The death of unarmed Freddie Gray in police custody and the subsequent riots in Baltimore demonstrate the profound systemic injustice in our country, as well as the complete misunderstanding and widespread hypocrisy about nonviolence.
Everyone has to practice nonviolence. Everyone. From the people on the streets to the police, to church ministers and parents, but also our media spokespeople and elected officials. Including the president. And the military. Everyone, everywhere. The days of war, killing, shootings, bombings, torture, executions and nuclear weapons are coming to an end. The days of violence are over. Everyone has to practice nonviolence. That is our only future–if we are to have a future.
The police brutality and shootings around the nation have to stop. Of course. But that means, we have to undo the deeper injustice of systemic racism, widespread poverty, mass incarceration, inadequate schools, and unofficial segregation that still mark this nation’s ordinary reality. Overcoming systemic issues of race and poverty require hard work, political will, enlightened understanding of our common humanity, and real concern for neighbors and other Americans. But more, it requires the sincere, even spiritual acceptance of loving nonviolence as our only hope. And the building of a new grassroots bottom up movement of Kingian nonviolence.
I’ve been teaching and speaking about nonviolence full time for thirty five years, traveled through warzones, been imprisoned for civil disobedience and written thirty books on the subject, yet I still find it appalling to hear national news anchors, such as CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, show outrage to Baltimore protesters. “Aren’t you nonviolent?” Wolf Blitzer asked. He and all the other national news anchors need to ask that of our elected officials and military leaders–but they never do. People on the streets are expected to follow a code of nonviolence (and I believe they should)—but government and military officials never have to. They can kill two million people in Iraq and hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan, yet they remain exempt from decent human nonviolence. No one is above the fray. No one is exempt from the code of nonviolence. It applies to every human being equally.
President Obama, our Nobel peace prize president who approves his weekly assassination list, runs several wars and oversees the upgrading of our nuclear arsenal, needs to be pummelled with questions about nonviolence. He was allowed to chastise Baltimore rioters, saying that violence gets nowhere and should never be used, yet he runs the most violent military in the world and in the history of the world.
This is sheer hypocrisy. His violence, like that of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condeleeza Rice, needs to be questioned every single day. His leadership of unparalleled national violence is taking the world deeper down the spiral of violence into global destruction, and yet he is allowed to get away with murder. He needs to be challenged every single day, along with everyone and anyone who espouses and practices violence, including our police officials, local officials, military officers, and national leaders. And all those running for president.
Every one of us has to start practicing nonviolence, from the people on the streets of Baltimore, Ferguson, and Los Angeles, to the people who walk the halls of the White House, Congress and Pentagon. We need new political leaders who espouse Dr. King’s vision of nonviolence.
No one should get away with murder, including the murder of children in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Every police district in the United States needs to undergo nonviolence training and community skills building training. That’s a given. But our leaders should be constantly working to dismantle racism and segregation, improve jobs, healthcare, education and housing in our low income neighborhoods and cities. And that requires drastically cutting our military budget and abolishing all our nuclear weapons so that we can redirect those billions upon hundreds of billions of dollars to fund true justice, and ultimately, the education of every child in America in the Kingian methodology of nonviolent conflict resolution. This is the way forward, not endless, unchallenged war and corporate greed.
If President Obama does not believe in violence, as he claims, he should end our wars today, bring the troops home now, abolish our nuclear weapons now, close Los Alamos national laboratories, end torture and executions, and fund nonviolent conflict resolution education at home and institutionalize nonviolent conflict resolution abroad, even moving toward nonviolent civilian based defense systems. This is the noble vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. that we should all pursue.
Dr. King has been proven right, because our massive military arsenal and recent wars have not made us any safer (much less addressed the deep seated causes of inner city riots). In fact, they have bankrupted us and insured further September 11th type terrorist attacks against us in the future.
“The choice is no longer violence or nonviolence. It’s nonviolence—or non-existence.” That’s what Dr. King said the night before our government killed him. His words still ring true today, and we had better take him seriously, if we want a future.
In my recent book, The Nonviolent Life, I propose that nonviolence requires three simultaneous attributes: first, practicing nonviolence toward ourselves (so that we really cultivate inner peace and become peaceful people); second, practicing meticulous interpersonal nonviolence toward everyone we know, every human being on the planet, and every creature and all of creation (so that we really model the nonviolence we seek); and third, joining the global grassroots movement of nonviolence that is moving and growing across the world.
The great lesson of history is that violence has failed, catastrophically. As Gandhi explained, an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’” Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. “But I say to you, offer no violent resistance to one who does evil.” Jesus inspired Gandhi to use active nonviolence on a national level toward revolutionary change. They can inspire us, too.
The only way forward, the only hope for humanity, the only practical political solution left for the world is our global conversion to creative nonviolence and nonviolent conflict resolution.
The long ignored hope right now is that billions of ordinary people all over the world are working for justice and peace through ordinary, people power movements. That’s the only way positive social change has every happened through history (including ending slavery, getting women the right to vote, labor, civil and voting rights, ending various wars and protecting the environment)–through bottom up, grassroots based, people power, nonviolent movements. And that’s still the way forward.
Every one of us to be part of the bottom up, grassroots movement building of nonviolence—if we want any serious social transformation for justice and peace.
There are so many wars, atrocities, bombings, police killings, corruptions and disasters that it is hard to keep up, and we will not go forward toward new justice and a new culture of nonviolence if we just keep responding to periodic episodes of injustice. We need to be pro-active, to connect the dots, to address the whole darn system of killing, injustice, poverty, war and environmental destruction.
We need to take to the streets and demand an end to war, poverty, racism, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction and systemic violence and at the same time demand a new culture of peace and nonviolence. And we need to do it now, altogether, at the same time, and regularly, from now on, in an organized, systematic, peaceful way. Full time peace and justice activism has to become the daily norm for millions of us.
I’d like to see more organized, systematic, national marches against ALL the issues of violence, and for a new culture of nonviolence.
To that end, my friends and I are organizing “Campaign Nonviolence.” Last year, during the week of September 21st, International Peace Day, we organized over 250 actions across the whole United States against all the issues of violence, including war, poverty, racism, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction, and for the coming of Dr. King’s dream of a new culture of nonviolence. Of course the national media ignored us. Wolf Blitzer and the national news anchors would never dare to interview someone like me, but we keep on organizing and marching anyway.
This year, we hope for even more demonstrations, beginning the week of September 20th. We’re also organizing a national conference on nonviolence, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with keynote speaker Rev. James Lawson, Dr. King’s close friend whom he called the greatest theoretician of nonviolence in the world. (Visit the website, sign up, organize an event and join the movement!) Just before and after the conference, on August 6th and 9th, we’ll march through Los Alamos to commemorate the 70th anniversaries of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
We need take to the streets and say “Enough is enough.” As we practice nonviolence in our personal lives and toward the whole human race and creation, we need to build a new and permanent grassroots movement of nonviolence that energizes everyone, fills the streets, addresses every issue and angle of violence, and pursues nonviolence with the same vigor as Gandhi and King.
Many people are organizing public action across the U.S. and the world—but we need to get together, connect our issues, work together, and march together to make a public stink, to propose a new vision, to demand a new way forward. We have more power than we realize, and we need to harness it to make a real difference, to make the unimaginable imaginable, then probable, then actual.
Sure, we’ll be discouraged. Of course, there will be set-backs. Yes, the ruling authorities will ignore us, then infiltrate us, perpetrate violence, undermine us, stop us and knock us down. That’s what happened to Gandhi and King, and if we dare build a movement of nonviolence, it will happen to us, too. But we can go forward anyway, practicing nonviolence, teaching nonviolence, announcing the coming of a new culture of nonviolence, and mobilizing people through engaged nonviolence. Every step forward is progress for us all. To my mind, this is the spiritual life–dare I say it?–the will of God for us.
In particular, every Christian, church person, priest, bishop or minister has to renounce war, nuclear weapons and violence, embrace the nonviolence of Jesus and become a teacher and organizer of active nonviolence. Otherwise, what’s the point? Then we’re no different from the Catholic bishops who blessed Hitler’s violence, or the white South African bishops who blessed apartheid, or the Latin American bishops who blessed dictatorships, torture and mass killings. And sitting back in silence is no better; it’s just blatant complicity with the culture of violence. The churches need to take to the streets, or close up for good. We need to follow the nonviolent Jesus and adhere to his Sermon on the Mount just as Gandhi and King did.
“There’s nothing better than the tramp, tramp of marching feet in the streets,” Dr. King said shortly before his death. My hope is that we might take up where Martin Luther King, Jr. left off and become people of active, creative, loving, courageous nonviolence who work tirelessly for a new nonviolent world, even knowing we ourselves may not live to see it come true.
After Baltimore, Ferguson, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the evidence is in. Violence has failed. The days of violence and war are over. Dr. King and Gandhi were right; nonviolence is our only option.
Every one of us has to start practicing nonviolence. If we all take up where Gandhi and King left off, we can build a new grassroots movement of nonviolence that will lead to a new culture of peace.
Rev. John Dear is an author, activist and lecturer who teaches nonviolence in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day. He is the author of many books, including: Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action; Jesus the Rebel: Bearer of God’s Peace and Justice; Transfiguration: A Meditation on Transforming Ourselves and Our World, and his autobiography, A Persistent Peace: One Man’s Struggle for a Nonviolent World. He writes a weekly online column for the National Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org. For further information, see: www.johndear.org
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