By Rivera Sun
At some point, building a culture of active nonviolence becomes as natural and logical as breathing. It is an essential act of survival, a necessary function to preserving life on this beloved Earth.
For ten days, I visited central, coastal California, teaching nonviolence workshops, reading from my novel, The Dandelion Insurrection, and talking with friends and organizers about Campaign Nonviolence and the growing culture of active nonviolence in the United States. My pace was steady and calm, taking in stride the daily events (ten days, ten events) of the trip. The Dandelion Insurrection depicts a nonviolent movement for change, so my book readings revolve around the themes of current events, historic nonviolent struggles, and ordinary, everyday heroism.
In February, when I visited six cities in Florida, conversations tended to circle around the theme of “to be or not to be nonviolent”, exploring the effectiveness of nonviolence vs. violent means of addressing conflict. (Hint, nonviolence is twice as likely to succeed according Why Civil Resistance Works.) On the California section of my 40+ city Seeds of Change Tour, the questions focused on the concept of “what’s love got to do with it?” Workshop participants, readers, organizers, hosts, and friends in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Sonoma State University, the Western Institute for Social Research, Ukiah, Mendocino, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz dove into the role of love and compassion in nonviolence and nonviolent movements for change. In dialogue and workshops, we explored the strategic logic of our highest human values: love, respect, kindness, dignity, equality, and so on. How do these values dynamically affect the success or failure of a movement? Are they as strategically important as, say, the coercive strength of noncooperation? And what role does respect for the common dignity of all play in a peoples’ refusal to cooperate with destructive systems or behaviors?
We are all very excited about the empirical findings in the nonfiction book, Why Civil Resistance Works by Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth (who will be speaking at the Campaign Nonviolence National Conference Aug 6-9th in Santa Fe), and these recent conversations in California left us pondering how to quantify the qualitative and demonstrate to our statistic-loving friends that love is not just a nice idea, it actually has potent capacity for creating long-lasting, profound social-political change.
I also found a great receptivity and interest in Campaign Nonviolence’s notion of building a culture of active nonviolence – not just to resolve current crises, but also to create a long-term culture that has the ability to create a world that works for everyone. It is an inspiring vision, one that offers a way forward through these times of upheaval and uncertainty.
In between discussion, workshops, and readings, I visited the trees: oaks, madrones, redwoods, blossoming plums and apricots, fragrant bay laurels and more. It may seem strange to mention trees in this report, but after writing so much about California and trees in my new novel, Billionaire Buddha, I find myself meditating on the great nonviolence teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who never forgets that our interconnected coexistence with all requires us to acknowledge the beingness of trees, rocks, ecosystems, oceans, and so on. Campaign Nonviolence also challenges us to practice nonviolence not only toward ourselves and all other human beings, but also to our whole world. Campaign Nonviolence asks us to consider viewing environmental destruction as a form of ecological violence that we must seek to transform into a nonviolent way forward.
For these reasons, I must mention the trees, particularly the giant redwoods that tower along the Mendocino Coast in cathedrals of forests. I sat for hours with them, wondering what our human experience will be like when we drop our illusion of separateness and come home to our coexistence with all of Earth. There will be beauty, yes, and welcoming. We may experience a sigh of relief or the ecstasy of rejoining existence in harmony. But there may also be tremendous sorrow, for, in our delusion of separation, humanity has caused unspeakable destruction to the non-human beings with which we share this planet. Sitting at the feet of a giant redwood stump that stretches wider than I am tall, I felt a powerful sorrow that my species would ever dare to cut down such a creature. We are a very arrogant and ignorant species that understands so very little about the communities we destroy. What have we lost in the toppling of an ancient tree? What wisdom and grace have we forever destroyed?
As we prepare for our September Week of Actions, I encourage all of us to reflect deeply on how to take a powerful stand for justice, peace, and a sustainable future on this beloved Earth.
My travels to California included many profound experiences, including the honor of being interviewed for a documentary on nonviolence at the Metta Center for Nonviolence; taking an unarmed peacekeeping and conflict resolution training with Metta Center trainers; teaching a workshop at the Mendocino Environmental Center as they prepare for the 25th anniversary of Redwood Summer; visiting Laurel Krause of the Kent State Truth Tribunal, sister to Allison Krause; speaking with some of the founders of New College about a new project they are developing around spiritual activism; and so much more. I sat beside the Pacific Ocean and watched herds of sea lions leaping, full-bodied, out of the crashing surf. I rode the BART through Fruitvale Station and held a quiet vigil for Oscar Grant and all the victims of police shootings. I marveled at a decades old co-housing community in Berkeley and heard plans for potent constructive programs to benefit our whole society. I spoke about and listened to voices of wisdom in the lineage of nonviolence. I joined with many others in envisioning a world of active nonviolence, a world that works for all of us.
With hope, spirit, peace, and love,