To my friends, sisters, and brothers stirred to action by the #Occupy Movement, first, thank you! Just as your heart and mind has been opened to the possibilities of a just world, you are awakening the hearts and minds of millions, possibly billions. This is no small feat and no small Movement.
Right now, the focus is on those in the action in the streets – this is after all much easier for the public to wrap its collective mind around. It’s much easier to package by the media. It’s also much easier to marginalize, but we’ll get to that…
Please realize that the action in the streets is ONLY A SMALL PART of the strategy — this small part is important, but it is not the Movement. Many of you are asking, “Strategy? What strategy?” That is the purpose of this message. How do we each fit into this growing Movement? And why MUST Nonviolence be its foundation.
Rather than rambling on and losing you, I’ve tried to answer a few questions posed by friends to me and to NonviolenceUnited.org. I hope this helps. And I hope it is received in the spirit in which it is offered.
Q: If Nonviolence works, why haven’t I heard of it?
A: YES! Why don’t we hear of the triumphs of Nonviolence — the “people power” that tumbles oppressive regimes? Why don’t we hear about the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, the “Orange Revolution” in the Ukraine, the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the dethroning of oppression in the Philippines, in East Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, in Latin America?
All over the world lasting, positive change is the result not of trillion-dollar armies, but of Nonviolent people power. Why don’t we hear about these remarkable revolutions? The information blackout is no accident. Perhaps we don’t learn about Nonviolent revolution because… it works!
Nonviolent people power can change the world. That’s a scary thought for the miniscule minority hanging on for dear life to the helm of power.
For a group to remain in power without representing the true will of the people, they must maintain power by manipulation and by force — military force — a worldwide police state. This is why some of the most out-of-touch and top-heavy governments in the world have to maintain and use an over-the-top show of force.
What if the secret got out? What if people knew that Nonviolence works? What if they knew that they didn’t need big muscles and guns and the inhumanity to use them? What if people stopped giving their power away to the oppressor? What if the power suddenly shifted back to the people?
It would mean the creation of a world reflective of the values of the people. And for the most part, those values (truth, justice, freedom, kindness, compassion, goodwill toward people, toward the planet and toward animals, etc.) are good. What an amazing world this could be… and it could happen practically overnight if we organized around our values.
Q: But we need a “diversity of tactics” to be effective.
A: There may be some people who are still skeptical of Nonviolence. They may not yet understand its power or its core principle that a connected society is a just society. Maybe they think violence might hurry things along. Some may even think, “Sure, you do Nonviolence and I’ll do violence… together we’d be a great team because people will be afraid of me and then they’ll negotiate with you.”
It doesn’t work that way. When you are perceived as part of a movement and you are violent, the movement is perceived as violent regardless of the ratio of violence to Nonviolence.
Think of Nonviolence like a glass of clean water. Even one drop of blood (violence) makes all of the water bloody. Once you bloody the water it takes enormous amounts of clean water without any additional blood to hope to ever again have clean water. And even then, it will never be completely clean.
There are many reasons why violence doesn’t work in the long run:
- Nonviolence works toward a shared community and reconciliation; violence does not support that goal. violence always has a loser who will feel alienated and seek to overturn the other at the earliest opportunity.
- Nonviolence works to win the support of people and society; we want people to join us. Whereas violence has the opposite effect — most people don’t want violence in their lives.
- A conflict between a Nonviolent group and a violent group is a moral argument; if the Nonviolent group can be provoked into using violence, the violent group wins.
- Nonviolence groups are often deliberately infiltrated by members of the violent opposition hoping to dismantle the movement. It is often easy to recognize these infiltrators because they will advocate and provoke violence pretending that violence will lead to justice, but knowing it will cause society to turn against the movement. When we practice Nonviolence, we quickly expose our opponents.
- violence is easier, but it makes everyone’s job harder.
- violence simply perpetuates separation and disconnection — it uses the very element we hope to eradicate.
- Nonviolence promotes love and compassion; violence promotes hate and fear.
Q: Why should we be in the streets? What purpose does it serve? How will this bring about change?
A: If you’ve read NonviolenceUnited.org in the past, you know that protests are laughed at and ignored by the power elite. They are usually short-lived. They are usually easily marginalized by the media (by downplaying the numbers of people involved, calling us just a bunch of “hippies,” presenting a “fair and balanced” alternative viewpoint… you know the “news” stories I’m talking about). Street protests usually garner little attention and little support and usually die quickly.
Usually. This Movement is not “usual.” But it’s not that the numbers of people in the streets will make a difference to the broken corporate-political machine, it’s that people are awakening and connecting to other people. THIS is the purpose of the street protests. CONNECTING one another, awakening others to the plight and possibilities, and forming a unified voice, philosophy, and goal.
Q: What is the goal?
A: The goal as I see it is to create a whole new way of doing things – a shift to collaborative justice and sharing of resources. An equal opportunity for life and liberty by all – humans, the planet, and non-human animals. We are ALL in this together. We are all joyfully and tearfully intertwined in the struggle of life. This is a PARADIGM SHIFT. The current paradigm (way of doing things without even thinking about it) is one of exploitation – use up everyone and everything as long as *you* the individual (or individual corporation) succeed financially. Ethics be damned. Dollars be worshiped.
The NEW paradigm is one of respecting that we are ALL ONE. There is no you or me, there is only we. And when I say “we,” I am including all people, all animals, all of the natural world. We are all connected. I will help you without concern for myself. This is a system of mutual support instead of never-ending and ultimately lose-lose competition.
Q: What does Nonviolence have to do with any of this?
A: Everything! We are all connected. I hope I’ve established this – if you pollute the air/water on this side of the planet, you pollute the air/water on that side. If you use more than your share, you’re stealing from others (people, planet, animals) and from future generations. We are all one. The process of protecting this interconnection is Nonviolence. The process of tearing apart or ignoring this interconnection is violence.
violence can come in so many forms – dropping bombs from 15,000 feet on our brothers and sisters, pouring chemicals on our food and into our water, overusing resources, wasting resources and ignoring our sense of compassion and decency by raising animals as food, and even seemingly innocuous things like lies by the media and by your governments all served up to disconnect you… from yourself, from your own values, and from each other (“you’re a democrat, you’re a republican, you’re middle class, you’re lower class, you’re that race, you’re that race… now fight it out!”). It’s craziness. It’s purposeful disconnection, a misconnection to perpetuate the current paradigm – violence.
Q: We want to fight back… “they” started it.
A: You ARE fighting back. Nonviolence IS NOT INACTION. It is ACTION! The only reason you’re being attacked is because you are being successful. Be creative, be resourceful, be unyielding in your Nonviolence. You WILL be provoked by the State and by provocateurs with violence in an attempt to have you react with violence; because in a violent interaction the State always wins in the eyes of the general public (no matter how just the cause). We are a fearful human animal and police are still seen by most as protectors. Remember the police are YOU. They are victims of this same system of violence. Yes, it seems like those individual police are out to get you, but fighting back with violence justifies the State violence, NOT your violence (in the eyes of the State, of the police, and of the general public).
Q: Is destruction of property really violence?
A: It doesn’t matter what I think (wait, let me explain!). What matters is that the GENERAL PUBLIC sees destruction of property as violence! There are two points to be made about destruction of property during social activism. One point has to do with the definition Nonviolence. The other point, and more importantly for activists, is one of strategy.
First, defining Nonviolence (as a philosophy). A foundational tenet of Nonviolence is that we are all connected. Nonviolence is the active support and protection of this interconnection. Nonviolence is active, powerful, and deliberate. Nonviolence works toward building a society where, while we will still disagree and discuss, we will all live and work together in mutual support and respect and a shared understanding. Nonviolence is not separate from its goal; Nonviolent acts are the building blocks – the ends ARE the means. So, while you may still believe destruction of property is not “violent,” it is NOT “Nonviolence.” In other words, “not violent” is not the same as “Nonviolence.”
OK, enough philosophy — pragmatically why does this matter?
Most importantly for this message of Nonviolence is STRATEGY:
A successful social Movement (like Occupy) relies upon achieving increased public support if we are to reach our goal of a shift in social culture. When we do Nonviolent actions, we hope to ENCOURAGE MORE AND MORE PEOPLE TO JOIN US! Not run away or recoil in fear.
When it comes to strategic Nonviolence, what’s more important than what the activists think is what the general public thinks! Property destruction, regardless of how any activist might view it, is NOT generally perceived by the public as something worth supporting or being a part of (do they want to join us?!). I am NOT saying this is necessarily legitimate; I AM saying it is fundamental to consider strategy. Property destruction will most likely NOT bring the masses into the movement and it may even scare most people away — ultimately lending support to the State to “come protect the people.”
Think strategically when planning social actions!
Q: The police action surprised us… anyone would’ve responded in the same way we did (with violence).
A: Surprised you?! You were unprepared? You didn’t EXPECT police brutality? Really? I’ll say it again, YOU WILL BE PROVOKED BY VIOLENCE. You are battling the most violent system in the history of violent systems. If you for one minute think you are NOT going to be confronted with violence by the most violent system… well, we’ve got to be smarter than that.
In fact, not to scare you but to invite resolve, the more successful the Movement becomes, the MORE violence we are going to see. We must make sure it is one-sided. We must refuse to play the deadly game that perpetuates the current system. The current system will not stop providing and provoking violence out of good conscience. Or even out of bad conscience. violence is just what this system “lives on” — it’s its whole reason for being. It’s not unimaginable that before this is over, many innocent lives will be taken. Protesters will be killed. The oppressor is not about to hand over power – until the employees of the oppressor realize that they are part of the problem, part of the oppression, and they refuse to contribute any longer. Then the battle will be won.
Surprised you?! We have to prepare. We can only react appropriately and powerfully when we are prepared (in our hearts and in our heads) until Nonviolence becomes the guiding principle of everything we do. We need to take personal responsibility to train ourselves and to train/inform others. We NEED immediate and effective Nonviolence education/training; we need a deeper understanding and commitment (see www.NonviolenceUnited.org); we need Nonviolence experts on hand day and night; we need Nonviolence to become the living mantra of every single person in the streets. When Nonviolence moves from being only a strategy to being our life commitment — THAT is the paradigm shift!
Q: (related to the above) To heck with the idea that “the police are part of the 99%” — they should renounce their role, quit their jobs, and take up (Nonviolent) arms with us!
A: What this statement/question is missing is the understanding that the police are people caught up in the broken system and trained under the current paradigm. Many police personnel may truly want to protect the public and have been lead to believe that this is the best way to do that.
Just as in every confrontation, we cannot assume that those who attack us necessarily have all the information. In fact, they don’t or they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing (protecting the system rather than the people). They are not doing you harm because they hate you or because they are inherently bad people or drones of the system. They are a product of a violent sub-culture within the most violent culture the world has ever seen. That any of them (many? all?) can be reached is a testament to Nonviolence and human decency.
Think of them as students (to you teachers out there). It’s not their fault that they don’t yet understand. No, the responsibility is on us to TEACH THEM, not to give up on them. See everyone, even those attacking you as your family — would you strike back, try to hurt, and even kill your family or loved one? Chances are you’d first try to change their minds and win them to your way of seeing things. Seeing police as separate from you and as “the enemy” is another form of dehumanization — a disconnection that is exactly a part of what we are fighting against.
Beyond that, if you can’t find it in your heart just yet to see the police personnel as people with individual lives and reachable hearts, at least CONSIDER STRATEGY! If you fight and hurt a police officer, no matter how in the right you may think you are, you WILL LOSE in the eyes of the general public. You WILL lose. You will also “legitimize” in the eyes of the public any further violence against you and you fellow Nonviolent revolutionaries. You, we, the world, every living being on the planet (even the planet!) needs you to be strong enough to recognize the strength of Nonviolence as a strategy and justice for all as our goal.
Q: OK, you say being in the streets is ONE PART of the Movement. What else can/should be done?
A: I’ve said this before at NonviolenceUnited.org, so please explore more there (and/or see links below) – we’re here to help:
THIS IS A CONSUMER REVOLUTION. The state of the world is not being done TO us; it is being done BY us. The solution isn’t outside us, it isn’t in the next political savior, it isn’t on Wall Street. Every consumer choices EACH of us made in the past built the world we live in today; WE put those in power who are in power today. WE polluted, we enslaved, we killed, WE paid for it all. This isn’t about evil corporations, it’s about UNTHINKING CONSUMERISM.
NOW, every single choice from this moment forward will build the world of tomorrow. SHIFT THAT POWER! If you consume consciously only things that are aligned with your values of KINDNESS, JUSTICE, and COMPASSION… THAT is the world you will build. If not, expect more of the same — a world out of control, twisted against everything we stand for. This is our great power; this is our great responsibility.
Recognize that YOU already have the power. YOU always have. Politicians aren’t going to change that. Corporations aren’t going to change that. YOU matter and YOU make a difference.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT TO GRASP because THIS is the Movement. Everyone, every single human being is a consumer. I don’t mean “shop till you drop” consumption (although many are dropping because of our consumption). I mean we must consume (eat, drink, dress ourselves, find shelter, etc.) to survive. Those simple consumer choices are NOT SO SIMPLE and they are not personal choices — every choice you make has an impact on the world around you, on everyone, on everything. We’ve been making unthinking consumer choice through:
- our food choices (wasting resources, killing animals, polluting/destroying the planet, slave labor)
- clothing (supporting slavery and prison labor, polluting, often killing animals)
- shelter (destroying the planet, using non-renewable resources, stealing from future generations)
And the rest is just stuff we don’t even NEED! What were we thinking? Answer: we weren’t. Well, now we are! Now we must!
If you’re not in the streets protesting (and even if you are), you’re still a part of this movement. EVERY human being is part of this Movement. Every single consumer/human is building toward a new system of justice or perpetuating the system of exploitation. It really is that simple.
EVERY consumer choice you make, EVERYTHING you buy or decide NOT to buy is either part of the solution or part of the problem. It’s part of the collaborative NEW PARADIGM or it is in direct support of the violent exploitative paradigm you are actively fighting against.
“Talk is cheap; it’s how we organize and live our lives that says what we stand for.” – Cesar Chavez
Even if you’re in the streets “fighting for what’s right” — if you’re buying/wearing your Nike slave labor chemical soaked animal skin shoes, eating a McDonald’s burger (or any animal product), snacking on Hershey’s slave labor cow’s milk chocolate, driving your new gas-powered car, and wondering how your 401k might be doing rather than WHAT it is doing (not even knowing what you’re invested in)… are you really part of the solution? Are you really part of the new paradigm? Or are you just wasting your time — nailing one foot to the floor before running the marathon.
THIS is the Movement. It’s a conscious CONSUMER REVOLUTION. It is a movement of personal responsibility, of personal conscience, of BRAVERY to step out of the confines and comfort of the way it has been into the light of how it could be.
Q: Don’t we need a leader to be successful? Where’s our leader?
A: If you’re interested look up “autonomous social movements” — that’s what we’re looking at — an emerging new social movement led by an idea rather than by a leader. There are leadership-centered groups (SCLC with Marting Luther King, Jr. in the 60s is an example) and there is group-centered or idea/ideal-centered leadership (SNCC in the 60s or even the feminist movement, environmental movement, or animal liberation movement today are examples).
The idea/ideal-centered Movements are actually more powerful in the long run — idea/ideal-centered movements call on individual participants to be personally responsible. Also it becomes more and more difficult for the opposition to shoot the messenger (literally and figuratively) when EVERYONE is a leader.
The “leader” (the idea or ideal we’re working toward — collaborative justice) is the leader. It’s in our heads and in our hearts. It cannot be assassinated. The Occupy Movement has some work to do — in that the on-the-ground protests are such a small part of the overall movement. BUT the power will come when everyone, everyone realizes that EACH OF US HAS BEEN PART OF THE PROBLEM and EACH OF US CAN BE PART OF THE SOLUTION.
Our dollars (in the form our everyday consumer choices — from the banks we use, to credit cards, to every little thing we consume, and even our tax dollars) are what built the world we live in today. And each of our choices from this moment forward will build the world of tomorrow. Live and make choices aligned with your values and you change the world. If you don’t live your life connected and make uninformed consumer choices, you STILL change the world, but instead it will continue to deteriorate and feel disconnected from your shared values of justice, kindness, and compassion for other people, for the planet, and for non-human animals.
Q: But Nonviolence is confusing, hard, I don’t get it, etc.
A: I understand the desire to react with violence. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that violence is the voice of the unheard. When people are frustrated they sometimes turn to violence. I’m here to tell you that YOU ARE HEARD! And that there are better, more effective ways to MAKE YOURSELF HEARD (read more about every dollar is a vote http://www.nonviolenceunited.org/tag/every-dollar-is-a-vote/).
Nonviolence, ACTIVE Nonviolence is like a physical and mental martial art. You’re going to be exercising emotions and courage you never knew you had. Your going to be studying strategic theory. And it’s gonna hurt. Just like starting a new exercise routine. It’s going to be HARD! You’re going to fall flat on your face a few times. You’re going to feel like giving up. I guarantee you’ll feel this way… until, all of a sudden, you make it to the top of the hill – oh, the things you’ll see!!!!
Feeling interconnected with everyone and everything – you will be the most powerful, the most potent, the most alive you have ever felt. Everything you do, every breath you take is part of the larger whole. YOU are the Movement. Everyone is YOU and YOU are everyone (every person, every animal, every living thing).
This isn’t new-agey drivel, it is pragmatic fact. We are all connected and what YOU do matters. It always has; and it always will.
Don’t give in to the temptation to use violence for its ease, for its convenience, for its relative comfort, or because you understand it. The inner fight will be worth it and bringing that inner fight to the streets in the form of direct Nonviolent ACTION… this is a Movement the likes of which the world has never seen… and desperately needs.
For other comments hopefully helpful to the Occupy Movement, see:
THANK YOU for all that you do!