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Afghan Voices
Tuesday, February 15, 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM
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Lia Gladstone spent 2009 as Professor of English and Drama at American University in Kabul. Afghan Voices is a multi-media presentation about her experience of teaching, traveling and working with a human rights group doing theater in Afghanistan. The program features excerpts from the writing of Afghan students.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Don Muller on civil disobedience

Don Muller of Sitka wrote in response to my email:

I think you're right, Amy--most people don't seem to keep up with what's going on, don't seem interested. Or something. As a bookseller, I think most people simply don't read enough--not enough history, and, in the case of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience, certainly not enough history about that subject. Have people never read Gandhi, King, the Berrigans, anything about the women's movement, anything about animal rights, even anything about Thoreau??? Are people simply not aware that every single significant social change in the U.S. is accompanied by civil disobedience?

When people claim that CD accomplishes little, I am sure they are measuring the wrong thing, and there is a perfect King quote that captures this: “The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage that they did not know they had. Finally it reaches the opponent and so stirs his conscience that reconciliation becomes a reality.” Wendell Berry goes even farther: "Protest that endures...is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one's own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence." Is that selfish? Hey, if so, it's the most unselfish selfishness. When people expect the war to end after their first arrest, well, they will be sorely disappointed.

But EVENTUALLY the war will end. If not, we have ourselves to blame. The more people do CD, the MORE PEOPLE DO CD, and pretty soon change comes about. But it won't happen when people have the wrong expectations. I also think Alaskans, for some reason, fear simple embarrassment if they take part in an action involving arrest. Maybe this is true of all conservative people. Well, read the above King quote again. I guarantee--and Rob will confirm this--you won't be embarrassed. I suppose one could be embarrassed if the action is done stupidly. But that's why people plan. And read and listen to what others have done. Hey, if you're embarrassed to do civil disobedience in Anchorage, go to DC--there are lots of opportunites there! No one can use the excuse that information, mentors, and opportunites don't exist.

Of course, there are many other reasons that people don't particiapte in nonviolent CD. And most are probably good honest reasons. But I think ultimately, on examination, these reasons can be countered with good reasons TO do CD, usually by people with a lot of experience (e.g. Martin Luther King, Jr.!!). I have heard people say that they feel they can't ask others to be nonviolent when they still have violence within themselves, that they must change themselves first. A good first response to that claim is: you will wait a lifetime if you expect to remove any potential violence from yourself before asking others. Again, King: “Admittedly, nonviolence in the truest sense is not a strategy that one uses simply because it is expedient at the moment; nonviolence is ultimately a way of life that men live by because of the sheer morality of its claim. But even granting this, the willingness to use nonviolence as a technique is a step forward. For he who goes this far is more likely to adopt nonviolence later as a way of life.” Can anyone out there say it more clearly? Sometimes I think (in dismay) that most people don't even know what nonviolent civil disobedience IS! Is that possible? Do most people equate CD with anti-abortionists? Anarchists in black face covers? The KKK? I have friends who really don't understand what it means, think that it is simply carrying a sign and getting arrested, the goal being to get arrested.

I'm not sure what the solution to this is: more workshops? more visiting speakers? more actions? Probably a combination of all these. I have a quote from someone named True: “Some generations appear to have learned little from the ones that went before about the power of nonviolence and the skills essential to conducting campaigns for social change: vigils, marches, boycotts, strikes, sit-downs, mediation….While other important achievements in American culture…pass from one generation to the next, refined by each, nonviolence has to be relearned, almost from scratch.” The idea of the Department of Peace, I'm sure, is based on this unfortunate fact. And governments know that's true and that's why governments--especially ours--never have a Department of Peace.

I am ranting now. I think we need to ask how to proceed. If there is not interest among those on this list, there must be others we know who can be recruited, encouraged, educated. Any ideas out there?

A good closing quote by Daniel Berrigan: "We have assumed the name of peacemaker, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total, but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial.....We cry peace and cry peace and there is not peace. There is no peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the
making of war, at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace, prison, and death in its wake"

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