By Rachel Siegel
Before I worked at PJC, I had focused much of my activist work on anti-war ef- forts, economic justice (through job train- ing for women and healthcare access), and social justice issues (especially feminist, queer and racial justice issues). I had protested the G8 summits and NAFTA; participated in UVM’s shantytown; been to DC numerous times for large-scale protests against US military involvement throughout the world, queer rights, and climate justice; and helped start a grassroots abortion fund.
The part of PJC’s work that I knew the least about was nonviolence. While the effortsI participated in were all done nonviolently, I didn’t know much of the theory or practice in and of itself. I associated the term mostly with Gandhi’s work in India and with civil disobedience in the Civil Rights era here in the US. I have come to understand it more broadly and want to share what I mean when I use the term now.
Violence can be overt like physical, sexual, police, and military violence. But there are many other forms as well: inter- personal, institutional, etc. When I strug- gle with perfectionism, depression, or shame, those are forms of violence against myself. When the ad industry trains girls (and boys too, but with less fatal results) that their bodies exist to please others and will never be good enough, that is violence. When corporations extract fossil fuels from the earth, making water un- drinkable and communities unsustainable, that is violence.
While non-violence means freedom from war and physical assault, nonvio- lence is much more. Nonviolence exists when we are in harmony within ourselves, in our homes, and in relation to the natural world. Sometimes referred to as active nonviolence, it is not a static place at which we can arrive. It is a process of learn- ing, loving, giving. The “satyagraha” or “truth force” that Gandhi based his nonviolent practice on and that MLK referred to as “agape” is that which inspires us to do good – our highest selves. For some it is a spiritual connection, for others an actualization of their values. It is not just the absense of violence, it is a force unto itself.
Nonviolence does not mean a conflict-free life. Conflict is neutral. It can be an opportu- nity to engage with people, learn about each other, and become closer. It is when we engage in con ict destructively that it becomes violent. This is why we focus on Con ict Engagement rather than Con ict Resolution in our workshops. It isn’t always possible to resolve our di erences, but we can always increase our ability to engage nonviolently.
And what about anger and fighting?