In reviewing nonviolent movements across history, our group realized that practicing non violence can manifest in a many diverse ways. Through our research we came to understand that “nonviolence” is essentially a way of life, as opposed to existing only in single instances or short-lived movements. We will briefly introduce some of the non violent practices currently occurring in Sonoma County, illuminate what motivates these individuals to follow a nonviolent way of life, as well as explore a few of the many forms nonviolence can take.
INTRODUCTION TO NONVIOLENCE
Martin Luther King Jr. explained nonviolent action as a way to “convert anger under discipline for maximum effect.” Gandhi described the effect of nonviolence by proposing that it “compels reason to be free.” The term “nonviolence” did not appear in our vocabulary until 1923, less than a century ago, despite the fact that nonviolent actions and movements have been recorded across history- dating as far back as 500 B.C.E. Nonviolence has been practiced in the United States as long as the country has existed. Some of the earliest practitioners included the Quakers and (slightly later) the abolitionists. At least in part due to nonviolent movements, U.S. social justice has made significant fundamental progress towards equal rights, despite having a substantial distance still left to go.
Nonviolent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Susan B. Anthony headed protests and activist groups that ultimately led to more equal civil rights for African Americans, as well as the establishment of Women’s Rights. These are only a handful of the more well-known, prominent leaders and movements among many, many more who have contributed to and allowed for meaningful progress on many fronts.
Michael Nagler, an American author as well as Founder and President of The Metta Center for Nonviolence (Petaluma, CA), has described nonviolence as the practice of engaging with “a very deep power within us” that resonates with a “very deep power in the universe.” If we can recognize and acknowledge that we are all intricately connected to each other and to the world at large- that we are all really a single great, living organism- than we can understand how harming anyone is really hurting everyone. We can understand the notion that causing harm or being the individual perpetrating violence is just as damaging as receiving harm or being victimized by another.
In looking back across history at many of the different nonviolent movements, it became clear that practicing nonviolence can take on a multitude of diverse forms. Some forms of nonviolent action wholly depend on being part of a larger group or movement in order to effect greater change. Some of these forms of action have included protests, rallies, sit-ins, street lock-downs, strikes, and public boycotts. However, as a research group, we also started to see that there are a number of practitioners of nonviolence who more or less stand alone- those who lead nonviolent lives and promote nonviolence, but might not specifically align themselves with any single movement or particular, larger human force. Some of these individuals spend considerable portions of their time attempting to spread the ideas and wisdom of non violence through education, sharing information, and helping others to organize efforts to further nonviolent work towards justice. Some of these individuals are also the people who really caught our eyes when exploring nonviolence, especially on a local level, within Sonoma County.
Our paper addresses one of our primary interests in exploring the past and present lives of nonviolent individuals. Our thesis question is: what motivates individuals to join nonviolent movements, or to begin to employ nonviolent strategies in their own lives? We are also curious about how their nonviolent practices play out in their daily lives, and what strategies they’ve attempted that were successful- or not? As a group, our hypothesis is that nonviolence can come in many forms; we also speculated that some forms may prove more effective in exacting change than others.
Through reviewing existing literature, we came to see “nonviolence” as a practice, a way of life- as opposed to the notion that nonviolence only exists as it’s used in single instances, or short-lived movements. Our research will thus illuminate why some people choose to follow a nonviolent way of life, and then explore a few of the many forms it can take.
THE HISTORY OF NONVIOLENCE
“Nonviolence is a way of living. A nonviolent person strives to do no harm or hurt to others…” (Cecil Ramnaraine). Non-violence can be documented in Buddhism dating back to 500 B.C.E. Two leaders, Marahiva, the founder of Jainism, and Gautama Siddhartha the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, proclaimed non-violence. The Jains practice, ‘Ahimsa’, translates to “non-violence, tolerance and equality”. The Buddhist proclaims the Four Noble Truths, which are: there is suffering, there is cause to be suffering, suffering is caused by desire and the Eightfold Path can extinguish desire. The Eightfold Path includes: right view, right resolution, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right mindfulness, right concentration, and right reasoning. The belief is that when desire has been extinguished and meditation, self-discipline, love, and compassion take its place, then peace can be achieved.
Later, during the Roman Empire, Jesus of Nazareth preached love and compassion for all living things. 500 years after that, Mohammed, a prophet in Arabia, would lead his followers towards equality for all, striving to conquer their own wrong habits and submitting to the will of Allah. Almost 1,000 years after the existence of Mohammed, St. Francis of Assisi organized nonviolent and peaceful communities. The belief in nonviolence as a solution has possibly existed for as long as violence has.
Since the founding of the United States of America, nonviolence as a practice has existed, beginning with the Quakers. For example, John Woolman pleaded to his fellow Quaker-Americans to give up slavery and treat the native people as friends. During and immediately after the times of slavery, abolitionists like William Lloyd and Frederick Douglass opposed slavery and adopted nonviolence. Before World War I, women such as Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams, who objected to the war, acted nonviolently even when jailed. In 1913, the Suffrage Parade took place, consisting of 5,000 women speaking out for the right to equal political participation. Workers who joined trade unions engaged in nonviolent demonstrations by contributing to marches and sit down strikes. In the years before World War II, Richard Gregg wrote, “The Power of Nonviolence.” He and others pledged not to contribute to war. During the 1960’s and 70’s, millions opposed the suffering that took place in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Peaceful protesting marches caused countless numbers of people to fill the streets in objection.
The Salt March, led by Gandhi in 1930, eventually helped lead India to independence from Britain. Boycotts led by Cesar Chavez and Rosa Parks made a great impact on those who witnessed, or later heard of their protests. Sits ins, the Freedom Ride, Birmingham, and the March on Washington made such an impact that their stories now sit in history books. Martin Luther King Jr. was quite possibly the greatest practitioner of nonviolence in the United States. He resonated with Gandhi’s philosophy and explained it in many of his speeches. He claimed that, not passive resistance, but active, physical nonviolent action and non-cooperation demanded great courage. His words left a mark that is still remembered and celebrated today, and the nonviolent demonstrations did not end with him.
In 2003, there were nonviolent protests against the war in Iraq. Since then, there have been marches opposing our current president, women’s marches to bring unity, oppose harassment, and stand up for equal rights for all, as well as gay rights marches that have allowed national attention, focused on the basic rights of love. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi has had a worldwide influence of nonviolent civil disobedience that is as much alive today as it was before his death.
NONVIOLENT METHODS AND LOCAL NONVIOLENT ACTIVISM
Historically there have been many landmark moments for violence prevention around the world that have been achieved by nonviolent approaches. Brandy X. Lee’s article “Violence causes and cures” takes an overall look at the methods, effective and ineffective, that society has used throughout its history to combat violence and violent actions.
Although throughout history it has been assumed that nonviolence cannot be effective against violent opposition, it has been seen on numerous occasions that this is not the case. As Lee stated, “nonviolence gives us the lesson that peace is possible, not just by stemming destructive forces, but through fostering constructive ones.” (Lee 2017).
Around the world people are coming up with more effective methods of nonviolent actions in order to combat the systematic, structural, and institutional violence found within society today. Michael Nagler presented some of these nonviolent tactics in his article, “198 Methods of Nonviolent Action”. Looking back historically, it is harder to find documentation for nonviolent movements and actions in the world, than it is to find documentation of violent occurrences due to violent acts being better recorded than nonviolent acts.
Within Sonoma County there have been many demonstrations of nonviolent activism, and there are many nonviolent organizations set up in the county that are useful for our community. The Sonoma County Peace Press currently has approximately 50 Peace and Justice groups in the local alliance. Some of these organizations are providing resources that help aid in rehabilitation of children who have gang affiliation. Student athletes are being taught about nonviolent tools and methods that can be used to take a stand against violence. There have been movements that fight against the “living wage coalition” of Sonoma County, provide help for the homeless populations, bring environmental conservation awareness, plus many more displays of nonviolent action.
Historically, nonviolent movements have been overshadowed by their violent counterparts. There has been a rise for people to stand up against violence and aggression in the recent years, where nonviolence is becoming an effective tactic for bringing social change in our society as a whole, including Sonoma County. There is also much evidence that nonviolent actions can be a very effective way to challenge social injustices- for example, in opposition to the exploitation of workers, or racial discrimination. It has developed greatly over the past century and continues to grow, as well as face opposition.
Throughout history, there are examples of peaceful, nonviolent protests that resulted in change, showing that nonviolent movements can lead to meaningful results.
There have been a great many protests since the 2016 elections, ranging from issues such as healthcare to immigration. Tommy Leung and Nathan Perkins launched a project together, “Count Love”, that chronicles all protests held that are opposing the current administration. The maps that have been built from the “Count Love” projects reveal some patterns among American protests. From January to October of 2017, they recorded over 4,000 protests. Many of these protests have been Charlottesville-(racism)-related, women’s marches, and in support of immigrant rights. They found that immigration protests are mostly held in Southern border states like California and Texas, and in states with high immigrant populations, like New York.
They have come to understand that people are more likely to put their time and effort into protesting and standing up for an issue if they believe the issue has immediate relevance. Most of us have similar priorities that remain consistent across populations- an understanding that’s reached once people come to realize that everyone else isn’t actually all that different from themselves or their neighbors, that we are all a shared humanity at our core.
CRITIQUES OF NONVIOLENCE
Nonviolence as a practice is not only about abstaining from committing violent or
harmful acts, although that is an important aspect of it. Rather, by many of its practitioners, nonviolence is thought of as a philosophy. It is understood as a way of life, a continuous practice of becoming consciously aware of one’s thoughts and actions, as well as the surrounding world. Encompassed in that philosophy is the idea that we, as human beings, are all one, and that we are one with the environment, and world around us as well. It is the idea that everything that we do has a butterfly effect, impacting everyone and everything else. Thus in order to create nonviolent movements, we must first practice nonviolence within ourselves and our own lives. According to the Greenpeace organization, “Life must be saved by nonviolent confrontations and, ‘bearing witness,’ we must obstruct a wrong without offering personal violence to its perpetrators.”
There are many different perspectives through which we can view and define nonviolence: one such perspective is “nonviolence as pacifism.” According to Howard Ryan, in “Writing a Critique of Nonviolence” (2002), nonviolence is not just opposition to violence, although that is a prerequisite. Pacifism is seen as a way of living, approaching an understanding of human interconnectedness, as well as providing a guiding structure for how to “struggle for change.” Pacifism, as a general principle, offers the means to empower people to challenge and confront injustices while holding fast to a core belief in, and respect for, the moral theory that all human lives have worth, and because of this, a human life should never be transgressed upon or violated.
There are a multitude of perspectives and movements in support of nonviolence as a means for change; there are also those such as the aforementioned Australian writer and researcher, Howard Ryan (2002), who critiques the politics of nonviolence. These perspectives point out that while some may not want to admit or believe it, there have been, and could potentially still be, some benefits for movements that employ both nonviolent as well as violent tactics. An example of a movement that included violence and still succeeded in achieving reduction or even elimination of further violence is with the armed overthrow of the Somoza family (who had been ruling with dictatorship for 40 years) in Nicaragua in 1979. Under the consequent rule of the Sandinistas (a socialist political party,) violence was hugely reduced for the society.
Radical pacifists believe that violence should not be used for any means, no matter the circumstance; as such, they understand suffering to be a necessary condition for their way of life.
Nonviolence, by nature, will inherently meet opposition because it’s in direct conflict with violence, a widely used and accepted means of oppression and power in today’s society. One of the most important elements to Pacifism comes in the form of supporting causes aimed at broad social changes- and change inevitably meets conflict along its path because it’s uncomfortable and it means that there is disagreement with the current conditions.
One critique that challenges the idea that suffering is necessary, is posed by asking whether or not we can really consider all violence to be equal, and judged through a single lense? By looking at causes that have just basis, perhaps we can, or should, consider that there may be a time and place for violence. Is violence immoral when used to fight for rights such as democracy, equality, and basic freedoms? What about populations that are “facing the cruelest repression”? (Ryan, 2002.) Can we judge all of these circumstances equally? Are there circumstances where violence should be considered a useful tactic if it creates change, or is it inherently wrong no matter what?
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr., also known as MLK, is one of the biggest influential leaders of the 1900’s. What makes him stand out above and beyond many others, is that he was able to implement great change and revolution and did it non-violently. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. King received a doctorate degree in theology and in 1955 he helped organized the first major protest of the African-American civil rights movement: the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. Influenced by Mohandas Gandhi, he advocated civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to fight segregation in the South. The peaceful protests he led throughout the American South were often met with violence, but King and his followers persisted and the movement gained the momentum necessary to succeed.
Dr. King states that the alternative to violence is nonviolent resistance. Four points can be made concerning nonviolence as a method for bringing about better racial conditions. First, this method is not for cowards; the method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. Second, nonviolent resistance does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but rather win his friendship and understanding. A third characteristic of this method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who are caught in those forces. It is evil that nonviolence is seeking to defeat, not the persons victimized by that evil. Lastly, at the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love. In struggling for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not allow themselves to become bitter, or indulge in hate campaigns. To retaliate with hate and bitterness would do nothing but intensify the hate in the world.
Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau was a writer and philosopher who lived in the early 1800’s. In hindsight, he’s been dubbed one of the earliest anarchists; he strongly believed that no person should be made to “blindly” follow laws, politics and/or government(s) which his/her personal conscience does not believe to be right. He became well known for his work and writing concerning civil disobedience and abolitionism. As an individual, he didn’t try to conform to the standards of society or law, rather attempting to understand life in part through understanding nature. He spent years living alone in the wilderness, (many of his famous writings came from this period of time at Walden Pond), endeavouring to decipher the real meaning of life, of freedom and of love. He was certain that he did not want to live the life that society prescribed- a life that he observed led “the mass of men (to) lead lives of quiet desperation” (1849.)
Thoreau believed in living simply and fully, understanding life as something precious that shouldn’t be wasted. For example, with things such as working 6 days a week doing something he didn’t enjoy. After a brief encounter with the law and a night spent in jail for refusing to pay a tax that he didn’t believe he owed, Thoreau was inspired to write one of his best known books, “Civil Disobedience”.
Thoreau saw human action as a similar process to navigating the natural world, just as walking a particular trail every day will forge a path in the earth, so human behavior, action, and ways of seeing the world will wear ruts in our minds. We become used to taking the route that we initially chose, and will begin to walk it instinctively, even unconsciously after a time. Thoreau observed that we, as human beings, do the same thing, acting out our daily lives and behaviors. After a point, our routines become so ingrained that we follow along unconsciously with beliefs and ideas that we don’t even realize we subscribe to. We become blind to the awareness that they can be changed or viewed differently, or that we have a choice in this. This notion is true not only on an individual level, but also within larger groups or beliefs such as political ideals, societies and nations. As Thoreau aptly captures this sentiment, “the surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!” (1849).
Mahatma Gandhi was born October 2nd, 1869 and died January 30th, 1948. Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement and created a form of nonviolent civil disobedience that would influence the world. His teachings have inspired people of both the past and present.
Gandhi grew up worshiping the Hindu god Vishnu and followed Jainism, an ancient religion that adopted nonviolence, fasting, mediation and vegetarianism. As a teenager he was rebellious by eating meat, smoking and stealing. He wanted to become a doctor, and his father wanted him to become a government minister, so in 1888 at the age of 18, he sailed to London to study law. It was here that he adopted the practice of not eating meat and began reading sacred texts to learn more about the worldly religions. After, he moved to South Africa where he continued his studies. He was quickly appalled by the discrimination and racial segregation he encountered. During his first appearance in a Durban courtroom, Gandhi was asked to remove his turban; refusing, he left the courtroom. This could be marked as the first demonstration Gandhi participated in. It was later followed with being thrown off a train for not moving to the back, even though he had a first class ticket.
At the end of Gandhi’s year in South Africa he prepared to return to India, only to find out that Indians were no longer allowed to vote. Instead of returning, he stayed and led a fight against the legislation, bringing international attention to the injustice.
In 1906, Gandhi led his first mass civil disobedience campaign, which he called “Satyagraha,” translating to “truth” and “firmness”. Years of protesting led to hundreds of Indians being imprisoned, including Gandhi. In 1919 he had a spiritual reawakening. In the midst of the surrounding violence, Gandhi called a Satyagraha campaign of peaceful protests and strikes. 400 peaceful protestors died, as a result, Gandhi returned his medals and no longer pledged his allegiance to the British government.
Gandhi became a leading figure in the Indian Home Rule Movement, where he called for mass boycotts and student strikes, and advocated for a policy of nonviolence and non-cooperation to achieve “home rule”. He was jailed, and after being released began a three week fast to unite India’s Hindus and Muslims. He continued to protest Britain until his death, as assassination tragically ending his life.
Even after Gandhi’s assassination, his commitment to nonviolence and his belief in living simply has inspired hope, not only for the oppressed people but for those seeking spiritual guidance as well. Gandhi had many views of nonviolence, and did not claim to be a prophet or even a philosopher, although he did leave writings behind that have led many people to believe that he is both of those things. He left behind a legacy of faith in nonviolence.
After reviewing the existing literature on nonviolence, we’ve resolved to contribute to the field by utilizing qualitative data, resulting from in-depth interviews and in-person observation. Through investigating a diverse set of practices through which nonviolent actions and methods can be employed, we’ve determined that our research will explore the following question: What motivates Sonoma County leaders and/or advocates of nonviolence to employ conciliatory or noncombatant practices in the specific method or manner that they do?
This research project was created and executed by five individuals, all having unique interests in the tactics used to promote non violence. Our differences became more apparent in examining who we chose to interview and the reasons why. Overall, eleven individuals were interviewed*: their statuses in life varied as did their current occupations and backgrounds. (*See Appendix A for complete Interview Guide.)
We interviewed 8 men and 3 women. All of them are living locally, here in Sonoma County, although some of their work brings them elsewhere. Individual background information and the interview processes themselves, varied in context. A brief outline of those we interviewed is as follows:
Background: Founder and President of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, nonviolence researcher, educator and advocate; American author of multiple books and publications.
Interview: Occurred at the Metta Center for Nonviolence as well as through Zoom online video chat platform. The in-person meetings and a formal interview occurred over a period of 2 months; Stephanie Van Hook joined in all of these discussions. In person, notes were taken, quoting pertinent information. All meetings cumulatively totalled approximately 2 hours. The Zoom interview was video-recorded, lasting ~20 minutes, then transcribed word-for-word.
Background: Nick is a facilitator for M.E.N in Santa Rosa. He started as a participant a few years ago and once he finished his sessions he wanted to help others the way he was helped. He is still facilitating at M.E.N and plans to do so for quite some while.
Interview: Occured at a local Starbucks, the interview was for about an hour face to face while recording and taking notes.
Stephanie Van Hook
Background: Executive Director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, nonviolence researcher, educator, and advocate; author of “Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children.”
Interview: occurred at The Metta Center for Nonviolence and through Zoom internet video platform. (Interviewed together with Michael Nagler. See notes above.)
Background: Anger Management Counselor/Sonoma County Recovery Services; Drug and Alcohol Counselor, Sonoma DUI program/ Olympia House Residential
Interview: occurred in his office in Santa Rosa. Porter is a certified AOD (drug and alcohol counselor,) who also has extensive experience in anger management techniques as well as meditation. He was the victim of a violence-related crime as a young adult, which left him with a broken neck and permanent spinal cord injury, resulting in lasting physical challenges. The perpetrator was the child of a high authority police officer, and received a small fine, with no further reparations required. In beginning his career with anger management and nonviolence, one of the major feats Porter stated, was the ability to forgive and have compassion for the man who injured him. The interview was done in person, recorded and transcribed word-for-word. It lasted approximately 45 minutes.
Background: Gang Interventionist and Case Worker for at risk youth with nonprofit program “Mentor Me” in Petaluma; retired Juvenile Probation Officer; Gang Interventionist and Anger management Specialist at San Quentin State Prison.
Interview: took place at Beaird’s office at the Mentor Me Cavanaugh Recreation Center (426 8th St, Petaluma). The interview lasted 1 hour and was recorded and transcribed word-for-word. An additional tour of Mentor Me took place as well; a consequent meeting allowed observation of the program in action, while participants were in attendance.
Background: Born in Ireland, living in the United States since 1985. Served as a police officer for 9 years on the border of Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the height of violence between the Catholics and Protestants. Teacher of meditation called Celtic Mindfulness, at Mindful Petaluma. Trained in 1980 under Dr. Francisco Coll at the Americana Leadership College. Professional musician, currently offering music tours in Ireland.
Interview: Occurred at the Mindful Petaluma building in Petaluma. Interviewed Frank after his guided meditation class. Took down notes word for word on my laptop, interview lasted about 35 minutes.
Background: Born in San Francisco in 1941. A Catholic man with traditional values. Lived in a world of violence until the age of 50 when he began taking anger management classes through M.E.N. Took the classes for three years before they offered him a position to teach, where he taught for 22 years.
Interview: Occurred at Frank’s home. He is my best friend’s father. Took down notes word for word on my laptop, interview lasted 30 minutes.
Background: Linda had always been a peace and justice activist; after 9/11 she started doing work in other countries as a Citizen Diplomacy and Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeper in war torn places. She traveled for 10 years to Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Iran, Afghanistan and Bahrain, later writing a book about her experience called Turning Fear into Power. She now volunteers at the Peace and Justice Center.
Interview: Phone interview, I took down notes word for word on my laptop, which were later revised by Linda Sartor. Interview lasted 30 minutes.
Dr. Edward Viljoen
Background: Dr. Viljoen was born in South Africa. He’s been the Senior Minister at Center for Spiritual Living in Santa Rosa since 1995. He is the author of many books available on kindle, including The Bhagavad-Gita for Beginners, and The Science of Mind and Spirit for Beginners. He leads spiritual retreats, traveling with a group to different countries each year.
Interview: We spoke multiple times in person when I attended church at the Center for Spiritual Living. Due to Dr. Viljoen’s busy schedule we could not complete an in person or phone interview. Our interview was through email only.
Background: Rebel has been a political activist and writer since the 1970’s. He writes often for the Sonoma County Peace Press and the Global Critical Media Literacy Project. He has a book documenting nearly forty years of street activism in Sonoma County called Tales from the Perpetual Oppositional Culture – a Journey into Resistance.
Interview: We met at a coffee shop, and notes were taken while Rebel Fagin spoke. The interview lasted for two hours.
Background: Susan is a long time political activist and a promoter of nonviolent action. She is currently actively involved in the following organizations: the Police Brutality Coalition, the Green Party of Sonoma County, the local chapter of Veterans For Peace, It Won’t Happen Here, and 100 Thousand Poets for Change.
Interview: took place at the Peace and Justice Center in Santa Rosa.
Starting off, we reviewed nonviolent movements in Sonoma county. There were many different movements to explore and we found it difficult to know which were exclusively nonviolent as a practice. It was also tough to figure out how we would study an entire group or movement. Eventually, we realized as a group that we were interested in all different forms of nonviolence, and how nonviolence manifests in different ways. Seeing all of the different methods available to practice nonviolence, we decided to reach out to individual practitioners of nonviolence in Sonoma County, working across a variety of different occupations.
Through trial and error, we came to the decision that we were especially interested in understanding what motivates individuals to practice nonviolence; we were curious about how each began in the field, as well as what methods they use in their particular work or movement involving nonviolent action.
There were individual differences in the respondents who agreed to be interviewed. In order to remain unbiased we needed to ensure that each question was presented in the same format for all interviews. Our data was based on qualitative information and we constructed a guideline of 12 open-ended questions. Some of the interviews were obtained face-to-face, while others took place over the phone, as well as one interview being received via email. Each participant was spoken to directly at some point, either over the phone or in person. We had the participants sign consent forms that informed them of of the basis of our study and what the information would be used for. We informed them that at any time they could withdraw from the study for any reason. All of our respondents were eager and excited to share their information for this research project.
Demographic information was less important to us than the ways in which each individual portrayed nonviolence throughout their everyday life. While we acknowledge that age, gender, ethnic background, income and employment status do play an important role in how respondents answer each question, we found that experiences that were unattached to these societal labels could offer the most insight. Our interviewees were not randomly selected but were instead sought after; we found that this gave us the most precise, detailed information, pertinent to supporting our thesis.
Biases did occur in selecting who we favored to individually interview, and we chose them based on different reasonings. A couple members in the group chose to interview people that had impacted their life personally, by exemplifying experiences of non-violence through their actions; these individuals included meditation leaders, spiritual advisors and a Senior Pastor, as well as teachers and thought-leaders of nonviolence. The individuals who hold these statuses were sought after because of their positive impact on the world around them, which was known before the study began.
As our research expanded we found individuals such as Michael Nagler, Stephanie Van Hook, Linda Sartor and Rebel Fagin who were referred to us by our professor, Peter Phillips. Insight from these individuals helped to broadened our ideas pertaining to nonviolence, and allowed us to document information that was relevant to local nonviolent activism. Like a grapevine, finding one great person to interview led to us to contact others. All of those we interviewed were inspiring. We were offered insightful information that was different, yet similar, in all of their responses, allowing our findings to flow smoothly, without much conflict of overall themes and ideas.
Individually we carried biases into our interviews due to each group member having different interests, and a particular idea about finding supporting evidence for our thesis. We were aware that there are many different tactics of nonviolence. By keeping a non-judgemental and open mind to responses, each of us allowed for detailed, qualitative information to flow through our interviews, providing us with outstanding information in regards as to why people find themselves engaging in nonviolent movements or activism.
We began our interviews by asking respondents to define what the term “nonviolence” meant to them personally. Almost all of the definitions given for nonviolence included ideas about communication, how to communicate when facing opposition, and with those who have differing perspectives and/or opinions. Multiple respondents talked about the importance of listening in communication, as well as the idea that experienced emotions and feelings should not be repressed or dismissed. Rather, they described nonviolence as a demonstration of feeling and emotions that are channelled in a disciplined way, remaining compassionate and without judgement towards the other. Not using violent behavior or harming another human being is perhaps the more obvious component of nonviolence. This was discussed by most of the participants and included as one of the more generalized ways to understand nonviolence. That being said, however, the definitions given by each individual then became more personal and specific to individual causes.
One participant defined nonviolence by effectively describing all of the types of violent behavior and violent characteristics. Nonviolence, then, would be the absence of these. Nonviolence was talked about in spiritual terms by many including expressions like: “energy released when one overcomes a disruptive drive,” and “a way of carrying yourself,” integrity, “living from your heart,” and “something that is alive and changing.” Nonviolence encompasses overt actions such as, simply not using violence to harm another being and not acting with retaliation when violence is used against them. However it was clarified that this doesn’t mean one should be passive. Instead, it includes actions like protests, sit-ins, shutting down streets, and engagement with the opposition in conversation. It also includes finding ways to obstruct unjust systems so that they can’t continue operating, demanding platforms to speak, and for some, a certain degree of self-defense. For others, self-defense has no place in nonviolence, and there is an understanding that with nonviolent activism, injury and even death, as well as a certain level of suffering, is to be expected.
Nonviolence may include actions such as damaging property, a means to further a cause without actually harming anyone, thus being considered nonviolent. Multiple participants talked about nonviolence and violence as more of a spectrum as opposed to being a black or white issue; others saw actions that constitute nonviolence as being dependent on context.
Some actions (such as property damage or self-defense) may be deemed violent in one situation, but not in another. That being said, the majority of definitions focused more on nonviolence as a set of principles and beliefs; a broad range of internal processes and practices, that also included the ways that these concepts are then expressed when met with outward opposition. Internal characteristics included facets like compassion, integrity, empathy, forgiveness, understanding, an attitude of loving-kindness, being non judgemental, and having respect for all living beings. These processes also include the ways that nonviolence is expressed in interactions with others: it was described as a form of discipline, a way of communicating with respect and compassion, listening without judgement, practicing cooperation, using peaceful means, and avoiding using nonviolence as a manner of controlling others. It was also described as a series of step or actions, taken in order to avoid harm in thoughts, actions, and words- which, it was noted, must include a continuing willingness to self-reflect on the true intentions behind our thinking, our motives, and our actions.
In exploring and understanding how participants initially became interested in nonviolence and/or got involved with nonviolent strategies, many participants recalled feeling drawn to nonviolence already as a child. Multiple respondents cited personal experiences with different aspects of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as MLK himself, as early inspiration for cultivating nonviolence in their own lives. Others recalled becoming educated about nonviolence first- for example, through attending anger management classes, or in education and training for a career- and then continuing with a personal practice, or becoming someone who motivates others, as a result of seeing how nonviolence changed their lives.
In many cases, acts of violence created the pivotal shift and turning point towards nonviolence. An interesting realization to note here, is that the “acts of violence” that constituted turning points for individuals came from all angles: they included “pivotal” instances where the individual themself was inflicting the violence, illustrations where the individual witnessed acts of violence carried out by others/against others, as well as occasions where the individual was the victim of the violence. For other individuals there isn’t a single moment or specific example of violence that inspired them towards nonviolence. It was more of an intuitive, gut feeling; an internal understanding that they did not, could not, support violence or the injustices they were bearing witness to in the world around them. For almost all respondents there was a sense of attraction to nonviolence after witnessing injustice in some way, shape, or form. This draw or attraction to nonviolence was then further reinforced by contrasting acts of violent opposition, and/or witnessing the quiet, dignified power of those continuing to practice nonviolence in the face of horrific retaliation and/or injustices.
For most of the participants, motivation to do nonviolent work seems to change over time, even if it’s just in the sense that it deepens as the practices continue. For some, motivation has changed as a result of the times changing. While it may have seemed practical to endure suffering and even death in the name of nonviolence in the past, not who practice nonviolence continue to believe that’s a necessary prerequisite of joining the nonviolent movement.
Working in fields of nonviolence also seems to influence the thoughts and practices of individuals; it is a powerful experience to see nonviolent actions take effect in other people and it can inspire a furthering of beliefs, motivations, and practices of those setting the example. It can also inspire the desire to pay it forward, to pass it on to someone else as it has been passed on to you. For some, the level of understanding as well as their personal focuses within nonviolence, broaden over time. For others, they become more specific to a certain cause, or certain form of nonviolence. It follows that as times and societies change, nonviolence would change too. While there are some causes that have been constant across history, there are others that have become more or less prominent, which can change entire populations and attitudes, as can government dynamics and new and existing laws.
When we asked our interview participants the question, “How can nonviolence be used to expose and combat injustice?” we received answers that, overall, stated a similar, general idea. Almost all participants believed that the best way to use nonviolence to counter injustice is with resistance. They expanded this idea to include that it’s best to not retaliate in any way, instead showing that with the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance, more people are enticed to join the cause instead of a violent or unjust one.
One interview participant brought up the Northern Ireland women’s peace movement, describing their method of simply walking as their means of conveying their message. A few others brought up the ideals and tactics of Martin Luther King Jr. as prime examples of nonviolence being effective for combating violence. The idea of using nonviolence as a way to open up lines of communication was talked about, accompanying an explanation that, once a situation turns violent, it is almost impossible to use words to express the need for social change. Another participant brought up how, visually, nonviolent movements can be impactful in combating injustice when met with violence by the opposing side; the contrast highlights the injustice.
One interview participant stated poignantly that nonviolence cannot, or should not, be used to combat anything because the use of combat all-together is considered an act of violence. The intention for harm in some way or another is still a part of the idea of nonviolence. Another participant raised the point that you have to be careful with how far you take nonviolent activism in the pursuit of gaining social change. A person may not realize that their actions are inconveniencing people who they aren’t actively trying to inconvenience, therefore inadvertently turning people off from the movement all together.
Overall, our interview participants equally shared the understanding that in order to combat injustice with nonviolence, some sort of action has to be taken. Whether it be a protest, a walk, or another sort of public social action, steps must be implemented to achieve change; in some cases this may be seen as inconveniencing others who had nothing to do with the social problem. In extreme cases this may be seen as a form of violence itself, thus defeating the purpose of the movement.
Through participants sharing what nonviolent tactics they found to be most effective, we discovered that there was a myriad of different responses. Everyone had their own opinions on what works and what doesn’t, seen through the perspective of their lived personal experiences. Their responses ranged from methods of meditation to nonviolent tactics with regards to money and economics.
One interview respondent had an interesting answer, saying that any nonviolent tactic that highlights the violence or injustice being used by the opposing side, is the most effective. This corresponded with a few of the other participants, who answered in terms of effectiveness correlating to any tactics that bring out the emotion and/or passion from the individuals supporting a movement. In terms of remaining nonviolent within the family, the main tactic that is seen as being most effective is communication; this came up in multiple interviews.
Communicating what you are trying to change nonviolently is a key element in achieving social change. One of the interview participants explained that they thought that being outspoken about the social problem you are trying to change and making sure that you are heard. A few of them in their own words stressed the importance of going the extra mile and taking it as close to the example you want to make as you possibly can. Not condoning violence and instead meeting it from a different place in terms of what Martin Luther King and Gandhi did.
Our group interviewed individuals that came from different backgrounds, but had a few things in common with one another in response to the question “Are there particular strategies that you use to try to have others join your non-violent movements?”. While some individuals claimed they did not have any strategies they used to to captivate audiences, they used themselves to inspire the change they want to see in the world. The use of writings, presentations as well as being educators allowed for the respondents to be in the spotlight, living up to their word with others watching in some manner. Each respondent spoke about the value of education in the form of leading by example as well as providing the tools and resources for others to educate themselves. The importance of being inquisitive and looking inward at one’s own actions can allow the individual to better understand themself, thus resulting in a better way they understand their responses to the experienced world around them. Looking at the individual’s motifs, beliefs and actions can help create strategies that will not result in disharmony or violence.
One participant in particular explained that by leading by example he gets to inspire others by showing them what a violent free lifestyle looks like once achieved. The benefits are experiencing serene and calm thoughts within his own mind and moments that were described as gifts, which was something he had never understood before living a violent free life.
When the respondents were asked if there are way to practice nonviolence in everyday lives, many approached it with a peaceful response. They find that meditation is one of the best ways to incorporate nonviolence into your everyday life. One participant believes that through meditation, a person can cultivate their own inner empowerment. Understanding your own inner feelings on nonviolence always has a positive result. Another participant said that being in touch with your emotions while maintaining honesty about how you are feeling is important in our everyday lives.
A few of the respondents focus on managing their actions as a way to practice nonviolence in their everyday lives. One found that being an example to others is a relatively simple way to help in the general nonviolence movement. Setting an example of how to treat others, and think before you act can be beneficial for the individual and to those who are seeing it happen. One participant commented on the importance of the use of language, and that being kind and thoughtful with your words can make a difference on who you are as an individual as well as how those around you view you.
Language and communication can help with preventing nonviolence from occurring in our everyday lives, but it is not alway effective when nonviolence is met with violent opposition. A majority of the respondents would concede that nonviolence is almost always met with violent opposition, and the key to remaining with power in the situation is to stay calm. When anger is met with more anger, fearful emotions will elevate the intensity of the situation, and the result will not be something that benefits everyone involved. Often those who react with violence do so because it is all they know, and they may not have the tools, resources or strategies to remain non-violent. Generally violence stems from fear, but the justification of these reactions often determines the outcome.
One participant had been a police officer during the height of the riots between the Catholics and Protestants near the border of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In his experience, nonviolence was always met with violent opposition. He believed that self control, compassion, and the ability to turn inward and look at your response to each and every situation is the way to handle violence in a successful manner.
Another respondent mentioned having a constructive program handy, that can be looked upon when nonviolent tactics don’t seem to be working; the true testing ground occurs at those moments of magnitude. Nonviolent activism can be stopped when violence occurs, while the action itself stops, the movement does not. All of the individuals who responded to our interview questions believe that the movement of nonviolence is bigger than violence itself, and so nonviolent action must move forward in such a way that it carries on by remaining resilient. That nonviolence stems from within, and by remaining in that space, there is space for others to react nonviolently as well.
When asked the question of what the interview participants thought that the biggest obstacle facing nonviolent movements today, as expected, each interviewer had their own personal answer. Overall the main problem stemmed from is our current culture and societal norms, the way that people in our society handle these movements in terms of their ignorance, everyone thinking they have the right answer, and overall the way we, as a society, view violence. There is also a lack of understanding of how the government truly functions, and what level of social action you have to go to, to ensure social change.
Social media and propaganda have also created a large obstacle for social movements. In general, propaganda and the media create an obstacle because those behind the scenes are more prone to pick and choose what the world sees online and in the news. Those with money and power will do whatever they can to maintain their position, even when they are met with nonviolent activists on the opposing side. As discussed by the various interview participants, the root of all the obstacles are largely due to our culture and our societal norms, the way that we as a society react to and view nonviolent movements, as well as categorize them.
The participants of these interviews were asked if they think there is hope for a nonviolent world, and a few believe that there will always be violence, but that we all should do what we can to help have less violence. Making conscious decisions to create a world for our children that is better that what we have today and teaching them that violence will never solve our problems can lead to something better for the future. One participant compared humans to chimpanzees as well as monkeys. Chimpanzees tend to be aggressive and violent, while species of monkeys tend to be more calm and carefree. He said that there will always be people like chimpanzees, who react in ways that they are used to. One interviewee has hope for a nonviolent world, and says that his hope is sometimes the only reason that he continues doing his work, and really making an effort.
In closing with our interviews, the group gave the option to add any final words. Most people felt that they had sufficiently answered everything and didn’t have anything to add. However, one participant felt the need to add that no human is born violent. Violence has to be taught to people, so he really felt that it was important to mention that our society needs to raise our children in safe environments and teach the importance of nonviolence by setting a strong example for them.
CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
In conclusion, our paper addresses the past and present lives of local nonviolent individuals, finding valid information that answers our thesis question, which is: What motivates Sonoma County leaders and/or advocates of nonviolence to employ conciliatory or noncombatant practices in the specific method or manner that they do? We have spent the semester on this research project, and as a result have learned an immense amount about nonviolence and what motivates individuals to join nonviolent movements. We were analytical as to how nonviolent practices played out in their daily lives, and what strategies had been attempted that were successful. As a group, we hypothesized that nonviolence can come in many forms, speculating that some forms may prove more effective in producing an outcome of change than others.
The key factors and motivations for joining nonviolent movements are for the following reasonings: the individuals had endured or witnessed violence in some form within their own lives, they felt strongly about changing the inequalities they witness in the world, and demonstrated this by helping others in some way, through writings, seminars, classes, movements of activism as well as being role models in everyday life. Each individual understood that it is important to always act as an example of the change implemented, to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” (Gandhi.)
There are many obstacles to overcome in the journey to creating a peaceful world, we found that respectful communication is difficult when differences in opinions arise, and often lack of self control can lead to violence. Violence can also stem from root causes such as cultural differences, conflict within societal norms, the misuse of social media and propaganda, lack of control and resources, as well as fearful emotions and violence being used as a common tool.
We can determine from our research that violence will only beget more violence, unless self control and calm reception takes place. By remaining calm, compassionate, and understanding of the situation, an individual has a better chance of remaining in power. Lack of success occurs once violence begins, and the nonviolent demonstration will have to eventually stop. There are times when individuals risk being arrested, harmed and even killed when committing to fight nonviolently for what they believe in. We must make conscious decisions to teach the newer generations that violence cannot solve our problems, and that when violence is used someone must always be suppressed in order to succeed.
With preparation, and the use right strategies and knowledge, those who practice nonviolence will prevail time and time again. Those we interviewed conveyed that we must retaliate in a way that is nonviolent; once violence is used it is even more difficult to get supporters to promote just causes. Nonviolent activists say that the best way to combat these injustices is to communicate clearly and in a way that our peers can understand and sympathize with us. There are many facets available to us that must be exhausted before it should be believed that violence is the only solution. Using music, writing, art, and meditation as tools, individuals can practice nonviolence daily. The use of education, movements and protests, as well as speaking up and silent tactics such as kneeling down, allows us to openly demonstrate ways in which voices can be heard and changes can be made without violence.
If you find yourself feeling like there isn’t enough time or resources in your life to advocate for nonviolence as significantly as you’d hoped for, simply lead by example. Advocate nonviolence in the way that you carry yourself through each day; allow your decisions to come from a place of awareness, being conscious of the impact of each choice, choose to practice compassion for yourself and others as you live your daily life. This is not only something that we heard from our interviewees, but also seen it in the the actions they take. Their level of self awareness as well as awareness of others creates positive results that show up in their everyday lives. Nonviolent activists say there is hope for a nonviolent world, but that it is up to each and every one of us to make that nonviolent world.
Suggestions for further research would include proper documentation of nonviolent movements. Although nonviolent movements are known to have occurred historically within Sonoma County, it was difficult to obtain proper documentation to use in our research. Broadening our search to include those who are involved in nonviolent demonstrations through the use of art, music, dance, poetry, comedy and theater could have offered different insight to nonviolent movements that are talked about less or success rates are less known about. We found that many individuals did not think they would be good candidates for answering our questions due to misunderstanding or lack of knowledge on the different tactics of nonviolence, as result we could potentially obtain more diverse information if we presented our interviews differently.
To improve our report quantitative data should have been included in conjunction with our qualitative data, for example, surveys would have allowed us to reach a bigger demographic in a shorter amount of time. Transcribing our interviews, as well as, using coding afterward would have created a key, allowing us to easily organize and find key points when gathering more data. Overall we are satisfied with the information found, and can conclude that nonviolence in all its forms is more successful than violence, and can be practiced daily.
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APPENDIX A: INTERVIEW GUIDE
Nonviolence Research Interview Guide
How do you define “nonviolence”/a “nonviolent movement”?
What sparked your initial interest in the field of nonviolence?
Has your motivation for nonviolent work changed over time?
How can nonviolence be used to expose and combat injustice?
Are some forms of nonviolent activism more effective than others, in your experience?
Are there particular strategies that you use to try to motivate others to join your nonviolent movements?
Are there ways to practice nonviolence in everyday lives?
Can I help the nonviolent movement If I don’t have time to join an organized movement?
What happens when nonviolence is met with violent opposition?
What do you think is/are the biggest obstacle(s) facing nonviolent movements today?
Do you think there’s hope for a nonviolent world, or will there always be violence?
Is there anything else you would like to add, or are there any questions that I didn’t ask, that you believe are important for future interviews?
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