Mansplaining nonviolence, part 1
I will be marching in the San Jose Women’s March on the 21st of January, mostly because traveling to Washington to march is financially currently beyond me. Consequently when I heard there was free nonviolence training being offered in association with the march, I eagerly signed up. Not only do I want to be prepared ahead of time for the march itself (though the police are not at all concerned that there may be violence), but also I believe learning more about nonviolence as a form of protest is an extremely valuable idea.
I went to the training yesterday. It was… interesting. Mostly. I’m glad it was free, though; had I paid for it I would have been mightily annoyed. In retrospect, I think the nonviolence training group is not actually closely associated with the march, but rather is a group which intends to participate in the march, and thus offered this free training to everyone planning on attending… in order to gain access to that extensive group of people. Apparently if they can produce 100 people wearing their characteristic scarves (which they had for sale at the talk for $10) then they’ll be allowed to lead the march.
To be fair, there was a handout which gave me something new: I did not previously know about the ACLU of California phone app at www.mobilejusticeca.org which “allows users to record law enforcement in real-time, alert other users to nearby law enforcement encounters, and to submit videos and incidents to the ACLU.” I particularly like that it lets you set an automatic ‘turn off’ on your phone after recording something — so if a belligerent person demands your phone it shuts down and they cannot simply delete the recording.
The presentation itself started with a large, nervously smiling, white man welcoming us all and making a joke: he’d told his teenaged son last night that he was going to be at the presentation on nonviolence for women attending the upcoming Women’s March. His son apparently gave him a skeptical look and said, “OK, Dad… so you’re going to get up and mansplain to a whole bunch of women?”
Those wacky teens, amirite? Cue laugh track.
To this man’s credit, he did not actually mansplain anything – he simply introduced the older white man who was the one who mansplained to us all. This new guy was a teacher at some local school, and had his credentials read before he started the presentation. He was the only one to be so introduced, and I guess the credentials were nice enough, but honestly? I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to admire him – I was there to learn about nonviolence. Unfortunately even that was going to disappoint me, though I did not know it at the time.
The PowerPoint presentation started out interestingly enough. A slide pointed out how ineffective either violence, vandalism, or vulgarity is in effecting social or personal change, and there were some other slides which delineated the various types of nonviolent protest and persuasion: diplomacy, petitions, etc. The various forms of noncooperation were also noted: consumer boycotts, strikes, embargoes, social & civil disobedience, etc. There were some quotes I liked (they’re at the end of this blog), and I am familiar with a book they highlighted: Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth & Maria J. Stephan. I’m glad they mentioned it, as the research is both fascinating and excellent – mostly due to Chenoweth apparently being a former “hawk” who was converted slowly and reluctantly via the empirical evidence to the cause of civil resistance rather than violent revolution. As the speaker noted of the book’s message, the media generally never inform us of how nonviolent revolutions are twice as successful as violent ones in achieving their stated goals – and how this dramatic difference extends across both interpersonal and international situations. I guess violence is simpler and more exciting for the media to cover?
The speaker had a few slides regarding Gene Sharp’s work – apparently he’s considered to be sort of the father of civil disobedience — and I learned there were two types of nonviolence: strategic and principled. Both are excellent and useful tools, but apply in different situations. For example, Sharp is apparently the main proponent of strategic nonviolence, which tends to be based on “people power” and is a temporary commitment where the people withdraw their consent to be governed, in order to ensure a change in leadership. Strategic nonviolence is of value because it requires less training and discipline and leads to quicker, albeit also culturally ‘shallower,’ results; the 1980s Philippines is a good example of this. Gandhi, on the other hand, is most commonly associated with principled nonviolence, which aspires to more slowly change hearts and minds via deep cultural change accomplished through the Law of Redemptive Suffering and a life-long commitment to the disciplines of Satyagraha (or “truth power”) and Ahimsa, or a lack of desire to harm others. A good example of its use in the US is the Civil Rights Movement.
Also, all of the above is of necessity just a quick & dirty version of complex subjects, as I was scribbling notes madly during the talk.
So pretty clearly from the above what we, the women planning on attending the Women’s March, would most need to learn about would be Sharp’s strategic nonviolence, right? We were, after all, a group of predominantly women – classically the social group required to manage both a job and the home, which means being always short on time — so quicker training would usually be better for us, I would think. Further, we weren’t looking to change the entire democratic process here, or force sweeping cultural change. We were, as far as I could tell, just looking for a means of ensuring no violence occurs while we march to state our belief that (despite the religious convictions of all those rich arrogant old white men currently holding power) women are human too — with all the rights, privileges, and dignity which accrue to that state. Further, learning about strategic nonviolence was fine with me; I like learning new things.
Except… we then spent the next hour and a half of the two-hour presentation… being told about Mohandas Gandhi.
I will not deny the speaker’s commitment to the cause; he was clearly moved several times as he watched clips from the movie Gandhi with us. However, I’m deeply unconvinced this was really the best way to teach strategic nonviolence for an upcoming, peaceful march. For example, how does watching movie examples of extreme violence perpetrated against the determinedly nonviolent help us learn about strategic nonviolence? Further, the movie was made by Western white men. Were any of Gandhi’s family, close friends, or followers consulted on this (rather sanctifying) version of the man?