By Dottie Engel, North Carolina Green Party
with contribution by David McCorquodale, Green Party of Delaware
In an increasingly violent world, why is the philosophy of non-violence a Green key value? One might argue that revolutionary violence is the only means of bringing about the social change necessary to redress the multiple wrongs in our society. As in other cultures where oppression led to revolution, one could argue, and many do, that the gap between the masses and the ruling class is widening. Non-violent methods of confrontation can never right this imbalance, so why persist in non-violent alternatives?
To answer this question, we must look to our past leaders in the politics of protest. Possibly the greatest reformer in the non-violent tradition in our century was Mahatma Ghandi. He coined a phrase “Satyagraha,” which combined the words satya (truth) and agraha (firmness of force). He defined “satyagraha” as a “method for bringing about social change through the persuasion of one’s antagonist that he is wrong. No physical force can be used in this process; the goal is to convince one’s adversary, not subjugate him. Violence has no part in this process for the use of violence can only temporarily suppress evil at the cost of having it arise later with redoubled vigor. Non-violence, on the other hand, puts an end to evil by converting the evildoer.”
Ghandi’s ideas influenced Martin Luther King, whose applications of non-violent confrontation are some of the most memorable in recent history. Whoever has seen it can never forget the images of black people kneeling in the streets being beaten with nightsticks by angry police, helplessly enduring beatings in the hopes of politicizing an apathetic public. I, for one, will never forget the brave little seven-year-old black girl who walked into a school in New Orleans, dressed immaculately, being spit upon by angry white Catholic women. Her father had brought her to the entrance and then let go of her hand so she could walk that gauntlet and integrate that school. Certainly no violent action could ever evoke such sentiment in the minds and hearts of onlookers.
King defined in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” the four basic steps in any nonviolent campaign: “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” Workshops on nonviolence focused on asking these questions “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” and King further defined nonviolent direct action as “seeking to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly re fused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
A recent example of effective non-violent action was dramatized in the movie Bowling for Columbine. Filmmaker Michael Moore, when confronting K-Mart about selling the am munition used in the Columbine massacre, brought two students wounded in the conflict with him to confront the store manager. Yes, he was successful in persuading K-Mart to stop selling that am munition in its stores, and not one blow was struck. He created such “tension” that K-Mart became will ing to negotiate.
So, where does the Green Party stand with respect to non-violence? Early on, according to Gary Swing, writing in “Synthesis/Regeneration” Fall 2001, no Green Party platform in the United States demonstrated a belief in nonviolence. Swing examined the campaign literature and web sites of dozens of Green Party candidates for congress and president from 1994-2000, and none of them advocated nonviolent alternatives to war. However, by 2004 the platform of the Green Party of the United States had carved out a strong position on non-violence in foreign policy, urging that the U.S. respect international treaties, follow a constructive path to peace in the Middle East, and proceed to dismantle nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
In 2006 the actions of Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan and Green congressional candidate Michael Berg illustrated the in tense personal depth of emotion involved in seeking non-violent solutions to personal loss. Both had lost children in the turmoil in Iraq. Sheehan’s son died in combat. Berg’s son, a private contractor hoping to find business in Iraq, was kidnapped and murdered, and the video of the murder played around the world. Rather than call for revenge and support the destructive military effort in Iraq, both called for an end to the fighting.
Michael Berg had taken a college course in forgiveness and was actively involved in anti-war protests when he decided to broaden his efforts into a campaign against one of the congressmen, Mike Castle of Delaware, who supported the war. Just as Berg’s campaign started, it was announced that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed mastermind behind the killing of his son, had died. This produced a media frenzy with local and cable news outlets sending people to interview Berg, and which culminated in an interview by Larry King on CNN. The spin the media wanted to put on the story was that Michael Berg should be happy and relieved to know that al-Zarqawi had died. They were shocked to find out it wasn’t so. Many cut off their interviews when they realized Berg wasn’t rejoicing at the death.
Berg’s view is il lustrated in an in terview with Soledad O’Brien on CNN. He said, “Well, my reaction is I’m sorry whenever any human being dies. … I feel doubly bad, though, because Zarqawi is also a political figure, and his death will re-ignite yet another wave of re venge, and revenge is something that I do not follow…I do not wish it against anybody. And it can’t end the cycle. As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will al ways have violence.”
Berg and Sheehan have shown that Greens must take the moral high ground on non-violence, whether it is popular or not.
Additionally, as Martin Kelley at Nonviolence.Org, puts it: “We … need to broaden our definition of nonviolence. … We are not just against particular wars, but all wars and not just the ones fought with bullets between nation states. We are against the everyday wars of people oppressing other people through economics, sexism, racism, ageism and a thousand other mechanisms. When we speak out about environmental damage, we are stopping war. When we talk about lifestyle choices like vegetarianism and living carefree in transit-friendly cities, we are stopping war. When we fight for minimum wage and for stopping third-world sweatshops, we are stopping war. … We need to build a culture of pacifism, we need to become conscientious objectors to the consumerism of our society.”
Several additional options for non-violent action come to mind. We need to develop think tanks to strategize ways to stop conservative efforts to take over our airways, our voting machines, our federal judges and courts, and our newspapers. At present, right wing think tanks spend much of their time developing strategies to dismantle our constitutional rights and blanket the country with conservatives in all elected offices. We need to resist— a house divided cannot stand. We need to unite around our common goals and go forward. We can make a difference!