Campaign Nonviolence Conference 2015 Report from PJC Director Rachel Siegel

I had the pleasure and fortune to attend the Pace e Bene Campaign Nonviolence training and conference in Santa Fe August 7th and 8th. The name of the conference was “Mobilizing the Nation for the Times We’re In: Ending War, Poverty, Nuclear Weapons and Environmental Destruction – Building a Culture of Peace.” Audacious? Clearly. Possible? Hopefully. But to do so, we can’t look at any one war, any one issue of oppression or injustice, any one environmental disaster. We need to connect the dots and build a movement of movements. Again, this sounds audacious but I left the conference more committed than ever to work toward this goal.

My understanding of and commitment to nonviolence was greatly magnified. I feel more committed to the abolition of nuclear weapons, to creating a culture of peace, to my own meditation discipline and to researching what it would mean to be a tax resister. My lack of knowledge of nonviolent history and practice was highlighted and I feel motivated to learn and live more of it.

The challenges I left with include the “marketability” of nonviolence. I think that when people hear “nonviolence” they think of something passive and only useful in specific instances. Or something dramatic that is reserved for a faraway situation like Mahatma Ghandi’s campaign for Indian Independence. It is not something accessible or hip. I see now, more deeply, that nonviolence is more than something to practice in protest. It is something to cultivate in my inner life, something that takes discipline, something that I can then share with the world around me. Like Roshi Joan Halifax said, “It is not mushy.”

Rev. James Lawson was the key note speaker. He is a famed Civil Rights Movement leader and teacher of nonviolence. Martin Luther King, Jr. called him “the leading strategist and theoretician of nonviolence in the world.” Rev. Lawson said that he sees more activism than ever in the US currently but that activism must become a discipline that is deeply grounded in nonviolence. As Dr. King said, “The question is not nonviolence vs. violence. It is nonviolence vs. nonexistence.”

Another speaker was Erica Chenoweth who is the first social scientist to study nonviolence and the co-author, with Maria Stephan, of “Why Civil Resistance Works.” She outlined clearly and empirically why nonviolent campaigns are more successful than violent ones. Her research shows that no movements have failed if they reach 3.5% participation. Vermont has a population of about 600,000. 3.5% is 21,000.

One of the goals of Campaign Nonviolence is to “mainstream nonviolence.” This would mean making people fluent or at least conversational in the language of nonviolence and practicing aspects of it in our daily lives. Like reading, which was previously only for the privileged and is now mainstream, we can create a campaign for nonviolent literacy. We can train 21,000 Vermonters on nonviolent history. If we start with school boards and work our way to students and families, it might take 20 or 30 years. That sounds like a long campaign, but if we don’t start, we’ll never get there. It’s that or, as Dr. King said, we have no future.

Please join me in committing to a life of nonviolence in our homes, in our daily lives, and in our work to change the world around us.  To learn more, check out the resources below.

  • You can see each of the talks and panels online here.
  • You can see me give an overview of my experience at an informal report I gave to staff, interns, and donors here.
  • You can learn more about Campaign Nonviolence here.

The speakers who had the biggest impact on me were James Lawson, Erica Chenoweth, and Roshi Joan Halifax. I highly recommend you take the time to check out any or all of them.