Last weekend I went to a training on NonViolence by Bernard Lafayette and his wife, Kate, and Mary Lou Finley. Bernard founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) when he was 20 and he was part of Dr. King's inner circle. He is now 77, and still fighting for justice.
My reaction to the training was to feel like I was in a familiar place because as a birthright Friend I have literally been raised with the 6 principles of Nonviolence that Bernard shared with us. In fact at one point when he named the influences on King's development of his own philosophy of nonviolence he mentioned "the historic Peace Churches" and then listed them out. Dr. Lafayette also was one of the creators of the original Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop at Greenhaven Prison in NYC. So my many years of involvement in AVP also made the principals of nonviolence that he shared with us very familiar:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.
2. The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.
The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.
3. Attack forces of evil, not person doing evil.
The nonviolence approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reaction to one's opponents or their personalities.
4. Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal.
Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grown in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one's own friends and community as well as to the opponent.
5. Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign. It provides mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one's opponent and the community at large. Specific activities must be designed to help maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.
6. The universe is on the side of justice.
Truth is universal and human society and each human being is oriented to the just sense of order of the universe. The fundamental values in all the world's great religions include the concept that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. For the nonviolent practitioner, nonviolence introduces a new moral context in which nonviolence is both the means and the ends.
I realized among other things that having been raised in Chicago where various civil rights leaders from Dr. Lafayette to Jesse Jackson spent time, and also having spent time on the eastcoast in Boston and DC. I was exposed to peace and social justice activists who were deeply steeped in these attitudes so they were normative to me when I moved out to Seattle. They are not typical attitudes in Seattle whose Wobbly past leans a bit more towards a Sal Alinsky approach that very much identifies opponents as enemies and directs anger at the opponent, often making a person the enemy. This has also been a painful part of doing peace and social justice work in Seattle for me. The 5th principal itself comes into things like do you chant angry chants or do you sing songs of hope and determination? Principal 3 comes in for me to questions of how you pick the targets of protests and the focus of campaigns.
Since history is written by the victors for the most part the history of nonviolence has been obscured or rewritten. It is way beyond the "white washing" of Martin Luther King's quite radical legacy. I seriously during the debates around non-violence at Occupy Seattle had to endure people saying (and meaning it) that nonviolence had never been successful in history except in freeing India and sort of in the civil rights movement. This is an ignorance of the dozen's and dozen's of successful nonviolent government change overs that have happened just since WWII and the fact that those are escalating. If you are not familiar with the research of Erica Chenoweth on the efficacy of nonviolence I encourage you to visit her blog https://rationalinsurgent.com/. Dr. Lafayette did a wonderful job of telling us stories from his many decades of experience with active engagement in non-violence: from Selma, to Wounded Knee to being Kidnapped in Columbia. I will write more about this in another post. But I am left wondering why there are not camera crews following around Dr. Lafayette, Dr. Lawson and Rev Jessie Jackson while they are still alive, before this amazing oral history is lost forever.
Dr. Lafayette explained that the civil rights movement distinguished between "non-violence" (the absence of violence which can lead to passive peace) and nonviolence which is the whole significant "technology" that is represented by Kingian nonviolence as described in the 6 principles above and this he said leads to "active peace" a peace that includes social justice. For me this was a helpful light into why I am often in the room with people who ascribe to non-violence as a tactic and yet know that we are actually not talking about the same thing. I know I want to live and act from the true Spirit of nonviolence. While we sang at the end, sang: "Woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Freedom." I saw that the words stuck in my head were "with my mind stayed on Nonviolence"!