From Thursday, October 20 to Sunday, October 23 I attended the Gandhi-King Conference in Memphis, TN. This was my third time attending and presenting at the conference and, like always, it remains one of the highlights of my year. This year the conference was organized in partnership with the Peace and Justice Studies Association, which brought in even more outstanding presenters and scholars. I was part of two sessions this year. The first was a panel organized by Michael Nagler, president and founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence. The topic was, “Nonviolence: Principled and Strategic,” which looked at the ongoing conversation that seeks to clarify the distinctions and commonalities between the two orientations to the practice of nonviolence. The second session was a participatory workshop I designed and facilitated called, “Teach the Struggle: Nonviolence in the Classroom,” which engaged participants in a variety of activities and exercises they can use with their own students to explore various concepts related to nonviolent action and civil resistance. The amazing thing about that workshop is that about ten minutes into it, Dolores Huerta walked in to join us!!! More on that later. Continue reading to learn more…
- Check out my Bundle of tweets, for a quick snapshot of what I picked up, shared, experienced, and absorbed during the conference.
After arriving in Memphis on Thursday afternoon, I spent the evening hanging out at the Otherland Coffee Bar with some of the other conference attendees to watch David Rovics. It was a good time, with good food (one of the best veggie burgers I’ve had), good coffee, and good music. Check out some of the short recordings (AudioBoos) I made during his performance.
The conference officially started the next morning. The opener was both a welcome to all the conference participants and a farewell to all the youth participants who, for the last two days, had been attending the youth conference.
Below are a list of the workshops/panels I attended…
Workshop – Mutual Suspicion or Mutual Admiration? Exploring the Spiritual and Scientific Approaches to Nonviolence
Stephanie Van Hook, Houston Wood
On Friday Morning I attended the workshop, “Mutual Suspicion or Mutual Admiration? Exploring the Spiritual and Scientific Approaches to Nonviolence,” which was moderated by Stephanie Van Hook from the Metta Center for Nonviolence and Houston Wood from Hawaii Pacific University. It was an interesting round table-like conversation that I felt brought forward some interesting points. One of the key take aways from this workshops for me were that both approaches to nonviolence clearly have merit, but with the emergence of nonviolence/civil resistance increasingly being studied from a social scientific perspective, has brought this method of action into the lexicon of other academic fields like political science and sociology. I see the social science approach as building a bridge between those who have studied and practiced spiritual nonviolence for generations and those in academia and policy-making circles who until recently, tended to dismiss nonviolent action as solely a spiritual practice that did not warrant the attention other forms of struggle and conflict warranted.
One of the most recent contributions to this social scientific exploration of civil resistance is Dr. Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria Stephan’s book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. With their quantitative research and analysis, this book will give those who see the power of nonviolent action the ability and data to back up their assertions with more than anecdotal information and qualitative data.
Featured Panel – Nonviolence, Principled and Strategic
Michael Nagler, Elavie Ndura, Matt Meyer, Daryn Cambridge
This was a good follow up to the workshop I attended in the morning. It explored some similar approaches, but sought to address what appears to be a debate over which approach to nonviolence is “better,” or a more accurate conception of the phenomenon. One of the key take-aways from Michael’s talk was his view that strategic nonviolent conflict or civil resistance does not introduce a new kind of power into the system. He believes that spiritual or principled nonviolence is concerned with incorporating, what peace researcher Kenneth Boulding referred to as, integrative power, which is “the power of positive action to represent the truth as I see it, and I have faith that in the process we will draw closer in our relationship.” Nagler made the points that only through principled nonviolence approaches would integrative power be introduced and in turn help bring about “the great turning,” which is phrase used by both Joanna Macy and David Korten meaning, “the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.”
I do not necessarily disagree with this argument, but I do believe that strategic nonviolence or civil resistance also introduces a new kind of power – pluralistic/bottom-up power, which views power structures as being dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of the people and multiple segments of society. This consent-based view helps people better understand their own agency in bringing about social, political, and economic change and recognizing other ways, outside of violence, that ordinary people can resist injustice and oppression.
I agree with Michael that the “great turning” is a an ideal outcome of nonviolent action. I argued, however, that to successfully introduce nonviolence as a preferred method of action depends on the situation that has triggered that person’s interest in the practice. It would be difficult to describe nonviolence as “offering dignity to one’s opponent” or “loving one’s oppressor” and have the practice strongly resonate or appeal to someone who has lived under occupation for their entire life and been treated as sub-human by their occupiers. In other words, their entry point for adopting nonviolent action as a method of struggle may not be best aligned with the principled orientation. If that same person were to be introduced to nonviolence as the more effective way of defeating one’s opponent by using people power to dismantle the structures that are oppressing her or him, she or he may then be more inclined to continue exploring the practice of nonviolence, but from a purely strategic orientation.
In other words, it is strategic to gauge how one’s struggle reveals what their entry point to nonviolence might be. It is also principled to first listen to those who are struggling before determining what orientation will best meet their needs at that point.
All that being said, I think a truly revolutionary nonviolent movement may begin from a strategic orientation, but the process through which the struggle is waged – mobilization of diverse segments of society, backfire to violence, and coercion or persuasion of one’s adversary – can confirm within us, the principles of nonviolence – both the spiritual and moral dimensions. Tapping into our common humanity, our natural disinclination to commit acts of violence against our brothers and sisters, and our recognition to live in the service of sustainable life as opposed to exploitative death – these are all principles that through engaging in a nonviolent action will emerge if the movement, in my mind, is to be truly revolutionary.
Workshop – Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future
Susan Gelber Cannon
This was a fascinating workshop facilitated by Susan Gelber Cannon – peace educator and author of the book, Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future. After the workshop I conducted a short interview with her. In it she speaks about how she uses the documentary film series, A Force More Powerful, in her teaching.
Workshop – New Voices: Expertise from the Margins
This session looked at an upcoming edited book that graduate students at Portland State University have edited. Its goal is to bring other fields into the study of conflict resolution through a more diverse set of perspectives and voices. One thing I found to be particularly interesting from this discussion was that the field of conflict resolution really emerged from Gandhi, yet through the years academia has co-opted this field and bumped Gandhi out of the picture. This book hopes to bring that nonviolence perspective, along with others, back into the field.
Panel – The International Institute for Peace Education as a Global Learning Movement for Peace
Janet Gerson, Tony Jenkins, Dale Snauwaert, and Betty Reardon
This workshop was an absolute delight to be a part of for several reasons. First, two of the panelists, Tony Jenkins and Dale Snauwaert I had met earlier in the year at the National Peace Academy’s Peacebuilding Peacelearning Intensive and learned a tremendous amount from both of them. Second, the two other panelists, Janet Gerson and Betty Reardon, are two peace educators I have been eager to meet for years. Both Betty and Janet directed the Center for Peace Education and Columbia University’s Teachers College and have been leaders and pioneers in this field for decades. Lastly, the International Institute on Peace Education is one of the largest networks of peace educators and practitioners in the world and it was interesting to hear how that large network is engaged in both the theory and practice of peace education through IIPE programs.
Workshop – Teach the Struggle: Nonviolence in the Classroom
The description for my workshop read as follows: Nonviolent movements have been critical in shaping and transforming human history. Nonviolent action is becoming an increasingly powerful force in current global affairs as interest in this method of struggle is growing. Despite all this, attention given to nonviolence in the classroom is lacking in comparison to war and violent conflict. This participatory workshop introduces different activities and exercises educators can use to engage their students in the rich history and dynamic strategy of nonviolent struggle. Activities will explore such themes as history construction and its role in shaping student’s conceptions of power, nonviolent conflict analysis, and tactical mapping. Learning and teaching resources (DVDs, books, and computer game) will be shared, along with lesson plans.
The five exercises I intended to facilitate explored approaches to conflict, conceptions of power, how we determine if something is violent or nonviolent, nonviolent conflict analysis, and developing nonviolent strategy. I say, “intended,” because is is often the case with my workshops, I tend to include more than the time allows. With that we were really only able to do three of the activities.
Download my presentation slides to see outlines for all the exercises.
There were about twenty people who attended the workshop. I was delighted to see the high level of interest. And, as mentioned at the start of this post, it was an honor and privilege to have a iconic nonviolent leader join the workshop.
About ten minutes into the first activity, Dolores Huerta – co-founder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, current President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and one of the conference keynote speakers – walked into the room. I, and several other people, knew who she was. So after I finished the exercise one of the participants took the moment to officially acknowledge her. She then proceeded to explain that she was happy to see that this workshop was being offered. She mentioned that the state of California has recently passed an anti-bullying law and it requires that schools start incorporating the study of nonviolence into their curricula. As we went through the different exercises, she fully participated and offered insights from her own experience with nonviolence during her time with the United Farm Workers and since then as she continues to do community organizing work.
Another great outcome of this workshop is that within 48 hours of returning home from the conference I received two emails from folks who participated in the workshop. They were writing to tell me that they had already used some of the exercises from the workshop in their classrooms. Its always good to see that a workshop at a conference actually leads to new works, experiences and approaches in people’s lives and professions.
As always, this was a great conference. I only wish it could have been longer. There were so many great peace educators with whom I got to re-connect – Tom Hastings, Barbara Wien, Tony Jenkins, Dave Ragland, Lee Smithey, Kelly Kraemer, David Smith, Eric Stoner, Bryan Farrell, Michael Nagler, Dale Snauweart, Reba Parker, and Marc Simon. And there were so many new folks I got to meet and connect with – Susan Gelber Cannon, Patrick Hiller, Jennifer Killham, John Noltner, Pat Leahan, Peter Gould, Betty Reardon, Janet Gerson, and many others. To spend just two and a half days with these folks is an inspiration!