I found myself somewhat disturbed when the older white male speaker confidently asserted that Gandhi was the first person to really codify nonviolence. Had the speaker never heard of the extensive uses of nonviolence, both interpersonal and inter-clan, by many of the indigenous peoples of North America? The Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) in particular leap to mind; as far as I know the whole point of their Confederation was to end the inter-clan violence and codify peaceful discussion as a better means of resolving conflict. This occurred well before the arrival of the colonizing whites, and the Haudenosaunee were wildly successful at it… to the point that historically much of our democratic processes are based on learnings from them. You’d think a history (I think?) teacher might want to know about the oldest, still-extant, true democracy in the world today, you know?
Puzzlingly, the speaker had previously mentioned Standing Rock as an example of the success of strategic nonviolence, noting with admiration several cases where the protestors even went to the lengths of aiding the very police and militia who were frequently violently oppressing them. Did the speaker think this was due only to the teachings of Gandhi? If so, with all due respect, he’s not a very good teacher of history!
Further, I found myself disagreeing with his referring to the Standing Rock movement as concluded or “finished” – simply because the veterans had arrived. Let me be clear: I understand what he was trying to say, and I agree that once you have the culture’s enforcers on your side, your cause is going to win in the long term. I also agree that it’s quite likely the cops and militia at Standing Rock were and are reluctant to treat veterans the way they treated the protestors. Quite frankly the cops have clearly dehumanized the protestors to the extent that they – the people in power — were willing to lie about having used mace, tear gas, and fire hoses on the protestors… even when shown film of them doing so!
But I think the speaker (deliberately? I did point it out) missed a critical and extremely important element of this reluctance: the protestors were considered ‘nonhuman’ because they were predominantly women and people of color. The veterans, though… were predominantly white men. White men and their allies may be willing to viciously ‘punish’ those who do not conform and bow to their superiority… but equally they usually emphatically do not wish to do damage to those that look like them. The white male face is the face of power and authority to them – not the face of the criminal, the terrorist, the rebel-rouser. Frankly I think the speaker missed the forest for the trees when he tried to present this only as the cops “respecting” the veterans for their courage and service. On the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me at all; I doubt the white male cops and their allies have ever really thought about their disdain and cruelty toward those who look different than they. Privilege is ordinarily invisible to the privileged.
Let’s unpack one last assumption made by the speaker’s conclusion that once the veterans arrived, the Standing Rock protest was finished and won. The folks who started the protest were, as I think I’ve stated previously, mostly people of color and women. The veterans were predominantly white men. So what does this tell us, as women gathered to learn about nonviolence for the Women’s March — which is being held to protest the stated goals of the incoming president, senate, and house majority – which goals are to effectively oppress women and minorities and force them back into silence and submission? What this older white male speaker was (perhaps unwittingly) telling us was that we can protest all we’d like but it won’t make a whit of difference… until the white men arrive to rescue us once more! – from yet more white men.
Fuck no. I flatly refuse that conclusion; I will not allow myself to hold such a deceitful and disempowering belief, and I will do my utmost to fight it. I’ve done the research! The only time women have successfully fought off male oppression and violence against women and children is when they – the women – band together in mutually supportive groups that refuse to allow the violence to occur. This is not simply one study I’m referring to, either – in case after case studies have shown that women cannot consistently depend on their relatives, or other men, or law enforcement, or even the justice system – none of that works dependably because our culture is all about white men’s desires. It was, in fact, predominantly created by white men for white men. Whether it means to or not, our culture consistently ensures and enshrines the flourishing and continuance of toxic masculinity. Thus the only dependable means of stopping male violence, time after time, is women working together to make it stop.
That, however, was not the worst case of this male teacher’s mansplaining. The one I remember with the most exasperation was painfully classic: towards the end of the presentation one of the many women in support roles was taking questions. One of the questions was: why does this group of supporters of nonviolence wish those who walk with them at the Women’s March to all walk in silence? She was starting to answer the questioning woman… and the older white man actually walked up and cleared his throat to interrupt! When they both looked inquiringly at them, he told a story about a kid who discovered how powerful being silent in the face of aggression could be.
The truly embarrassing thing was: the story had literally almost nothing to do with anyone there! It was about one of the white male teacher’s teen students – the quarterback on the school’s football team – who was at a bar where someone got drunkenly aggressive with him. He remained silent throughout and, according to the teacher, found the next day that his social status had “shot through the roof – through the roof!” due to his restrained behavior.
So… the older white male demanded attention for his story and interrupted the explanation being made by a woman to another woman… so he could tell about a privileged boy athlete – to a mixed crowd of predominantly middle-aged and older women and (some) men of color. It was, frankly, embarrassing to watch.
Further, women are classically the silenced and ignored social class within patriarchal cultures. For men to tell women they must march silently is, to me, not empowering at all – it is simply re-inscribing patriarchal attitudes about the “proper” behavior of women. It felt somewhat like: “we men have decided silence is powerful – therefore you women must not speak because we cannot be upstaged whatsoever!”
So that’s my impression of the talk. I was disappointed in it, but at least I got a few books and names to research later. Also, for completeness, here are the quotes I liked. The second one is an old favorite, while the third really spoke to me. As the speaker noted, the fourth is also quite applicable to today’s situation as well:
“If a law in unjust a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”
~ Thomas Jefferson
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
~ Mohandas Gandhi
“The War on Terror is the terror.”
~ James W. Douglass, Resistance & Contemplation: The Way of Liberation.
“The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
~ Maximilien Robespierre