Originally published in TruthOut
Last week, in our article titled “Armed Drones Becoming the Norm? At the Crossroads of Robotic Warfare,” we wrote about concerns that robotic warfare combined with the global “war on terror” was making violence the quick and easy way to respond to conflicts. We wondered whether the bloody 20th (and beginning of the 21st) century could be put behind us and if the time had come to move to an era of peaceful solutions.
Many factors make this an opportune time to move toward greater use of nonviolent practices. The most obvious, of course, is that the United States and the planet can no longer support American Empire and its endless wars. We cannot continue tospend more than $1 trillion each year on the military and national security state while the basic needs of our population are not being met and our domestic infrastructure is crumbling. The empire economy quite literally is killing us.
And our bloated military is not just killing us and others around the world, mostly innocent civilians, but it is killing the Earth, too. This report published by Project Censored calls the US Department of Defense the worst polluter on the planet. It states: “This impact includes uninhibited use of fossil fuels, massive creation of greenhouse gases, and extensive release of radioactive and chemical contaminants into the air, water, and soil.” And that does not include the private military contractors and weapons industries.
The era of American Empire is coming to an end. The signs are everywhere. Latin-American countries are no longer tolerating bullying tactics by the United States. Obama failed in his attempt to attack Syria. The world leaders at the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in October did not seem to mourn President Obama’s absence at all. In fact, the failing Trans-Pacific Partnership shows that the United States is no longer in the driver’s seat of the Pacific economy. And even former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is lamenting “that American domination [is] no longer possible because of an accelerating social change. … ”
Brzezinski is concerned that growing access to information and popular uprisings are making it more difficult for the global financial elite to control the masses. All around the world, people are standing up to oppressive governments and destructive practices, and they are increasingly doing so with nonviolent tools. The newest datashow that nonviolent tactics are not only more popular, but they are also more effective than violent ones and nonviolent struggle is more likely to result in lasting democratic structures.
In the book Crises of the Republic, Hannah Arendt wrote, “The chief reason warfare is still with us is neither a secret death wish of the human species, nor an irrepressible instinct of aggression … but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.” That is changing. People around the world are putting nonviolent practices to use to create democratic societies and are employing peaceful methods of conflict resolution. It is imperative that we reject imperialism and militarism and make peace a reality.
Creating a Culture of Nonviolence
We live in a time of transition that some call the Great Turning. Joanna Macy calls it the “essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.” The reality is that our resources are declining and we can no longer operate within a system that demands constant growth and sacrifices people and the planet for profit as capitalism does.
The Great Turning is a period of maturation of our species. Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris writes in Earthdance: Living Systems in Evolution that evolution is not linear but is a cycle “of unity to individuation, through which arises conflict, negotiations happen, cooperation is arrived at; and we go to unity again at the next higher level.” If cooperation is not achieved, the species simply goes extinct.
She compares this process to the stages of human development. Essentially, humans are in the adolescent phase. Our task at this stage is cooperation, or as David Kortenwrites, to go from “violent domination” to “peaceful partnership.” To accomplish this, we will have to shift from a militaristic society to a culture of nonviolence. This will have to be done with intention.
If we look around us, it is easy to recognize the ways that militarism is ingrained in our culture. It is prominent in the games that our children play, especially video games, in television and movies and in the clothes they wear. Children as young as 12 years can attend residential programs that simulate basic military training. Members of the military are treated as heroes everywhere we go. At the airport, they are invited to board the plane first and walk across the red carpet as the “premier” members do. At sporting and cultural events, they are given special recognition.
To counter this deep indoctrination, we will have to be more honest about the role of the military. General Smedley D. Butler, one of the most decorated generals of all time, called war a racket. He said. “I served in all commissioned ranks from second lieutenant to major-general. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
We will need to develop new cultural entities, practices and institutions that teach and promote peace and nonviolent practices. We will need to recognize people who contribute to building a more just society as the ones we want to emulate. In addition to the usual people that we think of such as teachers and nurses, we will need to include those who feed the hungry in areas where it has been declared illegal, who stand in solidarity with homeowners who are facing eviction and who lock themselves to heavy machinery to prevent mountaintop removal for coal, pipelines for tar sands and hydrofracking for methane gas.
Recently, we spoke to three people who are actively engaged in building the culture of nonviolence: author-activist-actor Rivera Sun and Stephanie Van Hook and Michael Nagler of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. Sun uses fictional characters to teach the principles of nonviolent resistance. In her newest book, called The Dandelion Insurrection, she uses “fiction to project ahead just around the corner of today” and tell the story of “the transformation we are going through.” The Metta Center provides tools, books and educational events to teach nonviolence.
All three incorporate stories into their work. Storytelling is an integral part of transformative organizing. We all see the world through the lens of the stories we tell ourselves. Stories are so important to us that when people are presented with facts that conflict with their story of the world, they are more likely to reject the facts and insist more strongly that their story is the truth. Our decisions are largely made at the emotional level, and so stories that reach our emotions can begin to shape our worldview in a new way.
Sun studies strategic nonviolence and nonviolent struggles. She incorporates important concepts and themes into her stories. She breaks the concepts down in a way that is easy to understand and remember. For instance, in The Dandelion Insurrection, the phrase “Be kind, be connected, be unafraid” is repeated throughout the story. To hear our interview with Rivera Sun, click here.
The Metta Center provides a movement tool called the Roadmap Compass. It serves the goals of providing a strategy in a way that is also easy to comprehend and shows how the different components of the movement are connected. The top one of the six sections of the Roadmap is “New Story Creation.” Nagler says that if we “formulate the story in a way that is non-threatening” and we each start telling the story in a similar way, then we will reach a tipping point. The Roadmap Compass is an interactive tool that facilitates communication between people who are working on specific areas such as food security, renewable energy or nonviolent conflict resolution.
As we learn the principles of nonviolence, we can start putting them into action in our daily lives. Van Hook reminds us that it is as easy as slowing down enough to make some connection to the people we encounter such as when we go to a store. She adds that we can employ nonviolent tactics when a conflict arises. The first step is to recognize the humanity of the other person by making eye contact.
Van Hook coordinates the Shanti Sena Network of peace teams based primarily in the United States and Canada. Specifically, the peace teams are composed of people who work in communities to use “nonviolent ways of resolving conflicts without the potentially violent intervention from ‘law enforcement’ or the military.” In the words of Gandhi, this is a form of constructive program – building alternative systems to replace the old systems that no longer serve us.
To get involved, people can begin by signing the Peace Draft. To start, the only requirement is a commitment to deepen one’s study of nonviolence. Van Hook describes the beauty of the Peace Team is that there is something for everyone to do no matter their circumstances. If a person cannot participate actively in conflict resolution, they can serve other functions such as providing education or support.
Conflict resolution is a growing field. Schools as early as the elementary level are starting to incorporate conflict resolution into their curriculum. And international peace teams are being used in areas of violence and armed conflict. One group that does this is Nonviolent Peaceforce. Its teams are invited by communities to provide assistance in resolving conflicts and protection.
Conflict is complex. A violent approach to conflict resolution only has one tool – domination through force. The nonviolent approach has multiple tools. And instead of being imposed from above, the tools are chosen by the community that is affected. The Peaceforce does not take sides in a conflict. A large part of the Peaceforce’s work is listening to communities to understand the particular complexities of their situation and then applying common-sense approaches. Van Hook writes in more detail about the Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan.
Currently a US-based peace team from Veterans for Peace is in Palestine, where it is building relationships with the Palestinians, who are trying to protect their land from the encroaching Israeli settlements. On its second day, it accompanied local villagers into an Israeli settlement and started playing soccer. When the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) arrived, the athletes invited the young soldiers to join them in the game. The Veterans for Peace spoke to the IDF about their experiences of being in the military and realizing that the wars they were fighting and the orders they were following were wrong. They hoped to develop connections with the IDF and to facilitate awareness of their shared humanity.
Violence is a Sign of Weakness
In her 1969 essay “Reflections on Violence,” Hannah Arendt wrote that “Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” She explains that power is derived from the support and consent of the people. When those who are in power are compelled to resort to violence, it is a sign that their power is disappearing. She adds, “Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert, but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together. … ”
One aspect of the Great Turning is moving from a hierarchical/patriarchal society in which people see themselves as separate from each other to a society that is non-hierarchical in which people feel connected to each other. Violence was acceptable in the old worldview because it was felt to be necessary and effective. That is no longer the case. Not only is violence destructive, but when we harm others, we cause harm to ourselves.
At the heart of the practice of nonviolence is the recognition that we are all connected and that we are stronger when we work together and through consensus. Van Hook and Nagler emphasize that being connected does not mean that we are the same. At the surface level, people are different, and that diversity is appreciated. But inside, we are related to each other.
Nagler tells the story of a gay pride parade in Michigan in which a member of a local neo-Nazi group started harassing people at the event. Somebody broke a bottle over his head and peace team members quickly moved in to protect him and bring him safely to an ambulance for care. The man’s partner was so touched by their actions that she said something along the lines of, “I used to hate you people, but now I believe that the same blood runs through all of us.”
It’s time to stop glorifying war and violence and replace them with greater knowledge and practice of nonviolent techniques. It is possible to do. The “Cross-Legged Strike” is one example that occurred in 2006 in a very violent area of Colombia, the city of Pereira. Men in the city joined violent gangs because they believed that it made them more sexually appealing. In response, their female partners decided to teach them otherwise by creating a popular campaign to withhold sex because they preferred to have their partners alive for themselves and their children. The campaign included a popular rap song calling for the men to give up their weapons.
We must similarly act to build a popular cultural campaign against violence. As American Empire declines, we must show the world that we are ready to join the global society as a partner rather than a bully. Our aggression is a sign of weakness and will no longer be effective against the rising tide of nonviolent resistance. Let’s begin in our communities to make to peace a reality.
To hear Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers’ interview “Building a Culture of Nonviolent Resistance for Democracy” with Rivera Sun, author of the newly released book The Dandelion Insurrection, and Stephanie Van Hook and Michael Nagler of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, click here.