Jun 27, 2010

Strong Enough for Non-Violent Protest?

Violence arises from powerlessness; it is the implosion of impotence - Rollo May

I survived the G8 protests. Participated in a wonderfully coordinated Peaceful rally, and managed not to get accidentally or emotionally swept up in the second faction which broke away to confront the police in more direct and violent ways. I witnessed police kicking a man they'd taken down, tear gas lobbing formation, battalions on bikes and horseback and foot with an array of weapons, pounding their batons on their shields in intimidation.

I also witnessed thousands of angry Canadians and worldwide friends take on the police in many ways. Deliberately taunting and inviting abuse. Lobbing full water bottles and even a bicycle helmet at the police Dancing in and out of the wall of police lining the streets. Setting 3 police cars on fire, smashing windows, shouting all their rage at the faceless officers without acknowledging the people behind the shields.

It was easy to share that anger, feel deeply intimidated and betrayed and worried for the future of our free nation by the police state and by the impunity of the corporate-agenda G8. There was part of me wishing I too could wear a black bandanda and throw a golf ball through a Starbucks window and angrily sing out "we're not gonna take it." The fact that I didn't speaks in part to not wanting to acknowledge or empower this darker side of my own humanity.

A second reason for not joining the mob was the logistics that I need to back to Chicago to pick up my kids, and can't really come back in July for a court hearing. But really, is there ever a convenient time to make a stand?

A third and heavier factor I was weighing was whether this Quakerly commitment to non-violence comes from a position of strength of conviction, or from fear. Part of me feels paralyzed in the face of such brute strength of these legions of armed police in army attack formation. Not of being arrested - that would be a badge of honour (not necessarily a good motivation either, but true) - but of the oppressive and seemingly unbeatable societal power they represent.

After acknowledging my Darth Vader side that would love to kick some cop butt, and my scared orphan side that shies away from the violence, I am then free to explore it with my brain. Intellectually, I analyze that the violent protesters play right into The Man's hands. They take the media spotlight completely away from the issues we are trying to raise and the G8 leaders are trying to hide. They justify the police presence and tactics. They further marginalize our movement, giving mainstream viewers an easy reason to write us off.

Just when all this anger, practicalities, fear and intellect was all swirling too hazily in my head, three people showed me true power. A couple sat down 20 feet in front of the advancing police line, crosslegged, linking elbows. A third person sat and joined them, linking the centre man's other elbow. They sat in beautiful, strong silence as the police took the challenge and advanced forward. The first line of officers broke to either side of them, then closed rank again so that the 3 protesters were engulfed in a sea of blue uniforms and riot gear.

All we could see next through the police wall were them passively, non-violently resisting arrest. They were forcefully separated, then their limp bodies dragged to the side where they were handcuffed and put in the back of the van.

What if I swallowed my fear and anger and logistics and had joined them? What if all 500+ people who were arrested last night had been sitting with them? What if all 10,000 of us marchers had sat with them, arms linked, blocking the entire road for blocks and blocks, filling the tv screens worldwide with a scene of Peaceful but immovable resistance? And who knows, maybe all 19,000 police and security officers would have also joined? We still would have had degrees of hatred and anger and fear in our hearts, but in overcoming those we would have assumed and expressed a deeper Power.


  1. well said Rick! From Sonya

  2. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Rick. (Surya)

  3. Thank you. That is probably the most positive vision I have encountered so far in these last days... I feel empowered again.

  4. You may not have participated in the G 20 violence, but as a protester you gave tacit approval to it in not stopping the few who burned cars, smashed windows, and looted shops. What were your issues? No one knows! Why? Because of the violence! And if Canada was a police state they would have locked people up for months... not a few hours. You want to engage the silent majority- drop the rhetoric and speak to the issues.

    We'll see if you keep this comment on your site...

  5. Greg, I'm happy to keep your comment up. I agree that the violence distracted the people and the media from the real issues we were trying to raise. We (particularly the many organizers, of which I do not credit myself being) tried to be creative - speakers' forums, placards, songs, endless media interviews (I was interviewed 6 times in one day by alternative media sources, all about the issues). I interviewed with both of my local newspapers coming home, both on the condition that they focus on issues (or on the lack of focus on issues), not on police. We tried, and continued to try, to get the world to focus on issues.

    As for tacitly approving the violence, not sure I agree on that. No, I didn't try to physically stop anyone, but I did consciously try to model an approach to the police that recognized our shared humanity, tried to be part of a vocal visible Peaceable contingent to counteract the violent message. There were people and groups with varying messages and methods, and the best I felt I could do was be open and clear about mine.