The protest movement growing around global exploitation of workers and the environment is the most exciting thing of its kind Americans, and some others, have seen in over 30 years, and – therefore – in my life time. But it could very easily be much more powerful than it is. If it were organized into strategic nonviolent protests to the complete exclusion of any little groups of stone-throwers, the media would be forced to cover some other aspect of it than the little groups of stone-throwers. And its power would immediately skyrocket.
The gift that Gandhi gave us, which was used so effectively in this country 35 years ago, has proven its worth many times over in many parts of the world. And it is being used in the globalization protests today, but not sufficiently. And any shortcoming makes all the difference.
In an article published 12 days after his death, Martin Luther King, Jr., described the power of nonviolence and lamented the violence of the previous two years, noting that “there was less loss of life in ten years of southern protest than in ten days of northern riots..And we know that nonviolent militant action in Selma and Birmingham awakened the conscience of white America and brought a moribund, insensitive Congress to life..We really feel that riots tend to intensify the fears of the white majority while relieving its guilt, and so open the door to greater repression.”
King wrote, tragically: “The time has come for a return to mass nonviolent protest. Accordingly, we are planning a series of such demonstrations this spring and summer..” The target of these planned protests was economic inequality.
Since 1968, we have moved farther from two things: economic equality and organized nonviolent protest. Only a well-organized rebirth of the latter will ever bring us close to the former. This means that chaotic “anarchist” protesters must pick leaders and agree on precise demands. But it also means that they must understand the workings of nonviolence.
The goal must not be simply a better treaty or the shredding of a bad treaty. It must be the winning-over of the minds of the treaty writers. The goal must be to understand and sympathize with the greedy destroyers whose actions are being protested. That’s not easy, of course. But to pretend it is either impossible or irrelevant is to deny recorded history and insult its greatest heroes.
We are much more aware today than 35 years ago of how people’s upbringings shape their thinking. Those raised to believe that hoarding wealth is a sign of nobility are, indeed, trying to be noble when they hoard it. Denouncing them as evil will only convince them that you are ignorant. Instead, they need to be shown another concept of nobility. And they need to be shown it dramatically, powerfully, and en masse.
This discussion of the psychology of the current protests is, as far as I know, completely missing. So, not coincidentally, are victories.