Nonviolence is not simply a political strategy, but meant to be how you live each moment of your life. When Rabbi Michael Lerner spoke about the moral integrity of Mohammad Ali and his draft resistance, he was speaking of the moral integrity of the practice of nonviolence, too.
I’ve continued to think about Richard Wagamese’s idea “all we are is story”. “We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.” This leads me to think of nonviolence in a little different way, as a way to share our stories with each other, including those who oppose us, as a way to change the world one story at a time. Nonviolence is the antithesis of the idea of winning by force and disregarding those who are defeated.
The fundamental principle of nonviolence is to listen for the truth, or story, of everyone engaged in the struggle, of all viewpoints, so that we all can find a way to move closer to justice together. I think Martin Luther King, Jr, captured this idea when he said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The other fundamental principles are that you will always exhibit nonviolent behavior even when being provoked. And that you are willing to accept the consequences of your actions, including being arrested if necessary. The willingness to suffer, either verbal or physical abuse, or financial, legal or other consequences, is part of ones commitment to nonviolence. Being an example is the point. Living such that your actions are consistent with your words demonstrates how seriously you take the issue.
After the draft resistance story was finished, I didn’t become engaged with another nonviolence campaign until many years later. The Keystone Pledge of Resistance was launched in 2013, to use the threat of nationwide civil disobedience direct actions to attempt to persuade President Obama to deny the Keystone pipeline permit. Then last year I was very involved with events related to water protectors and the Dakota Access pipeline in Indianapolis, both of which are described in some detail here: https://jeffkisling.com/2017/10/12/building-an-environmental-action-movement/
Planning and training are required for a successful direct action. I was fortunate to be trained by Todd Zimmer and Gabe from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in Des Moines the summer of 2013, as part of the national Keystone Pledge of Resistance. RAN went to 25 cities in the U.S. that summer to train local leaders to (1) plan the direct action in their city and (2) teach them how to train others in their area. That resulted in about 400 Action Leaders being trained, who in turn trained nearly 4,000 local activists. If the action was triggered, nonviolent direct actions would unfold in at least 25 cities in the country simultaneously.
Anyone who wanted to participate in the Keystone Resistance was required to sign a statement saying they would abide by the following nonviolence guidelines:
Non-Violence Guidelines and Principles
1. With the recognition that history is on our side in the fight against the fossil fuel industry, that we are a part of the proud and successful tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience, and that our actions also reflect on tens of thousands of others standing together across the country, we will conduct our behavior in only the most peaceful and dignified manner.
2. We are each firmly committed to the safety of all participants and the surrounding community, and will not bring with us any weapons, drugs or alcohol, or participate in any acts of vandalism or destruction of property.
3. We will work to protect everyone around us from insult or attack, including those who may oppose or disagree with us.
4. We will remember that irresponsible actions could endanger others, or lead to the arrest of people who do not want to go to jail, and will not use threatening language or threatening motions toward anyone.
5. We will act and communicate in a manner of openness, friendliness and respect toward everyone we encounter, including police officers and members of the community at large.
6. As members of this action, we will follow the directions of the designated organizers.
7. If an individual has a serious disagreement with the organizers of the action, the individual will withdraw from the action.
8. If an individual does not respect these guidelines and principles, that individual can not participate in an action as part of the Pledge of Resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline
The training involved a Saturday of being taught how to organize direct actions, and how to train others. The next day, the students became the teachers. We practiced providing the same training we would be doing when we returned home. The participants training guide can be found here: https://1drv.ms/w/s!Avb9bFhezZpPhPZwoFHONmVV69trwA
Training involved acquiring a thorough knowledge of the issues involved. This is important for when you will engage the public and the media about what you are trying to accomplish. The principles of nonviolence are discussed. Participants engage in role playing exercises that are used to learn how to remain nonviolent in the face of abuse, and techniques to de-escalate such situations.
A lot of time is spent on the various legal issues that might be involved, including possible charges and what to expect and how to act if you are taken to jail. People are taught things like not bringing much with the other than identification and perhaps money for bail, to write the phone number to call in ink on their body, etc. Although it might be a little dated, this is the video we used to cover much of that: https://1drv.ms/f/s!Avb9bFhezZpPiNVbbulOBg9xvKIogQ
The Action Leaders were also taught how to identify the target for their action, and to deliver a letter of intent to the target ahead of time, so personnel there know what you plan to do.
We were taught how to build and maintain our local group of activists.
Finally the various roles, such as media support, volunteer lawyer, police liaison, jail support, and volunteer support are explained.
In Indianapolis we had four Action Leaders who had been trained, and we held six training sessions, training about 50 people. Our target was the Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis. We were going to block the doors if our action was triggered. This photo shows us there the day we delivered our letter of intent, which was politely received by security officers in the building.
We would often gather with our local group for demonstrations downtown to raise awareness about tar sands and the pipeline and climate change.
President Obama decided not to approve the pipeline, so we didn’t have to trigger the action.