[With gratitude to Gandhian nonviolent strategist Pietro Ameglio for his reflection below. Pietro and I have worked together on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.–Rose]
BY PIETRO AMEGLIO
(Cuernavaca, Mexico) — January 2019 marked 25 years since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, an historic event of the greatest relevance in the contemporary global context, with roots that stretch back centuries and repercussions that will reach far into the future.
It is a truly original experience of building struggle and massive social organization that seeks to confront and slowly replace capitalist social and productive relations, burdened as they are with racism, plundering and exploitation, with others that are more egalitarian, communitarian and rooted in social justice.
Zapatismo is a social construct that operates simultaneously in the short, medium and long term. For millions of us in the world, the Zapatista process changed our lives. It helped us to think upside down, to not be so defenseless in the social order. We can’t help but feel gratitude toward these women and men, girls and boys, whose influence has been felt in many processes of humanization all over the planet. And the best tribute that we can offer them is to not give up our resistance efforts and to always maintain critical thinking.
We can start with reflection on ourselves and our allies, knowing that we all make mistakes. From there we can build a continuous process of reflection and action rooted in “proper disobedience to any inhuman order” (J.C. Marín), confronting any kind of blind obedience to authority, wherever it may come from.
In Mexico we are in the first months of the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who came to power promising deep change with a focus on the needs of the poor majority.
Currently we are engaged in a major debate regarding the astronomic levels of violence in the country and the new government’s “pacification” plans. Are they focused on peacebuilding, which gets at the root issues of truth, justice and reparations? Or are they more aimed at calming the waters – an urgent task! – but in such a way that the storm continues below?
In this regard, one element of López Obrador’s plans is troubling. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderon gave the task of fighting drug cartels to the armed forces. Since then, organized crime-related homicide rates in Mexico have skyrocketed, with the total number killed exceeding 150,000. Now AMLO has called for the creation of a National Guard to complement the armed forces in the fight against organized crime. But the new 50,000-strong force initially would be drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police.
This has led to a heated debate about whether the creation of a National Guard signifies the increased militarization of the country (of course it does; why else was the December “National Conference on Peacebuilding and Security” held at the Colegio Militar, the primary military educational institution in Mexico?) and if it is simply inevitable, given the dimensions of the war we are experiencing.
In between his election and inauguration, AMLO convened a series of Listening Sessions on Pacification and National Reconciliation (Foros de Escucha para la Pacificación y la Reconciliación Nacional). Their supposed intent was to gather input for the shaping of the new government’s policy. But what good were they if the citizen input was ignored and we are told that there is no practical alternative to a militarized approach to the violence? So the forums appear to be just more political theater, when the decision had already been made, and not entirely by Mexico alone.
It may be that the new government could not adequately assess the full scope of the war we are facing before taking office, especially in terms of the corruption and weakness of state institutions. Nonetheless, pacification requires actions that show a true intention to get to the roots of the problem of violence: the deep-seated criminal associations among government functionaries at all levels, elected and appointed members of the three branches of government, businesspeople, criminal gangs, legal and illegal armed forces, and parts of civil society.
Given the evidence we see every day, it is imperative that all those involved in such collusion be deposed, arrested, and punished and that their money-laundering operations be cut off. When we start to see this kind of action, we can begin to think that a real process of pacification may be underway.
In addition to such action, we will also need to see government action that empowers and legitimizes the different kinds of community guards or police that are subordinate to the communities themselves and that actually have been able to control or even eliminate the manifestations of organized crime that were devastating them. These local or regional organizations, self-organized from below, are the only ones that can affirm that they have been able to confront organized crime with positive results, including greater humanization with regard to both the communities and the criminals, and to return peace to their territories. So they should be supported and held up as an example, especially in the regions of greatest violence. Or do we know other means of containing such massive violence and impunity?
When we begin to see initiatives like these, in the quantity and quality that the war in Mexico requires, then we will be able to have a rigorous debate about militarized or justice-based approaches to peacebuilding. That is the true reality check that the country urgently needs.
In the mean time, a significant portion of Mexico’s population has accepted the war, with its endless turf battles among criminal organizations for monopoly control of territory, as the norm and as their principle source of employment. In fact we are talking about a huge capitalist enterprise that creates many thousands of jobs. And with the global economic crisis, those dependent on organized crime for a job are not inclined or do not even know how to change their employment. So we can expect a continuing increase in the spiral of war, as the daily news shows.
In January and February, the Fourth National Search Brigade for Disappeared Persons is taking place in the state of Guerrero. The Mexican government’s own tally of the disappeared is more than 34,000, a phenomenal number.
In the face of recent governments’ demonstrable unwillingness to resolve those cases, family members of the disappeared and their allies have organized their own search efforts, uncovering hundreds of clandestine graves all over Mexico.
These brigades, born of desperation, are a practical response to a human catastrophe and also a moral challenge to society to not accept this situation as normal and to join them in demanding the historical truth, justice, and reparations for the victims and their families.
In this strategic nonviolent offensive, the family members are exercising their social, moral and autonomous power directly, without requesting permission while seeking as many civil society and official allies as possible. We hope that with the new government, there will be better conditions for them to reverse the abandonment they have suffered.
This direct action by the families of the disappeared, like the autonomous government model built by the Zapatistas with their Councils of Good Government, is based on the direct exercise of power by the people. It is also similar to the massive Yellow Vest protest movement that has swept France since November, where important decisions are made in communal assemblies and in direct vote referendums.
Enough of spurious and anti-popular liberal representations. These are clear examples of the urgent need to organize and demonstrate in the streets with relentless persistence.
Pietro Ameglio is a Professor of Peace and Nonviolence Culture at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and an activist in nonviolent struggles in Mexico. Translation from Spanish to English by Phil McManus.
Five critically acclaimed documentary films on nonviolent civil resistance are now available for free. Originally available only on DVD or videocassette, and shown in hundreds of screenings in across 25 countries, the films can now be viewed freely, worldwide. And are available in English as well as translated into more than 20 languages.
The films are:
A Force More Powerful: The Emmy-nominated documentary exploring civil resistance campaigns in India, the United States, South Africa, Poland, Denmark, and Chile.
Bringing Down a Dictator: The award-winning documentary chronicling the student-led Otpor! Movement that led to the ouster of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
The acclaimed documentary recounting 17 days of nonviolent civil resistance by the people of Ukraine against their chronically corrupt government.
Confronting the Truth:
A documentary examining the dynamics and mechanics of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the aftermath of conflicts in South Africa, Peru, East Timor, and Morocco.
Egypt: Revolution Interrupted?:
A documentary recounting the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and its aftermath in the years that followed.
Catholic laity are promoting restorative justice processes to address sexual violence by clergy. The Archdiocese of St. Paul (Minn.), according to the Star-Tribune, is experimenting with restorative justice and healing forums in a handful of churches, bringing in convener Janine Geske of Marquette University’s Restorative Justice Initiative, “to deepen parishioners’ understanding of clergy abuse and to be a bridge to survivors.”
Catholic social teaching provides several concepts to explicate and support restorative justice , according to the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project of Pax Christi International. Among them are the dignity of the person, the common good, mutual rights and duties, subsidiarity, solidarity, participation, and integral human development.
“The Healing Circles” video series has been developed by Janine Geske, distinguished professor of law and former justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court who started RJI at Marquette in order to help support victims and communities in the process of healing from the effects of crime. “The Healing Circle” video (http://healingcirclegroup.com) brings us face to face with the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and their pain. As part of a restorative justice process, the video helps to develop an understanding of the ripple effect of the violence as it explores the impact on the victims, their families, other believers, and those working in institutional church settings. Ultimately, the video helps examine the ways the violence has created a crisis of faith and helps grapple with the complexity of the healing process.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan introduces the videos saying, “It’s very important for us all to come face to face with the victims of these horrific acts. … I know that this scandal has shaken all of us and tested us. An important trust has been violated and the pain has been overwhelming for victims, their families, and loved ones.”
Diane Knight, chair of the national review board of the USCCB, has given her endorsement to Healing Circles video and process. “The individual stories in this DVD are compelling, and they are a powerful springboard for meaningful discussion that can extend the healing process in all of us. This is a must see for anyone who care deeply about the impact of the clergy abuse scandal,” said Knight.
The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative reports that “Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by behavior. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders. This can lead to transformation of people, relationships and communities.”
“The Healing Circle” is a professionally produced DVD that is edited into three segments and runs one hour. Ultimately, it helps viewers examine the ways the sexual abuse scandal has created a crisis of faith and helps them begin to address the complexity of the healing process. It is available in two formats, one with a taped introduction by Archbishop Timothy Dolan and one without. The DVD may be ordered at www.healingcirclegroup.com.
The Restorative Justice Initiative at Marquette University Law School is one of the nation’s leading resources for the restorative justice process. Led by Distinguished Professor Geske, it is at the forefront of promoting scholarship and research on restorative justice.
Each human has innate dignity, the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative asserts, even those whose lives have been deeply marred by injustice, and those responsible for causing it. The common good requires that all share in the benefits of society, participate in building up society, and fulfill reciprocal obligations. Solidarity speaks to the attitudes of compassion and respect necessary to sustain a good society. Integral development is a term used by Paul VI and later popes to indicate that individuals reach their full potential in a holistic atmosphere of peace, human dignity, and respect for economic and civil rights.
Restorative justice initiatives are part of the larger array of Catholic nonviolent practices used to build accountable justice and integral peace. Catholic laity have powerful tools in our tradition for responding to violence, even within the church.
The information above is compiled from these web sites:
St. Paul Archdiocese Bankruptcy Wraps Up, Many Call for Church Leaders to be Held Accountable, Star-Tribune by Jean Hopfensperger (September 29, 2018)
The Healing Circle http://healingcirclegroup.com/
Vimeo The Healing Circle
A man and woman who were wearing Trump 2020 shirts and walking away from the #UniteTheRight2 rally, had water and some other chemical thrown on them. Counterprotesters followed them for blocks pic.twitter.com/SEI9r4h6vj
— Christal Hayes (@Journo_Christal) August 12, 2018
The man and woman wearing Trump shirts finally got to police. Counterprotesters pulled their hair, threw things at them and poured water on their heads. They’re now being escorted out of the area by police. #UniteTheRight2 pic.twitter.com/s3286TzPdg
— Christal Hayes (@Journo_Christal) August 12, 2018
In collaboration with the local community, DC Peace Team deployed 24 trained persons as an unarmed civilian protection (UCP) unit on Aug. 12 during the Unite the Right rally in Washington DC.
DC Peace Team is not affiliated with the police or the city government. We are independent trained civilians deployed to prevent violence.
DC Peace Team deployed to accompany and protect people, particularly those who are most in danger. For example, the UCP unit was requested to assist with the resistance movement at Freedom Plaza from 11 am-3 pm and then to accompany them on their march to Lafayette Square. During our time at Freedom Plaza, our unit was broken into four affinity groups which
worked the outer perimeter and engaged in many conversations as we handed out de-escalation tip sheets. Some wanted to know who we are, how they could join the DC Peace Team, to simply offer a thank you for the team’s presence, and to express that they felt safer with the team in place.
DC Peace Team held conversations to build trust with people from the various groups at the rally, such as Antifa. This enabled the team to be more effective later in the day when hostility built up and arguments ensued even within partner groups. DC Peace Team was able to defuse a pair of persons close to getting into a fight about the tactic of throwing objects.
We also spent the afternoon in Lafayette Square and the surrounding streets, particularly on the west side toward Foggy Bottom. We continued our conversations with people in the northern part of the square. We sent two affinity groups west to monitor possible clash points and to engage what we could. We monitored the arrival of the Unite the Right group, although they ended up being quite small (15-20 people) and they were escorted by police. We de-escalated some actors involved in the blocking of an intersection near the White House which led to a stand-off between the police, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and others. DC Peace Team sought to persuade the police not to harm the protestors. Many objects were thrown and fire-crackers were shot up in the air. But it did not escalate from there.
DC Peace Team was also present at a later stand-off between police and Black Lives Matter which ended after some chanting and attempts by BLM to persuade the police to open the street.
As some of the Peace Team affinity groups arrived back in Lafayette Square, they found other members in the midst of an unexpected incident. Two people who entered a space of an adversarial group had been engaged
in multiple conversations. At some point, the larger group asked them to leave and the two persons asked the marshals (who were not DCPT) nearby to help them. As they did this, a more hostile crowd gathered. Some of our DC Peace Team in the vicinity recognized the danger for escalation and many people getting hurt or arrested beyond these two persons.
In turn, for the protection of everyone in the scene, some of our team worked to create a safer space between these two people and the group as they walked out of the square. Some of our team engaged with some of the more hostile actors as spray paint was used, de-humanizing language,
as well as water bottles being thrown, which hit one of the persons leaving the area and one of our DCPT member’s in the head. As the Peace Team engaged with some of the hostile actors, we worked to acknowledge their anger as a way to connect and de-escalate. Some of Peace Team said to these actors they were our brothers or sisters, that we loved them, and that we were there to protect them not interfere with their frustrations. Others spoke about how we don’t want to just replicate the violence we detest in others, and how they don’t need to hurt people to get the change they are
looking for. We needed to do similar de-escalation work as the police became part of the scene, since for some, the police presence escalated the energy. Eventually, the police drove the two persons out of the area. No one else got hurt or arrested in this incident.
Eli McCarthy, DC Peace Team member, said, “Overall, by recognizing the dignity of every person, DC Peace Team worked to interrupt de-humanization, prevent violence, and when possible engaged in constructive dialogue. Even when we might disagree with some political positions or strategies used by some people, we still recognized their dignity. Yet, we also recognized that there is constructive conflict, such as expressions of resistance to injustice, racism, and white supremacy.”
This is what unarmed civilian peacekeeping looked like at the anti-Nazi rally. No one was hurt.
I’m pleased to introduce you to Choosing Peace: The Catholic Church Returns to Gospel Nonviolence (edited by Marie Dennis) that includes a chapter by me on Catholic Just Peace Practice, based on the paper that I wrote for the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative gathering in Rome in 2016. Others included here are: South Africa’s bishop Kevin Dowling, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Maria Stephan, Terrence Rynne, Ken Butigan and John Dear, with the guiding voice and direction of Marie Dennis. It includes the voices of many more within the chapters, reflecting a worldwide conversation happening within the Catholic Church on the centrality of gospel nonviolence. This is the first major release of the work that the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative is stewarding and curating across the Church, especially in the majority world where Catholics are most numerous.
Action steps for Choosing Peace:
- Order bulk copies of Choosing Peace from Orbis, so they know this is a popular title and ask your local bookstore to carry it.
- Send a copy of Choosing Peace to the Catholic bishop in your area. Even if you are not Catholic, you can look up the Catholic bishop in your area and send him a letter along with the book asking for him to offer leadership in the area of gospel nonviolence. Tell him that you appreciate that he is a moral leader in your area and you respectfully ask that he give this book and its message prayerful consideration.
- Order Choosing Peace for your book group! There’s lots in this book that addresses current conversations in the Catholic Church related to the leadership of Pope Francis. But it’s also useful reading for groups committed to Christian nonviolence. It raises provocative questions and opens up a little know history on Christians and peace. (See Nonviolent Fight Club for more on the provocative discussion!)
It takes a movement to respond to the Holy Spirit’s charge to turn away from violence. Be part of the movement!
Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori wants the principles of nonviolence honed in the American civil rights movement to shape the consciousness of the Catholic Church. To this end Lori released a pastoral letter in February on the principles of nonviolence. The teaching document addresses the riots three years ago that shook Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray Jr., who died from injuries while in police custody.
“The Enduring Power of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence: A Pastoral Reflection” was released on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of the season of Lent, a time that focuses on repentance, courage in the face of suffering, and reconciliation.
[To send a comment of support to Archbishop Lori, click here.]
Lori’s pastoral letter includes Dr. King’s principles for nonviolence:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
6. Nonviolence believes that justice will ultimately triumph.
Additionally, Lori highlights Dr. King’s actions for social transformation:
1. Information Gathering
3. Personal Commitment
5. Direct Action
Lori encourages a serious examination for U.S. Catholics of Kingian nonviolence and ties this philosophy to the history of Catholic witness and presence in Baltimore as well as to “Safe Streets,” an current evidence-based, trauma-informed, anti-violence project carried out in partnership with Catholic Charities.
Lori says that he hopes to lift up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s principles of nonviolence and help them find their way into the consciousness of the church – “the whole church, myself, my brother priests, the leadership of the archdiocese, those involved in ministries.” —Rose Marie Berger
[To send a comment of support to Archbishop Lori, click here.]
It’s been a busy summer! Below is an update on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, a project I’ve been deeply involved in. Amid the chaotic violence in our own country and around the world, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to contribute toward building positive peace–and grateful to Sojourners for supporting me in it!
Keep the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative — and Pope Francis and Cardinal Turkson — in your prayers. (Also here’s the “offering basket” in case you want to contribute. This is, of course, an unfunded global project currently supported by voluntary labor and the barter system!)–Rose
September 2017 — The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI) is focused on promoting a renewed commitment to Gospel nonviolence at the heart of the Church, including the possibility of a new official teaching on nonviolence.
One part of our work toward this goal is to research and elaborate on the theological, scriptural, ecclesial and practical components of nonviolence. In order to do this, we have organized five “roundtables” each of which includes between 7-20 participants from around the world. Each roundtable, addressing a particular topic, ultimately will produce a well-curated document by the end of 2018; hopefully at that time, representatives from each group will meet for a second conference on nonviolence and just peace.
We’re humbled by the number of theologians and peace practitioners who have agreed to participate in these roundtables – all five groups have now started their work via online conversations.
1) Toward a foundational theology of nonviolence: This roundtable process will research, map and elaborate a comprehensive theology of nonviolence as a foundational basis for the Church’s re-commitment to the centrality of Gospel nonviolence. Co-conveners: Ken Butigan (CNI executive committee; DePaul University, Chicago, IL, USA), Jose Henriquez (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland) and Maria Clara Bingemer (Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
2) The biblical foundations of nonviolence, including its centrality to the life and mission of Jesus: This roundtable process will illuminate the biblical roots of active nonviolence and the Gospel nonviolence at the core of Jesus’ life, mission, and way, and thus at the core of the life, mission, and way of the Church. Co-conveners: Sr. Teresia Wamuyu Wachira (CNI executive committee; St. Paul University, Nairobi, Kenya) and Terrence Rynne (Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA).
3) Nonviolence and Just Peace: A new moral framework for Catholic theology in the context of a violent world: This roundtable process will research and frame a new moral framework rooted in Gospel nonviolence in response to the violence and injustice of our time. Co-conveners: Marie Dennis (CNI executive committee; Pax Christi International, Washington, DC, USA) and John Ashworth (adviser to South Sudan Catholic Bishops, Nairobi, Kenya).
4) Integrating Gospel nonviolence at every level of the Church: This roundtable process will imagine and elaborate concrete ways Gospel nonviolence can be explicitly integrated into the life of the Church. Co-conveners: Gerry Lee (CNI executive committee; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Washington, DC, USA), Fr. Boniface Mendes (former director of Federation of Asian Bishop Conferences Human Rights Office and member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pakistan) and Fr. Felix Mushobozi (Union of International Superiors General Justice & Peace, Integrity of Creation Commission, Rome, Italy).
5) The power of nonviolence: Concrete experience, principles, methods, and effectiveness – Past, present, and envisioned future: This roundtable will comprehensively profile active nonviolence—its dynamics, its impact, its history, its contemporary applications, and a series of concrete examples—and frame how it can be spread and applied globally to respond to the monumental challenges of our time. Co-conveners: Pat Gaffney (CNI executive committee; Pax Christi British section, London, UK) and Rose Berger (Sojourners, Washington, DC, USA).
Thank you to Radical Discipleship for posting Ken Sehested’s commentary Conflicting Memorials: The Lord’s Table of Remembrance vs. The Nation’s Vow of Preeminence
People of the Way remain committed to a peculiar allegiance and a distinctive conviction: that all violence, of every sort, is a form of evangelism for the Devil. Those who stand by this claim get no extra cookies nor receive special privilege. Pride is excluded from the armor of faith, and boasting is limited to the promise that loving enemies is the only fruitful way to lasting peace, in imitation of the one who refused the option of a militarized angelic rescue from the crucifier’s grisly work. (cf. Matthew 26:53)
We make this profession of our faith even knowing that we ourselves are not immune from the lust for vengeance. As César Chávez, the great practitioner of nonviolent struggle for justice, said: “I am a violent man learning to be nonviolent.” Indeed, we are given the grace to confess our bloodlust precisely because we stand in merciful submission to the promise of life that is to come.–Ken Sehested
Catholics and others around the U.S. have an opportunity in May to write to their local Catholic bishop to encourage them to teach and preach on active gospel nonviolence. This is part of the global outreach offered by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative to support the Catholic Church in re-centering Gospel nonviolence in Catholic life and faith.
Social concerns committees, diocesan social justice directors, youth groups, and individuals can host letter-writing events in May at churches, coffee hours, prayer groups, and other key gatherings.
Write the bishop of your diocese in May. (And you don’t have to be Catholic to join in. See bottom of post.)
Instruments of Reconciliation: A National Campaign to Amplify Active Nonviolence in the U.S. Catholic Church
Three suggested dates below in the month of May have been chosen in the United States to ask Catholics and other concerned Christians to share their hope for greater teaching and commitment to active nonviolence with their local bishop and invite him to affirm active nonviolence as the “nucleus of the Christian revolution” by:
1: Sharing and speaking about Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message broadly within their diocese, seminaries, and other ministries
2: Concretely committing to an initiative to scale-up practices of active nonviolence within his diocese.
As Pope Benedict wrote, “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone. Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution.’”
We want to support our Bishops in their efforts, like Pope Francis, who pledged the assistance of the church in “every effort to build peace through active and creative nonviolence.”
Some dioceses – such as the Archdiocese of Chicago – are already experimenting with a commitment to a culture of nonviolence and practical steps to greater active nonviolence to address tensions and crime within the diocese. Pope Francis wrote them a letter of encouragement.
May 3 is the anniversary of The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response (1983), the Bishop’s pastoral letter.
May 8 is the birthday for Daniel Berrigan (b. 1921) and Sophie Scholl (b. 1921).
May 20 is the Feast of Austrian conscientious objector and martyr Franz Jagerstatter who was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
What if I’m not Catholic and I want to participate? Thank you! The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative welcomes support from all people of good conscience who want to see greater teaching from the Catholic Church on effective and active Gospel nonviolence.
You do not need to be Catholic to ask you local Catholic bishop for greater teaching on this. Search for your Catholic diocese’s web site to find the address of the local Catholic bishop.