Where’s the grassroots contemporary nonviolence movement?

I’ve long noticed there are few active, online peace sites or com­mu­ni­ties that have the grass­roots depth I see occur­ring else­where on the net. It’s a prob­lem for Non​vi​o​lence​.org [update: a project since laid down], as it makes it hard­er to find a diver­si­ty of stories.

I have two types of sources for Non​vi​o​lence​.org. The first is main­stream news. I search through Google News, Tech­no­rati cur­rent events, then maybe the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Wash­ing­ton Post.

There are lots of inter­est­ing arti­cles on the war in iraq, but there’s always a polit­i­cal spin some­where, espe­cial­ly in tim­ing. Most big news sto­ries have bro­ken in one month, died down, and then become huge news three months lat­er (e.g., Wilson’s CIA wife being exposed, which was first report­ed on Non​vi​o​lence​.org on July 22 but became head­lines in ear­ly Octo­ber). These news cycles are dri­ven by domes­tic par­ty pol­i­tics, and at times I feel all my links make Non​vi​o​lence​.org sound like an appa­ratchik of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty USA.

But it’s not just the tone that makes main­stream news arti­cles a prob­lem – it’s also the gen­er­al sub­ject mat­ter. There’s a lot more to non­vi­o­lence than anti­war expos­es, yet the news rarely cov­ers any­thing about the cul­ture of peace. “If it bleeds it leads” is an old news­pa­per slo­gan and you will nev­er learn about the wider scope of non­vi­o­lence by read­ing the papers.

My sec­ond source is peace move­ment websites

And these are, by-and-large, unin­ter­est­ing. Often they’re not updat­ed fre­quent­ly. But even when they are, the pieces on them can be shal­low. You’ll see the self-serving press release (“as a peace orga­ni­za­tion we protest war actions”) and you’ll see the exclam­a­to­ry all-caps screed (“eND THe OCCUPATION NOW!!!”). These are fine as long as you’re already a mem­ber of said orga­ni­za­tion or already have decid­ed you’re against the war, but there’s lit­tle per­sua­sion or dia­logue pos­si­ble in this style of writ­ing and organizing.

There are few peo­ple in the larg­er peace move­ment who reg­u­lar­ly write pieces that are inter­est­ing to those out­side our nar­row cir­cles. David McReynolds and Geov Par­rish are two of those excep­tions. It takes an abil­i­ty to some­times ques­tion your own group’s con­sen­sus and to acknowl­edge when non­vi­o­lence ortho­doxy some­times just doesn’t have an answer.

And what of peace blog­gers? I real­ly admire Joshua Mic­ah Mar­shall, but he’s not a paci­fist. There’s the excel­lent Gut­less Paci­fist (who’s led me to some very inter­est­ing web­sites over the last year), Bill Connelly/Thoughts on the eve, Stand Down/No War Blog, and a new one for me, The Pick­et Line. But most of us are all point­ing to the same main­stream news arti­cles, with the same Iraq War focus.

If the web had start­ed in the ear­ly 1970s, there would have been lots of inter­est­ing pub­lish­ing projects and blogs grow­ing out the activist com­mu­ni­ties. Younger peo­ple today are using the inter­net to spon­sor inter­est­ing gath­er­ings and using sites like Meet­up to build con­nec­tions, but I don’t see com­mu­ni­ties built around peace the way they did in the ear­ly 1970s. There are few peo­ple build­ing a life – hope, friends, work – around pacifism.

Has “paci­fism” become ossi­fied as its own in-group dog­ma of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion of activists? What links can we build with cur­rent move­ments? How can we deep­en and expand what we mean by non­vi­o­lence so that it relates to the world out­side our tiny organizations?

Pacifism and the Congo Dilemma

From the War Resisters League’s Judith Mahoney Paster­nak, “an hon­est look at the chal­lenge paci­fism faces in places like the Congo”:www.warresisters.org/nva0703-1.htm:
bq. There are those who chal­lenge the paci­fist posi­tion with such ques­tions as, “A man with a gun is aim­ing it at your moth­er. You have a gun in your hand. What non­vi­o­lent action do you take?” Our usu­al answer is, “I’m a paci­fist. I don’t have a gun in my hand. Next ques­tion.” But at least once in every gen­er­a­tion — more fre­quent­ly, alas, in these violence-ridden years — the chal­lenge is a hard­er one to shrug off with a flip answer.
The answer of course is to stop wars before they start, by stop­ping the arms trade, the dic­ta­tor­ships, and the crush­ing eco­nom­ic reforms demand­ed by West­ern banks _before_ these forces all com­bine and erupt into war. Paster­nak out­lines four parts to a blue­print that could end much of the vio­lence in the Congo.
I’ve always been impressed that the folks at War Resisters are will­ing to talk about the lim­its of non­vi­o­lence (see David McReynolds seven-part “Phi­los­o­phy of Nonviolence”:www.nonviolence.org/issues/philosophy-nonviolence.php). While war is nev­er the only option (and arguably nev­er the best one), it’s much more effec­tive to stop wars ten years before the bul­lets start fly­ing. In each of the wars the U.S. has fought recent­ly, we can see past U.S. poli­cies set­ting up the con­flict ten, twen­ty and thir­ty years ago.
The largest peace march­es in the world can rarely pre­vent a war once the troops ships have set sail. If U.S. pol­i­cy and aid hadn’t sup­port­ed the “wrong” side in Iraq and Afghanistan twen­ty years ago, I don’t think we would have fought these cur­rent wars. Paci­fists and their kin need to start ask­ing the tough ques­tions about the cur­rent repres­sive regimes the U.S. is sup­port­ing – places like Sau­di Ara­bia and Pak­istan – and we need to demand that build­ing democ­ra­cy is our country’s num­ber one goal in the Iraq and Afghanistan occu­pa­tions (yes, pri­or­i­tize it _over_ secu­ri­ty, so that we “don’t replace Sad­dam Hus­sein with equal­ly repres­sive thugs”:www.nonviolence.org/articles/000130.php.