This chapter has been published in the book Nonviolent Action Handbook. For ordering information, please click here.
We can act creatively in many different ways in working toward our goals of peace and justice. Getting arrested is usually a last resort after all other efforts have failed to bring about a needed change. Most of the methods involve communication and education. In most everyday situations we usually correct problems ourselves, or we tell someone who is able to do what needs to be done. If they agree, the problem can be easily solved. If there is not agreement, one avenue is to appeal to a higher authority, usually that person's supervisor or in the judicial system a higher court. Only when there is a consistent pattern running through the whole system of corruption or intransigence to fair human values is it necessary to mount a nonviolence campaign.
The first stage of a nonviolent campaign is learning about the problem that needs correcting by studying its history, politics, economics, sociology, and psychology. This means answering such questions as:
Who has been doing what to whom?
Who is in control and wielding the power or making the decisions?
How are financial incentives and economic relations affecting this?
What social relationships and cultural traditions are involved?
Why are people acting as they are?
What is motivating them?
And how can they be given alternative options that are best for all?
The investigation can be done by observing, talking to people, and by direct experience in the situation. Research can be through studying books and periodicals, seeing and hearing news reports, and by searching the world wide web. This first stage is sometimes known as "doing your homework" so that you are informed of the circumstances and will not make a fool out of yourself. Of course not every person participating in a nonviolent campaign has to do all the research. Information can be shared, and often those who enter a campaign in the later and more urgent stages find that they are joining a group effort that has its own history of investigation and research. However, these efforts always need to be updated as circumstances change.
The second stage is approaching the adversary in order to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution. Sometimes this process can be assisted by a neutral mediator, and in some cases both sides may agree to accept the decision of an arbitrator. Good communication skills and open friendliness are especially helpful in achieving a negotiated settlement. A good listener will be able to see the other person's point of view as if it is one's own, and a good speaker will help the listener see one's own view also. This is one of the most important stages in peacemaking. One of the main problems about George W. Bush is that he has a tendency to go by his gut instincts, and he often refuses to consider negotiating at all. If the problem can not be worked out directly and you still believe that you are right and that your adversary is being unfair, then one has the right to appeal to others and the general public by means of communication and education.
Consciousness can be raised on an issue by making speeches to people, holding discussions, writing letters, going to the media for interviews on radio or television, publishing information on a website, printing leaflets, flyers, pamphlets, and books, etc. The creative arts can also be very effective in getting one's message across by creating pictorial art, composing songs, doing street theater or public plays, making educational films or videos, and so on. Leaflets can be handed out to the adversaries and involved persons as well as to the general public. Education can be promoted by organizing teach-ins in classes, churches, civic clubs or for any group of people or wherever people are gathered. If these efforts are not successful, they can be enhanced by greater persistence using more overt tactics such as picketing. Such efforts are a transition to the next stage of holding demonstrations, rallies, marches, and vigils.
These involve more people and more of their time being involved but demonstrate the deep concern that they feel. A person holding a sign for an hour or more is saying much more than what is written on the sign. They are essentially pleading with people to take this message seriously. Obviously the more people that are involved in these activities the greater the effect will be. This is where a successful nonviolence campaign uses real people power. If hundreds or thousands of people care enough about an issue to come out in their spare time to march or demonstrate, that sends a strong message to those in control of the issue that they want to see a change.
Everyone has the right to express their views on moral and political issues, and thanks to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, people in this country are supposed to be able to do it without being treated as criminals. To change the immoral policies of our government it is essential that as many people as possible express their concern and disapproval as actively as they can.
All people are encouraged to gather in groups and indicate their moral outrage at the genocidal and suicidal policies of a nuclear weapons super-power developing first-strike weapons and ballistic missile defense in order to attain world domination by military power. These gatherings and rallies may be as often and in as many places as people wish to hold them. People can hold signs and banners, pray or meditate, sing or chant, and make their presence known to the authorities who are perpetrating these atrocities.
For those who do not wish to risk arrest by law enforcement authorities, there are many ways to express one's views and try to influence the government and other citizens to change these policies. Whenever demonstrations are held at military bases or governmental institutions, individuals can always feel welcome to attend to indicate their concern without much danger of being arrested by mistake. There is always some chance that a few individuals can be swept up along with others even though they had no intention of challenging the legality of these policies. However, in such instances the charges are usually dropped, or those individuals are acquitted after a trial.
If even these demonstrations are not enough, then those in the campaign may deny themselves certain products or services in boycotts and can take off from work or school in a strike. These tactics are designed to use an economic leverage to reach those who may be oblivious to reason and justice. These can be especially effective when dealing with greedy corporations or companies. In the 19th century abolitionists boycotted products made by slave labor such as cotton and sugar. In the 1960s and 1970s the United Farm Workers led by Cesar Chavez asked people to boycott grapes. The international campaign of divestment from South Africa eventually helped bring an end to apartheid. Many people now currently boycott products that are made by "sweat-shop" labor exploitation, and students have been trying to stop their universities from conducting military research or sponsoring military officer training for many years. Many of the most egregious corporations have been targeted by activists. Often these commercial pressures can help these businesses "convert" to more beneficial products or to treating their workers better.
If one has enough money for a lawyer and believes one has a good legal case, one may take the opponent to court. If a moral issue does not have a legal justification, or if one is challenging the immoral policies of a government that is not likely to be reigned in by its own courts, then one may proceed to the next step of noncooperation. Mahatma Gandhi said that not cooperating with evil is as much a duty as cooperating with good. In the case of a government, this may mean not paying taxes just as many in the thirteen colonies refused to pay taxes to England when they believed they were not being democratically represented. Noncooperation adds onto boycotts and strikes by refusing to cooperate with activities that one believes are part of the evil. For example, in the 1950s Dorothy Day and Catholic Workers refused to take shelter as instructed during air raid drills that were designed to prepare people for a nuclear war.
Finally if all else has failed to remove the evil, one may even sacrifice one's freedom by placing oneself in the way of the evil action in some way and then refuse to cooperate when law enforcement officers order one to move. This may be done in various ways by trespassing where one is prohibited or by refusing to leave a public or private place when ordered to do so. This type of disobedience is called civil, because it is done peacefully and openly in a civil manner. Further steps of noncooperation may involve not walking when arrested. In a nonviolence campaign these are considered the last resort, because we do not believe in hurting other people. Those who do not believe in the power of nonviolence, of course, often resort to injuring others or even killing them. For those in the nonviolence movement a gray area is damaging property. Most believe that damaging private property or public property is a violation and should be avoided. However, some in the plowshares movement have argued that destroying a weapon of destruction is not wrong, because it has no "proper" use and thus is not "property."
Even in jail and also while not imprisoned, a person may demonstrate a deep appeal by fasting. A juice fast is relatively safe usually for several weeks; but a fast on water only may endanger one's health and life after a few days, though many have gone as long as forty days or more without experiencing serious harm. Beyond that on water only one can expect to have stomach damage, organs failing, blindness, and finally death. Fasting without even water is even more drastic and can bring serious injury and death within a few days. Thus fasting can be a dangerous form of appeal. During the Vietnam War some Buddhists in Vietnam and some Americans in the United States committed suicide as a protest by pouring gasoline on themselves and striking a match. Most people in the peace movement value life very much and are horrified by such sacrifices; yet each individual must act according to one's own conscience.
Working for peace and justice are positive activities, and
it is important not to get too caught up in the negative aspect
of protesting against the violations of these ideals. For our
personal health and the welfare of our community we need to spend
most of our time on the constructive activities that make life
work well. This will also help observers who otherwise might perceive
nonviolent activists as too negative, always being against things
but never building anything positive. Many have found that by
living and working in communities with people of similar values
these goals can much more easily be attained. Everyone who can
needs to do something to contribute to the world.
Mahatma Gandhi emphasized the importance of what he called the constructive program. He observed that British mercantilism was exploiting India by taking their raw materials and natural resources to England for manufacturing into clothing and other products, which were then shipped back to India for great profits. So Gandhi began a campaign to encourage Indians to spin their own cloth and encouraged people to wear only "home-spun" (khadi). Gandhi himself spent a certain amount of time spinning every day. Home-spun clothes became the emblem of Indian independence, and the spinning wheel a symbol of the new nation. Many peace activists such as Koinonia in Georgia have formed communal farms to grow food and market it. Those in the resistance community at Jonah House in Baltimore often worked painting houses so that they could be free to protest and go to prison in between jobs. They also distributed donated food to the poor. Many Catholic Worker houses spend most of their time helping the poor in many ways. Others have started schools to teach the ways of peace at all levels. Some have formed cooperative publishing companies or produced a regular newspaper or magazine. As the Buddha taught long ago, right livelihood is an important fundamental.
These stages of a nonviolent campaign should not be taken to mean that the latter stages are more important or a stronger protest. They may or may not be. Each individual needs to search within oneself to see how best one can contribute to making this world a better place. This often depends on what kind of abilities a person has and what they feel right about doing. A skilled investigator or researcher can contribute immensely to improving society and may never demonstrate or get arrested. An artist or playwright or musician may create in ways that lift others to new heights of awareness. Teachers have obvious gifts in this field. A good business person may find successful ways to communicate and educate or may contribute money to support the efforts of others. A skilled lawyer is usually a tremendous asset to a nonviolence campaign in many ways. Doctors and nurses are needed to care for people who may be injured by police brutality or who may even be too poor to afford medical treatment because of their dedication to social reforms.
This chapter has been published in the book Nonviolent Action Handbook. For ordering information, please click here.
Liberation from Seven Deadly -Isms