Thirty-five years ago I was introduced to nonviolence in a course entitled “The Theology of Nonviolence,” taught by Jim Sweeters. At the time I was an apathetic, politically clueless college sophomore at Santa Clara University. The course focused on the basics of nonviolent philosophy—Gandhi, King and Thoreau. The philosophy made sense and this class changed my life.
I was raised Catholic and was most influenced by the social justice message of Jesus. But sermons and the gospels didn’t focus on how to achieve the social justice Jesus spoke of. This college class provided the method.
As a social justice organizer after college, I was introduced to the writings of Professor Gene Sharp. His books were a radical break from the moral perspective of nonviolence I learned in college. Professor Sharp looked at civil resistance (or nonviolent struggle, people power, positive action) as a means of wielding power to overcome social oppression, dictatorships, and foreign occupation. He explained the dynamics, outlined 198 different methods and provided numerous historical examples of effective nonviolent resistance.
But his was a lone voice. The study of the extensive history of effective civil resistance would continue to be overlooked by academia for decades to come. Most of these examples were of people who chose to use civil resistance for pragmatic, rather than moral or philosophical reasons. Since most of the people interested in nonviolence focused on the philosophy (nonviolence good, violence bad) and governments and institutions were limited by their belief that “power comes from the barrel of a gun,” very few seriously considered civil resistance as a potential source of political power.
As an organizer I would include information from Professor Sharp in workshops and trainings, whenever I got a chance. During those years, I worked in many civil resistance movements: anti-nuclear power, anti-nuclear weapons, Central American and Chilean solidarity, Native American land struggles, counter-military recruiting and anti-war. I worked with many good people and took every chance I could to learn more about civil resistance.
When I became a dad, my focus on organizing was replaced with parenting. As an organizer, I had many parents tell me how much they admired the work I was doing. I always told them that being a good parent was the most important work anyone could do. And it was.
Now my daughter has just started her first year away at college and I have resumed my study of civil resistance. An online course through the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (www.nonviolent-conflict.org/) gave me a glimpse into how far the study of civil resistance has come in the past 20 years.
And I am very excited!
Dozens of new books are now availalbe on civil resistance.
Numerous pamphlets by Professor Sharp have been tranlated into 32 different languages and are available over the internet (www.aeinstein.org/english/) and these pamphlets have played an important role in uprisings in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, as well as the “Arab Spring” and the most recent democracy campaign in Hong Kong.
Programs at prestigious universities are now dedicated to the study of civil resistance.
And many civil society organizations are working to promote and increase the effectiveness of civil resistance worldwide.
There is a growing recognition of the potential power of civil resistance.
My Intention for This Blog
It is my intention both to study civil resistance through these many resources and to create projects I believe will further the development of civil resistance.
I will use this blog to share my insights, questions, doubts and excitements as I go through this learning process.
I invite you to join me and together we can “put our minds together and see what life we will make for our children.” (Chief Sitting Bull, Lakota)