Holstein cow on rolling green hillside, Sonoma County, California (Adobe/ John Nakata )

How one California city is healing the climate from the ground up

Natasha Juliana of the grassroots initiative Cool Petaluma explains how her team is taking a creative approach to the challenge of climate disruption.
Holstein cow on rolling green hillside, Sonoma County, California (Adobe/ John Nakata )

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This week, Stephanie and Michael are joined by community leader, Natasha Juliana, who is currently hard at work on “Cool Petaluma,” a project that aims to heal the climate from the ground up. Aware of how easy it is to become overwhelmed by the climate crisis, paralyzed by its magnitude, Cool Petaluma starts with concrete, inclusive and non-political actions taken at a grassroots level. This allows people to see that there are in fact ways each one of us can help the earth right now — and part of that comes through building conscious and caring communities wherever we are:

I’ve always believed that individual actions are the on-ramp to larger collective action and participation. It’s the way we get introduced to a new way of thinking and ideas…the first actions that [those involved in the project] take are around emergency preparedness. Because as we move into this climate disruption, we are going to see more — as we have already over the last four or five years, more fires, more floods, you know, depending on where you are in the country. All kinds of reasons that it’s helpful to be prepared. And why it’s so helpful to have those relationships with your neighbors so that you can take care of each other. You can know who to look out for on the block and how to share resources.And that’s such an easy in-road for people. It’s not political. It’s — everybody understands that everybody has been experiencing it. So, it’s just a really great place to start.

Natasha also encourages us to be deliberate in the language we use as we talk about making change. Words like “combat” or “make war” — even in relation to the real problems we hope to overcome – seep into our psyches and can lead us away from our true aims, which involve not fighting but “growing,” “coordinating,” “creating” and “enjoying.”

Stephanie: Well, good morning, everybody. You are at Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook. And I’m here in the studio with my co-host and news anchor, from the Nonviolence Report, Michael Nagler. Michael and I are from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma, California. And our work is to help people develop, sustain, and deepen their practice of nonviolence. And no matter what the odds, we are strong supporters of the fact that nonviolence works, and it’s just for us to figure out how it does.

On today’s show, we’re talking with a community leader from Petaluma, Natasha Juliana. Now, she is working with a team of people to take a creative approach to the challenge of climate disruption. And one that doesn’t look like what other solutions look like right now. I mean this is an, “all hands on deck,” time for nonviolence in the climate disruption. And Juliana and her team are looking at the human approach.

Petaluma received a $1 million grant to do a pilot project called, “The Cool Cities Challenge.” And now this project is called, “Cool Petaluma.” So, we want to speak with Natasha Juliana about her role in all of this, how she got involved and how you, our listeners, can get involved and do something similar in your communities. Welcome to Nonviolence Radio, Natasha.

Natasha: Thank you so much, Stephanie and Michael. I’m so happy to be joining you this morning.

Stephanie: Petaluma is a pretty cool city. My cousin used to live up in Portland and we were making shirts for the Metta Center and he said, “You know, put Petaluma on your shirt. Like it’s a cool city.” And I thought, “Yeah, but this is…” And I told him about the work that’s happening with the Cool Cities initiative that you helped bring to the city of Petaluma. So, let’s start a little bit with just sort of an overview of what is the Cool Cities Challenge, and what is making Petaluma cool?

Natasha: That’s a fantastic question. And yes, I agree. Petaluma is a cool city just to begin with. Now we have more reasons to live up to that. So, the Cool City Challenge was put out last summer. And it was an invitation to submit an application for this $1 million grant, which would go to three cities in California, if you could show that you had ample community involvement to achieve major collective action around climate change.

The interesting thing about this program, which really drew me to it, was it really focused on involving the community in a way that gave everybody agency and really talked about improving quality of life. Because so often, you know, our talk about climate change seems so overwhelming and large-scale and hard to have any way that we, as individuals, can make a difference in a meaningful way. So, this just helps prove that.

What we’re trying to prove here is that these collective individual actions can really make a huge difference. And so, we gathered a team of Petaluma residents and put together a winning proposal. And it’s now Petaluma, Irving, and LA that are in this challenge together. And the collaboration with those cities has been very exciting as well.

Stephanie: We first heard about this through our friend Derek Douglas-Hecker who helped me create a board game for the Metta Center, who has been very enthusiastic about the project and is, I believe, going to be one of your block leaders.

Natasha: He is. Yes. I know Derek well. And what’s been great is that it’s just – so the way this program works is it focuses on finding what they call, “Cool block leaders.” And in order to apply for the program, you have to find 200 people to volunteer to be block leaders, who would lead their neighbors on this four-and-a-half month journey through five different categories.

And we ended up actually with 300 blocks, far surpassing all the other cities – even gigantic LA. It’s just a testament to the community spirit we have here in cool Petaluma and the timeliness of the program. And when we look at how widespread the community engagement has been already, just in the last couple of months, you know, it’s just really very exciting and very hopeful.

And so, those block leaders are going to be the key to our success because they help spread the word and work in collaboration with their neighbors which I think is so important in this day and age, to kind of reconnect with each other.

Stephanie: Yeah. As we were saying before this interview, the pandemic has really brought a sense of both interconnectedness and isolation, and people want to reach out. And they’re also concerned about what has gotten us into these dire situations that we’re in on a number of levels. So, it’s a very empowering project.

But let’s back it up a minute and talk about the theory of change that is a part of the Cool Cities Challenge initiative. Because I have to say when I first heard about it, I felt a little bit skeptical and I imagine you did too, as somebody who’s been involved in climate initiatives for some time, is what I understand. How can we be hopeful about individual actions, you know, changing our lightbulbs or reducing the amount of water that we use as individuals when some of the biggest polluters, the biggest causes are – in terms of manufacturing, in terms of agriculture and, you know, corporations. I feel like there’s sometimes an unnecessary burden put on individuals to change their lightbulbs and take on guilt for – but not address that corporations need to change or governments need to change the way they’re doing things.

But I learned a little bit more, and I hope you can talk about it, about how the individual and the collective action meet in this project.

Natasha: Great question. Yes. Yes. So, the great thing about this project is it’s taking both this bottom-up approach and helping us look at the top-down approach, which doesn’t get as much press right now because it’s a little harder to explain. But what we see, and what I was so excited about, because I’ve always believed that individual actions are the on-ramp to larger collective action and participation. It’s the way we get introduced to a new way of thinking and ideas.

I know that there’s some talk in neuroscience now about the idea that beliefs don’t change actions, actions change beliefs. And so, this is the way to get people starting to do something that will change the way they see the world around them and the way they interact with the world, the way they interact with their neighbors and the way they see nature and their place on the planet.

And so, this individual action is really just the on-ramp for getting people involved and conscious of this greater effort. And then we also have what are called, “The Moonshot Design Teams,” so, really thinking about moonshot thinking. The incremental thinking that we’ve been doing is just not enough at this point in time to move the needle the way we need to move it now with the speed.

So, what we’re looking at is creating these moonshot teams which are made up of community members. We have so many great minds here, and putting them together so that we can start thinking about also the bigger policy issues, bigger financing issues, the equity issues. And looking at those through the lens of the people who live here so that we can start to have more of an influence on some of those bigger issues as well.

When you start at home, it’s just so much more tangible. It’s something that you can relate to. You can wrap your head around it. And it really can focus on just improving your own quality of life. Like you were saying, you know, not putting this as a burden on people, but actually helping to improve your daily quality of life so that this is actually – this journey becomes a joy. It’s a benefit. It’s not a hardship. It becomes a benefit.

Stephanie: And then I think the way that you put that is very clear. And I love that you’re drawing from neuroscience, that actions change beliefs, not beliefs changing actions. It’s very, very interesting. Say I’m on a block where there’s a block leader and I’m working for city council, right? So, I’m participating in that. And then it will help me as I am helping to make, you know, democratic decisions in the community, right? So, where I go with my individual action into my work, into my other activisms is going to be influenced by these block gatherings.

Natasha: Yes. And then you will also have the support of the community to make bigger, bolder changes. As you know, I’m sure you know that Petaluma was the first city in the U.S. to ban the construction of new gas stations. And that was, in a large part, because of our city council, including my co-lead on this project, D’Lynda Fischer. And also, because the community really got behind it and supported it. And those decisions at a city council level can’t be made if the community isn’t supporting it as well.

Stephanie: And we find that, as we said at the beginning of the show, with our work in nonviolence that it’s really hard to maintain a commitment to nonviolence when there’s not support for that out there. You know, that wherever you go, people say, “You know, nonviolence doesn’t work,” but with the clear understanding as well that violence isn’t making anything better either.

Natasha: Yes.

Stephanie: It seems that the times that we’re in, that these challenges that we’re facing are requiring us to come together and build community and recognize our interconnectedness, recognize our need for one another, that we can’t go at these big problems alone. We need community support. And we need to do things together as a community.

Natasha: Yes. And that brings up a really great point in this project which is that – the blocks, when they start their journey together, the first actions that they take are around emergency preparedness. Because as we move into this climate disruption, we are going to see more – as we have already over the last four or five years, more fires, more floods, you know, depending on where you are in the country. All kinds of reasons that it’s helpful to be prepared. And why it’s so helpful to have those relationships with your neighbors so that you can take care of each other. You can know who to look out for on the block and how to share resources.

And that’s such an easy in-road for people. It’s not political. It’s – everybody understands that everybody has been experiencing it. So, it’s just a really great place to start.

Stephanie: I like the way that you say that, too. It’s not political because this project isn’t for people who just, you know, are progressive voters, right? This is people who are suffering from the effects of climate disruption, which is all of us.

Natasha: Yes. And the program makes it very clear that you are not to intentionally leave anyone out. When you go to knock on your neighbor’s doors to invite them to the first introductory meeting, you’re to knock on every door. No matter the political sign or the – you know, past relationships. That everyone is included and invited. Who chooses to show up, you know, is their own choice. But the fact that we’re trying to be as inclusive as possible to bring people back together onto some common ground.

Stephanie: Michael has a question for you, Natasha.

Michael: Thank you, Stephanie. Hello Natasha. This is Michael Nagler.

Natasha: There you are, Michael.

Michael: Hi. Gosh. I really love everything that I’ve been hearing. And for some reason, as you were talking, two anecdotes about Gandhi came up in my mind that fit our situation in various ways. And by the way, I hope Stephanie mentioned our office is in Petaluma, so we are very much engaged here. But one is a story about a woman who came to Gandhiji with her little boy and said to Gandhi, “Would you please tell this boy to stop eating sugar?”

And Gandhi said, “Okay. Come back in a week.” So, she was a little bit startled by that, but she did what he said. Went away, came back a week later and then he turned to the boy and said, “Stop eating sugar.” And the boy said, “Yes, Bapu,” which is what they called him. So, she was very grateful on the one hand, but on the other hand, very curious. And said, you know, “Why did you have to wait a week to tell him that simple message?” And he said, “A week ago, I was still eating sugar.”

Natasha: Exactly. Yes, yes.

Michael: So, that’s why we have to really build it up from the individual level on out, as you were saying. And that brings me to the other Gandhian image. He called it, “The oceanic circle.” He says, “The individual serves the family. The family serves the neighborhood. And the neighborhood serves the village. The village serves the state. The state serves the nation. The nation serves the world.”

However, in our country we’ve had these serious gaps in those expanding circles. You know, people relate to those immediately around them. And the next thing that they relate to is this huge, vast entity called the United States of America. And a lot of those intervening circles that allow that energy and that sense of unity to expand are not well developed here.

So, why am I telling you all of this? I’m telling you all of this because it sounded to me like your way of doing this, your model is a way of solving that problem, that it’s individuals, neighborhoods, cities, and those cities are models for the rest of the state, and so on and so forth. So, hooray.

Natasha: Yeah. Yes. Hooray. I agree completely. And that is exactly – I mean you really said it well. And we’re already looking at that. There is something very special about the size of Petaluma also that I think has made it easier for us to make quick progress. It’s a big enough city that, you know, we have the numbers, but it’s small enough that we all know each other or somebody that knows somebody. There’s a level of trust and community spirit already built in here.

So, it’s been interesting. We’ve been talking already in conversation with some other cities in Sonoma County about how can we help create a template that will work well for similar-sized cities in Sonoma County because we’re going to share certain things in common and really, you know, share all of this.

What I really love about this project is that I’ve always been interested in collaboration and cooperation, which is not the way of the, you know, capitalist world. It’s so apparent that in this work we’re doing now, we only win when everyone wins. If Petaluma gets to carbon neutral by 2030 and nobody else does – the Petaluma River, which is really a tidal slough, still rises and floods downtown. The imperative is to collaborate and, you know, increase those circles and ripple out, the way that you were just explaining, the best we can.

Stephanie: Now, I think that you – you just said something that sort of shocked me, and I hope I didn’t miss it earlier in the interview. But so, it says – so your goal of the whole project is to reach carbon neutrality in Petaluma.

Natasha: Yes. So, the whole goal of this program – one of the requirements was to have the city declare carbon neutrality by 2030 as a goal. Which Petaluma did last January – January 2021. And so, we were already qualified in that way. Of course, no one has ever done that before, so it’s definitely a moonshot. But I have to say, putting a closer timeframe on things actually seems to make it easier to focus because if it’s too far out, we just keep kicking the can down the road. Maybe we’ll do that next year.

Stephanie: I find I work well under, you know, with a little bit of pressure. A deadline.

Natasha: A little bit of a deadline.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Michael: We need this report, Stephanie.

Stephanie: Now, your emphasis on collaboration, it’d be nice to hear a little bit about you, Natasha Juliana. I know some about you from the community. I mean before collaborative workspaces were really a thing, you were starting that in Petaluma with Work Petaluma. And you’ve also been involved in an Al Gore program for climate. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, your community activism prior to this project?

Natasha: Sure. Yeah. I’ll back up just a tiny bit and give you the very brief history of me. I think a lot of how I see the world comes from my upbringing. So, my family was part of the back to the land movement of the 1970s and moved up to Humboldt County, to the middle of nowhere. So, I grew up on this piece of land that was, you know, filled with redwood forests and blanketed by the Milky Way at night. And this gave me a very different sense of my place on the planet and the universe. And also, because that was a little bit of a counterculture that sort of rejected capitalism in a lot of ways and sort of the standard thinking on some things.

I’m sure people around here can relate to it as well. And so, that sort of informed my thinking in the world. My education is in architecture and I worked in architecture for a long time, so I feel like that sort of design thinking frame is also really important in this day and age. Just so you can imagine things that have not yet been created and then figure out how to make them happen. And then I did – yes, I moved from architecture into creating Work Petaluma which was a coworking space before coworking was really a thing. And then during that time, I was very interested in climate change, but realized I would go months without thinking about it. It was just sort of – nobody was really talking about it. It was on the back burner.

And then I watched, “The Inconvenient Truth,” the second one. And saw that Al Gore had this program. I didn’t even realize he did, which was the Climate Reality Project. And went to that and signed up that night, like at midnight. I just started filling out the application. I was like, “I must go.”

Stephanie: At the eleventh hour.

Natasha: Yes, exactly. And went to that three-day training. I have to say, I was actually really impressed with that training. And Al Gore was actually there for all three days, really leading the discussion, not just as a figurehead, but very engaged in it. And Pete Gang was also there with me, who is also from Petaluma and part of our climate action in Petaluma. He’s very involved now.

And that really kick-started my involvement in the community in a larger way, and started hosting events at the workspace, climate related events, movie nights, etc. And then that just kind of grew this community which turned me – as part of the founding members of Climate Action Petaluma, which actually pushed for the Climate Emergency Resolution and the formation of the Climate Action Commission and yeah, it all kind of came together, the fact that I was downtown with the community where I got to meet a lot of people allowed me to have these connections into the community that I would not have otherwise had. Now, I look back on my life and it’s like, “Oh, now it all makes sense.” You know, in reverse, it makes sense how we ended up here.

And even the pandemic makes sense because I had to close my main downtown coworking space because collaborative workspace in a pandemic doesn’t work very well. But now I have the time and energy to put into this new project. So, it all worked out.

Michael: It’s just so wonderful when that happens. We have a big project called, “The Third Harmony Project.” There’s a film. And the way that that film came together was just like that. And by the way, before we got our new office, we used to use co-work a lot.

Natasha: I know. You’d come in to work. Yeah.

Michael: That’s right. So, first, a comment and a question, Natasha. The comment is congratulations on the name, “Cool Petaluma.” I’m a literary man, so puns are just wonderful, and I really appreciate that one. But the question, which is maybe a little more serious, is you have stated specifically that what you’re doing is a model and that you wanted to replicate. Has your team been doing any thinking about how to get it to replicate? How to move it into those larger circles?

Natasha: Yes. Well, first of all, the whole Cool City Challenge larger entity that has issued these grants, it has been thinking about that. They started with just test blocks in a few cities in California. And now we are the test cities. And then their goal is to roll out in 2023, 50 more cities – half in California and half across the country. So, they’re already looking at that. But their scale is focused on larger cities, 60,000 and above, I think. Or maybe it’s 50,000 and above, which is larger than a lot of the cities in Sonoma County.

So, as a sort of personal goal for our team, we would love to – we are already starting to document everything we do and what works and what doesn’t work so that we can share that path with the other small cities in Sonoma County. So, if they want to follow along and try it out for their cities, they can do that as well and have to not recreate the wheel every single time. So, we have, you know, literal step-by-step for the actions that need to happen.

Michael: That is a better answer than I had even hoped for. That is so reassuring because that is exactly the way you do stuff like this. That’s how you make things expand.

Stephanie: Well, we only have a little bit of time left with you, Natasha Juliana, from Cool Petaluma. The website is CoolPetaluma.org, correct?

Natasha: Yes, yes.

Stephanie: So, people can read directly about it. And maybe a little bit of inspiration before we go. I’d love to ask you two questions. What does nonviolence mean to you, and maybe what is – besides the Cool Cities initiative, what is the most creative action to turn back climate disruption that you’ve seen recently?

Natasha: Well, for your first question about what is nonviolence for me, it really resonates with me with my view on the world here with this project in that it’s really trying to move us away from all of the war and sports metaphors that have typically been used when talking about climate change. We hear a lot of fighting and combatting and defeating. And really challenging people whenever I hear that language used, and trying to change the narrative to be one of growing and healing and enjoying the future. Because who are we fighting against? I mean this is our planet, this is ourselves. We are nature. You know, we are a part of this ecosystem.

So, I really want to see that imagery change to be more positive. And then it’s hard – yeah. And the second question was about like, what’s the most exciting thing that I’ve seen?

Stephanie: Yeah. Or it might be in Petaluma. It might be something that you’re – because I’m sure you have your finger on the pulse of climate action and looking for ideas, even if they’re going on in the background of your mind. What’s inspired you recently?

Natasha: You know, really, I could try to find some technology fix or, you know – but those aren’t the things that inspire me. What really inspires me is – gosh, a larger, bigger picture where we – I feel like after talking to hundreds of people – I’ve just been able to talk to so many people about this now. And I really believe that we actually have all of the ingredients we need to make this positive transformation. We just need to get coordinated. It’s like being in your kitchen and not knowing what to cook for dinner. And you just need to be creative about looking on your shelves and through your pantry and pulling the right things out and mixing them together. And you know, asking the neighbor for the extra bit that you don’t have.

And so, I really have just seen such tremendous resources out there both, you know, from all angles. I feel it’s just a matter of coordination and imagination at this point.

Stephanie: Natasha Juliana is the Cool Petaluma campaign director. Thank you so much for joining us on Nonviolence Radio today, Natasha.

Natasha: It was my pleasure. It was so nice to talk to you, Stephanie and Michael too.

Stephanie: We were just speaking with Natasha Juliana from the Cool Cities Challenge or Cool Petaluma. You can find that information at CoolPetaluma.org for how it’s happening in our local community. And now we’re going to turn to the Nonviolence Report with my co-host and news anchor, Michael Nagler. Michael, welcome.

Michael: Thank you, Stephanie.

Stephanie: And so, what’s happening besides the Cool Cities Challenge in Petaluma, which is pretty inspiring? You’ve been thinking a lot about Sudan because of our connections with a friend who was on the show a few weeks ago, Mubarak Elamin. And I’d like to hear about your analysis of nonviolence today. What’s going on for you, Michael?

Michael: Right. Well, if I were to cite, you know, kind of keynote, a kind of central theme of what I’m seeing as I look over the world at all the nonviolent episodes taking place in it, what I’m seeing is that – and this is around the world – that the use of nonviolence is becoming much more frequent and it’s growing in sophistication and effectiveness and intensity. And I think one of the key new ingredients or newly developed ingredients that made this development possible is the commitment to learning. And so we don’t reinvent the wheel, as you were just saying, every time there’s a protest. And so, we’re not just reactive. But we’re proactive in getting society up on its feet.

And so, what I’m seeing now is that groups – while there is a lot of protest going on, including Sudan, we’re going far beyond protest. And there are over 300 methods of nonviolent struggle that have been documented, among other places, at the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. I’m beginning to suspect that there really is no limit to the ways in which a person can practice nonviolence.

So, to look first at some of those learning resources, there’s a new book from the Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal, which means – Mumbai used to be Bombay – Sarvodaya was Gandhi’s term for, “The uplift of all.” And Mandal literally means, “Circle.” So, this is an organization in India you can easily look up. They have a book out called, “Tagore & Gandhi.” Now, Rabindranath Tagore was a major figure in the public consciousness of awakening India in Gandhi’s time. And so, Gandhi actually went and sought Tagore’s blessing at every critical juncture of his public career when he was back in India.

And Tagore, on the other hand, openly acknowledged Gandhi as the greatest Indian of his time. Of course, Einstein, meanwhile, went a little bit further and said that Gandhi was basically such an advanced human being that people would not be able to believe that he trod the earth in flesh and blood. In fact, on the negative side, that’s partly exactly what’s happening. They can’t believe that a person did that and accomplished that. And so, they just turn away from it. So, that’s what all this learning is trying to overcome.

And I’m happy to say my book is on sale right now at Barret-Koehler for those of you who are interested. It’s called The Third Harmony. And I’m very happy to say that MettaCenter.org is developing a beautiful new website. Stephanie is the one doing that.

Stephanie: Yay.

Michael: Yay indeed. Can’t wait to see this. It’s going to be my biggest Christmas present. And I frequently talked about the Swarthmore College Global Nonviolent Action Database, where they are tracking episodes of nonviolence, past and present. When I first heard about this there were about 900 entries, 900 episodes that they tracked. Well, that number is up to 1400. And it just seems to be growing every week as we find out more and more about this forgotten history.

And I have to say that the GNAD, Global Nonviolent Action Database at Swarthmore.edu, is very well organized. I’d like to see them doing a little bit more with the distinction between constructive proactive actions and resistance, but their job is not to please me. It’s to get this information out to everyone, and they’re doing a wonderful job of that.

Now, when I started the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Berkeley, it was one of the really new programs of that type in the country and the only one, I believe, that had a nonviolence course at its core. So, now there are programs coming on all the time. And the latest one that I noticed is a Master of Sustainable Peacebuilding. And that’s at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

They are probably following this formula of peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding where peacekeeping is where you just do intervention and get the two sides to stop fighting, stop shooting at each other. Peacemaking is where you actually get them to agree on the issues that were dividing them. And peacebuilding is where you create the structures for more enduring peace, going forward.

So, however that may be, I’m not sure how specifically they’re interpreting that term, peacebuilding. But Masters in Sustainable Peacebuilding for those of you looking around to add a graduate program, graduate degree to your name. They are now accepting applications starting for fall 2022.

Meanwhile, in India, similarly, the Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan – let me say a little bit about that. Sevagram was the name of Gandhi’s ashram that he started in India when he got back. It means, “The Village of Service.” And Pratishthan means, “Organization,” approximately. So, the Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan is announcing a residential short-term course on Gandhian thought and action. This will be mainly for university students from different parts of India. Though, of course, others can also apply.

And the objective of the course, which is kind of a nonviolence training camp, is – I’m quoting from them now, “To acquaint the students with the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi and its relevance in humanity’s current predicament.” Boy, if I were still a graduate student, I would hitch a ride over to India and take that course.

So, it’ll be held at Sevagram this month – it’s coming up very quickly. And they’ll provide a unique opportunity for students to understand Gandhi’s life, primarily through talks and discussions and noted scholars and so forth.

Now, there’s a very timely article by Mike Lofgren. And it’s called, “Will the Media Wake Up to the Danger to American Democracy?” Well, some of the media does. I often see statements that, “Our democracy is hanging by a thread. Our democracy is in peril.” And those statements are all true, and they do seem to be working in the sense that they’re galvanizing some people to take action. But I want to talk about just one phrase that Lofgren uses. It’s a sentence, really. “‘Asymmetric polarization’ is a poor way to describe,” what he calls, literally, “a descent into madness.” Well, I sincerely hope things won’t descend much further in that direction. But this certainly is a wake-up call.

And for us here at the Metta Center, that means it’s a wake-up opportunity to get people more and more involved in nonviolence and to realize, as Gandhi said, “that nonviolence is not the inanity it has been taken for down the ages.” That is, people tend to think – and I’m talking now from my acquaintance with hundreds of students and now the general public, of course, through Metta – people tend to think that nonviolence is a protest. That’s all that there is to it. That’s all that it means. And that really is making it into an inanity.

Nonviolence is a complete reframing of the image of the human being, and a kind of world that we have the potential to build. The kind of thing that Natasha Juliana was just talking about.

I want to do a bit of a shout-out to Jessica Reznicek, who has just been put in prison for breaking into a drilling facility. I want to highlight a statement that she made recently because it really does – it’s kind of the irony of the week and it really does say something about where our priorities have gone askew. So, her statement is, “I was indicted on malicious use of fire when the whole earth is burning.”

So, this brings up a very serious question in nonviolence which has no easy answer. And that is the question of property destruction. It is really one of those gray areas. When is it, if ever, a nonviolent act to destroy something that doesn’t belong to you? And I don’t know if putting it that way is really bringing this up, but I do believe that there are points, there are stages in the development of a crisis where the nonviolent actor really has no other choice. And there’s no other way that she or he can get the attention of the people who need to give it their attention and so forth.

It’s similar then to a famous case – which also sounds very controversial at first, which is what I call, “The madman and the sword.” Gandhi was challenged. And he said, “What would you do? Okay, you’re nonviolent,” the questioner thought that nonviolent meant pacifist, actionless – dead wrong. The question, “What would you do if a madman were running through the village with a sword, creating mayhem?”

Gandhi said, “The person who dispatched that lunatic,” very strong language, “The person who dispatched that lunatic would be doing himself and the village and the person a favor.” Now, I thought a lot about this because, you know, it’s really such an agonizing question. I want to be nonviolent. And here I am, being called upon to take out a person who’s raging around with, in this case, a sword. How do I do that and stay nonviolent?

And I came up with this formula that the way to do it is, on the negative side, not to triumph over your success, not to gloat. And on the positive side, to again, take this as a wake-up call. How has our society gone so wrong that people are running around doing this kind of thing? And if we do that, without feeling anger or fear – to the extent that we can avoid that – and we commit ourselves to solving the underlying problem, then I think we’ve done the best that we can, even from a nonviolent point-of-view.

However, it’s also important to note that in 50 years of Gandhi’s active career, he was never in that kind of situation. So, it’s not that we’re likely to face it in so many terms, so many words, but the principle is useful.

So, I want to turn now – again, still talking about growing and learning, I want to talk about a recent article in Common Dreams by a good friend, journalist Bob Koehler. And in his article he writes this, “When we wage war, we dehumanize and then possibly kill a specific segment of humanity. Now in the process we ‘fray’ our own humanity…As we wage war, we dehumanize the world, in the process shattering its complex interconnectedness. This does not make us safer.”

And then he very importantly adds, “This is not about blame. This is not about shame. This is about change.”

So, I heartily endorse that statement. It starts with a recognition that you cannot injure another human being without injuring yourself. And that when you’re prepared to do this on an enormous scale, which is what war is, then you are actually not making yourself safer. And actually, the 41 wars that the United States has been involved in since WWII, none of them really succeeded. None of them was a win. Okay.

Now, there’s another opportunity coming up. “Joy in the Dark: Winter Solstice Nonviolence Retreat”. And you can find it on the website of Pace e Bene, which is, of course, St. Francis’s way of greeting people. And incidentally, I tried it when I was in Assisi. Whenever I passed a monk or a nun, I would say, “Pace e bene.” And they all said, “Pace e bene.” So, it definitely works.

Now, we have a resource at the Metta Center called, “Nonviolence Daily.” And yesterday there was a very significant message in it. It was something that I wrote about an experience that I’d had a while back. Here’s what I said, “An army recruitment sign stands alongside a road in Petaluma, California. It depicts a young woman, probably a recent high school grad, with the words above her “I am Army. I’m tough. Challenge me.”

So, as we were coming back home from Metta recently, driving past this billboard on the way out of town, I thought, ‘What would I say to that young woman?’ I would say, ‘Want to be challenged? Let’s see you take up Jesus’ challenge to return love for hatred. That would be the real toughness.’”

And I thought of a story about a Zen Buddhist abbot. The monastery was attacked by – I don’t know, samurais or brigands. And they, you know, created all this mayhem and they come up to the abbot who is sitting calmly in a meditative posture. One of the brigands threatens him with a sword. And the abbot doesn’t even flinch.

So, the brigand is aroused by this, and he says, according to this story, “Don’t you know who I am? I could cut you in pieces without blinking an eye.” And the abbot says, “Don’t you know who I am? I could let you cut me in pieces without blinking an eye.”

Now, talk about Sudan. Of course, it is a kind of highlight in the history of nonviolent conflict that’s going on right now. It’s benefitted from an enormous turnout. But on the other hand, looking at it from my perspective – of course, I’m not there. I don’t know it intimately, but it looks like what they’re mostly lacking is a list, a repertoire of different techniques that I mentioned early on in my segment of the show. Because, like every protest, it has to come to a conclusion.

Either you dislodge the government that you want to get rid of, assuming that’s what your protest is about, or your taxes or whatever. Or if you don’t, the time comes when you have to escalate. There are nonviolent escalations to different tactics. And I’ve been sending some of these suggestions out to our friend, Mubarak Elamin.

Another very interesting observation that we can make about the protest in Sudan is – and here’s a quote from Mubarak, “One thing to highlight,” about this protest, “is the creativity of the different groups.” Super important in nonviolence. So, they launch white balloons with the names of martyrs of the revolution, white flags they wave that have images of these martyrs. And then they have something called, “A daily revolution attendance book.” They have people signing their names on a long, white, linen garment, stretching along the street.

And he says, “Using white linen is intentional. It is very symbolic,” – this is red flag to me – “it is very symbolic. In our culture, white linen is used as a shroud.” So, to me, this illustrates both the potential and the difficulties of using symbolism as opposed to direct action in nonviolence. One is, after all is said and done, a symbol is just a symbol. It can be ignored if the target audience or the reference public decide to ignore it. The worst part is that if you stop at symbolic action, you’re sending a message that you don’t have anything concrete to do. And that really is a very bad message you want to show.

However, symbols, as we know, can galvanize actions. They can reduce complexities to a very stimulating and understandable simplicity. So, it remains to be seen whether the activists in Sudan will go, or perhaps are already going beyond that symbol into the critical dimension of constructive, proactive action. And then in the end, if this works out for the best, it will show that the joint arrangement that was made after the last revolution in Sudan – and there have been five of them, incidentally, since the 1960s, will show that this joint arrangement between civilian government and military government was unrealistic. Military government will always assert itself against civilian rule. They don’t trust it. They don’t feel it makes them secure.

Okay, well, there is an atmosphere that’s been created in Africa today which emboldens generals and military cliques to seize power, not just in Sudan. And interestingly enough, our friends at the Meta Peace Team – they’re part of our favorite project of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. While they were at the U.S. – Mexico border recently, the team met with people from Cameroon. Cameroonians who were fleeing war and seeking legal asylum. They were angry because they found themselves being purposefully ignored.

And so, the friends from Meta Peace Team, they felt their frustration building up. So, they went into that crowd to listen as they vented their fear and concern. One woman angrily repeated her resentment over the injustice of it all. And slowly, it registered on her and the others that they were being listened to, that we and Meta Peace Team were sincerely listening to her. And that’s the first step in de-escalating conflict, any kind of conflict.

So, then they began to talk, building on that step. They begin to talk about what to do to change the situation. And they shared examples of the power of creative nonviolence. So, this is a really hopeful kind of procedure of having a hopeful dynamic. We hope you see a lot more of it. And their final statement is, “We knew that our being there had made a difference. It was the power of compassionate nonviolence.”

So, there’s more to say about unarmed civilian peacekeeping today. Nonviolent Peaceforce has recently sent out a mailer talking about their work. And say they have trained 81 students from Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, how to work toward a peaceful future in their communities by using nonviolence.

Stephanie: Thanks so much for that Nonviolence Report, Michael Nagler. This is our last Nonviolence Report of the year. We’re closing in on the New Year, 2022, which is pretty amazing. And you know, I wonder if you have any end-of-year message for people? My message would be when you’re looking for nonviolence news out there, people always ask, “If you don’t find it in the mainstream media, where do you find it?”

And I think like our guest, Natasha Juliana shows with Cool Petaluma, we get nonviolence news by talking to our neighbors, by getting involved in organizations, and seeing the things that people are doing that aren’t getting the press that are contributing to positive social change.

So, that’s where you get your news. You get your news from the listservs of organizations that you’re part of. The only way of sharing their message is through, you know, their email list or through Facebook. It’s not getting into big media, except, you know, shows like Nonviolence Radio.

What message, what tip or, you know, or what last-year end of message do you have?

Michael: Golly. I would just add one thing to that, Stephanie. And that is you have to know what you’re looking for.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Michael: You have to sensitize yourself, which is, of course, largely what Metta is all about. So, happy New Year, everyone. Hope to see a more nonviolent future.

Stephanie: We want to thank our mother station, KWMR and to Natasha Juliana for joining us today. And Bryan Farrell who puts it up at Waging Nonviolence for larger syndication, Annie Hewitt who also edits the transcript, makes it readable. So, there’s so many people involved. You, our listeners, the Pacifica Network who helps to syndicate the show, and everybody who supports community radio, thank you very, very much. And happy New Year.



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