On this episode of Nonviolence Radio, Stephanie and Michael welcome Cary Donham, the first and to date, only student to leave West Point as a conscientious objector. Cory speaks about his experience in his memoir, “A Wrinkle in the Long Grey Line: When Conscience and Convention Collided,” and here shares more about why he came to this decision, how it led him to diverge from a path that initially seemed right, and what some of the repercussions have been.
… in the Old Testament, there’s a commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Then Jesus says, ‘Turn the other cheek if someone strikes you.’ And the Beatitudes say, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ And it just struck me as, ‘Wait a minute? How can I go to church and believe these things and then come out on this field and tell people to kill?’ It just didn’t seem right.
Cary’s courage to stand up and say no to war, to the military, to force and violence – to a way of life that for so many around him commanded respect and conferred honor is remarkable. The fact that he did so while fully entrenched in – and excelling within – that world is more remarkable still. Equally inspiring is his continued commitment to nonviolence and his deliberate and public effort, not only to show another path forward but to take active part in clearing the way so that more people can walk on it.
Stephanie: Welcome to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host Stephanie Van Hook and I’m here with my co-host and news anchor of the Nonviolence Report, Michael Nagler.
Cary Donham is the first and only student of West Point to leave the Academy on moral and religious terms as a conscientious objector. On this episode of Nonviolence Radio, Cary discusses the struggle that led him to follow his conscience and leave West Point after three academically successful years, and offers inspiration for those who may be struggling to follow their own call to conscience. His memoir, “A Wrinkle in the Long Grey Line: When Conscience and Convention Collided,” is available at booksellers online.
Cary: Well, my name is Cary Donham. I’ve had quite a background, really. I grew up in a small town in Southern Illinois. I was really very good in school and very good at taking standardized tests. I was also a high school athlete. I earned an appointment to West Point as an alternate, but in 1967 the Army was expanding West Point due to the Vietnam War.
So, I went there. I attended three years, as we will discuss. I applied for discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector in 1970. And in 1971, after a court case, I won my honorable discharge.
Afterwards, I worked in a church in New York for a couple of years, I moved to a small town in Illinois called Macomb, graduated from Western Illinois University.
In 1978, I moved to Chicago and made a living as a musician for five years. After that, I took the LSAT, did well enough to get a scholarship to IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, and went to law school at night while I was working in the days.
Graduating, I clerked in federal court for two years, then became a lawyer with a firm called Shefsky & Froelich. And I became a partner there, stayed with that firm, including after it merged with a law firm called Taft Stettinius & Hollister, until 2020 when I retired as a partner.
And since then, I’ve been living in Paducah, Kentucky.
Michael: You are right, Cary, that is an impressive trajectory.
Cary: Well, it’s an unusual trajectory.
Stephanie: What was your life like when you decided to join the military and why did you take that path?
Cary: I was living in a small town called New Baden, Illinois. It was nine miles from a major Air Force base, Scott Air Force Base. My father had been an officer and a pilot in WWII in the Pacific theater.
My mother had always been impressed with the military academy. And I was encouraged to apply. And living in a town near the Air Force, it was pretty natural that I would be interested in the military. And I have to say, there was a certain competitiveness that I could see to getting into West Point.
And my father, as a schoolteacher, was not making a lot of money. So, there was a financial aspect of helping out my family by going to a school that, you know, was essentially a full scholarship.
Stephanie: And about how old were you at the time when you applied?
Cary: I was 17 when I started at West Point, which was July 3, 1967.
Michael: Cary, to what extent did you feel that you had, what we might call an idealistic reason for going into the military, that it was a good thing to do. You’d be defending your country and so forth?
Cary: Yeah. As I said, growing up in this town, it was a bit of an idealistic thing to do.
If you go back to 1967, it was pretty inevitable that a young man graduating from high school would face the draft. This was before the lottery. There were college deferments. There were certain other deferments. But if you got drafted, you’d be an enlisted person.
Actually, I felt that I could contribute more as an officer, and I could contribute more by going to West Point and getting the best training possible. So, that was a part of my thinking in deciding to go to West Point.
Stephanie: And so, talk about that process that took you from being idealistic about participating in the military and as an officer to becoming a conscientious objector? Who was somebody that you spoke to that inspired that in you, or how did that begin to emerge?
Cary: Well, I should say that I had always been a member of a church. I had been, for example, the president of the Methodist Youth Fellowship in my town.
And at West Point, in 1967, it was mandatory chapel. You had to go to church every Sunday while you were at West Point. So, there were some things that happened that were uncomfortable.
If you look in the book, my memoir, it was right when I was a rising junior, I was a squad leader for Beast Barracks, the new cadet barracks for the second half of their training.
I had ten young men who I was – I was basically responsible for teaching them how to be responsible, teaching them discipline, getting them through Beast Barracks, which is a really harrowing experience – physically and mentally.
One of the things I had to do was to teach bayonet drill. The different squads of a particular regiment, that’s how the corps of cadets is divided up, would be out on a field, an open field in the sun. And the squad leaders would have their ten young new cadets in front of them. You’d be on a platform, and you’d go through the various bayonet drills and explain how to do it.
Now, one of the things that was required and that was, I guess you’d call in the rigor, was to teach the young men what’s the spirit of the bayonet? And the response at full volume was, “To kill, sir!” And then you would repeat that. “What’s the spirit of the bayonet? I can’t hear you?” “To kill, sir!” And so on.
It didn’t sit real easily with me. And that was probably the real beginning of when I started thinking about what am I doing here? That was the summer before my junior year started. That would have been 1969.
But I think that when you’re out there as a new cadet, you’re going from one thing to another. You’re being hazed, constantly. You’re tired. You don’t get much sleep. And I think, “It’s just – this is just one of the things I have to do to get through this. And once I get through this, Beast Barracks, well, then it’ll be a little easier. You’ll be part of the regular corps of cadets. Even a plebe is better than being a new cadet over that Beast Barrack summer.
And so, I don’t think I really thought about it much until I was in the position of really teaching young men what to say and what to do and then it just – it hit me. This is what I’m telling people to do. And it just didn’t seem right, and it wasn’t consistent with what I thought I was hearing in chapel.
Stephanie: Which was what?
Cary: Well, if you know the Bible, which I did, in the Old Testament, there’s a commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Then Jesus says, ‘Turn the other cheek if someone strikes you.’ And the Beatitudes say, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ And it just struck me as, ‘Wait a minute? How can I go to church and believe these things and then come out on this field and tell people to kill?’ It just didn’t seem right.
Michael: That’s certainly understandable. Cary, did you have some support from other cadets? Were there others who felt like you? Did you discuss it at night?
Cary: No. I kept my feelings very – until right before I submitted my application, which was at the end of the junior academic year – I didn’t talk to any other cadets about it. My main support, the person I talked to was my girlfriend and then my fiancé, my first wife, who went to college right next to – a little girl’s college right next to West Point. And she was my main, I guess you’d say, confident at the time.
Michael: I’m a little bit disappointed, in a way. Because I thought that you would have gotten more support that way. How about a chaplain?
Cary: Well, I did. There was a chaplain. Chaplain Mike Easterling, who I ended up speaking to, who was really outstanding. And he later became the chief pastor at a – I can’t remember the name – it was a Baptist church in New York City on, I think, on 5th Avenue. One of the first Baptist churches to allow LGBTQ people to attend.
But I would meet with him fairly often and discuss this. And he never said that I was wrong. He just said, “You better think carefully about this. This is a really big decision.” He didn’t agree with me, but he didn’t disregard what I said. He took me seriously. And he ultimately, after I applied, wrote a memo to my commanding officer of my company, recommending that the Army grant my application.
Michael: When I became a conscientious objector at an earlier stage in the process, it was very easy if you had a religious denomination behind you. I did not. I had to just claim that I felt sanctity of human life and I didn’t want to violate it. It was easier for me because, like I say, I got out at a much earlier stage.
I can fully appreciate that struggle and how you look around for people to support you. I had a lot of support from my friends, including a two-time veteran who had been wounded in Korea. And that was very helpful, but when you meet with some understanding there, it really makes a lot of difference.
Cary: Well, you know, I discussed it with my parents in letters. And in my memoir, which we haven’t mentioned – it’s called, “A Wrinkle in the Long Gray Line.” My mother saved letters I sent home from West Point. So, it’s based on – so, I can look back and – so, I looked back and could write exactly what I was thinking at the time.
So, they didn’t want me to do this. They thought it was a huge mistake. And I kept explaining my view. Now, as this process went on, my fiancé, of course, supported me. Then in the spring of 1970, I got in contact with an attorney. The attorney was named Joan Goldberg. She was with a law firm called Rabinowitz Boudin & Standard in New York City. This was a radical law firm.
Victor Rabinowitz had represented Cuba and Castro, among other things. But Joan took me on, and they were backed by a group called the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, which had split from the ACLU in the 50s over how the ACLU was handling people who were blacklisted in the McCarthy era.
So, I would be able to talk to Joan about, you know, giving me advice on my application. And then toward the very end, I did tell my roommates that I was going to do this. And at the time, they kept it quiet. They didn’t tell anybody else that I was doing this, that I was thinking about it. And they didn’t tell me I was – they said, “I don’t get it. But I believe this is what you really are thinking.”
And in fact, one of my roommates was quoted in the New York Times article about this that he said he supported my application.
Michael: Did you feel a sense of relief when you made the decision that you were going out?
Cary: Well, when I submitted the application, this was right at the beginning of June of 1970, right after graduation. And the rest of my class was either going to take a tour of Army bases for a month and then come back to work in Beast Barracks, or they were going to have vacation and then go to Beast Barracks and then take a tour of Army bases.
So, I didn’t want to go and tour Army bases where I might be running a tank or things like that, so I made the application. And they kept me from going. I don’t know if that answered your question.
Michael: What I was getting at was a little more like were you troubled when you were in it and using a bayonet and saying those things and feeling, perhaps, a little sense of what we sometimes call, “Dehumanization” and feeling relieved that you were no longer doing that to yourself?
Cary: Yeah. This was such a huge decision because once you’ve started your junior year at West Point, if you leave for any reason, normally, you don’t go back in the draft pool, as what happened if you left during your first two years. Once you start your third year, the third summer, if you resign, you go in the Army as a specialist fourth-class. So, resigning wasn’t – that wasn’t going to do me any good. In that sense, I would still be carrying a gun and being part of the war machine. So, yes, it was a relief when I submitted the application, although in another sense I felt like I was jumping off a cliff.
Stephanie: Had there been other conscientious objectors at West Point before you?
Cary: No. As far as I know, I’m the only one. The first and only conscientious objector from West Point.
Michael: We hope you started a trend.
Cary: As someone who was in West Point. There have been others who had graduated from West Point and then applied. But as far as doing it while a cadet, no, I’m the only one.
Michael: Often when people leave the military, it’s because they’ve been forced to do something that they couldn’t face up to. You know, there’s this concept of moral injury. But I think it’s impressive for someone to do what you’ve done, which is to get out way before that, even before you’re put into that situation.
Cary: Well, yeah, you could – I might have been able – well, looming behind this, if I had graduated, it would have been in 1971. The Vietnam War was still going. Now, I could have probably avoided going to Vietnam.
I was probably in the top 7% of my class academically. And when you graduate, you select a combat arm to go into. And it’s done on the basis of your academic rank. So, I could have gone into a combat arm, say something like air defense artillery, that was, you know, they were protecting nuclear sites. Or sites in Germany and so on, or Korea. But not much use for that in Vietnam.
Or if I would have raised my grades a little bit, which I had been doing over the last couple of years, if I was in the top 5% of my class, I could have gone straight to grad school.
My rationale though was if I did one of those things and there would be somebody else taking my place and what good is that?
Stephanie: We were just reading a quote from Gandhi that said, “The minute I silence that still small voice within, I lose the contribution that I can make in this world.” How does that sit with you? That idea that this was your path to make your conscience known, tell your story, inspire others?
Cary: I don’t feel that I really had, morally, a choice at the time. If you look at it from a strictly practical sense, I’m three-quarters of the way through one of the toughest things that one would face, you know, academically and physically.
I had a way, I’m sure, of minimizing any risk of actually seeing any combat. But something told me that you can’t just go on. You have to make a choice. And my choice was to apply for CO status.
Stephanie: So, how did it change your life, becoming a conscientious objector? How did it change your relationships, say with your prayer life?
Cary: It’s a complicated question. I took a job – actually, I was working as a gofer for a law firm in New York that represented a bunch of Broadway producers and so on. And the head of the firm offered to pay my way to law school. But I turned him down, and I took a job at the Washington Square Methodist Church in Greenwich Village.
I would host gatherings of young people from around the country, at times. And we would – I’d lead discussions about women’s liberation, back at the time, gay liberation, the anti-war movement, and so on.
And I did that for a couple of years, but as the war kept on going, I actually became more and more cynical and ended up leaving New York. And I moved to a small town called Macomb, which is a rural area. And I worked on the local college newspaper and an underground magazine for a while.
But the way the war continued and then Nixon’s Watergate and so on kind of led me away from the church. And it took me a long time to actually get back to, I would say, recover my faith.
In fact, it wasn’t until I had been remarried, and our son was born, that I began to realize – you know, go back and regather what I had felt before. It was very traumatic leaving – going through West Point. And it was followed closely by the breakup of my first marriage. So, the whole thing was very traumatic.
Michael: Cary, I’m sensing that the connection was that because the established religions were supporting the war effort, that’s what led you to have what you’re calling cynicism about what they stood for. Is that correct?
Cary: That’s largely correct. Although, the church I was working for was known as the Peace Church. And it had a draft counseling center, the Greenwich Village Peace Center. It had a daycare center. It hosted the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. But it was, using today’s terminology, it was kind of a unicorn. So, yes. Religion didn’t seem to be accomplishing much. And there was still the general hypocrisy of people like Nixon and so on, pretending to be people of faith, much like what’s going on today. Although, today, it might even be worse.
But yeah, Michael, I think you’re right about that.
I mean, I would say that while having a religious background wasn’t necessary. And that was one of the mistakes that the first Army hearing officer made when he interviewed me, was that he didn’t – he said Methodists don’t have a background of opposing war. They don’t support conscientious objectors.
He was just wrong. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals eventually pointed that out when they ruled that the Army basically railroaded me – my application.
Stephanie: So, how does this fit into today? Why this memoir now? It seems there’s been a lot more conversation about Vietnam in the past five years, I think, than in any other time that I’ve been aware. It’s sort of a resurgence of people telling the story of Vietnam or their actions, or their becoming a conscientious objector, or being within the military and helping to stop the war.
Why is this on people’s minds and why this memoir now?
Cary: Well, this is just an off the top opinion. I mean, I wrote the memoir now because people had been urging me to write it for a long time. And while I had some fits and starts, I really didn’t have time to write it while I was a litigation attorney. I mean, I did that for 30 years because I didn’t start as an attorney until I was basically 40 years old, competing with people just out of law school who were 24, 25.
You know, trying to start a family when you’re 40, and you basically have nothing, it’s hard to – you have to focus on what’s in front of you. And I was very successful, but still, that took up most of my time.
Although, I ultimately did become a deacon at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. And I was a member of the Children And Family Committee. And I was a member of a search committee for a senior associate pastor there. So, I was very active in the Fourth Presbyterian Church from about 1995 until – well, just till we moved in 2020.
Stephanie: Do you also feel that the way that you’re writing and what you’re thinking about has anything to do with the war in Ukraine, for example? And what are your thoughts on, in relation to your actions and why this – what’s going on in the war in Ukraine, what are you thinking there?
Cary: Okay. Let me go back because I didn’t really answer your first question. I think part of what’s going on is kind of the winding down of the Iraq war and how it just seemed like Vietnam too. And then the disastrous end to Afghanistan, which was itself a huge mistake. And then I think that made people look back on Vietnam, and how did we make the same mistake twice like this?
But going to Ukraine — I have a Facebook page called Cary Donham Author — and every day I have a post of a saying from someone that looks at some form of nonviolence or peace. Anyone from George Washington to Gandhi. And one of the things I posted on there was a question, what do you think about the Ukraine war?
It’s a tough question, isn’t it? I guess if I had to answer, I would say I would do what I could to support opposing Russia, but I would try to do it in a nonviolent way. You know, just like conscientious objectors, as I’m sure you know Michael, you have the two years of alternative service. Which is just as important if not more important than, you know, carrying a weapon.
Michael: In my own case, I got out of that on a 2S because my daughter was born.
Cary: Oh okay.
Michael: Yeah, under Kennedy. So, even that didn’t come up. And I really thank my lucky stars that it didn’t because I don’t know what I would have done.
Cary: Yeah. Well, I was prepared to do it. And I don’t know what I would have done, but I was prepared. But the Army, rather than recognizing me as a conscientious objector, just gave me an honorable discharge and discharged me from any further service. No reserve time, nothing.
Michael: Yeah, it was roughly the same with me. I wanted to be classified as a conscientious objector. I was living in Greenwich Village at the time. Probably left just a little bit too early to see you in some of those places. And it was disappointing to me that I could not be registered as a CO.
But the important thing was that I didn’t have to serve in any way and avoided that moral anguish.
Stephanie: I wonder what advice you have for people today who may feel the call of conscience to oppose war, to oppose the military, that are stuck in situations they don’t feel they can get out of. What would you recommend from your own experience for people to listen to the voice of conscience today?
Cary: I think one thing they should do, if they have any religious bent, is to pray. I think they should seek advice from people who have been through the same dilemma, the same moral dilemma. I think they should educate themselves as to what alternatives there are. You know, if you’re in the military, I still believe there’s an option for applying for conscientious objector status.
If someone is in that position, they should definitely look at the Army regulations and see what is required. You know, what steps they’re going to have to go through, what the application should include.
I would encourage them, if they’re going to take some really serious step like that, to get letters of support from former teachers, professors, pastors, rabbis, imams, and you know, don’t jump into it. Make sure that that’s what you’re really – that’s what you really believe. Because the path forward is not necessarily going to be a piece of cake.
They should be ready for people to call you a coward, call you a traitor. I get comments like that now on my Cary Donham Author website where I’ve had links to part of my book and my website and so on, and of me reading from my book. And you know, there’s some really nasty comments.
When I left West Point back in 1970, it was obviously before email and Twitter and Facebook. So, I got letters from people after the article in the New York Times about my application. And two-thirs of them were very supportive. The other third were people telling me I was a traitor, and I was a coward, and I was a disgrace. I got about 75 letters.
And the same thing has happened on my Facebook feed for Cary Donham Author where there’s an excerpt from the book and links to my website. And people call me a traitor and a coward. And my son was upset with that. I said, “You just got to be used to it and ready for it if you’re going to do something that’s unusual in public.”
And I was called a communist. The other thing that was really bad was a guy who wrote – he sent me New York Daily News articles about my case. And he would scribble antisemitic remarks in the margins of these. And they would be anonymous. And at the time, I had been assigned to work in the mailroom at West Point.
So, I was getting these letters coming into West Point, working with a couple of enlisted men who were about to get out of the Army. That was the most shocking thing, was my first real encounter with antisemitism.
Michael: Yeah. That really hurts. What I had come to believe is that people – the vehement responses that they make, the objections, the name-calling are indications that they don’t feel very secure and confident in their own position. If they did, then the moral witness that people like yourself are providing would not be bothering them.
Cary: Well, I think that’s true. That kind of anger and nastiness does arise from insecurity. I think you said it right, Michael.
Michael: Good. Well, it’s been nothing short of an inspiration talking with you, Cary. I’m sure Stephanie would agree. We want to thank you very much for your time, and even more for what you did.
Stephanie: You’re at Nonviolence Radio, and that was Cary Donham, sharing his story of being a conscientious objector from West Point, and his recently published memoir, “A Wrinkle in the Long Grey Line.” We turn next to the Nonviolence Report with Michael Nagler
Michael: Greetings everyone. This is Michael Nagler with the Nonviolence Report for the end of August 2023. And quite a critical time we are living through. To just share one personal thing with you, today is the first-ever Mubarak Awad Day in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Mubarak was a very good friend of ours who made many things possible for us in Israel and other parts of the Middle East. And he has a video now on the 80th anniversary of his life, which you can find it at Nonviolence International.
Meanwhile, last week was the 81st anniversary of Quit India Day. This was also known as “Do or Die Day.” This is when Mahatma Gandhi said, “I am going to give you a mantra. It is ‘Do or die’. We shall either free India or die in the attempt. We shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery.” That momentous statement was made on August 8th of 1942.
I think it’s good for us to remember that for Gandhi and most Indians working with him, the independence was not for India alone. He said – this is a quote – “Through realization of freedom of India, I hope to realize and carry on the mission of brotherhood of man.” This is because what he was doing was going to uplift the human image and therefore all humanity would benefit, just as all humanity was to that extent damaged by the colonial system.
So, today is the 77th anniversary of India’s independence – or last week was, actually. And on almost that very same day, a very good resource opened up in Texas. It’s called The Eternal Gandhi Museum of Houston. It’s open to the public. We consulted with Atul Kothari, the philanthropist who built this thing. And it looks to be an awfully good resource for people who want to find out what Gandhi did and what we can do. That’s how the museum is organized.
So, that was the good news – or part of it.
We are facing, at this time, a rise of totalitarianism and the resistance to totalitarianism in India, in Israel, and in many places. And I wanted to read you an assessment from the opinion column that appeared in Alternet today:
“By the end of 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees and migrants reached the European shores undertaking treacherous journeys from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries torn apart by war and persecution.
This flood of Muslims fleeing African and Middle Eastern climate change and wars over the past decade is why Italy and Sweden now have right-wing leaders. Why Viktor Orbán was able to gain and hold power in Hungary with his promise to ‘build a wall’ along Hungary’s southern border (a promise that he kept). And why right-wing parties are today growing so rapidly in Germany, Greece, Norway, Austria, Belgium and France.”
But the article concludes:
“To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are not helpless before this task. But it will require Western and American media and political systems to take on this triple crisis – climate change, the refugees it produces, and the politicians who demagogue the issue while blocking forward progress.”
Thinking of Mubarak Awad reminds me that a good friend of both of ours, a Palestinian lawyer by the name of Jonathan Kuttab, back on the 29th of last month, wrote a beautiful article on the crisis for Israel. That is for Israel, not just for Palestine.
And now to say a little bit more about how the constructive power is rising to meet this challenge of authoritarianism. I want to read you something from a combination of Pace e Bene, the Franciscan peace organization. They are now excited to invite us to take part in Campaign Nonviolence Action Days that will start on Monday, October 2, which of course, is both Gandhi’s Birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence.
And this will be a great opportunity to come together and make a lasting impact in our communities. So, they’re encouraging people to take some local actions, and they list a lot of suggestions. And this will also be happily, coincidently, the 10th of anniversary of Campaign Nonviolence.
So, thousands of events nurturing a more nonviolent world will take place from the International Day of Peace, which is Sept. 21, to the International Day of Nonviolence, on Oct. 2.
There are, as of last week, 3,368 events that are already scheduled. So, you’re invited to get with a local organization or just a handful of friends to be part of this global mobilization challenging war, poverty, racism, and environmental destruction. And then let Campaign Nonviolence know about it.
Now, to share with you one concrete example, Pace e Bene has been offering young people $1000 to create projects addressing violence in their communities. And great results have been coming through already. The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative has 100 events planned.
And so, I’m wondering, is this the way forward? If we have this kind of cloud of related but not coordinated events like what’s happening during this season and projected to continue happening through to October. Or else is the best technique to be joining forces behind one big step and make that when we achieve that step, make the next step in this process to a well articulated goal?
Of course, we here at the Metta Center, we’re happy to see this particular event. This is a quote from Sister Susan Gallagher, “A couple of members of our nonviolence interest group have seen The Third Harmony, and we feel it would be an effective action to share with our group and friends of group members.” Of course, the Third Harmony is the film that we produced here at Metta.
Now, incidentally, last year there were over 4600 actions that were taking place across the US. And in 20 other countries. And over 60,000 passionate peacemakers joined the party. And this year, they’re expecting to take it up a notch by particularly by the many powerful projects which would be dreamt up by the youth group, ages 12-23 and funded by Pace e Bene’s Changemaker Youth grants.
Finally, a quote from the organizers, “As these efforts demonstrate, nonviolence is not some far-off idealized state, but a methodological step-by-step process for finding ways forward toward a more just and healthy reality.”
And I might throw in that we have a friend from South India, Ramu Manivannan who is now preparing to march 200 miles across the south. And I’ll be saying a little bit more about both some India movements and the idea of marching as protest in a little bit.
But I wanted to share a nice acknowledgement from our friend Bob Koehler who is a Chicago-based journalist. He says, “Although bad things are happening, many, many courageous people are involved in pushing humanity to transcend war. The threat of nuclear war makes this crucial. Human evolution is in the spotlight. We must find peace in our souls and in our collective soul.”
This reminds me of something that Gandhi said in 1947, and it was published in Harijan. Here’s his quote, “The weapon of violence, even when it is the atom bomb, becomes useless when it is matched against true nonviolence.”
I believe that the Mahatma by true nonviolence meant a nonviolence that’s adopted on principle and not just as a strategy.
Now a little bit more about these times we’re passing through and some of the resources now available to us. It was ten years ago last week that thousands of people from across the US and from different social movements started an occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC. That was the famous Occupy movement that lasted for six months. They called their action, “Stop the machine. Create a new world.”
I just want to add that the way I see the best way forward is, create a new world, and that will stop most of the machine by itself.
But in any case, the coalition behind the Occupy movement was something called the October 2011 movement, which was named similarly to movements that arose in Egypt and Spain. And Popular Resistance was born from – Popular Resistance is a website – was born from that coalition.
They tried to spark what they called, “An American Autumn.” And they chose the date of their starting, October 6, to coincide with the beginning of the new austerity budget and the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan.
Now, part of their statement with which I wholeheartedly agree is, “Occupation of public space is a tactic, not a revolution in itself. This was part of a take-off moment when an issue that resonated with many people came to the forefront. “Social movements,” they go on to say, “come in phases. The hard work of building on that take-off is where we are now.”
And to learn more about how movements have an impact, you can visit the free Popular Resistance school on its website.
Further quoting from this article on the Occupy movement, quote, “The best way to counter the rise of autocracy is to continue to expose injustice and take action to stop it while showing there is another way.”
Now I want to comment on this. It’s good that they add, “While showing there is another way,” because for a long time our movements were almost entirely negative. They were almost entirely exposing injustice, and we’re starting to learn that that isn’t very effective. It can even be paralyzing.
I think the next step will be to actually reverse those priorities and say, “Show that there’s another way and then take the actions to disestablish the injustice.”
One more quote from this episode that I think is really worth hearing. It goes like this, “If we achieve nothing else in the fight against the oligarchs and the autocrats, we will at least salvage our dignity and integrity.”
And that is absolutely huge. Salvaging our dignity and our human integrity is really the core of a nonviolent world.
Now an episode that has always meant a lot to me that took place during WWII and the occupation of France was a resistance that was launched in a little village called Le Chambon. And there is now a Waging Nonviolence article and a 10-part podcast series about Le Chambon and what they did. It’s called, “The City of Refuge.” And their subtitle is, “The French villages that rescued thousands during WWII continue to welcome refugees.”
This all happened when an anthropologist named Maggie Paxson came to Le Chambon only to discover that its good deeds are not just in the past.
Here’s a perceptive quote from Maggie Paxson about the meaning of all of this: “And this is what I think is special, when they would see a stranger,” that is, when the people of Le Chambon, the Chambonaise, “when they would see a stranger, they wouldn’t see an identity. They wouldn’t see a religion. They don’t, to this day, see a race or a country. They see a person.”
And Maggie Paxson goes on, “I came to see that as a kind of alchemy. An ability to go from seeing someone as a stranger to seeing that stranger as a friend. How do they do it? I don’t think there are any two ways about it,” she says. “They live the belief in the essential oneness of humanity. They practice it, and they know how to do it.”
So, this is an example of a nonviolent uprising that took place in the face of the Nazi occupation of Southern France. And it’s a good illustration of how very often a nonviolence event will raise consciousness about nonviolence in general and lead to other such events.
One of the very few magazines that I read in hard copy is New Internationalist. They have reviewed a book by Vijay Mehta called, “Peace Beyond Borders.” It talks about how the European Union has eliminated the reasons for conflict and how this can be exported. This model could be picked up in other parts of the world.
The review by José Ramos-Horta, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1996 – you may recognize his name. He was the president of Timor-Leste.
He says, “This book by an astute non-European observer uses this unprecedented experience as the centerpiece of a carefully crafted theory on the construction and maintenance of peace and prosperity on a global scale.” So, that is really a hopeful resource for us to look forward to.
I’d like to share with you all a job listing. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is seeking their next executive director to lead PPF in a compelling witness to the nonviolence of Jesus and the vision of their organization.
So, if you look up Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, you will find the further description of that job.
Here’s another opportunity. This time from Christian Peacemaker Teams. They are sending, again, a delegation to Palestine. It’s started, actually last month, and is going on now. And it will be an opportunity to harvest olives and make peace.
Something that I’ve written about is the Alternatives to Violence Project, which started in the early 1980s in Greenhaven State Penitentiary in New York. And I knew that it had caught on, and it was spreading.
What I didn’t know is that they have, by now, hosted over 1000 workshops in the community and at various correctional facilities. And they’re now in a position to provide workshops wherever there’s a need and an interest.
Here’s their mission statement. “The mission of the Alternatives to Violence Project is to empower people to lead nonviolent lives through affirmation, respect for all, building and enhancing of community, cooperation, and trust.”
So, this is really a remarkable development because we have so many programs. I’ve been in parts in some of them which start – and they are that’re outside the walls and then brought into the prisons. But here’s an example of an insightful, powerful, nonviolent program that actually started in prisons and is coming out into the outside world.
Closing now with two developments in India and one in Turkey.
This one is just, again, just a demonstration, but somehow it kind of tugs at the heartstrings. This was led by students along with over 700 volunteers from 37 colleges and Mumbai University.
And they said, “Today, we pledge together with the millions of people all over the world to work tirelessly for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons and all weapons.” They had the City of Mumbai pledge for peace and a nuclear-free world on the fifth of August.
Now, you may remember the Chipko movement, which took place in the lower slopes of the Himalayas – mostly in Himachal Pradesh, where to counter the devastating effects of deforestation, women went out into the forest and hugged the trees. Chipko means hug in the Indian region.
Now, here’s what’s going on in Turkey. The Akbelen Forest has been razed relentlessly by loggers, but women and community members are mobilizing to halt the deforestation. They are facing arrests, tear gas, and intimidation. But they say they will not back down in their protection of this dwindling ecosystem.
And that is the kind of courage and determination that we all need now to have in defense of the Earth. And this article, incidentally, is from a very rich addition of Nonviolence News by Rivera Sun back on the 5th of August. You’ll find a lot more there to be hopeful about that is going on.
Finally, 108 people on a motorbike rally for sustainability and unity also took place in India while a youth-written theater performance about ending ritual killings took place in Nigeria.
All I have time to say about these wonderful events, but come back and follow more Nonviolence News in our next broadcast. And thank you very much for listening.
Stephanie: You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio broadcasting out of our mother station KWMR. With thanks to our guest, to our Nonviolence Radio team, Matt Watrous, Annie Hewitt, to Byran Farrell at Waging Nonviolence, to our syndicator stations over the Pacifica Network, and to you all of our listeners. You can find more at MettaCenter.org. Until the next time, please take care of yourself and of one another.