Thursday, April 24, 2014

How to confront and defeat violent regimes and systems

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”  - Mohandas Gandhi

Promised in an earlier blog entry to explain how one can successfully confront violent regimes and unjust and exploitative systems with deep structural violence. At the time gave the CliffsNotes answer: With nonviolence, love and a coherent strategic vision that involves a constructive program as well as creative nonviolent resistance. This is not to be confused with passive resistance or being passive aggressive.

Today is the perfect day to begin to enter more concretely into this subject matter for a number of reasons: 1) Today marked the 100th day of the King Center's 100 Days of Nonviolence. 2) Today marks the official observance of the Armenian Genocide. 3) Just finished reading Michael N. Nagler's The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action 4) In Venezuela saw that medical students were engaged in a combination of civil disobedience and a constructive program that bears closer examination.

Nagler describes in his book the two basic ingredients for nonviolence to work:
1. We approach out situation with right intention. We are not and do not need to be against the well-being of any person.

2. We employ right means. Wrong means such as violence can never, in the long run, bring about right ends.
Reading the two theorems or postulates above led me to recall the words of the late Bishop Agustín Román first on the importance of having the right intentions
"If what we do for Cuba, we do not do for love, better not do it. If all of us who want the good of the nation, of the important internal dissident movement and the persevering of exile arm ourselves with these virtues, we will be effective. If we are committed to not let personalism, or the passions dilute them, we will have won. If we keep them and transmit them to all our people, we will have secured for Cuba a happy future. "
Secondly Bishop Agustín Román on the importance of employing the right means or of action being consistent with conscience:
More concretely, I would say that the greatest importance of the internal dissident movement in Cuba today, is that it has proven that political action can be consistent with what conscience knows and that is that the force of reason is, and should be more powerful than the reason of force.
This is a rejection of Machiavellian power politics that claims that the ends justify the means. The Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi  offers an explanation that should resonate with Cubans:
"I do not believe that means can be separated from ends.The means that you use to achieve your ends will in the end color those very ends themselves. If we are to march along the road to freedom full of hatred and full of the instincts of violence what we find at the end of the road will not be freedom but another kind of prison. A prison that we have constructed for ourselves through our own feelings of hatred and violence."
Mohandas Gandhi on September 11, 1906 coined the term Satyagraha which according to Michael Nagler literally means "clinging to truth" but has also been translated to mean "soul force."  Nagler goes on to explain the power of nonviolence in a nonviolent moment when overwhelming violent force is stopped by nonviolence and its dynamic citing Gandhi's explanation:
What satyagraha does in these cases is not to suppress reason but to free it from inertia, and to establish its sovereignty over prejudice, hatred, and other baser passions. In other words, if one may paradoxically put it, it does not enslave, it compels reason to be free." What he calls "reason" here is better described as the innate awareness that we are all connected and that nonviolence is "the law of our species."
 In the quote at the top of the page, Gandhi is saying that we do not need to wait to see what the world is going to do but in changing ourselves we are also changing the world. In that spirit let me close this blog entry with 5 Basic Training Practices for Nonviolent Living taken from Michael Nagler's book:

1. Avoid the major networks and media outlets.
2. Learn about nonviolence.
3.Take up a spiritual practice.
4. Be more personal with others.
5. Find a project and get active.

For Cubans reading this blog entry on nonviolence who remain skeptical please answer the following question: "How many more national saviors using violent means to dislodge a despotic regime only to become a worse version than his predecessor?  Violently overthrowing Spanish imperialism with the help of the United States ended with Independence war hero General Gerardo Machado becoming Cuba's first dictator who was then violently overthrown by a coalition of students and soldiers turning Fulgencio Batista into a national figure and next dictator who was then violently overthrown by Fidel Castro who then set up a totalitarian dictatorship that endures to the present day. Isn't it time to stick with nonviolence and try a different approach?" 

Cuba's democratic period that lasted between 1940 and 1952 was the product of a dialogue and negotiation between all political tendencies that although imperfect was the best period in Cuba's republican history between 1902 and the present. Unfortunately the regime now in power has proven that it will not change through a process of conflict resolution but that only means that creative nonviolent resistance combined with a constructive program can achieve lasting change on the island.

To be continued...

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