In addition to the Nonviolence Report (covering nonviolence in the world which is often overlooked by mainstream media), Stephanie and Michael welcome two inspiring guests on this episode of Nonviolence Radio: director of the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent and Strategic Action in the Americas, Maria Belén Garrido, and the executive director at the Center for Mediation, Peace, and the Resolution of Conflicts based in the U.S. and Ecuador, Jeff Pugh.
Together they explore effective ways to expand the scope of nonviolent action through local, grassroots education initiatives. This means courses that are geared towards — and often taught by — by people on the ground, members of the communities in conflict. This model has been extremely effective throughout Latin America where trainings and courses are bringing people together to learn strategies and exchange stories. This more decentralized kind of education is better able to address particular, situation specific issues; it uses local languages and presents its ideas free from academic jargon.This has led to a growing network of nonviolent activists and movements, from Peru and Venezuela to Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
To supplement courses and blogs, there is now a database dedicated to collecting examples of nonviolent action in Latin America. This powerful resource highlights not only the wide range of nonviolent actions that are at play in this part of the world, providing activists with concrete examples of practices that work, but also reveals its long history:
“We decided to create this database, to promote the research for other scholars, but also for the activists to see new tactics, different tactics, as Jeff mentioned, not just protest. Because strategic nonviolent action is not just protest in the streets, but all the different actions that people, in their own country, that speak their own language, are doing – or they have been doing in the last 20 years.”
The work done by Maria and Jeff and their organizations helps to show how communities in conflict already have a tremendous amount of strength and knowledge which can be channeled towards peace.
Stephanie: On today’s show, we speak with two organizers from the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent and Strategic Action in the Americas.
The program was founded with the support of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, as a way to support nonviolent movements in the Americas. It exemplifies the power of transnational networks for nonviolent action and highlights the importance of local capacities and local knowledge sharing. Most importantly the Institute highlights the need for more Spanish language materials for nonviolence that are based in examples and contexts familiar to people on the ground in Central and South America.
We’ll hear from Maria Belén Garrido, the institute’s director, who is from Ecuador and just finished her PhD on research in nonviolent movements and campaigns and her colleague from UMass, Boston who is also the executive director at the Center for Mediation, Peace, and the Resolution of Conflicts based in the US and Ecuador, Jeff Pugh.
I asked Maria Belén first to speak about the Institute and how it was started.
Maria: Well, the idea started in 2016 when ICNC came to Ecuador, to Quito. As part of the Conflict Transformation program, the UMass Boston, together with FLACSO. ICNC joined a meeting where different scholars from Ecuador were there and also Jeff. They offered us to create a regional institute with the support of the universities.
At that time, I was working at the Catholic University of Ecuador, so we thought it was a great opportunity for activists, scholars, teachers, professionals, and other future peace builders to learn of practical tools and get hands-on experience to understand how nonviolent action can transform society.
So, the first nonviolent course was in Quito, in 2018. And we had that until 2020. But then the pandemic came, and we knew it was very important to keep on. And we decided to do it virtual. And since 2021, and then 22, we have been launching virtual courses. Next year, we’ll also have two courses: one starting in April and then the other in October and November. The course lasts around eight weeks.
People power – ICNC and FLACSO
Maria: The course is based on the ICNC course, that is, the People Power: The Strategic Dynamics of Nonviolent Resistance. It has an asynchronous format. It’s established through the ICNC virtual application platform. It’s meant for activists, scholars, and teachers, and journalists that are dealing with nonviolent action topics.
ICNC is the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict and it’s located in the United States. FLACSO is a postgraduate university in Ecuador. There’s also another in Argentina, Guatemala, and in other countries of Latin America. It’s a post-grad university.
FLACSO, together with the Catholic University of Ecuador, and CEMPROC and the ICNC, established these regional institutes. And since 2021, we get support from the ICNC. But previously what we had were trainers from ICNC that were coming to the courses that were in Quito and were helping us, and also helping to train the people.
Because most of the examples that they had were from the United States and from other parts of the world, we tried in these programs to focus more on Latin American cases. This is a big difference for the people that attend our courses that come from Latin America because they can really identify with the problems they hear from cases in Colombia, in Nicaragua, in Venezuela, what happened in Chile or in Bolivia. They can see this closeness, in the cases they learn about, with their own reality. I think that’s a big plus of our regional institute.
Jeff: I agree with everything Maria Belén just said. So, ICNC had run an institute similar to this, sort of a week-long institute, at Tufts University, for almost a decade before this. At the same time that we were building on our experience doing sort of international programming on peacebuilding, more specifically in Latin America, they were looking for a way to decentralize their trainings. They had this wonderful program and content, but it involved bringing people from all over the world to one place to have a course.
And language becomes really significant there, and contextual knowledge: if you can’t communicate with each other you can’t have one common training. That was becoming an issue they were aware of. And so, having it more locally based within regions has the advantage that you can do it in other languages. We became kind of the path-breakers piloting that idea with the Latin American one; there were others, in Eastern Europe in Ukraine and in Nepal.
The other piece of it is it makes it easier for people to coordinate and plan real strategies afterward. Use it not just as a course to learn things, but as a platform for networking, for joint sort of construction of campaigns. Because it’s easier to carry those out when you have a common context and similar sorts of goals.
One of the things we learned from our evaluation of our program – one of the things people learned the most, in addition to the theories and strategies about nonviolent tactics and stuff, was about cases and examples from Latin America. We would ask them ahead of time, What nonviolent campaigns have you heard of? And they would say things like Gandhi and Martin Luther King and stuff.
Afterwards we asked them the same question, and the number of Latin American examples that they mentioned after going through the program increased dramatically.
And so, that is really quite a key goal: to build a community within a linguistic common ground and a geographic common ground. It also works to build capacity. So, Belén was actually a participant, I think, in that first workshop. I have learned a lot from being a part of them, and others did too. And then later, take the role of facilitator and coordinators. We’ve had people in our blog series and in our podcasts who started by, you know, being participants.
So, it builds capacity within the same language and the same geographic context that makes the sort of bottom-up leadership and coalition-style of leadership really something innovative.
Relatos de la resistencia noviolenta y en movimiento
Maria: Yeah. One of the things that we’re really happy to hear is from participants from our courses, that later on they implement what they have learned in the courses. And they also have this network among them, not necessarily through us, in supporting each other. That’s one of the objectives, that this network is built around them, that we are not necessarily the centerpoint. That was the reason that we created the blog. So, not just academics and scholars and people that make research on nonviolence write about this, but also to give the voice of activists.
So, that’s the reason that a lot of the blogs that are published come from participants that are activists in their own lands and countries. They tell exactly their experience with nonviolence. And in the podcasts, it’s also there, but I think there we have more scholars telling about new cases and new experiences that they have done research.
In our blog, we decided to make it thematic so it would be easier for the people that are looking for some cases to find examples of it. There are a lot of nonviolent campaigns about Colombia, to the conflict there. And we have also a podcast about Colombia and the role of music about Colombia.
So, Colombia is – we have a lot of participants from Colombia. We have a lot of participants and also a lot of blogs, publications from Nicaragua – what they have done against the Ortega regime. And from Venezuela.
What we felt is that when it was in person, the programs, we were able to hear directly from their experience. And what we did, we created a documentary on YouTube, where they explain what they have done in each country, directly. We have examples there from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Colombia, I think Bolivia too, Jeff? Or am I wrong?
Jeff: I think so. And Honduras.
Maria: And Honduras. Yeah. And I think that’s even more enriching to see because you can – since it’s YouTube, you can see it with subtitles and hear directly from them about what each person, or each group – because sometimes they come in two or three – three people from the same organization – what they have done, which type of nonviolent campaigns have they started. And that’s really interesting to see.
With the support from the Rotary Club, with a very, very small amount of money, we were able to support some of the activists that were participants in the courses of 2018, ‘19, and 2020, to develop a project and implement their own project in their own community on nonviolence.
So, we have, for example, two participants from Haiti, that they thought to incorporate nonviolent courses in Haiti. Jeff, maybe you want to add some examples?
Jeff: Going beyond just a transfer of knowledge and learning and networking, but actually supporting some implementation projects that are designed and carried out by the participants. So, you know, the trust is there because we already know them. They’ve participated in the program and have developed that relationship already. And a small amount of money can be a catalyst that can really empower them to pilot something that they wanted to try and just didn’t have a little bit of resources to carry out or to scale something up. They’ve already piloted at a very local level, and it allows them to invite people from different parts of the country or, you know, to – we’ve had someone create a documentary.
We’ve had people who have launched a sort of communications campaign on social media. There are lots of different ways that these have happened. And I think that is empowering. It helps to invite people to translate knowledge and lessons learned into actual actions, because there’s that support. And so we feel good about and hope to be able to continue doing that in the future, if we can find the resources to sustain it.
All of these resources can be found from the web page of the institute, which is accionnoviolenta.org.
Stephanie: We’re speaking with Maria Belén Garrido and Jeff Pugh from the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Action and Strategies in the Americas. We just heard about some of their programming, including two upcoming courses, their podcast, and blog work. I was curious about Jeff’s involvement and how he envisions his role within the context of transnational activism, and what we might be able to learn from how they do this work.
Weaving transnational activism
Jeff: So, you know, it’s interesting to invest a lot of time into what I see as a very grassroots oriented, bottom-up, led from the region program, and I’m, you know, I’m an American professor. And actually, it was me that applied to ICNC for that very first seminar. Cecile Mouly at FLACSO Ecuador, and I have run this summer institute on conflict transformation across borders, for seven or eight years now.
At that time, we were thinking that it could be a small component of that program that ICNC could teach on nonviolent actions, since that’s certainly relevant and it has transnational components. And so, I applied to an existing, sort of, you know, training support program that they had. They agreed to come and sent Mary King and Maciej Bartkowski, two of their key trainers, to Quito for two and a half days.
And we were able to not only have an audience of the students and professionals who were already in our program, but bring together other activists and especially scholars from Ecuador, with the idea, Who are the people that could really take leadership of this in the long run? And so, Belén was there, Paula Lozada, who is another of our planning committee, was there, and several others from area universities.
So, Cecile and I helped to open some of those doors initially. Since then, I’ve seen my role as being kind of similar to that – I want to use whatever resources and relationships and opportunities that I can bring to the table that may be harder to find locally. And then take a back seat and wait while the leadership from Latin America really crafts the content of the program.
As Hardy Merriman, the president of ICNC, likes to call it, you know, “Building educational infrastructure.” And I think that’s what I saw my role as, is trying to help bring the resources and the people together to have the opportunity to connect and build networks. And then, you know, kind of get out of the way. I’ve never tried to impose sort of a direction for it.
In my own research, I work on the way that networks play a role in building peace, and especially in immigrant communities. And so, I believe very powerfully in the role of horizontal networks and coalitions to achieve change while sort of guarding against the risks, when you put one person as like the leader or savior-type, right? That’s a lot of faith to put in one person who has their own kind of interests.
So, I think that for a nonviolent campaign and also for this kind of educational infrastructure to support and build capacity among nonviolent activists, a coalition model and everyone bringing their own relationships and networks to the table has been really powerful, the impact that it’s had for relatively modest resources.
Maria: Yeah. And maybe what I could add is that Cecile and I, for example, we do research on nonviolent action. And it was really good to get in contact with ICNC because in that way we had already our circle of scholars that we knew from Latin America that were doing research. But what we always tried, with the Regional Institute, is to get in contact with new universities, especially from Latin America, to motivate them to do research in this area because we know that in the area of political science and sociology and social movements, there’s a lot of research, but there’s really few on nonviolent action. And that’s one of our goals, to promote the research in this area.
We believe that – yeah – I mean going to conferences and publishing is one way, but the Regional Institute has opened others, and new doors to different – to get to know other people that are also doing nonviolent research about Latin America.
Academic and online networking
Jeff: So, although the coordinating committee is largely – kind of has academic affiliations – the programs have always actually, you know, we have a ranking sort of selection criteria. Who could participate in this would have the most impact when they go back home and could carry what they learned, and the relationships that they build, to implement it into campaigns.
So, actually the first choice was always grassroots activists. And that was from the very first 2018 program, where people who had been on the streets in Venezuela were resisting authoritarianism. Or people who had been negotiating at a village level in Colombia to create a zone of peace said, “This village is not going to collaborate with any of the armed actors,” you know, the military, the FARC, the paramilitaries, none of them, and created a geographic zone of nonviolence.
We’ve had people from Bolivia who had been involved in some of the gender movements, from Mexico who had been involved in creative approaches, music, and street guerrilla theater and stuff like that.
So we’ve really prioritized bringing people together who are grassroots activists. And that’s where the support from ICNC was super helpful because, you know, these are folks who don’t have institutional budgets and can’t easily travel somewhere else. And we would not have access to them if it was just pay-your-own-way. So, we were able to provide scholarships and bring people who were the experts in their context, and to share their experiences with other similar people from different parts of Latin America.
And that has continued some with the online. There, the barriers to access are even less because they don’t have to cover travel costs and things like that. So, we’ve been able to bring people to a virtual community that, again, you’ve got grassroots activists, sometimes journalists, and academics. And those tend to be sort of our core audiences. We’ve had all kinds of different folks.
And for the blogs, the idea is to go beyond academics. Academics know how to get their stories out through traditional publications. So, one thing is to translate that knowledge for an audience that wouldn’t otherwise read academic work, and just sort of translate it for them to be more useful.
And a big part is to amplify the stories of people who might not otherwise share their stories, right? Who participated on the ground in a campaign in Nicaragua, for example, that used a sort of a symbolic, artistic campaign? And then someone from a different country says, “Oh, wait. We’re both fighting authoritarian regimes, maybe we could try something like that, and at least think about it. How would that work in our context?”
And so, that mix of different people with different strengths, different goals even, has been very enriching. What do you think, Belén?
Maria: Yeah. And what I also like to add is that we also have organized webinars. Last year we organized two webinars. It was about the exploitation of natural sources in Latin America. And we have one activist from Bolivia, from Peru, from Honduras, from Brazil, and from Ecuador, explaining to each one what they have done, which nonviolent actions they have implemented, in their respective fights. We were able to do it in English because we thought it would be very important for activists from other parts of the world to hear their extraordinary experiences.
But that’s also another way that we have – give them the voice. Because, as he says, scholars know where to put their work in journals. And actually, they are looking for more of that. They will not get so much acknowledgement if it’s published in a blog. But the blog is designed in a way that is very easy to read, so that almost anyone can understand what they have done and what it was about. So, actually, when a scholar publishes our blog, he has to really almost rewrite everything he wrote because we really ask them to put it in simple words, with clear examples, so anyone can understand what exactly happened there and what is the message about nonviolence.
Stephanie: One thing that’s a challenge in nonviolence everywhere is that people often face barriers and personal hesitations before wanting to commit themselves to it, even though violence more often puts them at greater risks and dangers. I asked Maria Belén and Jeff to comment on what are some barriers they perceived in working with actors within their network, and how they help to mitigate people’s uncertainty around nonviolent action.
Maria: Well, in the case of Venezuela and Nicaragua, and in Colombia, especially. I mean, the amount of nonviolent activists and human rights defenders that have been killed in the last years is still very high. And it’s because they are just engaging in this type of action. So, we are very careful in that sense, about speaking about a specific person because we know how risky for many of them it is to go very publicly.
So, some of the activists that wrote, most of them are very public in their own country, but many of them are still afraid – and with all right, I will say it, because of the repressiveness in, let’s say, Venezuela or Nicaragua.
I remember in the case, for example, just the last course we had virtually. Some activists from Nicaragua were very eager to know how to provoke defections. We have one and also many were very curious to know more about infiltrated groups because they have experience about that, but they knew very little about what to do, how this happened.
So, there are some topics that are very – where the activists and the participants, in general, are very active, as I mentioned – defections, repression, how to deal with repression during nonviolent campaigns. And I think what also Jeff mentioned, at the end, to really be sure that you can find more successful cases of nonviolence, that they never thought that there were. When they start hearing, “Okay, this happened in Bolivia. This happened in Colombia. These guys in Ecuador did this.” It’s very interesting how they react because they are very impressed. They are like, “Wow. I mean, it’s so close from here, and we never heard about these kinds of cases.” And I think that’s very enriching for them.
Jeff: The kinds of folks who would sign up to participate in this are already probably not a random sample, right? They’re already predisposed to think that maybe this has some use. A general audience though, the first step is to convince them why this would work, right? Given there’s a risk of repression, there’s this widespread perception that maybe, you know, against a nasty authoritarian or violent government, you got to do what it takes. And so, why wouldn’t we, you know, contemplate violent resistance and things like that?
And so, early on in the course we present the kind of systematic evidence from Chenoweth and Stephan and others, as well as specific examples that show how effective nonviolent action is, certainly from a principled perspective, but even if that’s not your motivation, if you’re doing it strategically, it’s still better than the alternative.
And so, that is one question that gets addressed pretty early on, but there are other questions that people have as well. One is the language that we use, because in some parts of Latin America, ‘conflict’ has a very negative connotation to it. And so, we have to actually think about the language we’re using to describe what we’re talking about.
Sometimes ‘solving problems’ or ‘defending rights’ or some other words to describe the same thing can actually be more effective because people hear “conflict” and they kind of back away. “Oh, I don’t want to get involved in something scary.”
The idea of repression, “I’m afraid. I don’t know if I want to get into this,” kind of thing. And that’s where actually the tactics, showing the diversity of tactics, becomes so useful. Because there’s this widespread sort of conventional wisdom that nonviolent action equals protests.
And things like parallel institutions or, you know, slow-downs, or the whole range from Gene Sharp’s 198 methods to lots of others that people have come up with. That is really inspiring to people in addressing that concern. That there are many ways that you can do it, some of which have much less risk of repression.
I guess one other common thing people ask about or want to know is who are you? Right? Because trust is a key resource in coalition building. And unfortunately, there are people out there, as Belén mentioned, who are interested in infiltrating campaigns, gathering intelligence on them to use against them.
And so, we have to be careful, for example – you know, these are pretty well known academic institutions, which are seen as relatively more neutral than if we were funded by a government, for example.
And I think that’s been important for our credibility, to have that sort of perception of not being overly guided by some government or things and to have the participation of these well-known academic institutions. It’s something we have to keep in mind when we think about, How do we build channels of transnational solidarity, including resources? You know, some of these things take resources to build this infrastructure, bring people together, amplify their stories. How do we get those in a way that doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of, certainly, our program, our platform, but also of the movements who are involved with us?
Maria: One project we have, for example, for this year is exactly related to this. It is to create a nonviolent action database about Latin American cases. Because what we have seen is that maybe due to the language or to also be directly involved in these countries, many of these nonviolent actions are not well known – not in the academic or scholarly work, but also among the activists.
And that’s why we have discussed, and we decided to create this database, to promote the research for other scholars, but also for the activists to see new tactics, different tactics, as Jeff mentioned, not just protest. Because strategic nonviolent action is not just protest in the streets, but all the different actions that people, in their own country, that speak their own language, are doing – or they have been doing in the last 20 years.
Stephanie: Yeah. Why do you think it is that people associate nonviolence with protests and protest alone a lot of times? And how do you work with people to get them to see that sometimes it means not being in the streets?
Biases of the media
Maria: Most of the time I think it’s the media because when you hear that something is happening in a country, usually people in the streets, that’s the first picture the media shows and most of the time they try also to show violence there. So, people on TV will watch that.
But actually, what we have found is that sometimes it’s very difficult to find what other actions activists are doing, that they are not, for example, published in national newspapers or the general media; you can just find in local newspapers or in blogs what they have done. And that’s why sometimes people, I think, associate directly people protesting in the streets is maybe a nonviolent action and there’s no other way.
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, to the extent that the media has a bias, it’s essentially in favor of conflict and drama, and showing images of a huge group of people yelling and with signs, is news, right? That shows conflict and drama. Showing a room where people are meeting to do a SWAT analysis or, you know, use some of the tools we teach in the program like a spectrum of allies, identify who are your opponents, who are your allies, and who’s kind of in the middle that might be shifted one way or the other, that’s not very exciting – a few people in a room with a flip chart.
That’s why having stories where people tell a diversity of experiences helps to sort of cut against that corporate media bias, I guess I could say, that as Belén says, when you look at more grassroots kind of communications, you do see those stories. The good news stories, the more nuanced tactics that are used. We want to find them and amplify them, and support people who are telling those stories.
And then, you know, bring them back through things like the documentary, through the courses, so that people who at least go through the courses can learn about them and really broaden their notion of what is involved in nonviolent action.
Stephanie: You’ve been at Nonviolence Radio and we’ve been speaking with Maria Belén Garrido and Jeff Pugh about the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Action and Strategies in the Americas. On a last note, Maria Belén had a call to action for members of the immigrant community in the United States to participate in their work and take their courses.
Maria: From the United States, from the immigrant community, the Spanish-speaking people that live in the states, we have very few participants. And we will love to have more participants. So, we really hope that through this podcast, the people that hear you in the states and speak Spanish apply for our courses because we would really like to have them there too.
[Spanish spoken 00:35:21]
Stephanie: That was Maria Belén Garrido and she is the director of the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Action and Strategies in the Americas. You can find their work at accionnoviolenta.org.
We’re going to take a brief musical break and we will return next with the Nonviolence Report from Michael Nagler.
Michael: Greetings everyone. I’m Michael Nagler, and this is the Nonviolence Report for January 2023.
I’d like to start us off with a quote from Martin Luther King. He said, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-centered society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
That’s a grim observation, and I think I’m just going to leave it as is and go and share with you some of the recent events in the world with relevance to nonviolence. Unfortunately, most of them that one can collect easily are actually episodes of violence.
For example, in Peru, in Brazil, and in Iran there are protests going on, and those protests are being met with varying degrees of repression. One of the worst, perhaps, is in Peru, where close to 50 people have already died. What happened there was, there was a leftist president, Pedro Castillo, got elected, and he vowed to address poverty and inequality. You know, shocking. And he made the – looked to me – like a big strategic mistake of dissolving congress and saying he was going to be ruling by decree.
So, that gave the forces of oppression, resistance, the excuse they needed and Castillo was arrested and replaced by his vice-president. And the riots ensued are being met with live ammunition from security forces.
So, moving around, recently an American fellow by the name of John LaForge – I’m going to Western Europe now – and specifically to Büchel Air Force Base in Germany, which has been the scene of action after action because there are 20 US nuclear missiles stored there, ready to launch. There have been many, many acts of nonviolent resistance that mostly what they call a go-in, where you just go into the base which is supposed to be impregnable and show that their security is full of holes. Most of these people have not tried to do damage to the missiles themselves or anything. It’s just a go-in.
So, one US man, John LaForge, has recently been arrested and wrote a very interesting article explaining why he was not going to pay the fine that’s imposed for action. He says, “Why not pay a fine imposed for actions against nuclear threats?” And Mr. LaForge gives the same arguments that Gandhi did half a century ago – or more. And that is that to pay a fine is to admit you have made a mistake. And he does not feel that he acted in error. His message that he wants to communicate is that this is an act of necessary civil resistance. And at that moment, that is where things stand.
Now, not too far east from Büchel, in the Ukraine, there is, of course, an intense operation developing around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant. There’s a proposal – I’m hoping I’m pronouncing this correctly – called the Zaporizhzhia Protection Proposal, where nonviolent teams are going to surround the nuclear reactor at that spot.
And it was initiated by John Reuwer, retired physician who’s now dedicating all his time to peace work. He’s a board member of World BEYOND War. And over the last few months this project, this proposal, has been gaining a lot of momentum. And John says, “Efforts like this are absolutely critical to ridding the world of war. If nonviolent unarmed actions become better organized and reported,” I want to stress that. “If nonviolent unarmed actions become better organized,” that’s for us to do, “and reported, “that’s mostly for the world to do. He goes on, “it will become far easier to persuade the more representative governments of the world to invest in systemic preparations for civil resistance, and consequently to abandon military preparations as superfluous.” This model can be spread from nation to nation and basically changed the posture of nuclear deterrence.
This is not a new idea, this civil resistance. I see it as a stepping stone in the direction of the actual nonviolent relationships where hostility is rare, and where there are disagreements, they’re adjudicated in some kind of civil discourse in some kind of arena that’s ready for that. But it would be an important first step. And we have to commend the people who are taking this courageous actions, risking arrest, and so on, in Ukraine. And by the way, this report comes to us from David Swanson, who’s the executive director of World BEYOND War.
So, in addition to specific actions, we always like to pay attention to efforts to change the culture, which is the basic infrastructure of violence or nonviolence. And one very interesting project that’s going on has been developed by Rivera Sun. And it’s called, “Fix this ad.” They take military advertisements and adjust them.
The first example they list is an ad that the military puts on billboards for the F-35 fighter plane. And they say on the billboards, “The F-35 seats one, but employs thousands.” And they’re going up and spray-painting over the word employs. They’re striking it out and putting in the word ‘kills,’ which you have to say, is a little more significant. The F-35 kills thousands, if not more.
Rivera has also made an interesting video that has gotten a good bit of attention. It’s called, “10 Things Older Than War.” And that’s important because people always say, “Well, war is inevitable because it’s been with us as long as we’ve been human.” It turns out, not at all, to be scientifically accurate. And so, knowing that there are 10 things that are not harmful, that are much older than war, is very helpful. And she has a YouTube video for that.
It’s also on the 24th of this month, at 1PM Pacific Time, Tom Hastings will be hosting her on a topic of the transition from “The inside game to civil resistance, 2023.”
More on culture from Campaign Nonviolence. I want to read something again from them, “Culture is built day in, day out, by the actions of millions of people.” I would say that is correct. But it’s also true that it’s built by the ideas, by the minds of millions of people. But to go on anyway. As they say, “It’s built of small things like favorite foods or games we play or the movie we watch, and of large things like military policy, holidays, values, and beliefs.”
They point that in September of last year over 320,000 people in this country, not to mention more around the world, challenged the primacy of violence in our culture, one way or the other. Campaign Nonviolence Action Days, which run from September 21st to October 2nd, happened for the ninth time, and led to an expanding movement for a culture of peace and active nonviolence. They coordinated nearly 5000 events with 100 partner groups across the US and beyond. This ranges from ending gun violence to abolishing nuclear weapons. It involves connecting the dots among all these issues.
There’s a quote from them, “Forming a movement of movements that strives to transform all forms of violence.” I want to say however that as far as I can see, looking at all the events that have been listed, they are all what I would call ‘non-violence.’ That is, they are events like protests, demonstrations of one kind or another, which are not violent – and that’s not physically violent, and that’s very good.
But in order to really change the culture, to have a direct impact on the culture, I think you have to move from the absence of violence to the presence of what Gandhi would call, “Active love” as a setting for relationships, and a force for change.
Now here’s an interesting item from my point-of-view because I have Nicaraguan relatives – Gallup Poll recently found that Nicaragua is the first country in the world, the top country in the world where citizens feel at peace. Given the enormity of the violence in the Nicaraguan revolution some 15 or so years ago, this is really encouraging – really remarkable. In fact, 9 of the top 14 countries that say that they feel at peace are in Latin America. But the US is constantly attacking the Sandinista government and imposing sanctions on it in Nicaragua. And Nicaraguans are very bitter and unhappy about this, as I can testify, having been there not too, too long ago.
Moving around, there’s a website called MKGandhi.org which has regular almost daily articles on Gandhi. And a recent one this past week was called, “Gandhi’s Theory of Trusteeship.” Here at Metta, we really, really like this idea of trusteeship because it’s a way of transitioning out of capitalism, out of inequality without violence, without dispossessing anyone. It is a question of encouraging owners of wealth, of material, whatever, to look upon their relationship to what they own as a relationship of trusteeship.
In other words, let’s say that I have a factory – which is very far from the case – but if I were to have a factory, I am not to regard that factory as a source of income for myself and my family, but as something that has been given to me in trust to use for the benefit of the whole. Of course, this would require and be part of and help bring about that major shift in culture that Rivera was talking about, where we don’t look upon the things we own legally as things that we own, but things that we’re responsible for the best use of. That would be a tremendous change.
Now I’m going to look back in the past at something which I didn’t cover at the time. At the time, this was almost 2 ½ years ago now, in July 2020. There was a virtual workshop online called, “How to cut violence in half by 2030.” And they had a long list of policy initiatives, but they were very weak on two things. Again, the culture, and this time also they didn’t say much about a strategy to get all of these wonderful initiatives implemented. They say something about working through legislators, but as we know that’s usually the last step in the process.
That reminds us of the very telling interview that Martin Luther King had with President Johnson when King proposed the Civil Rights Initiative and Johnson said, “That is a wonderful idea. Now go out and make me do it.” So, we have to build that grassroots pressure before we can expect any idea, be it ever so good, be it ever so obvious as being actually implemented.
So, I want to go back now to action items. Nonviolence International in Washington, D.C. has a major project called, “Nonviolent Resistance in Ukraine.” I’ve had my eye peeled for this, and I wasn’t able to see it, but they have found that there is nonviolent civil resistance in areas of Ukraine that are occupied by Russian forces.
So, naturally, the international media focuses on military resistance, but overlooks the fact that ordinary unarmed citizens have been courageously demonstrating their resolve to remain with Ukraine by nonviolent means. They do this by using Ukrainian currency, speaking Ukrainian language, and so forth.
So, back in August and September, Nonviolence International, with some of the groups, organized meetings of Ukrainian civil activists who spent months in those areas occupied by Russia and organized different actions of civil resistance. For example, one thing they did was to support the establishment of underground clandestine schools in occupied Ukraine. And that often is an important element, as we see in Palestine, for example, and elsewhere, of maintaining your own educational systems in the face of repressions.
And back in November, on November 2nd, Page Wright, who writes for Nonviolence International, listed a number of actions that people can take for nonviolent events going on around the world. One of them, for example, is to contact your elected representative and insist on a policy of asylum for conscientious objectors. That would have an immediate impact on the validation – this is my comment – immediate impact on the validation of nonviolence.
A couple more items then. Here in San Francisco, a really shocking program almost got underway. I’m very happy to say that it was stopped by popular resistance and an outcry among the people – the population. And that was to have been the use of killer robots. These would be machines that would somehow detect whether you were a bad guy or a good guy and kill you in the former case.
I can’t imagine anything more science fiction / horror story than this idea. I don’t know who came up with it. But fortunately, the board of supervisors has banned police robots from using deadly force. It’d be different to argue with a police robot, I guess.
The other thing that I wanted to mention is that since the massacre that happened about this time of the year in Newton, Connecticut in 2012, that was the murder of students and teacher at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Now, a lot of people have been saying nothing has changed since then. But I’m happy to report that’s not quite true. The gun control movement has won important victories.
And as always, when sanity prevails and guns are made less easy to obtain, Matt Blumenthal who’s the state representative from Connecticut has pointed out, “It’s made a big difference for Connecticut. We’ve seen rates of violent crime and suicide by gun decrease over the past ten years. Connecticut is one of the safest states in the country, with one of the lowest violent crime rates. And I think our strong gun policy laws play a significant role in that outcome.”
So, I think gun control, whether it’s in response to a shocking tragedy like Newtown or not, is an important step, but I still feel that this is a cultural and psychological problem and dealing with the technology is – okay, it’s useful. It definitely decreases the violence, the suffering and it also has this symbolic component. But it is nonetheless operating on the machinery and not on the mind – on the mindset. How to do that is very difficult, but we keep looking for ways to get that accomplished.
So, that is our report for January of 2023. There will be much more to come. And many successes to be reported as the year goes on.
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook. I want to thank my co-host and news anchor Michael Nagler. We want to thank our mother station, KWMR, to Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, Bryan Farrell, and everybody in the Nonviolence Radio team, to our guests today, Maria Belén Garrido and Jeff Pugh from the Regional Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolent Action and Strategies in the Americas, and to you, all of our listeners, until the next time, please take care of one another.