Stephen Zunes, professor of Politics and International Studies at University of San Francisco, joins Michael Nagler and Stephanie Van Hook on this episode of Nonviolence Radio to talk about how the coup attempt on Jan. 6 reveals some remarkable and genuinely hopeful forces growing inside our democracy. Rather than fear and outrage, Zunes encourages us to take heart in the effective and well-planned nonviolent response by many activists to the angry protesters. This response was not spontaneous, indeed for months various groups and organizations offered targeted trainings on a range of nonviolent methods — and activists clearly learned some key strategies necessary for effective nonviolent action. As Zunes notes:
You have this combination of people who have shown a willingness to hit the streets and a willingness to be willing to face arrest and to engage in massive noncooperation. There was one thing that was really important about these trainings: it emphasized the importance of noncooperation that underscores what Gene Sharp and a lot of other people – Gandhi and so many other people that I’ve talked about before – governments are only as strong as people’s willingness to cooperate.
The nonviolent response on Jan. 6 to the violent challenge to the American democracy could only have happened given a growing commitment to nonviolence, one that we have every right to expect will continue should greater threats emerge in the future. And it is precisely this commitment that, with effort and dedication, will allow us to listen better and come together as citizens who may disagree on this or that policy, but ultimately care deeply about each other as human beings.
Stephanie: Welcome everybody to another episode of Nonviolence Radio. I’m your host, Stephanie Van Hook and my co-host is Michael Nagler. We’re from the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Petaluma. On Nonviolence Radio we explore the power of active nonviolence around the world.
Michael: Greetings everyone. I’m Michael Nagler and welcome to Nonviolence Radio for the end of January. We’re going to start with a very exciting interview about a very exciting event that we all just experienced in this country, an interview with Professor Stephen Zunes. And then I will follow that up with some of the news and resources.
We’re very pleased this evening to be able to interview Professor Stephen Zunes who is a professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. He’s also an associate editor of Peace Review, contributing editor of Tikkun, the academic advisor for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus. So, Stephen, first of all, welcome back to the show.
Stephen: Great to be with you again.
Michael: So, Stephen, what we’re going to talk about is the remarkable unsung events around the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. Everybody is saying that democracy in America has withstood the test, and I think that that’s true, but I also think that there’s much more to it. You bring this out beautifully in your recent article in Yes! Magazine. So, let me start us off with this question – was it a coup that was attempted on Jan. 6?
Stephen: In effect, yes, but it really didn’t have much of a chance of succeeding. Indeed, politically it backfired terribly for the far-right and for Trump and his supporters. The real threat of a coup was earlier when you had a majority of Republican members of the House of Representatives as well as close to a dozen Republican senators trying to overturn the Electoral College, which like the popular vote had gone decisively for Biden.
In the months between the election and Jan. 6, in those two months, the efforts by Trump and his supporters to basically overturn the results by challenging them in court and in the state legislature, that was the more serious threat. But that was defeated as well.
Michael: Yeah, I think if Hannah Arendt were to comment on this she would say the very fact that physical violence was attempted was a sign of the utter failure of the effort.
Stephen: Very much so. I mean like a lot of things in the Trump administration, there was a lot of hubris involved and a lot of ineptitude. It was just horrible it happened, of course, and not just in terms of the people who died, but also, I think, for a lot of people, the symbol of American democracy, of being assaulted in such a way, that it was really a matter of reckoning. It also, I think, underscored the very real threat of right-wing terrorism, something that is still very scary and very real — and something we’ll have to deal with for some time to come.
But they really didn’t have that much of a chance of succeeding, and that, I think, gives credit to not just the institutions of government, which I think a lot of people are emphasizing, but to the willingness of a large number of Americans to have engaged in massive nonviolent resistance if there was indeed a more serious kind of a coup attempt.
Michael: That is exactly where I wanted us to go, Stephen. I was reminded of the summary that Mahatma Gandhi gives in the preface to satyagraha in South Africa where he talks about the five stages of satyagraha that had already unfolded in India at that time. For one of them, satyagraha didn’t even have to actually be carried out. He said, “The mere threat of a satyagraha was enough to make the government back off and reverse its course.”
I see kind of an echo of that here that the offer to carry out satyagraha, like a pledge of resistance kind of campaign, probably took a lot of wind off the sails of the people who were trying to overthrow the election from within and around and without the government. Would you agree with that?
Stephen: Very much so. Some time in advance it was clear that there was going to be some kind of effort by Trump to steal the election. There was concern he might declare victory on election night before all the votes were counted, that he and supporters would make false charges of vote fraud and he would refuse to concede even after it was clear that Biden was the winner.
There was also fear that he would wage a legal battle to challenge the legitimate results, try to convince Republican election officials not to certify the results, encourage state legislatures to appoint Republican electors regardless of the vote counted in the state, and convince the Republican-dominated federal judiciary to uphold these legal measures. This is exactly what happened.
However, in knowing this was going to happen, you had many thousands of people who organized to challenge it. Part of this we learned from other countries. In the Philippines in 1985, in Serbia in 2000, in Ukraine in 2004, and Gambia in 2016 you had these incumbent regimes attempting to steal the elections. There are large nonviolent action campaigns that succeeded in forcing the election results to be honored.
People also looked at more conventional coup attempts in places like Bolivia, Argentina, Soviet Union, Burkina Faso, which were summarily reversed as a result of popular civil resistance. We started looking at what were the common factors? We looked at the rapid popular mobilization, the massive noncooperation, the broad alliances of democratic forces, the maintaining of nonviolent discipline.
And so you had a whole series of groups like Choose Democracy and Hold the Line and Protect the Results and others that started organizing doing nonviolence training. Even the more mainstream groups, various liberal public interest groups, environmental groups, and others got involved. The AFL-CIO, President Richard Trumka raised the possibility of a general strike in a number of city and state AFL-CIO chapters explicitly promised that they would do that.
As a result, I think it got a lot of people, a lot of Republicans and pro-Republican elements like the business community to kind of start thinking about that. I mean, the business community, of course, really appreciated Trump’s tax breaks and deregulation and all the goodies that he provided them, but the prospect of the country shutting down to have many months of disruption, of blockades, of occupations, of noncooperation and general strikes….
I mean, one thing that capitalists really care about is stability, and they did not want to see this kind of thing come about. I think they realize they would rather have a moderate Democrat in charge who might be a little tougher on them than a Republican, than to resist and have to deal with this massive disruption that would come as a result – if Trump indeed tried to get away with stealing the election.
Michael: That was a good example of nonviolent threat, but you mentioned a couple of other things that I wanted to emphasize here: one thing, the collaboration with mainstream groups. We know from Erica Chenoweth that this is one of two critical factors that enable nonviolent movement of some scale to succeed. One is a large outreach, and especially, the collaboration with mainstream groups which gives it legitimacy, enormous legitimacy. And then also maintaining nonviolent discipline. That’s partly a factor because ordinary folks don’t want to run out and get in the street if people are going to be throwing bricks and rocks around and getting tear gassed. But more importantly than that, I think, it gives a consistency, and again, a legitimacy to any movement if people show that they can exercise enough restraint to be nonviolent. So those are two really critical factors.
And, you know, now that I think of it, Stephen, there’s a third, that people were able to start before the thing erupted.
Stephen: That was critical, that there was training and preparation beforehand. And it was pretty exciting, actually. You had thousands and thousands of people who were – who did online nonviolence training, most of whom who never done that before. And it’s pretty exciting even though it wasn’t necessary to reverse a serious coup attempt. Indeed, the organizers of these things tried to reassure people that the Trump administration’s efforts were pretty amateurish and probably not get very far so there was no need to panic.
But the fact that beforehand, people who were prepared for this possibility, it played a major role in the deterrent effect. The cool thing about it is that you have these thousands of people who are now trained in nonviolent action who will be ready to utilize it if we need to on any number of factors, whether it be racial justice or an overseas war or climate change or whatever.
Also what was fascinating, in light of this preparation, you had all this mainstream media coverage; The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Newsweek, CNN, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, they all had these articles about nonviolent revolution in the United States. It was amazing. People were actually and seriously talking about this and thinking about this. And so, I think, again, having that preparation was important.
The thing that you mentioned about broad alliances, that when we look at places like the Philippines, Serbia, Ukraine, and Gambia, in each you had incumbent regimes stealing the election. In each of those, the candidates, the opposition candidates who had the election stolen from them initially were like Biden. They were pretty mainstream. They did not have a lot of excitement, did not get a lot of excitement within the activist community. But the activist community there, as here, recognized it wasn’t about supporting a particular centrist candidate, it was about protecting democracy.
And so, people were willing to – a lot of the people on the left, a lot of people were pretty far left — a record number were quite willing to work with more traditional liberal groups in preparing for just this kind of scenario.
Michael: And that’s just a critical element in success of groups. It’s kind of like what the Quakers are famous for, that they will cooperate with anybody who observes certain nonviolent guidelines for a particular effort without demanding that they are ideologically aligned. That gives them a great deal more outreach, a great deal more power and actually forms a kind of blueprint for the future, how we have to go forward.
The thing that makes me the most enthusiastic about all of this which really leapt out at me from your article and from what you’re saying now is that not only was this thing prepared for in advance, it constitutes preparation in advance for things coming up because nonviolence often has to reinvent the wheel when there’s a threat, a challenge, and at a severe disadvantage.
But here, we’re talking about tens of thousands of trained people who have empowered themselves, feel very good about what they did, and will be ready, as you were saying, in case things like this happen going forward.
Stephen: Yes, and it comes out after four years of record-breaking activism. I mean if you look at the Trump era, particularly this past year with Black Lives Matter emerging as an unprecedented movement, with more Americans involved in more demonstrations — again, both in terms of demonstrations and the numbers participating than in any four-year period in American history, including the 1930s, including the 1960s.
So you already have this big activism base and what the preparation for a possible coup did, is it really stressed the idea that we need to think strategically. We need to plan ahead. This can’t just be spontaneous. I mean even without that, 93 percent of the Black Lives Matter protests were completely nonviolent, despite those who want to try to depict it otherwise. And the vast majority of the remaining 7 percent were primarily nonviolent but did have some vandalism, rioting, and other elements involved.
You have this combination of people who have shown a willingness to hit the streets and a willingness to be willing to face arrest and to engage in massive noncooperation. There was one thing that was really important about these trainings: it emphasized the importance of noncooperation that underscores what Gene Sharp and a lot of other people – Gandhi and so many other people that I’ve talked about before — governments are only as strong as people’s willingness to cooperate.
If we do not give allegiance to illegitimate authority, they no longer have authority. If we do it in sufficient numbers and we do it in a strategic manner — I think that was what was really important in emphasizing these trainings, not just the importance of being nonviolent, but being nonviolent in a strategic manner.
Michael: Yeah. So the two big factors – strategy and training — really worked into this successful event. And I think people have not yet recognized how important this nonviolent resistance was, simply because it wasn’t – you know, it didn’t have to be mobilized. But again, going forward, it seems to me the fact that these trained groups are ready to be mobilized will make people think twice before they carry out some of the attacks on our democracy that we’ve gotten, unfortunately, used to seeing over the last four years.
It strikes me that in a way, we’ve been vaccinated. We had a little event that really, as you say, it didn’t have a whole lot of threat to it. And yet, it was enough for us to mobilize the body politic with these antibodies that are ready to go now.
Stephen: Exactly. And again, as the white patriarchal order that has dominated American political life since its founding is being challenged by the emergence of the women, minorities, other historically disenfranchised groups, you have those who are lashing out. That’s why you see the rise of this kind of the right-wing extremism and the conspiracy theories and all the crazy stuff. It’s always been there to some degree, but Trump has really brought to the fore, as they see their power slipping away.
While right-wing terrorism is, indeed, a real threat, I try to reassure people that these guys are not going to win. The majority is willing to resist it to save democracy. Even when it comes to the threat of right-wing terror — let’s remember that I grew up in the south in the 50s and 60s, and there was right-wing terror there. Quite a bit of it. Hundreds of people died.
We know mostly about a few of the famous cases, but there were hundreds who died from the Night Riders, from the Ku Klux Klan. And yet, people recognized even there that nonviolence was still the best way to resist it, that there was a blowback or something people call it political jujitsu. Some call it, “the paradox of repression.” There are other names that are used but the violence of the right-wing extremists got more sympathy and more support before the civil rights struggle.
The prospects of right-wing terrorism are terrifying. Indeed, there will be some tragic losses, I think, in the coming years as a result. And I think that will only – if the opposition, if the democratic left can maintain our nonviolent resistance in the face of it — it will only strengthen us in the long run.
Michael: Very, very good to look forward to. And it does remind me of an episode at the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott where somebody threw a bomb but nobody paid any attention. In a way, it just defanged this threat of violence coming from the right. I hope we have a lot of that to look forward to as well as the tragic losses that will be suffered.
But you know, Stephen, you bring up this critical factor of the right-wing extremists feeling that their power is being taken away from them, and feeling that – to quote their own language, “You will not replace us.” They fear that they’re going to be replaced rather than joined by the minorities and the women and so forth.
So it strikes me that while we’re doing all this training and strategizing and getting ready to resist events and attempts like this, we also could be working on somehow reaching those people and reassuring them that it’s okay not to have dominating violent power at your disposal. It’s okay to join in with other people and have a common, dare I say it, a loving community rather than dominated by one particular group. I’m not sure how you would go about that, but I think it would be a valuable complement.
Stephen: Very, very much so. I think it involves a whole lot of things, everything from listening skills and the ability to really see what’s underneath that — and then fight to change the things that contribute to the alienation. The fact is, is that the neoliberal economic order has ended up hurting people across the political spectrum, especially the poor and working class. And the overseas wars that our country keeps finding itself in, has disproportionately taken the sons and daughters of poor working-class people, again, across the ethnic and racial divide.
And indeed, part of Trump’s appeal is that there are plenty of conservative Republicans out there, but what Trump was able to do was that he was able to disingenuously, of course, come across as someone who was anti-war. Part of Clinton’s loss was that he was able to portray her as a hawk that would support the Iraq war and other interventions and he was going to bring the troops home. And she was someone who had all these ties to Wall Street and that kind of thing, the same criticisms that you also hear from supporters of Bernie Sanders.
What Trump did was basically to take some of that understandable upset and put it in his very reactionary and bigoted kind of framework. Not to mention, of course, that he was as pro-war and pro-Wall Street as anybody.
I think it’s critically important that we continue challenging Biden and the more mainstream Democrats from the left because I think until the Biden administration and congressional Democrats are willing to challenge the neoliberal paradigm and challenge the military-industrial complex and be willing to look at the real serious changes we need in society, it leaves an opening for right-wing demagogues to take advantage of the widespread discontent that does indeed hurt much of the white working-class population that were part of Trump’s base.
Michael: May I request that you write an article on that? I think that is critically important. Something along these lines, a little deeper into the psychology of the former president, which is difficult to look into, reminded me of his definition of power, where he said he could murder somebody on 5th Avenue and get away with it. That shows how powerful he is.
We could get a lot of traction by showing people that there is another kind of power that’s accessible to them — the nonviolent kind.
Stephen: Very much so. I think the appeal of demagogues like Trump — and we’ve seen this in other nations and other kinds of times in history — is that they recognize the sense of powerlessness that people feel and they are able to manipulate that. They’re able to represent the kind of power that people see that they are missing out on in terms of the traditional elites.
However, if we encourage people to become involved in a power that comes from the bottom up, a power that comes from nonviolence, the power that comes from building community and building alliances across racial and ethnic and gender and other lines, people can have a real stake in the system, a stake in challenging the system from the bottom up instead of trying to hope somebody can come from the top down and change things for them. This is when I think we can really start making a difference.
Michael: Yes, I completely agree. We’d be coming at this from two directions, you know, kind of a pincer movement. We’re coming close to the end of our conversation here, unfortunately, but I wanted to get back to Otpor for a second. You mentioned this parallel in Serbia in the year 2000. It also just leapt out at me because that’s an iconic movement that everyone in the nonviolence field knows about, and I started thinking, “Whoa, this is such a parallel.” Then I realized, in a way, it was the exact opposite. It was the people who protected the democracy who were breaching the walls of the capitol in Serbia, in Belgrade.
They were not violent except for a little bit of arson that did break out. But they were nonviolent, and nobody got killed, and they didn’t experience blowback, backfire, because they accomplished what they wanted to do. That shows to me once again that when you do something nonviolently, you’re going to have good effects that radiate out into the future that you haven’t even planned, even if you don’t succeed in your immediate effort — which in fact happened here on January 6th because the big mobilization wasn’t possible or necessary. And yet, all these good things roll out of it that you’ve just been putting your finger on so accurately.
Stephen, do you have one more comment you’d like to close us off with?
Stephen: Just I think that we are – we should celebrate the fact that we still have a democratic republic and to recognize that the reason we still have that is not just our constitution and the legal guarantees that we have, but the power of ordinary people. It’s the power of ordinary people that improved on the limits of American democracy and the Constitution over the years. And it’s these nonviolent movements that have protected it over the years from various authoritarian threats. It’s what’s going to protect us and bring us forward in the future.
Michael: Superb. That’s a beautiful wrap-up. Yeah, I would completely agree. Celebrate, but without triumphalism which will only makes things worse. I really hope that this message gets out loud and clear. Well, we’re at the very end, Stephen Zunes, thank you very, very much for a very informative interview and I hope to have you back yet again at some point going forward.
Stephen: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure talking with you.
Stephanie: Hi everybody, I’m Stephanie Van Hook. And you’ve just been listening to Michael Nagler and Stephen Zunes talk about nonviolent resistance in the United States. Let’s turn now to Michael’s Nonviolence Report.
Michael: Greetings everyone. This is Michael Nagler, and I’m bringing you the news that goes along with the interview that you just heard between myself and Stephen Zunes. You know, we’re saying that it’s likely that a huge factor in the failure of the coup was the way that these millions of Americans were prepared to rise up in protest. Now that’s not unlikely because we know there is a phenomenon called, “The Pledge of Resistance.” It started during the wars – the low intensity conflict against Nicaragua where our friend and colleague Ken Butigan prepared a campaign and enlisted about 5000 people who sent postcards to the White House saying if you invade Nicaragua – this was the Reagan White House — if you invade Nicaragua, you’re going to have to face massive civil disobedience. And he never did, never did that invasion. So, we know that such a thing is possible.
Sometimes the mere threat of satyagraha is enough to forestall injustice. In the preface to “Satyagraha in South Africa”, Gandhi talks about a significant incident in his own development of satyagraha in India where at one point merely preparing satyagraha made the government back down from a particular injustice.
We don’t have hard and fast data here yet. We hope we will. I remember that President Nixon kept claiming that the massive protest against the Vietnam War had no effect on him, but we know from insider reports that he was looking through the blinds in the White House and was very much watching the level of public resistance.
There was at least one episode of bystander intervention by a monitor in the D.C. Peace Teams who got in between an activist who was going to try to breach the Capitol and a black protestor against that action. The activist pulled out a knife, but the monitor from D.C. Peace Teams was well trained and managed to talk him down, to put his knife away and walk away.
So we know there was at least that one episode. Of course, the peace team presence at this event was miniscule. That’s part of the problem. What we want to do is really take nonviolent intervention to scale. But the fact is that training and organizing began over the summer and reminds me way back in 1992 when there was a Russian coup and it was prevented by people. The media said, “Well, we have no idea where this big protest happened. It just spontaneously arose.” Well, it didn’t.
I know of one person at least, our friend David Hartsough, who was in Moscow that whole summer conducting nonviolent trainings. But this time, as you heard from Professor Zunes, the media response is very different. And this is a gamechanger, that the mass media, the mainstream media definitely recognized that there is a popular movement of the massive scale going on here. And they constantly used the word, “Nonviolence.”
Groups like Choose Democracy and Hold the Line, that 55-page resource, and Protect the Results which was able to coordinate over 200 organizations including mainstream organizations. They’re ready to mobilize millions of Americans if things unfolded in the way that they feared — namely, that there was an actual coup.
Going forward, the encouraging thing is you now have tens of thousands of Americans who are trained in nonviolent direct action. So, my key takeaways from this event are how violence always backfires. It always causes what the CIA calls “blowback.” And it was very dramatic this time. On the other hand, nonviolence always works. It doesn’t always “work” – do what you want it to do in the moment. In this case, it didn’t even have to try, but it always does good work going forward. And usually, it’s more than what you planned for or you expected because you’re unleashing a positive constructive force into the world. And that force will do its work.
There’s one other little issue here about what we were calling earlier, “The threat of satyagraha.” Now, in talking about Kenneth Boulding’s, Three Faces of Power, we were always careful to distinguish between threat power, which is the most violent kind, where you say, “You better do something I want or I’ll do something that you don’t want.” I want to distinguish between that and integrative power, which is nonviolence, where you say, “I’m going to do something that represents the truth and it will bring us closer together. I’m going to be authentic and it’ll bring us closer together.”
There’s no question that there are times in satyagraha where you do telegraph what is going to be the result if the opponent does X, Y, and Z. And maybe I’m just caviling here, but I do think that’s not the same thing as a threat because you’re really saying, “If you do something that neither of us really wants, we’re going to do something to prevent you from doing that.” It’s a gray area, perhaps, but I think there’s room for telegraphing what you’re going to do and it doesn’t really count as a threat in the sense of the threat power in Boulding’s “Three Faces.”
Related to this episode and it’s marvelous going forward, there is a bill before congress right now, HR-1, and it’s titled, “For the People Act of 2021.” Here’s the mission statement, if you will, “To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money and politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes.”
Now this bill would accomplish all three of the democratic reforms that I have been calling for, say we need to have accomplished. One being the vacating of Citizens United to get that money out of politics. Deeper than that is the premise of Citizens United, that abstract entities can be human beings. In the tremendous change that has to take place between what Martin Luther King called “our thing-oriented civilization,” and a person-oriented civilization, that would have that deep effect as well as getting corporate money out of politics. The bill would also circumvent or disband – I’m not sure which – the electoral college. 24 states already have decided to work around it by just giving all their elector votes to the winner of that state.
My third thing was a Voting Rights Act, which this is. And I also think we need somehow to soften the two party system because in our present combative culture, wherever you have two parties or two teams or two people, it’s bound to be a polarization. That’s what the point of third-party nonviolent intervention is; it softens that polar relationship between two parties in opposition.
Of course, there is even a possibility that the outgoing president, number 45, will actually do some of this because he is threatening to start a new party, “The Patriot Party,” I think he’s calling it. That would – I’m calculating that would take about 45 percent of votes away from the Republicans. But be that as it may, we have to work on this mindset on two levels. We have to reduce the feeling of separateness that we all feel from one another. Separateness from the environment, that’s the big underlying infrastructure change that has to happen.
We could also do it in terms of our political system, by somehow mitigating the effect of the two-party system. We say that systems that you see in Italy, in France, and to a lesser extent, in India, are not two-party, but they’re a bit chaotic. Somehow we need to negotiate a middle path here.
So I’d like to talk to you briefly now about three organizations are working in problems of violence that are very, very disturbing. The most disturbing, perhaps, is the question of human trafficking and the abuse of children and young girls trafficked for sex. Well, there is now a group called, “Operation Underground Railroad.” You can find out about them at ourrescue.org (that’s one word). They’re doing a lot to help the victims recover, and even in some ways, to prevent trafficking. That’s a really welcome development and we should pay attention to it and support it.
Related are interesting groups that are now working on domestic violence. Two of these organizations are offering a series of talks next month in February. You can look them up by the names of the organization. One of them is called, “College Brides Walk.” I haven’t quite doped out what the relevance is, but that’s their name. And the other is called, “No More Tears.”
Okay, we’re moving on now to some of the other things happening around the country. There are two protestors from the DAPL protest – the Standing Rock protest (and this report is from the Des Moines Register) — their last names are Reznicek and Montoya. They are two women who were with the Des Moines Catholic Worker and they have now pled guilty to multimillion dollar sabotage for which I imagine, the penalty is pretty severe. But the fact is that they have apparently plea bargained so that they’re facing only that one charge and dismissing six others – however we feel about that, from the point-of-view of satyagraha.
But it will be interesting to see how this plays out now that the first day of President Biden’s holding office, first full day, January 21st, in which he issued a flurry of executive orders. One of them was canceling that pipeline, so what they did becomes moot. I’m not sure that that has legal standing, and we may yet see what their witness and what their suffering has accomplished.
Now, in a related event – and there are lots of good news happening around ecology around the world, but Popular Resistance reports that Washington State – the Washington Department of Ecology — has rejected the permits, and there were several of them for what would have been a massive methanol refiner in Kalama, Washington. It took more than six years, thousands of written comments and hours of public testimony. Apparently, no civil disobedience was tried or at least has been mentioned.
These comments and testimony were directed to the governor, Governor Inslee, and to this very Department of Ecology that they came through. They responded beautifully. Sally Keely, who is a math professor and a resident of Kalama says, “I’m thrilled they respected our voices. Ecology’s decision is cause for celebration for people across the Northwest who value bold leadership to tackle the climate crisis.” Which, of course, is now on President Biden’s key agenda. So we applaud Governor Inslee and Director Watson’s decision to follow the science and the law.”
We are going to be revitalizing our Science of Nonviolence website very soon because of the new importance of science that it has been so politicized.
I wanted to make sure we understand the significance of this fracking issue is going to pretty much stop fracking in the Northwest. Methanol would release methane, which is a greenhouse gas 24 times more effective than carbon dioxide. It doesn’t last as long, but it’s drastically effective. We’ve all been very much concerned that the permafrost, which is softening and melting in the Arctic tundra in Siberia, there are millions and millions of tons of methane trapped under that permafrost. If it gets released into the atmosphere, the effects could be at the very worst – we hope it won’t get this bad. We hope the darn thing is reversed, but those effects could be going over the tipping point.
On a happier note, I’ve been talking about the new president and a lot of his innovations. And here’s one that almost sounds like the start of a joke about three people going into a bar. You know, a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk and a rabbit go into a bar, and the rabbit says, “I think I’m a typo.” That kind of genre.
Well, here it is: César Chávez, Rosa Parks, and Dr. King walk into the Oval Office — but it is not a joke. There are sculptures and portraits of these three nonviolence heroes now adorning the walls of President Biden, our new Commander in Chief. This is, again, is so important, as I mentioned, in connection with our opening item. We have been calling for and crying for and longing for the mainstreaming of nonviolence. And here you have these three figures in the Oval Office. I mean it couldn’t get more mainstream than that.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is, is this just symbolic? And Pace e Bene’s Ken Butigan who I mentioned earlier, has written a very thoughtful piece on what the presence of these figures might portend. I’m not willing to dismiss this as merely symbolic though. I’m famous for being the anti-symbol man in nonviolence because sometimes we take symbolic action for real action and stop at it when it can be easily dismissed. But no, I think this is a statement of the president’s beliefs. These are his role models – or some of them.
And I note with great appreciation that, for example, in the executive orders that he has issued just recently, one of them was to cancel the contracts for private prisons. Private prisons are exactly the wrong solution to mass incarceration. Private prisons go back to the 17th century. You can read about how horrendous they were when they are outside the reach of the law and you have people at your mercy.
There’s been some doubt about whether the famous Stanford Prison Experiment was scientifically correct and foolproof, but it does seem to indicate – and we know from other sources that when people are put into positions of domination, even symbolically – this was an experiment where some graduate students were designated as guards and others designated as prisoners. Sure enough, within a week, the guards became so nasty that the experiment had to be canceled, apparently. So private prisons would be exactly the wrong solution, as I say, to the problem of mass incarceration. Just start at the other end of the spectrum, before people are propelled into lives of crime.
It will be interesting in this connection to see what the pandemic releases do. You know, it was easy in the past to terrify people into voting for more draconian measures because you had episodes of people being released from prison and then committing crimes. We now have, I think, thousands of people who had to be released from prisons because of the pandemic. Let’s just see what that does to the crime rate and how that intersects with some of our nonviolent principles.
Moving around a little bit now, I’ll start with our northern neighbors: Canadian activists have recently blocked a shipment of armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia with their bodies. They blocked the transport vehicle. This definitely was civil disobedience, and one good thing about it is that it was not an isolated event. This was one of actually hundreds of actions across the world, taking place in protest of the Western-backed war on Yemen in which Saudi Arabia is the Western proxy. It has created what the United Nations has called one of the most massive humanitarian crises in terms of the starvation that this attack – aerial attack, mostly — on the Houthi rebels is causing.
Obviously, from the nonviolence point-of-view, we want to set aside the complaints, the issues, where the law has been broken, and first get in there and feed those people, many of whom are completely outside the conflict to begin with. But even if they were not, they’re starving human beings and that has to be our first priority.
Now moving further afield, there’s an event that we’ve been talking about quite a bit, it’s been going on for three months: a massive public protest in India by farmers. They make up a large fraction of the population of that country and this was the largest public demonstration march ever. It’s something like 2 million farmers and they have now successfully – or partly successfully — persuaded the government to suspend the laws that they have been protesting.
They’re happy about this court ruling, but they’re planning to continue the protests because of two things. The judge formed a committee to address the farmers grievances – a committee with four persons on it. They’re unhappy with the make-up of that committee and because this is only a suspension and not a complete withdrawal of the legislation.
This should remind us of the climatic event that happened in South Africa when Gandhi’s eight years of satyagraha struggle against the apartheid regime issued in the appointment of a commission to study the problem in South Africa. All of Gandhi’s friends and supporters, including Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who was this political guru, and the British viceroy of India who was sympathetic until they reached India, they were saying, “Oh, grab it. Grab it. Take it. This is what you’ve worked for.” And Gandhi refused.
It was an act of incredible courage, not just against his opponents, but against his supporters. Saying, “No. I know this is the wrong way because this commission has no Indians on it.” And I suspect this is a little bit like what the Indian farmers now are protesting about the committee formed by the judge. He held out and things looked pretty grim for a while, but then the English – or at least English original railroad workers — went on strike and Gandhi suspended satyagraha. Because of that non-embarrassment, General Smuts was moved and they reconstituted the commission with more sympathetic people on it and came to really a successful conclusion.
Before getting to some of the resources available today, and they are many, I just want to mention that in Mongolia, the prime minister has resigned, submitted a letter of resignation after protests in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, over their COVID-19 policies. This protest was sparked by a video which went viral, of the inhumane treatment of a mother and her newborn baby, and the mother had COVID. The prime minister said he should assume the responsibility upon himself and accept the demand of the public, which is an extremely graceful gesture and appropriate response to the public outcry. I’m glad it didn’t have to escalate.
It also brings up the point that this is one of the things about symbolic protests, that you never know what picture or what document is going to awaken the conscience of people and so we just do the right thing. As always, in satyagraha, according to the Gita’s presentation of how human action should be conducted, you do not worry too much about the results. You pay attention to them, but you know, if you like using God language or leave them in the hands of God, you concentrate on the process and on purifying your own approach to that process.
There’s just so much coming up that we can benefit from, trainings have just ballooned out. The Network of Spiritual Progressives organized by our friends at Tikkun, they have a six-week online spiritual activist training that’s coming up, starting in the middle of February – Feb. 16. So, you can go to Tikkun.org to find out about that.
Meta Peace Teams will be putting on a Peace and Popcorn Series starting the 30th of this month — I guess it is tomorrow if you’re listening on Friday. It’s going to be called, “In Peace We Trust” and it is online.
Indian Country Today is a newsletter, online newsletter that is now reporting that the California Truth Healing Council begins its historic work shortly. This is huge. This is about as big as the reparations effort.
The Peace Alliance has a number of upcoming events, hopes, stories, circles, a national action call, and the Department of Peacebuilding call. And you remember that that’s what originally called the Peace Alliance into existence, to have a department level Department of Peacebuilding in the United States government. Which I suppose, now looks a little more likely. And by the way, folks, this effort has been on the table for about 200 years.
We now have the United States Institute of Peace, but it’s nowhere near a cabinet level, departmental level institution. So, look for those events.
This is an event that already passed, so it’s not available for us live, but it may be online. And that was World Localization Day. This is what’s called, “Swadeshi.” This is a real triumph of Swadeshi or localism. There were 100 voices from across the world speaking on this at this occasion and they included Russel Brand, Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, and Noam Chomsky, Joanna Macy, Akomolafe Bayo, Alnoor Ladha, and many others. So, if you just put in “World Localization Day” in YouTube, you should be able to find that.
So, I just want to mention some Metta events. We have an upcoming screening of our film, “The Third Harmony,” coming up in an important film festival in Tel Aviv. We will be participating in a course called, “The Winter Course,” on nonviolence that’s being put on by Gandhi Research Foundation, and you can find that online. That starts tomorrow and the following Saturday for my presentations anyway, but I’m a little bit further than that.
So, do look at Metta Center for Nonviolence to follow us for more of these events. Tune in again in a couple of weeks for our next Nonviolence Report.
Stephanie: This has been another episode of Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank Stephen Zunes, Michael Nagler, Matt Watrous, Jewelia White, to all of our listeners, especially to our mother station listeners at KWMR, and to everybody out there, learn about nonviolence and that’s the way to take care of one another. Have a good day.
Transcription by Matthew Watrous.