Author: Tom H. Hastings

Conflict chicken and egg

Which came first, the weapons and testosterone, or the verbal skills to manage conflict without violence?We have no particular way to know for sure, but language, conflict, creativity, and violence all seemed to co-evolve in connected, sometimes depend…

Institution of higher learning to enforce dictates at gunpoint

Where I work, Portland State University, the Board of Trustees decided to create a “real” police department for the campus, replete with armed “sworn” officers, possibly with a SWAT team for those special campus moments (we’ve been known to have large …

The hidden benefit of nonviolence: Down with bosses and up with democracy

In the birthing days of the Soviet Union, the evils of the elites were obvious–pampered royals lived in opulence while workers and peasants lived in squalor. Hard work was rewarded with poverty and repression (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). The bloody revolution, however, replaced one set of royal bosses with a different set of communist bosses. Dissent was tolerated by neither czarist Russia nor Marxist Leninist USSR. Freedom was a concept unknown to most living under either regime.

How could this be? The overlords were overthrown in the name of the workers, of the farmers, of the peasants who worked the land to give everyone sustenance.

Ah, but who claimed all the credit for the revolution? The violent vanguard. They took the power by gun and kept it by gun–helped by a state apparatus of spies, servile law enforcement, brutal interrogators, corrupt judges, and harsh gulags. Workers were anything but free, were emphatically not running any dictatorship of the proletariat, as claimed.

Lucky that never happened in the US, where the revolution was also violent, right?

Well, we are still talking about rich white men, mostly slaveowners, so let’s not get all that gooey, please. It is true that American white men did a reasonably good job of freeing white men from King George. It is not true that the American Revolution did a single thing for African Americans (even though the first one shot dead, Crispus Attucks, of Boston Massacre fame, was free black, certainly doing little for him). Indeed, the Constitution defined them as 60 percent human. Tell me that’s not shameful.

Similarly, the American Revolution did nothing but grease the Bad News Skids for Native Americans. If anything, it hastened the loss of land and rights for the original people. In fact, those first ones were the last ones to gain rights that white Americans have taken for granted for more than 220 years. I mean, it wasn’t until 11 August 1978 that Native Americans were legally able to practice their own religion. So much for the separation of church and state applying to all.

So in many ways the liberation by gun of the United States was not entirely the shining example of freedom it might have been if the revolution had been nonviolent, but that is a moot historical question in most ways. It was what it was and it is what it is. The primary point is that even the most well intentioned and noble violent insurrections leave the power with the elites who take credit for waging the war. When a revolution is nonviolent, there is no guarantee of blissful perfection but the claim of power by the gun=freedom is missing.

I don’t want to honor a Washington, a Ho Chi Minh, a Vladimir Lenin, a Fidel Castro, or any other violent power-grabber. Give me instead the people of Chile, rising up to nonviolently overthrow Augusto Pinochet, or the people of India evicting the British empire and Gandhi refusing all political position. These are the imperfect but far more egalitarian revolutions (Tell it, Sinead!).

Nonviolence is a flop. The only bigger flop is violence. (Joan Baez)

The stats gathered by Freedom House researchers (hardly a lefty or pacifist group!) bear this out. Wage your revolution with nonviolence and your chances for democracy, human rights, and civil rights improve dramatically.

References

Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Karatnycky, Adrian; Ackerman, Peter (2005). How freedom is won: From civic resistance to durable democracy. New York: Freedom House.

Thrash blindly! Bang head! Real action!

One major misconception–one of many–about nonviolent activists is that they must be willing to risk their lives and freedom to achieve any change. Indeed, goes the myth, the ones who fling themselves willy-nilly at the system are the ones who can win and who are the heroes.

Actually, it is usually the prudent ones who are victorious in the end (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). Yes, they are often hurt and imprisoned, but the greater the strategic approach, the less, generally, they are treated with raging brutality.

For too long, and far too often, some critics of nonviolence have associated careful actions with a principled approach involving religious mandate or philosophical stance (Coy, 2013). However, it is simply untrue in many cases over a fair amount of time and learning these histories can assist in any strategic planning.

One of the primary core causes of conflict is face, or respect, or dignity (Kriesberg & Dayton, 2012). In turn, many nonviolent activists have a strong sense of dignity when offering nonviolent action of any sort. You have your nuns and priests who solemnly bring hammers to weapons and engage in Swords into Plowshares actions, usually accompanied before and after by prayer. You had Dr. King and his fellow ministers leading the Civil Rights movement from churches and all their actions were quite dignified. So this association of a moral, or religious, approach with deliberate, even prayerful, action is natural.

But there are many other careful and dignified actions that are purely strategic, without a great deal of nonviolent philosophy. These are simply adaptive; police, soldiers, and thugs both hired and ideologically driven are far less likely to attack and hurt or even kill nonviolent activists who are balanced, stable, serious, transparent, dignified, and calm. This calm method is thus quite strategic if by strategy we mean the most gain for the least pain–that is, the best choices in a cost-benefit analysis.

So when the Anishinabe practiced their treaty rights despite death threats from racist white opponents, and when they practiced those rights with perfect nonviolent discipline, they were doing so from a strategic standpoint. They were warriors and philosophically not nonviolent. They decided, simply, to use the most pragmatic approach possible and it was victorious.

This is not to say that a strategic approach might not yield over time to a new philosophy. That is my story. I began as a young activist with an unformed philosophy, only attracted to fighting for racial justice and against the stupid war in Vietnam. Over time, as I engaged in nonviolent action and both took and gave nonviolence trainings, my faith in nonviolence became my philosophy.

So the strategic value of careful actions sometimes overlaps with the philosophy of nonviolence but sometimes does not. No assumptions should be made in this regard, except that more investigation is usually a good idea.

References

Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Coy, P. G. (2013). Whither Nonviolent Studies? Peace Review, 25(2), 257-265. doi:10.1080/10402659.2013.785331

Kriesberg, Louis, & Dayton, Bruce W. (2012). Constructive conflicts: From escalation to resolution. (4th ed.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Finding the cleavage, applying the leverage

In 1968 in Czechoslovakia, ushering in Prague Spring, Alexander Dubček famously called for “Socialism with a human face.” Faceless tanks from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and its Warsaw Pact ran down democracy activists in the streets of Prague and rolled Dubček out to pasture. So much for the humanity of that brand of socialism.

In 1980 the democracy activists in Poland took a different approach. They made only “industrial” demands, not political ones (Ackerman & DuVall, 2000). They saw more clearly from the disastrous results in 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Prague that calling for the reform of the political system would be interpreted as revolution and would be summarily and remorselessy crushed.

What was so perfect about the Polish experiment was that they stuck to their primary demand for collective bargaining rights–only wanting an independent union in a satellite country to an empire that built its rhetoric around union rights, workers as heroes, and the mighty power of the working class. This harnessed the trumpeted values of the oppressor, even a codeword for leftist action–“Solidarity“–creating an opening, however small, that we see again and again in successful nonviolent struggles.

This approach can also reveal the hidden cleavages between ideologues who really intend to slaughter all opponents and more realistic, pragmatic members of the ruling class who just want to maintain their enjoyable lives of privilege. Once those cleavages are found, the best nonviolent movements find the wedge issues and pointed tactics that exploit that heretofore masked fault line and they drive the wedge hard.

Poles were philosophical about it all. Supposedly, in the 1950s, the joke there was “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite” (quoted by John Kenneth Galbraith). It took trial and error to find the wedge issue and exploit that in order to stop the system from exploiting them.

Some day, we hope, humankind will study nonviolence more than violence and will prepare for nonviolent struggle more than for war. When we see that we will see these strategies applied much faster, much more often, with greater, quicker, less costly and more frequent success. The Solidarity activists reinvented some of what Gandhi did in several of his struggles, beginning in South Africa in 1906. They recreated the dynamics that the US Civil Rights movement created in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and the 1960 Nashville sit-in movement.

These methods are not rocket science, but for them to overtake and surpass the methods of violence it will take education, investment, and much more ongoing preparation. Anything less is a disservice to humanity.

References

Ackerman, P., & DuVall, J. (2000). A force more powerful: A century of nonviolent conflict. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

From retributive to rehabilitative to restorative to transformative: Arc of justice

Review: Schenwar, Maya (2014), Locked down, locked out: Why prison doesn’t work and how we can do better. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.Maya Schenwar is a writer and editor who made prisons and justice models her “beat” when her sister kept gettin…

Homage to a beheading royal–really?

The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs–the military sworn to defend democracy and the same military currently bombing the snot out of ISIS thugs who have been rightly vilified for beheadings–now wants his members to honor a Saudi royal whose regime beheaded countless dissidents and allowed flogging women for flirting.

Seriously.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz passed away at age 90 this January 23. His people were never citizens; they were all subjects. With his oil riches he maintained the occasional illusion of tiny reforms, all of which really strengthened his grip on power. He usually ran the most misogynistic regime on Earth (OK, the Taliban in Afghanistan had him beat for a few years), and he made sure the common Saudis did not share in the fabulous oil wealth he reserved for his extended royal family. 

Honestly.

The honor comes in the form of an essay contest and research initiative into the future of US-Arab security. “Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the essay competition is a fitting tribute to the life and leadership of the Saudi Arabian monarch.” The contest will be conducted through the National Defense University.

The New Surrealpolitik
How is a monarch who owned slaves a suitable subject for honor, a suitable partner for an alliance, and an acceptable recipient of massive amounts of US military hardware and training? The war profiteers in the US have shoveled in the funds from this arrangement for decades. The fluid dynamics are these: 
  • The US wants Saudi oil.
  • Saudi royals need US guns, planes, bombs and materiel to control their own people.
  • US war profiteer corporations don’t care if they sell to terrorists, democracies, military juntas, or kings. They don’t care if innocent people are repressed with their products and they don’t care if journalists are jailed for writing the truth. They care about one thing: making blood money hand over fist. They lobby Congress, they lobby the Pentagon, and they get their way. 
  • Everybody wins (everyone in the elites, never mind everyone else). 
Congratulations, Dempsey. You have shared that big vat of Ghoul-Aid with your students and researchers. No wonder the average Saudi loathes his rulers and tends to believe in the Wahabi radicalism borne of decades of violent repression made possible by US military collaborators like you. Another proud moment for the US in the Arab world.

Ten reasons to repeal the stupid Second Amendment

I wrote a short opinion piece on Christmas day, 2014, about repealing the Second Amendment. It attracted the attention of the National Rifle Association and was featured in at least two places on their vast and interesting website.I received more hate …

Shoot down the stupid Second Amendment

What country fetishizes, lionizes, valorizes, idolizes, and sacralizes guns as much as does our United States? OK, possibly Mozambique–the only country with an AK47 on its flag, but really, it’s long past time to end this obsessive “My Precious” attac…

Leadership and a collective culture: How America polices against movements, even from within

I’ve been with the peacekeepers, witness for peace, vibeswatchers, march marshals, or whatever you might want to call us, in several movements for a few decades. I’m used to the abuse.We are scornfully called “peace police.” Well, if a movement wants t…