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.”

Read the rest of this article »

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.

Read the rest of this article »

Danilo Dolci: Nonviolence in Sicily

by Joseph Geraci

In March, 1969, Danilo Dolci was in New York for the publication of his book, The Man Who Plays Alone. Dorothy Day and I had the good fortune of meeting him for an hour and a half, in a quiet corner of the lobby of the famous Algonquin Hotel, along with ten or so others that included Dolci’s biographer, Jerre Mangione, his editor, the journalist and co-founder of Pax, Eileen Egan and various press people.

Danilo Dolci; c. 1970; public domain image; photographer unknown.

Dolci was actually born in Sezana, Yugoslavia, under Italian administration at the time of his birth. So, if you were to imagine a small Sicilian type, you would be surprised. He is over six feet tall and solidly built; his eyes dark blue, behind gold-rimmed glasses. He was wearing an inexpensive knit suit and tie, and spoke without gestures. His answers to our questions were short and precise, often only a yes or no; he always looked directly at the questioner, sometimes returned a question with a question, and sometimes made a joke. Dolci has also published a volume of poetry; he uses words carefully and precisely.

Read the rest of this article »

Danilo Dolci: The Gandhi of Sicily

by Joseph Geraci

A Passion for Sicilians: The World Around Danilo Dolci by Jerre Mangione. New York: William Morrow, 1968.

Danilo Dolci has been dubbed the “Gandhi of Sicily.” Since the mid 1950s he has attracted attention as one of the world’s leading social reformers and nonviolent activists. His methods and thought should have attracted considerable attention in America, where the need for both grassroots planning (pianificazione) and local redevelopment is apparent, although he remains relatively unknown.

Danilo Dolci, c. 1955; photographer unknown; courtesy of

Who is Dolci? This is the question Mangione’s comprehensive book sets out to answer. Thanks to a Fulbright grant, Mangione was able to spend several months of 1965 in Partinico, living near Dolci, and his Center of Studies. Part journal, part travel diary, part biography, it holds surprises. For example, Dolci is not Sicilian, and is barely Italian. “His Italian father had German and Italian parents; his Slav mother had parents who were German and Slav. This makes him half German, one quarter Slav and one quarter Italian.” Indeed, the town of Sezana, where he was born on June 29, 1924, is part of Yugoslavia; at the time “administered” by Italy. He began his intellectual life reading not the literature of rebellion and revolution but the classics, including the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius and the Tao te Ching. He never read Thoreau and read Gandhi only after a French journalist referred to him as the “Gandhi of Sicily.” His first published book was a book of poetry. He studied architecture for four years in Milan but did not take a degree, stopping short a few weeks before graduation.

Read the rest of this article »

Danilo Dolci & Cesar Chavez: Nonviolent Land Reform

by Joseph Geraci

Original poster; artist unknown; courtesy of

An extraordinary meeting took place October 7 [1969] in New York City, between Danilo Dolci and Cesar Chavez. That two of the most prominent leaders of the nonviolent land reform and resistance movement should meet might afford a glimpse of not only where the movement was, but in what direction it might conceivably go.

The meeting was attended by only a handful of people: Mrs. Coley, who was handling the arrangements for Dolci’s visit; Mark Silverman, head of the grape boycott in New York State; Anne Israel, a supporter of the boycott in whose apartment Chavez was staying; Dorothy Day; the photographer Bob Fitch, and myself.  It was to begin at 6:30 P. M., but as Dolci was coming to the meeting directly from the airport, there was the inevitable delay. Chavez had arrived earlier with several co-workers, New York being the latest stop on their national tour. He walks with a slight limp, the result of a bone disease contracted after a fast. As we waited for Dolci, he told us that the recent grape boycott rally in Washington had been very successful. Spirits were high and there was a real determination to work hard and continue. In talking to some of the other boycotters there that evening one had the same impression. Mr. Ortiz, an organizer from Sacramento who will be helping Mark Silverman in New York, said that progress was slow but that everyone was very hopeful.

Read the rest of this article »

Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day

by Jim Forest

Thomas Merton; photograph by John Howard Griffin.

This is the text of the annual Oakham lecture, given in April 2012 at the meeting of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Oakham School, England.

What initially put Merton on the world map was the publication in 1948 of his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. It was an account of growing up on both sides of the Atlantic (part of his adolescence was spent here at Oakham), what drew him to become a Catholic as a young adult, and finally what led him, in 1941, to become a Trappist monk at a monastery in rural Kentucky, Our Lady of Gethsemani. He was only 33 years old when the book appeared. To his publisher’s amazement, it became an instant bestseller. For many people, it was truly a life-changing book. I have lost count of how many copies of the book have been printed in English and other languages in the past 64 years, but we’re talking about millions.

Merton was and remains a controversial figure. Though he was a member of a monastic order well known for silence and for its distance from worldly affairs, Merton was outspoken on various topics that many regard as very worldly affairs. Merton disagreed. He was a critic of a Christianity in which religious identity is submerged in national or racial identity and life tidily divided between religious and ordinary existence.

Read the rest of this article »

Remembering Dorothy Day

by Jim Forest

Dorothy Day in her room at the CW Farm. Tivoli, New York; c. 1970; photo by Bob Fitch

I first met Dorothy Day a few days before Christmas in 1960 while on leave from the U.S. Navy. After reading copies of The Catholic Worker that I had found in my parish library, and then reading Dorothy’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, I decided to visit the community she had founded. I was based not so far away, in Washington, DC.

Arriving in Manhattan for that first visit, I made my way to Saint Joseph’s House — then in a loft on Spring Street, on the north edge of Little Italy in the Lower East Side of New York City. Discovering that it was moving day, I joined in helping carry boxes from an upstairs loft to a three-storey brick building at 175 Chrystie Street, a few blocks to the east. Jack Baker, one of the other people assisting with the move that day, invited me to stay in his apartment in the same neighborhood. A few days later I visited the community’s rural outpost on Staten Island, the Peter Maurin Farm. Crossing Upper New York Harbor by ferry, I made my way to an old farmhouse on a rural road just north of Pleasant Plains near the island’s southern tip. In its large, faded dining room, I found half-a-dozen people, Dorothy among them, gathered around a pot of tea at one end of the dining room table.

Read the rest of this article »

Recollections of Thich Nhat Hanh: Being Peace

by Jim Forest & Nancy Forest


Original gelatin silver print photo by Jim Forest c. 1970.

I traveled and also at times lived with Thich Nhat Hanh in the late sixties through the seventies. Here are extracts from various letters in which Nancy and I relate a few stories about him. In these passages Nhat Hanh is sometimes called “Thay”, the Vietnamese word for teacher.

I sometimes think of an evening with Vietnamese friends in a cramped apartment in the outskirts of Paris in the early 1970s. At the heart of the community was the poet and Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh. An interesting discussion was going on in the living room, but I had been given the task that evening of doing the washing up. The pots, pans and dishes seemed to reach half way to the ceiling on the counter of the sink in that closet-sized kitchen. I felt really annoyed. I was stuck with an infinity of dirty dishes while a great conversation was happening just out of earshot in the living room.

Somehow Nhat Hanh picked up on my irritation. Suddenly he was standing next to me. “Jim,” he asked, “what is the best way to wash the dishes?” I knew I was suddenly facing one of those very tricky Zen questions. I tried to think what would be a good Zen answer, but all I could come up with was, “You should wash the dishes to get them clean.” “No,” said Nhat Hanh. “You should wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” I’ve been mulling over that answer ever since — more than three decades of mulling.

Read the rest of this article »

Communication Ecology of Arne Naess (1912-2009)

by Alan Drengson

 Tore Juell. “Portrait of Arne Naess;”
courtesy of the artist.


Self-realization is not a maximal realization of the coercive powers of the ego. The self, in the kinds of philosophy I am alluding to, is something expansive, and the environmental crisis may turn out to be of immense value for the further expansion of human consciousness.” Arne Naess (In Drengson and Devall 2008, p. 132)

From his earliest major work, Naess used a deep and comprehensive approach for studying languages and communication. (The work is, Interpretation and Preciseness: A Contribution to the Theory of Communication, 1953. Now SWAN Vol I in The Selected Works of Arne Naess, 2005.) He united disciplines to explore languages as part of diverse communication systems in the natural and human world. These systems are open ended, adaptive, creative and dynamic. They are constantly adjusting to changing conditions in unique communities and places. Communication between and within species involves meaningful variations of qualities (e.g. in sound, light, odor, heat, color, pattern, and texture,) with a wide range of frequencies, intensities and velocities. We now explore the communication ecology of languages with broad analytical and empirical methods, some pioneered by Naess. By studying whole systems, we appreciate the creative, place-based, knowledge skills of cultures woven into the other systems of the natural world. Diversity, complexity and creativity are important for environmental integrity, cultural richness, and personal freedom. Naess noted that when we know the ecological context, it helps us to understand one another without translation, even when from different cultures with unfamiliar languages. Knowing communication ecology helps us to resolve conflicts nonviolently. By having a sense for these whole systems, we are aware of the challenges to precise interpretation; this engenders positive cross-cultural and interspecies communication exchanges.

Naess loved diversity and appreciated the role of dialects in evolving systems of language families. He learned from empirical studies and by knowing many formal and vernacular languages (living and dead), that it is difficult to give precise (universal) definitions.  There are many ways to feel, see, say and write things. He used a descriptive approach to study linguistic communication. He remarked in The SWAN (see the Appendix below for excerpts) that his view contrasted with analytic philosophers in England and elsewhere, who used a prescriptive approach, suggesting there is one right meaning and that a single language reflects reality more precisely than others. Their views were more insular; they did not study dialects and the cross-cultural, natural context of language families (such as Indo-European) that we study in communication ecology. Communication ecology enabled Naess to reach a mature, whole understanding of human life in the evolving, changing Earth. The culture that he grew up in accepted multiple dialects, perhaps because there was no Norse king as authority for proper Norsk. For several centuries the rulers were not Norwegians but foreigners. In the English speaking world there was the authority of the “King’s English.”

Read the rest of this article »

“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