Building a culture of audacious nonviolence

The violence continues to pile up, with one searing headline rapidly succeeding the next: Gaza; Ferguson, Mo.; Ukraine; the horrifying rampage of the Islamic State militant group; and now, a long-term U.S. war to destroy our new enemy. This dizzying, violent surge, one bloody wave after the next, gives us no time to think. Violence is the answer, we're told, so get with the program.

This is nothing new. Only the names and faces change. In a culture of violence, the answer is going to be violence almost every time. This despite the fact that violence, by its very nature, rarely solves problems. Most of the time, it multiplies them. Fire doesn't quench fire, and violence doesn't end violence. Mostly, it kicks the problems down the road, leaving in its wake suffering and the seeds of revenge and escalation. It takes four generations, it's said, to heal one act of violence. Mostly, violence has a half-life that stews and festers, sometimes far beyond those four generations.

We're assured incessantly, though, that violence is the solution.

But not everyone has bought in. This week, thousands of people coast to coast are taking to the streets under the banner of a new movement committed to building a culture of peace weaning itself off the magical thinking that violence works. With 238 events in all 50 states, Campaign Nonviolence is launching a movement to make mainstream the power of active nonviolence and to build a culture free from war, poverty, the climate crisis, and the epidemic of violence.

Members of the group know this will not happen overnight, but they also know that, unless we start now, the culture of violence will continue to serve up more numbing destruction. The time has come to solve problems, not exacerbate them -- and the power of nonviolent change is eminently equipped to do the job.

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Nonviolence is a way of life and a means of transforming the world. It challenges the power of and belief in violence and its destructiveness geared toward threatening, dominating, or defeating others. Nonviolence, by contrast, is a form of unifying power: connecting, compassionate, communicative, and creative. This week, Campaign Nonviolence is organizing public events -- marches, rallies, vigils, fasts and festivals -- in cities and towns across the nation to signal that the challenging and rewarding work of activating this power begins now.

On Sept. 21, Campaign Nonviolence participated in the People's Climate March, where more than 300,000 people marched for swift and verifiable steps to reverse climate change.  Building on this massive, historic gathering, the campaign echoed its message -- and made the connections between environmental destruction, war, and poverty -- across the United States throughout the following week, from Baltimore to Beaverton, Ore.; from Bellingham, Wash., to Binghamton, N.Y.; from Boise, Idaho, to Burlington, Vt.

In Salt Lake City, Campaign Nonviolence rallied for nuclear disarmament and called for environmental cleanup. In Sarasota, Fla., they marched for a living wage, immigrant rights and an end to U.S. war-making. In Santa Fe, N.M., people rallied against climate change and for new just environmental policies.

Campaign Nonviolence took action at U.S. military bases in California, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, calling for an end to armed drone attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen.

When the Obama administration launched its first airstrikes on Syria on Tuesday, Campaign Nonviolence was at the White House, where activists from across the United States called for nonviolent options. Several were arrested for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience.

And Saturday, Campaign Nonviolence will march in Wilmington, Del., Campaign Nonviolence against gun violence, while Bangor, Maine, will host a Campaign Nonviolence "End the Violence" rally.

A few days before the Campaign Nonviolence Week of Actions began, I spoke at a press conference in Washington, D.C. Afterward, I visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. One of King's quotations chiseled in granite caught my attention: "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits." This comes from the speech he gave when he accepted the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, and those lines go on to envision humanity overcoming war and bloodshed that that "nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land."

In the spirit of King's audacious vision, Campaign Nonviolence is taking a public stand against all violence and initiating a new, nationwide effort to foster a society striving to practice nonviolence toward ourselves, toward all others, and toward the planet.

[Ken Butigan teaches at DePaul University in Chicago. He is national co-coordinator of Campaign Nonviolence.]


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