The Apparently Forgotten Power of Nonviolence: a response to Gelderloos' 'Failure of Nonviolence'
I don’t know why so few have seemed to discuss this topic, but I wish to write about the power of nonviolence in a way that ought to be brought up before everyone appears to assume the worst is “the only way” thru our building difficulties. Not pacifist nonviolence, but “confrontational” nonviolence!! First of all, I think of two powerful examples: One, Saul Alinsky and his “Back of the yards” groupings, and two, my own first-hand explorations and experiments (numbering over 20 actions in all, up to the present day). There’s also a third and fourth approach which I’ll get into later. Note that this is not a specific, “point by point” refutation of Gelderloos, but a more general response, inviting “trying it on” and dialog (with your affinity group, especially).
The Back of the Yards
Worth exploring probably the most is Alinsky’s methodology of confrontational nonviolence. Where he goes “outside the experience” of whom the creative action is directed at, and yet “inside the experience” of those doing the action. In his book Rules For Radicals, what I read led me to the idea that Alinsky’s main approach seems to be about challenging stereotypes (i.e. in racism) –by going to the absurd extreme of them.
So imagine, a group of maybe a hundred Black folk converging all at once into a march, and they’re all carrying and eating watermelons (to “mess with” that old stereotype). Let’s not forget, Alinsky was carrying out his actions in the 1940s to the 1960s, when those stereotypes were still “in effect.” Another, especially exquisite tactic was deployed in an enclosed space, where a large group ate loads of “the fruit that makes ya toot.” Rendering the staid into a form of chaos that, at that time, would only “be laughed out of the court!” (Surely the severely alienated ideologues of statecraft have out-flanked THAT by now, right? I don’t know, do you?)
Alinsky had a lot of successes too, and was regularly visiting the towns of Rochester, NY and Chicago to growing and growing numbers of people. Granted, Alinsky was a known as a Religionist (a very naughty man for being a product of his time) and so on, and thus all the superficially-challenged (?) judgers (like so many–but not all–holier-than-thou anarchists). Myself i don’t give a fuck whether he was “a perfect person” or “a bit to ideological”, or whatever; it’s his creative direct actions that move me to include him!
Putting my own life on the line
On the other hand, there are the tactics I’ve been exploring and putting my life on the line for. Together with “arting myself” (i.e. getting in touch with my decolonial spirit connections) and the timing context, i’ve found miraculous openings that seem to have remain untried by most. The main angle was/is about surprise, and the second angle is to have something “REALLY LARGE” to speak; large enough that it surprises the intellects of likely many, and titillates them, causing them to more readily remember the messages!
This tactic has proven effective not only to actually get messages across to people, but also to shake them to their core (i think) –when they read the messages we passed out. Particularly on the more ….uh…. “controversial” subjects; where one is happiest to have survived the action in the context of a heavily propagandized populace. So, in “washington, d.c.” when i marched solo and autonomously, winding and wending all thru-out the 1993 “gay pride” march, a ten-foot-sized loudspeaker tied onto my backpack frame, with “ghost regalia” draped over, and my quite amplified voice “haunting” the scapegoating, assimilationist beliefs of the well-funded side of the homophile (“gay”) community (As “the voice” of “dude-loving spirits past”; and the assimilationist gay masses didn’t know how to think about it at that time, and could not, to most extents, react as they had been programmed!
No one had instructed them, at that time. A key thing!
nonviolent confrontation in minnesota
Similarly, in 1995, i and one other brave soul marched again (without a permit), in minneapolis, mn, this time yelling orgasm cries and chants, and passing out a Hakim Bey-style “poetic terror” flyer (full of “depth-charge” consciousness that that population, also, had been steered clear of and Taught What to Believe). As people GUFFAWED, they eagerly took our wradical’s wradical (heh) flyer, only to read it more closely later, and be truly blasted, metaphorically!
We not only somehow stayed just ahead of the notoriously violent minneapolis police, even tho one (and only one, the entire parade route!) parade martial went hysterical on us, screaming at us to leave, we remained, most of the time, in a weird kind of “deja vu” safe space; all due to the power of creative, confrontational nonviolence!
Later, leaving that outdoor arena, a truly confused person seemed to HAVE TO justify her bigotry and Tell me that I “Must Be A Republican”; obviously she could not think beyond that superficial box when someone dared challenge her confined thought!
In all honesty, I don’t see myself as “Right or Left” (to me this dichotomous think is an out-moded, obsolete approximation that needs to get deconstructed and overhauled, towards, you guessed it, wradical’s wradical empathy and COMMONALITY! (Not allowing anyone to basically trample anyone, and yet listening ‘behind’ the reflections emanating thru off-balanced people, and inviting them to mutually design processes towards their and our excellences! …To be partied on about, later if and when people are able to make a “poetic bridge”!)
All using “power of now” creativity and consciousness.
The final approaches (two) that I think are well worth mentioning are, one, the tactics of the “shanti sena” (apparently the people’s–informal–police) of the “Rainbow Gathering”, and two, the validity of using our “rights” even when we are told that they are no longer valid (and even, as anarchists or what-have-you, we don’t truly identify with them).
Firstly, the Rainbow “shanti sena”:
Since 1972, this quite anarchic, autonomous group has weathered all kinds of over and covert intervention by local and federal police. They have developed all kinds of responses, from chaos numbers suddenly coming out of the woods when FS cops tried to bring assault weapons into the gathering (see 2006 video on youtube), and backing them down, to how the people’s police, a.k.a. the shanti sena are quite capable of blocking and then comforting large, flailing, drunken (or drugged-out) men. Basically, a large crowd suddenly forming which takes hold of the flailer in a firm but easy way, putting him on the ground, and then carressing him and talking soothingly to him, until he calms down!
Our ‘rights’, how to use
Now, and finally, using our “rights”; (even if you’re an anarchist, and are against “rights”, you can still use this tactic, I think. But first you need to (?) escape (?) the confines of ideologically-challenged rigidity!) The ACLU has reported that “we” no longer ”have” any Constitutional rights, due to the facts of covert police/federal agents breaking into activists homes (and etcetera), and disregarding the so-called “Rule of Law” whenever it suits them. (Let’s talk Treaty Law and local Indigenous folks and realize that there NEVER WAS ANY REAL “Rule of Law”! And that we only had such because we were privileged settlers!) And yet, still, I’ve personally seen that “sticking by your rights” when challenged, can prove pivotal.
As one who’s never even been arrested (in my almost 30 years of solidarity work), that’s saying something, don’t you think?!
So, you have the “right” to “remain silent” and say ‘no’ to all searches, for example. The basic angle of this is you force individual cops to choose for themselves whether they want to follow their sworn allegiance to the Constitution.
The ACLU “bustcard” doesn’t say this (for some crazy reason!), but from my experiences, the best way to deliver your “rights” is by not addressing the cop directly; but rather talk in generalities. I.e. Don’t say “I don’t want YOU to search me.” Say instead, “Im saying ‘no’ to any search.” In this way, you can more possibly avoid the classic ways in which cops are treated by their so-called “superiors” and the culture that surrounds them, often quite bureaucratic-ly and anti-human, whereupon they sometimes feel like they HAVE TO scapegoat someone in order to Let Off their pent-up Steam. And if you’re being an ass to them and not adequately thinking that through, you run more of a risk of them “flying off the handle.”
Sure, there’s no sure-fire rule, since most cops today seem to be able to act with impunity. But, like I said, in almost 30 years of solidarity work, i’ve never even been arrested (to the eternal surprise of quite a few cops seemingly deployed at me). That is probably statistically likely to change, and become a sort of “right of passage” I suppose, but for now, I’m surprised and elated.
To conclude, the power that i speak of in confrontational nonviolence is more about timing and smaller groups engaging situations in a “surprise” way. Larger groups may be able to use these tactics, but my expertise is in small groups. Notalby, there is no “pacifism” here! Depending on how deep your creativity and imagination is, i think we can all find openings that we’ve tended to believe “weren’t there” (mostly due, i suspect, to the propaganda of violence).
The u.s. Rainbow Gahtering (see also: International gatherings) : http://www.welcomehome.org
ACLU claims that we have no rights is a recollection I have, which was posted on the ACLU’s email list. Sorry, couldn’t find the actual article.
Additional links on the topic:
(a less deep commentary)
(on the topic of Rainbow ‘agros’ and their meta gifts)
and last, but not least, the seminal (?) ”Good Peasant, Bad Peasant” (informal nonviolence by whole ‘hoods, to use when police are not acting professionally) :