VOICES OF NONVIOLENCE
Throughout history there have been several people whose words and actions have helped advance the practice, understanding, and appreciation for the power of nonviolence. I have highlighted a few below in sharing some of their writings and speeches.
These works can be used in schools and incorporated into lesson plans for a range of subject matters. In history and social studies classes the actions of these individuals and the movements of which they were a part can bring to light examples of how nonviolent action has spurred significant social change. In language or public speaking classes, the words can be translated, analyzed, and applied to current issues. In math classes, word problems can be based on conflicts and struggles of which these individuals were a part. In short, these nonviolent voices, among others, allow educators to base learning, exercises, and context around nonviolent action.
Dr. Martin Luther King – Letter from a Birmingham Jail
“Indeed, this is the purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. I just referred to the creation of tension as a part of the work of the nonviolent resister. This may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word tension. I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth.”
Mohandas Gandhi – My Faith in Nonviolence
“The law of love will work, just as the law of gravitation will work, whether we accept it or not. Just as a scientist will work wonders out of various applications of the law of nature, even so a man who applies the law of love with scientific precision can work greater wonders. For the force of nonviolence is infinitely more wonderful and subtle than the material forces of nature, like, for instance, electricity.”
Barbara Deming – Revolutionary Nonviolence
“…The challenge to those who believe in nonviolent struggle is to learn to be aggressive enough. Nonviolence has for too long been connected in people’s minds with the notion of passivity. I would substitute another word here – and rename “aggression” “self-assertion.”
“May those who say that they believe in nonviolence learn to challenge more boldly those institutions of violence that constrict and cripple our humanity (Deming).”
Gene Sharp – The Technique of Nonviolent Action
“The term nonviolent action refers to those methods of protest, noncooperation, and intervention in which the actionists, without employing physical violence, refuse to do certain things which they are expected, or required, to do; or do certain things which they are not expected, or are forbidden, to do. In a particular case there can of course be a combination of acts of omission and acts of commission.”
Dr. Mary Elizabeth King – Nonviolent Struggle in Africa: Essentials of Knowledge and Teaching
“Nonviolent action can work under myriad circumstances to realize major, positive social change with the possibility to transform conflicts and nations or to interrupt a cycle of vengeful violence. Nonviolent methods may be used preemptively and also to prevent severely disruptive strife. Knowledge of civil resistance can be a prime constituent of managing conflicts. With widening application of the technique, an evolution of thinking and practices is under way toward notions of waging conflict constructively, signifying the normality of human conflict and the expectation that it can knowledgably be fought without violence, often with positive results for all parties.”
Leymah Gbowee – 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
“It [The Nobel Peace Prize Award] has come at a time when in many societies where women used to be the silent victims and objects of men’s powers, women are throwing down the walls of repressive traditions with the invincible power of non-violence. Women are using their broken bodies from hunger, poverty, desperation and destitution to stare down the barrel of the gun. This prize has come at a time when ordinary mothers are no longer begging for peace, but demanding peace, justice, equality and inclusion in political decision-making.”
Dolores Huerta – Interview on PBS News Hour
“When we started organizing the farm workers people would say, ‘how are you going to organize the workers? You know, they don’t speak English, they are not citizens. They don’t have any money.” But we would say to the workers, ‘you have power.’ And they would say, ‘what kind of power do we have?’ It is in your person and you together with other people, the workers, you can make the difference. But you have to remember that nobody is going to do it for you. If you don’t get out there and try to solve your own problems it’s never going to change. And that same message applies to everyone. Every one of our segments of society that are trying to make positive change and fighting for social justice, this is what we have to do: come together, organize, push back, take that direct action and then we can make the world a better place.”
Reflection Question: Choose one of the nonviolent voices above and read their essay/speech/article/interview. Choose one quote from that work that resonates with you by either reinforcing and crystallizing something you already belief or helping you develop a new perspective. Share that quote with us in the comment section and how it resonates with you.