, include a modifier--best way to modify, eh? So, for example, religious nonviolence, or philosophical nonviolence, or technical nonviolence, or strategic nonviolence, or structural nonviolence. All of these modifiers might need further explanation, but at least we are starting down the path toward meaningful definition.
To agree to learn more about nonviolence, check out this Pace e Bene campaign pledge. And read about strategic nonviolence at the ICNC or Einstein Institution websites. Strategic nonviolence is the sort that has--what? let's see hands--a strategy. Yes. So if I am a pacifist and I sit in blockade of a military convoy one day by myself in a fairly spontaneous act, that is not strategic nonviolence, it is nonviolent civil resistance. So nonviolent civil resistance can include strategic nonviolence but it can also include more ad hoc actions that are not part of a strategy to achieve any named goal. This is not to say that a strategy cannot follow an inspired first action of nonviolent resistance--there are certainly historical cases of that.

While some seem to modify pacifism into subsets of nonviolent positions--e.g., offensive pacifism, political pacifism, absolute pacifism, nuclear pacifism--it is most helpful to remember that pacifism at its roots is about nonparticipation, a religious or philosophical decision to not directly participate in some sort of violence.

It may be helpful to shift from attempting to narrow a definition of nonviolence and instead use nonviolent as a modifier for another noun, resistance. Nonviolent resistance begins to help us narrow the concept from a generally rosy disposition to interfering directly with violence and doing so by nonviolent means. Therefore nonviolent resistance would rule out committing or threatening to commit acts of violence, even in self-defense or defense of others. Nonviolent resistance means something more and more specific and can take in some forms of pacifism, especially, when that pacifism might involve either breaking the law (such as refusing to comply with conscription laws) or when the acts of a pacifist coincide with an element of a strategic nonviolent resistance campaign, such as refusing to purchase any product made or sold by a corporation involved in producing weapons (e.g. the GE boycott that had us all purchasing other brands of consumer goods until they no longer produced nuclear weapons).

Perception is reality in many cases. Officer Friendly may have a sidearm because it's part of his uniform and is regarded as a tool of his profession. Only pacifists would object. But a SWAT team in milspec gear, lined up with faceless shields and even balaclavas in padded kevlar toting automatic weapons--that is a violent image that transmits a stench of unfeeling brutality to all who are either in targeted populations or who fear for the nonviolent victims of those militarized regimented anonymous attackers. Similarly, a rural granddad with a gun rack may look violent only to a pacifist but is otherwise unremarkable, yet a Tea Party gathering featuring scowling open carry white males, or a line of armed militant African American community defenders all look quite violent to a large number of us. Both are going to be widely judged to be engaged in a show of violence and would never be classified by many as engaged in nonviolent resistance, even when no one fires a shot.

Filters are helpful. Can the act of nonviolent resistance also achieve reconciliation? Arguably, the more it can do so, the more it approaches pure nonviolence. This can involve focus on universally highly valued victims (join us in protecting the children) or, as peace scholar Janjira Sombutpoonsiri finds, it may involve fraternization or humor.

Definitions are tricky. Thinking about them and seeking consensus on their meanings in real life is helpful but complex. Asking ourselves to think critically instead of ideologically is a tough challenge but in our pluralistic low context culture it is a good step to take on the journey of common understanding.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Fixing our national epidemic of police violence

We do have a serious epidemic of murder-by-police in our land. A very conservative estimate compiled by the FBI puts our annual rate at more than 400, with about one-quarter of the victims African-American. Twice a week, somewhere in the US, cops shoot an African American to death. 
Militarized police confront protesters in Ferguson, St Louis, after the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
This doesn't count the times police beat people. And according to the reportage, this data is radically lowballing numbers because it relies on police departments self-reporting and only about 750 of the estimated 17,000 police bureaus bother to report to the Department of Justice on these matters, with entire states simply choosing to fail to report (e.g. Florida). 

Seriously. This violence is well known in African American neighborhoods. In my town, Portland Oregon, one of the premier African American newspapers, The Skanner, editorially advised their readers to not call police in case of emergency because the Portland police worsened the situation more than they helped and the likelihood of someone getting hurt or killed rose when police got involved. 

This is so wrong. What can be done?

There are many steps to take to start to turn this around, including, but not limited to: 
   Halt all military materials, equipment, and training of any local police anywhere in the US.
   Bring in de-escalation trainers who will teach and train nonviolent methods of conflict de-escalation.
   Divert $50 million from the massive Homeland Security budget to GAO to begin proper data collection and evaluation of local police trainings, protocols, and best practices.
   Divert $1 billion from the obese Pentagon budget and redirect to creation of many more Restorative Justice courses in Criminology and Conflict Resolution programs in public colleges and universities.
   Direct US attorneys to aggressively investigate and prosecute police who shoot anyone who is unarmed.
   Launch a massive public education campaign by a coalition of civil society groups to inform them of the problem, the injustices, and potential solutions.
   Make all these problems and potential solutions important issues for elected officials at all levels.
   Befriend a cop. Talk about this. Understand their fears. Help them understand that they will lose more and more public support if they are aggressive.
   Write about this.
   Demonstrate about this. Do it effectively, in ways that build a movement. Do not ironically engage in the sorts of behavior that make the average citizen more grateful for the thin blue line that protects them from you, the demonstrator. Those who protest the police using violence or threatened violence are either police agents or they may as well be, because they do the work of agents provocateurs.
I know you can image another series of fixes. We can turn this around if we engage.