Revolutionary legacy of nonviolence
I laud you for devoting an issue to the important topic of nonviolence in movements for social change, and for your focus on the debate within Occupy Seattle ("Debate for the Ages," RC, Jan. 11-17, 2012). I write, however, out of concern that readers could mistakenly come to believe that nonviolence has no revolutionary potential, and that those advocating for nonviolent approaches are not seeking fundamental change. For millennia, violence -- or threats of violence -- have been used to terrorize peoples into submission. It is the favored tool of tyrants and oppressors, imperialists and enslavers. Without always recognizing it, we too have incorporated the logic of violence into our psyches, believing somehow that violence and injustice will end if we meet fire with fire. Yet what the use of violence does -- whether in the service of good or ill -- is to perpetuate the cycle, ensuring that we are forever ensnared in its horrible grip. For some, the desire to break this seemingly endless cycle is a moral imperative. Others recognize that nonviolence is a proven successful tactic, and one that doesn't taint the victors with blood on their hands. Nobel Peace Prize winner Gene Sharp has identified 198 nonviolent tactics that are creative and powerful, and which represent a genuine diversity of tactics. The Arab Spring protesters in Tahrir Square, the legions of brave South Africans and worldwide allies who brought down apartheid, citizens of India who conducted mass civil disobedience inspired by Mohandas Gandhi, Polish and Czech resisters who toppled Communist rule in their countries, and civil rights activists in the United States among others have used many of them. Like these courageous exemplars from around the globe, we can choose to withhold our consent to violence. In doing so, we will follow in the footsteps of giants.
Susan Segall Regional Director, American Friends Service Committee Pacific Northwest Seattle
Revolution has another definition
As a loyal fan of RC, I write with a corrective to "Debate for the Ages" (RC, Jan. 11-17, 2012). The article sets up a false dichotomy between violence and revolution on the one hand and nonviolence and reform on the other. The article might even lead you to think that in the Occupy Seattle movement, white people are for nonviolence and people of color are for a diversity of tactics, which include violence. In fact, there are white people in Occupy Seattle who are committed to a diversity of tactics that include violence, and there are people of color who are committed to what could be called a diversity of tactics that exclude violence. Most importantly, the word "revolution" does not necessarily mean "violent revolution." Martin Luther King's movement was for "nonviolent revolution" -- he wasn't afraid to use the words together. There was nothing soft or merely reformist about his philosophy of the power of love. As late as August 1967, MLK was saying that he was going to talk about love wherever he went, even though it wasn't popular to do so. And he was stating in no uncertain terms his commitment to nonviolent revolution (see "Where Do We Go From Here,"1967). I urge liberals, radicals and journalists alike: Tinkering around the edges is not going to make it, but don't perpetuate the thinking that "revolution" is scary and violent. That's what the 1 percent would like you to think. If we want to create the Promised Land MLK saw from his lonely mountaintop, radical reform/nonviolent revolution is the way.
Mary Paterson Seattle