Author Archive: Nathan Schneider

NATHAN SCHNEIDER is an editor at wagingnonviolence.org and the author of God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. He writes about religion, reason, and violence for The Nation, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Commonweal, Religion Dispatches, and AlterNet. Besides being an editor at Killing the Buddha, he has own website at nathanschneider.info.

Sending a Mighty Message: The Waging Nonviolence Interview with James Lawson

by Nathan Schneider

Portrait of James Lawson courtesy Vanderbilt University, vanderbilt.edu

Editor’s Preface: James Lawson was one of the chief organizers of the Civil Rights Movement, especially of the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins. Throughout his long career he has steadfastly emphasized the need to develop long-range nonviolent strategies, not just short-term tactics. Please see the note at the end for further information about Lawson, Nathan Schneider, links, and acknowledgments. JG

Nathan Schneider: For activists trying to reclaim people’s power among all the powerful corporations at work today, what do you think can be learned from the civil-rights movement? What are the lessons from your experience?

James Lawson: Well, I think that the main thing that activists must learn is nonviolent philosophy, methodology, techniques, and strategy. They need to work from an investigation and assessment of their local base, determining thereby the skills and techniques that will organize and mobilize people in that local scene. No social movement is going to take place if it doesn’t have roots in what’s going on in Cleveland, Ohio, or Washington, DC, or right across Georgia. That’s how movements take place, and that’s how movements have taken place in the United States—not by national policy, but by local groups assessing their own scene and trying to be real about how to start working.

At the local level, people need to get some processes going that will cut down the sales of certain companies and corporations and begin to send a mighty message. It may not be possible to do that in the first year, but I’d be willing to wager that steady organizing around something specific would begin to have an impact. That’s the first task.

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Guest Editorial: Where Gene Sharp Departed from Gandhi, and Where it Leaves Us

by Nathan Schneider

Gene Sharp collage; artist unknown; courtesy of Socialistplatform

There is something of a genre of critique, one sometimes lobbed at Waging Nonviolence, which considers the discourse of nonviolence to be wholly subservient to the U.S. foreign policy interests, and/or the CIA specifically. It’s a line of attack that has generally baffled us, since anything worthy of the name “nonviolence” would certainly run counter to the doings of the largest and most pervasive military machine in the history of the world. Occasionally there seems to be some truth in these critiques, but it’s hard to know where that begins and the conspiracy-theory nonsense ends.

Now I think I know where to begin to draw the line. The reason is a new paper published in the journal Societies Without Borders in September by Sean Chabot and Majid Sharifi. It’s called “The Violence of Nonviolence: Problematizing Nonviolent Resistance in Iran and Egypt.”

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Interview: Why Nicholson Baker is a Pacifist

by Nathan Schneider

Nicholson Baker; public domain photograph; courtesy of Wikipedia.com

Anyone who makes even a modest habit of speaking out against war in public soon runs up against the inevitable, supposedly unanswerable question: What about World War II? It’s meant to be the ultimate stumper. This was the “good war,” wasn’t it, the war waged by the “greatest generation” against the evil incarnate of Hitler and imperial Japan? There was simply no other choice before the forces of goodness and truth but to leap into the single most deadly undertaking in all of human history. Right?

That won’t work if you’re talking to Nicholson Baker. In an extraordinary cover story in Harper’s Magazine, “Why I’m a Pacifist: The Dangerous Myth of the Good War,” Baker explains how learning about World War II was actually a big part of what made him a pacifist in the first place. “In fact,” he writes, “the more I learn about the war, the more I understand that the pacifists were the only ones, during a time of catastrophic violence, who repeatedly put forward proposals that had any chance of saving a threatened people. They weren’t naïve, they weren’t unrealistic—they were psychologically acute realists.”

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Guest Editorial: How Occupy Wall Street Got Religion

by Nathan Schneider

A year ago around this time, Occupy Wall Street was celebrating Advent — the season when Christians anticipate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. In front of Trinity Church, right at the top of Wall Street along Broadway, Occupiers set up a little model tent with the statuettes of a nativity scene inside: Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child in a manger, surrounded by animals. In the back, an angel held a tiny cardboard sign with a verse from Luke’s Gospel: “There was no room for them in the inn.” The reason for these activists’ interest in the liturgical calendar, of course, was the movement’s ongoing effort to convince Trinity to start acting less like a real estate corporation and more like a church, and to let the movement use a vacant property that Trinity owns.

A year later, even as a resilient few continue their 24-hour vigil on the sidewalk outside Trinity, churches and Occupiers are having a very different kind of Advent season together. Finding room in churches is no longer a problem for the movement.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi