Revolutionary nonviolence? David Solnit on people power and creativity

by Lucy Duncan

How can active nonviolence bring about the change we seek? What are models of successful uses of nonviolence? What about strategy, how does that inform our organizing? How do we love our enemy while recognizing that opposition is real? What role does creativity play in effective nonviolent campaigns? What about property destruction? How do we practically apply what we have learned about nonviolence? What about forgiveness? How do we move forward so that we are mindful about the means we choose to engender the ends? What's next for the Occupy/Unoccupy movement? Where do Quakers stand in the midst of these questions?

These and many other questions are the focus of a five-part Revolutionary Nonviolence series launched on Monday, Feb. 27, at Friends Center in Philadelphia. The series will be comprised of five events including a panel presentation on strategy, storytellers who illustrate various nonviolent campaigns, a one-day training (we are asking people to apply for a space), and finally a viewing and discussion of "A Force More Powerful." 

We opened the series with a viewing of "This is What Democracy Looks Like," a film comprised of many clips from independent media sources that tells the story of the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999. The viewing of the film was followed by remarks by activist David Solnit, author of "Globalize Liberation," and one of the founders of Art and Revolution, a collective that combines art making with direct action. Solnit has most recently been involved in the Occupy movement in the Bay Area and in organizing the Coalition of Imokalee Workers, which recently had a major victory in persuading Trader Joe's to sign a Fair Food agreement with them. David focused on five major things he's learned as an activist, namely.

  1. Uproot the system: Though individual issues are important, we need to move forward with a systemic analysis and an understanding that individual issues are connected to the larger economic, environmental, worker justice, and political systems.
  2. Organize with strategy: In order to heal and rebuild, we need to be not only courageous, but smart. What worked the last time may not work this time, we need to consider our goals and come together around strategy.
  3. Build people power: We need to go door-to-door and mobilize our neighbors by connecting with their concerns.
  4. Experiment in the laboratory of resistance: What's worked in the past likely won't now, it's important to be creative and come up with new forms of resistance.
  5. Tell stories: There is a lot invested in developing the mainstream, corporate dominated narrative. In order to fight back, it's important for us to tell our own stories, perform our own stories, both deconstruct the narrative of those we are resisting, and be brave enough to tell our own succinct and compelling narrative.

Solnit's remarks may push against your assumptions about nonviolence and what it looks like.  That is partly his point—we need to let go of the past, and creatively move forward, working together to come to agreements about strategy. It's important not to be rigid about our sense of the right way forward and to listen to one another as we work together to address injustice, creatively applying the principles of nonviolent people power.

Please comment away on this video. I hope it ignites a rich conversation, as it did on Monday night.

David sent some links of resources he referred to in the video:

A Recent Reflection on the Seattle WTO and the Occupy movement by David Solnit.

Recent article about the Five Lessons David Solnit's Learned in Organizing.

The "Battle of the Story Worksheet" on the Smart Meme website referred to by David Solnit in this talk.

You can hear the full conversation with David here.

Read the flyer for the full event series on Revolutionary Nonviolence.

The Revolutionary Nonviolence? series is co-sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, the Shalom Center, and the Interfaith and Friends Center Working Groups of Occupy Philadelphia.