In my last post, I ended with some fashion advice to young women given by Constance Markievicz, which included the purchase of a firearm. In this post, I want to suggest what might be done in our day and age in lieu of such a purchase. The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change are based on Matin Luther King’s (MLK) nonviolent campaigns and his profound belief in love in action. They should be read in conjunction with the Principles of Non-Violence and outline the soundest basis for real and lasting change in human communities.
MLK was a deeply thoughtful man and knew the importance of research. "You must become an expert on your opponent’s position", he advised. In order to bring change, it is vital that we first understand what needs to be changed. In my last post, I offered a brief analysis of gender politics in the Church as a contribution to this first step. Research is to be understood in the broadest terms and involves deep listening to the people on the ground, those most effected by the injustice we seek to overcome.
"It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue."
MLK was not a lone voice crying in the wilderness; he knew all too well the power of community and solidarity. In building relationships, he strengthened the opposition to segregation and institutional racism and also gained the strength to continue the struggle when beaten down and imprisoned.
As Christians, we must resist the notion: 'Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone.' Apart from anything else, it is biblically inaccurate - Daniel wasn't alone, but had his companions, Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego! Prophetic discipleship calls us into community, to know the power of fellowship and to use that power to bring real change.
"Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Eliminate hidden motives and prepare yourself to accept suffering, if necessary, in your work for justice."
"Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent."
How often do I hear Christians say that to engage with other Chrisitians they disagree with is tantamount to endorsing their views? The present cancel culture does nothing, in my view, but create martyrs for the cause we oppose. Learning to negotiate, to seek progress, to achieve the attainable whilst holding on to a vision of the ultimately desirable is key to the work of justice.
Barbara Castle, one of my political heroes, was good at the pithy one-liner. In 1943, she made her first speech to the Labour party conference, accusing the then leadership - accurately - of preparing to compromise and delay the implementation of the Beveridge report on the welfare state. "We want jam today, not jam tomorrow," she warned.
We negotiate for jam today and work for more jam tomorrow.
Too often today, this seems to be the 'go to' position for those seeking change. Instead of it being deployed after "the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation", it assumes that those who resist change are not open to compromise. Instead of injecting a “creative tension” into the situation and applying 'moral pressure', it often serves to polarise and demonise, failing to take into account that those who oppose us will be the very same people we need to work with in resolving the injustice.
Don't get me wrong, I love a good direct action! So much the better if it's funny and engaging and focusses on the injustice itself, rather than attacking individuals. But it only retains power when used sparingly and with a clear sense of what it is trying to achieve.
"Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons."
This seems the hardest part of MLK's programme for activists to acknowledge. Whilst reconciliation is at the very heart of the Christian gospel, it doesn't seem that well understood by many Christians, who mistake forgiveness for amnesia and seem unwilling to accept that it is possible for people to change.
THE BELOVED COMMUNITY
These steps, for Martin Luther King, led to “The Beloved Community”, a realistic, achievable goal that was attainable through the philosophy and methods of nonviolence.
Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.
“the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”