Building a Movement of Peace Teams: Training Coming to a City Near You

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Note the role of the “third party”: no intervention. We can change this picture.

By Jessica Anderson, the Metta Center for Nonviolence

Note: If you are interested in getting trained the skills and strategies for building a national movement of local peace teams, we have good news. MPT Is going to be going on a nationwide tour to do just that. You can find out more about where they will be at this link, and contact them if you would like to host them in your town.

How do we address violence: not only violence in our communities but violence from those who are supposed to protect community (aka “peace” officers)?

We need people who are trained in creating safe spaces, and the slightest hope that it might be possible to create such spaces—is what drives organizations like Meta Peace Team (MPT, formerly Michigan Peace Team). MPT’s goal is not to take sides, not even really to come up with solutions, but simply to create safe spaces where people might be able to deal with the challenges of conflict without violence.

From its very beginning in the 1980s as Michigan Faith and Resistance, through its years as Michigan Peace Team, MPT has sought to equip peacemakers to use their heads, hearts, and hands—to find their personal centers, to be scholarly activists, and to do something about what they learn and experience. These peacemakers are based out of Lansing, MI, but they have worked beyond the state’s borders almost from the very beginning. To reflect this, the group finally took the step this year of changing its name to Meta Peace Team—chosen because meta calls up ideas of transforming relationships and of going beyond borders that are central to MPT’s vision for its work.

Meta Peace Team is conceptualized as a way to plan, train, and deploy peace teams where invited both domestically and internationally—again not to take sides or to “fix” problems, but to create space for people to come up with their own solutions to conflicts. The teams are made up of people who are trained in violence de-escalation techniques, committed to the internal work of personal centering so as to be able to overcome fear in the midst of violence, and willing to work collaboratively and with consensus processes.

They believe that conflict per se can be constructive but that the use of violence to deal with conflict tends to be destructive—and, accordingly, they see the core of their mission as protecting people from violence no matter where that violence comes from or toward whom it is directed. And, they “walk their talk.” They do not take sides, and they don’t invite themselves in to handle just any situation—although they might reach out and make contact with people on the ground to see if help is needed.  As MPT staff member Mary Hanna quips, the teams are not there to quell disturbances but to protect against violence: “Sometimes people think of us as parade marshals – we’re not there to make sure your event goes swimmingly, we’re there to make sure nobody gets hurt.”

I had a chance to speak with Mary a few weeks ago, and she shared her own story of getting involved with MPT. Mary’s exposure to active peace work began during her time as an undergrad student at Michigan State University, where she was fortunate enough to find herself “in the company of prophetic peacemakers”—people who really lived out their convictions and encouraged her to do the same. She began to volunteer with MPT while working first for a community mental health center and then for a peace education center, and finally switched to full-time work with MPT as her involvement with the organization continued to build. Mary’s official job title with MPT is “Operations Manager,” but as she explains it, she does a little (or a lot!) of everything “to make sure that we can keep going as an organization.”

Mary was able to clarify for me some of the mechanics of MPT’s peace team deployment, as the organization follows a unique model of short-term deployments to both domestic and international situations. Domestic deployments, she describes, are typically very short (1-3 days) and often revolve around single events—past examples have included everything from Ku Klux Klan rallies to Gay Pride parades. Participants in domestic teams need to have attended at least eight hours of training with MPT, and larger deployments are often broken up into smaller autonomous teams for increased flexibility. International deployments are longer, ranging from roughly three weeks to about three months. Preparation for these team members is much more intensive and includes regionally specific training, strategy-building and personal/team awareness exercises, and even simulated experiences such as those one might encounter during the deployment. Mary explains that the goal of all this is to send people who are personally centered, able to work together cohesively, and aware of the general dynamics (at the very least) of the situation they’re about to enter – the hope being that such a team could be a help rather than a hindrance to the local community.

I was curious about the three-month upper limit to international deployments, and Mary helpfully points out that the most common site for MPT international deployments has been the West Bank—and that three months is the longest duration for which one can obtain a visa to travel to the West Bank. This deployment length may shift as MPT engages with communities in different parts of the world, but it is likely to remain relatively short in comparison to the international peace team deployments of other organizations. Mary recognizes that this (the shorter duration) poses certain challenges to the way peace teams operate on the ground, but she argues that the more condensed timeframe also lowers some of the barriers to participation in a team and thus allows for broader investment in the concept. She adds that in this context the capacity for continuity, relationship-building, and on-the-ground familiarity comes from peace team members called “anchors” who return to a region repeatedly (and at overlapping times)—allowing MPT to maintain a constant presence in the community over the course of different peace team deployments.

Efforts to scale up this concept of peace teams have brought MPT to the next stage of its journey as a founding member of the Shanti Sena Network of North American peace teams. This network is composed of a variety of organizations across the U.S. and Canada, and it was inspired by Gandhi’s idea of a shanti sena, or ‘peace army.’ Mary explains that “when something big (violent) was happening, we wanted to be able to deploy peace teams as quickly and as effectively as the military deploys their troops and as the police deploys officers.” To do this, the groups need to develop a standardized training and a network to mobilize people in response to violence—to get those trained teams to the places where they are needed, and to do it quickly. They are beginning by coordinating their curricula to include a basic training that all agree is foundational for peace team work, and they hope that this coordination and cooperation in training will also start to build up the networks of relationships that can later be used to mobilize and dispatch trained teams to situations where violence threatens. Over the long haul, they hope to bring Gandhi’s vision of a ‘peace army’ to life in North America.

Note: If you are interested in getting trained the skills and strategies for building a national movement of local peace teams, we have good news. MPT Is going to be going on a nationwide tour to do just that. You can find out more about where they will be at this link, and contact them if you would like to host them in your town.

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When Communication Begins Anew, Don’t Criticize It Out Of Hand

For anyone who has seen Argo,  a trend from that era has finally  ended. No, I am not referring to this look from the movie being acceptable. Instead, I would like to muse on the fact that for more than thirty years, the US has not had a leader to leader conversation with Iran. In other words we have given each other the silent treatment- childish behavior from two grown up countries. This changed September 27th with a phone call between President Obama and the newly elected President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.  Their conversation picked up where Rouhani left off when addressing the UN General Assembly just a few days before. In his address, Rouhani emphasized the importance of international cooperation and communication when it comes to solving our most pressing and potentially dangerous affairs and concerns. He also underlined the interconnections between all international actors, stating “Any miscalculation of one’s position, and of course, of others, will bear historic damages; a mistake by one actor will have negative impact on all others. Vulnerability is now a global and indivisible phenomenon.”

Rouhani’s speech to the General Assembly included the usual laundry list of complaints and accusations but was notable for its overall hopeful tone that insisted on trusting in the negotiating capacity of the UN and its most important members. He repeatedly pointed to the obvious advantage of the ballot box over the drone strike or economic sanction when it comes to bringing around meaningful change. Iran is no stranger to sanctions, as it has been the target of many economic sanctions by the UN and others. These sanctions have weighed heavily on the Iranian people and are really quite unfair, given that Iran has signed the Non Proliferation Treaty [unlike Israel] and is cooperating with UN inspectors, says Rouhani. The measures taken to assure that Iran does not acquire nuclear arms have had their own serious consequences, some unforeseen, some completely intentional. Covering all the regional bases, Rouhani mentioned multiple times the “structural violence” being inflicted on Palestinians, the chemical weapons attack in Syria  and the lingering effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire speech can be found here.

The phone call with President Obama reminds me of another time and trend that predate me- the hotline between the US and Soviet leaders. This emergency phone was critical in keeping the Cold War cold and hopefully this new phone call is an indication of an overall change in tone and direction of our relationship with Iran. At the very least, talking is an improvement over the silent treatment.

Whenever an issue of such importance as nuclear weapons is being discussed, the political realities at home are always a factor for the leaders involved. For a digestible accounting of this and some important details of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, see Fred Kaplan’s article in SlateThe opinions and fears of citizens always play into how their leaders respond  to international goings on. Sometimes this means that despite the best intentions  and steps towards progress, elected leaders will discount and undercut each other. In this case, the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been particularly counter productive. Spoofing a Russian proverb made famous by Ronald Reagan, Netanyahu said, “When it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, here’s my advice: Distrust, dismantle and verify.”

DIStrust. This is not the way to negotiate. Even if the other negotiating party has a history of obfuscation, threats and inconsistency, the only way to make any progress is to accept their word and then hold them to it. As much as it grates on me to say, Reagan got it right with the policy of “Trust but verify”.  Iran and Israel could trade allegations of past wrongdoing till they are blue in the face, but where does that get them? Events in the past cannot be ignored but also cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the current potential. With reports that this very potential is being explored, perhaps Netanyahu will soon be eating his words.

Reaction to THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED

revolution_televisedBecause of my interest in the role of media in politics and global affairs, I watched The Revolution Will Not be Televised, a behind the scenes documentary of the Venezuelan coup d’état of 2002. The film focuses on the events leading up to the coup and how they were presented on the public and private news channels of Venezuela. With his plans to bring more of the country’s immense oil wealth under state control, Chavez had angered many business elites and attracted the attention of the US. Marching through the streets of Caracas, supporters of Chavez collide with a group of marchers protesting his plan, and violence erupts. Far from being neutral reporters of the facts on the ground, the private stations showed footage favorable to those wishing to overthrow the administration of Hugo Chavez. Choosing misleading camera angles, the private news agencies make it seem as if the Chavez supporters are firing on the opposition, when in fact both sides were fired upon simultaneously. The leaders of the opposition seize the opportunity to appear justified and take control of the presidential palace. Demanding that Chavez resign, they threaten to bomb the palace and those inside it. Chavez surrenders himself to their custody without resigning the presidency. The opposition moves in swiftly and swears themselves into power, addressing the public via the privately owned news channels – the public access channel, Channel 8, has been disabled.

With the help of the Palace Guard (a paramilitary group loyal to the Chavez administration) the opposition leadership is removed from the palace and the Chavez cabinet is restored to power. The public at large is kept unaware of this thanks to the continued obstruction from the private news agencies. In a recently reactivated Channel 8 studio, the Vice President is sworn back into power, pending the return of Chavez. This move, according to the Chavez administration, was to restore constitutionality and calm in the country. Soon after, Chavez is released by the opposition and flown back to Caracas to re-assume the presidency. In an address to the nation, Chavez urges everyone involved to return to their homes and remain calm. He also says that those who oppose him are welcome to do so, but democratically and in line with the Venezuelan constitution.

The film itself came under criticism for having a clear pro Chavez bias and for displaying some events out of order to support this bias. Events preceding the coup are left out, which to some critics means a critical level of context was missing from the story. State run and privately owned media outlets continue to be at odds with each other, supporting the opposition and the new administration respectively (after Chavez’s death this March, his party retained the office of president with the election of Nicolas Maduro, previously Chavez’s Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs). While it is no secret that Chavez and the US did not see eye to eye on a number of things, US involvement in the coup is a serious allegation. US involvement is alluded to several times in the film, but what makes these accusations easy to believe is what is at stake: control over a large oil-producing country.

While the events in the film are now over a decade old, the concern over media bias is a timeless issue. Privately owned media sources here in the US each have their own agenda and political preference, and this is to say nothing of public sources of news and reporting. With yet another conflict brewing in the Middle East it is more important than ever to be informed by a variety of sources and to encourage those who represent us both here and abroad to seek nonviolent solutions.

Caselli, Irene. “Nicolas Maduro Sworn in as New Venezuelan President.” BBC News. BBC, 19 Apr. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-22220526&gt;.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Dir. Kim Bartley and Donnacha O’Briain. Perf. Hugo Chavez. 2003.   DVD.

 

Response to “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land”

I recently watched the documentary “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land,” which explores the American media’s role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I found it to be informative and eye-opening. Several scholars, journalists, media critics and religious figures analyze the way language; framing and context can hide a major side of the conflict – Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – from the public eye.

Today he Israeli government (headed by Benjamin Netanyahu) and the Palestine Liberation organization (headed by Mahmoud Abbas) are the parties directly involved in negotiations at this time. Many Palestinians and Israelis are calling for the creation of two separate states, where the hypothetical state of Palestine would comprise of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 2013 is the Israeli occupation’s 44th year.

Though the film was released a decade ago (2004), many of the facts presented in the film still hold true. Israelis and Palestinians have failed to reach any final peace agreement. The U.S. Government, as we all know, is partial to the Israeli cause. Professor Robert Jensen (Journalism, University of Texas-Austin) explained that Israel is fighting wars on two fronts. The first is a military campaign against Palestinians that may be in occupied territory. The second is a PR campaign to “ideologically occupy the American media.”

Throughout the documentary, we were presented with many examples of the American media’s favoritism toward Israel. For example, we will be shown images of riots taking place but news networks will not specify that the Israelis in the film are defending an internationally illegitimate occupation. Another tidbit the makers of the film presented us was that only 4% of news reports of events on the Gaza Strip and West Bank have mentioned that they were occupied – Israel has consistently been portrayed as defending itself rather than as aggravating any violence with their own actions. “The Israeli press office is spitting out press releases, statements, information… all the time,” says Alisa Solomon, journalist at The Village Voice in the USA. “The Palestinian Authority press office is almost useless and they certainly aren’t providing you with readymade stories the way the Israeli press office is.” The media is the biggest source of international news for Americans. The makers of Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land gave us a rather helpful diagram of the institutional relationships, or a “series of filters,” at work behind a news story about the events happening in the Middle East.

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  1. Business interests of the corporations that own the mass media – These economic interests span beyond the United States and to the Middle East.
  2. Policymakers – These people have the power to influence mainstream media. They themselves are part of a system dominated by corporate interests.
  3. Israel’s public relations efforts – The Israeli Government books several American PR Firms to help them with this campaign. Israeli Consulates help carry out these campaigns by forming relationships with journalists and monitoring media outlets. Several private American organizations fight any news coverage deemed unfavorable to Israel. Most important of these organizations is AIPAC, one of the most powerful foreign lobbies in Washington. Organizations opposing the occupation (such as, Jews Against the Occupation) rarely make it past these three filters.
  4. Media Watchdog Groups – If any unfavorable stories do surface, groups like CAMERA pressure journalists to stop reporting these stories.

Sometimes just linguistically changing the narrative of a story could take away from one side. For example, Israeli colonies are often referred to as “neighborhoods” because that word conveys friendliness while colonies are hostile and meant only for Jews.

The Israeli government has made it impossible for thousands of Palestinians to live in their homes by demolishing their houses and confiscating their property. They are helpless in this situation and often the only way they can stand up for themselves is through guerrilla tactics. Suicide bombings by Palestinians are done in protest to Israel but in the American media, it’s framed inversely: the occupation is in response to suicide bombings.

Today, there are claims of media bias from both sides: some feel that the American news media favors Palestine and others feel that it benefits Israel. The fact of the matter is that the American media sells a product: our attention. Its funding comes from corporations and organizations that want to capture our attention. These are the entities that control what we see and hear on TV, on the radio, and online. In a day and age where we can be made fully aware of the forces acting behind the American news media, it is important to stay vigilant and to keep an open mind when processing this new information.

– Charumati (Charu) Ganesh

Sources

Jhally, Sut, and Bathsheba Ratzkoff. Peace, Propaganda, & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Northampton, Mass.: Media Education Foundation, 2004.

Lexington. “Media Bias: American Coverage of Israel.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 3 Feb. 2012. Web. 27 July 2013.

 

Starving for Justice

One of the most compelling and straight-forward video clips on the situation of the prisoners at Guantanamo, and why we MUST ACT NOW if we are to call ourselves civilized human beings.

Reflections on A Force More Powerful: Danish Resistance to the Nazi Occupation

This post will discuss the vignette on Denmark in A Force More Powerful. Again, as with the other vignettes, I thought the film did a good job of providing a comprehensive overview of the scope of protest and nonviolence in Denmark during the Nazi occupation. Obviously, with the limited available video time, it would have been difficult for the film to provide more specific details, but I feel that it provides a basic working knowledge of the events that occurred. This vignette, as well as any of the other sections of the documentary, could serve as a great starting point for those interested in specific case studies of active nonviolence.

To start, it seems to have been a shrewd decision for Denmark to avoid initially resisting the occupation with military force. Though the policy of the occupiers would become increasingly strict and eventually lead to heavy-handed regulations and curfews, the film shows how there was a relatively long period of time in the meanwhile for a social movement to incubate.

Also interesting in this clip was how Danish nationalism manifested itself in a relatively nonviolent way. People in the film discussed how celebrating the Danish king became a way of resisting the occupation, and had nothing to do, necessarily, with supporting a dictatorship or monarchy. So, pre-existing identities and traditions proved themselves important to building a movement in new contexts, as people gathered in parks to sing their national anthem.

In many of the vignettes in A Force More Powerful, we see that the power holders do not initially “take seriously” the actions of those movements that end up making a big difference. The case of the Nazi occupation largely ignoring gatherings of Danish nationalism is another instance of this. By the time the Danish government was asked to stop the sabotage and strikes that were being continually organized through the underground press, it turned out that the “official” Danish government really did not have much control any more. As the film pointed out, the “authority” over the people had moved underground, away from any easily targeted central cohort of individuals or institutions. I wonder if this type of decentralized authority allows for more community based, durable, “people-powered” politics.

The section where the vignette discussed the Danish populace’s response to Nazi persecution of Danish Jews was especially interesting, because it revealed how a popular non-obedience was able to circumvent attempts at repression. After all, many discussions of the Nazi occupation of various countries in Europe and Eastern Europe include arguments that pre-existing anti-Semitism, while not directly precipitating the Holocaust, facilitated the Nazis’ genocidal acts due to indirect or direct cooperation with repression. It was therefore important to see that in the case of Denmark, according to the film, widespread disobedience of Nazi forces by non-Jewish Danes allowed many Jewish people to escape the country – to Sweden, for example – rather than face repression and genocide.

Overall, this vignette on Danish resistance to Nazi rule was reassuring. It showed how widespread nonviolent resistance, even in the face of a vastly more “powerful” military occupying force, has the potential to overcome repression and promote long-term survival through decentralized non-cooperation.

-Ansel Courant, MPT Intern

Reflections on A Force More Powerful: “Nashville: ‘We Are Warriors'”

This post will discuss one the first three vignettes from A Force More Powerful, a documentary about nonviolence as a form of political activism. I will be focusing on the second vignette – “Nashville: ‘We Are Warriors’” – which looks at how the sit-ins at lunch counters were organized in Nashville during the early period of the American Civil Rights Movement as a way of protesting against segregation in a nonviolent way.

Overall, the piece provided a great overview of events, discussing the various challenges involved with nonviolent activism, as well as some of the specifics of how nonviolence ended up being the method used by the movement. I will talk about some aspects of the vignette that most stuck out to me, including the difficulties of nonviolence training, the challenges of capturing the public eye and winning the “sympathy of the majority,” and the nuances of the way we conceptualize nonviolence.

COMPLICATIONS OF TRAINING
In terms of training, I was interested to see the role-playing that took place during preparations for the sit-ins, where white males harassed one of the individuals in training, even making somewhat aggressive physical contact. Yet, immediately after the exercise was over, Jim Lawson led everyone in smiling and laughing it off. The contrast between moments was striking to me, especially given that in a “real” conflict situation, the smiling and laughter would presumably not be around break the tension and pain. In any case, I imagine that as someone training for nonviolent activist techniques, it must be very difficult to play the role of an attacker, having to say and do hateful things, even in a role-playing situation… So, the film pushed me to wonder about how to best prepare for violence and aggression, and whether the fact that it’s only “role-playing” can still prevent the emotional damage resulting from violence.

SYMPATHY OF THE MAJORITY
One idea discussed in the film was the importance of capturing the “sympathy of the majority” in order for the movement to enact meaningful social change. The nonviolent methods used in Nashville, the vignette argues, were effective means of gaining the “sympathy of the majority,” meaning that a relatively large segment of civil society was able to identify with the movement. For example, the 98% boycott participation among blacks was an impressive statistic, and may say a lot about the power of nonviolent movements to be inclusive and far-reaching, as opposed to combat-oriented movements that must rely on specific groups of people from the population.

In order to be able to capture a widespread “sympathy,” the vignette showed how the goals of the movement were necessarily specific and limited. Since it was already a big task to be challenging segregation, the movement did not seem to be trying to question other norms, such as those regarding clothing or the intersection of racial and gender norms. For example, there was a dress code implemented for sit-ins, and we heard a clip of Jim Lawson, during a training, saying that a black and a white person of the opposite sex should not go to the same counter during the protest, because that would create too much violence. While my initial reaction was to feel that the movement was not radical enough, I can understand how creating specific and limited goals can make a movement more effective and gain the sympathies of more people. After all, later in the vignette we saw a man describing how the apparent “innocence” of the “well-dressed college kids” at the sit-ins was what helped to win over more hearts and minds both inside and outside of the community.

It was perhaps this “innocence” and clean presentation that was fundamental to the movement’s success, making it “respectable” in a way that could build sympathy and respect. It was also interesting how being arrested and sent to jail was, just as in the case of Ghandi’s movement, something that was beneficial to the public image and legitimacy of the movement in Nashville. After all, as the film noted, getting press coverage was rather difficult at first; newspapers really did not know how to react to what was happening. The fact that people were being literally arrested and sent to jail, though, was a way to drive home the fact that institutionalized inequality did exist and was being perpetuated by law. By being jailed, members of the movement were able to show how the “correct” functioning of the system (to enforce its own laws) was flawed and fundamentally unjust. And because the individuals sitting at the lunch counter presented themselves in a clean and organized way, their arrests drew more sympathy on a wide scale (not just locally, either).

Of course, it was not clear what percentage of whites were immediately convinced to identify with the goals of the movement, and the mayor’s public resolution to stop segregation did not lead to instantaneous change. The film noted that it took 3 or 4 years after the mayor had agreed to desegregate Nashville that institutionalized segregation had officially been eliminated. I wonder if continued protests, with the goal of speeding the process of desegregation, would have been effective. Still, despite the delay, it seems that the nonviolent methods of the sit-ins were an effective approach to change the way that the city’s institutions worked by winning sympathy rather than violently “taking” rights.

NONVIOLENCE AS ACTIVE – BUT SHOULD IT BE COMBATIVE?
On this note, the film brought up an important question for me regarding the way that we approach nonviolent activism. Several of the speakers in this segment characterized nonviolence as an active struggle that requires discipline and rigorous preparation, which seems to be very observant, based on the way that each of the successful movements in the film required a great deal of planning and training in order to be effective. One speaker, however, describes non-violence as a fight, with “weapons” that are immaterial, and explains that nonviolence is in many ways “more forceful” and more difficult because you must “win over” the other person.

My question is, what are the advantages and disadvantages of characterizing nonviolent struggle as a type of combat? On one hand, it seems problematic to do so, because it is framing activism in a violent way. The way we think about and say things is important to how they take shape in “reality,” so seeing nonviolence as a form of combat has the potential to perpetuate the violent framework usually used to address conflicts. If we see nonviolence as “conquering the other” (rather than, say, trying to build networks of peace and collaboration through compassion and courage), are we simply transforming the violence to a primarily ideological one?

On the other hand, referring to nonviolence in terms of combat helps highlight the fact that nonviolence is far from easy, and requires confrontation and a great deal of courage. It also re-appropriates terms traditionally used in a violent context, potentially redefining the way we think about conflict and moving the “standard” approach to conflict resolution away from violent means.

This question of the way to frame nonviolence is what struck me most during the film. I am currently ambivalent about the use of combative vocabulary as a way to characterize nonviolent activism. I hope to learn more about nonviolent struggles in order to better understand the specific forms that nonviolence takes shape and the best (and most effective) ways to talk about it without also perpetuating the unfortunate “normalcy” of conflict and competition.

-Ansel Courant, MPT Intern

Reflections on A Force More Powerful Documentary: Chile Vignette

The vignette about Chile from the documentary A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, directed by Steve York, focuses on the overthrowing of the dictator Pinochet during the 1980s and the movement to establish democracy in the country. According to the documentary, Pinochet’s ruthless military rule and brutality toward any opposition created a sense of fear, paranoia, and terror among Chilean citizens in their everyday lives. Executions, disappearances, and imprisonments were common tactics employed by his regime that allowed him to retain power over the people for a decade before anyone felt empowered enough to overcome their fear and take action against him. This made me realize that the primary source of government power lies in instilling fear in the people. Once the people are no longer subdued by their fear, the government loses its power to control them.

This is what happened in 1983, when a severe economic crisis occurred in the country, causing the citizens to become desperate for change and feel that they had nothing left to lose. Copper miners began the resistance to the dictatorship by organizing a strike, but when military troops threatened the strikers with violence, they changed strategies and decided to hold a “National Day of Protest” that would mobilize the entire Chilean population. Soon, monthly protests and rallies were held representing various groups all opposing Pinochet, and citizens became hopeful that mass demonstrations alone would be successful in ending his reign.

However, some Communist factions living in extreme poverty began to resort to violence and guerrilla warfare in fighting against Pinochet’s military troops. The documentary highlighted the citizens’ struggle in reaching the point where they faced the choice of how best to proceed with their struggle—either with or without violence.  I found this debate between the two options to be very powerful. Violence had commonly been used in other, previous socio-political conflicts throughout South America, and in every instance it brought with it high levels of bloodshed and destruction. Although it may seem daunting to fight without weapons against an armed opponent, the alternative of fighting violence with violence just doesn’t make any sense. This reminds me of the quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Thus, this part of the documentary emphasizes how violence is actually a desperate move by the weak to grab power but has no real authority behind it.

Ultimately, the Chileans pursued a nonviolent approach to standing up for their rights by making their voices heard in the 1988 election where citizens could vote “yes” or “no,” indicating whether or not they wanted Pinochet’s rule to continue for another eight years. A campaign supporting the “no” vote was organized, urging citizens to feel safe to vote against the dictator, and television commercials were broadcasted to expose the human rights violations committed by Pinochet and to display how bright the future of Chile would be without him at the head of the government. By the end of the election, the “no” vote had won, and Pinochet accepted the defeat.

The fact that these results were achieved by ordinary people doing extraordinary things, and, most importantly, in nonviolent ways, is a very inspiring example for me demonstrating how nonviolent peacemaking is actually highly effective. The collective participation of seven million people who took a stand for their rights as human beings is what was responsible for these positive changes in Chile, which would not have been possible had violence been utilized. No longer did they stand aside and let a single ruler have the authority to create fear inside them and make them feel powerless over their own lives. By working in solidarity and employing peaceful methods, they were able to reclaim their rights and to dismantle the dictatorship that oppressed them for years in the past so that they could create a better future. By the end of the documentary, I felt empowered that peace really works if you give it a chance.

-Alison Zacharias, MPT Intern

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Source:

A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Dir. Steve York. York Zimmerman Inc., 2000. DVD.

Image:

“No” Campaign Infographic. Digital image. Google Images. Infogr.am. Web. 23 May 2013. <>

Reflections on A Force More Powerful Documentary: South Africa Vignette

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The documentary A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, directed by Steve York, presents a series of vignettes focusing on specific struggles across the world that have employed nonviolent methods to fighting oppression and brutality. The third vignette concentrating on apartheid in South Africa particularly struck me as a strong example of the power behind active nonviolent peacemaking. People often mistakenly conflate nonviolence with non-action, but this film emphasizes the idea that fighting violence with violence achieves nothing, and there are more beneficial methods of taking a stand for one’s rights that do not involve taking up arms.

Under apartheid, black citizens were forced to live in poor neighborhoods, were not given equal rights, and were treated brutally by police forces for not complying with them. The struggle against this oppression lasted for decades. As the documentary demonstrates, many of the black South African citizens were inspired by the teachings of Gandhi and began to organize a resistance to the apartheid regime using nonviolent methods. The black leaders in Port Elizabeth organized a boycott of the stores in the white townships in order to put pressure on the white community. Without black citizens purchasing products from these stores, the Port Elizabeth retailers became desperate. The boycotts received widespread attention and created a stir throughout the entire nation. What really shocks and inspires me is that, according to the documentary, even though resistance to apartheid had been occurring for decades, this boycott became the most successful and effective technique up to that point in only five days’ time, because it posed a genuine threat to the apartheid ruling party. The black South Africans participating in this boycott were not doing anything illegal (even though many of the leaders and participants were arrested), and they were not using any type of violence, yet their actions catalyzed the movement to end racial segregation in their country more than previous methods had. Their ability to organize the masses to take collective action and to resist their oppressors through Gandhi’s ideas of civil disobedience are what led them to be successful in effecting social change in ways that violence could never have achieved.

Although these boycotts cannot claim sole credit for overthrowing the apartheid regime, they did pave the way for de-legitimizing the apartheid government and for empowering black South African citizens to realize that they had the power to pressure the state into hearing their demands and making changes to accommodate them. Most importantly, using the boycott approach to mobilize the masses is one prime example demonstrating the crucial role nonviolence plays in affording effective results. In 1993, a new constitution was written that guarantees equal rights for all South Africans, and in 1994, national democratic elections were held. It is inspiring to know that the nonviolent actions of the people were responsible for making these positive changes possible.

The South African vignette closed with an idea that I found to be truly moving: Tyrants often believe that arms are the most dangerous threat that they should fear, but really, what tyrants should fear most are the people they rule. As Desmond Tutu said, “When people decide they want to be free, there is nothing that can stop them” from overcoming oppression. There is no weapon more powerful than the human will, and the best results are achieved when people work together in positive and peaceful ways to create change rather than violent and destructive ones. The movement to end apartheid in South Africa is just one of many stories proving that, contrary to popular belief, peace really is a force more powerful than violence.

-Alison Zacharias, MPT Intern

Source:

A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict. Dir. Steve York. York Zimmerman Inc., 2000. DVD.

Image:

A Force More Powerful. Digital image. Google Images. Social Uplift Foundation. Web. 22 May 2013. <<http://images.google.com>&gt;

Hello world!

In 2013, Michigan Peace Team will be expanding, and taking on a new name: META PEACE TEAM.  “Meta” comes from the Greek, meaning beyond….and we are moving beyond our self-imposed barriers…

  • …beyond the borders of Michigan, and the United States, to the world
  • …beyond racism, sexism, homophobism
  • …beyond hate and fear and violence

…and To a new world, grounded in peace with justice.  Join us.