“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.” – Mahatma Ghandi
After years cloistered in church life, talking and reading and preaching about nonviolence, I find myself pushed to the limits (and beyond) of my pacifist ideals.
By day I work with troubled children, many of whom seek exterior physical boundaries to feel safe. By night I am with protest family facing off with police who are the face of white supremacy’s defense in America.
Whereas during the first half of my life I clung to a belief in nonviolence in fear and loathing of violence, I find myself at strange peace with the violence that is now in my face.
In recent months, at school and on the streets, I’ve been verbally assaulted and physically accosted by both children and grown men. (Curiously only boys and men, always white; which is itself a worthy place to reflect.) I’ve also been threatened by militarized police in riot gear, tear gassed and pepper sprayed, and handcuffed and hauled off to jail. In a strange twist of fate, violence has become part of my daily life.
And I will admit that I have considered the option. I’ve toyed with the potential of violence to quell the children’s drama and the seed the revolution. To my horror, I have found myself contemplating an eye for an eye.
The protests have been remarkably nonviolent. In the six months since Michael Brown was murdered, I’ve been on the streets for five and I’ve witnessed remarkable militant nonviolent action. Yes, there is this one white guy (or is it two?) that occasionally appears in our midst and throws water bottles at the police; it’s happened on at least three occasions and *every* time he is stopped and challenged by someone in the protest family. And while there was certainly much destruction following the non indictment announcement, I’ve heard nothing that even remotely connects that night’s fires with protestor activity. In fact it was the militarized squashing of protestors on S. Florrisant that preceded the fires on West Florrisant. Considering the sheer number of hours and volume of feet, the movement has been an awe inspiring feat of nonviolent resistance.
After an LEO (law enforcement) rally where I had been verbally accosted by white supremacists, I was feeling particularly over the nonviolent approach. A wise woman pulled me aside and said, “Don’t let them take your peace.” She is a grandmother, she has lost a son to police violence, and she took the time to school and comfort me. She is wise and I am grateful.
Nonviolent militant action is rooted not in fear of violence or naiveté but rather in a position of strength. Rev. Osagyefo Seku names it the place of “deep abiding love” and I believe him. When a child is threatening me, my response can come not from fear but from a grounded (not candy coated) place of steely (and abiding) love. When a police officer is shaking his baton at me, I own the fear that is real but simultaneously note the ground that holds me and find my strength therein. When an angry white man pulls back his arm to punch, I feel my vulnerability but look full into his face as his arm falls slack.
Of course happy endings are not ours, not yet, maybe not ever. The truth is that many in the movement have been physically and emotionally wounded, deeply, already. Just this week we’ve witnessed arrests for using sidewalk chalk at the Ferguson PD and during a #TransLivesMatter march in the CWE (moving *immediately* to the sidewalk when asked). Nonviolence is no panacea, no protection from the storm. For this I grieve, and deeply. All the more I am filled with gratitude for the witness that has been offered by the hundreds, thousands, of protest family (across the country) who have practiced direct and militant nonviolent action in pursuit of justice.
Watching the incredible strength of the movement, I see Ghandi’s truth. Nonviolence is a weapon, our weapon. And it is a weapon of the strong.