The Politics of Nonviolence
What a summer! Like everyone else, I’m trying to make some sense of it, and figure out a thoughtful response. We’ve suffered through the mainstream media’s non-stop broadcast of the dirty politics of hatred, scape-goating, and war-mongering, particularly by Mr. Trump. We’ve undergone shootings by white police officers of unarmed African Americans, and even shootings of police, as well as massacres in Orlando and Nice, not to mention the daily U.S. massacres in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. We’ve endured the long hot days of catastrophic climate change with its wind and rain and heat and fire breathing down our necks. We seem to hit a new rock bottom of despair every week, only to sink to new lows the following week.
For many, there’s not much hope to be had. Sure, you can vote, but don’t expect anything more than the same ol’ same ol’ politics of violence, which means, the politics of perpetual war, the politics of unparalleled corporate greed, the politics of death as a social methodology for the world. Democracy is fading. Fascism is growing. Behold, violence for the sheer sake of violence, the death of anonymous innocents around the globe, and millions of us who simply do not care.
“The worst time of my life,” my cousin Mary Anne said on the phone the other day. That was the sentiment of my friend and teacher, Father Daniel Berrigan as he died on April 30th. The country and the world seem to sink beyond our worst imaginings. What should we do? We can give in, give up, back down, lay down and surrender; or we can vote, as some do every four years, for the lesser of two evils (and so make our peace with evil); and/or we can dig in for the long haul, and mobilize against the politics of violence on behalf of a new politics of nonviolence.
That’s what I opt for. I want us to join the lineage of Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, those who took a stand of hope in a time of no hope, and do what we can for a whole new world of peace beyond even our own imagining, to give our lives for a new nonviolent world we will not live to experience.
I think we need a whole new politics of nonviolence. We’ll never get it from our elected officials or party candidates, or their corporate sponsors, media backers or military promoters and generals, but we can find it among ourselves, in a new grassroots movement of active nonviolence that takes to the street on behalf of the disenfranchised and the earth in pursuit of a new world of peace. We can put our energies there, at the bottom, in a new kind of people power that might one day overcome our biggest obstacles.
“The states that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian,” Mahatma Gandhi wrote long ago, “or, if they are to be truly democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent.” That’s the choice ahead of us. If we care about humanity and the earth, we have to become, in the words of our teacher Gandhi, “courageously nonviolent.”
We have to be the ones who advocate, demand, and mobilize for a new culture of nonviolence, a truly nonviolent democracy. We have to become the ones we are waiting for, as the saying goes. We have to become Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We have to rise to the occasion and live in such a way as to deserve and create a new culture of peace and nonviolence, to make the impossible probable and inevitable and one day, actual.
After the horrors of the mass shooting in Orlando, it seemed clear to me that we needed political leaders with the courage to stand up to the NRA and say no to the insanity of gun violence and the easy purchase of an automatic rifle, but ones who recognize the consistency of saying no as well to perpetual war and nuclear weapons. Then, Civil Rights leader and Congressman John Lewis staged a sit in in the Congress--something that had never happened before. John exemplifies that bold, even outrageous, nonviolent action that we all need to engage in if we are to break beyond the same ol’ same ol’ politics of violence and war, with its contingencies of perpetual racism, sexism and classism. We see it happening these days among our courageous Native American sisters and brothers in North Dakota, resisting the evil oil companies’ latest pipeline.
All of us need to stand up or sit down in dramatic nonviolent action for the coming of a new culture of nonviolence, if we are to prevent fascism, stop the killing of thousands of poor people around the world, and resist the inevitability of nuclear war and catastrophic climate change.
These days, the question for me is: What are the politics of nonviolence? Nonviolence is a whole new way of life, but it is also a methodology of social change, a power at our disposal, a spiritual path, a way to relate to others, and a way of hope for the whole human race, despite the odds.
In the politics of nonviolence, first, we do everything within our power to withdraw our cooperation from the culture of violence and its politics. We refuse to be violent to ourselves or those we know or meet; we refuse to join the military or serve the military or make weapons or send our children off to war; we renounce the culture of war and greed in our daily lives. We turn off FOX news, but also CNN and the New York Times, and do not listen to the voices of war and politics-as-usual. In doing so, we help cut the underpinings of the culture of violence and shake up society so that it can hear a new alternative.
We side with the world’s poor, with the victims of U.S. warmaking, beginning with the children of Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, and we choose not to spend our lives making more money than we need to get by.
Instead, we try to be as nonviolent as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. We think through the social, economic, and political implications of nonviolence for ourselves and the world, and choose to spend our time and energy at the service of others and the whole world. We make the connections between our personal and interpersonal nonviolence, and the nonviolence we need for the world, for the earth, for a new future. And so, we learn to stand up publicly, fearlessly, and peacefully to proclaim the need for nonviolence in our local and national community, and the big vision of a new nonviolent world. What have we got to lose? What higher goal, more noble vision, more holy pursuit is there? In Jesus’ words, we’re welcoming the kingdom of God on earth, the coming of peace on earth.
We can do this. We can practice and proclaim the politics of nonviolence, despite the ever-present corporate media and its corporate politicians and warmakers. We can herald an entirely new kind of world if we join together in a new kind of political will, a global solidarity that insists that the days of war and empire are over, that every human being has the right not to live in poverty or war, or under the threat of terrorism, U.S. nuclear weapons, or catastrophic climate change.
We need to claim our power—the power of nonviolence--and get to work building a new kind of global grassroots movement of nonviolence that the world has never seen before, a movement that will undermine the global culture of violence and war and transform it into something beyond our imagining--a new culture of nonviolence, a new world without starvation, racism, sexism, torture, war, nuclear weapons or environmental destruction.
This month, my friends and I are organizing the third annual week of nonviolent action called “Campaign Nonviolence,” Sept 17-26th. As of today, we have almost 600 public actions and events planned across the U.S.A., in every state, where ordinary people will take to the streets, in the tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., to say no to war, drones, racism, police killings, mass incarceration, poverty, nuclear weapons, corporate greed, and environmental destruction, and for the coming of a new culture of justice, peace and nonviolence. You can join this growing grassroots movement by checking out: www.campaignnonviolence.org. (There, you can read the detailed list and contact information for every single action and event.)
We’re also organizing the “Nonviolent Cities” project, where activists, civic leaders, religious communities and ordinary citizens are mobilizing to make their local city a “nonviolent city.” Nothing like this has ever been formally tried in U.S. history. This is a step forward in the tradition of grassroots organizing, and I hope everyone will consider taking this vision to their local community and city council. Right now, over thirty cities are pursuing this vision, from Fresno to Cincinnati to Chattanooga. (Visit www.campaignnonviolence.org for more details.)
In particular, I’m convinced that every religion is rooted nonviolence, including my own, Christianity. One cannot claim to be a follower of the nonviolent Jesus without practicing and espousing his lifelong nonviolence. If you support war, drones, executions, nuclear weapons, nationalism, corporate greed or environmental destruction, you betray the nonviolent Jesus and renounce your baptism. Christianity is a religion of nonviolence, and it’s time for nonviolent Christians to say so.
That’s what I teach in my new book, The Beatitudes of Peace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed an entirely new vision of nonviolence, and the requirements of nonviolence for discipleship. “Offer no violent resistance to one who does evil,” he declares. “Love your enemies. Blessed are the peacemakers. Hunger and thirst for justice. Be as compassionate as God. Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice.”
This Spring, at a meeting at the Vatican, 80 of us proposed this vision to Pope Francis, and we continue to urge him to write a new encyclical on nonviolence, and finally do away with the politics of violence---the so called “just war theory”—and return to the way of Jesus. Last week, he announced that his January 1st New Year’s World Day of Peace message will be called “Nonviolence.” That’s the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that a formal church document will address the nonviolence of Jesus. This is hopeful!
A new life, vision and politics of nonviolence is dawning for us all. We can create a more nonviolent world if we organize a global grassroots movement of nonviolence and all do our part to hasten human nonviolence as the global norm. We want to bring nonviolence into the mainstream, so that more and more people refuse to harm or kill others, so that we can dismantle institutional violence, greed, racism, war and environmental destruction. More and more of us need to join this lifelong political campaign of nonviolence. This is how we learn to vote every day for the rest of our lives according to the way and wisdom of peace.
In such a time, it’s not enough to sit back and not kill. We all have to step up and step into the public arena to stop the killing. We need to connect all the issues, and name this systemic violence as a force of death upon us all, and give our lives to stop it. Whether we succeed or not, this surely is the ultimate moral, spiritual and even human stand to make. If we do nothing, the violence, terrorism, greed, racism, and environmental destruction will continue and worsen. Many more will die. If we all pitch in and do our part, in local, national and global grassroots movements, we can chip away at the system until it falls and a new more nonviolent, more democratic global community is welcomed.
Everything is political. Everything supports violence, unless we consciously, publicly, deliberately refuse to cooperate with such violence in whatever form it takes. If we choose not to be violent, but to live out the life, vision and politics of nonviolence, embodied in the likes of Gandhi and Dr. King, we can break new ground for justice and peace, or at least, hold close to our humanity in an inhuman time.
We can become nonviolent people. We can adopt the discipline of nonviolence. We can learn and accept the boundary lines of nonviolence and discover the freedom of not hurting, killing or bombing others. We can live out a new politics of nonviolence toward a future of nonviolence that might one day come true, even if we personally do not live to see it.
So, my fellow Americans, in this political season, vote for nonviolence. Give your life to resisting the culture of violence and death, and do your part to hasten a new world of justice and peace for every living human being. That’s the only politics worth pursuing—the politics of nonviolence