Nonviolence is a force for change, different from “non-violence.” Nonviolent action is direct and practical: Refuse to do violence, resist violence, organize with others, change the situation. Cesar Chavez said “Nonviolence is our strength.”
Nonviolent action is personal and political. Thich Nhat Hanh called nonviolence “love in action.” Bringing love to violence requires us to apply the best of our emotions, imaginations, minds, bodies—our personal and social skills—and to do it with others. Nonviolent action or “engaged nonviolence” is not passive, not escape, not keeping things quiet, not reaction either. Nonviolence uses cooperation and culture, applied in countless ways, to confront oppression and violations of human community. People define nonviolence with thousands of creative actions. Singer Joan Baez demonstrates with her life that nonviolence is both questioning authority and active solidarity with people struggling for justice.
Nonviolence is an approach that holds two truths at once: Life is connection, and life is conflict. Some conflicts are immediate; some are embedded in policies or structural oppression. Conflicts cannot be ignored, they need response. And we are connected with all people, all life, and that is a source of strength for action. Our connections have moral value and practical value. We expect others to support justice for all people, and we act in trust that they can. Nonviolence uses action to demonstrate that a better life for all makes a better life for each.
Nonviolent action uses persuasion and coercion—with limits. It uses empathy, solidarity and personal change as well as peer pressure and noncooperation. Nonviolent activists refuse to kill, refuse to justify violence, minimize harm, and actively communicate respect for all even as they acknowledge that some are being forced to change.
Nonviolent action emphasizes that politics involves people. People are agents of violence. People suffer violence. People can identify with suffering in others. People can change policies and institutions to prevent suffering. Nonviolent action is human-scale politics that organizes power based in communities of people more than wealth and weapons. Nonviolent action organizes people to shift loyalties from violent regimes to service of people most harmed by oppression, exerting dynamic force that disrupts the status quo and constructs a better world.
Structures of violence
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified 3 core structures of violence:
racism, militarism, and poverty. He warned that these evils must be changed if our society is to survive. Political scientist Gene Sharp pointed out that even the most authoritarian structures of violence depend on popular consent. People have it in our power to withdraw consent, stop cooperating, and assert new institutions.
Nonviolent action makes a nonviolent world
Joanne Sheehan of War Resisters International wrote “nonviolent activists want our activities to be an expression of the future we are trying to create, and our behavior reflects the world we want.” Gandhi said constructive work to support the well-being of all, and personal work to reduce our own violence, go hand in hand with political nonviolent resistance. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan studied 100 violent and nonviolent resistance movements and found that nonviolent movements are twice as likely to succeed—because they invite wide participation and create democracy as they go.
Examples of nonviolence
People in thousands of struggles around the world have organized nonviolent actions to build a better society. Some of them are:
—Black Lives Matter
—Sanctuary cities, churches and centers
—Occupy Wall Street
—Civil rights sit-ins
—Liberation actions by Gays, Lesbians and Transgender people
—Civil disobedience at nuclear weapons and power plant sites
—Peoples’ revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Phillippines and Iran
—Accompaniment of human rights activists in Nicaragua and El Salvador
—Boycotting and divesting from companies that profit from military occupation of Palestinians or from polluting the earth with fossil fuels
—Speaking up when peers are afraid to
—Intervening when a person is attacked on the street
—Facilitating resolution of interpersonal conflict
—Refusing to serve in militaries
—Refusing to pay taxes that support militaries
—Refusing to justify violence for any reason
Mission of the Resource Center Nonviolence (RCNV):
To promote the conscious practice of nonviolence as a dynamic means of effecting personal and social changes and creating a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.
Core Value: The Resource Center for Nonviolence’s commitment to nonviolence is rooted in reverence for life in all its forms, and the dignity of all persons.
The staff and volunteers of the Resource Center for Nonviolence encourage these commitments:
1. Learn my role in racism, militarism, economic exploitation, patriarchy, and other violence
2. Take nonviolent actions in personal and political life every day.
3. Learn from my mistakes and my successes—and from others around me
4. Learn my connections with marginalized people
5. Pay attention to my connections with all life in some practice— meditation, music, nature, reading, journaling, reflecting with others, meeting new people, art, poetry
6. When engaged in conflict, actively respect all people involved
7. Learn from activists in struggles around the world
8. Learn stories of nonviolent action campaigns
9. Organize nonviolent action campaigns
10. Build communities of activism, solidarity, mutual respect, and commitment to nonviolence
1. Kingian Nonviolence Training
2. Project ReGeneration/Youth Empowerment
3. Opposing Militarism
4. Palestine Justice Coalition
5. Racial Justice
6. Public Forums
7. Art of Nonviolence
8. Resources—bookstore, library, facility, experience
Contact or visit the Resource Center for Nonviolence, 612 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, rcnv.org, (831) 423-1626.