one more installment and we will have this finished. In Part Five
I laid out how non-violence works. By creating social dislocation,
it creates "new facts" that permit your opponent to
change. There is an art to this kind of politics. It is not enough
to say to your opponent, "I am a pacifist, I will not shoot
you, but I sure as hell will make your life so difficult that,
miserable bastard that you are, you will be forced to behave
decently even though the whole world knows you are a sorry excuse
for a human being".
It is our job not to make it harder than necessary for our
opponent to change. Yes, Cesar Chavez forced the farm owners to
bargain because the boycott of their produce hit them in the
pocket book. Without that, the negotiations wouldn't begin. But it
is hard to negotiate with a man you despise and distrust, and much
easier to negotiate with an opponent whom you respect, whom you
feel "fought fair". They respected Chavez.
Years ago in Greenwich Village, in the long-lost days when
radicals sometimes spoke from "soap boxes", I was about
to start a speech in Sheridan Square late one afternoon when a cop
came up and told me to stop. I didn't say "Look, you wretched
running dog of the imperialist state, I know the Constitution, I
have a right to speak, and I defy you to arrest me". Instead
I said "I think I have a right to speak, However I'll get
down while you check with your captain. After fifteen minutes,
when you've had a chance to check it, I'll get back up and speak -
if your captain thinks it is legal to arrest me, then you
can". The cop walked off, fifteen minutes later I got up and
kept on talking - the cop never returned.
person using nonviolence will seek to be absolutely open, honest
The person using nonviolence will seek to overcome fear, so as
to act not out of weakness, but from strength.
The person using nonviolence will never defame the character of
the opponent, but always seek to find what the Quakers call
"that of God" in those with whom we struggle.
We shall do our best to love those with whom we are in
All of these are much easier to say than to do. How can one
love the employer who orders goons to beat up strikers? Or a
govern- ment such as ours which murders people in distant lands?
How can we act without fear when we are terrified?
How can we be honest when admitting an error may make us look
aren't tidy answers. During WW II in places such as Holland, which
were occupied by the Nazis, what was the "honest, truthful
answer" when the Gestapo came to the door and asked if you
were hiding Jews, and you knew you had Jews in the attic? I hope
you said "No, we aren't hiding Jews". Because the
"absolute value" we place on each human life was in
conflict with the "absolute value" of truth. And human
life won out. There are times when "absolutes are in
However, there are times when honesty does mean being willing
to look very foolish. (Christians can appreciate St. Paul's
statement that he was "willing to be a fool for
Christ"). In the early 1950's tensions between the Socialist
Party and the Communist Party were extremely bitter - one could
write a book just on that topic. The Communists had a tactic of
infiltrating our groups and trying to take them over. All of us
who had been in radical politics at UCLA (where this occured) were
only too familar with the problem. In the course of fighting
against McCarthyism, the Socialist Party's youth group and the
youth section of the Fellowship of Reconciliation had joined
forces to sponsor a state-wide conference on civil liberties, held
at a Church in Los Angeles. My experiences with the Communists led
me to paronoia - I thought I recognized an effort by the
Communists to stall the conference and possibly take it over. I
got up and announced that Communists were present, that we would
have a short break to organize our forces, and then reconvene. We
did a quick caucus on the sidewalk, came back in, and rammed
through the agenda, cutting off debate.
Soon after, I learned that while one Communist had been
present, he was the only one. The disruption was entirely in my
imagination. I was horrified. I had slandered the Communists, who
were already under legal attack. To the dismay of my friends in
the Socialist Party - who put up with my pacifism but thought I
was a bit of a nut - I wrote a letter to everyone that had been at
the conference offering my apologies, saying that I had been
wrong. I believe I hand-delivered the letter to the members of the
Communist Party on campus. (They also felt I was a nut). This
willingness to admit an error, even though it can be painful and
deeply embarrassing, gives you credibility. It does, at times,
also make you look a fool. Take the risk.
Our movement must be one that never lies.
And it must be a movement which never demonizes our opposition.
This is very hard. We all fail at it. I think Henry Kissinger is a
war criminal who should be tried by an international court of law
(he is not the only Amercican in this category, but he is the one
who leaps to mind). Yet if I argue that common criminals are human
beings, how can I deny that to Kissinger? If I argue that prisons
do very little good, then how can I be so eager to see him in one?
Those of us who went through the Vietnam War, who had friends who
committed suicide, died of drug overdoses, spent the best years of
their youth in prison, etc., have a hard time forgiving - but if
forgiveness was easy, it wouldn't be necessary. (And if I have a
problem - think how blacks feel in this society).
For us, cops are never pigs. They may violate the law, and
should be subject to arrest and trial for brutality - but they
remain human beings. No human being - no matter whether they are
Kissinger or Stalin, a bad cop or a serial killer - should ever be
called a dog, a pig, a rat, partly because this is unfair to dogs,
pigs and rats. But mainly because there is not one of you reading
this who could not have been - given the background and
circumstances - a guard at a Nazi death camp. When we look on the
person we find it easiest to hate, we usually are looking at some
trait within ourselves.
I don't have good advice to offer on how to overcome fear - I
know that I have failed. The only advice I can offer from personal
experience is that you should do only those things you feel just
barely able to do. Don't try to do things you know you can't do. I
can't walk along the edge of a building that is more than two
stories high - so I don't try. But I was - just barely - able to
walk into Red Square in 1978 for a WRL protest, along with Norma
Becker, Jerry Coffin, Pat Lacefield, Steve Sumerford, Scott
Herrick, and Craig Simpson. Of all the things I ever did, maybe
that took the most courage. I found that just putting one foot in
front of the other would carry me forward, into the Square.
But for real courage, what about Vicki Rovere, who, in 1968,
volunteered for the teams that War Resisters International sent to
Moscow and several East European capitals to protest the invasion
of Czechoslovakia? Vicki couldn't find her English partner who was
to join her in Moscow. (He was there but got mixed up on
directions). Vicki, completely alone, unfurled her banner! And
stood her ground until taken into custody. In each case, do what
you can do, not what you can't. With luck you may find that next
time, you can do what you couldn't do the first time.
radical movement - socialist, pacifist, anarchist - needs cowards.
It needs them because there are very few brave people around - not
nearly enough to make a revolution. The non- violent movement,
like any strong movement, must make room for those of us who just
aren't very brave. One of the values of nonviolence is that you
can be young or old, weak, sick or frightened, and still find a
way to fit in - which helps make it a democratic movement. (Let me
toss in something we sometimes forget, as we "measure our
number of arrests" - it takes more courage, (or foolishness),
to bring a child into this world, care for it, love it, than it
does to get arrested. The people with the most guts are parents.
If we remember that we must try to be honest, and act with
courage, we won't do things in the dark which we wouldn't do by
day. We won't do things we aren't willing to be caught doing.
Again, there are paradoxes - does this mean that there are times
when we might not act in secret? Weren't the Moscow
demonstsrations planned in secret? Yes, and I've tried to stress
that there are always contradictions. If you try to make a set of
rules for nonviolence you've already violated the spirit.
Nonviolence is to dance in the midst of chaos. And do so with joy.
of the things the late Igal Roodenko used to say was "I have
to love everyone - thank God I don't have to like everyone."
There are people we rejoice at seeing - and people we really wish
hadn't phoned us. Love is tricky. There are all kinds of love,
from the love we have for someone we are in love with, to the
children we have and love, to the dogs and cats who may share
their lives with us, to a few friends we truly do love. But there
is, under this, a sense of compassion, a realization we are all
headed for the grave, that we all grow hungry and thirsty and
weary, and this realization helps us, even when we
"despise" someone, to behave toward him or her with a
sense of love that permits us to see past the surface to the pain
and suffering within.
Not everyone can do this. But the movement will collapse if at
least some of the leadership is not able to do it. A. J. Muste had
it, Dorothy Day had it, Rosa Luxemburg had it, Martin Luther King
Jr. had it. Debs had it. Che had it. Gandhi had it. I think Malcom
X was moving toward it when he was killed. I don't have it - but
you might. And with work, maybe we can all get it.