This week, Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook welcome Dr. Wim Laven, professor, author, board member of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and editor in chief of Peace Chronicle magazine. Wim’s work looks at the immense power of forgiveness as well as the very real difficulties involved in the act of forgiving. How does forgiving release us and allow us to move forward? What are the conditions needed for meaningful forgiveness? How can we forgive the unforgivable?
People are figuring out, you know, and being coached by their friends and their family and their spiritual advisors and so forth, that in order to live their best lives, they’re going to have to release some of these injustices, despite the fact that it’s completely unfair, right? Like police departments pulling over people just because of the color of their skin or just because they’ve profiled them to match descriptions of whatever prejudicial bias they would like to monitor. But being angry about it, staying angry about it, is having harmful consequences.
Wim’s work with students in prison and all over the world illuminates the way in which forgiving plays an essential role in helping individuals to release anger so that they can live more freely and fully. At the level of society, Wim shows how forgiving can work to dismantle power structures that allow for — and even encourage — cruel, unjust and violent actions. Forgiving is not easy, but it is a powerful force that, when harnessed, allows for deep and lasting transformation.
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook, and I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler.
Michael: Good morning, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Nice to have you hear today, Michael.
Michael: Stephanie, can I make a comment about substance abuse? It is reaching crisis proportions and I very rarely see anybody asking why? Why are people doing that? I’m afraid that problem is going to continue until we do.
Stephanie: Thank you. Well, a lot of it has to do as well with relationships
Michael: A lot.
Stephanie: And that’s what the first part of our show is about today. I mean really, in a way, nonviolence is all about relationship, right?
Stephanie: And restoring the image of the human being and our relationship to one another, to ourselves, and to the rest of life. Right?
Michael: Well put.
Stephanie: In a way, violence is restricted to human activity.
Michael: I think that’s where the term is most meaningful. This morning, I saw our cat going after a little creature – regrettable, but I’m not going to call that violence.
Stephanie: There are strategies and tools that we’ve worked with over millennia that help us to rebuild community and strengthen our bonds and our sense of self, which also, I believe, help us to be better practitioners of nonviolence. And one of those is forgiveness.
Michael: You know, I have to agree, Stephanie. I think that’s strictly a human capacity. I think animals forget. I may be wrong here. We’d have to check with Frans de Waal.
Stephanie: We have with us today Dr. Wim Laven. He’s an instructor of peace studies, political science and conflict resolution. And he focuses his research on forgiveness and reconciliation which he relates to his wide-range of work and research experiences. He is on the executive boards of the International Peace Research Association and the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and he serves as Editor in Chief for the Peace Chronicle magazine. We’re very happy to have him to talk to us today about this big topic of forgiveness. Welcome, Wim.
Wim: Thank you for having me.
The study of forgiveness
Stephanie: How did you get interested in the study of forgiveness?
Wim: Well, it’s a two-part answer. I first started studying forgiveness without knowing I was studying forgiveness. I got in trouble when I was 15, and I was trying to find out how I could heal and atone from the way I felt about this, you know, for several years. I had burglarized a friend’s home when I was 15 and then my senior seminar for my undergraduate degree in philosophy was on forgiveness and theories of emotion.
I was 22, 23 at the time I was taking that, and I still had this remorseful thing about – here I’ve done something wrong and I’ve never really felt like – I never really felt whole again. And then I was taking this class, and it was the first time, really, in my life that a class spoke to me at a very deep level.
I think that was 2001, the spring of 2001. I found meditations and practices that helped me to see myself in a new light. The theories of emotion part of it was just – I became incredibly intrigued in trying to figure out not just how to continue to feel better, but what was helping me to make sense of myself at an existential level in that way.
And then it’s just continued. It’s gone from me being kind of a selfish – trying to feel better about myself – to figuring out how can I help other people. Because there’s tremendous need in the world. There is a tremendous need of people saying like, “How do I forgive so-and-so? Or how do I get so-and-so to forgive me?” Because people, really, they do have a strong desire for reconciliation in their lives.
Stephanie: To back up for a second, in the story that you told about burglarizing your friend’s house as the impetus to begin to recognize the need for forgiveness, it piqued your intellectual interest in what this is about. I have a question – were you caught? Did they catch you? Did you get in trouble?
Wim: The day they got back from vacation I turned myself in.
Stephanie: You turned yourself in. Okay. I wondered too, if that might have been a different story or that might have been a different path for you if you hadn’t had done that.
Wim: I imagine that there would be some similarities and some differences. In truth, I think that it all would have unraveled eventually. I mean, I wasn’t part of a very sophisticated crime ring or something. I think that the large number of people who had become aware of this crime, especially because of the other people who were involved, that I think eventually it would have all been sorted out. But I knew very quickly that I had made a mistake, that I needed to tell them, you know, in person. And I then had to wait for their vacation to end.
But I can also say from having taught forgiveness during my peace studies classes in prison, that the overwhelming number of my students have chosen to write. When they’ve had an open opportunity to talk about any and the stuff that we’ve covered in the class, they’ve chosen – the inmates have chosen – to write about forgiveness.
And in that capacity, I’ve read about those who have a wide range of experiences that they’ve been caught for, or not been caught for, or that they don’t even admit to doing, that has been listed there. So, there is a remarkable amount of overlap. It’s very strange to say, but I have read papers from people who want forgiveness for their crimes that they don’t acknowledge doing. Because they recognize the harms that those events have caused in their lives, but also the lives of their families and their children.
There’s an interesting disconnect between the feelings of regret that people can have that is, I think, completely separate from them truly acknowledging the conditions of their forward moral decision making in some behaviors. And that’s, again, more directed at myself than the inmate population that I taught.
But I’m looking at probably 2-3000 different students over my career that I’ve had chances to have these conversations with now. And it’s really something that people are captivated by.
Michael: Wim, that was fascinating. Would you say then, based on your experiences, that the enabling factor that enables a person to forgive is first and foremost the acknowledgement?
Wim: I think at least in our Christian/North American environments that acknowledgement is a really crucial piece. I think that when I spent time in Asian communities, in particular, where they practice more karmic tradition, that the acknowledgement is sometimes less important because there’s a different kind of fundamental trust in the cosmos to resolve and reconcile issues of moral imbalance.
In fact, in Sri Lanka, when I would speak with people, they would tell me that, “You know, we don’t need forgiveness here because karma solves for all.” But then on a different conversation they would use the word forgiveness, exactly the way I’m used to, because there was not another word that could translate the same concept that they were trying to get across.
Three keys for forgiveness
I think that it just hit me very clear that three keys are: acknowledgement of harm or wrongdoing, promise that it won’t happen again, and some mechanism for restitution or repairing the damages that have been caused.
But I don’t think that people always need all three things. Say the person apologizes and then they’re like, “Don’t worry about replacing or fixing it. I’ll take care of it.” Or in other cases, people don’t care about the acknowledgement, they just need this damaged item back. So I think part of the distinction is whether or not the damage is to an item or if it’s the damage to the relationship. I think healing the relationship is the part that’s actually hardest, both to teach and to do.
A student told me he forgave his wife on the same day he filed for divorce. She said, “How can you say that you forgive me and want a divorce?” And he said, “You know, I don’t have hard feelings for you. I want good things to happen to you. But I also recognize that you can’t be the person I’m married to.” And that creates an interesting tension in the class where people wanted to push back and say, “Well, if you want to change the relationship, is it really forgiveness?”
The student expressed, “You know, my feelings about marriage, I can’t be married to the person who’s done this to me. But I can forgive what’s happened,” right? A person was deployed. The wife had an affair while he was away and he came back to find out. And so, there was an understanding about the conditions that would lead to this kind of choice which caused him emotional harm, that he was able to forgive, but also, at the same time, not wanting that.
I don’t know if that helps, but I think that acknowledgement really is a big piece for the overwhelming number of people. I could look through my dissertation. That was one of my questions. In order to forgive somebody, they need to acknowledge what they’ve done. And you know, the Likert scale, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. I could give you the percentage of people who responded. I can’t remember it off the top of my head, but I think it was about two-thirds of the respondents agreed that they needed people to acknowledge what they had done before they could forgive them.
Stephanie: Wim, can you repeat those three conditions for forgiveness?
Wim: Yeah: acknowledgement of harm or wrongdoing, a promise that it won’t happen again, and a plan or a way of making amends – restitution, atonement of some sort.
Stephanie: And so, to model for our listeners, could you model that in a real life situation of what that would sound like if you were offering?
Wim: I’ve mediated in small claims court, and so this comes out a little bit differently than a child having an infraction. When I have two parties together – and this is true for about 75% of my cases that didn’t involve an individual and a business or a collection agency – when it was party to party, at some point in the mediation, I would almost always, 75% of the cases, get somebody saying like, “You owe me an apology.” And what I have learned was that it was really important to ask, “What does an apology mean to you?” To get it drawn out.
Because sometimes the person would want the “I’m sorry” to be a reflection that they felt bad. And sometimes they’d want the “I’m sorry” to be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. And each one of those would steer it in a different direction.
When I’d go to talk about it, after this had happened and I would talk to the different sides, I would usually end up coaching the party. “So, I don’t know how much you’re willing to admit to doing or something, but why don’t you tell me,” right? I’d get the person to say to me, privately, to the extent to which that they were accepting the kind of claim, that they owed an apology. And for the person who would say, you know, “They’re right. I feel bad about what happened. I know I owe the person the money. I just can’t afford to pay it. That’s why I haven’t done it yet.”
In that case, I would help coach the person into saying like, you know, tell the person, you know, these three different parts, “Yes, I know what I did was wrong. You did work for me and you didn’t get paid for it. It’s not fair, that’s disrespectful.” So, there was the acknowledgement part upfront.
Now, the promise that it wouldn’t happen again wouldn’t always be featured in these cases. It wasn’t always a situation where the relationship was likely that the people would be in contact together. Sometimes it was something more that was happening, and the person would say, “I promise that will never happen again. If I am ever in a position where I can’t afford to pay you, I’ll tell you before I stand you up.” You know, the explanation part there.
Then I’d say the third part is the part that’s really important. You admit that you owe the person, and now you’re going to have to figure out how you’re going to be able to pay them back, you know? I would tell them that the best thing to do is to figure out the payment plan that you’re willing to offer that will work for you. Because agreeing you owe them money, but not having the means to give it back or to pay it back won’t really help. You got into this position because you couldn’t afford to pay them before. What are you going to be able to afford to do now?
Then after the session when those three different parts have been identified in these more economic terms, I would ask the parties, “We both had a chance to talk about what was going on. If either of you want to share from those conversations, let’s go ahead and get started with that.” If a person then felt comfortable sharing, “Yeah, I feel really horrible about what I did to you. It was really disrespectful to not pay you the money you deserved. I hope that we’re able to work through this and I promise if I’m ever having financial issues in the future, I’ll tell you. And, you know, I don’t have much, but this is what I can afford and I’m going to make sure that I can get you paid back.”
That melted the ice in the room maybe not completely, but so much. I mean, you just could feel the temperature change.
Stephanie: Like it feels like there’s a sense of honesty, integrity, and respect being brought in by being vulnerable and –
Wim: And the person is angry – I mean, you can understand. Somebody owes me, right? Like all of the people that, say, got stiffed by Donald Trump in their careers and the businesses that got bankrupted. You know, those people felt horrible. They did work. They deserved to be paid for it, and they didn’t, right?
Now the person is saying, “Look, I meant to. You deserved it. I wasn’t able to pay you, but I’m going to make up for that now.” Almost always, that really covers the person’s needs. Sometimes the party needs to hear a little bit more. I gave the three keys, but some people want to know more about, like, “Well, tell me why it happened. Or what made you think it was okay?” They might have some other needs that need to be solved still. But I just want to say, I think that that gets you through most of the journey.
Stephanie: I kind of hear a bit of a conflation too between forgiveness and an apology. I feel like forgiveness comes from the person who was the recipient of the harm, and the apology comes from the person who did the harm. Also, I know that sometimes it’s not so black and white, that a situation is the wrong kind of situation. And it was created, in part, by the person to whom the harm happened.
Can you spell that out a little bit, about what forgiveness is in relationship to this sort of formulaic approach to the apology? How do we accept forgiveness? How do we offer forgiveness?
How do we accept and offer forgiveness?
Wim: I think it’s 1973 when Aurel Kolnai comes out with this explanation, this moral philosophical explanation for forgiveness where you’ve got forgiving threat and wrongdoing routes. I think it really helps to get the ball rolling because we think about a victim and a perpetrator and which side is responsible for which part.
But I think that the reality in so much of life is that things are not clear-cut, exactly like you’re saying. Like it’s not like we’ve just got one perpetrator or, you know, one victim. It’s frequently more likely to have two people who are hurting, and maybe two people who have done a little bit to hurt the other person. We might see the childish kind of argument, you know, “You started it.” “No, no. You started it. You did it first.” And so on.
So the giving, the releasing of kind of this moral debt, right? Forgiving this debt in the relationship is, I think, a great model. But I think it does have some of what you’re describing. These things that need to clean it up.
First I will say, the apology part doesn’t have to be accepted – and may not always be given. The apology part of the process, that can be really helpful because I think people do need the acknowledgement of harm and wrongdoing. But I think that we have a lot of examples of injustice in the world where people have been harmed and that harm is continuing to impact them and they may not ever get an apology, right?
We can think of hate crimes where the perpetrator does something, treats somebody without the basic dignity that they deserve, and then does not resolve their ideology to ever recognize the offense. So, that person is left in a really uncomfortable position because being angry really stinks and takes a lot of energy.
A student of mine spoke up in class to say, “I think that this forgiveness piece is probably the most important thing we’ve covered in class because forgiveness saved my life.” The student had been shot. They removed the bullets from his body and were telling him that if he didn’t stop being angry about what happened, that his elevated blood pressure was going to keep him from healing and it would probably kill him.
He hadn’t, I think, according to the story, even found out who shot him or why he’d been shot. He was just in the hospital and he has to figure out, you know – and in this case he used a higher power. He used God’s grace and his belief system to help him get through. But if he stayed angry, it was killing him, right?
So, there is a part of this where individuals are frequently releasing their anger, releasing their retributive feelings about the injustice of their experience in the world. Not because any conditions about who did it or what did it or why it happened, but because being in the state of unforgiveness is painful. It’s challenging and it’s difficult.
I don’t know if that makes it harder to think about these concepts to really put it separate, but people forgive all the time for offenses that other people would find to be unforgivable, or that they’re able to get over things that other people aren’t. And I think that happens, in part, because we do think of forgiveness in similar ways, but from person to person, it does end up being different. And how those needs, wants, and interests are met will play out differently.
Karma, love and the police
Michael: I have a story for you, Wim. I had a friend who was abused. There were two parties involved and she took after the first party with legal recourse and got some satisfaction there – all three ingredients. I happened to be there when she was talking to our joint spiritual teacher, and she said, “Well, now that leaves the agent. What should I do? Should I take off after him also?” And the teacher said, “Oh, let the law of karma take care of that agent.”
And I will never forget the change that came over her. She goes, “Ah.” Just completely relaxed. You could see this huge burden that lifted off her back.
Stephanie: Thanks for sharing that example, Michael.
Stephanie: Wim, do you want to speak to that at all?
Wim: When it works that way and people are able to tap into things that they believe in to help them get over these obstacles, I mean I think it’s beauty. I think it’s love. And what I would say is just even more basic than that. I have students do my survey for my dissertation research and a number of them wanted to talk to me about some of these questions.
One of the themes that was generated in these conversations, from my Black students in particular, was you need to understand being Black in America, if I don’t learn how to forgive, then I’ll be unemployed because I’ll be so angry about being racially profiled and getting pulled over on my way to work. And the person said, “I’m not exaggerating here. I get pulled over four or five times a week. It’s very rare that I get to work and I didn’t get stopped by cops on my way. If I show up to work and I’m angry, my boss is going to be upset with me, you know? I’m not going to be treating customers right and so on.”
So, people are figuring out, you know, and being coached by their friends and their family and their spiritual advisors and so forth, that in order to live their best lives, they’re going to have to release some of these injustices, despite the fact that it’s completely unfair, right? Like police departments pulling over people just because of the color of their skin or just because they’ve profiled them to match descriptions of whatever prejudicial bias they would like to monitor. But being angry about it, staying angry about it, is having harmful consequences.
In that capacity, the police officer is just following orders and we know that just following orders has been used as a defense about some of the most heinous crimes in history. But it really is. It’s the system or the structure that’s creating those outcomes. I don’t know how much the student is aware that what they’re doing is forgiving the racism in America, but I do know that they are aware that if they stay angry, then they’ll be unemployed. And they’re finding ways to get over that – at least to the degree that they’re able to function, you know?
Again, it’s challenging stuff. I think that there are some people that would say that that’s not really forgiveness. I would. I do. And I think that I’ve learned a lot from my students sharing their experiences and their practices for how they get through the critical injustices in the world.
Stephanie: One of my main questions for you is, do you think that forgiveness has a transformative power on the person who receives it? And then if that’s the case, how does this relate, would you say, to social justice movements and nonviolent movements today where forgiveness can play a role?
Transformative power of forgiveness
Wim: I guess I have three different things to say about it. One is just the practical and personal. When I finally found out that I could forgive myself, I was able to get a whole lot more done and feel a lot better about myself. And then I had that renewed. In the case of my offense as a 15-year-old, I did move on, but it wasn’t until I actually reconnected with the friend who I had harmed and joined him for his 40th birthday. I hadn’t seen him in 22 years at that point and I heard it from him – that was when I really felt whole. I didn’t know how much I was still missing, or how much I needed to hear that. Knowing that I was forgiven, really, it did help me. But I don’t know if my experience is the same for everyone else.
The other part of my study is that I looked at Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. What I can tell you is that we see events and episodes with very similar conditions at different points in time. Rodney King beating, Los Angeles, 1991, and a year later, acquittal of the officers is a big part in catalyzing what ends up becoming the Los Angeles Riots.
This was not so different from other events, other episodes of police brutality. Ezell Ford, some years later, he’s bipolar and schizophrenic and he gets stopped for questioning by police officers. It ends up being determined that they had no lawful basis for stopping him, but largely because of his mental health issues, he’s afraid of the police. He goes away. They pursue him. He ends up getting shot and killed.
So many of the social factors in Los Angeles at this time indicate that the population was expecting things to blow up, to erupt, to see lots of strong reactions to the injustice. But in that time period, the Black Lives movement had mobilized people to pursue issues of social justice. The mayor actually came out and said he felt Ford’s life mattered, Black lives mattered.
And while this doesn’t turn the heat off, I think it turns it down. And what you see is that people have been able to channel their energies into protests for social change as opposed to violent demonstrations which, to go back to Black Lives Matter, the evidence seems pretty clear: it doesn’t take burning down a building to throw people off of your cause.
Just blocking traffic – at the time, the protests blocked the 405 in Los Angeles, or the 75 in Atlanta – and people were stuck in traffic, they became less supportive of the movements. Now, if you want to say that a commitment to nonviolent strategies is smart and practical thinking and has nothing to do with forgiveness, I’m not going to push back very hard.
But if look at individuals within those movements who really are angry, maybe feeling vengeful. I’ve experienced it myself. When I went to Cleveland last year to protest the murder of George Floyd and I was assaulted with chemical weapons by the Cleveland Police Department, the whole drive home, I couldn’t even believe it. I’ve been preaching nonviolence for two decades now, but the whole drive home, I was thinking about how angry and how much I would like to get them back, you know?
I didn’t carry out any actions, but I was really surprised with those feelings I had in myself. So, overcoming the anger that I feel because people have harmed me and I deserved better fits in the way that you conceptualize forgiveness. And it does for me. Overcoming anger is, I think, part of the model. Then we need to develop better practices for forgiving the agents of the state and so forth, for the violence that they do, so that we’re more effective when it comes to reacting to them and responding to them, and advocating for social change.
I think that the empirical evidence is really clear that nothing throws the movements off faster than pausing them to kind of distance themselves from what causes people to be sympathetic to causes and ends up making people feel like you’re replacing one wrong doer with another. Or making victims out of the people who might be supported.
Stephanie: Well, Wim Laven, thank you so much for giving us all this food for thought today on Nonviolence Radio. We’re very grateful that you could join us. We hope that you can come back and continue this conversation as it seems like there’s so much to explore in forgiveness. And I really hope that those who are listening are able to take some time as well to think about the role of forgiveness in their lives and their actions and what it means to them.
Wim: Well, you can have me any time. Thanks for having me. I love to talk about this stuff. I think it changes the world.
Stephanie: Thank you so much. For those just tuning in, you’re at Nonviolence Radio. We were just speaking with Dr. Wim Laven on forgiveness and what it is, what’s the difference between forgiveness and an apology, and how it ends up relating to movements for social change.
And now, Michael Nagler, my news anchor and my co-host, is here just brimming with exciting news from the world of nonviolence. So, Michael, why don’t you give us your nonviolence report for the week?
Michael: So happy to. As you suspected Stephanie, my first example ties right into what Dr. Laven was telling us. He mentioned that in restorative justice there are three components – well, actually he just mentioned that in forgiveness there are three components. Acknowledgement, promise not to repeat, and restitution of harm done. And those are exactly the three ingredients in restorative justice.
So, restorative justice is a formalization of forgiveness. And sometimes the question occurs, was the forgiveness sincere? I know in the case of the truth and reconciliation commissions in South Africa, there was an external incentive to admit wrongdoing, and a lot of people did that. It was, and still is, questionable how many of them really felt that they had done something wrong.
Anyway, that leads me into a perfect example of the opposite of forgiveness, a negative example. It would fall under the definition that Darnell Moore gave of what actually happened in the response to the George Floyd killing, namely the incarceration of Officer Chauvin. He said, “This is violence in exchange for violence.”
And now let me give you another example of this that has just come up because it helps to discriminate between principled nonviolence and strategic nonviolence. There was a man named Dawson who galvanized a mob to harass an Arab-American individual by the name of Jedeed, and the left-wing activists decided to do something called doxing. Doxing is part of a growing effort by left-wing activists to punish members of far-right groups who have been accused of violent behaviour by exposing them to their employers, family, and friends.
So, they did that to Dawson. They doxed him – and it does highlight the effect that the tactic can have, namely – at least, unemployment, you know, personal upheaval. You often end up in a job that pays much less than your former one. But here’s my point. It also illustrates the limits of the technique because this man, Dawson, is completely unrepentant for his role, he continues to espouse far-right political views.
So that’s an example of coercion, in a way, and not persuasion. Obviously, persuasion will take more time and it’s much more difficult. But in any case, I tend to think that in this case and in many others, it would have been worth the effort rather than taking the easy route of coercion. There’s a very similar argument in connection with restorative justice. It would be very difficult to achieve some kind of restitution that really satisfied the Floyd family. I can’t even imagine how you would do it, actually.
But really, locking a guy away in prison is an easy answer. I’m not saying he doesn’t “deserve it.” That’s not the point. The point is that – does it get us out of the situation?
All right, well let me now mention – that was the opposite of nonviolence. Let me now mention some positive examples. First of all, as usual, I like to talk about a few resources. Our friend Stellan Vinthagen at UC Amherst has a very interesting article in a journal that he edits called, “Resistance Studies.”
A quote about that article, “It’s why we need to shift from protest power to people power” – that’s the title of the article – and he says, “Nonviolent movements must go beyond marching in the streets in order to build truly transformative change for a post-pandemic future.” That’s kind of the point I was just making with the Dawson example. It also is kind of the theme I’d like to strike here, Stephanie, which is the question of tactics, and building up from tactics to strategy.
Nonviolence action week
Now a group that we follow closely, Campaign for Nonviolent Action. Campaign Nonviolence is an effort of Pace e Bene, Franciscan-based organization, and coming up soon on the 18th to the 26th of September is their annual Nonviolence Action Week. People are already planning marches for – and here’s the issues that I wanted to highlight, and some of the tactics.
Biodiversity, mass trainings, peace walks, empathy circles, a peacemaker congress, folding paper cranes with children, actions against domestic violence teach-ins, fasts, peace and unity tours, and even more – you have a whole repertoire there of nonviolent approaches.
I have to say, when I saw the folding paper cranes, of course, I was alerted. Something’s going on wrong here, it’s just symbolic. But folding paper cranes with children makes a lot more sense.
Preliminary injunction against HB1 in Florida
In the news now, civil rights groups have filed a motion for preliminary injunctions against Florida-based law HB1 which is an injunction to block anti-protests. That would be devastating for the entire peace movement which, as we just heard, should go beyond protest, but often needs to begin there. It’s our way of rallying people and bringing attention to a perceived abuse.
So, the ACLU in Florida, the NAACP, other groups, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction two days ago in the U.S. district court in Florida. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out.
Büchel is everywhere!
Now we thought that the issue of nuclear war and especially the emplacement of missiles on European soil is a thing of the past, but think again. There’s a group that I’ll mention later that’s addressing this systematically. There’s an Air Base in Germany called Büchel. B U umlaut C-H-E-L – Büchel Air Base, where about 20 U.S. nuclear bombs are stored which NATO wants to replace with new bombs – the B61-12 bombs. The trouble with nuclear bombs, not only do they absorb money the first go around, but they just keep on draining and draining.
Now, this air base has a highly armed fence, of course, with surveillance cameras, motion sensors, and has a deep concrete foundation. There have been previous civil disobedience actions there in which people deliberately cut through the fence, but this time, activists will not go through the fence but under it. So, they’re converging on the base with shovels painted pink – I suppose for Medea Benjamin’s action.
At first when I read this, again, I thought, “Oh, you know, this is just symbolic.” But what they want to do actually is get under the fence, reach the runway and prevent the launching of these Tornado fighter bombers to practice a nuclear war. So, they are shifting from the merely symbolic, if you will, to a truly obstructive action. And they have some good strategies in place. They have imagined that they want to arrange it so that each one can go as far as their own determination allows. So, you can join in digging until the police ask you to stop, and then you have the option of handing over your shovel to another person, or you can just peacefully continue digging until they arrest you. And then you can just be a witness. There are various ways that you can participate suiting to your own – kind of the level of commitment, I guess.
And this is part of an international week – 12th to 20th of July, which is ongoing, and their motto is “Büchel ist überall! atomwaffenfrei.jetzt!” which means, “Büchel is everywhere! Büchel is the world! End nuclear weapons now!’
A somewhat disgruntling report from – I’ll follow it with a positive one again – but there are three MIT scholars from the university’s Media Lab, and I have always appreciated what that lab does. They have come up with amazing findings and now here’s a key finding that I think we all have to ponder. It is that far-right disinformation spreads five times faster on social media than straightforward news outlets.
So, they’re saying, “No wonder 60% of republicans believe the election was stolen,” and so on and so forth. We found they say that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth by orders of magnitude in all categories of information.
Now, I would say, of course, we need to take into account another important factor here, which is, what do people want to believe? What do they want to listen to? Of course, they will go after things that appeal to what they’re looking for. But still, it does illustrate, once again, that there was kind of a misplaced enthusiasm, a reliance upon social media when they first became available.
Of course, it is true that people can organize faster and spread information often in media where other media are disallowed in more repressive regimes. There’s all those things, but we have to remember that it’s just a tool and to be used for good or bad purposes.
Electric vehicles and climate groups
But here’s the other event I wanted to mention which I feel particularly happy about because I’m an owner of one of these things, and that is that electric vehicles are close to the tipping point of rapid mass adoption worldwide. Global sales rose 43 percent last year and it’s going to go even higher because there’s a continuing fall in battery prices. That makes the cars cheaper. And they’re approaching the point where they become less expensive than petrol and diesel models, even without government subsidies. This is going to happen sometime between 2023 and 2025, they predict.
Well, climate is the battle now and the Sunrise organization organizes local chapters or hubs scattered all over the United States. This has been a consistent feature of large campaigns ever since the Spanish Revolution, our concept “base communities” comes from that conflict.. This is a strategy of combining large high profile protests in the nation’s capital with more distributed actions that pressure individual members of congress. That’s one thing ♬ that they have successfully done before, including in late 2018 when the organization helped put the idea of the Green New Deal at the center of congressional democratic action that’s made a part of their agenda.
They are only one of many climate groups that are now organizing all over the country, but Sunrise says, “We’re not just marching in the streets, although we’re doing that. We are lobbying. We’re advocating meaningful climate action. We’re trying to keep oil in the ground. We’re trying to build clean energy.” There’s a positive alternative constructive program, and trying to build public transit for everyone and facilitate a just transition. That is a comprehensive and beautiful model of how to go about it.
Master of regenerative action
Also, an interesting technique – or if you want to call it a strategy – that we don’t usually see is that there are a coalition now of no less than 40 organizations who are trying to design a new degree. You know, having spent part of my career trying to design peace and conflict studies at UC Berkeley, my ears perked up immediately. What they want to design is – this would be, in a way, even better than your degree Steph, that you got in Portland – it’s an MRA – which is a Master of Regenerative Action.
Stephanie: Well, isn’t nonviolence regenerative action? I mean if they have peace studies, why do they need this?
Michael: I think from my own experience, that is a good question. I think they need it because in most peace and conflict studies, unless you really stop and think about what you’re doing and strategize carefully, the emphasis is on the conflict, not on the peace. It’s identifying problems, not always getting into a forgiving mood once you’ve made that identification.
Politically correct racism
Going forward now, our friend Bob Koehler who is a peace journalist has an article called, “Politically Correct Racism,” on his website. The new degree this article on the website illustrates educational approaches.
There is one organization which is not a new strategy, but just had to mention it anyway. It’s called, “The Beatitude Center for the Nonviolent Jesus.” I’ve always been interested in that topic.
And I want to mention two new books because one of them is quite relevant – in fact, both of them are really. One is by Michael Beer of Nonviolence International, called “Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century.” There’s a free PDF version online. It carries further the 126 strategies identified by Gene Sharp.
And recently, there’s been a book launch by Erica Chenoweth, a book called, “Civil Resistance. What Everyone Needs to Know.”
Stephanie: Thank you so much Michael Nagler for your nonviolence report. We want to thank our mother station KWMR, Wim Laven for joining us on the topic of forgiveness, Matt Watrous, Bryan Farrell at Waging Nonviolence, to you, our listeners. And everybody out there, until the next time, please take care of one another.