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Why A Nonviolent Action Campaign
By Eisha Mason
Executive Director, Center or the Advancement of Nonviolence
t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed
Tuesday 7 January 2003
Our mission includes, but is greater than, ending the war in Iraq. Our mission is to defend the principles of democracy and protect the rights and welfare of humanity that are threatened by this current Administration's "war on terrorism." The "war on terrorism" is a highly convenient means to an end. The roots of its major initiatives can be traced back to policy statements, strategic plans, failed legislation and government programs that were created long before 9-ll.
So as we challenge this country's commitment to escalating war with Iraq, let us understand that the war in Iraq, like the "war on terrorism," is part of an agenda for our country and the world, captured in the Administration's foreign policy document, "The National Security Strategy of the USA-2002" and earlier in the 2000 document, "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for A New Century" (by the conservative think tank, Project for the New American Century). Quite bluntly the vision is, "maintaining global U.S. pre-eminence, precluding the rises of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests."
In light of this information and the agenda that proceeds out of it, how shall we advance our goals for a just, safe and humane United States and world community? How shall we most effectively resist the Administration's initiatives to undermine the Constitution and Bill of Rights and set the world to war? How shall we protect the principles of democracy and human dignity for Americans and for all people? What is our most effective course of action?
I support a campaign of nonviolent action to accomplish our ends. I believe that a campaign of nonviolent action is pragmatically powerful, as well as ethically, morally and spiritually powerful.
Nonviolence springs from one fundamental principle: a reverence for Life. In just this definition, we distinguish who we are and what our vision is from that of the current Administration. Our vision is for the Life. We honor the value of every life. We stand political and economic policies, here and abroad, that honor and support human dignity and democracy. We stand for peaceful means to accomplish peaceful ends. We stand for the healing of nations, not the domination of one nation to own all and control all the world by its might.
We use this principle of "a reverence of Life" as a standard by which to measure the vision, policies and actions of nations and ourselves. At a time when we are told by our "leaders" that we must not question or criticize, nor demand accountability, we stand for our "moral obligation to resist evil...just as there is an obligation to cooperate with good" (Gandhi).
We stand for the power of the human spirit to overcome all odds, the power that does not depend of external conditions, that cannot be taken away by wealth, might, nor external power. We stand for a power that is (as spoken Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) "...the voices, feet, bodies of dedicated, united people, moving without rest to a just goal." We stand for these principles because we believe in a reverence for Life.
Why choose a nonviolent action campaign? First, because we are out-manned, out-financed and out-gunned. If we are to wage a campaign that is based on material power as our primary source of power (money, military force, political and economic rank and media), we will always find ourselves defensive, massively overwhelmed by a government that never hesitates to remind us that it is the most wealthy, powerful and militarized power in the world.
Using the same "weapons" as this government, we will always find ourselves on the playing someone else's game as they make the rules and have all the chips. But all of their power has one thing in common which is its Achilles heel; it is power outside of the self, and therefore, it is power that can be given and it can be taken away. It is also a power that relies on the people to give their consent, to cooperate with it and to fulfill its will. This consent (our consent) can be given and it can be taken away.
To paraphrase Einstein, "you can't solve the problem at the level of the problem." To win, we must play our game, build on our source of power - people power-the power of the spirit within us. Our power, at its essence, is our conviction that Love, Brotherhood, Dignity, Justice-are the destiny of humankind. Our power is the spirit of Life that flows in and through all beings. It is the wild card which cannot be factored by the opposition nor ultimately countered because they do not understand this power nor its laws. Dorothy Day, co-founder if the Catholic Worker movement in America, a lover of the poor and a thorn in the side of the war machine, called for, not a revolution of arms, but a "revolution of the heart." This is the source of our power.
Why a nonviolent action campaign? Because Nonviolence heightens the contradictions between Truth and Falsehood. It reveals the violence beneath the veneer of institutional power and authority when that authority is ill-used. Nonviolence touches the conscience of the majority, stirs the people's moral compass and awakens their compassion.
When the nonviolent activists are open and the government is secretive, when we pursue dialogue with respect and the government attacks and threatens, when we raise questions that have been ignored and present information that has been covered up, when we peacefully withdraw our consent and they are retaliatory, when we are "harmless" and they are "brutal," then that which is "right," that which is true to our highest values and ideals, rises up within us as a nation.
When the civil rights advocates survived Bloody Sunday (on their march to Selma for voting rights), when Freedom Riders' (Anglo and African American men and women riding a bus across state lines to defy segregation) were beaten, when the unarmed Indians were brutally attacked at the Darshana Salt Works in India during Gandhi's campaign for independence, when Julia Butterfly Hill occupied a tree named Luna and helicopters harassed her trying to drive her down, when students, sharecroppers, peasants, workers, women, children register to vote or walk in the streets and they are thwarted and attacked, Truth vs. Falsehood, Justice vs. Injustice are unmasked.
For those 60% of Americans who did not vote in the most recent election and those who did vote, ignorant of how our Administration's policies imperil our economy, our democracy and our safety, our nonviolent campaign begins to help this majority to question authority and question the official government and media story.
But if we use violence like the adversary, we lose our advantage, the strength of our moral cause. We lose our advantage in telling "good" from "bad," and because we do not control media, all dissenters get labeled and dismissed as "radical fringe element," "unpatriotic, " etc.
When, in our message, our dress, our behavior, we embody the spirit of nonviolence, Americans begin to recognize themselves in us. That "silent majority" recognize their children and parents, brothers and sisters and neighbors as us. The greater the embodiment of nonviolence, the greater our effectiveness in expanding receptivity to and support for our cause. As nonviolence strategically distinguishes between "good guys" and "bad guys," "right vs. wrong" in the media, we grow "allies."
Nonviolence changes public opinion. In the history of images, we shall always be moved by the lone man standing unarmed before tanks in Tiananmen Square. We shall always be moved by images of children hosed down and attacked by police dogs in Montgomery, Alabama. We shall always be moved by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who gathered in the plaza day after day to question where their "disappeared" children were. Those who speak Truth of Power stir our very souls.
Nonviolence campaigns won our hearts and minds of when farmworkers challenged us to stop eating grapes until farmworkers had decent working conditions, and won support for Central Americans fleeing torture and war through the religious community's Sanctuary Movement in the 1980's. Nonviolence changed public opinion and instituted the U.S. Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the Nuclear Disarmament Treaty and more.
Why a nonviolent action campaign? Because nonviolence changes people the people who practice it and the people who witness it. Ultimately, we cannot legislate peace and justice, although that is the crucial first step. Ultimately change requires that people change how they see themselves and others.
Nonviolence responds through the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had."
Nonviolence changes us, the practitioners. It builds courage, compassion, community, inner strength and power.Talk to Los Angeles janitors who won respect, wages and benefits through their nonviolent campaign in 1990. Talk to gang truce leaders in our communities who, after their own transformation, work tirelessly to bring to our communities and our youth. Read about Fannie Lou Hamer (a sharecropper) and Rigoberta Menchu (a peasant).
Why a nonviolent action campaign? Finally, and most importantly, because as Gandhi warned, "the ends are in the means." Because we have a vision for America and the world, based on democracy, justice and human dignity, we must use means in alignment with our vision to achieve the vision and support its flowering. Simply, if we want conflict to be challenged and resolved differently in the future, than we must demonstrate that we can resolve it differently now. This is how we demonstrate for our neighbors that there is "another way" and that "another world is possible" now.
Through our nonviolent action, we become the seeds for that new "way" and we anchor the foundation for the new world. This is the challenge and the opportunity that is before us, "to be the change we want to see." Let us use nonviolent action campaign to defeat the war movement and advance the movement for democracy, humanity and peace.
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