On Non-Violence, ACT, and the OWS MovementContents
* On a statement from ACT about non-violence that misses a teachable moment
* Why I feel that way, based on G. William Domhoff's writings
* Why discussions of alternative economics are behind this conflict
* Even more details for anyone who wants them
* More on how these apply to ACT and OWS
* Social violence from a military perspective
* Violence is ultimately disempowering to the perpetrators
* Violence redirects social spending towards guarding
* Satyagraha as an alternative to violence
* Related to OWS and the Gandhi-related reading on non-violence
* As a movement, OWS does not yet seem to have condemned violence
* There have been some OWS discussions about non-violence
* There are some related to OWS who still don't get it
* Why OWS needs to condemn violence
* OWS celebrates lack of leadership, but that can be a problem
* OWS has framed the issue as class warfare not egalitarianism
* A digression on a growing young/old divide in the USA
* Building a case for the 1% supporting wealth redistribution
* Why it is important for OWS to move past these issues soon
* How the Peace Movement could help OWS learn about non-violence
* Local issues relating to OWS and non-violence
* More on non-violence as the (likely only possible) way forward
On a statement from ACT about non-violence that misses a teachable momentOn 11/10/11 4:11 AM, [someone] wrote [to a peace discussion list]:
> Hey, There is a growing need to discuss the issues raised in this letter
> in hope
> Open Letter to the Occupy Movement: Why We Need Agreements
> [Corrected link for typo: http://trainersalliance.org/ ]
> [Excerpt:] Just as we call for accountability and
> transparency, we ourselves must be accountable and transparent. Some
> tactics are incompatible with those goals, even if in other
> situations they might be useful, honorable or appropriate. We can’t
> be transparent behind masks. We can’t be accountable for actions we
> run away from. We can’t maintain the security culture necessary for
> planning and carrying out attacks on property and also maintain the
> openness that can continue to invite in a true diversity of new
> people. We can’t make alliances with groups from impacted
> communities, such as immigrants, if we can’t make agreements about
> what tactics we will employ in any given action.
> There’s plenty of room in this struggle for a diversity of movements
> and a diversity of organizing and actions. Some may choose strict
> Gandhian nonviolence, others may choose fight-back resistance. But
> for the Occupy movement, strategic nonviolent direct action is a
> framework that will allow us to grow in diversity and power.
The gist of this response is that this position statement by ACT, while helpful in promoting non-violence, is too wishy-washy because it does not condemn violence or point out why violence in a democracy is counter-productive to lasting healthy social change. With that said, I think what ACT is doing to educate people anywhere about non-violence forms of action is a good thing, and I respect the effort they are putting into that as far as it goes -- even if I do feel this statement is missing out on a very teachable moment in discussing the problems of violence as a form of social protest in relation to what happened in Oakland.
Why I feel that way, based on G. William Domhoff's writings
Part of the reason is explained here by a sociologist (G. William Domhoff) who studies such things:
The shocking terrorist attacks of September 11th, coming just six weeks after Genoa, add to the likelihood that any type of property destruction or confrontations with police at future demonstrations will be highly counterproductive. Such attacks would anger the overwhelming majority of Americans and meet with strong repression on the part of the government. Reassessment therefore becomes a necessity, providing an opportunity for a new start based on the realization that the property destruction and physical attacks on the police of the previous few years led the movement into a dead end. In democratic countries, social movements need to be based on a commitment to the strategic, nonviolent forms of direct action discussed throughout this document. Such a commitment leaves plenty of room to disrupt routines and get in the way of power without dividing the movement and alienating potential supporters, and it is far more effective in the long run. This commitment should include the principles put forth by advocates of strategic nonviolence for dealing with pro-violence groups. Nonviolent groups should distance themselves from violent groups and strongly condemn their philosophies and actions. Only groups that specifically state that they are completely committed to strategic nonviolence should be allowed to be co-sponsors of marches and participate in their planning.
The thought of openly criticizing and then excluding some activists will make most leftists cringe, not only because their basic values are inclusionary, but because such a step would call to mind past battles over excluding Communists. Those who are excluded will say that the nonviolent activists are the equivalent of "red baiters." They will say that the nonviolent activists have violated their inclusionary principles, and are therefore hypocrites. They will say that those who would exclude them are only reformers and liberals.
Most leftists thus prefer to deal with those who favor property damage or armed struggle by ignoring them or making deals with them within the privacy of the movement. That's what the nonviolent activists tried at Seattle. That's what the compromise called "diversity of tactics" is all about. But it won't work. At the same time, it is likely that most future activists would accept strategic nonviolence as their only option if they were socialized into a movement that truly believed in and understand this commitment."
Let me echo an essential part: "That's what the compromise called "diversity of tactics" is all about. But it won't work."
To me, it seems the ACT statement still tries to dance around that issue. And it is missing a teachable moment here in what happened related to the violence in Oakland, where the violence distracted people from any message that might be related. Thus, we have people talking about violence, and not about creative alternatives to neoliberal economics that has dominated US political thinking for the last thirty years or so.
Anyway, I don't expect most people to read much of the rest, but I'll included it for anyone out there who wants more depth on this.
Why discussions of alternative economics are behind this conflict
The biggest issue behind OWS seems to me to be about getting people to pay attention to the current rich/poor divide in our society and related social programs, and to get people to start discussing deep questions about economics and society in our increasingly high-tech 21st century. I have my own opinions on many of those question from a lot of reading and discussing, but ultimately ways forward are going to be thought through and acted on as a society (either collectively as a country through policy set by elected leaders and/or just with a de-facto new policy by a stampede of individuals to new ways of being).
OWS (or someone other movement) needs to keep up that discussion in part because alternative economics is not being discussed much is academia. For example, from a related appeal by some of the relatively few alternative economics academics:
"The authors of this appeal are deeply concerned that more than three years since the outbreak of the financial and macroeconomic crisis that highlighted the pitfalls, limitations, dangers and responsibilities of main-stream thought in economics, finance and management, the quasi-monopolistic position of such thought within the academic world nevertheless remains largely unchallenged. This situation reflects the institutional power that the unconditional proponents of main-stream thought continue to exert on university teaching and research. This domination, propagated by the so-called top universities, dates back at least a quarter of a century and is effectively global. However, the very fact that this paradigm persists despite the current crisis, highlights the extent of its power and the dangerousness of its dogmatic character. Teachers and researchers, the signatories of the appeal, assert that this situation restricts the fecundity of research and teaching in economics, finance and management, diverting them as it does from issues critical to society."
Or from more mainstream economists:
"“There is so much inbredness in this profession,” says Ms. Reinhart. “They all read the same sources. They all use the same data sets. They all talk to the same people. There is endless extrapolation on extrapolation on extrapolation, and for years that is what has been rewarded.” "
Thankfully, we are finally seeing this systematic suppression of economic dissent in academia being recognized (if not yet ended) -- even if it took the consequences of economic policy being out of touch with reality for so long having to play out in harmful ways that have become too big to hide or deny any longer.
For example, Harvard students have started walking out on neoliberal economic teaching:
Economist J. Bradford DeLong says that never before have huge wars been fought over essentially just economic ideology:
"Second, the twentieth century is unique in that its wars, purges, massacres, and executions were part of struggles over economics. Before the twentieth century people killed each other over theology -- eternal paradise or damnation. Before the twentieth century people killed each other over power -- who gets to be top dog, and to command the material resources of society. These motives are, to some extent, comprehensible. But only in the twentieth century have people killed each other on a large scale in disputes over the economic organization of society."
And in that sense economics is underlying the current violence happening at OWS events (even if by marginal groups like the Black Bloc).
Among other roles, OWS camps can be seen as places for people to learn and grow through discussion about things academia is too afraid and disciplined to talk about.
"Those of you who have been through college know that the educational system is very highly geared to rewarding conformity and obedience; if you don’t do that, you are a troublemaker. So, it is kind of a filtering device which ends up with people who really honestly (they aren’t lying) internalize the framework of belief and attitudes of the surrounding power system in the society."
"In this riveting book about the world of professional work, Jeff Schmidt demonstrates that the workplace is a battleground for the very identity of the individual, as is graduate school, where professionals are trained. He shows that professional work is inherently political, and that professionals are hired to subordinate their own vision and maintain strict “ideological discipline.”"
And then people who learn things through OWS can to take that learning into everything they do. Part of that learning needs to be about alternative economics, but part of it needs to be about non-violence.
The two go together, each being essential to realizing the other. As long as our society is full of violence, it will be full of guarding, and guarding chews up prosperity and keeps it from many people.
We need to end the killing by physical violence or economic violence that stems from conflicts over economic theology. Even though many people now take mainstream economics literally as "Gospel":
Across our global society, including by the "free and open source" and "maker" movements, we are seeing some movement towards a 21st century "Star Trek" society (for want of a name, not to approve of everything in Star Trek). Such a change is happening from several sources of "Blessed Unrest". http://www.blessedunrest.com/ Occupy Wall Street is part of that, a big part at the moment. But this movement is much more that OWS.
Non-violence has to be part of the basic commitment for that change across our society, and OWS is one way that more people could learn about the ideas of non-violence towards some sort of alternative economics (even just better planning through a market softened by a basic income). Justifying more violence as a response to economic problems just adds to the problem -- in part because violence redirects resources away from the rest of a healthy society either by the action or by the response. Physical violence reinforces the impulse to guard and hoard resources out of fear. Violence generally does not put people in a generous mood. And if people want to force concessions, general strikes are pretty effective at doing that in other countries much more so than random violence.
Just to say where I am coming from, I feel taking 15.3% of a paycheck away from a single mom making minimum wage and with no other means of support in my mind qualifies as economic violence (as IMHO does just not providing social security to her and her children as a matter of course, given all the hard work it takes to raise a child well and how much physical abundance there is in our society). Taking 92% of a paycheck away from someone otherwise earning a million dollars a year (either as a progressive tax, or as a flat tax for every wage earner after they receive a significant tax-free basic income) so it can be redistributed equally as a basic income both as a social safety net and to support work (including child raising) that is done outside of market exchanges does not qualify as economic violence IMHO, given:
"Researchers Say Happiness Costs $75K"
The connection between wages and productivity is pretty arbitrary, anyway. What have the highly paid Wall Street bankers and brokers really added to our overall productivity in the USA in the end, anyway?
Although ultimately, I feel we will mostly move beyond money and formal taxation eventually. Examples from Star Trek:
And we are also slowly moving beyond our current financially-related means of organizing groups of people to work together (as exemplified by GNU/Linux, Wikipedia, the Blogosphere, or Thingiverse).
Granted, others may disagree. This is part of what this struggle of ideas is about -- some would call what I outlined above the worst sort of economic violence, even though what I suggested above is mainly just returning to the income tax rates of the 1950s when the US economy was booming. And those are the kind of things people need to discuss and then act on non-violently.
I'd also readily concede that there is a problem in US capitalism related to wealth redistribution in that the right to control how a venture proceeds (voting rights in stock) is generally tied to the right to control how the fruits of that venture are distributed (the stock dividends and any proceeds of the sale of stock). Certainly the USSR showed how bureaucratic planners can both do a bad job and become corrupt and distribute the physical proceeds of enterprises to friends and family or just look the other way when that happens. Although, those risks can we weighed against the notion of more democratic workplaces and new forms of collective governance (including through the internet); those are approaches that would not require so much control to rest in the hands of just one or a few key leaders in a large organization.
Also, the greater taxes are, the more incentive there is to avoid the market through putting energy into local subsistence efforts, which is not necessarily a bad thing except in how it can lead to a breakdown of otherwise desirable cooperation. And when people do more stuff locally for themselves, then there is the issue of ownership of land and property taxes related to that and how that affects ownership rights.
One can make various arguments about how all that should work, and we could run simulations about that, and take polls, and have discussions, and look towards historical examples, and try different things in different places, and so on, to see what would work best in different cultures. That would all be great. But, IMHO right now in the USA, a basic income (social security for all from birth) funded by progressive taxes going up to 93% or so seems like a very straightforward thing to do technically, to return to 1950s tax rates when the US economy was booming, even if politically it may be hard to do. And of course, there were other reasons the US economy was booming back then too, like being the only major intact economy after a devastating global war, so no doubt there would be more room for argument about this.
For me, the biggest argument for a basic income beyond human rights is that continually improving robotics, AI, and other automation (as well as better design, voluntary social networks, and an accumulation of infrastructure) continue to displace the need for most paid human labor. This is evidenced by the fact that the US GDP grew about 25% during the past decade (2000-2010), and the US population grew as well, but there were *zero* net new jobs created. People keep talking about getting back to normal, but the fact is, that is the new normal in the USA -- essentially, the economy grows and the robots get all the jobs. And at some point, we may even decide there is a diminishing return on more stuff and more services, and then the paid human labor force is going to start shrinking very quickly. It is just taking people a long time to accept that fundamental change, the idea that we have passed some advanced economic tipping point, and then to figure out how that widespread automation and rethinking of work as voluntary activities might actually might be turned into a good thing for most people (like with a basic income as people like Marshall Brain or Martin Ford or many others suggest, or with other broader social changes outside tinkering with the exchange economy, like regarding an advanced subsistence economy, a gift economy, and/or a democratic participatory planned economy).
Neoliberal economics rests on the idea (not without some tiny grain of truth) that "greed is good, as the rich voluntary use their money to make great jobs and appropriate healthy products for everyone, and so the rich should have more money to do more of that". But the key point is, there is only *some* truth to that. It is not the whole truth. And the argument over how true that is, or when specifically it applies, or what other truths are left out of that statement are a big part of what the current violence is about, whether people understand the causes of why they are suffering or not. These are truths about human rights, or the nature of workplace, or the nature of much human motivation, or about political power implications resulting from huge inequalities in wealth and free time, or about externalities (privatizing profits but socializing costs like pollution and risks like financial meltdowns), and so on.
But all this above includes many "hot button" issues with a knee-jerk response that have been programmed into us by the last thirty years of endless propaganda related to neoliberal economics and how wonderful it is for all of us, and how if the economy is not working well for someone, it is their personal fault and shows they are a worthless human being who deserves to suffer and die (or at best, be kept on economic life support). These talking points have been drilled into us for so long. This was possible in part because big money controls so much of big media and journalists live in fear of unemployment the way so many of the rest of us do.
So, with only knee-jerk responses having been taught endlessly, not critical thinking, people are much quicker to turn to violence (or stonewalling) when their beliefs on things like human motivation, human rights, or even the historical economic record are questioned than to turn to thought and discussion. We need to move beyond that emotional blockage. Occupy Wall Street can be part of that process -- but only if OWS itself is non-violent and everyone who orbits the new star of OWS becomes committed to non-violence. The ACT statement is not good enough in that sense, even as it tries to help the OWS movement itself (to the extent the leaderless OWS movement can be defined, another issue discussed below).
Even more details for anyone who wants them
People can read the below in the context of links previously sent to the spadiscussion list (in addition to the stuff on Gandhi and nonviolence as the moral approach of being the change one wants to see), but I will repeat here for convenience:
"Social Movements and Strategic Nonviolence"
"But given the freedoms, civil liberties, and voting rights achieved by a long line of American egalitarians and liberals, there is no end that could be justified by violence, property destruction, or armed struggle in this country. Such actions undercut the democratic rights won by past egalitarians and play into the hands of the government, which has the power to isolate and defeat any violent movement. Furthermore, property damage and armed struggle of any kind are overwhelmingly rejected by the vast majority of the American people. Due to their appreciation of the freedoms they do enjoy, and despite the economic unfairness they recognize and experience, average Americans are repelled by violent political acts, whether by right wingers or left wingers. If the goal is to build a larger movement that connects to a strategy to take over and transform the Democratic Party [or whatever], not just to force the authorities to react to one or another provocation with slight reforms, then violence makes no sense. It is therefore both immoral and counterproductive for American egalitarians to employ violent strategies. Or, as Cesar Chavez used to say about violence when he was leading the farm worker's movement, it's wrong and it's stupid."
On the psychological side in the nuclear age (a whole web site):
"A Newer Way Of Thinking [in color instead of just black and white]"
And on the humorous side:
And from Mr. Fred Rogers:
"What do you do with the mad that you feel"
And for sci-fi buffs:
"The book has an interesting corollary. Around about the mid eighties, I received a letter notifying me that the story had been serialized in an underground Polish s.f. magazine. They hadn't exactly "stolen" it, the publishers explained, but had credited zlotys to an account in my name there, so if I ever decided to take a holiday in Poland the expenses would be covered (there was no exchange mechanism with Western currencies at that time). Then the story started surfacing in other countries of Eastern Europe, by all accounts to an enthusiastic reception. What they liked there, apparently, was the updated "Ghandiesque" formula on how bring down an oppressive regime when it's got all the guns. And a couple of years later, they were all doing it!"
More on how these apply to ACT and OWS
This statement by the Alliance of Community Trainers (ACT) above about how Occupy Wall Street needs to focus on non-violent actions is a terrific first step, and I'm glad people are taking the initiative to begin to teach OWS demonstrators about non-violence. It certainly is true as far as it goes that OWS needs to be non-violent to be effective. I do not know if OWS will be the banner under which the USA unites for some substantial social change, but right now it seems the best we have going. So, statements like the above by ACT that try to improve what is going on with OWS, and that educate people interested in social change in the tactics of non-violence, are heading in the right direction.
My problem with the statement, at the risk of wading into something I'm far from an expert in, and also of alienating people trying really hard to do the right thing, is frankly, I feel this statement is a bit too conciliatory to those planning violence. So, it really is not a broad call for non-violence to deal with the current social crisis in the USA, and so it risks sending the wrong message to lots of people out there on the fringes of OWS. I can understand why it might be written that way, including to try to reach people who have already begun to go down the warpath, or to included people who have been involved in physical violence in the past, but I feel it is too wishy-washy about violence, when what it should be saying is that physical violence (against people or their property) is not going to work at all in our democracy in the USA for both practical and moral reasons. And it should explain why physical violence is just not a reasonable option in a democracy (as I try to do below, and I'm sure someone could do a much better job by boiling this down).
This is a potentially defining moment in how this struggle for social change in the USA plays out, with the first OWS actions in places like Oakland. I feel this is a time for comprehensive education about non-violence, not just a sort of, well, "We'll just do non-violent action together here and there when it is convenient, and we'll look the other way otherwise when you do violence if you feel that's the right thing to do."
Where is the moral power in that kind of framing of the issues?
People in power have long been using physical violence and economic violence against others in various ways to maintain their control. What difference does it make in who is dishing out the violence? People who succeed in using violence to make change are unlikely to give that up as a tool as long as they keep being rewarded for doing that -- it does not matter whose side they say they are on. And as places like Iraq show, once violence gets started, everyone suffers.
Most of the general population empowers that violent behavior as Howard Zinn explained:
"However, the unexpected victories-even temporary ones-of insurgents show the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful. In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbage men and firemen. These people-the employed, the somewhat privileged-are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls. That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica—expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us."
People don't need to smash stuff or clash with police officers to make change. They just need to get the "guards" (meaning most of the population with regular jobs) to change their minds and act together for change (including by running for office and voting).
But the more violence being created (whether physical or economic), the more justification there is for spending more money on guarding behaviors. And the more people will be elected on platforms that are about spending more money on guarding.
What we need to do is figure out how our society can spend less time guarding and more time sharing. A great related story on the the seemingly minor difference in attitude between Heaven and Hell related to an abundance mindset leading to sharing:
If ACT wants something conciliatory to say with those who have been involved with violence, ACT could instead say, "Look, you over there planning more violence, I know you are angry about the results of the last 30 years of neoliberal economics (and other policy disasters resulting from US politics being out of touch with 21st century realities), and so am I. We all want substantial change to deal with inequalities and unfairnesses and so on. But violence is ineffective and immoral in our 21st century society for a bunch of reasons including that it turns people off and invites state repression. There is a better way to go about affecting real change over the long term through creative non-violent action that will lead to a point where collectively we will all say we have had enough and will make peaceful change through voting. We are not there yet, and so we still need to help each other get through these tough economic years, but we may be someday at the point where enough people know the system is messed up and want to do something positive about it. Non-violent action does not promise the quick addictive "hit" of violence (which like most drugs in the end is not going to make us healthier even if it makes us feels good for a time before we hit new lows). But it will really lead to real and lasting change. And you can become part of a really fun community over hear doing cool non-violent stuff that you can talk openly about. Both the US Civil Rights movement and the US Environmental movement succeeded from years of non-violent creative actions. We can succeed together."
Related humor on the problem:
"Neoliberalism as Water Balloon"
Making a video like that is a great example of a non-violent approach to improving society through education. How can that message be spread and put into even more hearts and minds? If enough people understood that, then neoliberalism would be over.
"But another one of the contentions of today's Republican party is that high income tax rates are always bad for the economy, because they deprive people of an incentive to work hard, thus making us a nation of lazy good-for-nothings. This argument has been repeated so often and for so long that it is now basically regarded as fact. But, interestingly, the history of income tax rates in the US actually suggests that it may be b.s. Some of the most prosperous periods in US history (1950s and 1960s) have come during periods of super-high marginal income tax rates. And some of the most disastrous periods in US history (1930s, 2010s) have come after periods of super-low income tax rates. ..."
Social violence from a military perspective
Even from a military perspective from those who are professionals at violence (people whose profession is at the core about hurting other people and breaking things), conflicts are often won based on things like being able to think faster and react quicker. For example, see:
"OODA -- observe, orient, decide, and act"
Any thoughtful small group of concerned citizens engaged in legal activities has as an advantage over most bureaucracies in that regard.
And military conflicts are won on multiple levels, again to use a military analysis by the person promoting that OODA loop idea:
"Boyd divided warfare into three distinct elements:
* Moral Warfare: the destruction of the enemy's will to win, disruption of alliances (or potential allies) and induction of internal fragmentation. Ideally resulting in the "dissolution of the moral bonds that permit an organic whole [organization] to exist." (i.e., breaking down the mutual trust and common outlook mentioned in the paragraph above.)
* Mental Warfare: the distortion of the enemy's perception of reality through disinformation, ambiguous posturing, and/or severing of the communication/information infrastructure.
* Physical Warfare: the abilities of physical resources such as weapons, people, and logistical assets."
Although, in general, this sort of military framing leaves out the idea that we could ideally transcend our conflicts by learning to think beyond black/white enemy/friend terms and to think more broadly, in "color" in that sense, by seeing things from multiple perspectives.
It is true that sometimes human conflicts have been resolved in the past for a time on a "physical" level in terms of physical destruction or physical containment (as supported by the moral, mental, and physical logistics levels). But in modern times, outside of democratic processes, physical success in conflict generally happens at a societal level only when you get a substantial part of the military on your side. And that in turn is only accomplished by success at the "mental" and "moral" levels of a conflict that persuades top military leaders to ally their forces with what they feel is the will of the People they are sworn to protect and serve. But the end results of a fractured US military fighting itself would probably not be pretty, especially when part of the arsenal on all sides in the USA includes advanced weaponry developed by using the technologies of abundance in ironic ways like tactical nuclear weapons, plagues, and killer robots (and probably other nasty stuff we don't even know about). So, we don't want to see the US military fighting itself (or the People, anywhere). And that means we need to see change at the political level and we need to avoid going close to the risky boundary where the whole system could flare up (as close as the system has been pushed already, as shown in the video linked above). Once physical violence gets going, who knows where it will end? And who knows what someone, mentally unbalanced or not, will do who has control of advanced weaponry and learns that loved ones died in riots?
Citizen activists engaging in violence will lose at all three levels (physical, mental, moral), as far as affecting lasting political change. And they may also lose the whole "infinite game" if the USA disintegrates given all the weapons of mass destruction in its arsenal if the violence is a success at inflaming the country.
On different types of games:
"Finite games have a definite beginning and ending. They are played with the goal of winning. ... Infinite games, on the other hand, do not have a knowable beginning or ending. They are played with the goal of continuing play and a purpose of bringing more players into the game. An infinite game continues play, for sake of play."
What kind of game do activists want to be playing? What are they trying to accomplish?
Violent citizen activists lose at the "physical" level because it is very unlikely the will have big success against organized disciplined violence unleashed by the state by people trained in doing that (and who probably enjoy a chance to show off and play the hero). Part of this is that it is a great source of political power for a politician to project the image of being tough on crime and a great physical protector (whether that is true or not). Another part of this is that there are vast profits to be made on bullets and scanners and such, and so there is an incentive to some for doing things that continue the violence. Citizen activists also lose at the physical level because if there is a chance they might be violent, most people are not going to give them donations or otherwise help with logistics.
Even in Iraq, IED attacks against US soldiers were only possible because the Iraqi state under Hussein essentially made available caches of explosives and weapons both on purpose and accidentally as it fell. And in the end, the USA still stayed in Iraq despite the IEDs and small arms fire and hand-launched missiles, and lots of companies made a lot of profits off of the conflict, even though thousands of US soldiers are dead and tens of thousands profoundly wounded. Most soldiers stay to help their buddies and because they took and oath -- whether they think the war is a fraud or not. Frankly, while individuals inside and outside the military may care about those human losses, as a whole, the military-industrial-etc complex could care less whether it was a human being or a Predator drone that went missing in action. It's just one more budgetary expense for replacement. And the bigger the budget, the more power accrues to the leaders in charge of that budget.
Iraq was *supposed* to be a quagmire; it is more profitable that way. The same financial dynamics could apply to social unrest in the USA if we get started down that path. There are people who stand to make a lot of money if the USA burns itself to the ground. Or maybe gain other sickening jollies, who knows.
A related story by me:
"Now this bit about that black preacher dreaming a nation might live up to its ideals. It is true you had him stopped him with a simple $0.10 bullet, as I see from your expense report, but his example was a horrible blow to our cause. You just can't say you handled the situation in the cheapest way, my dear Lion, that won't cut it. You need to find those flaws in virtuous people, expose them, and make them crack wide open. The whole core of your training is to create a disconnect between wisdom and action. It is when people are inspired to commit virtue by putting wisdom into action that we are most in danger of losing control of the situation. Yes you fostered riots and trigger happy police later, but you should have acted sooner. Why was that preacher not intimidated so that he only called for wisdom, not virtue? Yes, the Butterfly again, you reported, always the Butterfly. "
Citizen activists lose at the "mental" level by violence because (as indicated by ACT) the organizations needed to commit violence and run away from the consequences choose to be compartmentalized and secretive to minimize compromise by legal authorities. Further, the citizens groups organized that way won't be able to think collectively across millions of people to get the greatest power out of new tools like the internet. And even the most secure seeming communications can be infiltrated either by technological means or by turncoats or social engineering. The media loves to tell everyone about violence because it is profitable and shows up well photographically on the evening news, so violence just helps the existing system engage in Mental warfare against the public. That is part of why the concept of "Agent Provocateur" exists.
And citizen activists lose on the "moral" level because violence turns most people off who say, "If more violence is the answer, I think I'll stick with the system I know that at least pretends to guarantee my physical security against looters and thugs". Also, violence does not provide a clear vision of a positive future, so it can repel, but it does not (for most people) attract us to something new and beautiful and healthy and flourishing. Also, innocent people, including civil servants sworn to put their lives at risk to protect others, tend to get hurt during violence.
The USA may be at a tipping point right now. Which way do we want it to tip as a society?
Violence is ultimately disempowering to the perpetrators
Ultimately, violence is disempowering even of those who do it. It is an admission that one could not think of anything better to do and that one's needs and wishes were not respected otherwise from prior interactions. That's a reason Isaac Asimov had a character in one of his books say "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
When 99% (or even 33%, maybe even just 10%) of people stand up and say, "We want things run differently", whatever the demand like social security and medicare for all from birth, or whatever, it will happen, whatever it takes. We have to have confidence in that possibility of democracy, on building on the hard won freedoms of past generations. The challenge is to get people aware of the issues and the options and to decide on which ones make sense. As John W. Gardner said in "Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society", every generation needs to relearn for itself what the words carved into the stone monuments mean:
In that context, consider the statement by the Alliance of Community Trainers like: "There’s plenty of room in this struggle for a diversity of movements and a diversity of organizing and actions. Some may choose strict Gandhian nonviolence, others may choose fight-back resistance."
While the overall purpose of the statement is clearly to get the OWS demonstrators trained in doing non-violent actions, those two sentences can still be read as: "Let's work together on some things we train you about, and then we'll look the other way if you go smash windows and beat people up on your own time as we'll all benefit from your independent initiative". And that is how it will come across to many, whether it is intended that way or not.
The reason to become empowered is not to "fight back". It is to change the system, probably in some transcendental way (like a basic income or stronger support for a gift economy, or improved local subsistence, and/or more participatory democratic resource-based planning). That is the only way of "fighting back" that ultimately matters in the 21st century that has seen too much senseless physical and economic violence already. It is violence that has led to the radioactive contamination of Iraq for military-economic reasons, or more recently, the radioactive contamination of Japan for energy-economic reasons.
We need other ways forward. Otherwise, if people "fight back" with more violence, people are just fighting a losing battle against state power. The state grows in power by every blow you strike against it, because if there is one thing those with money can agree on, it is spending more on police to protect property they claim is theirs.
What is being missed here in that statement IMHO is a teachable moment. The public reaction to what happened in Oakland with the Black Bloc action was very negative. That action occurred after a successful day of peaceful protests, but it was what got the headlines. The public reaction was just one more example that physical violence and physical property damage turns most people off from any message others try to make at the same time. It isn't enough to say, "We did not do the violence". OWS and affiliated groups need to condemn the violence. They need to disown it. They even need to work to prevent it, for much the same reasons OWS is working to prevent physical and economic violence against the 99%. It doesn't matter who is doing it. We need to build a better world that works for everyone. That starts with us.
Also, in practice, physical violence is eventually responded to, and so also causes huge increases in security expenditures as a harmful spiral. Where does the money come from? Perhaps typically other programs serving the disadvantaged who can't protect themselves?
Selling weapons is profitable in our society, and regular profit-making dynamics will quickly feed the flames of anything getting out of hand in the USA, as it has already with our military:
Example of the increasing expenditure on fancy security devices:
"A Line Crossed? Armed Police UAVs In Texas: DHS-Funded Vanguard Shadowhawk Can Fire Grenades"
What red-blooded US company is not going to see the potential for literally a trillion dollars worth of domestic sales in that kind of stuff if domestic unrest gets going?
The social contract in our society in a sense grants the state a monopoly on violence in return for democratic processes. One reason being how expensive it is to run a society without a lot of trust, an we then spend all our money on grenade launching robots to deal with unhappy young people instead of spending it on after-school art programs and TechShops and so on.
Those democratic processes are still operating, even if money has been corrupting them. But what does the money accomplish most times other than pay for awareness or disinformation (ignoring outright bribery)? That paid propaganda can be resisted by education and discussion and thought. Violence tends to shut down thinking; humor and compassion creativity tends to open up thinking and creativity.
In that context, violence is both ineffective and immoral (and of course, usually illegal) in our society, given many other options for resolving conflicts (including peer-to-peer education). Any group like ACT that does not make that clear that violence is unworkable in our society as part of social change seems to be causing more confusion in that sense (whatever other significant good they are doing).
The question is, what is the violence alluded to intended to accomplish? Even in the statement, it was acknowledged that "security" within operations planning violence (against people or their property) conflicts with transparency and accountability. Violent people tend to rise to the top of violent organizations. And in practice, violence just strengthens the security state we all fear more and more. We need a different way forward.
Satyagraha as an alternative to violence
Satyagraha or "Soul Force" has worked in many situations as an alternative to violence and accomplished lasting healthy change:
A related story (by me):
"Soul force" may be the only thing that does work for the long term as the USA tries to figure out how to become a 21st century society.
From: "Creating True Peace : Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World" by Thich Nhat Hanh
"Sometime, people who cannot find any way to resolve a problem with someone else are tempted to eliminate the problem by eliminating the other person. They wish the other person would just go away, die, or disappear. That desire may be strong enough to lead them to kill. Killing another person is not an act of freedom but an act of despair and great ignorance; it will not bring freedom or peace. (page 92) Our enemy is never another person; our enemy is the wrong perceptions and suffering within him, within her [or sometime even within ourselves about them]. When a doctor sees a person who is suffering, he [or she] tries to identify the sickness within the patient to remove it. He [or she] does not try to kill his patient. The role of the doctor is not to kill people but to cure the illness within them. It is the same with a person who had suffered so much and who has been making you suffer -- the solution is not to kill him [or her] but to try to relieve him [or her] of his [or her] suffering. This is the guidance of our spiritual teachers. It is the practice of understanding and love. In order to truly love, we must first understand. (pages 89-90)
All of us can practice nonviolence. We begin by recognizing that, in the depths of our consciousness, we have both the seeds of compassion and the seeds of violence. We become aware that our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of mindfulness, and also seeds of ignorance, fear, and hatred. We realize that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or compassion, depending o the strength of those seeds within us. When the seeds of anger, violence, and fear are watered in us several times a day, they will grow stronger. Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and we make those around us suffer. Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion, and understanding in us everyday, those seeds will become stronger, and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker. We know that if we water the seeds of anger, violence, and fear within us, we will lose our peace and our stability. We will suffer and we will make those around us suffer. But if we cultivate the seeds of compassion, we nourish peace within us and around us. With this understanding, we are already on the path of creating peace. (Pages 1-2)"
Even the affluent and their children are suffering greatly from neoliberalism and materialism:
"The Culture of Affluence: Psychological Costs of Material Wealth"
"Children of the Affluent: Challenges to Well-Being"
Alfie Kohn comes at this issue from a different direction:
But the 1% are having trouble seeing a way forward. Violence is just going to make them worry more about defending their material goods, since many of the 1% have so little else in their lives of value, otherwise they might not be so financially obese in the first place.
One has to have a little faith that when enough people become aware of these issues, change can happen, even practically overnight, even as it may take years to get to that point where enough of the "guards" decide that change is needed through some form of "Quorum sensing":
But judging from the discussions online related to OWS, our society is still quite a ways away from that. But violence is not going to get us there any faster (it will probably slow us down as a distraction).
So, I'm very glad that ACT is working to educate people in OWS about non-violence. That is a great thing. But, for the reasons Domhoff raises, and we saw played out in Oakland, a less than total commitment to non-violence is still, essentially, a commitment to violence. ACT may be missing an opportunity for a teachable moment here.
Below is more I wrote earlier with more related to OWS and non-violence, with links to stuff others have said in OWS forums.
Sadly, the Occupy Wall Street movement is still struggling with whether it as a whole condemns physical violence...
Obviously, it condemns much economic violence, though, so that's a start. :-)
As a movement, OWS does not yet seem to have condemned violence
Consider on the "unofficial" OWS site:
"We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants."
Notice the use of the word "encourage" and not "insist on". And there is no apparent realization that violence will likely destroy the movement for practical reasons Domhoff talk about.
Also, there is no acknowledgement that the end result of the Arab Spring in a place like Egypt is not as clear cut as one might hope:
"Is Egypt's Arab Spring in Danger of Being Hijacked?"
"The increasingly heavy-handed track record of the Egyptian transition military government and continued public support for it by the US tend to reinforce these concerns. ..."
There have been some OWS discussions about non-violence
There have been some discussion threads on that occupywallst.org site (one of the main sites for the OWS movement) calling for a commitment to non-violence by the movement as a whole and documenting how OWS is being already harmed as a movement by violence done in relation to its events (whoever the provocateurs are or what their claimed affiliations with OWS). It is not clear if or when that statement on the main page there would be changed, or what it would take to get it changed.
Still, people are saying things supportive of a non-violent approach. See:
"Forum Post: To those who ruined all hope in oakland...."
And as one person pointed out there, quoting the original call that led in part to the Oakland events: ""...are encouraged to self-organize to shut down their cities and rebuild their communities in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of." [From: http://occupywallst.org/article/call-action-join-month-global-uprising/ ] So... you got what you asked for. You can't be mad when people take you at face value. If this is what they are "comfortable with and capable of", then you asked for it - "whatever manner" - so you own it, too. If you want better than this, demand better than this. Stop making these anything-goes declarations. Get your act together, and you will have the legitimization to oppose these acts of adolescent anarchic vandalism. Until then, you own it, too."
Or another: "This is what happens when a movement refuses to define itself. It ends up getting defined by its most radical elements."
Here is an example from the more official site: https://www.nycga.net/members/steveb1/activity/6539
"After watching the live feed from Cincinnati tonight, It struck me that for this movement to not only be successful but to appeal to, educate and attract other people, including law enforcement, that participants need to be educated on Non Violence, I would propose that all general assemblies propose daily or regular Non Violent Teach Ins, not only would this help educate on, not just physical non violence but verbal non violence also. The live stream videographer this evening was verbally abusive to the police, seeking out officers to confront ”look there’s one let’s go get him,” an officer walking by himself posing no threat to anyone and then with great hypocrisy verbally attacked the officer, challenging him. I do have to give credit sometimes he did engage officers respectfully and engaged them in conversation. Teach Ins on Non Violence are necessary. Words and actions can both be provocative and used to instigate or illuminate and educate. ”The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non violence and humor. ” – John Lennon"
"I think there needs to be a strong message from the vast majority (probably 99%!) of protesters that believe nonviolence is an absolute mandate for the movement. I agree with Dave’s point 6 – it needs to be clear that the core of the movement will not justify violence or condone it as an expression of people’s right to choose how they occupy. I think there needs to be a push to make nonviolence an accepted principle of the movement immediately."
And a very insightful practically-grounded comment with a story of working with police to improve a situation: "I agree with everything every one has said here. This includes that if we work a little WITH the police we can weed out many of the individuals harmful to the movement. This includes violent protesters, sexual predators, drug dealers, violent drunks, etc. We should use the police to help security. I have a situation which I know this is fairly incomparable in many ways, but this example does match in some ways. ..."
People are even complaining about the "fist" logo at occupywallst.org as an indication of violent tendencies and that the logo there should be changed.
So, as regards all that, the ACT effort is totally in the right direction. It is a tremendous thing as far as it goes.
This next sort of comment, by contrast, is potentially very harmful to the OWS movement, IMHO, coming from someone claiming to be affiliated with OWS, in the wake of the violence in Oakland, and showing the need for widespread education about these sorts of issues as mentioned above:
"Is "Black Bloc" hijacking Occupy Oakland?"
""I see Black Bloc as a tactic, not really as a movement," said Ryan Andreola, an Occupy demonstrator. He said he believes in non-violence but is not ready to condemn the tactics of the Black Bloc. "As individuals," said Andreola, "we respect people's freedom to act they way that they feel they have to act to make the changes they wish to see.""
What are the moral implications of that line of thinking, at least within a democracy where the state has been given a monopoly on violence (presumably in trust, for the People)?
Anyway, the point is, committing to a non-violent orientation is an issue that is in play in the OWS movement. It is something as a whole that movement is learning about.
And it is something everyone on the edges of the movement needs to learn too. And that is where the ACT statement falls down by still accepting "diversity of tactics". A wishy-washy ACT statement that basically says violence works sometimes or is OK when you are not working directly with OWS won't discourage people from hijacking the OWS efforts, like the Black Bloc did, and distracting from the OWS message. It isn't teaching all the people that violence is not the way in a democracy, for all the reasons I and others can list.
Why OWS needs to condemn violence
While Gandhi explains the moral basis of non-violence, Domhoff linked above explains why on a practical basis social movements need to condemn violence and distance themselves from those who do it. As he says, violence does not attract widespread public support. He also points out that once violence is unleashed, the most violent tend to rise to the top of the protest organizations and use violence within the organization itself against rivals for the top post.
While I really hope OWS flourishes and that it helps everyone address the huge rich/poor divide in our society (and other pressing concerns), OWS is struggling with some basic issues. A lack of commitment to non-violence is one of them. There are other big issues OWS is struggling with that compound the non-violence issue, because they make it harder to deal with.
OWS celebrates lack of leadership, but that can be a problem
One of those is accepting that all real systems are mixes of meshworks and hierarchies, and that life exists between fire (chaos) and ice (order), like Manuel de Landa talks about:
"Indeed, one must resist the temptation to make hierarchies into villains and meshworks into heroes, not only because, as I said, they are constantly turning into one another, but because in real life we find only mixtures and hybrids, and the properties of these cannot be established through theory alone but demand concrete experimentation."
Or Domhoff in a different way on left/right world view:
Basically, there may be reasons why people who are not kinfolk growing up in a village together (and maybe even are from widely different cultures) tend to make formal rules, or alternatively articulate strong principles, for living together in close quarters, and then tend to somehow select people to oversee the enforcement and/or mediation of related conflicts (including to avoid endless reprisal feuding). OWS seems to be learning about that pretty quickly, including by creating its own security teams. But accepting a need for some level of organization is still something OWS is struggling with.
I'm not saying it isn't a deep question of the 21st century what sort of social organizations we should have given all our technology, and worthy of much thought. Examples of people exploring those issues:
I guess we are seeing that thinking (and learning) about 21st century institutions in "real time" with OWS camps. How can one help that process? Some ideas (organized by me, coincidentally presented the same day Occupy Albany got started):
"Tools for Collective Sensemaking and Civic Engagement"
It seems that top-down leadership and bottom-up cooperation are not opposite sides of some continuum line, but more like two axes on a graph of "hierarchy and meshwork". From:
"Most collaboration requires leadership, although the form of leadership can be social within a decentralized and egalitarian group."
Because of this lack of leadership in OWS, it is even more important for groups trying to engage OWS like ACT to have a broad message for non-violence, to help educate the people at the edges of all this, and help them see why violence is going to be counterproductive.
OWS has framed the issue as class warfare not egalitarianism
Domhoff has suggested Democratic Egalitarian Clubs as one way forward in our society:
Whether that is the best way forward or not, another part of the problem OWS is facing is figuring out how to frame the OWS issue as, like Domhoff suggests, pro-egalitarian, rather than as the current 99% class warfare against the 1% who are rich. By extension, in our cultural mythology of capitalistic social darwinism in the USA, being wealthy is often assumed to be related to merit, and so this becomes implicitly and anti-intellectual war and anti-effort war against the 1% who are clever and industrious. I'm not saying this perception is true as it often is not (to do really well financially in the USA you often need to be both clever and heartless/clueless), but this feeling of being under attack for being smart or hardworking certainly drives some of the backlash against OWS by the mainstream, including "Millionaire Wannabees":
"If the problem is developing new policies and gaining political power, which it is, then the struggle should be framed from the start as a conflict over power and values, not as a struggle between social classes. The in-group should be all those who come to embrace the program of the egalitarian movement, and the out-group should be all those who oppose such changes. If the conflict is framed in this way, an egalitarian coalition has a chance to win over the moderates, neutrals, and independents who currently identify with capitalists, and who might be offended by blanket criticisms of them as a class. It may even attract dissident members of the capitalist class who transcend their class interests, and in the process become very valuable in legitimating the movement to those in the middle who are hesitant to climb on board."
Anything framed as warfare between people with characteristics they cannot change is problematical as far as leading to violence. That can be true even as, yes, wealth can be given away as people slim down from being financially obese. Still, in our capitalistic society there is a confusion between control over an enterprise (voting shares) and control over the distribution of the fruits of the enterprise (salaries and dividends), so people who are wealthy but run a business may be loath to give up that control over an enterprise. (Whether enterprises should be organized more democratically it itself another issue.)
So, this is a reason ACT and others will have a tough jobs with a non-violence message, because OWS has already framed the issue in a divisive confrontational war-like way. There is a lot of work to do in that sense.
A digression on a growing young/old divide in the USA
How much of the wealth divide is essentially just about young people unwittingly fighting with their grandparents? See:
"The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday."
That's not all of the 1% / 99% divide, just some of it, of course. But maybe it is 10% to 20% of it?
It seems pretty unfair to me (in my 40s) what is going on with the old/young divide in the USA.
Old people in the USA get health care, essentially a basic income (social security), and various other preferences. Yet, old people have never fully paid for those things monetarily, despite making social security payments to the previous generation, since social security was always a pay as you go pyramid scheme to some extent (starting with about a dozen people paying in for everyone who got benefits, and now becoming closer to one in three, with all the money really just going to the general US budget and the war machine with IOUs stored in a filing cabinet somewhere). See the filing cabinet here:
Young people get the current bills via FICA tax, a lot of debt from college, high-priced homes and rents, and bad jobs (if any jobs). They get stuck with the bills often while trying to take care of their elderly parents and grandparents in an economy where it is now being widely accepted the younger generation will not do as well as the older financially. That is just a pretty bad deal for the young, even if the young have SmartPhones and video games.
Obviously, many older people did lots of useful stuff when they were younger that the young benefit from, so it's a complex issue. People did pay something in to social security when working. But why not extend social security and medicare to all then in an egalitarian way as a way to reframe the issue? If old people have enough clout to have medicare, what does it say when young people don't have health insurance? If older people, who vote, are willing to accept such an economic divide from their own grandchildren, and watch their own children and grandchildren suffer with precarity, what hope is there for getting mostly intermarried wealthy people (about 200,000 families Domhoff said somewhere) as a group to accept change across class lines?
To be clear, I do not begrudge old people getting social security. I begrudge young people not getting it too.
Some people might say the young got a K-12 education paid for. But if the one substantial economic contribution to youth, schooling, is seen as dysfunctional and a convenience so the youth can be separated from their parents who are forced to work (often at jobs they like less than being with their children), what does that say about how the old care for the young? Examples:
Alternatives, to be hopeful:http://www.educationrevolution.org/
Western Europe has a very different model of social welfare, not based on need (and proof of inability or destitution) so much as based on rights:
That's part of the economics issues that need to be discussed in the USA.
There is also a different financial model of schooling in some such countries, where the money follows the kid to alternative schools. I think it might be even better if the families got the money directly, so they could use the money to support homeschooling or hiring tutors and so on, as I suggest here:
Is there perhaps some displacement of anger going on here in the USA related to a young/old divide, as much as there is a real issue with a rich/poor divide for other broader reasons? It's easier to say "the rich" are evil than to ask, why do my parents and grandparents have nice homes and social security and access to modern medicine and could marry young and have kids but those things seem unobtainable for me?
What's your family going to think if you are a young person then and ask those kind of things about what old people get versus what they are getting? And what young person wants to think that their parents and grandparents don't care about them and have used political power only to benefit themselves?
It would be sad if the old in the USA won't care for their own grandkids through social policy for whatever social mythological reason related to fears about poverty:
"The Mythology of Wealth"
As well as stupid, since after all, who is going to be their doctors soon enough? I guess there is a sense among the old that paying for prison-like failing schools is enough of a support? After all, they may remember schools as very different places.
Anyway, if we can't begin to address this seemingly easier young/old unfairness issue (one that Western Europe handles much better), how can we address a harder class issue in the USA?
Building a case for the 1% supporting wealth redistribution
Whether or not the old will care for the young in the USA in terms of a better social safety net or universal health coverage, one can still try to build a case for a wealthy class accepting change to care for the kids of another class (but it is harder). I tried to do that with this essay:
"Basic Income from a Millionaire's Perspective?"
That essay, republished on someone else's website with permission, was something I wrote in relation to a lunch I had at Ali Babba Express in Lake George with someone who is more-or-less a millionaire at the moment, where I later thought about all the clever things I should have said but didn't think of at the time. :-)
Why it is important for OWS to move past these issues soon
These two issues of celebrating lack of leadership and then defining things as essentially class warfare (even if it is just a reprisal for 30 years going the other way) compound the non-violence issue because they make it hard to redirect the OWS anger into more constructive ways.
The non-violence issue is probably the biggest issue compared to the problems of glorifying only decentralization and framing the issue divisively though.
As Domhoff says, violence will alienate people from the cause.
Further, it is easy for people in the USA to forget that once widespread violence and related social dysfunction gets started (for whatever reason, including due to US government intervention), it can go on for years or even decades. Examples from Columbia, Argentina, and Iraq (but one could find many more):
We could see all sorts of nasty stuff if this all turns violent and groups with identifiable characteristics get subdivided, scapegoated, and picked off (with ever widening circles of violence).
When social unrest happened in the 1950s, the US economy was fairly solid. People are much more desperate now. The potential for violence is thus potentially much higher. Just down the road from me a couple months ago there was a tragic domestic murder/suicide, and while I don't know any of the details, there seems to be some truth that: "Rising economic stress cited in domestic violence increase"
So, we've potentially got an entire society on edge... Violence may often be turned inward, but it can also be turned outward. Some OWS demonstrators may underestimate how fast violence could get out of control, like a spark in a forest during a dry spell once it really gets going.
How the Peace Movement could help OWS learn about non-violence
I've spent some time myself online trying to educate OWS supporters about the importance of a commitment to non-violence (to the extent I know anything about it), mainly in relation to Domhoff's essay, but it is a slow process (and I'm sure there are much better educators than I). And I myself wonder about OWS as a movement and my being seen to be affiliated with OWS even by trying to talk about non-violence if OWS does not disclaim violence (for both moral and practical reasons)?
Ideally, people who have first-hand experience in the big non-violent successes (civil rights, anti-war) of the 1950s and 1960s would be providing some education to OWS. That means people in their 60s and 70s really have to step into the OWS GAs and the online forums and encourage them that the struggle can be successful through non-violent means (and they may indeed be the only means that will work).
Obviously, there are other younger people with experience of non-violent social change in other contexts (organizing for other more recent causes). Other resources for learning how to do social change in non-violent ways:
If there was one thing the US Peace movement could do as a whole right now IMHO, it is educate all the OWS protesters in the theory and practice of non-violence. It could work towards a goal of getting a commitment to non-violence by all OWS GAs (and a comittment to exclude those who plan violence, for all the reasons both Gandhi and Domhoff outline on the moral and practical dimensions). I'm glad to see that at least some of that is going on with people raising the issues.
Clearly almost all people in the OWS movement are non-violent, and many decry violence (as above), and some GAs like in Maine have taken a stand against physical violence (even if physical violence is sometimes in retaliation for a perception of an ongoing economic violence that we are all living through, as is often the case in all wars that ping-pong between economic aggression and physical aggression).
Some of the physical violence may also be coming from Agent Provocateurs (another reason to have a firm stand against violence). But the issue of how those are handled is also part of non-violence education.
As a movement, it does not yet seem to me like OWS has made a statement that commitment to non-violence, even if it is getting there. It may be close though, and what people here do might make a difference.
I think that is the big value of the ACT statement as far as it goes. I think it is wonderful people in ACT are doing this, even though a bigger opportunity is being missed IMHO, and ACT is leaving open the door for violence in its statement.
Any other creative suggestions?
Local issues relating to OWS and non-violence
I was glad to see at Occupy Saratoga something about Occupy Albany and a commitment to non-violence (I am not sure what Occupy Saratoga's position is on a commitment to non-violence though):
"Drugs and alcohol are not permitted, and nonviolence is demanded."
And yet, consider this discussion:
"Early in the General Assembly meeting on Sunday, October 9, 2011, a woman took the floor and proposed that Occupy Albany take the position that “this is a non-violent movement.” I attempted to block this proposal. ..."
I'm not saying whether that person was right or wrong to do that (he makes some good points about a rushed process even as I disagree with others points he makes), just that is is an issue.
One person makes a good point there that violence also puts all the other protesters at risk: "Ther truth is, in that scenario [someone doing a violent thing], noone would need to call a cop, I am sure they would be watching and waiting for that sort of action to use as an excuse to brutalize all of us--so yeah, I guess, there would be no need to call a cop's attention to that sort of thing. ... As for putting my body between that of a cop and a protestor, it would depend. ... I won;t do it for a jepk who goes to protests to get into fights--I have seen that before and it's the black and brown folks who get bashed/arrested first when that sort of bs starts up. Maybe you are not this type, but i am familiar with guys who do that, either out of personal issues or because the ideology they subscribe to condones and encourages violence at these sort of events. ..."
One can also ask what that situation means as far as how peace groups should interact with OWS until OWS really has made a reflective and informed total commitment to non-violence?
What does it mean for a peace group to march together or say it is in "solidarity" with OWS-affiliated demonstrators if OWS has not collectively condemned violence as a movement?
More on non-violence as the (likely only possible) way forward
"Martin Luther King's creed of non-violence surprised many Americans. Though conceding that King's methods were effective, black psychologist Kenneth Clark called the philosophy of loving one's enemy "psychologically burdensome." In a 1963 interview, Malcolm X accused King of working "to keep Negroes defenseless in the face of an attack." Nevertheless, King's approach achieved success in Montgomery, Alabama, and other civil rights hot spots."
"Violence-prone activists sometimes like to claim they are merely retaliating against violence by the police, which they think people will understand and even applaud as justifiable self-protection. Some activists also believe that standing up to the police will inspire others to join them because they have shown they are serious about challenging the system. However, as polls taken after such incidents show, most people do not accept these rationales. They do not like to hear of extreme reactions by the police, but they tend to blame the demonstrators, even when the police are the primary instigators. Thus, it is not a matter of who is right and who is wrong, or about which side started it. It is a matter of whether physical confrontations are effective in gaining adherents, and it seems clear that they are not."
The good news is, there is a lot of learning going on by lots of people (myself included). The bad news is, there is a lot of learning going on. :-) Or, as Anthony Robbins said: "Success is the result of good judgement, good judgement is a result of experience, experience is often the result of bad judgement.'
Elsewhere people have pointed out how with all this fancy electronic stuff, why does it come down to face-to-face physical general assemblies making decisions? I don't know what to say about that, but it is an interesting question of human psychology.
Of course, a commitment to non-violence is just the beginning. Then one has to come up with creative ways to deal with anger, like Mr. Rogers talks about. My own thoughts on that (and that video should really be a lot more jazzy, just a first attempt):
"This video presents a simplified education model about socioeconomics and technological change. It discusses five interwoven economies (subsistence, gift, exchange, planned, and theft) and how the balance will shift with cultural changes and technological changes. It suggests that things like a basic income, better planning, improved subsistence, and an expanded gift economy can compensate in part for an exchange economy that is having problems."
And essentially those same ideas at length in detail:
As Bucky Fuller said: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."
What new socio-economic model are we trying to build? That is a question OWS and the Peace Movement have to continue to wrestle with (and certainly the peace movement has been doing that for decades). Domhoff has an essay about his perspective on that (even if I feel it is incomplete for reasons I talk about in the above links, but is nonetheless insightful):
Other ideas from a different perspective, for comparison:
I can wonder if sometimes the rush to violence and destruction by some people is nature filling a vacuum in the absence of more creative ideas? Not to say nature itself is not full of Yin/Yang dualities of creation and destruction in tension.
I loved the initiative to have people move their funds to credit unions. That is non-violence at its best. And while I already had a credit union account, I zeroed out our checking balance at a commercial bank around then.
Humans are moral beings, besides whatever else we are. It's OK to be angry; like Mr. Rogers says, the question is, "What do you do with the mad that you feel?"
We need to come up with creative non-violent options for expressing that individual and collective anger.
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Created: November 10, 2011
Last Update: November 11, 2011