(c) David Slesinger 2010
During the preparation the night before the Veterans for Peace arrests on Thursday, I raised the accusation that the American peace movement suppresses discussion of Gandhi's approach to resistance. During the evaluation on Friday, some opposition to such discussion came forward. Nevertheless, VFP president Mike Ferner assured me after the meeting that discussion of Gandhi would occur at a later VFP event.
Advocates of civil resistance are welcome to take issue with my following characterization. The goal of civil resistance is to have the legal process acknowledge that the criminals are in power and the protesters are more deserving of honor than being in jail. I have heard of it succeeding at times. I certainly admire and support any non hateful and non frightening arrest against war and injustice.
Gandhi's approach assumes great value in suffering to touch the adversary's heart. Advocates of civil resistance are polite, but see no value in such suffering. They are willing to serve time, if sentenced, but use normal legal maneuvering to avoid or minimize a sentence. I have been disappointed in the assertion that exercising one's first amendment right is a reason one should not be found guilty of a regulation one violated as part of an open civil arrest. It seems weak to assert one should not be prosecuted for being part of a public protest expected to involve arrest.
Civil resisters resent every minute they are in jail. Gandhi even calls for suffering CHEERFULLY while in jail. Gandhi is even quoted, " The satyagrahi enters the jail cell as the bridegroom enters the bridal chamber." I can't think of another American who calls for cheerfulness in jail.
I'll try to put in context why suffering in jail is so crucial.
Let me first present my summary of the moral jiu-jitsu dynamic on nonviolence:
If you can persist in the face of repression, you communicate to your adversary that what they're doing isn't so much bad, which it probably is, as much as it is ineffective. Then you begin to drive a wedge between the liberals and conservatives in power. The liberals moan and complain, "They're making us look so bad, can't we think of something to give them to get them to go away?" The conservatives respond, "No, no, no. If we're a little more brutal, we can break them." Nevertheless, IF you can persist in the face of repression, you push that wedge further and further between the factions of power. Here's the key: the better the nonviolent discipline, the further the wedge will go for any given level of effort and sacrifice. The smoother the wedge, the further it goes. The rougher the wedge, the slower it proceeds.
The reason this approach suggests serving time is required to generate power is that without repression, there is no dynamic. Without repression, public resistance becomes an appeal only to those who are ardent supporters. Instead the appeal should be to all, adversary, their supporter, their sympsathizers, neutrals, our sympathizers and our supporters.This is more likely to broaden support. Thoreau's goal in going to jail to avoid paying the poll tax in support of the war against Mexico was to "wash his hands of responsibility" for the war. While it's is hardly fair to criticize such an early thinker as Thoreau for not being enough of a revolutionary, his admirer, Gandhi, is very much advocating a more revolutionary stance. I met Gandhi's secretary's son, Narayan Desai, at an American nonviolence conference in the 1980's. He noted the Indian institution which has carried on for the Mahatma has been called the Institute for Total Revolution .
Those who attended the VFP evaluation were clamoring to escalate in future actions. They wanted to be able to be less choreographed and allow independence of action for affinity groups with concomitant secrecy rights. Besides such secrecy opening VFP to whole AG's of police agents, their goal of being less intimidated by the state would be better achieved by showing the internal strength to not back down to the sanction of jail time.
A more Gandhian and stronger approach could be for a subsequent action to be to have the same people get arrested every day until the authorities stop letting the activists go free.
As the first person in the US to serve time for a civil disobedience on the climate change issue in Charlotte, NC in July of 2009, my plea to the judge was guilty without seeking mercy. He gave me a mere 24 hours, of which I served 16. If all the people who saw serving time for civil disobedience as valuable, the vast majority who couldn't arrange to personally serve time could do really heavy lifting support for the tiny minority who would take that initial plunge into jail.