Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What We're Talking About When We Talk About Nonviolent Struggle

What we’re facing here is what is called an “acute conflict”.  Acute conflicts are not open to compromise. Politics as usual works best on compromise.  But global warming is not something where compromise is going to work.  We need to make the fossil fuel industry give up on it’s basic business model.  They have to stop forcing us to use the kind of energy that puts heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere (and further seals our doom).  This has to end.  There’s no nice way around it.  That’s why we need a very effective and very determined nonviolent strategy.

When I first started studying nonviolent struggle, I was surprised to learn that it was actually a means of last resort.  You were supposed to exhaust every other avenue of solving the problem before you employ the drastic technique of nonviolent action.  

People don’t really understand what you mean when you say “nonviolence”.  They think it means “Oh, they’re peaceful, isn’t that sweet,” and underneath that they think “They’re naive.  They won’t be effective.  They’re wasting their time.”  So. when I read that nonviolence should only be undertaken as a means of last resort, I couldn’t help but think “Huh?!  How could something that harmless be a means of last resort?”

Well the truth is nonviolent struggle is scrappy and aggressive.  It’s a very confrontational way of engaging an opponent.  It’s not about being nice, it’s not about being passive, and it often requires activists to put themselves in harm’s way.

You do nonviolent action because it’s the fastest, most effective way to get what you need to get done done.

Violence doesn’t work.  When you’re taking on an opponent that has all the machinery of the state behind it, you’re taking on opponents who have the police and the military there to defend it (to say nothing of all the private security forces that money can buy), so any attempt at violence would quickly result in defeat.

Sabotage doesn’t work either.  Basically nonviolent struggles are popularity contests with the public as the judge.  So if your side commits actions that cast your side in a bad light, you’re harming your cause.  

In nonviolent struggle you have to be really smart and careful about what you do.

There are a lot of organizations in the climate movement, and all but one that I can think of are committed to “nonviolence” (Deep Green Resistance put out a book a couple years ago that advocated secrecy and sabotage, which are both no-no’s when it comes to nonviolent action).   But, with only a couple very recent exceptions, the movement hasn’t applied a systematic nonviolent strategy to it’s actions.  (I worked with one organization who never had time to work out an overall strategy, they were always frantically consumed with the very next action – as a means to grow their membership.  That was their goal for the year:  Grow membership.  Not Stop Global Warming.)

You need a strategy, a carefully thought-out strategy.  You need activists that are really committed to doing this.  And you need people with a deep understanding of how nonviolent struggle works.  That’s one of our main goals with this blog.

Gandhi believed nonviolent struggle was a means of matching forces.  This movement needs to create a playing field where we are in a position of advantage that our opponents cannot break.   

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