Nonviolence and Me, Part 1
[This week's show was one long discussion of my commitment to nonviolence. For ease of reading, I have broken it into five parts, this being the first.]
I have from time to time talked about my convictions - and here I don't mean judgments or opinions about issues, but about the baseline convictions that drive and inform those judgments. I think that everyone who does the kind of thing I do, who analyzes and comments on events, should do that so that people who see or read them can put what they say in a context.
I've talked about how I'm a green, a leftist, a radical, a democratic socialist and such. But there is something I haven't talked about much if at all that also is a moral conviction that informs my opinions and analyses: I am also a pacifist.
Which usually is something you say on TV when you want to lose viewers. But I hope you'll bear with me as I talk about that today.
This is why I bring it up now: I mentioned in the last show I did how I sometimes feel, as I put it although perhaps not originally, "the world is too much with me" and for a time - usually a short time - I'm just overwhelmed with an emotional awareness of the enormity of suffering in world: the hunger, poverty, oppression, exploitation, the homelessness, and how much of it is driven by war.
What got me started this time was news about fighting in Libya, where since the fall of Qaddafi the fighting has never really stopped. And I thought about the fact that I knew that at that moment there were wars of one sort of another going on in Libya, South Sudan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and who knows how many more places - with some of those wars having gone on for decades, some of them with death tolls in the hundreds of thousands or even the millions.
Which in turn got me to remembering watching on TV the violence in the streets outside the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968 as police attacked antiwar protesters in what was later labeled "a police riot" by an investigating commission.
Watching that - I was young, a teenager, still at home, politically a good liberal who was finding it increasingly hard to maintain his patriotic support for the Vietnam war, or maybe by that time I had already turned against it, I'm not sure - anyway, the thing is, watching the events that night, events that were origination of the chant "the whole world watching," was my first exposure to actual violence. Not just kids fighting, not just schoolyard tussles, not the staged pretend violence of movies or TV, but actual violence. I still have a memory, an image of a cop with his club raised and his arm outstretched, chasing a long-haired kid down street, trying to catch him to beat him up.
Watching that, I had a visceral, gut reaction - I wrote later that "a reality of which I was somehow already aware was clubbed into eyes until I had to admit to it." I went to work the next day full of righteous liberal indignation only to discover a chorus from my co-workers of "the only thing the cops did wrong was not beat those punks harder."
I was so upset, I left work, I just walked out and walked home. I had there experienced violence for the second time - this was an emotional, a verbal violence, but still it was violence - and it changed me. Or, more likely, it just brought out what was already there. I don't know and it really doesn't matter.
I became in that moment what I later called an "emotional pacifist." That is, emotional in the sense that this was not the result of logical argument or thinking it through or whatever. It was a response of pure conscience: the utter clarity of "this cannot be right." That violence, particularly organized violence, is wrong. Period.