Sunday, August 31, 2014

Strategic nonviolent escalation

When a nonviolent campaign goes from protest to resistance, that is escalation and is a key step in achieving success. Why do so many associate nonviolence with the weak, timid approach?

In the literature of social movement theory and practice there is a serious lack of the research into nonviolent civil resistance. For instance, we have Hancock (2014) asserting that, "One of the more forgotten aspects of the Northern Irish Troubles was that they were not the direct result of IRA actions, but were, instead, the result of a non-violent civil rights campaign orchestrated in order to bring about equal rights for all of the province’s citizens"(p. 501).
Nonviolence caused this? No.
How does a nonviolent campaign produce a low-intensity war? It does no such thing. It may produce a crackdown by the state and it may produce a violent response from the "radical flank" (in this case the IRA), but claiming that a protracted violent conflict is caused by a nonviolent campaign is like blaming Gandhi for the mass violence of partition. Oh, sure, he was against it, but still...all his fault. Similarly, a "season of nonviolence" in Northern Ireland did not cause the ensuing "Troubles" (who came up with that silly euphemism for terrorism, bicommunal violence, and brutal crackdown by the state? Troubles? Sounds like the obfuscation of a public relations firm). 

Language is important. I am grateful (sometimes painfully so) for corrections when I make erroneous or half-witted statements. Women have helped me fix my assumptions and blindspots and have helped me become a better feminist. People of color have straightened out my random lacunas of ignorance or insensitivity and assisted me in thinking about my choice of words and concepts. And I offer my own nudges when I read or hear unhelpful use of concepts, such as two-way violence as a "direct result" of nonviolence. 

Similarly, from the same piece, "Between 5 October and 30 January 1972 those wishing to escalate the conflict won out over those who tried to pursue civil rights non-violently" (p. 501-502). Strategic nonviolence is escalation, but in a way that doesn't target anyone as the enemy, just as an opponent. Strategic nonviolence seeks to do what Dr. King wrote about in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, to bring the light of day to a festering wound, to open it up, to escalate the conflict in a robust nonviolent manner. 

Yes, we want to de-escalate individuals who might give our movement a violent image, but bursts of escalation contribute to the winning strategy in nonviolent struggle.

Think of a song you like that starts with just one instrument and gradually adds more. That is escalation, by adding more people, not more volume per individual. Or that music may move from pianissimo (very soft) to fortissimo (earsplitting), from larghissimo (very, very slow) to prestissimo (very rapid). Nonviolent struggle, especially over long periods, can seem like that. Escalation, de-escalation. Acts of intense inspiration and slow creation of parallel institutions.
The key to the nonviolent symphony is good planning (a core group are the best authors) and great execution (your outstanding nonviolent musicians). Each orchestra is different; each piece of music is unique. This is of course true for nonviolent campaigns. But to frame the nonviolent campaign as producing violent combat is an ahistorical examination of this method of struggle.

Reference List

Hancock, Landon E. 2014. "We Shall Not Overcome: Divided Identity and the Failure of NICRA 1968." Ethnopolitics 13, no. 5: 501-521. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 31, 2014).

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Steering the conflict train

The central goal of the field of Peace Studies, in which I teach, is to learn how to transform conflict from destructive to constructive. Sometimes it's impossible and sometimes it only seems to be.
In his most contentious prime, researcher Gene Sharp gave a keynote address at one of our academic conferences. He had no patience for the ultimate challenges, such as 'How do you use nonviolence to stop Hitler at your border?' He brushed them aside, saying that was like asking how to stop a speeding train when it's about to go over a cliff.
My colleague Erin Niemela finally improved on Sharp's simile. Imagine indeed that violence is a train and you know the tracks lead to a cliff. How are you going to stop that train from going over? Most of us would say, well, first, try to get to it early, while it's still a long way from the cliff. Then start braking. Hopefully you get there in time. And this is the logical line of thought that leads peace-oriented people to seek to negotiate, to dialog, to bring reason and fair play into the equation. If those methods fail, however, what are our options? 
Niemela says, well, it turns out those conflict train tracks often have hidden switches that can reroute the conflict train from destructive to constructive rails. We have to look for, and find, those hidden switches. We don't always need to stop that conflict train; we need to reroute it. Destructive to constructive. Conflict is forever, but the means by which we manage it are negotiable.
We need to look toward the experts, who can often give us examples of surprising case studies and who can help us think about the theoretical elements that might explain why some conflicts that seem hopeless suddenly start to get better. And then we can try to find those hidden switches in the conflicts we see around us. 
Some years ago there were cartoons in a Danish newspaper that depicted Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. Those cartoons were regarded by some Muslims as so insulting to their central religious figure, their holiest of founders, that they started demonstrations against the Danish government for allowing it. This spread globally to Danish embassies and then others, with increasing rage and violence, and people were killed and embassies burned down. Page one news for many days. Lead story on the TV news.
Pakistani students burn Danish flag
Suddenly it all stopped, end of story, on to the next news cycle, the next bloody story. No explanation, just ended. 

As it turns out, the Danish government called one of the founders of Peace Studies, a very old man named Johan Galtung in Norway and asked if he could help. Galtung told them OK, he'd try, and he would need three Danish officials and three Muslim clerics with a powerful reach of message. So he went from Norway to Denmark and mediated for some days. When the six all agreed on terms of an agreement--and one of the terms was to not specify the agreement details, which is common in mediation--they concluded the mediation and the next morning there were zero fires at embassies anywhere in the world. The demonstrations stopped. And so did the cartoons. 
We never know when a wise person or a group of wise people will find that hidden switch and turn the train away from the cliff. When no one looks or no one is clever enough to find the switch, we have violence and revenge, war and retribution. We are best off catching that train very early--certainly a culture that avoids dissing someone's religion would be better than having to try to stop burning embassies--but no matter how destructive, we may still find that hidden switch that stops the killing and allows us to disagree in a civil manner and think about more lasting agreements. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Peace teams: Conflict de-escalation, social and interpersonal

Peace teams (monitors, marshals, vibeswatchers, peacekeepers, nonviolent security) are on hand at demonstrations to de-escalate destructive conflict and, if possible, transform it into constructive conflict. Huh? WTF is "constructive conflict"? Isn't that a functionally oxymoronic notion?

No, it is actually the basis for most of society's best ideas, greatest advances, and golden eras. It is what a real democracy should look like. It is what the most rigorous scientific, philosophical, political, and cultural discussions should feature. Without constructive conflict, little societal creativity would occur. In truth, conflict undergirds the very best and very worst of what humans have to offer.

Why, then, do we get stuck in destructive conflict? How long will we remain bogged down in perduring, protracted, mutually ruinous conflict?
The question is whether there is any reason to believe that such a new era may yet come to pass. If I am sanguine on this point, it is because of a conviction that men and nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives. Surely the other alternatives of war and belligerency have now been exhausted.
--Abba Eban, speech to the UN 
Don't we wish? Eban's phrasing on this concept was brilliant (turns out he used a few versions in a few notable speeches) and I am chagrined to say he made this sanguine prophesy 47 years ago, in June 1967. Sanguine, ironically, can mean relaxed and confident or it can mean bloody. Clearly the bloody sense is the groundtruth of his eloquence. Indeed, it was so articulate that many others have stolen his concept, even his phrasing, often without attribution, leading to misattribution of the notion to several notable speakers, including Winston Churchill and good buddy Apocryphal. 

What does it mean to those who study conflict? 

[M]ost security studies and conflict resolution experts are unfamiliar with the rich scholarship and empirics on civil resistance, given their narrow focus on armed conflicts and their termination through military means or negotiated settlements. --Véronique Dudouet, Journal of Peace Research, 2013 (p. 401)
Véronique Dudouet
Dudouet is one of the most brilliant and innovative conflict researchers, with a reach of mind that brings together the academic silos of thought about civil resistance, security studies, and social movement analysis. Her special study of late has been when armed insurgency shifts to civil resistance, from violence to unarmed strategic nonviolent struggle.

There are many variables in her elegantly complex theoretical structure, but herein I mention two that peace teams can think about.

One, leadership. Does the peace team have the clear mandate from the leadership of the movement to insist on nonviolent behavior by all participants who wish to identify as part of that movement? If so, it is possible for that peace team to assert that strategically moral leadership by proxy, to reference the movement leadership without hesitation or doubt. Anything less can easily muddy the waters in the field and dramatically reduce the value and capacity of the peace team.

Two, partnerships. In the case of social movements, that would include the peace team. We are nonpartisan, explicitly not a component of any movement, but in service to them all (all who identify a behavior code of nonviolence for participants). Even if we are a peace team created especially within a movement, we represent a sort of special faction, a coalitional partner in creating the strongest movement possible with the most sustainable protection.

While analogizing from the behavior of mass movements to the interpersonal can be dicey, the notes from researcher Dudouet help us frame our work more robustly. And just as we demonstrate the efficacy of nonviolence by being strategic and disciplined, we also model the conditions we seek when we are a strong and confident peace team. Not arrogant, not authoritarian, but operating with the imprimatur of clear movement leadership.

Reference List

Dudouet, Véronique. 2013. "Dynamics and factors of transition from armed struggle to nonviolent resistance." Journal of Peace Research 50, no. 3: 401-413. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 29, 2014).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peace Teams: How

The purposes of a peace team are to nonviolently de-escalate violence, and assist in creating and defending the image of a nonviolent social movement. How does a peace team do these two primary functions?

De-escalating violent or potentially violent interactions is done by being a calming presence, a presence focused not on arguing the issues but rather on bringing the people into dialog rather than hot conflict. This is often done most effectively by focusing, listening, affirming, and at times simply redirecting individuals away from the conflict. Train for it.
Meta Peace Team training
Creating and defending the image of the movement begins with the core group of organizers who have decided the behavior code required of participants. If they have not stressed nonviolence, it will be almost impossible to create and defend a sympathetic public image. If they have decided to assert that they are a nonviolent movement, and have given the moral authority to the peace team to request that behavior of all participants, the peace team can help greatly.

To inoculate a movement against the erosion and nullification of the good image of that movement, the peace team can be on hand at public demonstrations to accomplish several parts of this inoculation.

  • Print, carry, and pass out small cards identifying the peace team as representatives of the organizers who want nonviolent behavior from all participants.
  • Talk to agitated participants to attempt to let them know they are expected to project an image of nonviolence.
  • Separate conflicting parties if possible.
  • Listen to all and affirm their humanity.
  • For those who cannot be de-escalated, ask them if they understand that the organizers no longer regard them as participating in the movement.
  • Be sure police and media understand that any deviation from the organizers' stated behavior code no longer represents the movement.

It is not the duty of the members of the peace team to take a position on anything except violence. Even when a peace team is an internal branch of the movement and not a generally available peace team for all groups, their work at a public demonstration is to protect people and the image of the movement, not to debate the merits of the issue. When others understand they cannot provoke a peace team member into an argument, provocation usually diminishes.

Is the peace team there to remove emotion and anger from a movement? No. Both Gandhi and King wrote compellingly about the value of anger. Gandhi compared it to steam, framing it as choosing whether to allow that steam to build up and explode destructively or harness the steam and control its power to get work done. The peace team is there to help make productive, constructive, transformative work possible.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Thinking about peace teams

When nonviolent civil resisters intentionally confront a bad law--or a good law for a good reason--they know that part of what they are doing is heading out into the fray nearly impervious to provocation. They want the public to see that they mean it when they claim to be nonviolent. They want their opponents to believe it when they, the resisters, assert their nonviolence and confront a social bad in favor of a social good.

Their opponents usually have a legal right to use violence to enforce the law. Often, their opponents know that they have the resisters in a very hard dilemma. If the resisters back down, the opponents win public approval. If the resisters are violent--even in justifiable self-defense--the spin from the official channels will use that violent self-defense as an excuse, in turn, for the violence that the opponent actually started. Select moments of that violent self-defense will be featured again and again as evidence that the challenger movement is composed of liars. They are not nonviolent at all. Of course if the challengers never claimed to be nonviolent in the first place that is the easiest of all to defeat, as the record clearly shows again and again.

The wider public will usually dismiss the resistance if it shows any violence, especially if the resisters have to change public opinion on the issue. If the public is widely in support of the policy change or policy protection that the resisters are advocating, the amount and nature of violence on the part of the resistance is more negotiable. But especially in the early stages of the resistance, when much of the public often holds a status-quo opinion, the resistance needs to prove its innocence because it will be a phenomenon the wider public will reject on the flimsiest of evidence. Even angry expressions on the faces of nonviolent resisters will be used to justify almost all measures against them.

Is this fair? Of course not. It is simply reality. We either work with reality or accept that what we are doing is only for our own satisfaction, and we are not agents of change, just self-justifying and often self-righteous self-described "radicals." It is a bit like trying to fix the broken sewage system by denouncing the broken pipe in a haughty memo. Some of us may instead choose to head down into the sewage to try to fix that broken pipe. We will suffer for it, but at least we have a good chance of fixing it if we have also managed to bring the right tools and materials. We accept the reality and are determined to work with it, even though it's totally unfair. We want change.

This reality means we must be willing to suffer violence without returning it.
John Lewis beaten by Alabama state troopers on Bloody Sunday, 7 March 1965, generating mass participation that led to 1965 Voting Rights Act
We thus prove we mean it when we say we are nonviolent. We can achieve a number of things with that ongoing proof, including but not limited to:
·       keeping the public discourse focused on our issue rather than on our behavior.
·       gaining public sympathy, however grudging, if the police or soldiers or counterdemonstrators are violent to us.
·       gaining the trust of law enforcement and usually reducing the level of violence against us by reducing both the fear of us and imposing backfire costs upon them.
·       lowering the barriers to recruitment so that those who do agree see that we will not commit the violence that excuses and provokes a violent crackdown, and so our numbers generally rise.
·       allowing sympathetic mainstream media to change frames to show us in a better and better light.
Hence the need for peace teams, to help us create, cultivate, and defend our image of nonviolence.