Welcome. This talk is on “Nonviolent Resistance in the US Can be Practiced with Greater Strength.” I would prefer to give the talk and then take the questions and answers afterwards. If anybody wants notepaper to – anybody need any notepaper? Okay. You can write your questions down because you might ask something about something I’m going to get to anyway.
Basically, the way I’ve been summarizing it to people I’ve been handing this out to the last two days is that I believe that Gandhi is not given enough depth of understanding by practitioners of nonviolence in this country. Basically, Gandhi always pled guilty and he felt that doing jail time was a good spiritual experience. And most American practitioners of nonviolence try to avoid any sentence, or at least minimize it. They’re mainly concerned about getting good media coverage and having their day in court, and I’m not saying that’s wrong and they shouldn’t do it that way. I’m just saying that Gandhi’s approach isn’t even considered in the whole country, which is terrible because he was so successful at it. And all I’m asking is that it be considered. Frankly, if the various groups that do civil disobedience would simply raise the option of the people who do the action that instead of trying to get out of jail, try to do the full sentence, not try to avoid it. And if no one wants to do it, that’s fine, too, but at least raise it and I would be ecstatic. That’s my goal, basically, to have it considered.
I’m honored to be able to give a talk on nonviolence in this city, the birthplace and home of the American apostle of nonviolence, Martin Luther King, Junior. I like to often refer to the best common sense argument for nonviolence is the American Civil War. I’m certainly happy slavery’s over and I wish that the remnants of it weren’t so persistent, but I’ve lived in the North and the South, and people in the South, maybe less than in my youth, still resent what the North did. This city was burned to the ground by Sherman, as everybody knows. Violence hurts and people remember it. That’s the lesson.
I need to say that I am not a full Gandhian. I am not a vegetarian. I am not brahmacharya. I do not live in an ashram, I don’t live in community, and Gandhi basically really pleaded with people to live their whole life nonviolently. So it’s not really fair to say I’m a Gandhian, but I do want to raise his wisdom.
One of the reasons why I’ve been more interested in Gandhi than King is that I came to nonviolence from my anti-nuclear power activism. In the anti-nuclear power movement we were breaking trespass laws for the most point. King and not all but much of the civil rights/civil disobedience was against Jim Crow Laws. So it wouldn’t make sense for them necessarily to plead guilty of a Jim Crow law – they were trying to get rid of that law. I was not trying to get rid of trespass laws. Most of us who do civil disobedience now are objecting to specific policies, so in that sense, they fit better with Gandhi’s approach. He was against British policies of running India.
Important understanding to keep in mind when comparing King and Gandhi is that Gandhi lived exactly twice as long as King. King died at age 39. You can imagine what great things he would have been able to do if he’d lived as long as Gandhi. I think King was more eloquent. But Gandhi was such a great strategist that he’s meant a lot to me.
Now Gandhi, of course – we’re talking history – learned from the American, Thoreau. Thoreau did his resistance work about mid-19th Century and Gandhi began his nonviolent work about the end of the 19th Century, so it’s only about a half a century there. Then Gandhi was active for half a century. Then King began his activism less than ten years after Gandhi died. Thoreau, of course, is known for his essay, Civil Disobedience. He was objecting to the poll tax used to finance the Mexican War and he – there’s a great story of he’s in jail and his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson comes to visit him and says, “What are you doing in there?” And Thoreau’s response is, “What are you doing out there?” Gandhi’s book on jail is from a Thoreau quote called Stone Walls do not a Prison Make. Gandhi, of course, primarily a spiritually-oriented person, would be attracted to a comment like that. This is published in India by Navajivan Publishing House Ahmedabad, India. I also have a few copies of Gandhi’s work on fasting. It’s a compilation of what he had to say about fasting.
Now I admire the Americans who do fasting resistance work. It’s making a personal sacrifice, so that’s better than what we usually do. But Gandhi is almost completely ignored in the area of advice about why you fast. Gandhi’s position was you only fast on people who love you. Generally, all the fasts most of you who’ve ever heard of, are not fasting on people who love them, they’re fasting on the adversary trying to end the war or whatever. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with Gandhi completely. There are a couple of fasts that I’m very impressed with. I like Jennifer Harbury’s fast during the Central American conflict. Her husband had been a Guatemalan gorilla and was disappeared and tortured. She simply wanted to know what happened to him. She actually was able to find out what happened to him, and I like that. It’s a very limited goal, and I like that aspect.
My dear friend, Eric Weinberger, who just passed this past year who was very active in the civil rights movement. When the three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, one of them was married. And that couple held down the house, the sort of center of operations, for civil rights workers in the area. Eric and his wife moved in afterward, so he was really very active in the South during the Civil Rights Movement and he did a – I’m not sure if it’s a 23 day or a 32 day fast – in Alabama. His goal was also a very limited goal. He just wanted to prove to his jailers that he wasn’t a pawn of Bobby Kennedy. And he was successful. They did not believe he was a pawn of Bobby Kennedy after that period of time.
I would like to tell a story about Koinonia, which is actually from Americus Georgia, where Habitat for Humanity is based, and this story is useful in response to the very common argument that, “Well, you can’t really be nonviolent. What would you do if somebody came to kill your family?” And this is a great response to that. Koinonia’s a mixed-race community started in the ‘40s in Georgia, which is very brave. And at one point, people would come by and shoot up the place the same night every week and soon afterwards three men came to the edge of the property, “We want to speak to Jordan.” Clarence Jordan was the leader of the community. He went to speak to them, and they said, “If you don’t get those n-word out of here, the sun’s not going to rise for you folks tomorrow morning.” And his response was, “You know, I was told I’d meet folks like you but I didn’t believe it. I was told in divinity school that I would meet folks like you and I just didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe I would ever meet anyone who could keep the sun from rising.” Then before anybody could say anything he looks around and he sees a wedding band on one of the fingers of the fellas, and he says, “Are you married?” He says, “Yeah.” “You have kids?” He says, “Yeah.” “So you know we have a couple here who has a little baby and the baby is a colicky baby, cries all night. Those folks, they take care of the child all night and then they have to still go to work the next day. You have to go to work the next day. Then you folks come by and shoot up the place once a week, we have to lay on the floor for a couple hours. I’ll tell you, it’s hard to deal with.” They never came back, and they never shot at them again. Now this doesn’t guarantee that nonviolence is going to always work. But because he, in this case, had enough faith in Christ and he just was used to dealing with people with love and respect, he actually was able to prevent these attacks.
Audience: Who was the person?
A: Clarence Jordan. Now I find that most people I meet think of nonviolence as just a category. I didn’t hit anybody today, therefore I am nonviolent. You know, the term nonviolent crime applies to paper-hanging, bad checks. I mean, if you want to just put it in a category and take away any of its power, then just think of it in such non-dynamic fashion. But I’m asking people to look at nonviolence as a way of achieving political ends. A power dynamic. It is really more of a continuum, too. It’s not like people can’t get more violent and it’s not like people can’t get more nonviolent, and most people, what we do is somewhere in between most of the time.
Now I have a friend who I’m very impressed with who lives without a name, so that’s how I’ll refer to him. He prefers to define the difference between violence and nonviolence with respect to the difference between violation of others rather than physical harm. Violation versus respect. When you think about it, a lot of Marxist-Leninist brothers and sisters who are at this conference, at this forum, and it might be said that they are not particularly into non-violence, but that doesn’t mean they’re advocating violence now or at any given time. It just means they don’t think in terms of this power dynamic usually. And of course, that’s not always true, either. Trotsky used an understanding that I would say was nonviolent. In 1905 when the Russian Army was ready to mutiny, the Bolsheviks fired on the army and the army banded together and didn’t mutiny,putting down the revolution of ’05. And in 1917 Trotsky took away all the arms from the Bolsheviks, they couldn’t fire on the Czar’s army, the Czar’s army mutinied and the Bolsheviks were able to take over. Of course, not everyone comes from a principled approach, but it’s still worth understanding the power dynamic involved.
Audience: But of course he was also the head of the Red Army after the revolution.
Right, well that was also later. That was after the Revolution, when the White Army was – I am actually asking to, if you would take notes so if you have a question or comment. I’ll take comments, not just questions, but have it at the end because I won’t talk the whole two hours probably.
Another way to look at the problem with the continuum of violence and nonviolence is threats of violence. Parent tells a kid, “If you don’t clean your room I’ll kick your ass.” U.S. Government has used atomic weapons twice – how many times do you think we’ve threatened to use them?
Audience: At least 19.
Do you think that counts as being an aspect of violence? I would say so. Now my mentor of nonviolence is Arthur Harvey who’s the main distributor of Indian-printed Gandhi literature in North America. If you want a list of available titles you can send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Greenleaf Books, at 11978 Main Street, Hartford, Maine 01220. Arthur had done actions with Dorothy Day and I want to bring in Arthur’s wisdom now, because I want to talk about the difference between satyagraha and duragraha. Now Satyagraha is Gandhi’s term for nonviolence . Satyagrahis are nonviolent activists. And Duragraha is sort of his term for the opposite. Arthur likes to lose the definitions for Satyagraha “holding fast to the truth.” Or “putting one’s whole weight on the truth.” I believe those are Gandhi’s words that he’s using there, but he has his own definition. “Disillusioning in your adversary in their expectations that you’re going to be obnoxious.” And my friend with no name likes the phrase, “Taking the burden off others and putting the burden on oneself.”
Now Duragraha is essentially a lowering of the standards for nonviolence. Gandhi used the phrase, “Nonviolence of the weak.” In other words, you would like to be as violent as you can to your adversary but you don’t have the weapons so you’re using nonviolence. He would say that’s not as effective. Duragraha comes from the base ‘durable’, sort of like unrelenting insistence, and I get that from Professor Stephen Chilton at the University of Minnesota at Duluth. It is an attempt to frustrate your adversaries. Basically, everyone who does politics tries to frustrate their adversary, so by asking people to rise beyond frustrating your adversaries is a very special thing that Gandhi is asking people to do. And Arthur likes to also use the phrase, and it’s an American idiom, “It’s like giving somebody the raspberry –pfffff.” That’s fine. We all like doing that, but it’s not Satyagraha.
Now, my friend with no name likes to use the phrase, “It’s not about what it takes to have us win. It’s what it takes for right to win.” It’s not that we should win; it’s what’s right should win. One of the phrases I use in my 9/11 Truth work is “We don’t have to prove who did what. All we have to prove is the government is lying.” And my friend with no name criticized that, saying people need to be hesitant with accusing adversaries of lying, because it’s rare for people to use as fine an eye on their own spin as they use on the adversary’s spin. That’s a very high level of fairness. Most partisans assume that whatever their adversary says is wrong unless it’s proven true, and my friend with no name urges people to have consistent standards.
Another important aspect of nonviolence is that there’s no guarantee that there won’t be casualties. There’s just a guarantee that we won’t cause casualties. If, say, the billions of dollars that go into war right now were given to the major nonviolent organizations and were allowed to go to Iraq and stop this war, the American Friends Service Committee or whoever. If you had just a handful of nonviolent activists get killed, people would say, “Oh, nonviolence doesn’t work.” No. Nonviolence doesn’t mean nobody gets hurt; it just means we don’t hurt anybody. And when you think about it, if it took awhile for the Iraqis to see this group wasn’t a bunch of profiteers, they’re really trying to rebuild before they began to try to figure out ways to protect these people who were generally trying to help.
Now the most common use of the term Satyagraha is the term “truth force”, which is I think a weaker and less exacting term for Satyagraha. Jonathan Schell, who won the Pulitzer for Fate of the Earth back in the ‘80s, spoke recently. He’s written a book saying that nonviolence is the answer to international problems and I went to see him. And he was saying, “Somehow the term truth force doesn’t seem to catch on with Americans.” And I would say that I’m not surprised that truth force is not a term that resonates with Americans. Americans’ don’t care about the truth – I mean, it’s a big country, some people do. But in general, the culture is Americans care about winning. I think of the great, famous quote from the baseball manager, Leo ‘the Lip’ Durocher. He said, “Nice guys finish last.” And Vince Lombardi, the football coach who the Super bowl trophy is named after, he said, “Winning isn’t the most important thing. Winning is the only thing.” So yes, we have a problem in our culture with that. The term truth force does not resonate with Americans.
Now I want to tell the story of my favorite Gandhian action, which is the Vykom Road action. It occurred in 1924 to 25. Gandhi took off for about ten years trying to win independence from the British because some of his people had burned a police station and killed some policemen and he was ashamed of that, and he wanted to do purification work among his own people. And one of the things he did was to try to disband the caste system. People may know there are four castes in India: The brahmin, or the priests; the military; the merchants; and the untouchables, or the harijians. He was trying to win certain rights for harijians. In Vykom there was a situation where the Harijans every day had to walk several miles out of their way because they were not allowed to walk across a certain road. And so he had the satyagrahis take turns vigiling at this road, at first in six-hour shifts. Eventually the monsoon season came. The water went up to their waists, so they took three-hour shifts. The satyagrahis even helped hold the boats in place. That’s my favorite part of it. And eventually the police said, "Okay, you can go.” But Gandhi said, no. He wanted to wait for the brahmins to say it was okay for the harijians to walk across the road. And eventually, after 16 months, the brahmins decided it was okay for the harijians to walk across the road. They soon allowed open harijian throughout the province.
Can you imagine Americans doing an action like that? I wish it was true. Maybe there’s Americans that I don’t know, but I would have a hard time believing we could do that.
Audience: If it isn’t instantaneously gratifying it’s unlikely.
My friend with no name likes to use the phrase, “Take the burden off the other side and put it on one’s self.” And that’s more likely to cause lasting change. I mean, yes, the civil rights activism did cause there to be a Civil Rights Act of 1965, but more importantly, white people throughout this country know that it is a faux pas to admit in public that they’re racist. And that was the last thing changed, that is so important. It hasn’t gotten rid of racism, but it’s known you can’t act like that in public and expect normal people to approve of you. One of the criticisms of this country, particularly during the Vietnam War, is that we’re like a new teenager. We think we can do anything. We’re immature. It’s a lack of perspective. And I frankly think we’re not really much better now than we were back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Basically, people take the attitude, “I’m a good person. Therefore, I can do what I want.” Now what well-known person in that country would you say acts like they believe that?
Our good brothers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who I pray for every day.
I want to make the point here that the dimension of violence to nonviolence is a different dimension than the dimension of good and bad. The last time I gave a talk very similar to this that was the hardest thing for people to see. I think a good example there is when Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to kill Hitler. He failed. I can’t say I’m sure that was a bad thing to do, but it certainly wasn’t nonviolent. For instance, I would say that using the governmental process as your group does very well, ACORN, I don’t say using any of the three branches of government is nonviolent. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t the best use of your time. I’m just saying that you’re using the legal right that the state has to be violent. That’s why I say working through the system is not a nonviolent approach. The state has a legal monopoly on violence. The left, particularly the Marxist-Leninists throughout the world, criticize Salvador Allende who won the head of state in Chile and was murdered on September 11th, 1973. And the Marxist-Leninists say, “Well, he should have armed the workers.” Well that’s one lesson and you could make that lesson. But another way of saying it is that he probably shouldn’t have taken over until he had a broader amount of support. And taking over the state is still not nonviolent, but that would be a nonviolent critique.
My friend, Arthur, likes to criticize the fascination of Americans with the philosophy of pragmatism, which was of course developed by William James in the late 19th Century, James was an important Harvard professor. Basically, pragmatism to me means, “Whatever works, do it.” To me, I see it, like Arthur, as an excuse to be unprincipled. You look at the fascination with the movie character Dirty Harry or with the TV star Jack Bauer. Basically they do all sorts of terrible things and get away with it, and we still love them for it because they won’t go by the rules. Now, when I was active in the anti-nuclear power movement back in the ‘70s, there was a release of a report called The Barton Report. This dealt with the problem of what to do in the case of nuclear terrorism. The lesson from the Barton Report was either you may change the law to allow torture, in which case then you weaken the right to civil liberties, or you don’t change the law to allow torture, and in the case of nuclear terrorism, the government uses torture anyway. Since the law wasn’t adhered to that weakens the civil liberties anyway. So there is very much a fascination in this country with not thinking in principled terms.
I’ve been very impressed with the work of Gene Sharp who is one of the most important scholars of nonviolence. He wrote a book called The Politics of Nonviolent Action. It’s actually three books in one. And at the beginning of the book, the first section, he talks about the difference between a violent conception of power and a nonviolent conception of power. And the violent conception of power sees the adversary as a monolith, unreachable. Talking to him is like talking to a brick wall. That is the essence of a violent conception of power. On the other hand, the nonviolent conception of power is a profoundly democratic conception. It says that the tyrant is completely dependent on the cooperation of their minions. If you can get the tyrant to have a harder time getting their orders followed, they might just do what you want so that their minions don’t stop being minions.
Sharp goes on to talk about three ways that nonviolence can win. There’s persuasion on one end. There’s coercion on the other end, and there’s accommodation in the middle. Persuasion is usually much more common to a small scale situation where you have two individuals and one has power over the other and they actually do listen to the person they have power over. The person who has less power makes some argument that is heard and that persuasion works. It does happen in institutions. It’s not so common, but it does happen. On the other end you have coercion. The example Sharp uses is I believe in the '20s there was a putsch somewhere in Germany – I’m thinking Bavaria, but I’m not sure – and the secretaries wouldn’t even type the press release. So the people who took over the government left because they couldn’t get any cooperation at all. But most of the time if nonviolence achieves important goals it’s through accommodation. And what that is is that the tyrant still wants to proceed, but is savvy enough to know that his adversaries who are causing trouble have a lot of support and he better give them something to get them to slow down or go away or he’s going to lose everything. And that is the most common way that nonviolence can achieve its goals, is through accommodation.
Now Sharp is, to my mind, the most important – the difference between him and Gandhi is that Sharp is into if you will just understand how nonviolence works, then you can more or less use it. You don’t have to believe in it as a way of life. But there is an actual dynamic and you can use it.’ He does this partly because there are many people who say, “I can’t be nonviolent because I’m not a saint.” Anybody in the room here a saint? Last time I said this somebody raised their hand. If you understand it you can use it.
My friend with no name likes to point out here that it’s not just the difference between principled and tactical. There’s different types of nonviolence and there’s different levels of nonviolence. The levels of nonviolence is so important – I would say the best argument against the position I’m taking is from a piece of wisdom from Elizabeth McAlister – if you don’t know her you may have heard of her deceased husband, Phil Berrigan – I did a workshop with Liz in the early eighties and I was doing organizing for an action where I ended up dong four months in jail and Liz’s comment was, “There’s no hierarchy of commitment.” And her point there is that if I’m building this action and I cajole somebody into going to jail with me and it turns out that’s too much for them at that time, they might be turned off to any activism forever. And if I hadn’t cajoled them to get over their head and they had increased their activism at their own pace, they might have been able to accomplish great things. They may have done longer sentences at a later time. So it’s not like somebody who could do heavier time is above people who can’t. You do what you can. You have to know yourself. Similarly, it’s inappropriate for an advocate of nonviolence to argue to someone who doesn’t like nonviolence that they should be nonviolent, particularly a white person arguing to a person of color, “You should go to jail and not fight back with a weapon.” It depends what’s in their heart. If you don’t know the person well, they’re not your friend, you don’t know what is right for them. And even if they are your friend you may not know how to give them even good advice.
I do want to go over this power dynamic of nonviolence, which I’ve handed out. This is Sharp’s concept of the moral jujitsu, the idea of using the force of the adversary against them. If you can persist – and this is my words but it’s his concept – if you can persist in the face of oppression you communicate to your adversary that what they’re doing isn’t so much bad, which it probably is, as much as it is ineffective. Then you begin to drive a wedge between the liberals and conservatives in power. The liberals moan and complain, “They’re making us look so bad. Can’t we think of something to give them to get them to go away?” Conservatives respond, “No, no, no. If we’re a little more brutal we can break them.” Nevertheless, if you can persist in the face of oppression you push that wedge further and further between the factions of power. Here’s the key – the better the nonviolent discipline, the further the wedge will go for any given level of effort and sacrifice. The smoother the wedge, the further it goes. The rougher the wedge, the slower it proceeds.
If there’s anything you remember from this workshop it’s what I just read. That’s why I printed it up to give it out. Now I want to bring up a concept from Bill Moyer – that’s not the former press secretary for LBJ, Bill Moyers – in fact, my friends from the Voluntown Peace Trust right this minute are doing a workshop in another part of the city on more involved ideas from Bill Moyer, who has passed. I saw him give this explanation 20, 30 years ago, but I’ve always been impressed with it. But it’s a good way about understanding how nonviolence works.
The point here is that you, particularly with a Gandhian approach, you want to try to touch the hearts of everybody, not just your own supporters. You’re trying to touch the hearts of the adversary so that then they can see you’re reaching their supporters and getting them to move and so they might give in. You want to touch the hearts of their supporters so that they not do so much and just sympathize. You want to touch the hearts of their sympathizers so that they don’t even sympathize and just become neutral. You want to touch the heart of neutrals so they become your sympathizers. You want to touch the hearts of your sympathizers so that they become more active and be supporters. And you want to touch the heart of your supporters so they become full activists. Now, most nonviolent practice in this country – not all of it – most of it, even people who do really wonderful activity, they do not care about the adversary’s side, at all. They do not care about reaching the hearts of their adversary. They’re polite, they’re not hateful, but they have no interest in touching – they’re interested only in motivating their own supporters. I call that grandstanding, which is what all politicians do. And a lot of people I would like and you all would like do grandstanding. If you talk at a rally, you’re grandstanding. And I’m not saying we have to stop doing any grandstanding. I’m just saying that Gandhi’s approach was bigger than this. That’s the point.
I once met a man named Narayan Desai who was the son of Mahadev Desai who was Gandhi’s personal secretary. And Narayan Desai told me two things that I remember in depth: One thing he said that one time he was at a rally in New York during the Vietnam War and it was announced that somebody had gotten a two year or three year sentence for burning their draft card. He was about to applaud but the whole crowd hissed. The Gandhians would have thought it was great for the person to do the time, but Americans don’t agree. He also told me that when his father would go to jail they would say goodbye to him by saying, “Well, maybe next time you’ll get a longer sentence.” That’s not how Americans think. That’s how the Indian Gandhians think.
I recently, just this past year, met a Gandhian Indian from India named Matthai. He was older than me, and had been a Gandhian his whole life. I raised the idea of satyagraha and duragraha with him to see what he thought. I had actually been saying that people who get arrested for civil disobedience and do either trivial time or no time are actually not just not practicing satyagraha, they’re practicing duragraha because they haven’t the slightest concern about what their adversaries think. They think that they should be able to break the law and get away with it because they’re serving a higher purpose, so they shouldn’t have to suffer for it. And Matthai corrected me. He said it was not fair for me to say that such people were committing duragraha, but he certainly didn’t say it was satyagraha. He’s just saying it’s a broader continuum, like with violence and nonviolence. And of course I’m not saying I know that any given person should go to jail. Some people are claustrophobic. There are a lot of good reasons. Or some people, logistically, no one would take care of some relative of theirs that they take care of. They do great work in their job and they really don’t want to leave their job. Normally the civil disobedience you’ve got a bunch of people doing the action and you’ve got a couple people doing support. If it was the other way around, a few people willing to go to jail and ten times that number doing logistical support – watering the plants, walking the dog, paying the rent, whatever – there’d be more people who’d go to jail and do the heavier CD.
Another common-sense argument for not being hateful, even to the point of treating the adversary with the very high level of respect that Gandhi calls for, is that the average citizen considers that all people who do politics are just in the same boat. All politics is negativity as far as most people are concerned. Most people don’t like to fight and so they’re not going to get involved. And if we activists are hateful they’re going to say, “Well you know, if they get in power they’ll be just as bad.” You think of the French revolution when all the people who got guillotined, all the excesses. We can claim as we’re saying hateful things, “Oh, no. I wouldn’t torture Mr. Cheney.” If you hate Mr. Cheney people are going to believe you would torture him. It’s reasonable for people to be concerned. And if they see that you are really treating people in a much, much better way, they’ll see that we’re more worthy of sympathy and support.
One of the things that people who are into direct action like to talk about is distinguishing direct action from symbolic action. My friend with no name had a different approach to this back in the ‘70s. His position as that the most important aspect of all political protest is its symbolic value. I, for instance, was in Seattle in ’99 for the so-called Battle in Seattle. We had so many people that we just stood in the way and the people from the World Trade Organization couldn’t get from one hotel to where the meetings were. My friend with no name would say, “The important thing is not that we stopped them from getting to the meeting, it’s that the world saw that we stopped them from getting to their meeting.” So it’s not that actually having a physical effect is of no value, which is what the direct actionists are saying is important to them. All I’m saying is using those terms, comparing direct and symbolic action, is improper use of the language. The symbolic aspects are the most important aspects.
When I was an undergraduate – actually, right after I was an undergraduate – I came up with a concept that is a critique of the radicals. As an undergraduate during Vietnam I was still a liberal. I did not see myself as a radical until after I graduated. I stayed around and organized against the administration for three years and while I was still a liberal I was watching the radicals and I was very impressed by their dedication and their integrity but one of the things that bothered me was they always asked for the moon. “We demand” all these myriad things that everybody knows they’re not going to get. In a way it’s good because the liberals won’t ask for anything and they have no vision, and it’s good that the radicals have vision. But I thought, what if we ask for something that they really could give us so that if they don’t they’re the ones who are unreasonable. Because some people don’t support the radicals say, “You guys – I don’t even think you’re walking on the Earth. You can’t really think you’re going to get what you claim you’re going to get.” When we protested Seabrook we called these big actions occupations. We’d occupy the site. Really. Partly it came from Whyl, Germany just a couple years earlier when 28,000 people had descended on a nuclear site and held it. They had four days notice and they had 28,000 people, and the state was not ready to repel them. There had just been an occupation in France right across the river the year before, so people were thinking in these terms. But then within the next year there was another attempted occupation at Brockdorf, Germany at another nuclear plant. The state was ready. The German state is not exactly Keystone Cops. They had built a mote and fences, they had tanks. 100,000 people came they couldn’t get by the tanks and the moat and the Barbed wire. One of the affinity groups in one of the actions where we stormed the fences in Seabrook was Fat Chance. The point is that it’s valuable to ask for things that you really can give you so that when they don’t they’re the ones who are unreasonable. It just needs to be in the direction of your vision. You can talk about your vision, but only make demands what they can give you.
One of the aspects of nonviolence that’s important to me is that nonviolencework silently in people’s hearts. The best example I know of that is Daniel Ellsberg, the great whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers. During the big action at the Pentagon where people surrounded the Pentagon, there’s the famous picture of a young woman putting a flower in the barrel of a gun of the National Guardsmen.
Audience: It was a man.
A: Was it? My apology. Daniel Ellsberg was actually standing next to Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, in the Pentagon at the time. And I’m not saying that one action was the thing that pushed him over the edge but his release of the Pentagon Papers probably more than any other act during the Vietnam War caused the war to come to a conclusion. So there’s a certain amount of patience required with nonviolence. You can’t expect immediate gratification because it’s working silently. With violent activity you have to temper what you’re doing to be sure you don’t create more enemies than supporters, but with nonviolence you can be as extreme as you want because you’re the one who makes the personal sacrifice. And in this sense, blocking things, blocking traffic – that’s not a good example of the most powerful types of nonviolence. It’s not fair to say it’s violent, but you’re not the one who’s making the personal sacrifice. One of the best examples of that is the Warriors of the White Rose, which many people know about. Sophie Scholl and her brother and others leafleted about the Third Reich in Germany and they were very young and they were beheaded, like that. But I feel that most youth who are activists have very little interest in nonviolence. They’re much more attracted to angry direct action. They’re much more attracted to the Black Block. Some people know who the Black Block is. In the big actions people dress in black and cover their faces and destroy property. I’m saying that the nonviolent practitioners – the middle aged nonviolent practitioners – are the ones who create the conditions for the Black Block to exist because the nonviolence practitioners do not practice nonviolence in as strong a fashion as it is possible. I’m not blaming the young Black Block mainly – I’m blaming my own peers.
Arthur likes to use the phrase that Gandhi believed that nonviolence has something to do with actually making a personal sacrifice to show the depth of concern. There’s a British theorist named April Carter who wrote a book called Direct Action or Liberal Democracy. Her position is yes, nonviolent civil disobedience can function within a pluralist model; that is to say different groups trying to achieve different political ends, all functioning together in putting pressure and pushing or pulling the government one direction or another – which is not necessarily a threat to the capitalist state. I read this in the' 70s. I guess she’s still alive, but I’m not sure. But nonviolence also can be revolutionary in that if you are able to generate enough support it can move into a revolutionary activity if it’s broad enough. Another theorist I like is Barbara Deming, who passed in the 90s. She lived in Massachusetts. Her phrase, “Two hands” is a really great concept for nonviolence. With one hand you’re pointing he adversary in the direction you want them to go, and with the other hand you’re comforting the adversary to make sure they know that you are not personally attacking them and they do not need to fear you physically. Your challenge is a moral challenge, not a physical challenge. The plea in the Gandhi movie is a wonderful example of that. He says to the famous actor, Trevor Howard, playing the judge, “If you believe in what you’re doing give me your stiffest sentence. If you don’t, resign.” And that is actually the plea I was able to give this past November. I did a civil disobedience on the 9/11 issue and when I went to court I gave the judge that plea. Because what you’re doing is on the one hand you’re saying, “I’m not afraid of you.”, but you’re also saying “You are not just a judge. I respect your right as a judge and you’re also a human being and you’re free to decide on you own the difference between right and wrong.”
Audience: Did he resign?
My website is 911courage.org. And I think it’s important to show that one of the important elements of nonviolence is that the state can not intimidate you and that is an important lesson that nonviolence should be giving to the youth who sometimes the left call adventurists because they get out front of where the public is and the they don’t have enough perspective. But they’re courageous. You can say they don’t know any better but they’re courageous and they respect courage. And that’s a good thing if you’re trying to change things. Basically, whenever 20-year-olds are interested in, that’s cutting edge. It doesn’t matter if old people like it or not, but that is the reality of the world. Whatever 20 year olds are interested in is cutting edge.
One of the practitioners of nonviolence who’s always been impressive to me just passed a few years ago is Wally Nelson, who was a friend of mine. And Wally is one of the great non-cooperators in American history. He used to not walk and not eat. His famous phrase is, “You don’ gotta.” Everyone’s telling you you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. Well, he didn’t. And he was able to do it – I remember him saying – he told me a story. He was talking to a policeman who was being rough, saying, “Boy, you sure can get angry.” In other words, it wasn’t putting the guy down. He was trying to reach out to him, and this is such an important element.
Another story I like to tell about the ability to show the state that you can not be intimidated is my friend, Elizabeth Gravelos, Arthur Harvey’s wife. The action I did where I did the four months in jail in ’82 is really very similar to the actions that Arthur and his wife, Elizabeth, had done two and three years previous. Arthur had gone with a bunch of people and leafleted on Public Service property and they got a month suspended and they went back and got arrested again and got a month. Now Elizabeth went the next year with her friends, and she was pregnant at the time, and she was arrested for trespass and they got a month suspended and they went back and the judge didn’t want to put a pregnant woman in jail so they said “Nine months suspended.” And the Manchester Union Leader – ever heard of the Manchester Union Leader? Manchester Union Leader is the most conservative paper north of the Mason-Dixon Line and might be the most conservative paper anywhere in this country. They really lit in. They said, “You better give her this nine months. You better lay it in to her.” Elizabeth and friends went back and they got nine months. And she was about a month from having her son, Max, and they offered to let her out. And she said, “Only if you let the other people in the action out.” And they let them out. The state backed down. It’s so important to show it’s a moral challenge. It’s not a physical challenge.
There are a lot of people who, as I’ve said, are not going to be able to do jail time for their personality reasons, logistical reasons. But if this would be considered as an approach, some people say, “I think that’s a great idea. You’ll never find me in jail but I will support people who can.” And we could have a whole new powerful movement if there was enough understanding and agreement. Not just of the people willing to do time but of people willing to support the people willing to do time.
I have a very brief comment on nonviolence training. We used to do six-hour nonviolence trainings in Clamshell and then eventually we did two-hour nonviolence trainings and I’ve done five-minute nonviolence trainings. ‘Shake and Bake’, we’d sometimes jokingly refer to them. There’s two words that are important if you ever go to jail, don’t whine. Of course in jail the food’s not good. You can’t complain about the food. Other people in there, they’re used to it. They don’t like the food, either. Gandhi actually talked people out of fasting who were being beaten on by the jailer unfairly. But he said the jailer had a right to make that decision so you can’t fast on the jailer for that reason. If you go to jail, you obey the rules. The only reason you resist is if they throw the food in your face or they won’t let you have your religious observances. That’s not the only way to do it but that’s a dimension that we don’t think about.