You are hereBlogs / davidswanson's blog / Nonviolent Action Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Nonviolent Action Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

By davidswanson - Posted on 21 February 2011

Michael Nagler tells this story:

"One of my close friends, David Hartsough, who is white, was sitting in with a small group of civil rights activists at a segregated lunch counter in Virginia in the early sixties. They had been sitting there without getting service for close to two days, harassed almost without letup by an increasingly angry crowd. As neither the sitters nor the proprietors backed down, tension increased. Suddenly David was jerked back off his stool and spun around by a man who hissed at him, 'You got one minute to get out of here, n------- lover, or I'm running this through your heart.' David, a birthright Quaker, stopped staring at the huge Bowie knife held at his chest and slowly looked up into the man's face, to meet 'the worst look of hate I have ever seen in my life.' The thought that came to him was, 'Well, at least I've got a minute,' and he heard himself saying to the man, 'Well, brother, you do what you feel you have to, and I'm going to try to love you all the same.' For a few frozen seconds there seemed to be no reaction; then the hand on the knife started shaking. After a few more long seconds it dropped. The man turned and walked out of the lunchroom, surreptitiously wiping a tear from his cheek."

Whatever Hartsough did in the days and weeks and years following this incident, it was not to bemoan life's supposed lack of meaning. Nor did he do that in the months leading up to the incident, during which he clearly prepared himself to respond to the "wind of hate" (as soldiers describe it in war) in his chosen way without having to stop and think about it. He heard himself saying the words that saved his life and improved the lives around him, just as a properly conditioned soldier watches himself fire a weapon in the heat of battle. But there is a drastic difference: the soldier who fires the weapon is usually himself traumatized by having done so. He has to recover afterwards. Veterans' suicide rates suggest that many never do. The "meaning" violent actors have found in war is fleeting. A nonviolent activist is empowered by his or her action, and need not recover from it. In fact, those confronted by nonviolent activism can be empowered by it as well. Many more Egyptian young people and Egyptian soldiers will tell you life has meaning right now than would have said so last year, and that meaning will leave no hangover. Instead it will fade slowly or last as long as the nonviolent activism continues. When young Palestinians took up nonviolent resistance, their usage of drugs and alcohol plummeted. Does anyone doubt that same effect could be found right now in Madison, Wisconsin?

When I speak about peace and justice, people always ask what they can do and often ask for an easy solution. When I tell them that our entire system is deeply corrupt, that we need a cultural revolution and a massive movement for change, that until Freedom Plaza in DC looks like Tahrir Square in Cairo all changes are going to be cosmetic or for the worse, people often look disappointed or discouraged. They don't understand (and I have failed to communicate) that I am offering them what people have longed for since the beginning of time and desperately craved and lacked since the beginning of television: I'm offering a life with meaning. Why do people pick up harmful addictions, risk life and limb for no purpose but the risk, try their hardest to believe in theology and astrology and all variety of nonsense? Why all the quiet -- and sometimes not so quiet -- desperation? It is because people do not believe their lives can have a larger purpose, do not believe they can struggle and sacrifice in solidarity with friends and strangers to improve everything for everyone for centuries to come. And yet, of course, they can and must or all will be lost.

Nagler's book "The Search for a Nonviolent Future" makes the case that nonviolence and only nonviolence can work, not only work as a fulfilling career for those who practice it, but work in halting wars and injustices. When violence seems to accomplish such ends, the blowback can be swift or slow but is always lingering. When nonviolence seems to fail, it always makes progress, and most failures of nonviolent activism are failures of actions taken with no training whatsoever or of sheer inaction (which our worse-than-useless educational system leaves people confusing with nonviolent action). Yet, the victories won through spontaneous actions by untrained and undisciplined nonviolent actors suggest the incredible potential still largely untapped. The Kapp Putch was stopped in Germany. The Soviet occupation in the Prague Spring was frustrated for months and the groundwork laid for its overthrow. The Rosenstrasse Prison Demonstration overpowered the Nazis, won its participants' demands, and then disbanded. What if these movements that won victories through nonviolent action had continued and broadened and advanced strategically toward larger goals, as we are all now hoping the people's movements in Egypt and around the Middle East, Puerto Rico, and the United States are able to do? What if Wall Street had spent the thirties and forties investing in nonviolence training in Germany rather than in weapons and eugenics?

What if people were trained to travel as rapid response teams to use nonviolence in areas of crisis around the globe? They have been for decades now, with stunning success. They have put their lives on the line without weapons or the threat of weapons, accomplished more, and yet been killed and injured far, far less than soldiers who shoot to kill or U.N. peace keepers who threaten to shoot to kill if "needed." In the early eighties, the minister of war ("defense") of Nicaragua, Ernesto Cardenal, learned that peace activists protecting villages by their nonviolent presence provided far greater protection than he could. He told Nagler and a group of people, speaking through a translator that wherever these small groups of international activists were, there was no violence. His translator "corrected" his comment and said "nearly no violence." Cardenal "caught that at once and slammed his fist on the table: 'I said, absolutely no violence!'"

Peace studies should be required in every college and every high school and every elementary and pre-school. All those years and decades of blankness in between the wars should be filled in in our history books, and we should invest in nonviolence training instead of war. I like to fantasize about bills that could be introduced in Congress. I'd like to see a bill forbidding the United States to spend more on its military than three times the nearest nation behind it. This would require massive cuts to the Pentagon immediately. But what about a bill requiring that the military receive no more than 1,000 times the funding appropriated for nonviolence training and peace? Of course, the trend is in the other direction. The military gets more money and a larger share of the money every year, and Congress is working to defund the US Institute of Peace, Americorps, and the United Nations. But those were not what we really needed. And we don't really need the government to do what is needed. We need to do it ourselves.

We need to build peace teams for domestic and international work, teams that include independent journalism as part of their activities. We need to invest everything we can in such work. Here's one example of a place to get started. Here's something happening all over the United States next week. Here's that chance to bring Cairo and peace to DC. Here are more activities planned in the near future that you can get involved in.

David Swanson is the author of "War Is A Lie"

i should have double checked Nagler's claim that Cardenal was "defense minister"

Paul Magno points out that he was actually culture minister

Thank you! I was about to make the same correction.

Hey kidz!!! More Military Personnel tell the Globalists,

"HELL NO!!! . . . WE WON'T GO!!!" . . . ;-)

(link to AlJazeera video - approx. 2 minutes)
"Libyan Air Force Defections"

Sadly, there are always those that loyally "just follow orders" from their Zionist Puppet Tyrant "masters" . . .

. . .and there are always hired Mercenaries willing to kill anyone anywhere for pieces of silver and whores a plenty . . .

(link to AlJazeera video - approx. 2 minutes)
"Warplanes attacking civilians of Tripoli"

Meanwhile, this retired Colonel from the U.S. Military has some interesting things to say . .

. . . and he does have a Ph.D by the way. . . ;-)

(clipped headline and article from Veterans Today)
"COL. ROBERT BOWMAN CALLS FOR ARREST OF BUSH, 9/11 INVESTIGATION - DEFINES PATRIOTISM AND DUTY FOR VETERANS, 'TRUTH AND HONOR' - Bowman talks facts. Some people don’t like facts. Some people don’t like truth. Some people don’t have honor. Without courage, without facts, without truth and without action, anyone who believes themselves an American patriot is very much the opposite."

(full story)

Here is Colonel Robert Bowman's presentation:

(link to video - approx. 15 minutes)
"Gainesville Free Speech Forum 'Loves' 9/11 Truth"

The actions of these Libyan Air Force Colonels and this American Air Force Colonel remind me of Gandhi's concept of "Satyagraha":

(clipped text from Wikipedia)
"Satyagraha - loosely translated as 'Soul Force', 'truth force,' or 'holding on to truth,' is a philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance developed and conceived by Mahatma Gandhi"

(link to text)

Of course, this ol' fool from North Cackilacki is curious as to how "The Sleeping Giant" that is the American People will react when the Zionist Globalist "Trick" of 9-11 is revealed.

Dr. Alan Sabrosky, a 10 year U.S. Marine Corps veteran, offers one view:

(link to video - approx. 2 minutes)
"Dr. Alan Sabrosky 2010 Interview"

This ol' fool prays that "The Sword Of TRUTH" known as "The Internet" will ultimately prevail . . .

. . . though I fear many of we PEACE-WALKERS will be martyred by the Zionist Globalist Tyrants' hired guns before it is all over . . .

But as Gandhi said,

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS."
- Mahatma Gandhi

"Didn't you love the things that they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
And we'll be free
Some day soon, it's gonna be one day
Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin, and John"
- "Abraham, Martin, and John" by Dion


David, this is a truly great piece that you've written about nonviolent action being a force that gives us meaning. I agree that it's important for people to realize the need for training as peace agents. I'm a peace visionary, but I still have a long way to go in mastering my own temper. I need some training myself in how to keep peaceful. I'm thinking about going to live at Tamera in southern Portugal, to get some training. They are a community of peace activists who are creating a model for the future and who have a peace university in the summer.

Nevertheless, even without training, people can be very effective in using nonviolent action to bring about change. It's important to remember what makes peaceful demonstrations effective: you have to also use economic boycotts where it hurts the pocketbook. That means work stoppages, refusing to gas up at BP, not buying products made by companies that exploit laborers, etc. Do you know what kind of courage it would take for Americans to stop working? They could lose their jobs, and not find another one, at least not one that pays well, probably only what they could get through a temporary agency or some kind of contractual work if they are a professional. Of course, a lot of people are in that boat already.

Ultimately, what will bring about change, I believe, is for women to start organizing and wielding their collective power through their families and friends and support networks starting to link in more with each other (of course, that includes all the men as well.) I have a vision of long lines of women climbing mountains and hills in conscious prayer to honor our planet and honor ourselves. When women come together to make things right in our world, then we'll get this all straightened out, put an end to the wars, and focus on what works to make life good for everyone and sustainable into the future.

Women must step into their power to create change and reshape the social fabric so that it is whole and supports everyone. Women will support their children and young people in taking the necessary steps to change the game we're all playing. When there is harmony between women and men, when the centuries-old gender war ends, then we can end the class wars and the culture wars and all the other kinds of wars that men keep fabricating... cyber warfare, economic warfare, chemical warfare, electronic warfare, space warfare, integrated systems warfare, warfare by drones and robotics, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum.

When you can't climb the mountain, though, it's better to find ways around it. And when an entirely corrupted government gives no relief to solving people's problem, such as we have in the U.S. today, the executive, legislative and judicial branches all in servitude to the ruling elite of wealthy individuals, families and corporations, then people must organize alternatives to meet their needs... civil society needs to organize councils, groups and committees with equal numbers of women and men, and perhaps even some comprised entirely of women (to offset the dominance of such groups comprised almost entirely of men in our society, such as legislatures, Boards of Directors of corporations, etc.)

Some of the demands that Egyptians have made are for the current People's Assembly (maglis al-sha'b) to be abolished on the grounds that its election was blatantly fraudulent; it cannot under any circumstances be allowed to direct the course of reform. (The same could be said for this century's elections in the U.S. for president, Congress and the House of Representatives.)

Some Egyptians have said that their current parliament must be dismissed, and the constitution must essentially be re-written. I believe this could also be done in the U.S. The need for updating the form of government was anticipated by our forefathers who wrote the Constitution. They provided a mechanism for doing so. It's called a constitutional convention; however that can't happen through the existing system, so it's futile to consider it. Instead, each and every person could adapt the new constitution that Triaka has already written, the Constitution of United Diversity.

We must not underestimate our power to bring about not just a revolution in the U.S., but evolution. The Internet is our forum today, just as the French revolutionaries published pamphlets and responded to each other with newly edited versions that kept coming out and were eagerly awaited by the people in the streets. Our situation is not that much different today. We have a management elite who supports those in power. Their lives of privilege are not that much different today than the average American who faces increasingly difficult situations and are often leading lives of quiet desperation.

I would like to see more comments on pieces like this, more involvement between peace activists supporting each other and getting a strong dialogue going that ignites these kinds of disputes among people on the streets in all of the cities of the U.S. We need our visionaries to envision the next steps that will take us to a higher level, how to get there, and also what we'll build when we get there. So we don't just need training for the use of nonviolent action as a force for change, we need to train ourselves as visionaries so that we can see the way out and what it will be like when we get there.

Hey,it's a really good article that I'll be quoting here and there. But you should not have written that some people seek meaning by trying "to believe in theology and astrology and all variety of nonsense?"
I'm a theologian and a committed advocate of nonviolence. There are many like me. Most religious denominations have peace fellowships devoted to nonviolent peace action.
Religion can lead to violence and nonsense, yes. But it leads many to nonviolence and deep meaning in life. To imply that all theology is nonsense is itself nonsense. I mean, it's counter-factual.
Peace. -- Tom Driver


Support This Site


Get free books and gear when you become a supporter.



Speaking Truth to Empire


Families United


Ray McGovern


Julie Varughese


Financial supporters of this site can choose to be listed here.



Ca-Dress Long Prom Dresses Canada
Ca Dress Long Prom Dresses on

Buy Books

Get Gear

The log-in box below is only for bloggers. Nobody else will be able to log in because we have not figured out how to stop voluminous spam ruining the site. If you would like us to have the resources to figure that out please donate. If you would like to receive occasional emails please sign up. If you would like to be a blogger here please send your resume.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.