In all the confusion and outrage about the bombings at the Boston Marathon there has been little comment about the lockdown that followed — what does it mean for us as a society? What might we have done instead?
In her compelling and rather disturbing book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein points out that disasters, large or small, are regularly exploited to tighten the grip of authoritarian control and economic exploitation. Homeland Security is probably the best known example. Since small and large disasters are in unending supply in our modern, exploitive materialistic life (and can be manufactured when needed, on the model of Hitler’s trumped up attack on the Gleiwitz radio station and the Tonkin Bay “incident”), we cannot hope to turn around the inexorable drift toward authoritarianism unless we break that pattern.
One way to break it is to imagine what could we have done instead, and what alternatives are perhaps already in the wings. For instance, we could have brought on a peace team.
Toward the end of his career Gandhi envisioned the creation of a widespread Shanti Sena, or “peace army,” with units in key villages throughout India; its volunteers would live with the people and gain their trust and be ready to address impending conflict — rumor abatement, mediation, and so forth. When things got out of hand, they would actually interpose themselves between conflicting parties.
The dream did not die with him — or with his brilliant Muslim associate Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who raised a weaponless “army” of over 80,000 brave Pashtuns that played a signal role in the freedom struggle against the British. Today, there are some 20 organizations carrying out cross-border interventions along these general lines. They are doing “protective accompaniment” in Latin America, Sri Lanka and elsewhere; returning children to their homes who were taken for soldiers; and brokering peace agreements. Nor are they doing this courageous work solely in other lands. A Shanti Sena Network in the United States is forming to coordinate and support peace teams that have a strong track record in, for example, Michigan, where they have regularly kept order, including instances beyond the control of the police at volatile rallies.
What if we could learn from these encouraging examples? After all, don’t we all do “interventions” of roughly this kind in our daily life — between our children, among friends — without giving it a special name? We would be building on an experience that’s accessible to all of us and amenable to tremendous expansion with some systematic way to train and support the pioneers. It would be a conspicuous part of what Gandhi called “constructive program” — projects in which a community can build what it needs alongside resisting what it detests. The success of these teams should not surprise us; they are drawing upon the increasingly well-understood cooperative capacities in human nature. They come at a time when the same old methods of command and control through abusive force are failing us. As in the Boston lockdown.
One thing that officials pointed out about the procedure was that the suspect was apprehended after — and because — the lockdown was lifted. It was actually hindering the police because it insulated them from the input of ordinary citizens.
If we had had peace teams ready to deploy in Boston we would not have had to subject the city to the inconvenience of a lockdown at all. Much more than that: We would have protected ourselves from another shock designed, or used, to tighten the constraints on our freedoms. And even more: It would have pointed a way to a nonviolent future worthy of a free people.
The history of nonviolence shows that positive means have great power to bring about positive effects, often beyond what the actors intend or can possibly have imagined, when they’re given a real chance to succeed; Leymah Gbowee, for instance, knew she wanted to get Charles Taylor out of power in Liberia, and she helped build a movement that did just that. She didn’t know they would also empower women to do things they never thought possible, inspire a whole generation of children to hope or get a woman elected president.
The time to put alternative methods in place is now, not after the next disaster happens. Imagine if the far-flung encampments of the Occupy movement were to reinvent themselves as peace teams. They already had “security” among them for the camps themselves; they would only be extending the principle (for it is a good one) to providing a security worthy of the name for the whole society.
What if some of us would get systematic training for positive peace and real security with the same dedication and enthusiasm as marathon runners? How could the response to the attack in Boston have been different then?
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Surely the authors of this article are being quite humble. Readers will no doubt be interested in this legitimately really cool effort: http://mettacenter.org/shanti-sena/about-the-shanti-sena-network/
Can’t wait to see how things progress!
Thanks for the message, Will.
The SSN is very exciting and we hope to be writing more about it as time allows. There is a training at the Meta Peace Team office from May 24-26 in Detroit. Lodging is available and there’ll be an 8-hour skills training for free from the experienced and inspiring folks at MPT. . .
We should talk a bit when you have some free time about how we can engage the SSN with Lokashakti (which people should also check out: http://www.lokashakti.org). I am imagining people on peace teams creating pages and using LS to let people know where they might be working, training, and more! Send a line soon. This aforementioned skills training for peace teams should probably be listed. . .
Power to the people, Stephanie
Thank you for this positive way to address our culture of violence.
Tyranny and authoritarianism (aka police state and Dept of Homeland Security) are not the answer.
Pat, thank you for your positivity, too.
Agreed, T & A are old paradigm. Let’s have some fun and promote well-being by offering some constructive solutions for better security from the best parts of ourselves, from the grass-roots. One group I’m really interested in who is confronting these challenges across the globe these days is called WOZA (Women of Zimbabwe Arise). You might check them out, too.
Peace and Revolution, Stephanie
We’re stuck in the groove. I don’t for one second believe that the average emergency services or armed services person thinks, “AHA! A chance to increase authoritarian power and impose it on the civilian population!” They’ve been taught their whole lives that this is how to most effectively respond to serve the community or nation, and that there aren’t really good alternatives.
So getting emergency services and armed services engaged – probably on a local level – and showing them concrete examples of how to do what they signed up for in a really different way that’s effective over the long term is kind of the Holy Grail. These people *TEND* to join up for lots of reasons, but amongst them is the belief that they’re going to be doing something good and noble and necessary that makes the world a better place. Coaxing them into recognising that the current methods do more harm than good, and showing them how to use different ones – well, harnessing that idealism would be huge. You only have to look at ex-soldiers turned peace activists to see how transformative that process can be and what an impact that has on others.
Thanks for the comment, Karen. I have alterted some of the folks who work on Peace Teams to comment on their relationship with police in their work, and hopefully we’ll see some more comments on this. IN the meantime, I wonder if you have given any thought to HOW you might go about the process of transforming police militarism that you suggest? The more concrete, the more useful for me.
Whenever I encountered an occupying soldier (working in Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams), I tried to greet him in a kindly way. After several summers this seemed to pay off. A growing number of soldiers would start off slightly hostilely, “Why are you here? Peace will never be possible.” But after an hour of conversation, each would eventually admit that peace might be possible. (My teammates get most of the credit – after many years in Hebron, the soldiers know our red hats very well.)
I suspect that every man who has killed in the line of duty must struggle with his loss of innocence. Offering him a nonviolent alternative afterwards places him in the profoundly uncomfortable position of knowing that his taking the life of a brother was not absolutely necessary. I would guess this is part of the reason armed services have such strong conditioning delegitimating all nonviolent alternatives. In teaching nonviolence, I try to encourage respect for the noble intentions of armed service members, sensitivity to their dilemma, and clear offers of forgiveness.
For a soldier who already realizes he has killed unnecessarily, just meeting a (Christian) peacemaker can be transformative. An American soldier already struggling with guilt was stranded by a storm in an airport with me. He asked where I was going. As soon as I mentioned I was on my way to Palestine with CPT, he began thanking me, over and over. He shook my hand. “Thank you very, very much. I’m a Christian, too. But it’s really good to know there are Christians like you, trying to do what is right. I am still haunted by the things we did. I suffer a lot from post-traumatic stress disorder… I would give anything to be able to go back and undo some of the things we did. But I can’t. But at least I can thank you with all my heart for doing what you do.”
For Gandhi, the cardinal issue with violence is means and ends. About WWII he said, “Evil means, even for a good end, produce evil results” (James Douglass, Gandhi and the Unspeakable, p 83). Perhaps this needs to be our core message to those bearing arms. And to those trying to defuse a violent, terror-filled situation, his comment in the midst of the Indian communal riots of 1946-47 (one million killed) was, “The more I go about in these parts, the more I find that your worst enemy is fear” (Ibid., p 55). When the police act as if they are afraid, it increases everyone’s fear. (Of course, deliberately creating fear is a strategy widely used by some American politicians.)
From a nonviolent communication point of view, mass protests do not invite dialogue or open-mindedness. So when a mass protest is happening in San Francisco, I prefer to do a one-person protest in my hometown. I have found that some pro-force folks, including police officers and conservative pastors, are willing to stop and talk.
Finally, part of the tranformation could be a reminder that not all police are armed. My cousin was an unarmed bobby in southern England until his retirement. And not all armies are armed – see Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, by Eknath Easwaran.
Pace e bene
Hello Karen –
Just one example of how mindsets can change: When we first started placing peace teams at Pride Day festivities in Lansing, MI , the police officers we spoke with were very concerned with our presence. They knew that we would stop violence from whatever it’s source. Some of them said they were sure that we’d just get in the way, that we would make their jobs harder, and that this was “no place for amateurs”. Since we’ve been invited back by Pride Day organizers year after year, the officers have seen us in action – year after year – and seen what we’re capable of doing. At last year’s Pride Day parade, two men engaged in a loud verbal altercation that looked like it was going to erupt into physical blows. One young officer started to approach the situation when a senior officer stopped him and said “The Peace Team will handle it”. And we did. No one got hurt, and the police deferred to our skilled, nonviolent interventions. Yes, it took time, but I think we can say that this police departments respects & appreciates for what we do. What’s powerful about that is the inherent truth in nonviolence: Once people can see that it works, they feel more empowered to use it.
Australia often has natural disasters including bush fires, floods and cyclones where there is an integrated response by emergency services, police and defence forces along with local, state and federal government agencies. But these disasters don’t seem to lead to a period of authoritarian control. Instead, all of the services focus on rescue and recovery operations with little need for maintaining order.
Maybe this is another consequence of gun control in Australia. Or maybe it’s just a very different culture in Australia.
Training in nonviolent interventions as for a marathon is an inspiring idea! Practicing ways of calming ourselves to be available to help calm situations is a great beginning for peace team or shanti sena work. Opportunities to try nonviolent conflict intervention arise unexpectedly.
A 90 year old friend was waiting outside her apt. in late Jan. with snow deeply piled along the side of the street. A young couple, older than teens, walked by and the man shoved the woman into the snowbank. She struggled to get back up and he did it again.
My friend walked over and asked him if she could talk with him a moment, “I saw what happened. I know how I feel when someone shoves me away. The physical hurt lasts a while. The other kinds of hurt last much longer.
I feel for your friend and I feel for you. What kind of life will you have if you make a pattern of pushing people away? What might happen if instead you reach out your hand?”
This respectful inclusion of the person doing the bullying is an attitude supporting work with police to try alternative approaches. Locally, combining firefighters who’ve shown interest in this training, with police is a goal. Thanks to the Metta Center for coordinating the Shanti Sena network and training!
Thank you for this inspiring article. I was just introduced to the work of Gary Slutkin M.D. and the film The Interruptors. The notion that we intervene or “interrupt” violence daily in our friendships and family relations is so relevant, and according to the research of Slutkin, so effective. We know how to do this work. And once you name it and train for it intentionally, the work will grow. I am always lifted up and encouraged reading Nagler and Van Hook’s writings. Thank you for being beacons of clarity, hope and direction for so many in the field of peace education and action.
Hi, Rachel. Cure Violence IS inspiring. We are interviewing Dr. Slutkin for our next session of Peace Paradigm Radio, a local community radio program we host. May 31st, streaming live at 1 pm PST at http://www.kwmr.org. We’ll archive the show on our website at http://mettacenter.org/research-education/peace-paradigm-radio/. Maybe we’ll write a piece about our conversation.
Warm wishes, Stephanie
Thanks for letting me know about your upcoming interview with Dr. Slutkin. This is important work to share with people as we collectively begin to understand and support nonviolence.