The Life and Death of Daniel Berrigan

by John Dear

Daniel Berrigan marches for peace and against nuclear arms; New York City, 1982; photo courtesy AP

Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the renowned anti-war activist, award-winning poet, author and Jesuit priest, who inspired religious opposition to the Vietnam War and later the U.S. nuclear weapons industry, died on 30 April at age 94, just a week shy of his 95th birthday. He died of natural causes at the Jesuit infirmary at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx. I had visited him just last week. He has long been in declining health.

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The Organizer Cesar Chavez

by Dorothy Day

Cesar Chavez, c. 1965; photographer unknown

“Workers of the World, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!” This is one of those stirring slogans of the Marxists especially appealing to youth, no matter what kind of family they come from, upper, middle, or lower middle class. If it does not attract them to Marxism, it at least gives them a sense of community and relatedness to other sufferers and combats the sense of futility and frustration, which encompasses so many.

Cesar Chavez is the leader of the Delano California farm-workers who are on strike in an area which stretches for 400 miles and includes thousands of acres of grapes, tomatoes, apricots, cotton — all kinds of crops. This strike, which has been going on since last September, appeals to all the poor of the United States. Chavez uses the word commitment, a word much in style now. But he combines it with the idea of necessity, the irrevocable. “We are committed,” he says. “When you lose your car, then lose your home, you do not become less committed, but more. None of us has anything more to lose.”

The agricultural workers of this country have long been the most abandoned and forgotten. They have been neglected in all Social Security legislation. From the first issue of The Catholic Worker, down through the years, we have written about the Negroes working on the levees, about the dispossessed sharecroppers of Arkansas and Oklahoma, the Mexicans in the onion fields of Ohio and Michigan, in sugar beets in the middle Northwest, about those who work in the potato farms in Maine, Long Island and New Jersey, in the turpentine woods of the South, about the citrus pickers of Florida, the Delta Negroes now being dispossessed from the cotton fields, and now the present strikers in California. The Catholic Worker has dealt with these stories and I have personally visited these fields of struggle.

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Gene Sharp Is No Utopian

by Mary Elizabeth King

Portrait of Gene Sharp; photograph by Conor Doherty; courtesy of the photographer

Six years ago, Brian Martin (Professor of Social Science, University of Wollongong, Australia) wrote in the journal Peace and Change, “Whereas Gandhi was unsystematic in his observations and analyses, [Gene] Sharp is relentlessly thorough. Most distinctively so in his epic work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Sharp has had more influence on social activists than any other living theorist.”

I would go further. Gene has in my opinion done more for the building of peace than any person alive. This is because I consider the knowledge of how to fight for justice and social change without a resort to violence to be the most critical and essential component of building peace.

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Rev. Phil Lawson: Building the Beloved Community

by Terry Messman

Rev. Phil Lawson rallying support for gays and lesbians; photograph by Mike DuBose.

Rev. Lawson has worked his entire life to ensure that there will be room enough in the beloved community so no one will be left outside to suffer and die in poverty on the streets, no one will be locked out by border walls, and no one will be denied entrance because of racial intolerance or homophobia. At some point in the course of his lifelong work to build a truly inclusive community, Rev. Phil Lawson became a pastor for all the people. His ministry now extends far beyond the walls of the Methodist churches where he ministered to his congregations in Richmond, El Cerrito and Vallejo. The walls of his church have expanded to include the homeless and hungry people cast out of American society, the refugees from war-torn lands in Central America, the same-sex couples he joined in marriage, the low-paid workers in Richmond struggling for living wages, the peace and justice activists who look to this soft-spoken man for leadership, and the Occupy activists seeking to build a nationwide movement for justice.

The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.

As Lawson’s ministry has expanded through all these years of pastoral service and nonviolent movement building, it has become clear that there is only one edifice large enough to provide sanctuary for all the people he has included in his ministry — the “beloved community.” At a forum on nonviolent resistance held at the height of the Occupy movement in Oakland on Dec. 15, 2011, Rev. Lawson declared: “The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community.”

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Reflections on the Life of Rev. Phil Lawson

by David Hartsough, Sherri Maurin & Rev. Brian Woodson

David Hartsough

Phil Lawson is a lifelong peace and justice activist who works for the radical transformation of our society, towards one where every person can live with dignity. He is willing to struggle and even go to jail for his beliefs. Because he lives by the values and principles of nonviolence in his own life, Phil is an example of what a good Christian pastor should be. In the struggle to build a just and peaceful society and world, he has helped the church to become a headlight instead of a taillight. His longstanding work for real immigration reform is a model for how the churches can stand on the right side of justice. Phil’s commitment in establishing the Interfaith Tent in support of the Occupy movement in Oakland is a great example of his relentless persistence. He has that sparkle in his eye, and you know that he means what he says and that hope will always have the last word.

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Dr. King’s Gauntlet: Nonviolence or Nonexistence

by John Dear

I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. the great, holy prophet to the nation. He was a prophet of nonviolence sent by the God of peace and justice to call our country to repent of the sin of violence and war and to call us to the new life of nonviolence and peace. As we recall Dr. King, I hope we can remember his central, crucial, critical message.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; painting by Betsy G. Reyneau; public domain image courtesy of

On April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated (by our government), Dr. King told thousands of people at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee: “For years now, we have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can we just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.”

It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence;
it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

“Nonviolence or nonexistence.” That is the choice. These are the last words of Dr. King, the gauntlet he threw down before us, and before the whole world. Nobody talks about it, but this is the heart of Martin Luther King, Jr. It remains the critical choice before us all.

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Martin Luther King Jr.’s Steps to Nonviolent Action

by John Dear

Dr. King with President Lyndon Johnson; photographer unknown; public domain image courtesy of

I’ve been reflecting on the principles of nonviolence, which Dr. Martin Luther King learned during the historic yearlong bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. After Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, broke the segregation law, and was arrested on December 1, 1955, the African-American leadership in Montgomery famously chose young Rev. Dr. King to lead their campaign. He was an unknown quantity. Certainly no one expected him to emerge as a Moses-like tower of strength. No one imagined that he would invoke Gandhi’s method of nonviolent resistance in Christian language as the basis for the boycott. But from day one, he was a force to be reckoned with.

With the help of Bayard Rustin and Glenn Smiley of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Dr. King articulated a methodology of nonviolence that still rings true. It’s an ethic of nonviolent resistance that’s also a strategy of hope, which can help us today in the thousands of Montgomery-like movements around the world, including environmentalism and the ongoing Arab Spring.

Dr. King outlined his way of nonviolence in his 1958 account of the Montgomery movement, Stride Toward Freedom (New York: Harper and Row, pp. 83-88). There he tells the story of the movement and his own personal journey, from which we can extrapolate his six nonviolence principles. Dr. King lived and taught these essential ingredients of active nonviolence until the day he died. (For an excellent commentary on them, I recommend Roots of Resistance: The Nonviolent Ethic of Martin Luther King, Jr., by William D. Watley, Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1985.)

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Terry Messman and the Power of Nonviolent Activist Journalism

by Ken Butigan

Stories are central to our existential job description: making sense of both the world and ourselves. From creation myths to scientific explanations, from political ideologies to the quirky narratives that knead our own amorphous lives into some kind of distinctive shape, stories are essential — not only because they nudge the disconnected bits of reality we face moment to moment into a plausible and graspable form, but because they go to the heart of our identity and purpose.

This goes for navigating our lives. But it also goes for changing the world.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says that life poses two fundamental questions —What are we willing to live for? What are we willing to die for? — he presupposes a story that makes these questions intelligible. For Dr. King, this story centered on a harrowing and improbable expedition to what he doggedly called the Beloved Community, a world where all human beings will one day sit at the same table, live together in The World House, and make good on the hunch that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. This story does not come with a warranty or scientific proof. Instead its truthfulness depends on how far we’re willing to go to embellish and inhabit it. This story’s power flows, not from its lyrical metaphors, but from its ongoing, risky embodiment.

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Stephen Zunes On A Power That Can Overthrow Dictatorships

by Terry Messman

Nonviolent movements have toppled dictators all over the globe, in Mali, Serbia, Poland, Bolivia, the Philippines, East Germany, Latin America, and Africa. During the Arab Spring, it became clear that the power of nonviolence to overthrow tyrannical governments is giving new hope — and new revolutionary strategies — to people around the world. Just as several unexpected and massive nonviolent uprisings have dealt serious blows to brutal regimes around the globe, several scholars and researchers have dealt equally serious blows to generations of military analysts and national-security studies.

In a pioneering effort to systematically compare success rates of violent and nonviolent social-change movements, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, authors of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, researched 323 social-change campaigns from 1900 to 2006. Their electrifying finding was that campaigns of nonviolent resistance are nearly twice as likely to succeed as violent uprisings.

Stephen Zunes c. 2012; photographer unknown

Their innovative research may have proven astonishing in the circles of international security and military analysts, but it was solid confirmation of the lifelong research into nonviolent resistance carried out by Stephen Zunes, an author and Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Zunes’s parents were active in the peace movement. His father was an Episcopal priest and his parents were involved, along with many Quaker peace groups, in challenging U.S. militarism. He grew up in a Christian milieu where there was a strong sense of individual commitment to peace and social justice. He then attended Quaker schools and later worked with a number of Quaker peace groups, including the Friends Peace Committee and the American Friends Service Committee. Yet, his scholarly research, writing and teaching about the history of nonviolent movements was sparked, in part, by his realization that the strategies and tactics of nonviolent resistance not only had value for principled pacifists, but also could be utilized as a pragmatic — and highly effective — approach to social change by people from all walks of life, no matter their ideology or belief system.

In an interview with Street Spirit, Zunes said, “In terms of nonviolence, I realized one can’t build a movement just by calling on people to embrace pacifism. But if people recognize the utilitarian advantages of nonviolent action, it would help build the kind of movement that could create real change. So, academically, I got very interested in studying the phenomenon of strategic nonviolent actions.”

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Bart de Ligt (1883-1938): Non-Violent Anarcho-Pacifist

by Peter van den Dungen

Bart de Ligt c. 1935; Public domain image; photographer unknown; courtesy of International Institute for Social History.

On 3 September 1938, within a year of the publication of The Conquest of Violence (his only book translated into English), Bart de Ligt collapsed and died in the railway station at Nantes. He had been taken ill in Bretagne and was on his way home to Geneva. Only 55, he had led such an intensively active public life, fully dedicated to the struggle for a better society, that this time his exhaustion proved to be fatal. His wife, who was his close collaborator, said that his life was like a flame, which had been extinguished too soon. But it had been a brilliant flame which had illuminated the thoughts, warmed the feelings, and lit or fanned the fervour of all those who had the good fortune to come into contact with him either directly through his countless public lectures, speeches and organisational activities, or indirectly through his equally numerous publications. It may be regarded as symbolic that he died in Nantes, the city where Henry IV signed the Edict granting freedom of conscience and worship to the French Protestants (who had been killed in their thousands in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 and afterwards), for de Ligt was a fighter of all dogma, whether religious or secular, and a fearless defender of all those who, in the past as in his own day, were branded heretics. Being a chief among them, he conducted his own kind of inquisition which was one relentless exposition of, and opposition to attitudes, practices and institutions which resulted in the enslavement of the individual and the establishment of a society which was far from truly human.

Who was this iconoclast who likeminded contemporaries regarded as a ‘superior spirit’ and an ‘exceptional figure’ in Dutch intellectual life? The relatively few people, then as now, in Holland and abroad, who know and admire de Ligt’s social philosophy and social action – against war and all the things which make for war – saw him as a figure bearing comparison with Erasmus, whom he resembled in several ways, and whose biography, published in Dutch in 1936, was his last book.

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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