Tuesday night I attended a forum on non-violence held at Columbia College here in Chicago’s loop sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee. Notable individuals present on the panel included Kathy Kelly of Voices of Creative Nonviolence and Rabbi Brant Rosen of Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston. The the forum’s credit there was also a “below 45 voice” in the form of Madelyn George, a Columbia College student who has been increasingly involved in acting for peace.
While the forum was lively and thoughtful it quite predictably degraded, in the question and answers portion of the evening, into theoretical and situational questioning… as if we were attempting to achieve the Platonic ideal of nonviolence. You know, the questions like:
“Is it still non-violent action if there is property damage or if the demonstrators are wearing socks made in a sweat shop?”
“How would you advocate nonviolence if Hitler were to invade Rwanda using genocidal alien technologies?”
I may exaggerate a bit here but you get the idea. While occasionally intellectually reveling these ‘intentional quandaries’ ignore the values of context and discernment. As a primarily un-lived, academic idea, discussions around the concept of non-violence often fall prey to this pitfall. We let the seemingly unreachable pinnacles of an ideal stop us from using the ideal in its most relevant and human form – gritty, impure, messy, and effective.
Where non-violence really came to life was in the stories of Kathy Kelly’s adventures planting corn on top of nuclear missile silos and being sentenced to a year in prison for crossing over into controlled space at Fort Benning’s military training school. It took on flesh in the communal fasting of Rabbi Brant Rosen as a part of Ta’anit Tzadek – the Jewish Fast for Gaza and in the creative driven activism of Madelyn George and the students of Columbia. These stories were wrapped in the fabric of real life – dripping with defiance and sacrifice. These stories stretched beyond the conceptual boundaries and pitfalls common when talking about non-violent direct action and into dipped into the rarefied air of doing of doing non-violent direct action.
May it be so with us as well. That we may always move our discernment into action – our faith into compassion and love embodied in our person.
If we let compassion guide us to action we might be surprised how often this action is actively non-violent…