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Nonviolence in a violent world

By Henry Stoever

Note: Henry Stoever, a co-chair of PeaceWorks-KC, presented this talk Nov. 18 during a national webinar of the Green Party, “Nonviolence in a Violent World: Making a Difference Through Direct Action and Civil Disobedience.”

“Today it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or non-existence,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., in a sermon about Mohandas K. Gandhi, delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on March 22, 1959, nine (9) years before his assassination. “Either nonviolence or non-existence.” HOW PROPHETIC!

What a stark contrast – nonviolence vs. non-existence. Can we handle this challenge? WE MUST, for we have placed ourselves on death row, with weapons of mass destruction set to launch on command with no checks and balances system in place; with massive build-up of weapons arsenals which violate the letter and the intent of arms control treaties while down-playing diplomacy and the plight of refugees and the world’s poor; with being vulnerable to viruses and the massive deaths due to the pandemic, while ignoring global cooperation for health needs and being greedy in our control over the vaccine supply; with a culture that permits possession of guns while not taking action for gun safety regulations and public safety; and the list goes on.

WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS? You know that I am an activist. WE MUST BE ENGAGED!!!  We need to change our culture from one allowing violence, bullying, greed, and reckless behavior, to a culture of nonviolence that takes preventive measures before violence occurs, that teaches conflict resolution skills, that intervenes when the vulnerable are attacked or disparaged, that teaches nonviolent principles, that holds all accountable for their actions, that knows the climate crisis is real and must immediately be acted upon.

Shelley Douglass states, “The discipline of nonviolence requires of us that we move into the various forms of noncooperation. We will probably move slowly, one step at a time. Each step will lead to another step; each step will be a withdrawal from support of what is wrong and at the same time the building of an alternative.”  (YOU MIGHT CALL THIS A GREEN CULTURE OR A COUNTER-CULTURE.) For example, a call for a complete halt in international weapons trade would reduce the destructiveness of the wars being carried out. In addition, we should call for the upholding of international law by all of our branches of government.

The Strength of Nonviolence is that we set moral and ethical boundaries which we will not cross. Nonviolence training tempers our actions and reactions, our thoughts and intent. Nonviolence is courageous, as were the acts of the Freedom Riders and the marchers from Selma to Montgomery.

Nonviolence seeks to be in dialogue with all, searching for a just solution. Nonviolence respects the dignity of all persons, while working on the problems that cause us harm. Nonviolence seeks to enact restorative justice so that there is redemption between the parties. Nonviolence engages one to be an informed citizen participant or advocate. Our experience in Kansas City, Mo., is that at rallies prior to arrests, we have had 75-100 persons present, and 60-80 persons have attended our trials. Judges took great interest in our nonviolent civil resistance. One judge—who stated that had it not been for the Freedom Riders and others in the Civil Rights Movement, he (a black man) would never have become a judge—gave the defendants a writing assignment of sentences on tough questions as their sentence, and their essays have been attached to their ticket and filed with the State of Missouri Archives.

Another judge stated that she lived in Cuba with her parents during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the family thought they would all be blown up, and that she wished she had the courage we civil resisters have shown on these nuclear weapons issues.

Yes, we live in a violent world, but we must work to change what is acceptable behavior. Do we fully comprehend the devastation of violence? There are irreparable harms being done, which cannot be undone. Violence has gone to such an extreme that nuclear weapons can destroy all life on this planet, and we use the words nuclear holocaust, omnicide. Governments are using drone warfare and robots.  This is precisely what MLK spoke of – NON-EXISTENCE OR NONVIOLENCE. We have no choice than to work for peace. Peace will restore the dignity of persons, will bring forth right relations, will bind up the wounds and give us hope.

ROLE FOR THE GREEN PARTY:  The Green Party should distinguish itself from the nearly identical failed stances taken by the current two major political parties. The Green Party should adopt the values and principles of nonviolence as a “green principle.” Congress recently passed a shameful $778 Billion National Defense Authorization Act in a bipartisan 316-113 vote. That is $25 Billion more than President Biden asked for, and President Biden had asked for $7 Billion more than the previous administration requested in the last budget. This $778 Billion military spending is more than the next eleven (11) countries’ combined military budgets.

People of peace and principle should welcome joining with the Green Party for a sane military budget, while using that money for more and better health care and research, more education, more programs to meet basic human needs, etc. Recently, a coalition of two hundred (200) organizations joined the Declaration of American Democracy for protection of voting rights. That same coalition could and should support the Green Party as an alternative choice for true security to protect our future.

HISTORY:  Our country has a long and rich history of nonviolence – from the religious groups that sought refuge here, such as the Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. It was an American Revolution that was fought, but we forget the basic rights won. We forget the Abolitionists who worked to free the slaves; those who opposed the Mexican-American War; those who opposed the draft during the Civil War; the Women’s Suffragette Movement, in which women were jailed and treated rough, resulting in the ballot for women; the Labor Movement; the Civil Rights Movement; the Anti-War Movement during the Vietnam Era; the Farmworkers Movement with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta; the Women’s Movement; the LGBT Movement; etc. During the Vietnam War period, Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run for a 2nd term for president due to the strength of the peace movement and the controversy the war caused, which damaged his “War on Poverty.”

In conclusion, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “Today, it is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or non-existence.” Our very existence depends on our choice and actions.

Copyright 2021, Henry Stoever, Tom Fox, Green Party, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License.

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