DO AS YE WILL AND HARM YE NONE
The Occupy Movement provides an opportunity to build bridges. Let's use its example to build a better world.
There have been a number of postings circulating lately regarding the virtues of nonviolence.
It is very true that violence (whether physical violence or angry rhetoric) serves no useful, long-term purpose. It diminishes the person engaging in it, reducing them to the level of the "other." Instances of violence are also eagerly broadcast by the powers-that-be and those working against the movement to undermine the person's credibility among the people who are already working in the movement and those who are straddling the fence.
However, people in the anti-war/peace and social justice movements also have to be aware that some of us have more reason to be outraged than others. It is dismissive and disrespectful to imply otherwise, which sometimes occurs when it comes to acknowledging diversity of tactics.
It is easy to spout peace platitudes if you are in a position of privilege, whether racially, ethnically, economically and/or educationally. Already marginalized people -- the victims of oppression and repression -- who speak of peace and nonviolence have a bit more credibility with their peers than those who speak from a more intellectual, philosophical, academic level. However, because they are marginalized, their voices often are not heard, unless they are charismatic leaders and exceptional orators, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Gandhi, and the time is already ripe for change.
We are quite judgmental in our peace and justice work. We pick and choose our allegiances based on who we feel more comfortable with, operating not much differently from high school cliques. We are very quick to put down people for not being as peaceful as ourselves, for not maintaining equanimity, for not emulating Jesus or Buddha. We choose to ignore that perhaps we can be peaceful and show equanimity because we are not suffering to the same extent as the person who is outraged and enraged. We are afraid of their outrage and their rage; perhaps because we realize that we might be somewhat complicit in the reasons they are so angry and impatient and frustrated and on the verge of violence. We don't make the effort to discover our common ground. We are frightened of diversity, whether it be the people themselves or their tactics.
We complain that there are no young people in the peace and social justice movement. (In fact, some organizers have resorted to describing as "youth" anyone under 40, which is somewhat ludicrous.) We say that all the young people are at the mall. We judge young people because they wear black, because they mask their faces with bandanas, because they are angry and frustrated and not able to express their rage in a way that we are comfortable with. We shun them. We decide that our movement is inclusive only to a point.
Two very poignant signs showed up on the first day march of Occupy Portland. "Seventeen with no future" and "Our futures paid for your rose-colored glasses." Should we be proud that this is the type of sentiments that we (the collective we because we are all complicit) inspire in our youth, who are our future? Is it any wonder that they are angry and resentful? What can we do to be their allies and support them? How can we mutually mentor each other?
Che Guevara reminded, "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a feeling of great love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force."
The Occupy Movement is being so successful right now because it is not single-issue. It respects everyone's concerns and very wisely recognizes that concerns are often interconnected. It is allowing everyone to have a voice, even if their voices shake and even if their voices were previously unheard. It recognizes that, "Yes, do it yourself, but do it together too." There is power in community.
We need to start talking to each other.
The late Bonnie Tinker, a well-loved peace and social justice activist, whose loss is still deeply mourned by the peace and social justice community, had a well-deserved reputation of being able to connect people and groups that might have seemed very disparate. Bonnie was a Seriously Pissed Off Grannie and founder of Love Makes a Family. Bonnie created the LARA method of nonviolent, respectful dialogue. Cecil Prescod, another well-respected community activist, often co-facilitated LARA trainings with Bonnie.
LARA (Listen, Affirm, Respond, Add) training includes guidelines for respectful dialogue. As described by Bonnie:
1. L - Listen
LISTEN behind the words until you can hear how a person of principle could possibly hold the view being expressed. Listen till your heart understands how what they are saying connects to something you believe to be true. Don't say anything until you have heard this.
2. A - Affirm
AFFIRM, with the first words out of your mouth, that you share some principle or value with this person. Don't talk about the shared belief, but demonstrate it by using an "I" statement.
3. R - Respond
RESPOND with a direct answer to the concern expressed. By not dodging the question or issue, you show that you respect the other person and you show that you are not afraid of their opinion.
4. A - Add
ADD some new fact, or better yet, something from your personal experience that gives some new information or a different point of view.
Repeat this process for as long as you are willing and able to engage with an open heart and clear mind.
Talking to people -- and actually listening to people -- who appear to be quite different from us is scarey and very difficult. It is a leap of faith. It is also the first step to radical social change.
More information on the "Principles of Respectful Dialogue" can be found at
In solidarity, love and peace.
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