April 18, 2012

Of nonviolence, the 99% Spring, and such

Rev. Jim Lewis invokes the spirit at a Tax Day action in Charleston yesterday. (Note: he's the guy in front, not the big orange cat strangling a worker.)

All over the country, people gathered yesterday in nonviolent actions to call for tax fairness. This is part of a massive effort by many groups under the umbrella of 99% Spring, which has the goal of training 100,000 people in nonviolent action in April and mobilizing people to take it to the streets.

I attended one of the training events and found it to be a pretty good introduction to nonviolent action for people new to it. You can check out a lot of the materials and video at the website above. I do think, however, that the trainings would be stronger if they included a few other elements.

Specifically, these include

1. a good brainstorm about why to be strategically nonviolent to start with. Trainers should be sure that the following points get made:

*that generally speaking the wealthy elite have direct or indirect control over the state with all its machinery of repression, as in police, military, jails, courts, etc. and that it's pretty stupid to try to meet force with force when you don't have any;

*that generally speaking violence is a turnoff for most people; and

*that acting violently (or stupidly in general) gives the powers that be an excuse to dismiss, discredit and repress the group.

2. A basic understanding of politics in general. By this I mean that it's good to get across the idea that on any given issue a minority of people feel strongly about an issue one way or another while a much larger groups has no opinion at all or is somewhere in the middle. A good action or campaign is one that brings people your way and isolates your opponents. This is true of ordinary politics and policy work. of the arts of persuasion, and of direct action in general. There is nothing magic about nonviolent action: if it doesn't make sense politically it's better to do nothing. I have seem plenty of useless, stupid and counterproductive actions.

3. A basic understanding of power.  A central tenet of nonviolent theory (and politics generally) is that power isn't monolithic. It depends on the support and cooperation of all kinds of people and institutions. Even the most powerful dictator or ruling class depends on many other people to keep things running. These are often called "pillars of support." A good nonviolent campaign is one that withdraws the pillars of support (see #2).

Conversely, you can do all the nonviolent protest you want but if it is done without political sense and strategy it may just convince the pillars of support that you want to remove that your group is just a bunch of whack jobs.

It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to get these ideas across in any kind of training and I think it would strengthen the overall effort.


arnie said...

Thanks, El Cabrero, for your observations. I led a training session and brought up most of the points you suggested. But I'd say that when nonviolent action is well planned and carried out that there are unpredictable outcomes that serve the cause. I'm happy to call that "magic."

arnie said...