Day 14 of my analysis of Gene Sharp’s The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part One: Power and Struggle, Chapter 2, applied to the climate movement. Reading Sharp’s books are a prerequisite for anyone who wants to help save our life-support system. Please go to Dr. Sharp’s website, buy these books, and study them.
Sharp: “It was Gandhi who made the most significant personal contribution in the history of the nonviolent technique, with his political experiments in the use of noncooperation, disobedience and defiance to control rulers, alter government policies, and undermine political systems. With these experiments, the character of the technique was broadened and its practice refined. Among the modifications Gandhi introduced were greater attention to strategy and tactics….”
To me, nonviolence without a systematic strategy is like football without teams and games. I love watching football, but not if it’s just some guy tossing a football into the air. So while it’s true that all the climate organizations are “nonviolent”, if they haven’t taken the time to really educate themselves about strategic nonviolent struggle, they’re not doing it right.
Sharp: (quoting Gandhi) “’In politics, [power’s] use is based on the immutable maxim that government of the people is possible only so long as they consent either consciously or unconsciously to be governed.’. This constituted the basic principle of his grand strategy.
“In Gandhi’s view, if the maintenance of an unjust…regime depends on the cooperation, submission and obedience of the populace, then the means for changing or abolishing it lies in the noncooperation, defiance and disobedience of that populace. These, he was convinced, could be undertaken without the use of physical violence, even without hostility toward the members of the opponent group.”
Gandhi: “We hold it a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this…disaster to our country. We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence…The matter resolves itself into one of matching forces.”
“Gandhi had it so much easier than us,” an exasperated climate activist I know once quipped. Yes, Gandhi’s task was to free a nation of hundreds of millions from the oppression of a few hundred thousand British troops, and yes, most of those hundreds of millions were aware of and not happy about their servitude, but climate change is going to devastate everyone in the world. India schmindia! We just need to awaken people to that fact. Unfortunately, we will have to awaken practically everyone in the world. But Mother Nature is already spiraling out of control. People are clueing in. They just don’t know how bad it can get, or how fast it can happen. No one’s talking about that. Anywhere. That has to be a big part of our job, and we have to do it credibly and doggedly.
It’s also helpful to remind ourselves of the need to not just be nonviolent, but also without hostility. It’s easy to bear resentment toward those who’ve deliberately manipulated public opinion toward climate skepticism and who’ve giddily high-fived one another with every defeat of proposed solutions. But this is personally toxic and it fortifies the other side. In the movie Gandhi he says “we must defy, not with violence that will inflame their will, but with a firmness that will open their eyes.”
Sharp; “Gandhi set out with disciples on a 26 day march to the sea to commit civil disobedience by making salt. This was the signal for mass nonviolent revolt throughout the country…there were mass meetings, huge parades, seditious speeches, a boycott of foreign cloth, and picketing of liquor shops and opium dens. Students left government schools. The national flag was hoisted. There were social boycotts of government employees, short strikes (hartals), and resignations by government employees and Members of the Legislative Assembly and Councils. Government departments were boycotted, as were foreign insurance firms and the postal and telegraph services. Many refused to pay taxes. Some renounced titles. There were nonviolent raids and seizures of government-held salt, and so on.”
Now THAT’S a movement! We need to be more like that. To do so we need a lot more people who understand nonviolent strategy.