The Nonviolent Cities Project
Organizing locally to connect the issues and
pursue the vision of your community as “a nonviolent city”
By John Dear
Despite the daily setbacks for justice and peace under the Trump Administration, we keep going forward, doing what we can. We make phone calls to Congress, take to the streets, speak out, and advocate and agitate for justice, peace and creation. There is no short term fix; we are in it for the long haul, so we work publicly for justice, disarmament and creation as part of our ordinary, daily lives.
There are many ways to organize, mobilize and help build up the global grassroots movement of nonviolence for a more just, disarmed world, and everyone is called to contribute what they can. Over the past year, Pace e Bene/ Campaign Nonviolence launched the “Nonviolent Cities Project” as an organizing tool and strategy for activists to work locally for the transformation of their community into “a nonviolent city,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. might envision it.
“Think globally, act locally” has always been a good activist motto, but in these days of rampant corruption, systemic injustice and militarism, many are trying to make headway by breaking new ground locally in pursuit of “a nonviolent city.”
Since we launched the program over one year ago, activists in over fifty cities, as well as many other cities around the planet, have responded to the call. They resonate with the idea of lifting up a new vision of their local community as a city of nonviolence. By inviting people to imagine what their city would look like as a nonviolent city, people have begun to connect the dots between the various systems of violence, and work more holistically with every sector of their city, including the police, city council, school system, religious leaders and health department, to organize locally that one day there would be no more shootings, no more injustice, no more racism, no more poverty, and no more deaths in their community, that the groundwork would be laid for it to become a nonviolent city.
This all began in Carbondale, Illinois, where activists launched and organized “Nonviolent Carbondale” several years ago, and have given themselves to this vision. They invited every area of their community to pursue this vision for their city’s future. It has taken off, thanks to the dedication of their steering committee. (See: www.nonviolentcarbondale.org)
Today, we are in touch with activists in Fresno and Morro Bay, California; Owensboro, KY; Cincinnati, OH; Raleigh, NC; Memphis, TN; Lancaster, PA; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; Chicago, IL; and elsewhere who are actively using this organizing tool as a way to bring people together, teach nonviolence, and organize for a new culture of nonviolence.
In Minneapolis/St. Paul, activists are meeting with local leaders and strategizing about ways to spread this vision for their community. “Our purpose is to create an environment wherein the Twin Cities can become nonviolent,” Gil Gustafson writes. “At the present time, we are in a process of discovery to see which organizations and individuals are contributing to a nonviolent environment. We are creating a vision in very concrete terms of what a nonviolent Twin Cities will look like (such as gun control, and school curriculums of nonviolence), and how to implement that vision in the upcoming months.”
“I envision Memphis as a microcosm of what the world can be,” longtime Memphis activist Janice Vanderhaar wrote recently in the city paper. “What I hope for the world begins in our own community. My vision is wrapped around what Jesus called ‘the Kingdom of God’ and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the ‘Beloved Community.’ Jesus called us to embrace the poor, heal the wounded, care for the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger and receive the Good News that God is a caring a merciful God. Martin Luther King envisioned a world where all would be welcomed to the table of plenty as equals.”
“Imagine all Memphis/Shelby County citizens laying down their arms and embracing one another with open arms of caring and concern!” Janice continued. “This world would find peaceful resolutions to conflict through the power of nonviolence which we had a glimmer of during the civil rights movement. Racism would be a thing of the past. All this can happen block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. All children can be safe on the playground, in their schools and in their homes. We could become a beacon of light to the world. I pray that we in Memphis can continue to create a world of peace through nonviolence.”
“Morro Bay lies in one of the most beautiful parts of the world and we who live here often refer to it as paradise,” Ruth Ann Angus writes. “While it is physically picturesque, scenic, and charming, it has some ways to go before being able to apply the title of ‘a nonviolent city.’ My vision for a nonviolent Morro Bay is to affect a shift in consciousness adapting the concept of the nonviolent life. My vision sees a city government able to be more comprehending of the needs of the people rather than their own personal agendas, and for residents to be more compassionate towards those who have fallen on hard times. My vision sees a welcoming city, where everyone is accepted because they are fellow human beings. My vision sees an end to the adulation of war, an end to homelessness, racial discrimination, and poverty in Morro Bay. We are working with existing good programs and searching for ways to increase them and create new ones. We are designing plans for what will be – Nonviolent Morro Bay.”
Recently, Pope Francis wrote to the people of Chicago saying, “A culture of nonviolence is not an impossible dream.” He called them to transform their violent city into a new culture of nonviolence, and said this was a doable, achievable goal.
This is what we need—a new vision for ourselves, our communities and our world, a vision of a new world of nonviolence. To me, that is the only vision worth pursuing. Together, we can start dreaming about what our local community would look like if it were nonviolent, then start discussing what concrete steps to take to make that dream a reality. As we reach out to local politicians and people of good will in our community, as we use the word “nonviolence” and talk about how it might be applied locally, we can engage the imaginations of others and help people reclaim a new vision for our life together. This is a long term project, but one worth pursuing, and one which can give us all hope. May it spread far and wide.