Turning the Tide Taster Sheet


taking effective

'Nonviolence' is a word which is used in many ways. People in the Home Office, for example talk about 'nonviolent crime', meaning crime which does not involve physical injury or destruction of property. On the basis of what it sounds like, many people take it to mean just 'not violent' and often interpret it as gentle, passive, harmless, nonconfrontational.

For some activists and theorists, nonviolence is a secular word, meaning 'people power', that is social and political movements which use the power of demonstrations, non-cooperation or direct action to change a situation; it is a strategy, not a principled choice. For others, however, the word carries a religious meaning to do with the ultimate goal of nonviolent action and the spirit in which it is carried out. It is this meaning of the word which the Turning the Tide programme uses.

Nonviolence - a positive calling
Nonviolence sounds negative, and some aspects are described in terms of a refusal to harm, but the desire not to harm arises from the positive calling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The vocation of the Christian to compassion and justice leads to a commitment to eschew violence (that which damages and degrades people and the natural world), whether physical, psychological or structured into our society.

Becoming nonviolent people
From this basic commitment comes a need for us to develop the capacity to be nonviolent in our daily lives and relationships as well as in social and political action. Nonviolence involves absolute respect and care for everyone as people (as opposed to what they might be doing), even opponents. This, together with a willingness to take upon yourself any suffering that might arise, requires a daily spiritual grounding and practice - nonviolence is not something you can spray on after a training session or two! To be open channels of the spirit, we can work on developing the skills of listening, affirmation, communication and assertion.

Active nonviolence
Active nonviolence is one approach to achieving peace and justice alongside action to build a just world through sustainable and participatory development, and the methods of creative conflict resolution. It is appropriate where there is a disparity in power between two sides in a conflict so that the powerless side has to take action to even up so that negotiations can start. The need may be as basic as to demand recognition from the powerful that they are fellow human beings, or to get them to see that there is a problem. Or the situation may be one of such structural injustice that it cannot be improved or reformed, but has to be transformed. The aim is both dialogue and resistance - dialogue with the people to persuade them, and resistance to the structures to compel change.

The methods of active nonviolence
Dramatising actions, usually symbolic, can be used to reveal the truth of an issue and to draw attention to it. For example, homelessness campaigners in Washington claimed the body of a pauper who froze to death and carried it in a coffin to city hall, thus literally laying it the door of those responsible. The 'creative disorder' of demonstrations, blockades, marches or invasions attract attention to an issue and can lead to change. Non-cooperation - strikes, boycotts, stay-aways, refusal to follow orders - and intervention - blockades, sit-ins, direct action - create a crisis and can compel necessary change when opponents are unpersuadable. Creating alternative institutions is another way of altering society. (NB: One should never use a method which one would not want used against oneself!)

Characteristics of a nonviolent campaign