Yesterday’s blog post about the Extinction Rebellion, and responses to that, has made me realize many people are unclear about how to respond to the urgency of climate catastrophe. While it is good to see people are waking up to the dangers of climate chaos, we are seeing a variety of responses, not all of which are effective or in line with my beliefs about nonviolence.
Prior to the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) in 2017, I encouraged the members of the Peace and Social Concerns Committee to read the book by Chris Moore-Backman, The Gandhian Iceberg, that calls for a national nonviolent movement. The following is from the report of that committee that was approved by the Yearly Meeting:
We grappled with what it means to be peacemakers in a violent society. U.S. politics have descended into deadlocked ideologies, neglecting real imperatives. Our country has expanded its military operations around the world and militarized its local police. State sanctioned violence has killed unarmed people. Denying basic needs for clean water and air, food, housing, education, safety and medical care is also violence.Peace and Social Concerns Committee Report, Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) 2017.
The witness and commitment of the Water Protectors at Standing Rock inspire us, as does the support for them from Indigenous Peoples all over the world. Nahko Bear, a Native American activist and spiritual leader, told the gathering of youth who had been attacked by dogs the message he was given repeatedly as he traveled around the world: “remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution.” An Iowa Conservative Friend was arrested in nonviolent action protesting the Bakken pipeline in Iowa.
Stories collected by Don Laughlin remind us of the witness of Iowa Quakers who were imprisoned for refusing to participate in the military. We seek ways to share these stories with the wider community.
Members of our Committee were encouraged to study the new book calling for national nonviolent direct-action, The Gandhian Iceberg, by Chris Moore-Backman, who sent us the following message:
I pray that Quakers and others will move to hold bold action far above the careful crafting of right answers. In the end Jesus’ teaching is simple. Letting go of our attachments to our personal status quos is the catch. Intellectual rigor and discernment has its place, of course, but only – I believe – in service to direct, loving action and sacrifice.
We accept the admonition of the Rev. William Barber, who called for us to be the moral defibrillators of our time; to shock the nation with love and justice; to remember that Jesus was a brown skinned, Palestinian Jew; to return to the public square. We encourage Friends to provide witness with peace vigils in public squares and to speak out in print and social media and legislators’ offices.
In 2006 the Yearly Meeting approved the following Minute:
Basic to Quaker belief is the faith that the same Light we recognize in our own hearts illuminates the souls of all other people. This belief leads us to seek nonviolent means of resolving conflicts at all levels— interpersonally, within communities, among nations—and to work for justice as a basis for lasting peace. We find ourselves bound in many ways as citizens of the United States to policies of our government which are abhorrent to us and in violation of our most deeply held beliefs. Our efforts to encourage our government to establish policies that will lead to peace and justice here and around the world have not been adequate to bring about the change which is so urgently needed. The destructive forces unleashed in our world threaten the future of all people and the planet itself. Throughout our history, Quakers have at various times found ourselves called to suffer for beliefs which have placed us in opposition to our government. Based on this history of courageous witness, we challenge Friends to now consider participating in nonviolent civil disobedience.
This call is even more urgent today. We encourage Friends to discern how they are called to bear witness for peace and justice and to support each other in doing so.
The above report includes a quote from Nakho Bear. This is more of what he said that evening. “Remember that nonviolent direct action is the way to a successful revolution. And that is a hard one, because they are so bad (chuckles). When they come at us you just want to hit ’em, you know? Just sit with that. I know it’s tough. They’re going to try to do everything they can to instigate you. But remember what we’re here for. We’re here to create peace for our Mother. We’re not here to create more violence.”
A commitment to nonviolence has to begin with the individual for many reasons. Nonviolence has to become the way you experience every moment of your life, before you can effectively engage in the outward parts of nonviolence, which may eventually lead to participating in direct action, or may never.
We each have to discover the many, often insidious threads of violence that are part of our own lives. Our relationships with others, our treatment of our environment, plants and animals, our social and political lives can all have violent aspects that we may be unaware of until we begin to pay close attention to them. As can seen from this list, violence means much more than physical force. A useful term is power in its many forms, which can be used to influence other people and entities in ways that are unwelcome or detrimental.
As we learn more about ourselves, we learn there are always new things to be aware of, which makes us more open to consider new ideas and able to change ourselves. This makes us more tolerant of others, knowing they can engage in these same processes, and we can help others do so, when conditions are appropriate.
This is a core concept of nonviolence, that success is measured by how much progress is made toward justice together, which often involves changing not only those who have been engaging in injustice, but also changing ourselves. It is often the awareness by others that we are willing to change that makes it possible for them to consider changing too. Deeply listening to each other is key.