middle east

TOWARD A NONVIOLENT DEMOCRACY: BERNIE SANDERS’ RACIAL JUSTICE PLATFORM

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While there are countless reasons why Bernie Sanders’ adoption of a Racial Justice platform that tackles violence against African Americans is both extraordinary and unprecedented, certainly one reason must be that the platform in effect charges our government with the responsibility to practice nonviolence toward African Americans in particular and people of color generally. In fact, Sanders’ platform – the adoption of which was instigated by #BlackLivesMatter activists – presupposes that folks of color deserve nonviolence, both from the government and from private citizens. We deserve it, the platform suggests, because we are a valuable part of the body politic – “we must pursue policies that transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color” – and because it is right and just.

The platform is not, as one might imagine, merely a recitation of platitudes about racism and justice (though it certainly includes many); instead, it offers specific policy changes that Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists hope will help to make African Americans’ and others’ lived experiences of violence a thing of the past: police retraining, expanding the franchise, ending the War on Drugs, banning “prisons for profit,” investing in youth employment programs. These are just a few of the proposals that the platform outlines.

Of course, the word “nonviolence” does not actually appear in Sanders’ Racial Justice platform, even though the platform refers to and quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. in the section dedicated to economic violence.

Nevertheless, with its focus on “the four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans – physical, political, legal and economic,” it is hard not to see that what Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists have done is something quite in keeping with what King did in “Beyond Vietnam,” his crucial 1967 speech against the Vietnam War: denounce the government’s violence and require from it something radically different. For King, that radically different something was for the government to conduct domestic and foreign policy in ways that reinforce “brotherhood,” and thus for it to choose “nonviolent coexistence” over “violent co-annihilation.” For Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists, that something is for the government to refrain from waging violence against black and brown people.

Because Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists produced a platform that expresses in great measure the spirit of King’s challenge, they accomplished something rather remarkable: they inadvertently produced a framework by which we can construct a platform that commits us to making nonviolence the crux of our nation’s domestic and foreign policies. Physical, political, legal and economic violence – these categories certainly capture what we justify nationally and internationally as in our national interest, and thus they provide us an opportunity to offer the kind of nonviolent alternatives we sorely need. Our undeclared war against ISIS, the unspeakable suffering of the Syrian people, the horrific attack in Paris, the everyday violence we suffer at the hands of one another – what else do we need to add in order to see, finally, that we really must choose between nonviolent coexistence and violent co-annihilation? What other kind of mass shooting, suicide bombing, war – what other kind of atrocity do you require?

So, forgive me for having the audacity to offer a nonviolent political platform – a work-in-progress that builds upon (and borrows from) what Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists started. I offer this because it is clear to me that unless and until ordinary citizens step up to put forward alternatives to our culture of violence, we will continue to be mired in bloodshed, hate, and conflict both here and abroad until we destroy ourselves. It is my hope that you will comment, critique, talk about and add to what I have written here. It is my hope that you will even imagine a platform more daring, one that shifts this superpower inexorably toward militant nonviolence and to which you will, through bold action, hold every single candidate accountable from now until November 2016.

And beyond.

ON VIOLENCE

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We Need a Nonviolent Foreign Policy

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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.