Thursday, June 27, 2019

Pushing students, pushing myself

Each academic year I average about 300 students in my various classes. The only one I teach every term is my undergrad nonviolence course, which always fills. This summer term I'm at 45 students, for example, from many majors across campus, which I regard as perfect. They are smart, in from Sociology, Political Science, Anthropology, English, Education, Engineering, Criminology, Business, Public Administration, Women's Studies, Black Studies, all the wondrous other fields in the School of Gender, Race and Nations, etc. Plug in the eclectricity!

This is the first week of summer term. We introduce ourselves, we watch the 1982 Gandhi film with Ben Kingsley, and we read the first 12 pages of A Force More Powerful by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall. Students post at least a half thousand words on either or both. 

Now is when I like to try to set the outer rails on the wide path to success in my course for all students. So, I am as clear and frank as I can be, for better or worse. I can think of no more important field of study and I keep trying to get my teaching right after all these decades. This is my effort today, in this term.

To help them think about how to approach learning and theoretically applying what we learn: 
Happy Thursday, as we close in on the last days of Week 1. The weeks are a bit busier in the summer, as we stick 11 weeks of material into just 8 weeks.
I regard our challenge in the field of Nonviolence to be to construct hypotheticals informed by history and creative thinking. 
By this I mean that the challenge as I see it, academically, is to ask of any conflict scenario, "How can this be at least hypothetically be resolved using only nonviolent methods?"
Constructing that nonviolent path in our minds is fed by three streams: our understanding of nonviolent theory, our grasp of the contours of nonviolent campaigns that have succeeded historically, and finally, by our imagination. Knowledge of the theory and history is crucial, but not often enough under the most trying circumstances. Einstein, who had plenty of knowledge, said that, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." We need it all if we are going to transform our bleeding, sometimes very unjust world.
So! In our course, we have free speech, but we only get academic credit for applying these three streams to our arguments. Since reading my posts is required, I know you are all now cracking my brain and will earn excellent grades!

My first response to their responses to the film (which included a worry that the Gandhi film was inaccurate in that Gandhi seemed too calm and reasonable almost all the time, and that some random writer had called Gandhi a "manipulator") and the reading (which was really well done): 
Very good posts to begin, with some good challenges. 
Excellent close read of the Ackerman and DuVall introduction, with astute and inquisitive observations. You extracted a great deal from the short read. I do want to note that in our text, the authors bracket the stories with the intro and conclusion, in which you find short but powerful bursts of theory. The stories are really the data, only written in lively page-turning style. It's the best Intro to Nonviolence text I've ever found and its findings have held as empirical and case study research has poured in ever since. I'm glad you made the note of the connections between code of conduct, ethical standards, and strategy. It is absolutely key.
The Gandhi film is actually quite accurate, historically, though I agree that Ben Kingsley's portrayal may be more saintly than Gandhi actually was. Indeed, this course doesn't rely on Gandhi's personality in any way and if that is any problem in the film, it's pretty much irrelevant. What I love is the critique that Gandhi was "a manipulator." Um, yeah...that was his role, if he wanted to liberate India. Manipulate people by telling the truth. Manipulate social forces by revealing to them that they have power. But the film, long as it is, didn't cover a great deal of even more profoundly positive aspects of Gandhi's life.
For example, the film starts and ends with his assassination and never explains much the motives of the assassin and his confederates. I would analogize them very roughly in our modern context to the man who sent pipe bombs to Democrats, liberal celebrities, etc., or to the mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, or the mass shooter in 2017 at the mosque in Quebec City. It was a hate crime, done by a Hindu nationalist who was enraged that Gandhi expressed love for Muslims. Gandhi was "manipulating" the new liberated Indian government to make reparations to Muslims for what had been done to them in the split of India from Pakistan and in the bicommunal violence of the greatest refugee flow in human history. Hindu nationalists--still active and still memorializing Gandhi's assassin to this day--hated Gandhi for his attempts at justice, at forgiveness, and reconciliation. So these Hindu nationalists still traduce Gandhi's memory and engage in serious manipulation of the facts. 
Was Gandhi a perfect saint? Nope. Was anyone, ever? Do we throw out decades of astonishing accomplishments that have changed human history for the better because we find a flaw in his personality? If so, the world has no one worth emulating and never has. I hope we aren't that cynical.

Image result for gandhi film

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Rethinking reparations

Aaron Campbell was young, black, unarmed, and suffered from mental illness. He was involved in some chaotic multiparty verbal conflict, police were called, and they shot him dead.  
With his hands up. Unarmed.
Even off-duty black cops report being pulled over at alarmingly high rates. How much worse must it be for young black drivers who are not police officers?
The significant issues with racial profiling include, but are not limited to: 
·       black drivers and even black pedestrians being searched much more frequently for dubious probable cause.
·       With higher rates of police interest, it naturally leads to higher rates of discovery (e.g., drugs), higher rates of arrest, charges, convictions and incarceration.
·       lower ultimate rates of employment due to increased rates of criminal record.
·       more poverty.
·       more poverty-driven crime.
·       even more profiling as a direct result of higher rates of crime.
Thus behold the perfect positive feedback loop with negative consequence. Profiling leads to more arrests of the profiled group that leads to all the other social and personal consequences and then to the resultant additional profiling.
Now comes a social movement gaining traction straight into the US presidential primary--at least amongst Democratic candidates. Marianne Williamson was first to declare she would make it a central campaign issue, then Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and now Kamala Harris. Others are even mentioning it.
Amongst the black intellectual peerage, Ta-Nehisi Coates and others are cogent about the justice, moral, and ethical rationales for making reparations. In many ways, Coates is the spark for this modern revisit and rethink. His 2014 essay from The Atlantic, "The case for reparations," is a magisterial work, a litany of egregious treatment of African Americans from colonial-era slavery through 20th century legal theft--really robbery, since the bad laws were ultimately backed by the armed agents of the state if it came to that. He broadened and deepened this and we see it finally seriously emerging now.
My partner, who is African American, rejects the notion of reparations that start with sending out money before fixing the core problems that still drive such high rates of pain and suffering in the black community. 
"Start with universal health care," she says. "That looks like equal benefits for all and that is exactly what we don't have right now. Fix that first."
She is the daughter of a health care professional who made her own emendation to that disparate delivery system in her Ohio town by bringing a small but significant mobile clinic to provide at least a fraction of the basic health care so unfairly missing from the black community there. 
She is a health care professional herself and hopes to bring such services to more who need it. She practices and thinks about health care and declares that racism is a threat to public health--indeed, there is a movement to push the Centers for Disease Control to make the same declaration, a movement she helps lead.
So reparations are a complex set of inquiries, not just an up-or-down 40 acres and a mule question.
From my standpoint in my field of Conflict Transformation, it's the multivariate nature of such a problem that may provide a complex but effective way forward with more, not less, opportunity. Each facet of the problem--from serious debt directly owed for slavery itself, to the awful long trail of residual consequences of the racism inherent in that slavery history, right down to the skewed social indices in health, wealth, incarceration, education, and employment--presents opportunities for creative and authentic problem-solving. 
My sons are African American. They are unarmed. I want them to live out their natural lives and it's disproportionately unlikely they will. Ask yourself, my fellow white people, how that might make you feel about starting a truly helpful, human national conversation about fixing as much of this as we can, as is actually reparable? What if a social construct were a direct threat to your children?
Aaron Campbell and thousands of others are never coming back--no repair is possible. But it is just possible that he, Kendra James, Oscar Grant, James Jahar Perez, and those thousands of summarily executed young unarmed African Americans did not die in vain--if we manage to radically reduce racism going forward and make reparations thus more than simple legal settlement that ignores ongoing harm.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Nonviolence and trust

This week I joined others from my town in a State Department initiative called City Pair; in this case, "pairing" Portland, Oregon with both Montreal and Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was illuminating.
We met with government officials and law enforcement--city, provincial, and national. We met with a research team looking at factors contributing to hate and political violence. 
The Portland team represented elected officials, police, the city equity lead, nonprofit leadership, and alternative methods of security (me).
So my role should have been to tell the Canadians that my way is best, no violence, no threatened violence, no arms, only nonviolent means of keeping the public safe. 
That is my dream, of course. And that is what we work on in our Portland Peace Team. We are a member of a network of peace teams across the US and Canada.
However, we are based not just on nonviolence, but on trust. We thread some fine needles in that regard. 
Do we claim we have all the answers? It's the opposite; we claim no one has them all.
Do we claim we can keep everyone safe if they just follow our lead? Gosh, no. That would define ignorance and arrogance. 
Of course, arming agents of the state or private security offers no guarantee either. Indeed, doing so offers some additional risks, as we see in the figures of who gets shot by police, including disproportionate numbers of unarmed people of color, resulting in loss of tens of thousands of years of human lives. 
So we are circumspect in making our assertions, which may not "sell" our nonviolent methods in a presentation or discussion, but it is instructive that those who request our services frequently reach out repeatedly. We must be providing some comfort to their leadership. 
What we do is based on trust. 
Groups trust that we are (for the purposes of the event) nonpartisan, nonviolent, and unaffiliated with police or any governmental agency at any level.
Media members trust that we will be all that and that we will remain calm and focused on the well being of everyone. This is crucial because media will convey to the public the nature--nonviolent or not--of the participants in the event. This will directly contribute to recruiting more to the next event or alienating more and diminishing the numbers and effectiveness of the movement.
Police trust us to be all those things. We are never their agents, but we will liaise with them, on our own behalf and, if asked by the group requesting our presence, on their behalf as well. 
Do all the parties trust us from the get-go? Of course not; just as we teach our children, trust must be earned and protected carefully and with integrity--it can take a long time to develop and a short time to destroy. 
We often do peace team deëscalation trainings for an hour or so before a demonstration at which we've agreed to be. The people who come to be trained are those who are part of the group that invited us. So my first question is, "Who considers themselves to be activists?"
All hands shoot up. "Not today," I say. "Today you support your coalition in a different way, by being neutral and deëscalating conflict that seems headed out of control. That is the conflict that can harm the image and thus the recruiting power of your campaign."
Building trust is what our public discourse and decision-making is about. While Trump lies an average of 12 documented times each day and wrecks trust, millions of us average folks are working to rebuild it at every level. 
I return from beautiful Quebec with many new friends. Some may not agree with my methods, but we found trust amongst us, the foundation of possibilities. 
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.