August 22, 2014

#Ferguson makes me angry. Teach me about Nonviolence.

Hands up, don't shoot!
You are angry, sad and upset about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri.  The injustices in Ferguson are reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement and the pictures remind us of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The unarmed youth, Mike Brown, laying dead in the street for hours, is just a modern version of a lynching for all to see.  You want to do something, but what?  Take to the streets?  Rise up?  Speak out?  Stand up for justice?  Rebel?  Revolt?  And what does that even mean?

The Civil Rights Movement was rooted in the philosophy of Nonviolence.  But what is that?  How does it work?  Most people think that the Civil Rights Movement was Martin Luther King giving the "I Have a Dream" speech and then everything was fine.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The philosophy and methodology of Nonviolence is very specific and incredibly powerful.  It is not just refraining from violence.  It is a way of living, acting and organizing that creates positive social change.

There are six principles that Dr. King identified as the principles of Nonviolence.  Among many influences, Dr. King studied Gandhi extensively.  If you don't know who Gandhi is, he led India to independence from the British Empire through the philosophy and methodology of Nonviolence.  If you want to dive deep into Nonviolence, read King, read Gandhi, and follow the Metta Center for Nonviolence.

To start, love is the root of Nonviolence.  We're not talking about love like it's Valentine's Day.  We're not talking about giving candy and love notes to Ferguson police.  It's the kind of deep love that recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  Here is what King said about what he called, "Agape love" in his book, "Stride Toward Freedom:"

"Agape is not weak, passive love.  It is love in action.  Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.  It is insistence on community even when one seeks to break it.  Agape is the willingness to get to any length to restore community.  It doesn't stop at the first mile, but it goes the second mile to restore community.  It is a willingness to forgive, not seven times, but seventy times seven to restore community... He who works against community is working against the whole of creation.  Therefore, if I respond to hate with reciporical hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community.  I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love.  If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community...

In the final analysis, agape means a recognition of the fact that all live is interrelated.  All humanity is involved in a single process, and all men are brothers."

It is the insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it.  Nonviolence begins from a place of love and then we put that love into action.

In 1924, Gandhi said, "My study and experience of non-violence have proved to me that it is the greatest force in the world."  Rev. Jim Lawson, whom King called, "the mind of the movement" and trained countless groups in Nonviolence said that "Nonviolence has far more power than what anyone actually knows.  Period."

Here are the six principles King identified for Nonviolence:

Principle One:
Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
Nonviolence is a courageous and aggressive positive force that confronts injustice with love.  It is the insistence on community coming out of deep agape love.  Freedom Rider and activist, Bernard LaFayette says, "the goal is not to win over the opponent.  The goal is to win them over."  We want them to see the injustice too and join us.  You must be active and courageous in speaking out and confronting the injustices with your firmly held belief that all lives matter.  King teaches us that this insistence on love and community must be a way of life.  If not, how are you going to stand and speak out for justice amongst your peers?  Your family?  Your community?  How will you speak out when others disagree with you?  Chide you?  Shame you?  Attack you verbally or physically?  How are you going to speak out in the face of the deafening silence of good-natured people who just want to drink a latte and ignore the whole thing?  How are you or the people of Ferguson going to face tear gas, tanks, rubber bullets and police dogs?

How strongly do you believe in inherent the worth and dignity of all people?

This was the challenge of our parents and grandparents during the Civil Rights Movement.  They stood up with love.  It's our job now to stand up too.

Principle Two:
The Beloved Community is the framework for the future.           
This is the "I Have a Dream" message where our society lives together, not only in the absence of conflict, but in the presence of justice.  That is the definition of true peace, where we sit together at the Table of Brotherhood, working together to eliminate systems of injustice, racism, poverty, war and violence.  This includes sitting at that table with the Ferguson police because they too are human.  They too have the spark of the divine within them that we so greatly respect.  They need our help in bringing them out of the evil system of injustice of which they are a part.  No one said this Nonviolence thing would be easy.  Believe in love.  Insist upon community.

Principle Three: 
Attack forms of evil, not persons doing evil.  
The systems and structures of evil that create the injustices in Ferguson and elsewhere were collectively built by us.  They can also be dismantled by us.  In Nonviolence, there is no "us vs. them" mentality.  There is only us and those who have not yet joined us in dismantling the systems of injustice.  When we attack persons doing evil, we inflict violence.  To paraphrase King, darkness does not drive out darkness.  Only light can do that.  Hate does not drive out hate.  Only love can do that.  Violence does not drive out violence, only Nonviolence can do that.  Focus on dismantling the system that creates the injustice.              

Principle Four:
Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal.
This is a tough one for many people.  This means accepting the blows of police, the rubber bullets and the tear gas without retaliation.  How can you possibly do this?  Because of your insistence on love and community.  It dramatizes the issue for all to see when a violent and brutal police force attacks a peaceful demonstration.  This is a major reason why the Civil Rights Movement awoke the conscience of our nation.  It was not the police violence alone.  When police violence meets violent protests, people see chaos and no way out.  When police violence meets organized peaceful protest, it puts the injustice on a platform for all to see.  It evokes empathy, compassion and the need for change.  By suffering without retaliation, we all become Michael Brown.  Remember, the police are human too.  How many times will they shoot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors before their own conscience tells them that their actions are brutal and immoral?  Only suffering without retaliation can evoke those feelings.  It's not about the police officers.  It's about dismantling the system of injustice of which they are a part and winning the hearts and minds of the people to make it happen, including the Ferguson police officers.

Principle Five: 
Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence.
In addition to avoiding physical violence with others, we must know that the love we extend to others in the campaign includes you too!  You are strong.  You are worthy.  You are making a difference.  You are doing the courageous work that your children and grandchildren will benefit from in the future.  Look at how far America has come since the Civil Rights Movement.  It is our turn to take the next steps.  We owe a great debt to our parents and grandparents.  Part of paying that forward is believing in yourself the way they believed in you and in a better America.  When our parents and grandparents stood in front of the fire hoses, police dogs and tear gas, they did it for us.  Believe in yourself.  You have descended from a courageous and loving people who had their minds, "stayed on freedom."  You can do it too.

Principle Six:
The universe is on the side of justice.  
King echoed the words of Rev. Theodore Parker, "The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice."  I will also add, it bends because we bend it that way.  There is no question that we are acting on the right side of justice when we seek justice through Nonviolence.  The universe is on our side because our actions are rooted in the universal truth known as love.  Love in action will result in a more just world.  Nonviolent means achieve Nonviolent ends.  Nonviolent ends are justice and the Beloved Community.  You are acting on the right side of history.  Be bold as you put love into action.

I hope this explanation gives you a philosophical base and methodology from which you can turn your anger and sadness into action.  Every person's actions and every person's contribution will be different depending on where you live, what you do and what you want to do for justice.  Maybe you live far from Ferguson and will organize an effort in your home town.  Maybe you are going to join the protests in Ferguson.  Maybe just forwarding this post is your contribution today to get Nonviolence into the hands of those who need this message most.  Every contribution through Nonviolence is important in creating a more just world.

Our hearts break over Ferguson.  Let your heart break open with deep love and compassion that will be your inspiration for Nonviolent action.    

In peace,


  1. Amazing insight Dave. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts, Dave. Will pass this on, widely!