Over the course of the recent Baltimore protests concerning Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of police, I received (as did many people I know) several Facebook posts and tweets of pictures that captured what the mass media failed or flat-out refused to cover: the nonviolent protests that took place throughout the city. Those who shared these posts and tweets lamented not only the media black-out of nonviolent protests, but also the media’s absolute focus on violence and violent protests – the looting, the torching of police vehicles, the hurling of bottles and bricks.
As those who shared their posts and tweets noted, the media used the images of violence to narrate the protests not as a story about the brutality that Freddy Gray suffered or about the decades of police repression under which Baltimore’s poor African American citizens have lived or about the grinding poverty that is the lived experience of the community where Freddy Gray grew up (“Baltimore City,” the New York Times recently reported, “is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.”). Instead, the media used the images of violence to present Baltimore’s hurt and outraged African Americans as criminals or thugs, as a people so irrational that they would burn down “their own” community – as a people, in fact, who predictably produced a stressed and beleaguered Baltimore police force that has “understandably” resorted to excessive force.
Into this narrative of African American violence the media weaved government officials’ calls for nonviolence – which, as I have argued elsewhere, are nothing less than an appropriation of nonviolence to forward state interests, an appropriation through which officials render nonviolence the language of empire. When the media, then, marginalized the nonviolence on the streets and yet featured officials’ calls for nonviolence, it in essence blacked-out the expression of nonviolence as a radical call for justice and for systemic change. Moreover, it disconnected the violence that it spotlighted from the broader demand and movement for an end to state-sponsored violence (whether in the form of police brutality or economic policies) and, ultimately, from the government’s own unchecked acts of violence.
And yet, we do have those pictures posted on Facebook and Twitter. Clearly, our camera phones will be just as crucial to reframing nonviolence and disrupting both the government’s and media’s narrative of it as they are to capturing police agression and brutality.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once observed that “when the white power structure calls upon the Negro to reject violence but does not impose upon itself the task of creating necessary social change, it is in fact asking for submission to injustice. Nothing in the theory of nonviolence counsels this suicidal course.” The “simple fact is,” King continued, “that there cannot be nonviolence and tranquility, without significant reforms of the evils that endangered the peace in the first place. It is the effort of the power structure to benefit from nonviolence without yielding meaningful change that is responsible for the rise of elements who would discredit it.”
King’s spot-on observation about the “power structure’s” calls for nonviolence clearly remains relevant, for it captured what public officials and other elites were up to when they called for nonviolence during the Ferguson and New York protests, just as it describes – as Ta-Nehisi Coates so powerfully argues in “Nonviolence as Compliance” – what Maryland and other officials were up to when they demanded nonviolence or “peace” from folks righteously outraged by the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police.
Indeed, given officials’ general indifference to the violence that Baltimore police have, for decades, meted out to the city’s black citizens, it is hard not to conclude – even after Baltimore’s chief prosecutor announced criminal charges against six officers for Gray’s death – that officials have no intention whatsoever of adopting “significant reforms of the evils that endangered the peace in the first place,” and that their calls for nonviolence are nothing less than demands for political/moral/ethical quietism in the face of state-sponsored violence. Thus, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ conclusion that “when nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse,” seems absolutely on target.
But it only seems on target, for Coates’ conclusion actually veers away from the deeper problem with officials’ calls for nonviolence and that King identified in his concluding statement: the “power structure’s” appropriation or capture of the discourse on nonviolence in order to forward its own interests – a capture that ultimately discredits nonviolence both as a philosophy and as a method with which to confront power and to obtain justice.
Nonviolence is not the problem, but officials’ nonviolence certainly is.
What’s even more problematic, however, is that proponents of nonviolence have utterly failed to appreciate and confront this appropriation. Consequently, because they don’t face any significant push-back, government officials have had a free hand not only to redefine nonviolence in terms compatible with government interests; but also to reframe the very meaning of nonviolent protest – which, in their terms, is nothing less than “peaceful protest,” i.e., protest that leaves undisturbed government and business property, as well as the political choices and the consciences of those in power. In the process, officials offer the government as the primary champion of peace and justice, one that stands against the angry, “irrational” protesting “thugs” on the street.
No wonder activists and critics like Coates conclude that nonviolence, and not officials’ appropriation of the creed, “reveals itself to be a con.”
Clearly, this appropriation requires from those who are committed to nonviolence a swift and powerful response. But where to begin? Proponents could start by addressing what makes the government’s capture of nonviolence (and critics’ rejection of nonviolence) so easy and seamless in the first place: the reduction of nonviolence to strategy and tactics, as well as the longstanding tentativeness on the part of nonviolence advocates to speak nonviolence in transformative terms – transformative for the individual practitioner, transformative for perpetrators of hate, violence, and injustice, and transformative of the established order. In other words, proponents have become reluctant – in the context of protests and movement organizing – to assert that nonviolence is more than a protest strategy, that it is indeed, as King constantly declared (and that is conveniently left out of critiques of nonviolence), a call to practice radical love both politically and personally as the basis for effecting a “radical restructuring” of American society and beyond.
Let’s be clear: nonviolence has never been merely a way to conduct protests. To so conclude is to avoid the hard work that nonviolence as a way of life requires. And it is not, as officials would have it, synonymous with order (as President Obama suggested when he stated in his plea for nonviolence during the Ferguson protests that “using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to the rule of law and contrary to who we are” – as if the “rule of law” wasn’t itself violence that needed to be confronted). Instead, nonviolence is a practice of love that dis-orders the status quo, disrupts it in order to expose as well as to transform the hate, injustice and violence with which it is maintained.
In fact, it is inherently noncompliant because it perceives order or status quo peace where injustice prevails as violence in and of itself. And it proceeds from the understanding that any pretense to nonviolence on the part of the government is, without the government’s true commitment to the creed, a ruse by which it protects its continued investment in force, unchecked power and injustice.
Hesitance about articulating the radical dimensions and deeper commitment of nonviolence has plagued nonviolent direct action in this country for some time now – indeed, it has plagued much of social justice organizing, even as this organizing has been driven by tremendous faith and hope in a world free from violence (as the hashtag BlackLivesMatter, for example, absolutely expresses). The consequence is that nonviolence has become an empty concept, or is at least empty of anything that troubles our hearts and minds (as government officials’ appropriation makes clear). In so being, it is ripe for capture by those in power and easy to reject by social justice advocates.
By reclaiming the transformative and taking control of the discourse on nonviolence, proponents of nonviolence can begin to dis-identify the creed from the “power structure” since, after all, it is the transformative – our calls for radical change – that officials and other elites hope to suppress. And why not? As Palestinian activist Jean Zaru poignantly clarifies, “nonviolence is threatening to the powers that be because nonviolence undermines their pretense to moral authority… Nonviolence exposes and then challenges the structures of domination and not just the overt symptoms. It then, in turn, requires the oppressor to examine how they, too, are victims of the very violence that they impart.”
But just as critically: advocates of nonviolence must begin to engage, from a political, ethical and moral critique of violence, allies who embrace and advocate for violence as a strategy of resistance. In fact, proponents should abandon all attempts to control or explain such allies (as well as resist efforts on the part of officials and other elites to make nonviolent activists responsible for the violence of others), and instead strategically engage them not as “the unheard” angry (depoliticized) masses, but as political actors who make specific choices that are aligned with their own ideologies.
Finally: proponents of nonviolence will need to address more forcefully, and provide a counternarrative to, the hate and the violence that absolutely drives so much of our domestic and foreign policies – from police brutality to drone strikes.
None of this eclipses direct action. If anything, reclaiming the discourse on nonviolence will inject nonviolent direct action with greater purpose since nonviolence – if it is truly embraced – not only requires, but actually compels one to act, to confront violence and injustice wherever they manifest, because it is ultimately a way of life that constitutes, in King’s words, “eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism” – to all systems of subordination and the myriad forms of violence with which these systems are reified and maintained. Nonviolence is a loving refusal to cooperate with violence and injustice everywhere, including (if not especially) in our own minds, in our own homes, and in our own communities.
It is also, I might add, a commitment that one makes to transforming our society from the bottom-up, for it is at the bottom – the barrios, ghettos, favelas, war torn places, refugee camps, and borders – where the full brunt of injustice is felt (which is another way of saying, by the way, that nonviolence is not, by any stretch of the imagination, synonymous with “safety”).
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ brilliant analysis is a wake-up call, then, one that reveals just how much we’ve allowed nonviolence to become the language of empire. Now that we’re awake, let’s bring our compliance to an end.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and argue that those of us who support a nonviolent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ought to welcome, without hesitation, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s upcoming March 3 address to Congress.
True, the invitation that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) extended to Mr. Netanyahu is a clear violation of protocol that, in my mind, is yet another expression of the disdain that Republicans (and, for that matter, Netanyahu himself) have for the Office of the Presidency because it is occupied by an African American (Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak without once consulting the White House).
True, through his address Netanyahu is clearly hoping to sabotage President Obama’s negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program and is thus infringing on U.S. foreign policy.
True, Netanyahu is counting on this speech to bolster his reelection prospects (his address to Congress will take place two weeks before he faces reelection).
And true, given the expansion and entrenchment of Israeli apartheid under Netanyahu’s watch – unhindered settler colonization of even more Palestinian territory and thus the narrowing of Palestinian living space; mass incarcerations; indefinite detentions; arrests without charges; “forced evictions, curfews, market closures, street closures”; increased military checkpoints that severely curtail Palestinian movement; the erection of a barrier wall that severs Palestinian communities and cuts families off from each other; the appropriation of Palestinian natural resources; the enforced segregation of Palestinians on public transportation; unchecked settler violence….given all of these things, Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress — indeed, all of the opportunities that he’s been given to speak to Congress — is as outrageous as a similar invitation to South African Prime Minister and State President P.W. Botha would have been during the apartheid era in South Africa. Let’s not kid ourselves.
So there are reasons enough to demand a retraction of Boehner’s ill-conceived (and ill-will intended) invitation.
But I say let’s welcome Mr. Netanyahu anyway since what is also true is this: because it is controversial and has captured the attention, if not the ire, of media and politicians alike, Netanyahu’s visit presents us with a remarkable opportunity to shine a light and focus our nation’s attention not only on the violent system of apartheid under which Palestinians live; but also on the unheralded yet incredibly important work of Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activists on the ground – activists whose advocacy of nonviolence we must heed; whose voices for a nonviolent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we must amplify; whose difficult and brave organizing work we must support; and, whose frameworks for peace we must insist become the subject of serious consideration, discussion and debate in both chambers of Congress.
Take, for example, the organization Combatants for Peace. Established in 2005, this group of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian combatants has laid down its swords and shields to wage a “non-violent struggle” for peace. Together they are calling for (among other things) an end to “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories” and “the foundation of a Palestinian state” that will “reside side by side with Israel” in a “relationship of peace and security.” The peace that they call for is not merely an absence of conflict. Instead, it is the presence and the institutionalization of brotherhood and sisterhood, the forging of two nations on the basis of a shared humanity. Combatants for Peace members “use art, theater and other creative activities to demonstrate both to Israelis and Palestinians that it is indeed possible to rise above fear and hatred,” as well as to show “that former enemies can become partners in peace and together create a better future for all.” This is bottom-up politics and organizing at their best.
Coalition of Women for Peace is a feminist organization committed to nonviolence and a nonviolent solution to the conflict. Established in 2000 “after the outbreak of the Second Intifada,” CWP calls for an end to “the occupation of Palestine and for a just peace.” Additionally, CWP declares its “unwavering support of the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the endorsement of universal jurisdiction.” It is a “leading voice in the Israeli peace movement, bringing together women from a wide variety of identities and groups” and, in the process, “enhancing women’s inclusion and participation in the public discourse.”
One last group I’ll mention (my list is by no means exhaustive) is Youth Against Settlements, a Hebron-based coalition of Palestinian youth who are motivated by their vision of a “100% non-violent, mass Palestinian uprising that pressures the Israeli government to dismantle the settlements and end the Occupation.” With the help of “Israeli peace activists,” YAS has both resisted the building of settler outposts on Palestinian land and helped to mobilize resources for families who have suffered the violence of forced evictions from their land and their homes.
We should not let Netanyahu’s visit pass without using our best efforts to make regular household names Combatants for Peace, Coalition of Women for Peace, Youth Against Settlements, and other organizations that are on the ground and waging nonviolence.
And we definitely should not let Netanyahu’s visit pass without making “End the Occupation” a mantra that all of us will take to the voting booth in 2016.
So what can we do? I have a few suggestions.
Saturday, February 28 and Sunday, March 1: No More Praying as Usual
Taking a page from the U.S. civil rights movement playbook, we can for these two days conduct respectful nonviolent sit-ins and other forms of protests at religious institutions throughout the country. For too long, too many have used scripture to rationalize uncritical support of Israel and have turned a blind eye to the suffering that Israeli apartheid visits upon both Palestinians and Israelis alike – just as many used scripture to uphold Jim Crow and turned a blind eye to African American suffering. “Those who turn a blind eye to injustice,” noted South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his critique of Israeli apartheid, “actually perpetuate injustice.” Thus, we say “no more praying as usual” in order both to awaken the consciences of the members of those religious institutions that “turn a blind eye” to Israeli injustice, and to encourage them to support the efforts of Palestinians and Israelis who are waging nonviolence from a politics steeped in love, compassion, reconciliation and peace.
Monday, March 2: A People’s Congress
On this day before Netanyahu’s address we can lobby our representatives (calls, emails, meetings, social media postings) and engage them in a conversation about the apartheid conditions under which Palestinians live; introduce them to peace plans for which Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activists advocate; insist on a peace negotiated on the principles of nonviolence; and, lobby for legislation similar to the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, which was instrumental in bringing an end to South African apartheid. Passed in 1986, that piece of legislation “set forth a…complete framework to guide the efforts of the United States in helping bring an end to apartheid in South Africa and lead to the establishment of a nonracial, democratic form of government.” Such legislation to address apartheid in Israel is long overdue.
Tuesday, March 3: No Business as Usual
This day of Netanyahu’s address is when we should engage in nonviolent direct actions (sit-ins, marches, etc.) at embassies, corporate offices, Fox News, the U.S. Capitol, and other sites of power. Through these actions, we must speak to the need for a peaceful settlement negotiated on the principles of nonviolence, and provide a powerful counter-narrative to the predictably slanted mass media stories and political spin that will no doubt coincide with Netanyahu’s speech to Congress as well as his visit with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Between now and March 3:
Conduct teach-ins (at schools, libraries, community centers, in your homes) on the solutions offered by Palestinian and Israeli activists who are waging nonviolence; on the conditions under which Palestinians live; on the growing nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is calling for “broad boycotts” as well as “divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those” applied to South Africa “in the apartheid era”; and, on actions that people can take to shift the discourse and debates in Washington regarding the so-called peace process.
Blog, tweet, comment, write letters to editors in order to inform the public about nonviolent organizing in Israel and Palestine and the kind of peace that organizers are hoping to achieve.
After March 3:
Don’t let up. Keep lobbying, teaching, writing, organizing and protesting (click here for further suggestions) because the only thing that will shift the terms of the debate here on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the policies that we pursue is our relentless activism and commitment to peace and nonviolence, everywhere, without exception. As Palestinian nonviolent activist Jean Zaru argues, we “are called to conversion: to be converted to the struggle of women and men everywhere who have no way to escape the unending fatigue of their labor and the daily denial of their human rights and human worth. We must be converted, so to speak, to a new vision of human dignity, what we call ‘that of God’ in each person, even in those we oppose. We must let our hearts be moved by the anguish and suffering of the other.”
So, let’s take it upon ourselves to undercut this gamesmanship on the part of our political elites –gamesmanship that does absolutely nothing to secure peace and actually causes great despair – and offer to our countrywomen and men what has been available and yet hidden from their view for much too long now: a just and nonviolent alternative.
Welcome, Mr. Netanyahu. So glad that you’re paying us a visit.
[Feel free to share in the Comments section any organizing efforts you are undertaking or that you are aware of that are focused on Mr. Netanyahu’s visit]
For you, dad.
2/12/35 – 9/14/10
“The Christmas season,” wrote Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1967 sermon, “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” “finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.”
This good will is meaningless, and peace is impossible, I believe, if we are not committed to the idea that we all, every one of us, deserve nonviolence. That is to say, we deserve radical care and regard, deserve one another’s active, purposeful, personal commitment to practices through which we communicate – in no uncertain terms – that we must, and are absolutely called upon to matter to each other. Our collective bewilderment, the absence of “peace within” and “without,” our paralyzing fears, our wars – large and small – are the stuff of our disregard, enacted daily, for example, in small slights and discourtesies, enacted by proxy through systems of subordination, through drone-launched missiles that tear the limbs off, and hearts out of five year-old little girls and boys. It is destroying us, this disregard. It is destroying other sentient beings, the planet itself.
Even out of unimaginable suffering, we can reach out in order to touch the lives of others near and far, to say “you matter to me,” to say that, even though I suffer, I see your suffering and so I suffer with you. Radical care knows no boundaries of nation or tribe, knows the absolute necessity of love to peace.
When we claim the truth that we all, every one of us, deserve nonviolence, we embrace the responsibility that it places on us, namely, that we must not only practice nonviolence ourselves, but we must also actively and unflinchingly require it of each other. Indeed, we are bound both to call forth and to stand ready to witness each other’s capacity to give and to love beyond measure. And when some of us fall short by choosing to be our smaller selves, we stand ready anyway, because we must also stand witness to – so that we can deepen – our own capacity for faith, generosity and loving kindness.
“Utopias,” writes Leela Fernandes in Transforming Feminist Practice, “are inconvenient because they necessitate deep-seated changes in ourselves and in the ways in which we live our lives.” Indeed, utopias “require labor.” And it is through this labor that we come to realize this important truth: “utopia exists at the moment when suffering is transformed into love. Utopia is the labor itself which enables such transformation, not, as is mistakenly assumed, the outcome that results from this labor.”
“Peace and good will toward all,” if it is to be more than simply a thing hoped for, depends on the work each and every one of us is willing to do, from the everyday and often mundane “labor” of compassion, kindness and radical care, to the labor of die-ins staged to demand that killers of children and torturers be brought to justice. It is that work, and because this is so, peace and good will toward all is available to us not only during the Christmas season, but always.
“I will personally do everything I can – as will my entire government – to ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t have a chance in our country,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to an upsurge in German anti-Semitism and to anti-Semitic remarks voiced during recent political rallies in Germany against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, it is “every German’s duty,” Merkel explained, to take a stand against hatred, and against those who would use “the legitimate criticism of a government” as “a cloak of one’s hatred” toward others. Such people, Merkel stated unequivocally, “misuse our basic rights of freedom of opinion and assembly.”
This is how the leader of “the whole nation” responds to the hateful targeting of its minority citizens.
She or he doesn’t avoid naming the hatred at play. If it’s anti-Semitism, she calls it anti-Semitism. If it’s racism…well, she says it’s racism.
She doesn’t characterize that minority’s experience of hate and violence as merely an issue of their “feeling marginalized and distrustful” or of their belief that “bias is taking place” or of their lack of “confidence” that they are “being treated fairly” (as President Obama said in response to Ferguson, and then to the grand jury decision regarding Eric Garner’s death). Instead, she affirms that their experience is real, that they are truly targets of hate — the fact of which then unquestionably requires a powerful and unambiguous national response.
She doesn’t let her nation off the hook by simply saying that it has a “problem.” No, every citizen, she asserts, actually has an obligation, “a duty” to take a stand against hate and to affirm that the lives of all of the nation’s citizens matter.
She doesn’t leave untroubled the idea that the constitutional commitment to freedom of speech is more sacrosanct than the constitutional commitment to anti-racism — especially given the history that made the latter necessary in the first instance.
And she doesn’t…my goodness. She doesn’t frame her government’s response to hate in narrow terms. No, she asserts that she “will personally” do “everything” that she can, as will the “entire government,” to ensure that the hatred directed at the assailed minority “doesn’t have a chance” in her country.
That is how a President of the whole nation responds.
When in 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that he would no longer be silent about our war in Vietnam, he did more than simply voice his opposition and call for an end to that conflict. Just as critically, he also directly challenged our nation to embrace nonviolence as the very foundation of both our domestic and foreign policies. These, he argued, must reflect a “true revolution of values” through which we realize that we must “lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’”
With this in mind, I offer this blog as an invitation for all of us to imagine a nonviolent alternative to the war that we are waging and the mess we have made in the Middle East, and in the process re-think our entire foreign policy framework.
And while we’re at it — let’s liberate ourselves from Realpoltik. This we do not only because it is a significant part of the problem with our entire policy approach, but also because we can no longer afford to sacrifice our aspirations for peace and justice to the so-called politics of realism – a politics upon which our violent world order absolutely depends. It is not serving us, in other words, to submit to the tyranny of realism.
Here, then, are the ground rules:
1. Offer your idea without judgment about whether or not it is “realistic.” Just put it out there;
2. Refrain from debating someone else’s idea because, for the moment, this is not a debate;
3. If someone’s idea inspires another on your part, please offer it;
4. No cross-talk;
5. Don’t restrict yourself to nonviolent strategy and tactics. Offer, if you’d like, policy statements;
6. No cynicism allowed; and,
7. Please feel free to “like” this blog post on FB or to tweet it so that others outside of our little world can join in.
Let me begin by providing my own foundational statement (feel free to offer your own):
“We realize that in order to serve as a force for peace in the Middle East and to ensure that nonviolence is the lived experience of its children, women and men, we must first acknowledge and apologize not only for the violence that we have visited upon the nations of this region; but also for the violence we have fomented to secure our so-called national interests. This we do because it is right and because it serves as the basis for reconciliation as well as reparations for past harms. And this we do because we cannot serve peace without confronting and rejecting our own violence.”
It’s time for a change.
Buried deep in the trenches of President Obama’s foreign policy speech at West Point yesterday sits this little gem, one pundits on the whole are sure to overlook but one I thought deserves our attention: America stands (the president proclaimed) “for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity for people everywhere.”
To be sure, this statement is American jingoism at its best, but it made me wonder: had this been President Obama’s opening shot, the first words to float elegantly out of his mouth, what direction would his speech have taken, and just what kind of foreign policy doctrine would have unfolded?
Starting with this gem, it seems to me that he would have actually had to explain more precisely just what he meant. Imagine with me, if you will, that he would have found apropos the words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. upon his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
The audacity to believe.
Imagine with me further the president speaking from his audacity to believe that any foreign policy worth pursuing is one that starts from the bottom, that is, from the perspective of those who go without one meal a day, let alone three; of those for whom education is a luxury, and a decent education – a dream; of those whose spirits are run down by the greedy, the cynical, the uncaring, the bigoted, the hateful. And of those who face daily the ravages of war, of drone attacks that, with great “certainty,” could have only produced “civilian casualties.”
Such a foreign policy, I imagine, would speak to the terrorism of hunger – would frame it, in fact, as “the most direct threat to America at home and abroad.” It would proclaim the absolute capacity we and “our partners” have to eradicate poverty everywhere. And it would speak to that terrorism because it would pose these questions: what do those on the bottom need in order to live without violence, without hunger? What do they need in order to live full lives, free of domination, inequality, injustice? It would assume that the first order of business with any nation is to ask, are your people doing well? Do they have enough to eat? What can we do to help?
Such a policy would, without hesitation, name nonviolence as its guiding principle – not just peace, but nonviolence, an active, purposeful commitment to real peace at home and abroad. Which means that the policy would presuppose the necessity of disarming our own citizens, of removing assault weapons from our closets and sock drawers, of making sure that violence in Chicago or Santa Barbara would be a thing of the past.
Listen as President Obama re-orders what he referred to in his speech as “elements” of “American leadership.” Instead of offering to us as the “fourth and final element” our “willingness to act on human dignity,” he offers it instead as the first.
From there, of course, he would have to talk forthrightly about Guantanamo, that travesty of justice begun during the Bush II years and shamefully extended into the second term of Obama’s own presidency. “Our own government,” he’d have the audacity to say, “has demonstrated a stunning disrespect for human rights,” and the “force feeding that I have condoned and which I will end today” has fed “instability” as well as “the grievances that fuel violence and terror.” He would admit that it is no longer good enough for him to simply say [as he did in his speech] that “I will continue to push to close GTMO.”
But that’s not the speech or policy that we got from President Obama, whose audacity to hope has never quite translated into audacity. What we got instead is a foreign policy in which “opportunity for people everywhere” is just a passing thought, and “human dignity” is a bookend to a doctrine where “terrorism,” and not the unmet needs of people everywhere, figures as America’s number one threat.