August 2, 2015

In Pursuit of the Beloved Community

I received some feedback from my last article, "Open Letter to the Guy with the Confederate Flag." One person implied that I am tone-deaf to the racist symbol that is the Confederate flag. So, let me tell you a story.  

When Rev. Jim Lawson was on a march during the Civil Rights Movement. One bystander was yelling racial epithets and spit square in his face. He stopped and asked the man if he had a handkerchief. The man, surprised, gave him one. After cleaning his face, Rev. Lawson saw that the man wore a motorcycle riding jacket. Rev. Lawson was also a motorcycle enthusiast and struck up a conversation. They talked about what kinds of bikes they rode and where they like to ride. By the end of the conversation, the man apologized to Rev. Lawson for spitting in his face. Rev. Lawson made a human connection with the man who spit in his face. This is the power of Nonviolence in action.

In my work in Nonviolence, I have a workshop on how to create the Beloved Community in concrete ways. King told us "the aftermath of Nonviolence is creation of the Beloved Community." I am going to be bold here and clarify. The Beloved Community is not just the end goal. It is the beginning, middle and end. If we want to end with the Beloved Community, we have to show up with the Beloved Community. That means valuing every person's worth and dignity, including and especially your opponent, from the beginning. Yes, that includes the police who have terrorized our communities. That includes the racist confederate-flag waving groups. That includes the politicians who continue to vote against progress.

That does NOT mean that we accept or excuse racism, abuse and injustice. Absolutely not. The Metta Center for Nonviolence has a very clear definition of the means of Nonviolence. It is persuasion not coercion. The goal is cooperation, not domination. As Dr. Bernard Lafayette describes, "the goal of Nonviolence is not to win over your opponent. The goal is to win them over to your side." We must awaken their conscience. As he described his experience in the Civil Rights Movement, he said of the racist white community, "we had to rush to their aid."

But can we really create the Beloved Community? Do we have the collective courage? Do we have the strength to talk with Confederate flag wavers as people? Do we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people or only those who agree with us?

King said of agape love, "it is the insistence on community, even when one seeks to break it." Nonviolence is not about one letter or one conversation. It's about one hundred thousand letters and conversations that try to convince others that a community without hate and division is what we all want. That might also mean starting conversations that are not about the flag. Rev. Lawson didn't scream at his assailant about racism. He also didn't scream at him about togetherness. He talked to him about motorcycles.

Many activists see social change as a tennis game in which there is a net between them and their opponent which will never be crossed. They hit something at us and we respond. Back and forth, back and forth. The flag is racist. No, the flag is about heritage. Back and forth. Back and forth. Where is the progress? Where is the attempt for mutual understanding? Where is the attempt for reconciliation? There is none. We scream at them. They scream at us.

Social change with Nonviolence is not a tennis game. It is a complex chess match, deep in strategy and every piece you capture becomes active on your side of the board.

How would you win someone over to your side? Think about the letter would you write to those who wave the Confederate flag? What conversation would you have?

The Southern Poverty Law Center Hatewatch tells us there have been 132 pro-Confederate flag rallies since the Charleston massacre. That is 132 rallies in 45 days.  They are fully aware of the impact of their symbol. Actually, they just spit in your face. How will you respond?  

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