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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Love Wins

Progressive Christian Social Action

Love Wins

Last night I wept. This morning I’m sick at heart. The community I love is divided like never before. Oh, but here come the quail, out from the blackberry bushes, dozens of them. When I sit out on the deck writing in the morning, they tolerate me if I move slowly. Even today, they remind me of the beauty of Nevada County, which has been my home since 1971. We raised our kids here, worked elsewhere for a while, then retired here in 2005 as we always knew we would.

As a biracial family, we have known that racism is a reality here. It’s not by accident that our community is so white. But now racial animosity seems to have come to a head, here and throughout the country.

At the march for racial justice in Nevada City on August 9, I carried a small cardboard “Black Lives Matter” sign. Why? Because I despair of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) ever being treated as if they do matter, as fully human beings. I planned to stay socially distanced at the back, but an organized group (without masks) blocked our path. They wore white nationalist and Trump insignia, used flags as weapons, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, and pursued us as we tried to walk around them. They ganged up on people (including young teens), injured several people, and destroyed property. They shoved us and yelled in our faces, “Get the f___ out of our town.”

Evidently this is a homegrown hate group. The Facebook Page Patriots Pushing Back Nevada County has over 10,000 people and is growing. After the demonstration, their posts celebrated and bragged that Law Enforcement was on their side (which is indeed how it appeared). They raised funds through Go Fund Me to support Jimmy Smith, the member of the group who was arrested for two felonies. Now it’s a private Facebook group, but make no mistake: organized hate is here, embedded in our community.

Then yesterday, Back the Blue Nevada County held a huge “Freedom Ride Parade,” ostensibly to support the police. I’m sure there were good-hearted people who participated solely to support Law Enforcement. Curious though, that the send-off speaker stated in one breath that the purpose of the parade was: “standing with Trump, standing up for our flag” and promoted “Trump gear” for sale. The “parade” included vehicles with Trump’s name and multiple flags: Trump flags, “Thin Blue Line” flags (with multiple meanings), and the US flag, like the trucks that brought disrupters to the march in Nevada City. The mixed symbols confused the event’s purpose. Was it to support the police no matter what? Glorify Trump? Claim the flag as a white nationalist symbol? Intimidate peaceful protestors? Evidently it was not to celebrate the diversity this nation represents.

Also, our local Republican Party is sponsoring a “Political Protest” fundraiser featuring “far right commentator” Katie Hopkins. According to Twitter, Hopkins was banned in June for “violations of our hateful conduct policy,” which prohibits “promoting violence against or directly attacking or threatening people based on race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religion, age, disability or serious disease.”[1] Yet the Nevada County Republican Party publicized their event by stating, “To underscore how GOOD she is as a strong conservative voice, Twitter last week permanently banned her from communicating with her one million followers.” In other words, hate speech is not only acceptable—it has become popular.

Racial justice demonstrations have been on hold here as people deal with trauma, injury, and threat. But this struggle is not over. I encourage everyone in despair to take heart, and those who may be possessed by the current climate of hate and authoritarianism to reconsider what it means to take a moral stand for the common good.

The quail have now moved to another spot. I probably got too excited and moved too fast while writing this article. I am thinking of going down to the Broad Street Bridge with my little BLM sign and sitting there by myself. Or it may be best to work with others who are attending online workshops on nonviolence, white supremacy, keeping each other safe, and de-escalation, to prepare to take a unified nonviolent stand for compassion, justice, peace, and environmental healing. For the sake of my community and world, for the sake of our children, I will not let go of my belief that love wins, or my commitment to helping make it so.

[1] Graeme Demianyk, Katie Hopkins Permanently Banned From Twitter, Social Media Firm Confirms: Account suspended for “violations of our hateful conduct policy”, HuffPost, June 19, 2020.

 

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In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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Good Friday: Contemplation and Resistance

Good Friday 2014 at Beale Air Force Base

Today is Good Friday, the darkest of days, when Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus and stand by him in his suffering.  It is also a dark season in the world, with the Trump Administration dropping the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan, threatening North Korea, bombing Syria and Yemen, targeting immigrants, abandoning climate legislation, dismantling the social safety net, eviscerating education, and unleashing corporations to wreak unregulated havoc on the earth.

I grieve.  I enter and face the darkness.  I resolve “to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified,” as Paul did when he visited the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:2). This has been my ongoing spiritual practice during this season of Lent.

Contemplating the death of Jesus in prayer and holding space for that story throughout the day grounds me in the painful reality of Jesus’ time and of ours.  It helps me to face and bear what seems unbearable—that the evil powers of this world, the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8), seem to have the upper hand, and are crucifying what is precious, destroying our hopes and dreams and everything that we hold dear.  But the ability to bear this apparent reality—that the dominant institutions and systems of our world are moving us toward global death—depends on my determination to resist.  Otherwise, how could I simply “accept” this cruel, unjust, and unspeakable state of affairs? That would be consent and complicity.  Instead, I choose to stand in solidarity with the crucified Jesus and all other victims of Empire, to follow him in nonviolent resistance to the Powers, and to risk the same fate.

For me, contemplation and resistance go together.  In contemplation, we assimilate actions that we have taken in the world and receive clarity and inspiration for further actions of mercy, justice, and nonviolent resistance to the Powers.  In our actions in the world, we express the love and insight that we have received in contemplation. Contemplation and resistance go together.

Reflecting on the cross, the death of Jesus, and all the other deaths throughout history can bring us face to face with our complicity and our rock-bottom poverty of spirit.  We may even experience what seems to be the absence of God, as Jesus did as he hung on the cross, crying out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” As we reflect on our own personal failings and our participation in unjust systems, we discover our moral bankruptcy, emptiness, and inability to control the outcome of events.  We recognize that our wisdom and strength are inadequate to the task of personal and social transformation, and so we surrender ourselves, our very being, to God, whose wisdom and power are hidden in mystery.  Our ego stops trying to justify and defend itself.  We die to ourselves.  We enter the darkness, the depths, the journey of emptiness and loss and letting go, the dark night of the soul, trusting beyond trust, where trust has been betrayed, hoping beyond hope, where all hope is gone.  Paradoxically, it is by entering this very darkness that light dawns and hope is reborn.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The mystics call this the Via Negativa, the way of nothingness.  It is the Way of the Cross.

Previous blog post:  God’s Restorative Justice

Next Post:  Holy Saturday:  Following Jesus 

This post is part of Sharon’s series, A Lenten Call to Resist.

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Rise to the Level of Love

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Martin Luther King, Jr. with Gandhi photo, by my friend Bob Fitch

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.”                                        Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Inauguration Day approaches, I will be joining people in taking to the streets.  We need to resist and delegitimize the dangerous and hateful policies of Donald Trump in every (nonviolent) way we can, on every front.

But we must also keep in mind that there is much more at stake than Trump’s presidency.  The United States is deeply divided at a time when we need unified action to deal with the many national and global threats on the horizon, including climate change.  At the same time, the country is on the verge of fascism.  Spirited, creative, nonviolent resistance is our only hope to prevent the worst forms of abuse.

Trump’s election surprised many people, but it was not a fluke.  It was the result of corruption at the highest levels of both the Republican and Democratic parties, the highjacking of the electoral process as a whole, and a system of governance that is dominated by money.  The hate speech that Trump and his followers express so opening has been expressed by conservative Republicans in veiled words and discriminatory policies for thirty years, with Democrats “providing a weak and tepid alternative” to the “lunacy” that has taken over the Republican party (Mike Lofren in The Party’s Over).  As Trump’s supporters say, “At least he says what he means.”  During the primary election, the Democratic Party manipulated the process to favor the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.  Meanwhile, transnational corporations and wealthy donors pooled their dark money in Super PACS, seeking to buy the election with money that counts as free speech.  What could possibly go wrong?

Now Donald Trump has been elected president.  This is not because Trump spent the most money or because the majority of people favored him, but because the destruction of democracy has unleashed forces that not even Exxon Mobil or the Koch Brothers can control.  Nevertheless, powerful interests are getting on board, planning to make the most of the wealth-producing policies promised by Trump.  For instance, Energy Transfer Partners plans to go forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline, in spite of the resistance of the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies.  We shall see.

I made the case in Shaking the Gates of Hell that “the system is designed for the results it is getting.” Those people who serve the system at its highest levels are shaped by its imperatives.  They perpetuate the system’s dysfunction while benefiting from the wealth and power it offers.

It is essential that those of us who yearn for justice not fall into hate speech when expressing our justified contempt for unjust policies and systems.  Martin Luther King, Jr. is right when he calls us to seek to defeat the system, not the individuals who are caught up in the system.  As he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

To see more of Bob Fitch’s historic photos, scroll down the main page of http://www.bobfitchphoto.com/.  Bob, who died last year, was my friend and colleague at the Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz.  I miss him.

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