June 20, 2015

#Charleston. Another tragedy. What should we do?

Mother Emanuel
In Charleston, SC nine African-Americans in a prayer group were massacred by a white racist.  Once again, there is a resounding question in America, "what do we do?"  This was the same question after the killings of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and many, many others.  This was the same question after the Sandy Hook massacre.  John Stewart characterized America yesterday saying, "We still won't do jack shit."  He is tragically accurate.

But why?  Why is America so flummoxed every time a tragedy happens among Americans?  Let's begin with 9-11.  Attacks from abroad allow us the opportunity to use our number one solution for everything... violence.  We have the world's most robust military.  Attack us and we will unleash billions of dollars of bombs and drones and missiles and planes and guns and soldiers upon other countries that may or may not have been involved in the attack.  It's easy and cathartic and far away.  Just like the Toby Keith song, Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, says, "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way."

Yet, when a white American racist slaughters nine African-Americans in a church or when the police murder citizens on the street, we talk about "bad apples."  We talk about mental illness.  We talk about police body cameras and we post MLK quotes on Facebook and Twitter.  We fight over the hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter.  Authorities tell people to "be calm" and not to burn down the city.  Yet, more violence happens and authorities try to squash the violence with more violence and the cycle continues.  

To paraphrase Maslow, if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.             

This is why America has no idea what to do when social problems arise in our country.  The hammer of violence is the only tool in America's toolbox.  So, when the problem IS violence, America is dumbfounded.  We not only are confused about what to do but we don't recognize where the problem stemmed from.  We are victims of our own self-perpetuating, violent, one-solution-fits-all philosophy. 

What do we do about police violence?  We don't know because violence is our only tool.  What do we do about the Charleston massacre?  We don't know because we can't bomb South Carolina.  Where do we direct our water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets?  Who should our drones kill?  Fighting violence with violence is absurd. 

So we make excuses about these tragedies because it's far easier than admitting that our toolbox is empty.  "This was an isolated incident."  "How can anyone possibly avoid this?  When a man is sick and crazy, there's nothing that can be done."  

So, what should we do?  The first thing is to fill our toolbox with the many and multi-faceted tools  of Nonviolence and throw away the rusty, bloody hammer of violence that has been destroying our communities for centuries.  And when I say, Nonviolence, I am reclaiming that word from the politicians, officials and media who just want people to sit down, be quiet, and maintain the status quo.  That is not, and never has been, Nonviolence.  

Nonviolence is an active, creative and strong force for social change.  It is not weak, nor passive.  It challenges injustice.  It organizes, empowers and forges the just world we seek.  Nonviolence teaches us that peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice.  It does not inflict suffering on others, it voluntarily accepts suffering in order to awaken the consciences of all people.   
This is why I teach Nonviolence Leadership.  If Nonviolence is the tools for change, leadership is learning to use those tools effectively.  The first part of leadership is just showing up.  As an example, having attended #BlackLivesMatter rallies and town hall meetings on community policing, the white community in Atlanta has been painfully, noticeably and continually absent.  

Think about it.  When an African-American community member is gunned down by police and a demonstration is held to affirm that #BlackLivesMatter and the white community does not show up but then are loudly vocal on social media that #AllLivesMatter, what message does that send?    

If we want change in our communities, we cannot simply post on Facebook that #BlackLivesMatter or #AllLivesMatter or Gandhi quotes about "being the change" or MLK quotes about "hate doesn't drive out hate."  The change we seek will not happen on Facebook and Twitter.  In the words of Gil Scott Heron, "the revolution will not be televised."  Everyone needs to show up.  In person.  And often.  

To use our tool analogy, if your friend calls you because their house needs an emergency repair, will posting Bob Villa quotes on Facebook fix the house?  No, that's ridiculous.  The way to fix your friend's house is you show up with your toolbox, that has the right tools, and you work and you sweat and you rip out what broke and you put in new frameworks and sand and paint and then you and your friend look at what a beautiful thing you fixed together.    

We must learn about all the tools of Nonviolence.  They are many and versatile.  I try to write about many of them.  They can build the world we seek.  Leadership is what teaches us how to use those tools most effectively.  

The solutions we seek for our communities are within reach, but we are waiting for you.