Gordon Clark has voiced what I’ve longed to hear from the American peace movement. What’s more, he’s not just a frustrated fringe-dweller like me but the coordinator of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance and the former executive director of Peace Action. I hope his words are widely-read and -discussed.
Seeking Real Resistance to the War, excerpts:
I winced when the reporter from the Washington Post asked me on , what happened to the mass protests that I had forecast back in should Bush actually take us to war in Iraq. I had predicted social disruption the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Vietnam. As I fumbled for an explanation, he reassured me that this was not my singular mistake — “lots of activists told me the same thing,” he said.
What happened? How could so many seasoned activists and organizers be so profoundly disturbed by the pending war, predicting “no business as usual” should it start, and yet when the war actually does start, our protests and actions all peter out… and only now are building back to pre-war levels?
I believe a key to this dilemma lies in nonviolence, and its current marginalization in the contemporary American peace movement.
Nonviolence, and specifically nonviolent resistance, is probably the single most misunderstood concept in the peace movement. Many committed peace activists believe that nonviolence means simply the absence of violence. Others now use the terms “protest” and “resistance” interchangeably, as if they were equivalent.…
With few exceptions, serious discussion of nonviolence strategies is absent from the journals and books of the anti-war left. Institutional funders refuse to support nonviolent resistance strategies. Large anti-war coalitions like Win Without War and ANSWER decline to use nonviolent strategies or tactics.
Once again, why? Perhaps the answer can be found in our movement’s — and society’s — strong avoidance of the peculiar discipline that makes nonviolence effective: the willingness to make sacrifices and to accept suffering.
Gandhi and King made it crystal clear that a willingness to make sacrifices and accept suffering, to even embrace them joyfully in pursuit of a greater good, is fundamental to successful nonviolent resistance strategies. It is what touches peoples’ hearts, long after the buzz of conflicting facts has left their mind numb. Morally motivated human beings making common cause with one another and undertaking resistance at risk to their own liberty, treasure and reputation communicate a seriousness of purpose that the public generally understands and respects. They reference deep traditions of peaceful change and forceful opposition to violence, war and injustice.
Depending on one’s situation, of course, simple protest can require both sacrifice and suffering. Members of the military or their families who speak out publicly against the war, for instance, often face social isolation, job loss, serious harassment, or worse. For the large majority of us in the peace movement, however, speaking out publicly and demonstrating involves little or no risk or sacrifice.
It’s also not that simple protest isn’t necessary. It is, in fact, part of nonviolent social change strategy as outlined by Gandhi and King. But it is only one stage, and not the ultimate one. If it is not successful in achieving its goal, then the ante must be raised, and actual resistance — which includes both disobedience and noncooperation — must be employed.
But that’s what we don’t do. It’s clear that this administration regards even mass protest as little more than a “focus group,” or worse still, an example of our freedoms which they can then cynically use to justify their war, yet we have generally continued to employ the same strategies, holding the same rallies, marches and meetings. It is ironic, but not coincidental, that we have a President who believes that we can wage wars without shared sacrifice at the same time that we have a movement that believes we can stop wars without demanding any real sacrifice of ourselves.…
[O]ur lifestyle is part and parcel of the very system we wish to change. The nonviolent movement in India required adherents to make their own cloth, and later, their own salt, because they realized that purchase of English made cloth and salt contributed to their own oppression. In Selma they realized that riding on segregated buses only supported segregation, so they stopped riding. Our peace movement, by contrast, will proclaim loudly (and correctly) that the war in Iraq is based on oil, yet why is there nary a word about a radical (and politically targeted) reduction of our own use of oil? Should we not have to disrupt our own “business as usual” before we can disrupt the government’s?
This is not meant to be glib about the challenges of such an immense social change enterprise, or even much more seemingly limited but still daunting forms for resistance, such as civil disobedience or tax resistance. But such change is a necessity if we ultimately wish not only to end this war but also to prevent others.…