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Monday, November 17, 2008

Nonviolence in the Face of Prop 8

by @ 10:31 pm. Filed under Gay News, Joe's Rants, Nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication

I have been writing about nonviolence on this site since its inception.   It has been an integral part of my life for many years. I continue to strive to live nonviolently as it is a goal of my life.   With that said, I must says it pains me each time I see gays and lesbians reacting to prop 8 supporters in ways that do us no favors because it uses violence because I value unity in our actions.

First off, I guess I need to describe what I mean when I use the word violence.  I am off the school that believes violence can be of the spirit, of the mind and of body.   We are violent when we use our spiritual beliefs to oppress others.   We are violent when we try to control others via bribery, fear, guilt or shame.  We are violent when we shun others into the shadows and deny the qualities that make them human.  We see them for the label we have given them rather than the human they are.  We see the homo but not the human, we see the christian but not the human.  We see the label, name or category but fail to see the person behind the label.  So, if you think you are not violent, know we are all violent in our own ways and to our own degrees.   For the sake of this article, I am going to steal some imagery from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication and refer to violent acts as Jackal and nonviolence as Giraffes.  I am doing this for more reasons than Rosenberg would have, but we will get to that later.

Second, I guess I should explain what Nonviolence (Giraffe) is and why it is better than Jackal in protests and social change.  You see nonviolence is time proven to be effective.   Gandhi, King, Mandela, Chavez have all used nonviolence and civil disobedience to create mass social change.  Nonviolence is far from inaction or some passive “ladedada”, it is creative action in motion that refuses to sink to the low levels of jackal, not of mind, not of heart and not of the spirit.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “nonviolence asks us not only we will not hit a man, but we refuse to hate him” regardless that he just told us to “turn or burn.”

Being a giraffe is creative but it seeks to build community and progress not tear others down.   It seeks to change hearts and mind by use of a force more powerful than hate and never gives up on the faith that even the most stringent opponent has the potential to change.   Giraffe can take the blows of the jackals because the giraffes refuse to see the actions of jackals without considering the person behind those actions.   To see the human behind the label.

Next, lets address the reality of Prop 8 for us by acknowledging this is painful.   It hurts to be told your love will never be recognized they way straight couples are recognized by our government.  We are angry.  We hear about equality, we hear about justice but it is hard to buy into these words when you are labeled a second class citizen.   Those on the right are having a hard time seeing why marriage is a civil right and we are becoming increasingly frustrated at finding new ways to explain so they will hear.   Sadly, I have to say I fail to see how they will hear our needs when we are speaking Jackal language calling them names like bigot and hater.  I must say if I wanted to explain something to someone and have them hear it, starting off with a round of name calling doesn’t seem likely to make my opponents feel safe enough to listen to my requests for equality. Chances are we have sent them into “defense” mode or worse, we have frightened them into “I need protection mode” I wonder what they would hear if we respond in giraffe mode rather than jackal.  I wonder what they world would think when they see us acting like giraffes and them looking like jackals?

I saw the footage of the older women getting the cross knocked out of her hands.  I tried to empathize with her needs and feelings in that moment.  I can imagine she was afraid because she valued her safety.  I can also imagine she might have felt angry and helpless because she really valued her religious symbols and they were knocked from her hand.   On the other side I can empathize with those who knocked the cross our of her hand.   They may have felt angry because they needed a space to vent their frustration over prop 8.   They may also have felt scared because they needed some emotional safety in their moment of pain.   On both sides are human trying to get their needs met.  We could play the blame game but where would that get us?   We could play the whose right and whose wrong game but I wonder where that would get us.    The philosopher Rumi said it best, “in between the ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a place, I’ll meet you there.”

I saw the footage of the church group in the Castro needing a police escort to escape the anger of gays and lesbians who followed the screaming at them to go away.  I again can empathize with both sides because I truly value seeing them as humans rather than sides of an argument.  I can hear the anger of the Castro residents as they need respect in their space.  I can suspect the Christian group was feeling scared and needing assurance of their safety.   I could play the “but those people” game or the “they said, he said” game but again, what is to be gained by this? I am reminded of Rumi words a second time.

When you read the stories of the civil rights movement or the stories from the Salt March by Gandhi, one cannot help being moved and inspired how so many people could be united in nonviolence to end injustice.   In the Montgomery Bus Boycotts protesters walk for close to 300 days, some for miles in bad shoes.  Some faced violence but faced it in love.   In the Lunch counter sit-ins, protesters walked into the face of violence and remained firm in their conviction without calling anyone names or fighting back in anyway.  The world saw this and change came quickly from it.    For Each protester in Gandhi’s march to the salt factory, he trained his protesters to take on the pain of his oppressor in order to shame them.   One by one protesters marched forward only to by clubbed down by British soldiers until the soldiers refused to hit another human.    It took hundred of tries and human lives being changed, but the soldiers gave into the human factor.

Knowing this history of nonviolence and knowing just how powerful it is leaves me feeling sad each time I see GLBT folks responding to hate in ways that don’t help us.   Each time I hear us scream “bigots” in the chants, I cringe as I know that hurts us more than helps.  We are not winning our enemy over if we are trying to win against them.   King knew it, Chavez knew it, Mandela knew it and Gandhi really knew it.   Know we need to learn it and use it if we are going to be free.

Okay, so maybe I have sold you on the idea that we should use nonviolence.  You get that is isn’t for the weak, this takes strength and courage.  It means crossing lines into the middle of conflict and refusing to react as a jackal when you get there.  I may have finally gotten you to see this is not Passive.   Gandhi himself hated the term Passive Resistance because he saw nothing passive about what he was doing.   I see nothing passive about us taking a stand, but we must choose Gandhi’s idea of Giraffe if we are going to make it work.

I have chosen to borrow Rosenberg’s ideas of Giraffe and Jackal because I am hoping they will give us a symbol and an easy reminder of how we should act.  We can choose to be jackals or we can choose to be giraffes.    So what are the difference you ask?  I am happy to share that answer:

Jackals scream, “hey hey, HO HO, Bigotry has got to go”

Giraffes scream “we are all one” because giraffes know that screaming bigotry has got to go brings up defenses to our listeners.  We want them to hear us, not tune us out.

Jackals respond to name calling with more name calling

Giraffes smile and say nothing but a smile that say more than the hateful words ever could.

Jackals play the blame game trying to motivate people with guilt and fear into seeing the world their way.

Giraffes listen and empathize with how hard it is to change values you hold close to your heart.

Jackals scream about winning against the opponent!

Giraffes talk about winning over their opponent!

So I ask you, which do you think will help us more?  Being a giraffe or a jackal?

As a side note, I do agree with Jim Burroway that the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, but I also know that the likes of Peter LaBarbera, Matt Barber and Stacy Harp lurk in the background just looking for news ways to use our actions against us.   Lets not give them any writing material!  (In case you thought I was kidding, here is a new web blog devoted to how Christians are being attacked by homos.  They of course will show you a very narrow view of gays and lesbians to make the case “all” of us are out to victimize Christians.  They are also playing the victims card which I find odd since they often accuse GLBT folks of the same.  Check it out for yourself but respond in kind)

5 Responses to “Nonviolence in the Face of Prop 8”

  1. BlackSun Says:

    Giraffe or Jackal. It’s a bit of a false dichotomy. Both tactics are useful and necessary. It would take far more time and space than I have here to respond fully to this argument. Here is my main problem: of course both sides are human and we should empathize with all humans having their needs met. But that’s where the similarity ends.

    Conservatives “need” to control others is far from legitimate. What they have done is based on fear, a sense of moral absolutes, and appeals to tradition. This desire to feel OK based on taking away the rights of others borders on the criminal.

    In every instance you cited, along with non-violence came a larger effort on the part of the enlightened people of the world to isolate and shame the offenders. In South Africa, it took international sanctions. Ending slavery took a war. In comparison the struggle against Jim Crow laws was one that could have been (and was) won relatively peaceably. Still, I hope you understand the irony of citing King and Gandhi, who were both martyred for their stances. Change always results in some violence. If it doesn’t come from the forces of change directly, it will come from the reactionaries.

    You cannot fight them without shaming them. Shame is not a bad thing. It says “we do not accept your lies and justifications.” It involves forcibly and sometimes violently seizing a moral high ground.

    It is unfortunate that the conservatives will jump on any appearance of extremism or violence such as knocking crosses out of people hands. It’s unfortunate when that occurs, but it is a minor tactical rather than strategic mistake. Religious marchers SHOULD think twice about waving crosses in the faces of people whose rights they’ve just trampled. They should feel scared.

    Conservatives need to feel a resounding push back. We’re not looking to win them over–rather we want to make them feel that their actions are just plain unacceptable, if for no other reason than that they will think twice about trying them again. We look to win over the uncommitted on the margins. But some people will go to their graves spewing intolerance. It’s only important that they be removed from power and be disallowed from affecting policy.

    In this sense, both tactics of the Giraffe and Jackal will be required. I do not share your concern. It seems to me all is proceeding exactly as it should. This debate will be a wrinkle–a historical footnote.

    As the Yes on 8 radio spots said, gay marriage is coming “whether they like it or not.”

  2. Valorie Zimmerman Says:

    Thank you for the reminder, Joe. You are a saint — and I mean that in the very best way. I will try to remember to take the Way of the Giraffe from now on, and let the jackels howl into the night without my voice in the chorus. <3

  3. Joe Brummer Says:

    The problem with violence is that yes, it is useful, and it does get the job done but it does it as such as high cost. One of the more famous quotes by Gandhi was, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

    As for shame, I agree with you. Shame is a part of nonviolence but it is not used to control and it is not used in malicious ways. It is used exactly as you have described. There are people who use shame to control others for their own gains rather than the gains of society and in those cases shame is violence.

    In every incidence I cited, it was the actions of nonviolent protesters that brought the worlds attention to the problem, but change doesn’t result in violence, conflict does. Conflict is inevitable in life, but violence is a choice. It doesn’t just happen, people choose it.

    I do object to your blame the victim stance on religious marchers. Nothing they do excuses violence. Waving a cross in a protesters face should not result in that protesters using violence.

    When I read this next line I wondered if you can see the “become the oppressor” attitude buried in it: “We’re not looking to win them over–rather we want to make them feel that their actions are just plain unacceptable, if for no other reason than that they will think twice about trying them again.”

    Sounds like you are saying it is okay to turn the tables from us not thinking twice about asking for our rights to them not asking twice about questioning it. Either way, it is punitive rather than restorative action.

    I think you may confuse violence with the “protective use of force” which are not same thing. Either way, there will always be those who believe violence is necessary, I just won’t be one of them.

  4. BlackSun Says:

    Joe, I hear you. Ponder one more consideration: Is not Prop. 8 itself an act of violence?

    It would be equivalent to secular groups banding together to advance and promote (and pass into law) a proposition which banned specific religious denominations from legal recognition.

  5. Joe Brummer Says:

    Prop 8 is absolutely violence. I would call it systemic violence as it is meant to do harm by way of systemic means. The whole aim of prop 8 is to keep GLBT folks from being legitimate in the eyes of the law. Oppression comes in many forms but through law is one way.

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