Sunday, January 16, 2011

Audiotape of Connections: what does a serious nonviolent movement look like?

The KGNU show Connections on the shootings in Arizona in the context of Martin Luther King Day can be accessed here. Hit Friday January 14, find Connections on the Shootings in Arizona at 8:30, hit the second to last symbol on the right and the audiocast will come up.

In the context of Martin Luther King birthday, the shootings in Arizona involve two large themes. The first is a reaffirmation of democratic civility to fight against the rise of a police state. See here and here. This theme was captured in Obama’s speech of mourning and also in the fine statement of Professor Bruce Mallory for the University of New Hampshire below (h/t Duncan Campbell). The rampant display of guns, of “targeting” one’s enemies, of making electoral campaigns a metaphor for murder, of erasing those who are imagined to be responsible, especially those "deficient racially" (blacks or mexicanos or urban jews or whites who criticize the rich…) is a deep part of the political rhetoric of the Right. There is no comparison on the left, particularly given the vast funding of Fox News, Sarah Palin, and the tea-baggers. This point has been well made by Ben Hale here and by Brian Leiter here. The first task here is to hold the line for democracy against the rampant growth – outside the government in the fierce, so far verbal but potentially murderous attacks on Obama as other and murderousness toward anyone in the line of fire (Gabrielle Giffords, Judge Roll, Christina Taylor Green…) and inside the government – the ever continuing wars of American aggression, making Americans more insecure; the denial of habeas corpus, no punishment for or even hearings about torture, and the propagation, to silence the law, of the fantasy of “state secrets.” But it is not enough to attempt to preserve the rule of law simply; too many powerful forces now undermine it (including 16.5% real unemployment).

The second point is that only a mass militant movement of nonviolent non-cooperation, focused on aggression, unemployment and preserving the rule of law will be able to point a new course for America. Obama will do decent things, if pushed very hard from below. Otherwise, he is just a moderate who is head of the Empire, a very creative political figure, as his speech this week again showed, but very limited.

In the Connections discussion, an important contrast came up. Nonviolence is good – and is especially important as nonviolent communication in personal life. But the movements led by Gandhi and King were serious, life-risking, mass political movements. Though related, these are not the same.

Those movements confronted evil (segregation, maintained by lynching, “neo-slavery” in the phrase of a recent book - h/t Arthur Gilbert; English colonialism). It is worth taking in that evil must be stopped. To be nonviolent is to believe that those who commit evil have souls and are capable, if stopped, of coming to new conclusions, choosing an alternate path. Truth and Reconciliation – with the emphasis on truth, with a sad recognition of the fact that some like perhaps Dick Cheney are disturbed and incorrigible – is, after fundamental political change, a path to some societal healing. But the emphasis is first and foremost on stopping them, on the change.

Otherwise, nonviolence is a movement of acquiescence in injustice. It loses the spirit of Thoreau: if everyone else supports slavery, if the Constitution declares for slavery, I, a majority of one, can say no. One must stand up for justice.

It loses the spirit of Martin Luther King. There he was in Watts, sent by President Johnson, a leader of the civil rights movement in another and distant place, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to chill out the young rebels. And they looked at the preacher from Georgia, in his suit, and asked: is the US government nonviolent in Vietnam? Where do you get off telling us to be nonviolent?

King was challenged in his being. He had risked his life repeatedly in the South. But the national administration and the courts had been, to some extent, his friend. He had felt uneasy about coming to Watts, bearing the President’s message. And now, these young men brought him face to face with the problem.

For he did not disagree with them. And he knew that he could never speak to them in favor of nonviolence, if he did not criticize and seek to change: “my own government, the most violent government in the world.” That would be the theme of his speech “Breaking the Silence,” April 4, 1967 at the Riverside Church in Harlem, a year to the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, and two years after he had these conversations. See here and here.

For he was also the bearer, unless he protested against it, of the message of genocide in Vietnam from a President though one who also supported civil rights for blacks. He did not choose to to be a limited politician of civil rights, to collapse to the words of, in other respects, a powerful and radically unjust authoriy.

He told the truth. He emerged fully as a prophet even though the cost would be, he knew, his life. As he said on April 3, 1968, the last night in Memphis, in a speech he had not intended to give, but had been called by an enthusiastic crowd at a church in a storm: “I have seen the mountain top but I may not get there with you.” "Longevity has its place but...I am not fearing any man because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord." Nonviolence is the movement which seeks to transcend political murder by taking the suffering - if there is violence - on the resistors. Nonviolence recognizes the injustice of so many deaths, and joins the heroic and courageous destiny of its great leaders and martyrs like Gandhi and King in the long river. Each of us is mortal, but unjust death (perhaps Socrates transcended it, joking with his young friend Apollodorus that he was still soon to die, unjust or not) is an even more wrenching thing to face. A nonviolent way of resistance is not a movement without cost (so is a violent one, more so in this respect, and one does not achieve the calm of not taking the lives of others, cutting off whole universes - cf. Barbara Deming, Revolution and Equilibrium).

Yet a mass movement about even one of these issues sounds distant and improbable now. So many feel the issues, but where, as Kathy Patridge rightly asked, are the marchers in the street? Wasn’t King’s movement, one might say, rooted in the close-knit oppressed communities of the South, particularly in the Churches? Even in the cities, like Montgomery or Birmingham, blacks still had intense ties to the churches, to the murderous rural life of segregation (and slavery). And wasn’t the poor people’s movement much weaker in the North even after King’s speech? Young people there would not come out for nonviolence (even though the riots or rebellions involved destruction of property and were not violent against persons, except that the police murdered people; but they were plainly not, in spirit, nonviolent). Perhaps the sociology of fighting injustice is against us (the US has outsourced much manufacturing production and destroyed unions like the United Auto Workers; we have an increasing number of the very poor, but divided, isolated, demoralized).

These thoughts are dark. But first, each of us needs to speak for him or herself. If we don’t get out there, no one else will. Let us act up as the President says to our own aspirations (or to the hopes of children). Let us not talk down, with bitterness and cynicism, the need to act.

Second, 50 mothers of the disappeared demonstrated n the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires on May 1 against the dictatorship, armed by the United States and sanctified by Henry Kissinger. Many leftists might have said, for a very long time: it is hopeless. No one will respond. Often no one does. Hope is a hard thing to carry, to maintain, to exemplify…

But that day, the patriarchal regime did not call out the police to kill these fifty mothers who had lost their children through the regime’s crimes.* And because of the international movement that swirled up around them, the regime fell. The phrase: we need a nonviolent movement of noncooperation seems perhaps heavy. But unexpected things bring such movements to the fore. For instance, the international movement against the second Gulf War, though it, sadly, did not become one of mass civil disobedience. was vast and achieved enormous results (it prevented “Shock and Awe” from making of Baghdad, in the words of the report by Harlan and Ullman long on the Pentagon website, a “Nagasaki”). And who would have imagined, before the fact, the 50 mothers of the disappeared?

Third, those who have suffered injustice, who are unemployed, or foreclosed or sent to fight in the cause of what they learned through experience, was aggression (h/t Aaron Ferreira), will be heard from.

The audiotape is worth listening particularly thanks to the callers and Martin Luther King himself, on the interconnection between aggression abroad and the war on the poor at home (sucking up the resources for Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, King names Vietnam a war against the poor…).

As I drove in to the University of Denver to be on the program and then teach a seminar on nonviolence, I listened to DemocracyNow. Amy Goodman was talking with my friend Fran Piven, a great sociologist, someone who has profoundly studied poor people’s movements, and underlined the truth, with her husband Richard Cloward, that only mass movements from below, ones civilly disobedient, or often, to some extent, violent, make decent social change possible. But Glenn Beck has threatened her on tv. She is a possible target of injury from the attempt to build up a mass, fascist movement (not exactly the same as Hitler’s or the Klan, but, nonetheless, a racist movement financed by richest and most powerful, like the Koch brothers or Fox who pays Beck's many-million dollar contract, but appearing from below, sweeping up numbers to murder and be killed in its path). See my current series on Franco in Spain here and here.

I was frightened for Frances. As a listener pointed out, I spoke of Beck, injudiciously and in anger and in fear, as a snake (I am still more sorry for the speciesism, that is the unfairness to snakes, than I am about, in this respect, discouraging Beck’s followers from thinking). I would not use these words again and regret them. But a nonviolent movement must go far to stop Beck and those who sent him.

Here is Bruce Mallory’s statement for the University of New Hampshire:

"Statement on violence and civility in the wake of a massacre Bruce L. Mallory, Professor of Education, Director, New Hampshire Listens

The violent rampage that took place in Arizona on Saturday is yet one more reminder, if we needed one, that our claim to be a civil society, in which we solve our differences through informed debate rather than random acts of violence, is an ideal that we have not fully achieved. A civil society, one based on the principles of a pluralistic democracy, creates opportunity for the constructive expression of difference and dissent. A civil society makes it possible for those with opposing views to engage in informed, respectful deliberation, where the argument is about ideas, not about the people who hold those ideas. A civil, democratic society places its trust in those it elects to make the hard choices necessary to solve complex problems. A civil society is one that is based on laws, not on the actions or threats of individuals.

While it seems that the perpetrator of Saturday’s shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and 19 others was in a state of confusion, anger, and perhaps illness, his actions also must be understood in the larger context of American society. In recent years, we have become not only more divided along political and ideological lines, we seem to have lost to a large degree our commitment to resolving our differences through civil, constructive dialogue. We have allowed our differences to define who we are, rather than our commonalities. For some people, this obsession with difference has led to the use of language that is threatening or even violent itself. When a deranged individual hears calls to use “bullets rather than ballots” or to “take out” or “target” the opposition, or to put those with whom we disagree “in the crosshairs,” then he or she, having already lost touch with reality, takes such advice too literally. The more this happens, the more our country feels like those undemocratic, uncivil societies where assassinations, tribal conflict, and oppression by the powerful few are the norm. Certainly we are far from becoming like those places, but we are getting closer, and that should be a source of concern for us all. The way we use words, the language we use to talk about our differences, are real, and we must hold ourselves responsible for our choice of metaphors. This is especially true in a society that has chosen to allow virtually anyone to obtain a deadly weapon but not require that he or she demonstrate the ability to use such weapons responsibly. It is difficult to reconcile our aspirations to be a civil society when we are also one of the most heavily armed.

Can we restore our commitment to civility, to the messy, hard work of resolving our differences through dialogue and deliberation rather than threats and acts of violence? We certainly must try. We must assure that our homes, schools, places of worship, and community spaces teach and reinforce the use of democratic approaches to address divisive social and political issues. We must equip our citizens with the tools of conflict resolution, mediation, and deliberation. We must bridge our differences with words that can shape creative solutions based on consensus. It will be words, not walls or weapons, that will help us restore a sense of civility and a belief in our capacity to solve our problems in this troubled world. The horror of the shootings in Arizona should strengthen our resolve to come together, face to face and heart to heart, to listen to each other, to honor our differences and affirm our commonalities, to speak the truth and to hold sacred the meaning of our constitutional democracy."

*Three of the founders did disappear.

No comments:

Post a Comment