Why Nonviolent Direct Action?

Progressive Christian Social Action

Friends, I wrote this post and recorded it for Youtube as we were getting ready for a peaceful march on October 4th for racial equity, inclusion, and peace.  Although the march is over, I wrote this to share why I believe nonviolent direct action is important in social change.

People sometimes argue that we should not go out into the streets for demonstrations at this time of division because it is dangerous. This may be true. Some say such actions further the divisions among us. They certainly may highlight the divisions. Some people argue that we should do more studying of the issues or reach out to talk with people who think differently than we do or focus on doing the inner work of changing our own hearts. Certainly, all these things need to be done.

But at this time of upheaval, our challenge is not just to change people’s hearts. Changing people’s hearts is a central part of the theory and practice of nonviolence—especially changing our own hearts.  We know that hurt people tend to hurt people unless they have found healing. But it’s also crucial to change public policy, and that takes more than voting every four years. Changing hearts and changing public policy goes together.

Martin Luther King, Jr. stated the role of nonviolent direct action:

“You may well ask, `Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches, etc.? Isn’t negotiation a better path?’ You are exactly right in your call for negotiation. Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Mohandas Gandhi led the nonviolent struggle against the British occupation of India.  The whole time he insisted that the British would leave India not as enemies but as friends. And they did. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” In nonviolent direct action, changing hearts and changing public opinion go together.

In recent months, white nationalists calling themselves patriots have been violently disrupting peaceful demonstrations for racial justice in smaller rural communities like Rocklin, Placerville, Auburn, and here in Nevada City. We all hope that they won’t try to disrupt our upcoming march, where we plan to come together to demonstrate strong community support for racial equity and inclusion and peace. I do hope that Proud Boys and others like them really are “standing back and standing by” for now, including here in Nevada County as we prepare for this march. But they haven’t been told to stand down, and we have to be prepared with all the nonviolent tools at our disposal, especially as this critical election draws near.

Why take nonviolent direct action? Why go out into the streets? Because we don’t yet know how far down our society and world might go toward fascism or social and ecological collapse if we don’t face these challenges together.  Right now, the time calls us to stand with our BIPOC brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. Otherwise what Martin Niemoller said during the Nazi era could come true:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Regardless of what path we take, there are no guarantees, whether we take to the streets or stay home. But it seems to me that in the long run we are safer if we take action together nonviolently in a coordinated way.  I invite you to form supportive groups of people you trust, study nonviolence theory and practice, and form equitable and inclusive relationships with people engaged in today’s multi-faceted struggle.

Join us in envisioning and demonstrating for and creating the world as we know it can be, a world built upon values and policies that support the common good and will sustain us into the future, such as truth and reconciliation, voting rights and participatory democracy, racial, social and economic equity, health care for all, public health and environmental policies supported by science, and community well-being.

I hope to see you in the streets.

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