Nonviolent Founding Myths of the United States

by Benjamin Naimark-Rowse

The Stamp Act repeal depicted as a 1765 funeral procession; courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

On the Fourth of July, cities and towns from coast-to-coast across the United States host fireworks, concerts, and parades to celebrate our independence from Britain. Those celebrations will invariably highlight the colonial soldiers who overcame the British. But the lessons we learn of a democracy forged in the crucible of revolutionary war tends to ignore how a decade of nonviolent resistance before the shot-heard-round-the-world (1) shaped the founding of the United States, strengthened our sense of political identity, and laid the foundation of our democracy.

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The Bihpur, Bihar Satyagraha Campaign

by Rajendra Prasad

Dustwrapper art courtesy Ocean Books; oceanbooks.in

Editor’s Preface: The historical accounts of the Indian nonviolent independence movement generally focus on Mahatma Gandhi’s campaigns, whereas the Satyagraha Movement was widespread across India, with more than one leader. Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963) was one such. The account that follows draws a vivid picture of the courage and sacrifice of the campaign that Prasad led in 1930 in his home state of Bihar. His leadership qualities and commitment to nonviolence were well recognized; when India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947 he was chosen its first president. Please see our explanatory endnotes, note on the text, and editor’s note at the end of the article. JG

An outstanding example of the faith and firmness with which people acted on Mahatma Gandhi’s words was provided, in 1930, at Bihpur in Bhagalpur. (1) Bihpur is on the banks of the Ganges and is exposed to floods. The river always changes its course, as happens in all places near the Ganges. As a consequence, the boundaries marking off one man’s field from another’s are washed away, and when the floods subside, very often conflicts arise among rival claimants of land. […]

When I was touring that region in 1929, I found evidence of great enthusiasm among the people. I was convinced that when Satyagraha was started, its inhabitants would enthusiastically participate in it. I carried this impression because of an incident which occurred there. In the course of my tour, I had fixed up a meeting to be held at a particular place about two o’clock in the afternoon. I had been to another village at some distance from the place where the meeting was to be held, and had hoped to return in time for it. While I was on my way back, heavy rain came down suddenly, a strong wind began to blow, and I was delayed for two or three hours. When I arrived, soaked to the skin, I found a very big crowd which, I was told, had been awaiting my arrival in the rain for some hours. The rain itself was still falling. I stood up in the crowd in the rain and talked to them. It was this incident which impressed itself on my mind that the people of that region had courage as well as determination.

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Purna Swaraj: The Declaration of the Independence of India

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

1929 proposed flag of India, with Gandhian spinning wheel; courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: The Indian National Congress formally approved “The Declaration of the Independence of India” on December 19, 1929, and it is important to understand it in its historical context. (1) Purna swaraj can be translated as “complete, sovereign independence,” that is, Indian independence from Great Britain and the ending of colonial rule. Various models had been proposed for Indian sovereignty prior to 1930, including several versions of power sharing. However, a sequence of events by the British government, violating or curtailing Indian civil rights, resounded as a betrayal to Gandhi. The “Declaration” marks a turning point in Gandhi’s thinking about Britain, and the nature of India’s future relationship with British rule. (2) There has been some disagreement as to its authorship, but Gandhi can be said to have solved the matter in February 1937 when he wrote,“ I was its author. I wanted the people not merely to repeat the mantra of independence but to educate the people as to its why and wherefore.” (3) Purna Swaraj was to be read throughout the country on January 26, 1930, and that date is still celebrated as India Independence Day. Please also see our explanatory notes at the end. JG

Purna Swaraj

We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj, or complete independence.

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Mobilizing for a Culture of Nonviolence: A National Call from Campaign Nonviolence

by Pace e Bene

Banner illustration courtesy paceebene.org

Editor’s Preface: Pace e Bene is the organizer of Campaign Nonviolence (CNV). We post here their call to mobilize as another in our series of statements of purpose by nonviolent organizations. CNV aims to build a broad coalition united in its efforts to hold the Trump administration accountable through nonviolent action and protest. Please note that we have also posted a series of articles tracing the history of US nonviolence to its roots in Quaker, pre-Revolution Pennsylvania. CNV can, therefore, be seen in an historical context as a quintessentially American movement. Above all, the Campaign demonstrates how vibrant and hopeful nonviolent resistance is today in a divided America. JG

The Call for a Culture of Nonviolence

In the face of the Trump Administration’s priorities—demonizing immigrants, dismantling social programs, destroying environmental safeguards, diminishing civil rights, and dramatically increasing the prospect of war—we call on you, and your loved ones, and your friends—and all people everywhere—to be part of an unprecedented movement-of-movements for a culture of nonviolence free from war, poverty, racism and environmental catastrophe.

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Campaign Nonviolence’s Call to Mobilize the Nation

by John Dear

Banner illustration courtesy paceebene.org

While the media and the nation sit transfixed over the Trump scandals and attacks on democracy, those of us who work for justice and peace know that we have to keep working, resisting, and mobilizing people across the country if we are going to have the social, economic and political transformation we need for our survival.

In other words, we’ve only just begun. Instead of giving up, giving in, or throwing in the towel, instead of sitting glued to the tube, we’re going forward. The campaign for a new culture of nonviolence is on!

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Martin Luther King’s Lessons on Negotiation

by Brandon Jacobsen

African American children attacked by police in Birmingham, AL; May 3, 1963; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

The anti-Trump resistance movement has been effective in its nascent stage, utilizing public protests to signal opposition to the president’s plans. In taking to the streets, airports and congressional town hall meetings, the resistance has had a decisive impact on blocking the discriminatory travel ban on individuals from Muslim-majority countries, and on rendering the first iteration of the Republican health care replacement plan dead in the water.

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Correcting Common Misconceptions about Nonviolent Action

by Gene Sharp

Dustwrapper art courtesy aeinstein.org

What nonviolent action is.

Nonviolent action is a technique of sociopolitical action for applying power in a conflict without the use of physical violence. Nonviolent action may involve acts of omission—that is, people may refuse to perform acts that they usually perform, are expected by custom to perform, or are required by law or regulation to perform; acts of commission—that is, people may perform acts that they do not usually perform, are not expected by custom to perform, or are forbidden to perform; or a combination of the two.

As a technique nonviolent action is not passive.
It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent.

As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent. These acts comprise a multitude of specific methods of action or “nonviolent weapons.”

Nearly two hundred have been identified to date, and without doubt, scores more already exist or will emerge in future conflicts. Three broad classes of nonviolent methods exist: nonviolent protest and persuasion, non-cooperation, and nonviolent intervention.

Nonviolent action provides a way to wield power in order to achieve objectives and to sanction opponents without the use of physical violence.

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Why the Moral Argument for Nonviolence Matters

by Kazu Haga

South African student presenting flowers to police; courtesy gettyimages.com

“Bernard? Oh yeah, he’s great. He was always the principles guy.” That was what an old Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organizer told me when I mentioned that I had been trained by Bernard Lafayette, co-author of the Kingian Nonviolence curriculum and a legend of the civil rights era. “I was always a strategies guy,” this elder went on to tell me. “I believed in nonviolence as an effective strategy, but Bernard was always talking about nonviolence as a principle.”

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Book Review: The Root of War Is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers

by David M. Craig

Dustwrapper art courtesy Orbis Books; orbisbooks.com

Jim Forest has written a deeply personal book, The Root of War Is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016). It is personal in two ways. First, the book is a memoir of Forest’s encounters with Merton during the 1960s. A co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and former managing editor of The Catholic Worker, Forest stumbled upon Merton’s spiritual autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain in late 1959 when he was still in the United States Navy. Up until Merton’s untimely death in 1968, Forest corresponded with Merton and visited him at his Trappist monastery in Kentucky. The book’s chapters proceed chronologically, weaving substantial excerpts from Merton’s writings on peace and war into an assessment of his intellectual, moral, and spiritual significance for the Catholic Church, peace activists, and Forest himself.

Second, the book locates the beating heart of Merton’s transformative influence in a Christian personalism. This theology affirms that every person is God’s child, while revealing each person as woefully self-justifying yet still redeemed in Jesus Christ. Merton’s theology manifests in vivid flashes of writing, not abstract doctrinal statements like this one. For example, Merton decided to intervene more publicly in contemporary debates following his 1958 epiphany on a Louisville street corner. Merton recounts how the “illusory difference” of human separateness vanished in a rush of unbounded joy that “God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race.” He continues, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun… There are no strangers… If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem is that we would fall down and worship each other.” (17-18, ellipses and brackets are Forest’s.)

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Christians and Buddhists: Walking Together on the Path of Nonviolence

by Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue

Nonviolence logo courtesy clipartkid.com

Editor’s Preface: On the occasion of the Buddhist feast of Vesakh, the Vatican issued the message that follows. Vesakh commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death, and is often referred to as “Buddha’s Birthday.” This is one in a series of recent statements the Vatican, and Pope Francis, have made on nonviolence. Please see Pope Francis’s statement, also posted here, and please see the note at the end for the names of the signatories, links, and acknowledgments.  JG

Message for the Feast of Vesakh, 2017

Dear Buddhist Friends,

(1) In the name of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, we extend our warmest greetings and prayerful good wishes on the occasion of Vesakh. May this feast bring joy and peace to all of you, to your families, communities and nations.

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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