January 16, 2016

"Remain Nonviolent"

On this 30th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, I reflect on the social turmoil of the past year. 1202 citizens were killed by police in the United States in 2015. Truly tragic. Something that echoes clearly in my head is the voices of our politicians who, in the face of unrest, told the public to "remain nonviolent."

As a teacher of nonviolence and leadership, what does that mean? "Remain nonviolent." We all know what it means for the politicians. In the face of injustice, please pretend that everything is fine. It means, "don't break anything."

It is time for us to reclaim the word, "nonviolence" because it is used by politicians without any understanding of what nonviolence is. What they fail to recognize is that people are not out to break things. We are out to fix what's broken. Nonviolence is not the opposite of violence, it is the antidote. It is the cure. Nonviolence is not passivity living in fear of destruction. It is courageous action out of love for the transformation of our society.

To me, "remain nonviolent" means implementing constructive programs, as Gandhi taught us. That means working together to build and empower our communities with programs that lift people up economically, spiritually and politically. That means reinventing the job descriptions and job training for police officers so they learn to be more compassionate and work with, not against our communities. We are in this together.

In his book, "Stride Toward Freedom," Dr. King talked about agape love or unconditional love as the wellspring of nonviolence. He called it, the "insistence on community even when one seeks to break it." It is "a willingness to go to any length to restore community." That means there is no us vs. them. There is only "us" as one Beloved Community seeking to correct the unjust system of which we are all tragic victims. I take inspiration when I hear the words, "remain nonviolent." It says, remain hopeful because we will make it together. It says, be courageous because the future is what we create together. It is an invitation to all to join in implementing the solutions we need for a brighter future.

"Remain nonviolent" also means being active in seeking peace. Remember, Dr. King taught us that "peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice." That does not mean that the grand jury must convict every police officer that took another life. At that point, we are too late. That is not justice, nor peace. Justice means correcting the conditions that lead a police officer to choke a citizen for selling cigarettes in the first place. It means bridging relationships in the community so police speak with their words and not their bullets.

"Remain nonviolent" means living up to the best of who we are and what we are capable of. It means mourning together when a citizen is killed and then working together for solutions. It means acknowledging anger in the community and hearing the unheard voices rather than launching tear gas at them.

On this 30th anniversary of the King holiday, let us renew our commitment to each other. Let us renew our commitment to change the unjust systems that continue to destroy our communities. Let us invite others to join us on this important journey to "remain nonviolent."

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