by Pace e Bene board member George Paz Martin
Also posted on the United for Peace and Justice website
Every time we view the news in the paper or on television or the internet, we are struck by the tragic politics of our country’s leaders. This, along with the epidemic of violence, poverty, racism, injustice, environmental destruction, and war, is evil and oppressive.
Dr. King stated, “First, nonviolence is resistance to evil and oppression. It is a human way to fight back.”
At sixteen, I was ten feet from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. The problem today is that too much of America is still dreaming.
Today, far too many of us are frustrated with or suffer from the tragic state of our country. Now is the time to fight back politically through nonviolent direct action.
Nonviolence over the years has gained political progress through strong social movements: labor, civil rights, students, women, farm workers, anti-nuclear, LGBT, and the anti-Vietnam and Iraq wars with uncountable millions of people in the streets.
More recently immigrant rights, Occupy, climate, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, #MeToo, and the student March for Our Lives movements have educated the public, energized their base, and pulled many more millions of people into the streets.
Big numbers of demonstrators count and can “out-Trump” Trump in the midterms. This may seem improbable to many of us.
However, during the last 50 years, 50 non-representative governments, i.e. dictatorships and autocrats, crumbled due to nonviolent direct action including nonviolent civil disobedience. During that same period, there were 30 military wars resulting in uncountable deaths, destruction and enormous financial cost with mixed results. (Per researchers Erica Chenoweth & Maria J. Stephan in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works, an empirical, analytic, academic research study.
As a former fellow at Marquette U. Center for Peacemaking, I joined our student peace study group to focus on the Eastern European countries of Latvia, Estonia, Yugoslavia, and especially Poland whose nonviolent change of governments helped win the Cold War. In Poland, in the ’70s, the Workers Movement used a diversity of tactics. In the ’80s, key organizers, like Nobel Peace Prize Winner Lech Walesa, read Gandhi and King. They decided on using nonviolent civil disobedience that brought about a democratic government.
Another student of Gandhi and King and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for sustainability, democracy and peace was Kenyan Professor Angara Maathai who utilized nonviolent direct action in changing her country. In 2008, she invited me to Nairobi to keynote speak about “King, Nonviolence, and Politics” at an international youth conference.
The Arab Spring of revolutions in six countries began in Tunisia in 2010. Tunisia was the only country to have a completely nonviolent revolution and the only one that maintains its democracy today.
I’ve worked there twice in World Social Forums, witnessing Tunisians’ pride in their democracy and their progressive constitution. We befriended a young women attorney who founded an institute to train political candidates based upon democracy and nonviolence.
A 21st Century Movement for peace and social change has to be disciplined and nonviolent, allowing a new society to emerge.
The definition of an activist is one who campaigns for political or social change. The role of an activist is to move the public to affect the politicians. Our tools are education, lobbying, and public witness. Our tool kit includes hundreds of nonviolent direct action tactics as documented by Dr. Gene Sharp, the leading researcher and academic on nonviolence.
Locally, our Milwaukee Coalition for a Just Peace utilized 121 nonviolent direct action tactics including seven nonviolent civil disobedience actions during the Iraq War.
Direct action educates the public by raising the issues for lobbying, defining political candidates’ positions, and voting for the change we need. We have a critical opportunity for change with the upcoming Congressional Mid-Term Elections.
Join the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Action, September 15-23, connecting the dots between war, poverty, racism, climate change, and the epidemic of violence. In your city or town, plan a nonviolent direct action such as a march, vigil, rally, bird-dogging or nonviolent civil disobedience. Please register your event on our website.
Also join us in Washington, D.C., September 21-22 for speakers and a silent march from the Dr. King statue to the White House and a nonviolent direct action.
It is a delusion to assume that violent revolts can overcome the power of the military state. Nonviolent direct action is not only a moral choice, but also a tactical option that can and must succeed.
Peace & Love, George Paz Martin
UFPJ, Former National Co-Chair
Campaign Nonviolence, Board Member