In this week’s episode of Nonviolence Radio, Stephanie and Michael speak with Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury about the UN Culture of Peace and Nonviolence, its history, and the challenges that it faces within the UN system. He rejects the framing of nonviolence as idealism, and instead embraces it as a practical plan of action that, over the long term, leads to the self-transformation of individuals and societies, and is thus fundamental to the realization of the UN’s broader goals. At the same time, he warns that a UN consumed by bureaucracy, internal politics and putting out daily fires, is one which loses its capacity for this long-term vision. As the conscience of humanity, civil society must therefore continue pushing for peace and nonviolence as fundamental not only to preserving the UN’s relevance, but also to bringing about peace for future generations.
Challenges with the United Nations
Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury: The United Nations is so engaged in running its day-to-day challenges that they have no way of sitting quietly, thinking ahead, projecting into the future.
In the book “Creating the Culture of Peace” that came out in 2020, February. There, I said about the UN making a future unit, where they will think about possible challenges facing humanity, say, at least 15 years ahead. Not today. So, there, whether the grain goes to Ukraine or the problem in Mali or Sudan or Kenya, is being resolved through fair elections – those things are daily things. And if we get engaged in that, the Secretary-General has no time and opportunity to really be a visionary leader, to look ahead.
Now with the Ukrainian War, he’s more, you know, flabbergasted about what to do, what course to take. That is a challenge we both face in terms of the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence. I believe that these people think these are – oh, well, these are philosophical things, things of idealism. It has no value in the practical world of the United Nations.
But today, they miss the main point that if these principles, concepts, motivations, are not accepted and recognized and made use of, then their basic sort of hard-core issues do not go anywhere. That is the big challenge we are facing in terms of promoting the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence. Because I believe the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence are two sides of the same coin. It is so integral. Both the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence wants human beings to transform themselves, so that they can face the challenges of their life in a peaceful and nonviolent manner. So, that is the basic question.
If we don’t do that, if we leave the international peace and security only in the hands of countries, states, it does not make any progress. And we see in today’s world that countries are fighting with each other. Countries are inimical to each other. People of those countries may feel comfortable with each other. But the governments, as state machinery, feels that, “No, our interests do not coincide.” And maybe that interests are one-sided. There is no agreement on what are the common interests.
So, that is why I believe that the United Nations – the core of the UN Charter of the United Nations is peace. I think that is an area where the UN is very unsure how to make the next move. So, they say, “Well, let’s face this challenge first, and tomorrow we’ll face another challenge.” And it goes on.
So, there I believe, and I know that you also believe that they have to devote attention, give attention to promoting Nonviolence and the Culture of Peace because that will transform societies and transform individuals. Unless women and men come together to promote peace in their communities, in their lives, in their families, the peace between countries will not mean anything. They may be very powerful and formally peaceful while not fighting with each other, but are the people of those countries secure? Are they peaceful?
So, this is the big challenge. And you see an example in the country that we are in, the United States. This, you know, the world’s most resourceful, most powerful, a gigantic economic power, military power, but are the people in this country happy, peaceful? Do they feel that, “Yes, my life has a meaning, my life has a purpose, my life is contributing to the betterment of humanity?” Nobody feels that way.
So, that is a big lesson for us. Human security is the essence and not the state security. The countries may live formally, meeting their strategic interests, but the people, if they’re not happy, then this peace is a façade. We saw that with the Ukrainian War. How a Permanent Member of the Security Council goes ahead unchecked with their aggression over a peaceful country. So, this is the big challenge we are facing.
The United Nations is the most universal deliberative body of the world. It leads the multilateral system of the world. But has it been advancing the best interests of humanity in a positive way?
The role of civil society for the United Nations
The civil society has been the mainstay of UN’s support, because civil society has nothing but good will for the United Nations. We want the UN to succeed in every possible way. The Member States who are the real generators behind the United Nations fight with each other, subvert many good intentions of good countries. But nothing works.
And then the Secretariat – I say there are three motors which drive the United Nations. One is, of course, the Member States. The second is the UN Secretariat, the big bureaucracy led by the Secretary-General. And then civil society. So, this is a tripod on which the UN sits. If you take one of the legs away, then the UN falls.
And there, the UN gives only lip service to civil society’s sort of ideas, suggestions, enthusiasm. They think that civil society is a pest and can be better avoided. And that is the problem. I think civil society are very well-meaning, well-intentioned. But the UN believes that any slight criticism of their work, they will not accept.
So, “Unless you are with us, we don’t want you.” This is a megalomaniac tendency that the UN is developing. And then in the whole department, you cannot say anything about the Secretary-General. I have been critical of him because of many reasons. And I understand, and I believe the United Nations community should understand. But they are so, so upset by my comments, my suggestions.
And I say that this is not the way. As a sort of anecdote or quip – people say, “The Secretary-General is more secretary than a general,” meaning he is not a leader.
And then the biggest challenge I have to, unfortunately, every time say, “He.” Why not, in 76 years of UN history, and not a woman Secretary-General, even now? Nine Secretary-Generals have been appointed, but all of them are men. What kind of organization are we talking about? There is no diversity, no equality. This is a real, real danger to the sustenance of the United Nations.
Challenges with the secretary-general
Over the years, the UN has come to a point where, firstly, they are very much engaged in – sort of, I use the word – instead of saying it, “problem-solving,” they have become experts in “problem-shelving.” Just put it on the shelf – it does not need our attention. So, they are interested in their own interests – from profiling the Secretary-General as the best leader in the world and all these things.
The Department of [Global] Communications, they do nothing but propaganda for the UN Why should the UN get into propaganda for itself? People love them. People want the UN to succeed. There is enough good will for the United Nations. But over the years, they have become – this is the best way to survive in the UN, praise the Secretary-General. Get a headline for him. Get two sentences on the television praising him.
I was surprised the other day that the Secretary-General is informing the media that the grain ships have left Odessa port for going to Lebanon. And why? He has many senior officials who can do that on his behalf. He has no time because he feels that this is the only positive profile that he can get. But, you know, the Secretary-General can sit down and think of something else.
He went to the region – to Moscow and Kyiv, but no talk about the ceasefire. He didn’t raise that point. He was trying to hear what they have to say, and also some humanitarian access to the conflict zone.
But this is not the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General should have waited in the region, say “Unless I get a promise for a ceasefire, I’m not leaving this area.” There’s no – okay, a two-day or three-day visit does not get rid of the problem.
At least the world would have seen that he is intimately interested in a ceasefire, to start with. And he is there. People would expect that, even that, to happen from a UN leader. So, that is, you know, coming back and saying Russia has vetoed – and I do not know why. The world opinion is with you. Go and sit there and tell them that, “I am here. I am in a neighboring country or in Kyiv or in Moscow, shuttling between the two countries to say how best we can do that.”
I think the UN is in no mood to do anything. Recently, I am involved in another initiative with our colleague, our good friend, your friend also, Federico Mayor, the former Director-General of UNESCO. We are trying to emphasize democratic participation and multilateralism as resolving the current challenges of the world.
And he sent it to the Secretary-General, with no response. No response. We have been waiting and waiting. I have, because Federico and I are good friends, I have been sending his statements like this, as you suggested, to António Guterres, to Ban Ki-moon. No reply. Even a courteous, “Thank you for your suggestion, we have taken note of it. We will come back to you in a substantive way.” That, they could have said.
They believe that they don’t want to put on record that they got that suggestion because they are very afraid that sometimes people might say, “Why did you respond to that?” So, even on the International Day of Peace, on behalf of a civil society, I wrote to Ban Ki-moon to request that, “On the International Day of Peace, he should ask for cessation of work in all the armament industries. They are producing guns and we are observing the Day of Peace – International Day of Peace.”
So, they should say, “At least they should honor this much that no arms production or military production on the Day and Peace.” He didn’t bother. And I said, “Make a call. Get them to do it.”
Anyway, that is the problem. Even I mention this – video games. Very violent video games. I said, “The young children grow up looking at violence and getting comfortable with violence. That violence is natural. Violence is in the game and violence may be like taking the gun, the heavy armament to Uvalde, Texas and killing children. Doing the same thing in Sandy Hook.”
So, I told Ban Ki-moon that, “Please organize a big statement from the UN asking video game makers, stop violence.” So, I feel that the UN is not in, sorry to say, the UN is no mood to listen to us at the moment.
But we’ll persist.
I came to first visit the United Nations in 1972. I was sent to the UN to promote Bangladesh’s membership of the United Nations.
And since then, now, 50 years, I have been involved with the UN issues either as a representative of Bangladesh or as a UN staff, or now as a member of civil society. So, I have seen all sides of the UN in a different way. But this is the main challenge we face, that we have to separate our day-to-day sort of, preoccupying things from broader, wide-ranging, long-term goals.
And there, I fit in that if, say, in 1945, when the UN was born, or at least when the peacekeeping started, I suggested in a writing that if we gave 10% of the peacekeeping budget to developing the culture of peace, the culture of nonviolence, in the post-conflict countries, I think they would be much better off.
They have to understand that peace is valuable to us. Peace makes our children grow up, getting education, getting healthy nutrition, and they become a productive citizen of the country, not fighting with each other.
So, these things I say that this should be part of your peacebuilding efforts. 10%. And I say, in the last 70 years, the UN would have been much ahead in promoting peace and cooperation. So, that is a big, big challenge that we face all the time. But we cannot give up. Civil society cannot give up. We are the conscience of humanity, and we try our best to bring it out.
Term limits of the secretary-general and the permanent members
Each Secretary-General, what happens is that, you know, the five Permanent Members have their veto – and they determine the choice of the Secretary-General. And all the Secretaries-General, except the first one, I think, have been chosen or influenced – the choice has been influenced by the United States. So, among the P 5, there is P 1, who controls everything in terms of Secretary-General. When the Secretary-General starts campaigning for his candidature, he knows that, “I have to focus on the Permanent Members of the Security Council.”
And so, he promises many things according to their needs and requests. Say, “I will do this.” And then, he finally crosses the hurdle, becomes the Secretary-General. And then time comes for his paying back the debt. “Because you have not vetoed my candidature, and I am obligated to you. So, please, I will do this. I will do that.” And he goes.
And then the worst thing is that from day one, each Secretary-General plans to have a second term. So, while he prepares for his first term, everything is aimed at satisfying these five Permanent Members, so that he gets a second term. And this goes on. So, his ten years is spent in paying back the debts he has incurred.
We are now lobbying for a one-term Secretary-General. Seven years, that’s it. That if you can do, if you have guts, you can ignore the five Permanent Members because you are not seeking a second term. So, that is, at least expectation that some firmness of determination to do the right thing will come to them – or hopefully, this time, it will be she that comes to head. And that is the expectation.
Because the two-term Secretary-General is really giving the Permanent Members big power. Big power. They control the Secretary-General like anything.
The decade for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence
For those of you just tuning in, you’re at Nonviolence Radio and we’re sharing an interview we conducted with Ambassador Chowdhury, former ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN and a key player in the UN’s work for the creation of what is called The Culture of Peace. For those who may not know, September 21 is the United Nations International Day of Peace, and October 2 is the UN International Day of Nonviolence, also Gandhi’s Birthday.
I became Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN in 1996. And soon thereafter I had some knowledge of UNESCO talking about the Culture of Peace, and Federico was involved in that. So, I said the Culture of Peace is such a concept, that humanity, or the international community, should embrace it. It should be brought to the focus of the United Nations, not just part of UNESCO.
And then I consulted my friends and colleagues and the Secretariat, and they say, “But there is no agenda item on the Culture of Peace.” So, I said, “We’ll create an agenda item.” So, I, along with a few other ambassadors wrote on – I remember the date, 31st of July, 1997. Six months after Kofi Annan became the Secretary-General.
So, then I found that Western countries, USA and European Union were against it. They felt that the Culture of Peace is pushed by Bangladesh, a developing country, and some other developing countries to undermine the focus on human rights. Culture of Peace also talks about human rights in a bigger way.
They opposed, but we were the majority. The developing world was the majority, so we got it done. So, the Culture of Peace became an agenda item of the General Assembly. And it was given, or allocated, to the Plenary. It will not go to any committee. Come directly. And so, that was a high-profile addition to the UN agenda. And that was in 1997, September, this agenda item was created, after my letter of July.
And then, that year, we adopted a resolution designating, year 2000, the millennium year, as the International Year for the Culture of Peace. And in 1998, we received a letter, an approach through a representative from the living Nobel Peace laureates. They said, “We supported the Culture of Peace in a big way. And we are very happy that the international year has been declared. But we would request Bangladesh and other friends in the UN to know that one year is not good enough for promoting the Culture of Peace. We need at least a decade.” And so, they recommended that.
And also, they said, “Please add to this, the Decade of the Culture of Peace,” two more things. One was, “Add nonviolence.” So, that came in. The Culture of Peace and Nonviolence decade, “and for the Children of the World.” Children of the world means not children themselves, but the world ‘doing’ to the children, to protect them, to protect their future, they’re doing that.
The year 2000 was the International Year for the Culture of Peace. And 2001 to 2010 was the Decade for the Culture and Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World. So, this international decade was created.
And then we started saying, “We have the year. We have the decade. But what to tell people to do?” I mean, what is the substance that we should talk about?” And then we started working on the Programme of Action. This booklet contains the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace. I chaired a nine month long negotiating group which was open-ended to any country.
And during those nine months, we had tremendous challenges. One of the main challenges was the inclusion of human right to peace. The U.S. and the European Union would not agree to that because they think that human rights and peace are connected. So, they have the initial fear that human rights for them is basically civil and political rights, not other rights.
We say that human rights to peace is a right of solidarity. As we have now, there are the third generation of human rights, which is the right to health, right to education. These are not connected with political or civil rights. These are the rights every individual enjoys and should have. So, the right to safe drinking water, these are the basic rights now. So, human right to peace was also similarly treated.
But anyway, after nine months, we got it, on 13th of September 1999. That is when the General Assembly adopted this document by consensus. There was no objection, no reservation to this document. So, internationally, globally, we believe that this is – if I may say – this is the bible of the world community for promoting peace. Because it says, in a big way, that every individual should be deliberately and consciously living their life in a peaceful and nonviolent way. And that is the basic self-transformation which is important for the Culture of Peace.
And that is the thing that we have been telling again and again, that peace is something very individual to all of us. Yes, we create the communities. We create the nations. But individuals do it. Nations do not stand; communities do not stand without the individuals. So, that is the point. If we change – it is a painstaking, long-time effort, but we do that. We have to do one person at a time. And that is very important.
And then we are focusing now on children and youth, mainly. We say that they will really – if a child grows up as a peaceful nonviolent person and knows how to relate to each other without being aggressive, without being violent, without being prejudicial, without being discriminatory. And then that person is contributing to the well-being of the society.
And then the most important thing that we bring also in the context of the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence, is equality of women’s participation. Women are in the forefront of the movement for the Culture of Peace. I believe that if women are given the equality of participation, if they are given the opportunity to contribute, the world would be much more peaceful than what it is now.
Women bring a different dimension, different perspective to the need for peace. Because I have seen it personally in my travels to West Africa – while men were fighting in the bushes with each other, women were managing the society. They were putting the food on the table. They were sending the children to school. They were taking care of the sick and the elderly. They were taking care of the hygiene of the young people.
And the men, when the fighting ended, they came back home and found that the society is more or less okay. It was managed. And that creates a big agitation among them. So, they start sending women back to the kitchen. So, they feel that “Oh, yeah, they have done something they are not expected to do.”
So, that’s why in a country like Rwanda, we have 64% of Parliament members as women because they have learned the hard way. Also, my focus for getting a woman Secretary-General is very important.
Creating the International Day of Peace
The International Day of Peace was created in, I think, 1980. A long time ago. I was the junior-most delegate in Bangladesh representation. So, I was a young officer. I was appointed in 1980 for the first time as a counselor in the mission to the UN.
And so, I was awestricken by the initiative of the delegation of Costa Rica. So, they were behind the International Day of Peace. And we have many friends among them. So, Bangladesh was one of the co-sponsors of that resolution. But I was not behind them. Firstly, it was the third Tuesday of every year, because that is the day, according to the Charter of the UN, that the United Nations meets. The session begins every September on the third Tuesday. So, they decided the International Day of Peace on that day.
But the International Day of Peace needs a fixed date to be celebrated globally. In the UN system, we kind of – that day, the Secretary-General rings the Peace Bell and all these things happen, but in the context of the UN But how about Bangladesh or Costa Rica or other countries?
So in, I think, ‘91 or some year, there’s a gentleman by the name of Jeremy Gilles from the U.K. He started lobbying, walking throughout the world, asking for a fixed date, 21st of September as the International Day of Peace. And then the British delegation took interest because he was a British national. And so, they do it. And we accepted that. And now, whatever is the date for the third Tuesday, it doesn’t matter. We will observe it on the 21st of September.
But there is another problem which I faced because I was the Chairman of the NGO Committee for the International Day of Peace. I am still the honorary chair from 2008. The problem is that if the day falls on a weekend, then the UN observes it the working day before. So, it may be on Sunday, but they observe it on Friday or on Monday.
And I said, “On a weekend, the Secretary-General can’t come out? Member States cannot come out of their holidays or weekends for at least respecting the International Day of Peace?” On one day, I challenged the UN and we observed the Day of Peace on the very day. It’s a weekend, and it was outside the UN building because the UN building was closed to civil society that day.
So, we gathered – well, Dr. Nagler knows and Stephanie, maybe, the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza, outside. Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Park. Two hundred NGOs came and we celebrated the Day of Peace. And I say that this is the problem with the calendar, but we should stick – because today, maybe a weekend in New York, but worldwide, many places do not.
In Bangladesh, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Sunday is not a weekday because of the day of prayer on Friday. So, that is why. But many countries do not have western-style weekends. So, I was with neither of them.
Now, okay, I’ll come back to the Day of Nonviolence. I think this was an initiative of India because October 2 is the birthday of the Mahatma. And so, they proposed it, and we were absolutely delighted that they did it. And we observed. And then it got a special meaning on the 150th birth anniversary of the Mahatma, 2019. So, that year, we observed the 20th anniversary of the Culture of Peace and the 150th anniversary of Mahatma’s birthday, International Day of Nonviolence.
The UN and civil society now celebrates the International Day of Peace and International Day of Nonviolence in a big way. International Day of Peace has become worldwide. And I think our effort should also be to do the same for the International Day of Nonviolence.
And then the Department of Public Information, now it’s just called The Department of Global Communications of the United Nations, tells us that we have no money to publicize or to get a newspaper supplement made or get a television program made on that day.
And I said, “You can make that element from your existing budget. Why do you have to get a budget?” So, this time, I wanted – because they declared 24th of June as an International Day of Women in Diplomacy. And there also they say that with no budgetary implications.
Let me end by saying the sustainable development goal for education identified a few items as essential for the process of learning for humanity. And they included Culture of Peace and Nonviolence, human rights, equality between women and men, global citizenship, all these things.
So, this is a big thing that these are part of that goal. If you read Goal 4.7, you will see these are mentioned.
You’re at Nonviolence Radio. We’ve just been listening to one of the key players in the creation of The Culture of Peace at the United Nations, Ambassador Chowdhury, taking stock of the challenges facing the United Nations efforts for peace and nonviolence in our world, and emphasizing the power of small acts and the role of civil society.
Campaign Nonviolence – Bringing people together
With that, we turn now to Campaign Nonviolence. Rivera Sun joined us to discuss Campaign Nonviolence’s now annual Week of Actions honoring the International Days of Peace and Nonviolence from September 21-October 2, a week that provides a broad look at a multiplicity of actions for peace and nonviolence, and invites people to get involved.
Rivera Sun: Campaign Nonviolence has been organizing for nine years to build a culture of peace and active nonviolence, free from war, poverty, racism, and environmental destruction.
We work to unite the issues or to bring people together and see the connections between them. And so, this year we have 4137 – and counting – actions happening all over the country and around the world.
Action Days runs from Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace, to Oct. 2, which is Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence. We’ve shifted the dates this year because we want to work in solidarity with people. I think that’s something a lot of our movements are craving, is to stop working on our own and start to join with and go with and participate more, that we don’t all have to have our own turf. And in fact, we’re stronger when we do collaborate with one another.
Also, thematically, it really connects those two longings and visions in our world, for a culture of peace, and for the role of active nonviolence in actually ensuring a culture of peace. And maybe even proposing some of the nonviolent solutions or alternatives that exist in our world today.
We couldn’t do it without the wonderful groups and organizations that we work with. This year we’ve issued specific calls to action for each day, which I can talk about in a minute. But to do that, we’ve collaborated with people for whom this is their focus issue, right? If they’re working on housing justice, that’s what they do. And we’re bringing in the element of seeing how affordable housing and stopping the assaults or tax or evictions of unhoused persons is part of a culture of nonviolence.
So, we work with groups like CODEPINK, World BEYOND War, Divest Ed, ICANN, Nonviolent Peaceforce, Meta Peace Team, DC Peace Team, and so many more. I’m going to forget them, and then I’m going to regret forgetting them all.
But we have these wonderful partners. And what they’re bringing to the table is groups like Backbone Campaign, for example, has been organizing around World Rivers Day for several years. And so, they’re able to bring their experience to the table and help newcomers learn from what they’ve been doing to hold multi-site actions along a shared river or watershed.
And they can bring their technical expertise of how to do light projections, how to do flotillas, how to do overpass bannering so that people can reach thousands of people on their daily commute with a message about nonviolence and protecting rivers.
So, that’s part of how we go about building such a big action week. But I would also say that we’ve being doing this for nine years and developing relationships for nine years, and trying to be welcoming and inclusive as, you know, we’re just one 12-day period each year. But by working together and listing our events together, we start to see the kind of strength and power of the work that is often ongoing. It’s happening all the time, but we don’t necessarily think of it as such a big movement as it actually is.
Calls to action
We have 12 specific calls to action for each day, and then we welcome everybody’s ideas for action, even if they’re not around a particular theme of the day. So, while we have calls to action for peace on International Peace Day or clean energy and utility justice or school strike solidarity with Fridays for the Future, which a number of groups are doing.
We have an action day around mutual aid, neighborhood potlucks and ending poverty. So, many groups have taken an interfaith or multi-faith picnic day to work on that. Of course, World Rivers Day is on Sunday the 25th. We have a day of action to divest from violence, which is bringing together groups working for weapons divestment and fossil fuel divestment. To push for the same action at the same time, recognizing that they share a common theme of wanting to ensure that we don’t go up in a great ball of smoke, basically. So, yeah.
And then other events include things like community safety activities or working to end militarized policing. We have an event for write-ins for racial justice or an effort to humanize the housing crisis to see how it really is running through so many aspects of our community, including elders and students.
On Sept. 30, we join a call to take action around ending gun violence and joined good groups like Sandy Hook Promise, or smaller more local groups like Jared’s Heart of Success, to put out a call to action around doing vigils or art therapy with victims of gun violence. And then also pushing for some of the solutions advocated by groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, or Students Demand Action, or Moms Demand Action.
So, some of the specific things that are also happening include a direct action to stop assault rifle sales. This is one of the actions that I’m really impressed by. A man named Tom Hastings is going to walk into a gun shop and engage with the owner in conversation about not selling the assault rifles that are murdering our children in their schools. And he’s not going to leave until the owner agrees to take them off the shelf. He may get arrested first. We shall see. But this is an example of how we can take direct action on this issue and really put some power back into our hands, and not necessarily wait for legislatures to do the right thing, but ask directly for the very people who are supplying these weapons to take action.
I would say there are other things like a five-hour music concert in Austin, Texas that’s lifting up all the issues that we share along with the city’s love of local music. We have Twin Cities Nonviolent is organizing 12 Days Free From Violence, and working with local groups who are each working on a piece of that puzzle, whether it’s domestic violence or gun violence or police violence.
You know, groups are doing things like write-ins for nonviolence, which a writer’s group is doing that virtually. They’re holding Campaign Nonviolence marches, inviting all their local groups that are working on these pieces of the puzzle, to hold a march together, to show how they fit into this incredible mosaic of the culture of violence that we’re trying to stop, and the culture of nonviolence we’re trying to build.
Building a culture of nonviolence takes everyone
Campaign Nonviolence, our mission is to mainstream nonviolence. And in doing that, it’s important to remember that everyone is at a different experience level, first of all, and ability to take on risks. So, we want to create a welcoming and inclusive Action Week or Action Days, where everyone feels that what they can do adds something to the equation. What they’re ready to do belongs in this movement.
And so, there is a continuum. We know over the years that people tend to start with low risk activities, right? They put their toes in the water. As they learn more about how nonviolent action works, how there’s resources and support, there’s trainings and preparation that we can go for higher risk activities, they tend to move into those a little bit more.
We also want to make sure that our events are welcoming to not just newcomers, but people of many different abilities or backgrounds, including families and young children. So, it’s important to think about actions that – even just bring up the word nonviolence, for a lot of young people. It’s not common in our culture to focus specifically around nonviolence.
So, you know, if someone’s action is bringing nonviolent stories to a classroom during Action Week and doing a teach-in of that sort, in some ways, that is as important as directly confronting the pillars of the culture of violence, right? We also have groups that are out there organizing community safety teams, so training in violence de-escalation and going to places where violence is likely to occur, whether there’s outside a sports game that could get really rowdy and preparing to deescalate people from having conflicts in the parking lot, right?
You don’t just do that without any training or preparation. So, we try to make sure that there’s space in these action days for everyone to feel like they’re on equal footing in terms of what they’re contributing to the movement. And they also have a pathway to learning new skills and applying those skills.
And I think some of our on-the-ground partners do wonderful work in that regard, especially in terms of helping people get trained as they’re going to move into higher risk activities.
We do have a set of nonviolence guidelines that are part of our regular toolkit. We’ve refined them over the years. We’ve tweaked the words and the kind of requests that we’re making on the ground. But basically, this year we asked people to refrain from physical violence and property destruction. Often, because that becomes a destruction to the message and the cause that we’re working on.
We ask people to refrain from verbal violence and assault of people that may be in the streets with them. And we keep it pretty simple, right? We want to have a common nonviolence commitment that people can work on together. So, we do circulate this. We ask our organizers to circulate it. If they’re having a rally, they read it at the start of the event.
If they have trainings beforehand, they bring it up in them. Sometimes people use it like a covenant or agreement, so they actually read it and talk through it together before their action and sign it, as part of their team. Other times, they circulate printed versions of it on the ground at their march or event. And then many instances, it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to need that nonviolence commitment, right?
If they’re holding a peace day event, it’s very likely that their nonviolence commitment is not going to be pushed or tested in any way. But it is good to have that clarity together that, you know, as we’re working for a culture of nonviolence, we also want to be those “means that are ends in the making,” as Gandhi put it. We want to be using tools and approaches that are in alignment with the vision of what we’re trying to work towards.
The facets of nonviolence
I would say that we’ve put particular attention into helping people see that there are many levels or dimensions that we can look at nonviolence in. We can have nonviolence towards our self – mental health, self-care, you know, taking care of these beautiful beings that we are.
We can have nonviolence toward and with one another, so skills like nonviolent communication or restorative practices like restorative justice, more complex skills that help us navigate the inevitable tangles that we wind up in.
We can have nonviolence as a set of structural or systematic solutions, things that intervene in systems and structures that are violent, right? Things like those community safety teams often are trying to replace the need to call on armed police in our communities. Putting skills and people into places that have conflicts so that we can resolve them ourselves with nonviolent means. Also, things like shifting to renewable energy versus being reliant on fossil fuels in this time of climate crisis.
So, we’re trying to really help people see that nonviolence also describes a set of structures, systems, practices, and policies that reduce the amount of harm that’s being churned out in life as usual and increase the amount of healing and life-affirming systems, increase the amount of time that we as human beings get to feel nurtured and nourished, supported, that our creativity can come forth, that our humanness is respect, that our dignity is uplifted.
So, we’re really trying to help people see that there’s a structural level to this, not just that nonviolence is about not being violent, right? Because, as Gandhi said, poverty is one of the worst forms of violence. And so, if we have an economic system that is pushing hundreds of millions of people into poverty on a daily basis, then that economic system is rooted and anchored in violence and needs to be transformed.
So, then I think the fourth dimension that we try to help people see and understand is that it’s not just an end goal, right? We’ve been describing the systems, structures, practices, approaches, but nonviolence is also a set of means for getting there. It could be an internal practice, a set of principles, guiding principles, or spirit – there are spiritualities and philosophies of nonviolence.
But it can also be a set of tools, like boycotts, strikes, shutdowns, blockades, walk-outs, marches, rallies, demonstrations, vigils. And so, we’re really working to see that whole picture. That there’s a vision that we’re getting to. There are structures that we’re trying to implement. And there are tools and approaches that we can use to get from Point A to Point B. That’s really our big overarching vision with Campaign Nonviolence.
Pace e bene
I want to give a shoutout to Shaina Jones, who is Campaign Nonviolence’s Outreach Coordinator. She’s the person you hear from all year long to say, “Join in. Come be part of this big Action Week.” And she literally talks to hundreds and thousands of groups in the course of the year. And we couldn’t do it without her.
We are a small team. We’re part of an organization that is called Pace e Bene, which means ‘Peace and All Good.’ There’s, I think, seven of us on the team right now. So, it’s a very small group doing a lot of work, and we could not do it without these partner organizations, without the relentless organizers who are on the ground in their communities bringing people together and connecting the dots between the issues. And we feel very grateful for all of them.
My role and my job in this is to kind of coordinate the program, help keep all the pieces moving and to – this week, do tens of thousands of words of writing up everybody’s actions and events and making sure that the story gets told.
So, if people want to know more or join in – you can definitely join in, you can go to CampaignNonviolence.org. And there’s no dash in nonviolence. It’s just nonviolence, one word. CampaignNonviolence.org and you will find the event listings on that page. You will find what’s happening. You can find an action near you. You can search through our database to see what’s happening next door.
If you are taking action this week or are planning on it and want to join in, you can list your action with us. We welcome you. And yeah, you can find tools and resources for putting together actions as well.
You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. I’m Stephanie Van Hook with Michael Nagler from the Metta Center for Nonviolence. We want to thank our Mother Station KWMR, our guests, Ambassador Chowdhury and Rivera Sun, to our NV Radio team, including Matthew and Ashley, to Bryan at Waging Nonviolence who helps to archive the transcript of this show, to our listeners across platforms around the world, as well as our Pacifica Network, thank you for listening. You can learn more about nonviolence at our website, mettacenter.org, that’s Metta with two Ts.
And to everyone, please take care of one another. Goodbye.