Nonviolence is a way of life that I’ve benefited from; blacks are integrated in the schools I’ve attended, I’m able to drink from the same fountain as blacks and vice versa, and we can eat in the same restaurants. Through his example, Martin Luther King, Jr. forged a new way ahead for this country. Child labor is no longer the norm because of the sit-in strikes and union organizing that began here in Michigan. I’m able to marry a person other than a white woman, and my bisexuality is steadily becoming more accepted through the use of nonviolent activism. I’ve been to protests and sit-ins supporting teachers unions and the rights of faculty to equal representation. I’ve protested slashed funding for schools, and what I see as the illegal wiretapping and arrests of peace activists. Yet these all seemed so inert once the rhetoric was over. After several of these protests I would ask “Now what? Where do we go besides voicing our anger and concern? Does no one have a plan for moving forward?” More often than not, people didn’t. This is not the fault of nonviolence, but the poor planning of activists. For those who planned to succeed, there indeed was success in their efforts. Faculty got representation, people became informed. Those who did not plan to succeed, to go beyond the outrage and anger, stirred no one to action. You have to actually believe in the effort to succeed. If you think “well, this won’t pass” or “this can’t get better” then pack up the sign and go home because you’ve already relinquished your mind to defeat. Nonviolence does not mean “I don’t take a stand.”
In a lot of ways I am nonviolent. I don’t advocate violence against people, and I don’t advocate violence to fix political, religious, personal, or most other problems. Yet I have a dividing line. Do I think that violence is the answer to most questions? No. Violence, in my view, is a response you reserve for someone trying to kill or irreparably harm you or your family. I am not nonviolent in that way; I am selectively violent. It is a last resort for when you or yours are under threat. This, perhaps, is where I diverge from a lot of people who are active in some political, social, or spiritual way. I fervently believe in defending yourself when under threat. I realize pacifism and nonviolence are two separate things. The Princeton Wordnet Dictionary defines pacifism as “the doctrine that all violence is unjustifiable” and nonviolence as “passive resistance: peaceful resistance to a government by fasting or refusing to cooperate”. I definitely can follow nonviolence up to physical, psychological, or spiritual harm. I simply cannot follow pacifism. I have lived pacifism, and it nearly got me killed, and did not solve the problems I was facing. Loving thy neighbor does little good if that neighbor is trying to gouge out your eye with a switchblade. When I stopped turning the other cheek and fought back I had to watch my back a lot less. Does this mean that pacifism is without value? No, but it is not a path I can follow.
I have been taught most of my life to fight only when necessary. I’ve also been taught most of my life to follow the example of Dr. King and Ghandi, and in the arenas where these two men excelled I can definitely agree…but that said, I do not know if I would have the restraint to allow myself to be beaten by a mob. Perhaps that is what made these men, and those who followed them, truly incredible. Much of my life, I have seen pacifism do nothing but making victims of people. I have seen the fruits of nonviolence. To me, the two are not the same, and making the choice to peacefully resist and to take the beating is different to me than saying “no violence, ever”. I don’t know because I’ve never been put into the positions that Dr. King and Ghandi were. I never risked my life protesting; the protests and sit-ins I have been to were not met with resistance beyond deaf ears. I’ve not protested a G8 conference, or the hostile takeover of a community farm like South Central Park. Would I? Certainly. There are causes I believe in enough to risk my life, to put my life on the line for. I want a better world for my son; how can I not?
I’m watching Fierce Light: When Spirit Meets Action on Netflix. It chronicles the works of spiritual activists, those who take stands for social, political, economic, or other issues from a spiritual base. Something the speaker for the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Van Jones, says that struck me is “I’ve got to get active. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to put some feet up under these prayers.” Signing petitions, going to rallies, strikes, protests, making those prayers said in private heard to the world…to me, is what nonviolence informed by spirituality is all about. If I believe that a woman’s right to choose is sacred, then to me, my voice needs to raise when that right is threatened. If I believe in unions and they are being busted, then I raise my voice in support of unions. It is putting action to our words, our way to fulfill Ghandi’s admonishment to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In terms of Pagans, Starhawk, M. Macha NightMare, and Patrick McCollum are three such people; many activists, such as those found in the Reclaiming Tradition also engage in spiritually-based activism. I hope that as time goes on we’ll see many more people standing up for one another, for the environment, and for peace. We do not need to agree on all our spiritual points to strive together. As a matter of fact, I would rather we didn’t go for homogeneity. I happen to like diversity, and learning from a wealth of viewpoints. I like people to disagree with me, to have their own opinions, to make up their own minds. I enjoy debate, I enjoy the times where we can find similarities, side-by-side. We can still find peace, community, and fellowship despite our differences. This is why I still believe in a Pagan community, one that comes together to celebrate, love, hope, worship, support, and help each other. We don’t need to agree on everything to do that. We can stand together in support of one another, can bring our many voices to the table speaking in defense of our rights and the rights of others, speak to power where people cannot, and rise up to defend ourselves and others from oppression.
May the Gods bless those who speak for those whose voice is silenced. May the Gods bless those who through their words and actions work to save others. May the Gods bless those who through their words and actions work to heal and help this, and the other Worlds.