Tuesday, April 06, 2021

But what if they are attacking your grandmother?

You are advocating for a nonviolent campaign to get something done. Perhaps you would like police to stop shooting unarmed people of color. Or maybe you would like to try to stop a dirty tar sands oil pipeline. Or, for instance, you might be trying to shut down a military base that is shipping troops and weapons to some poor country.

Whatever your issue might be, whatever grievance you hope to remedy, you might find yourself with some irrationally violent opposition. What do you do?

Activists tend to extrapolate from the worst case scenario to everything else.

Hey here comes a pipe bomber at midnight to your home? He’s armed, with bombs, what do you do, just let him? Fast? Sit down? Boycott him? Go on effing strike? Hell no. You call the cops and you get your gun. Protect your family. 

OK. Fair enough. Defend your children by any means at your command. It’s your house. It’s your child. You do what you need to do. I used to own a gun, a bit more than 50 years ago. I get it.

Your home is not your campaign. 

Your campaign, on the other hand, if it bills itself as nonviolent, will take chances and risks and never react with violence under any circumstances. Those who commit to following the code of conduct knowingly commit to taking no violent act, even if it meant suffering horridly. That discipline delivers victories; it is the way of the peace warrior and I’ve seen it up close and personal many times.

It is imperative that we understand the serious difference between the personal and the political, the individual and the collective, the homestead and family versus the movement.

But we hear about the “Deacons of Defense,” armed Black people who protected homes, families, and Civil Rights Movement leaders from late night violence by the Ku Klux Klan. Yes. They did. Great. 

What we do not hear about is the Deacons of Defense marching open-carry alongside Civil Rights activists in Mississippi, which was uncontested in its position as the most violent of all domestic terrorism environments throughout the Civil Rights years. 

Why not? 

Because the leadership knew that armed protectors would engender enough fear in the white communities to shift public opinion away from the movement and toward the thin blue line that protects them. 

Because the leadership knew that their message of simple rights—to sit in any public place, to ride anywhere on the bus, to vote, to buy a home—is a message that will be lost if they resort to violence, even violent self-defense. 

This is why we do nonviolence trainings, to prepare people who are acting in the name of the campaign to maintain nonviolent discipline under all circumstances. Any breach of nonviolent discipline opens the movement to vilification and rejection. When we accept those risks as a member of a campaign, we do not concomitantly volunteer to refuse to defend our children. 

Indeed, there is no better way to defend your child than to convince society to correct policies that threaten your child. 

But let’s stop with the red herrings, the posits of disanalogous situations formulated to permit, if not encourage, violence. It is hurting campaigns now, just as it did in the past.