Occupy Movement

A Pastor for All the People: The Street Spirit Interview with Rev. Phil Lawson

by Terry Messman

Rev. Phillip Lawson, c. 2012; photographer unknown

Love and compassion are what sustain me. Love and you can learn how to live. I told the Council of Elders this. When you are down and depressed, or hurting or grieving, the most powerful thing you can do to sustain yourself is to go do something for someone else who is hurting.” Rev. Phil Lawson.

Street Spirit: Rev. Lawson, you told me that when you were growing up, you realized that horrific violence was directed against the black community — Jim Crow laws, segregation, lynching. In the face of that violence, why did you make a commitment to nonviolence at age 15 that has lasted for the past 65 years?

 Nonviolence is a way of life that leads to community.

Rev. Phil Lawson: I’m firm in my understanding and beliefs, Terry, that nonviolence is a way of life.  Rather than a tactic or a strategy to overcome problems, nonviolence is a way of life that leads to community. You cannot build community on violence, whether it’s psychological violence, economic violence, cultural or environmental violence. Regardless of the adjective you put before the word “violence,” violence will not produce community. And the goal of my life, and I think for most human beings, is community. The opposite of slavery is not freedom, but community. The opposite of abuse and oppression is not just to be free of that, but to live in a community where that abuse is infrequent, where that is not supported, where that is not structural. We live in a nation in which violence is structural; it is not personal. Racism is structural.

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Nonviolent Social Movements: The Street Spirit Interview with Stephen Zunes

by Terry Messman

Polish mural commemorating 30 years of the Solidarity Movement; Father Jerzy Popieluszko foreground; artist unknown.

In Bolivia in 1979, when there was a coup by a general named Natusch Busch, the whole country went on strike and 600,000 people massed in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, which was bigger than the total population of the city at the time. Trade union leaders and others walked into the president’s house, walked into his office, and they asked him, “What’s your program?” He looked at them, and then he looked at the 600,000 people out in the streets, and he said, ‘Yours!’” Stephen Zunes

Street Spirit: In your book, Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective, you and your co-authors described how nonviolent movements all over the world have undermined powerful systems of oppression through the mass withdrawal of cooperation. How can such a seemingly passive act as non-cooperation overcome a military dictatorship?

Stephen Zunes: Well, basically, for the state to operate, it needs people to carry out its orders — ranging from the security forces, to government bureaucrats, to sympathetic people in the media, to academics, and to many other people that may, in normal times, do the duty of the state, but can be convinced to be on the side of the people.

This is striking. I was in Bolivia a few years ago where they have had a long history of nonviolent resistance against right-wing dictatorships and neo-liberalism and all sorts of injustices. And it was amazing when I talked to everyone from illiterate peasants, to intellectuals, to people in the government, to urban workers — they’ll all tell you that the most powerful person in Bolivia is not the president or any elected officials, but the head of the trade union federation. Why? Because the unions can shut down the entire country.

So if there’s a general strike or other forms of mass resistance, it doesn’t matter if the government occupies various government offices, and has a monopoly of weapons, or, in some cases, a monopoly of media. If people refuse to obey their orders, then they don’t have any power.

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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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Building the Positive Peace Warrior Network: The Street Spirit Interview with Kazu Haga

by Terry Messman

Kazu Haga is dedicated to spreading Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community to the next generation. Rev. King believed that his philosophy of nonviolent resistance could be effective not just in the struggle against segregation, but also in the struggle against militarism, and in the struggle against economic injustice.

Street Spirit: What led you to make Martin Luther King’s vision of nonviolent movement building such a central part of your activism and your life?

Kazu Haga: I took my first two-day training in Kingian Nonviolence in the fall of 2008 from Jonathan Lewis when I was living in Oakland. We were both working with an organization called The Gathering for Justice founded by Harry Belafonte. Kingian Nonviolence was to be one of the core strategies for that group.

Portrait of Kazu Haga; photographer unknown

So I took the workshop from Jonathan and I told him at the time that this philosophy was something that I always knew but just didn’t have the language to articulate. Jonathan Lewis had already been working with Bernard Lafayette for about 10 years at that point.

So after I took that training, it was weighing heavily on my mind, and then about two months later, Oscar Grant was shot. [Editor’s note: Grant, an African-American man, was fatally shot by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer Johannes Mehserle in the early morning on New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale BART Station. TM]

I ended up on the steering committee of the Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), which was doing all the mobilizations after the shooting. So this philosophy of nonviolence was really heavy on my mind during that whole campaign and I really started to see how the anger and, at times, the hatred that was within the movement was starting to impact our work. The internal dynamics of our movement were starting to have an effect on the external impacts of the campaign.

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Bringing Dr. King’s Message to a New Generation

by Terry Messman

This is how a legacy is passed on to a new generation: Martin Luther King gave his life spreading the message of nonviolence. After he was assassinated, Bernard Lafayette picked up the fallen torch, and passed it on to Kazu Haga and Jonathan Lewis. Now they are sharing this vision with the next generation.

Kazu Haga (left) holds a nonviolence workshop; East Bay Meditation Center; Courtney Supple and Rebecca Speert listen.

Over the past year, the Positive Peace Warrior Network has conducted workshops in the strategy, philosophy, and ethical values of “Kingian Nonviolence” for more than one thousand people, including high school students, grandparents, prisoners in local jails, young people of color living in dangerous neighborhoods, Occupy activists, and organizers involved in many social change movements.

The Positive Peace Warrior Network (PPWN) defines “Positive Peace” as peace with justice for all because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught that, “peace is not only the absence of violence, but the presence of justice.”

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Occupy Our Homes Atlanta

by Terry Messman

Occupy Our Homes Atlanta is a great sign of hope for all people caught up in the shattering experience of eviction. Their actions give us hope that we can overcome, no matter how powerful and well entrenched the banks may be, no matter how many lawyers and lobbyists they employ.

After Rev. King was assassinated in 1968 while organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, he was buried in Atlanta. His widow, Coretta Scott King, established the King Center in Atlanta to preserve and pass on his legacy of nonviolent resistance to the interrelated evils of poverty, racial discrimination and militarism.


Prisoner #7089, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., mug shot taken by police after his arrest during Montgomery bus boycott.

Rev. King was assassinated while trying to mobilize poor people in a massive campaign of nonviolent resistance to secure affordable housing for all, full employment and adequate income for those unable to work; the Economic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged. When King was buried in Atlanta, his work was memorialized in the city of his birth, but the hopes for a Poor People’s Campaign seemingly were buried with him.

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The Occupy Movement Stands at the Crossroads: Street Spirit Interview with George Lakey

by Terry Messman


“A nonviolent movement”;
Poster art by Vaughn Warren

If we do stuff that justifies — in the eyes of the uncommitted — the repression of the state, we will certainly lose. And the uncommitted are most of the 99 percent. We need a lot more of those people. But the only way to win them over is through strict adherence to nonviolent struggle.” — George Lakey

The diametrically opposed strategies of nonviolent resistance versus violent rebellion have seemingly always divided those building social-change movements. The age-old clash between these irreconcilable approaches has erupted anew into a matter of paramount concern for almost everyone involved in the Occupy movement.

Occupy Wall Street has flowered into a nationwide movement that has done more to focus the eyes of the nation on the cruelties of poverty and economic inequality, than any movement since the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. Showing inspiring courage, vision and creativity, tens of thousands have joined Occupy’s daring attacks on the greed and corruption of Wall Street firms, big banks, and corporate capitalism.

Along with rebelling against the unjust domination of the wealthiest 1 percent, Occupy also has demonstrated a heartening level of solidarity and support for people struggling with poverty, homelessness, foreclosures and unemployment. Yet, this young movement already finds itself at a crossroads. While many Occupy activists are deeply dedicated to the principles of nonviolent resistance, a large number have supported the “diversity of tactics” approach, and justified property destruction and physical attacks on the police and media reporters. Everything is at stake for the Occupy movement: its future direction, its chances of success, its identity, and its very soul.

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Discovering the Unexpected Power of Nonviolence: The Street Spirit Interview with Erica Chenoweth

by Terry Messman

We found that during the period of 1900 to 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns are about twice as effective as violent ones in achieving their goals. We also found that these trends hold even where most people expect nonviolent resistance to be ineffective—for instance, against dictatorships and highly repressive regimes.” Erica Chenoweth

In a groundbreaking effort to systematically study and compare success rates of violent and nonviolent social-change movements, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan carefully researched 323 social-change campaigns from 1900 to 2006. Chenoweth and Stephan’s astonishing finding is that campaigns of nonviolent resistance are nearly twice as likely to succeed as violent uprisings.


“Silent No More”. Poster art by Nora Tryon

In their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, the authors found that far greater numbers of people from more diverse parts of society joined nonviolent campaigns than violent ones. This greater level of participation translates into more people who can demonstrate for change, and withdraw their cooperation from an unjust regime.

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Nonviolent Direct Action: The Best Map for the Movement

An Open Letter to the Occupy Movement from Starhawk and the Alliance of Community Trainers.

Nonviolent direct action clearly dramatizes the difference between the corrupt values of the system and the values we stand for. Their institutions silence dissent, while we value every voice. They employ violence to maintain their system, while we counter it with the sheer courage of our presence.


Grace BRAITHWAITE. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
 Learning at the Feet of the Master; oil on canvas;
courtesy Syracuse Cultural Workers Peace Calendar 2012.

The Occupy movement has had enormous success in the short time since September when activists took over a square near Wall Street. It has attracted hundreds of thousands of active participants, spawned occupations in cities all over North America, changed the national dialogue and garnered enormous public support. It has even, on occasion, gotten good press!

Now we are wrestling with the question that arises again and again in movements for social justice: how to struggle. Do we embrace nonviolence, or a diversity of tactics? If we are a nonviolent movement, how do we define nonviolence? Is breaking a window violent?

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The Cancer in Occupy

by Chris Hedges

The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement. The presence of Black Bloc anarchists—so named because they dress in black, obscure their faces, move as a unified mass, seek physical confrontations with police and destroy property—is a gift from heaven to the security and surveillance state. The Occupy encampments in various cities were shut down precisely because they were nonviolent. They were shut down because the state realized the potential of their broad appeal even to those within the systems of power. They were shut down because they articulated a truth about our economic and political system that cut across political and cultural lines. And they were shut down because they were places mothers and fathers with strollers felt safe.

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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