What We Can Really Learn From Gandhi? “When I Am Arrested”

Yves here. One of the reasons protests in America wind up being futile is that there are few people who feel they can make the sacrifices that are inherent in confronting power and risking losing. While the example of Gandhi brings up large scale protests, where participants risk being beaten and imprisoned, individuals can protest in other ways, for instance, by whistleblowing.

Many people feel they cannot take the downside of an arrest, since in our surveillance state, it will probably show up in a background check, thus damaging one’s employment prospects in an already difficult job market. As many readers have pointed out, quiet desperation has reduced the number of people who are willing to make sacrifices. And for those who have children or aging parents, the certain damage they’d suffer by losing someone essential to their care almost certainly looks like a very hig cost relative to what might be gained via political opposition.

Recall that one of the things that motivated Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers was that he had become involved in the anti-war movement, and he knew many people who’d not just been arrested for opposing the war, but had been sentenced to several years in prison. He increasingly regarded himself as hypocritical for not being willing to make a similar sacrifice. He thoroughly expected to spend years behind bars as a result of handing classified documents to the media.

This article suggests that for protest to be successful, there needs to be a core group that is prepared to make considerable sacrifices, including risking death.

Recall the closing remarks from Nelson Mandela’s speech in his Rivonia trial, included in the audio extracts below:

It is not fitting for me to exhort others to take risks that I am not taking myself. But it is also not hard to see that courage is a quality sorely missing in public life.

By Chris Moore-Backman, who has been involved in human rights accompaniment in Colombia as well as tax resistance and car-free living. He now lives in Bisbee, Arizona and leads workshops on the teachings of Gandhi. Originally published in Geez magazine; syndicated from www.earthlingopinion.files.wordpress.com

Once again I’m thinking back to the 16th of February 2003. By that time, my own experiments with nonviolence had formed my lukewarm (at best) opinion of the marches and rallies currently in fashion. But February 16th was not a day to let skepticism reign. The Iraq War was imminent and people were taking to the streets. I knew I ought be among them. And, while I cannot claim that I stepped out on that winter morning with every bit of my hard-earned skepticism left at the door, I did step out. With an earnest and open heart, I stepped out.

Downtown, I met up with a small group from my Quaker meeting. We wove among many thousands of our fellow San Franciscans, adding our voices to a resounding “no,” collectively and clearly pronounced in the face of the looming re-invasion of Iraq. It was an exhilarating day. It was a day of passion and purpose. Perhaps most dazzling and heartening was the knowledge that our voices were lifted in concert with millions of others the world over.

Remember that? We were experiencing a taste of the immense potential of people and of the great underlying solidarity that bound us together. It was a marvelous day. And, it was one of the loneliest days of my life. The profound loneliness I experienced wasn’t simply a case of my skeptic shadow getting the best of me. On the contrary, it was the relaxed grip of my skepticism that opened me to the truth I encountered that day. In the painful isolation I had that singular experience of clearly seeing something for the first time that at some level I had known all along.

Amidst the day’s exhilaration it was plain to me that something essential was missing—that there was, in fact, a gaping void at the very heart of it all. Deep down, I knew that this marvelous day was a day of certain failure. I knew that our massive mobilization to stop the war would inevitably and necessarily fade, and it would do so quickly. During the march, my eyes were invariably drawn by particular phrases scrawled on several of the signs and banners. And I couldn’t help but think of the person behind those catchy one-liners: Gandhi.

Like every great prophet Gandhi is customarily placed on a pedestal. We revere him as a patron saint of nonviolence, a mahatma—the Sanskrit term of veneration meaning great soul—a larger-than-life figure we can never hope to fully emulate. We hold him at this comfortable distance, deeply impressed and inspired, while remaining free and clear from what he actually taught. Gandhi himself bristled at the thought of being called mahatma, doubting his worthiness of the accolade, and knowing well that such veneration would necessarily distract people from what he was actually doing. Gandhi urged his fellow Indians not to exalt him but to look at the nuts and bolts of nonviolent transformation.

Over the last decade, I’ve seen my primary work as that of taking Gandhi down off the pedestal. I’ve studied him closely, including his teachings about Satyagraha, a term coined by him and variously translated as “truth force,” “soul force” or “clinging to truth,” generally used in reference to nonviolent resistance or a specific nonviolent campaign. I am committed to listen to Gandhi as a trusted guide with concrete instructions relating to my here-and-now, day-to-day life. Following February 16, 2003, this quest became particularly focused. I felt compelled to understand both the gaping hole I experienced that day and the nature of its possible remedy. I hoped Gandhi’s life and work would offer guidance. And in due time, I found this guidance in the space of a single paragraph penned by Gandhi at a critical point in his life.

On February 27, 1930, two short weeks prior to launching the Salt Satyagraha, a pivotal episode in India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire, Mohandas Gandhi wrote a short article for a national publication. The article was called “When I am Arrested.” While the Salt Satyagraha has been the subject of immense interest to scholars and activists, this article appears to have gone mostly unnoticed. This is understandable, given the drama of the “great march to the sea” and the massive civil disobedience that followed it.

The British, in order to maintain their monopoly on the salt industry, had prohibited any unsanctioned production or sale of salt. Gandhi defied British imperialism by leading a 385-kilometre trek to the Dandi seashore and lifting a now-iconic fistful of salt above his head in contravention of the salt laws. It stands as one of the most potent touchstones in the history of nonviolent resistance.

It’s hard not to get lost in the drama, power and personality of the Salt Satyagraha, but if we look closely at “When I am Arrested,” we catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the inner workings and design of India’s independence movement. Gandhi published the article to put the masses of India on alert and to give them a final set of instructions. It also offered an impassioned battle cry, culminating with Gandhi’s declaration that this time not a single nonviolent devotee of Indian independence “should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.”

Within this call to action I found the paragraph I believe we activists most need to hear. The paragraph refers to the ashram that was Gandhi’s home, a place where religious devotees lived, raised their food and worshipped together. It was also the starting point of the march to the sea.

“So far as I am concerned, my intention is to start the movement only through the inmates of the Ashram and those who have submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit of its methods. Those, therefore, who will offer battle at the very commencement will be unknown to fame. Hitherto the Ashram has been deliberately kept in reserve in order that by a fairly long course of discipline it might acquire stability. I feel, that if the Satyagraha Ashram is to deserve the great confidence that has been reposed in it and the affection lavished upon it by friends, the time has arrived for it to demonstrate the qualities implied in the word satyagraha. I feel that our self-imposed restraints have become subtle indulgences, and the prestige acquired has provided us with privileges and conveniences of which we may be utterly unworthy. These have been thankfully accepted in the hope that some day we would be able to give a good account of ourselves in terms of satyagraha. And if at the end of nearly 15 years of its existence, the Ashram cannot give such a demonstration, it and I should disappear, and it would be well for the nation, the Ashram and me.”

What struck me that day in San Francisco, on the eve of war, was that we peace-minded folk were entirely unprepared for the battle at hand. Our so-called “movement” lacked the depth necessary to sustain it. It came as no surprise, then, to see that after the bombs started dropping, we returned, with few exceptions, to our lives—to business, “progressive” though it may have been, as usual. Though committed nonviolent practitioners dappled the crowd that day, the marching thousands were not grounded by the presence of a core group such as that which gave such depth to India’s independence movement or the civil rights movement, which drew heavily on Gandhi’s teaching and example. Try as we might to organize faithful and effective nonviolent resistance, if we proceed as though the battle doesn’t require that kind of depth, discipline and training, our efforts will necessarily continue to come up short. And where does such depth come from?

In Gandhi’s article, “When I Am Arrested,” he offers us a valuable clue: 78 people prepared for 15 years. In community life, they underwent the training of spiritual discipline and constructive work of social uplift. Though they were the core of the Salt Satyagraha, those 78 did not carry it out on their own. The great power of that movement was many-layered, involving literally millions of individuals responding to the direction of a superlative leader. But the role of that core of 78 was essential to the Salt Satyagraha’s success and the ultimate success of India’s struggle for independence.

If we want to truly benefit from Gandhi’s guidance here, we need to enter into a deep and soulful investigation of this ashram experience, and discover what Gandhi meant when he said that the Salt Satyagraha would only be started by those who had “submitted to its discipline and assimilated the spirit of its methods.” Gandhi calls for true transformation, a trading in of old lives for new. What is remarkable about Gandhi the teacher is not that he introduced novel concepts—he said himself that nonviolence is as “old as the hills”—but that he so deftly systematized the transformative work of building a nonviolent life, and that he did it in a way that can be effectively translated for our time and place.

Gandhi’s approach to nonviolence, which was the foundation of his ashram communities, points us to interrelated, mutually supportive spheres of experimentation. Nonviolence scholar Gene Sharp notes three such spheres in Gandhi’s writings: personal transformation, constructive program (work of social uplift and renewal), and political action, prioritized in that order. At the heart of Gandhi’s approach to social change is his understanding that the building blocks of a nonviolent society are the vibrant, productive, nonviolent lives of individual women and men.

Effective nonviolent political action does not spring from a vacuum; it grows out of daily living grounded in personal and communal spiritual practice, and in constructive service to one’s immediate and surrounding communities. Nonviolence on the political stage is only as powerful as the personal and community-based nonviolence of those who engage in it. The importance of the ashram experience flows from this understanding.

This fundamental aspect of the Gandhian design almost entirely eludes us in our North American context. Here, we most often employ the reverse order of Gandhi’s threefold approach, seeking a political response first, the building up of a constructive alternative second and the stuff of all-out personal reformation third, if at all. This reversal allows North American activists of faith to sidestep some of the most foundational aspects of Gandhi’s nonviolent recipe: namely, radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice.

Because we do not believe nonviolence requires these of us, we miss the necessity of the ashram experience. No one can build a nonviolent life as an individual. I may be able to practice some measure of piecemeal nonviolence more or less on my own, but if I’m going to pluck the seeds of war from every part of my life that I possibly can, if I am going to renounce and abandon the violence of my first-world way of life, I need to be surrounded by others whose knowledge, wisdom and experience will complement mine, and whose example and company will inspire me to stay the course.

The 78 members of Satyagraha Ashram who were the cadre of “foot soldiers” Gandhi chose to be the nucleus of the Salt Satyagraha were doing all of this for one another for a period of nearly 15 years. This prepared them for the high level of self-sacrifice that Gandhi foresaw when he said, “Not a single believer in nonviolence as an article of faith for the purpose of achieving India’s goal should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.” Until faith communities embrace this level of commitment and clarity of purpose, it is up to those of us who feel called in this direction to seek each other out.

We need to hold one another accountable to this magnificent charge. We need to manifest our shared strength and leadership. We need to move together toward the key ingredients in Gandhi’s nonviolent recipe—radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice. As we walk that long, disciplined, grace-filled path we and our religious communities will be rightly stretched. And in time, I trust that we will be gradually readied for sustained nonviolent struggle.

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30 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    The targeting of protestors with ‘something to lose’ is wider than just anti-war protests in the US. Back in the early 1990’s I was involved in various environmental protests in Britain and it was extremely obvious from the behaviour of the police that they were focusing on intimidating the better dressed and more obviously ‘respectable’ protestors. Sometimes it was as simple as following them around with a camcorder, recording their every move. Protestors were frequently held in cells overnight on specious grounds (often using anti-football hooligan or anti-rave laws), then released later in the morning – obviously a problem for people with jobs to attend in the morning. They didn’t mind paying compensation later for false imprisonment, the purpose of intimidation was achieved.

    The long run aim of this was to marginalise the hard core of protestors, then they could be dismissed as scruffy crusties and hippies and ‘dealt with’ out of view of the media. Sadly, it proved a very effective strategy.

    I’ve often thought that the most effective protestors are retired people – they have the time, and an element of protection that the younger don’t have (not least because police are very reluctant to tangle with older, more respectable people). Sadly, so many of the radical generation of the ’60’s seem to have lost their mojo.

    Reply
    1. Steve H.

      A simple version of the Frankfurt School agenda was to bring down western authoritarian culture with sex drugs & rock-n-roll.

      Depending on your perspective, it’s either working or it’s been co-opted.

      Reply
      1. Sid Finster

        If the present situation constitutes “working”, then I hate to see what “not working” looks like.

        That said, sex and drugs and rock and roll and self-indulgence is a lot easier and more fun than spiritual discipline, so I can understand why it’s popular and generally encouraged by those who wield power.

        Reply
  2. Janie

    Earlier this month 79 year old Ray McGovern was dragged out of a Senate hearing and arrested. He was told to “stop resisting” and was injured. Video shows him passively on the floor.

    Reply
    1. Annieb

      McGovern constantly told the cops as they dragged him out, “I am not resisting!” “I have a dislocated shoulder!” I suppose cops except you to stay upright and walk while they grab and drag you.They we’re still telling him to stop resisting when he was lying on the floor. He was speaking out against the new CIA director Gina Haspel.

      McGovern was a CIA analyst from 63-90 and in the 1990s he prepared the President’s daily brief.

      Reply
      1. Anon

        Nowadays the police know they are being recorded (audio/video body cameras) and use verbal commands to provide “facts” that the beating they give you is warranted. Another verbal “fact” police will use is “your drunk.” This provides a verbal “fact” that allows them to pursue further interrogation/investigation/harassment.

        There are few videos of police beating a “suspect” and using language that does not accurately describe the events at hand.

        The police fraternity know all the tricks. They are devious, but not smart.

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    2. Annieb

      McGovern was in the senate audience protesting against the new CIA director Gina Haspel when he was dragged out. He constantly told the cops he was not resisting and that he had a dislocated shoulder. But, cops kept telling him to stop resisting which seems to be their modus operandi now.
      McGovern was a CIA analyst from 1963-90 and in the 80s he prepared the President’s daily brief.

      Reply
  3. Watt4Bob

    “Not a single believer in nonviolence as an article of faith for the purpose of achieving India’s goal should find himself free or alive at the end of the effort.”

    While “radical simplicity, solidarity with the poor and disciplined spiritual practice” are the focus of this post, IMHO, that thing about a nation having a goal would seem an important part of the recipe.

    I know that it may seem that I harp on the faults of identity politics, but viewed from the perspective of Gandhi’s statement, it seems clear to me that at this moment, we’re a rabble, having so many disparate ‘goals’ that we may as well have no goal at all.

    How can this rabble, burdened as it is with an oblivious mis-leadership, expect any sort of success when faced with the militarized forces that protect the interests of the neoliberal consensus?

    The Occupy movement barely got to square one, and we have yet to fully understand the lessons of that experience.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You forget that occupying spaces was critical to how Occupy worked, particularly since their organizational processes, like consensus and discussions based on “stack,” were very time consuming.

      Occupy existed a mere two months and was crushed in a 17 city, coordinated paramilitary crackdown overnight. The areas were cordoned off so journalists were unable to cover the operations.

      Reply
      1. Sid Finster

        Regardless, the paramilitary tactics worked, at least insofar as Occupy is but a memory. Stop kidding yourself that it was some kind of moral victory.

        If there is a lesson to be learned from Occupy, it is that the people who hold power will stop at nothing to gain power and to retain their hold on power. In other words, they are sociopaths, or at least they exhibit traits indistinguishable from those of sociopaths. Any people in power who are not sociopaths will quickly be replaced by sociopaths, people who will pay any price to get power.

        Actually, I didn’t need Occupy to figure that out.

        Reply
      2. Watt4Bob

        As I clearly stated;

        we have yet to fully understand the lessons of that experience.

        My point is that without a clear goal, it’s hard to plan your trip, and you may end up somewhere other than where you want to be.

        It’s not the only, or possibly the most important lesson of the occupy experience, but it’s got to be high on the list.

        Reply
        1. Sid_finster

          Agreed, and that is probably the larger point of your post, not a discussion of occupy.

          That is also one of the beauties or tragedies (depending on how you look at it) of identity politics. When you spend so much time emphasizing the uniqueness of your experience, it’s hard to make common cause with anyone else.

          Reply
  4. Louis Fyne

    —This article suggests that for protest to be successful, there needs to be a core group that is prepared to make considerable sacrifices, including risking death.

    A bit morbid. But as a corollary to all those poli sci quotes about consent of the governed/Mao/Jefferson/war is politics by other means/etc., I’ll throw out this thought that consent is all about which side is willing to fight and die for their platform. And right now, in the unthinkable, infinitesimal chance the poop hits the fan in the US, it’s those right of center who will win.

    But as long as D states defy legal federal laws under a R president, inevitably R states will defy legal federal law with a D president, this may become inevitable?

    Reply
  5. Thuto

    “Give me liberty or give me death”, all people who win their liberty against a powerful oppressor must reach this internal, unshakable clarity that death is preferable to life under oppression. Against this type of resolve, repressive governments/tyrants/colonialists and their militarized death squads (read police) have no power, without this resolve from the oppressed masses, true, lasting freedom cannot be won.

    Fear (of death, imprisonment, criminal records etc) in the oppressed is what maintains the tyrant’s iron grip on his subjects. In an age of hyper virtue signalling via twitter activism where blasting 160 characters into cyberspace can make people feel like they’re “at least doing something”, the type of resolve needed to win lasting liberty will be very hard to come by.

    Reply
    1. jrs

      Actually they might first and foremost need the conviction that they are actually facing an oppressor and I’m not sure how widespread that really is (yes some minorities know it – blacks being targeted by cops etc., yes right wingnuts think it, but I’m not really sure we want their solution).

      The few radical protestors who are convinced they face an oppressor may lack the courage to give up all they have for this, but isn’t it also a problem that many don’t really think they face an oppressor in the first place. And of course noone is raised to see the current oligarchy as an oppressor, it’s one reason people are afraid to sacrifice afterall, they were raised (brainwashed) to think they would never need to (because they “live in a democracy” etc.).

      Reply
  6. Mark Anderlik

    Thanks for posting this Yves. It is as important of a post as any about MMT or the perfidy of the Democrats/Labourites/Social Democrats.

    Since we live – or should aspire to live – as whole human beings, intellectual discourse is very important but not sufficient. Because the point of this blog, as I have come to understand it, is to change our political economy to something that serves all people, that also means looking at why so many of us can see what a better future can be but are having so much difficulty in realizing it.

    And having looked at those things that get in our way to realizing this revolutionary change, we necessarily look at our own lives in connection to the dominant institutions (capitalism, patriarchy, racism, statism, etc.) that currently order our society. It is necessary to also embody ourselves this change as much as we can.

    One thing I have discovered is the practical wisdom for long-term revolutionary struggle that Gandhi had learned and taught from his life. He usually approached his life as an “experiment in truth,” and that is a path that opens up possibilities in our own lives.

    I know many have a difficult time translating Gandhi’s life and work into their own lives. For example, living in an ashram is not what many of us are familiar with. However, there are functional equivalents that we can adopt – such as living more simply and together in groups larger that ourselves. Add to that some kind of engagement with others that helps us deepen our knowledge and our personality. This helps create the space and the ability for us to engage with the greater society. From there we can live with less money, less alienation, and less despair. This gives us more independence from the dominant institutions.This provides the foundation from which we can begin to resist the violence of the dominant institutions and help build in our lives the replacement of those institutions.

    Because of this intertwining of the three elements – personal growth and sustenance, constructive action, and nonviolent resistance – one can understand the dynamite of nonviolent social change and the truth of nonviolence that “the means help determine the ends.”

    If we are not to repeat the past socialist mistakes of imposing social change through a cadre of intellectual elites, the method that Gandhi broadly laid out shows us another path. And the beauty of it is that all of us, whatever our place in society or in life, can live our lives more consciously in the spirit of “experiments in truth” that can make us all better revolutionaries.

    Reply
  7. Anarcissie

    Being willing to die for whatever you want or believe in is impressive, but it’s not particularly moral, if moral means ‘how you treat other people’.

    Reply
  8. David

    Some good points. As a general rule power elites seldom give up power because they are nice, or have moral qualms about what they are doing. It’s because the cost (whether political, economic or violent) is greater than they are prepared to sustain. Whilst Gandhi’s story is significant, it’s important to remember that many other colonies became independent without violence, or even widespread peaceful protest, because the imperial powers simply couldn’t meet the financial cost of retaining them any more.
    I think Gandhi’s legacy is recognized now to the a bit more equivocal than the traditional picture. George Orwell, who was there, was quite clear that Gandhi was considered useful by the British colonial administration, because he channeled opposition that might otherwise have gone into violent protest into non-violence. Likewise, Indian historians will admit that Gandhi was heavily involved in the mutual ethnic cleansing that accompanied partition in 1947.
    But Gandhi was also working in a very specific context, where he was facing a colonial power which liked to think it was civilized, and, by the time of independence, was in desperate financial straits anyway. In, let’s say, occupied Poland in 1941, Gandhi would have lasted about five minutes. More generally, he was a Hindu mystic who believed that the world was ultimately an illusion, and death was not real: again, not necessarily an easy concept to transfer to today.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Ghandi is credited with gaining India’s freedom from British colonial rule following World War II. Many countries threw off colonial rule following the World War. If Ghandi’s methods succeeded so well against the British in India how would they have fared in dealing with the French in Algeria or the British in Cyprus or the Belgians in the Congo? The hero story of Ghandi’s nonviolence along with other hero stories of nonviolence seem told in strange isolation from their context. Could a Vietnamese ‘Ghandi’ have driven the U.S. colonial forces out of Viet Nam?

      Ghandi asserts a movement needs a cadre ready for martyrdom for the cause. Is that really a necessity? I prefer General Patton’s exhortation, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” War assumes acts of violence but so does martyrdom. I am suspicious of the glorifications made of nonviolent protests directly confronting power. Today’s nonviolent protests are little reported in our wholly owned press and an ignored and forgotten martyr is also called a statistic.

      Reply
    2. Mark Anderlik

      I’m not sure what your point is here. I do agree with your view that each situation is in many ways unique.

      But I could not disagree more.about your characterization of Gandhi in your last sentence. As a political thinker and practitioner, IMO maybe only Lenin is in the same league with him in the 20th century. I hope I am not mischaracterizing your comments. Apologies if I am.

      Before you seemingly write off nonviolent action as some kind of idealist fantasy, you would do well to study Gene Sharp’s work on the political dynamics of nonviolent action. Nonviolent action, as well documented by Sharp, has been used since time immemorial and is a critically important part of our social legacy.

      For example, to parallel your dismissal of nonviolent action in 1941 Poland, in 1943 Berlin, the non Jewish wives of Jewish Berliners successfully and nonviolently forced the Berlin Gestapo to release their husbands thus saving them from the ovens. Further, this “Rosenstrasse Protest” inspired another 1943 successful nonviolent action called the “Witten Women’s Protest.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenstrasse_protest

      Of course these are rather isolated events, but it is significant in that even the Nazi’s could be moved with popular nonviolent action. And these examples speak to the barely tapped potential of organized and strategic use of nonviolence action.

      As Sharp ably articulates and expands on, Gandhi’s theory of power is profound and liberating. It is the opposite of dreamy and lala feel good inaction as it requires the potential for sacrifice of its practitioners. No less than violent revolutionary theory.

      Gandhi did not dismiss revolutionary violence out of hand either. He believed that if an individual is faced with violence and injustice, it would be better to act violently, if that was the only apparent alternative, than to not act at all. Inaction in the face of injustices is the worst form of violence in Gandhi’s view.

      Reply
  9. precariat

    @Watt4Bob’s coommentre goals:

    Agreed, disparate goals and a populace deliberately subjected to info-ops and policies meant to divide and conquer is a hurdle for collective sentiment and action. And don’t the powers that be know it.

    A silver lining regarding the Trump dumpster fire of an administration is that his lack of slavish attention to neoliberal pieties means the citizens get an unvarnished sense of how the country really works (or doesn’t) and what it values (not the citizens). In other words, things may have to get bad and more than a few illusions of the Establishment’s manufactured consensus shattered in order for goals to take root. The inevitableness of this under Trump scares the crap out of the Establishment.

    Reply
  10. Left in Wisconsin

    There seem to be 2 distinct elements to this piece and thread:

    1. The tactics: While I am not convinced the track record for non-violence is all that great, I don’t see any hope (or, TBH, any moral argument) for violent revolution. So non-violence and political action is all we have. I do think it makes sense always and everywhere to work on getting the state’s enforcers (cops and military) to question the morality of their orders and commanding officers – and non-violence seems more helpful in that regard.

    2. The objective: I also see no hope for real change without some general consensus on what we are trying to achieve. Virtually everyone I know who shares my view that our country is on the wrong track seems convinced that things can be “fixed” by electing this or that politician or passing this or that law. I’m not opposed to naive optimism (I wish I still had some) but I think the bigger problem is co-optation of the “opposition” space by fakers (NGOs, media, Dems, etc) selling easy-fix snake oil.

    Perhaps the biggest success of neoliberalism has been the ability of its proponents to challenge even small, barely consequential reforms (i.e. carbon tax) as unthinkable. This blog has done heroic work in helping to get the Overton window shifted modestly to the left. But at some point we have to find a way to force it much further.

    Reply
    1. Mark Anderlik

      1. Nonviolent action is often a practical tactic and can be used quite successfully. Just ask the teachers of West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and elsewhere.

      Also the most efficient way to defeat an opponent, whether violently or non, is to sow dissention and confusion in the security forces, thereby neutralizing them.

      2. Perhaps our consensus is to resist the violent institutions of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, etc. and build new less violent ones in their stead. Seems like everyone on the progressive side of things has some peice of this.

      And is not many of the methods used to “keep us in our place” done with our cooperation and tacit consent? Governments fall when they have lost the tacit consent of a significant number of its citizens. Nonviolent use of power cuts both ways.

      Reply
  11. Damson

    So it basically boils down to the willingness to sacrifice life, limb and property.

    In a society – for lack of a better term – that has virtually lost all sense of transcendence and is deeply mired in materialism at all levels, this is very tall order.

    But there is another way – mass lock down.

    Make a demand.

    Pick your target.

    You’ll be ignored.

    So…

    Don’t go to work.

    Don’t shop.

    Ditch the idiot box.

    Spread the word on social media.

    Pick a date.

    One day.

    Reply
  12. Jeremy Grimm

    I heard an interesting idea recently. “Demand nothing … and wait.” This was advice for how to deal with a bureaucratic organization which controls your life — the context was a half-way house for the mentally ill.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I forgot to mention that the idea came from an old and very long-time resident of the half-way house.

      Reply
  13. RBHoughton

    The British Government on its way to empire formed an army whose officers were willing to die for an impersonal cause. How did they do that? Every officer fought for the King. He was not fighting for himself but for the monarch. That was his duty. Honorable conduct disallowed consideration of his personal safety.

    On that example we slaves of North America and Europe need a similar institution based on duty and honor backed up with what the Aussies call “mateship.” That should qualify us for democratic government.

    Reply
  14. Jeremy Grimm

    There is one important point I believe this post fails to make, or at least failed to make clear to me about Ghandi’s nonviolence. Ghandi’s Salt Satyagraha was a carefully designed piece of political theater. Ghandi’s act of marching to Dandi seashore and lifting a fistful of salt put British law enforcement authorities into a very uncomfortable position. They had to arrest a revered old man for picking up some a salt at an Indian seashore to enforce a law protecting a British monopoly on the salt. I believe the design of Ghandi’s protest was far more important than its nonviolence or the willingness of some core of his followers to become martyrs. Ghandi made the British look foolish and stupid, and made evident the patent injustice of the British law. It was an act which drew immediate sympathy and agreement from other Indians, and condemnation upon the British colonial system — all from a walk to the sea to pick up a little salt.

    Reply
  15. Ron Kjellstrom

    “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.” Stokely Carmichael

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