Written by Nimesh Wijewardane
Thich Nhat Hanh at the Plum Village monastery in southern France | Credit: Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism
On January 22, 2022, the world lost an extraordinary spiritual leader. Thich Nhat Hanh was a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, and prolific author and poet. He was a beloved teacher and a guiding light, affectionately called Thay by his followers, the Vietnamese word for teacher. I count myself among the many people whose lives have been touched and profoundly transformed by his wisdom and compassion. Thay coined the term “Engaged Buddhism”, arguing that Buddhism, properly understood, is not merely about individual liberation but collective liberation, that Buddhists cannot simply retreat from the world and all its concerns and attain Nirvana in isolation but instead must engage in political and social struggles against oppression and injustice. Thay recognized that a religious community cannot simply stay on the sidelines but must take a stand. He tirelessly promoted nonviolent solutions to conflict and encouraged us to open our eyes to the interdepence of all living beings on Earth, and once aware of this state of “interbeing” to not only avoid harming human life but to also avoid harming nonhuman animals and the natural world. For Thay, nonviolence was a way of life, rooted in this idea of interbeing. He wrote, “Nonviolent action, born of the awareness of suffering and nurtured by love, is the most effective way to confront adversity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh was born Nguyen Xuan Bao in the city of Hue in central Vietnam. At age 16, he joined a Zen monastery. After several years, he took the official vows of monk and became active in the youth-led Buddhist reform movement in Vietnam. Thay taught and wrote about Buddhism, seeking to make Buddhism more relevant to the modern world. Thay’s growing popularity threatened the conservative Buddhist establishment, who discontinued a journal he had been editing and canceled his classes.
In response to this opposition, Thay went to the United States in 1961 to study comparative religion at the Princeton Theological Seminary and later became a lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia. Yet aware of the suffering in his homeland, he returned to South Vietnam in 1963 to engage in peace work alongside fellow monks. Since 1954, Vietnam had been divided between the Communist North and the pro-West South, with ongoing armed struggle between the government of South Vietnam and the communist guerrillas. Thay founded the School of Youth for Social Services, a grassroots relief organization consisting of over 10,000 volunteers which established schools and health care clinics in rural South Vietnam and helped rebuild bombed villages. In 1964, Thay published an anti-war poem titled “Condemnation”, writing "whoever is listening, be my witness: I cannot accept this war...". The poem was denounced as pro-communist propaganda. Thay’s conception of Engaged Buddhism grew from the bloodstained soil of the war in Vietnam. In an interview with the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar, Thay said, “When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on—not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.”
In February 1966, Thay ordained six leaders who had been part of the School of Youth for Social Services and established a new religious order, the Order of Interbeing, a community of Buddhist monks, nuns, and laypeople based on the Five Mindfulness Trainings and Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, modern versions of the precepts Buddhists have practiced for centuries. These mindfulness trainings include living with a vocation that harms neither humans nor nature; and living in accord with the ideals of compassion, protection of life, and prevention of war. Since the 1960s, The Order of Interbeing has grown into an international movement.
Thay traveled to the US in May 1966 to enlighten the American public about the Vietnam War’s devastating impact and appeal the US government to cease its bombing campaign. During that visit, Thay met with Martin Luther King Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War. At a press conference with Thay, King spoke out against the war for the first time. In 1967, King gave a famous speech at Riverside Church boldly articulating his opposition to the Vietnam War. Later that year, King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, writing “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
Thay’s 1996 trip to the US was only meant to last a few weeks, but turned into decades of exile. After he presented a peace plan urging America to stop bombing and to offer reconstruction aid without ideological strings, the government of South Vietnam declared him a traitor and banned him from returning. After the Communists seized control of the South in 1975, he was again refused permission to enter Vietnam. His principled anti-war stance had made him an enemy of both sides.
In exile, Thay settled in the south of France and established the Plum Village Monastery, which would be his new home for decades, and remains the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe and America. Thay became one of the main ambassadors of Buddhism to the West, writing more than 100 books and bringing the concept of mindfulness into the mainstream. Thay spoke out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, “We know very well that airplanes, guns and bombs cannot remove wrong perceptions. Only loving speech and compassionate listening can help people correct wrong perceptions. But our leaders are not trained in that discipline, and they rely only on the armed forces to remove terrorism.” He encouraged us to address the root causes of violence and cultivate peace in our hearts. Thay brought together Israelis and Palestinians for peacebuilding retreats at Plum Village, continuing his lifelong commitment to ending conflict. Thay also spoke out about the urgency of addressing climate change, writing, “There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. Our personal and collective happiness and survival depends on it.” Throughout his writings, interviews, and speeches he continued to draw connections between the personal and the collective, promoting mindfulness not merely as a tool for self-help but as a necessary precondition for avoiding war and climate catastrophe.
Thay’s teachings have had a significant impact on me. In my Sri Lankan American family, I was raised as a Buddhist, but in my teenage years, I had begun to drift away from Buddhism, questioning whether I truly believed in its precepts, whether it was truly applicable to my life, and unsure of how Buddhism aligned with my political convictions. Buddhism, at least the kind practiced by those in my Sri Lankan American community, seemed to be apolitical, almost entirely detached from and unconcerned with issues of oppression and injustice. But as a high school student on the Internet, I was lucky enough to stumble upon some of Thay’s writings in the online Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar. I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of Thay’s words, the ease at which he distilled the abstract and somewhat complicated ideas of dharma in a clear and compelling way. Each perfectly crafted sentence seemed intuitively true. Engaged Buddhism gave me a framework with which to reconcile my faith and my political activism. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I am a Buddhist not merely because of my upbringing but because of Thich Nhat Hanh. During my freshman year of college I struggled with loneliness and depression but on one bright February afternoon I found “The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh”, a small collection of some of his writings, in an independent bookstore in Georgetown and bought it. In spring, I would sit outside in the quad of George Washington University’s Mount Vernon campus and read Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, which brought me comfort, reminded me of the temporality of all things, and encouraged me to bear witness to the miracle of life. Sitting on a wooden bench, watching the world ablaze with sunlight and contemplating Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, I felt pretty close to enlightenment. Thay has a beautiful phrase-“No mud, no lotus”, a reminder that happiness and suffering are deeply intertwined, that you can’t have one without the other. Whenever I find myself dealing with a difficult situation, I chant that phrase to myself, over and over- “No mud, no lotus.”
Thay wrote that birth and death are but illusions, that we are never really born and never really die. I know that Thay will continue to live on in in the hearts and minds of all the people who have been awakened and inspired by his life and his teachings.
Thich Nhat Hanh's calligraphy
By Nimesh Wijewardane & Rand Engel
Paula Green, a renowned peace activist, educator, and psychotherapist, passed away on February 21. She was the Founding Director of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, a nonprofit which facilitates post-conflict resolution, with active programs in more than 30 countries across South and Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Paula was the Professor Emerita and founder of the CONTACT Program for Peacebuilding at the School for International Training in Vermont. The CONTACT program invited participants from opposing sides of war- Israelis and Palestinians, Indians and Pakistanis, Hutus and Tutsis- and trained them in the tools of peacebuilding. Paula served on the National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the steering committee of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists. She was a prolific writer, authoring a Training Manual for peacebuilders and several books, chapters, and articles. Paula gained international recognition for her peacebuilding work, receiving the Dalai Lama’s “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” award. Learn more about her incredible life and the many lives she touched on the Karuna Center website and Buddhistdoor Global's remembrance.
Paula meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town in 2009, Credit: karunacenter.org
"The roots of our wars can be understood through the examination of greed, hatred and delusion. It’s all about desire, about self. . . Until we change ourselves, and the unjust social structures in which we’ve embedded ourselves, we’re not going to have peace.” ~ Paula Green, Barre Buddhist Center, Spring 2002
Paula receiving the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2009, Credit: karunacenter.org
NVI supporter and volunteer Rand Engel shared this beautiful remembrance of Paula:
We’ve lost another lion of peace in a time of loss. Such is the passing of Paula Green.
I was truly fortunate to meet Paula at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) around 1985. I was a staff member, Paula a member of the Board of Directors. It was there too, during that time, that Paula met Jim Perkins, another IMS staff member, an anti-war activist and nuclear resister, and gardener with a heart big enough for the world, who became her husband and life partner.
Paula was a professor at the School for International Training and co-director of the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) program in Vermont, and founder of the Karuna Center for Peacebuilding. She was bridge-builder, a nonviolence trainer and activist who worked in conflict zones around the world.
I’ve slept many nights in Paula and Jim’s home, eaten their fresh vegetables from the garden and home baked bread, talked long hours. She was always open and welcoming, always encouraging – and pushing for – engagement for a better world. After all, she was relentless in seeing the possibility for peace and justice and embraced the responsibility to pursue it.
Of the many missions that Paula undertook around the world, I was fortunate to meet her in a few places over the years: a group she led to meet ethnic minorities in Burmese border jungle lands, 1990 – and then organizing a conference in Washington DC on Burma, which included meeting then a young student activist who made a lot of that conference happen, Michael Beer, now director of Nonviolence International; sitting in on her workshops with Palestinian and Israeli youth in Jerusalem, working with mixed ethnicity peace activists, and traveling through the West Bank in 1996; in Kosovo 2006. She brought experience and strategy, intelligence and vision, warmth and passion, and no-nonsense directness to teaching, facilitating and inspiring.
In recent years, traveling less around the world, she turned attention to being part of Hands Across the Hills an initiative that brought together people from western Massachusetts and eastern Kentucky, often separated by more than miles, in our fractured country, to meet deeply with each other. She was passionate about this realm of reaching out.
Paula was and is a great soul. She will be missed.
Rand Engel & Paula Green (center) at the Burma border, 1990
Written by David Hart
Nonviolence International Welcomes Micro Action Movement
We are thrilled to welcome our latest fiscally sponsored partner - Micro Action Movement.
I am particularly excited about this collaboration because many people I speak to these days are overwhelmed by the state of the world. The problems we face can seem so massive (because they are) and more and more people are coming to see they are deeply interconnected and we will not be able to solve anyone of them without making progress on all of them.
Understandably this reality can freeze people in fear rather than inspire them to take effective action. This wonderful project breaks through that challenging barrier by showing us all small and meaningful steps we can each take that together can have a massive impact. And, they brilliantly encourage people to find ways to creatively collaborate across borders we have allowed for far too long to divide us.
Nonviolence International is providing fiscal sponsorship for this project in the US and around the world, but it is already underway in Sweden. Back in the before times when we worked in the office and had guests, Stellan Vinthagen wrote saying he was coming to town and asked to meet with Michael Beer. Michael was heading on a trip, but kindly asked if I'd like to host Stellan. I was pleased to do so having read his brilliant academic writings that take activism seriously. Then when he arrived he was so kind and gave time not just to me, but to the exceptional young leaders interning with us. We covered many topics including his emerging focus on Everyday Resistance. We didn't know where this conversation might lead, but closed with the hope that we might find ways to collaborate in the future. See more on his work and a short video below.
Now as we get to work together, I've had the pleasure of starting to get to know the true driving force behind this project Rebecca Vinthagen, Stellan's sister. She is a trained political and gender scientist and has extensive experience as a workshop and process leader. She lectures and educates in issues around norm criticism, organizational development, leadership and norm-critical design. She is also trained in Nonviolent communication and working with her is a joy.
Together with a strong team they are bringing their app beyond its successful launch in Sweden. Please consider celebrating them joining the NVI family by making a generous donation now. Or how about becoming one of their first monthly sustaining donors? Or tell a friend that you were pleased to learn about them, or download the app and get started taking creative action now. Whatever you do, we hope that directly after you read these words you will take some small action... maybe even a micro action. Join the nonviolent creative fun-loving movement and help build a better world.
For more info please visit https://microactionmovement.com/
Stellan Vinthagen is a scholar and activist. A professor of Sociology, and the Inaugural Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is Editor of the Journal of Resistance Studies, and Co-Leader of the Resistance Studies Group at University of Gothenburg, in his native Sweden. With a deep dedication to conflict transformation and civil disobedience, he has authored and edited numerous books, putting out his latest A Theory of Nonviolent Action – How Civil Resistance Works. Follow Stellan on Twitter - https://twitter.com/svinthagen
Here is great conversation he had with Kelly Quinn for our Spotlight on Nonviolence series.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence - Rachel Corrie
By Chloe MacGillvray
Rachel Corrie was born in April 1979 and grew up in Olympia, Washington, United States. She was the third child to Cindy and Craig Corrie, who have worked extensively to tell her story and bring support to both the people of Palestine and Israel. As Rachel grew up, she had a clear interest in helping others around her, and a passion for adventuring. She longed to discover all that there was to know about the world, and she presented her findings through her writing and art beginning in her youth. She had a great sense of humor (Craig would jokingly say it came from him), and her independence took her to some of the most incredible areas of the world. Rachel was, above all, a human being with a great amount of compassion, and a talent for putting her experiences into words. Her writing, art, and compassion for others are part of the reason her story resonates with all of us today.
After 9-11, Rachel became involved with different peace groups and movements at the local level. While at The Evergreen State College, she connected with students engaged with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). ISM was founded in August 2001 and called for internationals who believed in freedom and self-determination for the Palestinian people to come and join Palestinians in nonviolent resistance against Israeli occupation. Some community members and Evergreen faculty had strong connections to Israel and Palestine, and after 9/11, Rachel was motivated to connect with them, to extensively research the issue of Palestine, and to study Arabic. This eventually led to her journey to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in January of 2003.
During her travels, Rachel developed a sense of life for Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. She began to empathize with their issues, ones that many in the U.S could not begin to understand. Rachel sent emails back home describing the atrocities that she experienced – all of them illustrating her compassion for the families in Gaza, and the oppression that many Palestinians experience as normalcy. In one message written to her friends and family, Rachel spoke of experiences with the children she met in Gaza; “They know that children in the United States don't usually have their parents shot and sometimes get to see the ocean. But once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place, where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, and spent an evening when you didn’t wonder if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward waking you from your sleep, and met people who have never lost anyone – once you have experienced the reality of a world that isn’t surrounded by murderous towers, tanks, armed ‘settlements,’ and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing – just existing – in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world's fourth largest military – backed by the world’s only superpower – in its attempt to erase you from your home.”
The emails that Rachel sent home were powerful depictions of the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel. She worked with children consistently during the months she spent in Gaza. She chose to be in Rafah, near the border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, because she understood this to be where the need was greatest, largely because of mass home demolitions occurring at the time. Rachel wanted to be on the receiving end of U.S foreign politics in the area to witness firsthand the impact of U.S. policy and funding on the Palestinian people. By treaty, Israel had military control of a narrow corridor between Egypt and Gaza and kept expanding to gain control of an even greater area of land. Beyond this corridor, the Israeli military was carrying out mass demolitions of Palestinian homes. The Israeli government stated that this was necessary to control the smuggling of weapons, but 16,000 people in Rafah alone lost their homes to these demolitions, that multiple human rights organizations deemed “collective punishment.”
Rachel lived with different families at the time, and though many back home were concerned for her safety, she was more concerned about whether ISM was truly making a difference for people. She felt human connection was powerful and believed that by building relationships in Gaza she would be able to further determine how to be an activist for them. She worked fiercely to get the word out about everything she was seeing. She was both an observer working with human rights organizations, and a reporter to those unfamiliar with the pressing situation. She slept on families’ floors, hoping that her presence in their homes might provide some extra protection to those who lived inside. Rachel was determined to build and maintain relationships and to return again to Gaza, despite it being a challenging commitment. She spent hours with the children of Rafah. One was an 11-year-old boy who later reported that he had told his friends not to play with Rachel because she was an American. But after seeing how she was with people, how she stressed human connection, and watching her play “football” (soccer) with his friends, he changed his mind. Rachel worked not only to gain the trust of those who lived in Gaza, but to build off that trust to nurture others’ feelings and to strengthen friendships. She viewed everyone as human beings, as equals deserving of basic dignity and respect.
Rachel was killed on March 16, 2003, during an Israeli military clearing operation in Rafah during which Palestinian structures and homes were threatened. The United States government immediately called for a “thorough, credible, and transparent” Israeli investigation, but high officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations have stated that investigation by Israel in Rachel’s case has never met that standard. As a result, Rachel’s parents took legal action against the State of Israel and the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Testimony from an original Israeli military “operational” investigation could not be used in an Israeli Military Police investigation that followed, nor in the civil lawsuit brought by the Corrie family. Rachel’s killing was deemed an accident by the courts, and she was even blamed for her own death. The lack of a transparent and credible Israeli investigation and strong evidence to suggest that the bulldozing was not an accident, made the ruling highly questionable. Nevertheless, the court proceedings with testimony from numerous military witnesses succeeded in exposing the destructive culture of the Israeli military as it performed in Gaza, as reflected by a Colonel who testified under oath that “there are no civilians in war.”
Rachel’s death was not simply a legal issue nor a question about lack of proper investigation. Rachel was a daughter, sister, and a best friend to many – and not only to those in the U.S. Until the day she died, she was a young woman developing into an incredibly talented writer and artist, who had a love for people that could not be matched. She recognized her flaws and built off them. She was constantly learning, not just for herself, but to better understand and support those who surrounded her. Human relationships meant everything to her. It never mattered their origin, age, or differences. Rachel was deeply ingrained with principles of nonviolence but was careful not to dictate to people who are oppressed what their own resistance should be. She instead learned from them and learned what she could do for them - whether it was sleep on the floors of homes to offer some protection, or be the best soccer player she could be with the children. Rachel believed that through nonviolent movements, the oppressed, and those in solidarity with them, seize more power than they do through violent response. She was critical of herself, but this didn’t present as weakness. Her greatest strength was her ability to evaluate her actions and to be strategic about what she could do.
Above all else, Rachel was a human being who deserved more time here. Her philosophy, her writing, and what she took with her will forever change the way many approach types of action and the response to injustice. Rachel’s story will be told for years to come.
Nonviolence International is Proud to Partner with We Are Not Numbers (WANN)
We Are Not Numbers develops the communication skills of Palestinian youth living under occupation or as refugees, coaching them as they share the human stories behind the numbers in the news with a Western world that knows them only as stereotypes.
How did WANN start?
We Are Not Numbers was founded in early 2015, conceived by American journalist Pam Bailey and brought to fruition with the support of Ramy Abdu, board chair for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. The project launched under the umbrella of Euro-Med, which provided significant logistical support; today, our fiscal sponsor is Nonviolence International.
The story behind our founding:
Twenty-one-year-old Ahmed Alnaouq lives in Deir Al-Balah, in the middle of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli assault of the summer of 2014, his older and only brother was killed by an Israeli missile, while walking on the street near his home. A few weeks later, Pam connected with him on Facebook. Here is how she describes it:
Our chat went this way: “How are you?” I asked, rather inanely. “I am fine, doing well. How about you?” Ahmed responded. I could tell something was wrong, so I shot back, “Don’t just say ‘fine.’ Tell me something real.” The barriers down, he told me the truth: “I extremely miss my brother. I go to his grave all the time, and when I am alone, I burst out crying.”
Given Ahmed’s passion for writing and burning desire to master the English language (thus his major – a popular one in Gaza), I encouraged him to write about his brother, to celebrate him, rather than try to hide his grief from me. He was hesitant at first, given my “Western” identity. It turns out that Ayman was a resistance fighter with the Al-Qassam Brigades – so quickly assumed to be “terrorists” even by many pro-Palestinian activists. Yet the few little tidbits of information Ahmed shared made me want to get to know him better. Ayman clearly had played a very positive role in Ahmed’s life, and there was a reason why fighting the Israeli occupation with whatever weapons were at hand seemed to be the only option to the young man. It was, I believed, a critical story to tell – and share.
Over the next two months, I worked with Ahmed on his essay, pointing out patterns of English-language problems such as run-on sentences, and tagging spots that could benefit from an anecdote to make the story come alive.
When we were done, Ahmed commented that his English-language skills and grasp of storytelling techniques had improved more with my one-on-one coaching than from a year of classes. But with a future that looked dim – with no opportunity to apply what he was learning – Ahmed was increasingly thinking of following in Ayman’s footsteps and joining the armed resistance. At least then, he reasoned, he would be doing something to stand up for his people. My liberal, Western knee-jerk response was to say, “No, don’t do it. Your family already has lost one child. There are other ways to resist.” But then I realized that I had nothing to suggest as an alternative. Thus was born We Are Not Numbers.
What is We Are Not Numbers?
There are many Ahmeds in Gaza, who are aching with loss, struggling to eke out a living and feeling neglected by the world. Fifty percent of the population are between the ages of 15 and 25 – about 70 percent of whom are unemployed. Their stories deserve to be brought to the attention of the Western world whose foreign policy has caused so much of their distress. At the same time, we need to give these youth a way to turn their writing into a mission with a purpose.
WANN recruits young, developing English writers. To provide the coaching they need to reach their full potential, each participant is assigned a mentor who is both a native English writer (so rare in Gaza these days) and published author. The mentors coach them on their language/writing skills and the project publishes their essays, poems, etc. on the realities of their lives to educate Western audiences and build bridges based on greater understanding.
In the process, we encourage freedom of expression and civic engagement and the youths build relationships with influential advocates around the world.
What are our goals?
1) Develop the language, media and storytelling skills Palestinian youth need to obtain good jobs and earn internships or scholarships.
2) Nurture self-esteem through self-expression and publication of their work.
3) Foster international connections that broaden participants’ world views, lessen the feeling of isolation and provide useful references when applying for internships and scholarships.
4) Provide a supportive creative outlet and environment that promotes positive mental health and in which participants build capacities in leadership, teamwork, critical thinking and advocacy.
5) Amplify youth voices to help educate the Western world on the realities of life under occupation.
Some of our special projects:
George Floyd mural in Gaza
GazaVision singing contest
“Dreams in the Crosshairs” short film
We Are Not Numbers rap
“Six Miles Out” Short Film:
We Are Not Numbers is Gaza’s first journalism academy
Why should people contribute with individual donations?
When the world talks about Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps, it is usually in terms of politics and numbers – specifically, how many killed, injured, homeless and/or dependent on aid. But numbers are impersonal, and often numbing. What they don’t convey are the daily personal struggles and triumphs, the tears and the laughter, the aspirations that are so universal that if it weren’t for the context, they would immediately resonate with virtually everyone.
To survive, grow and resist in Gaza, we need more than the typical aid, however. As youth, we know we are the next generation of leaders, and more than anything we need to develop our creativity, be given a platform through which we can be heard, develop our skills, forge international connections, and also, simply, HAVE FUN.
Where can we learn more about us?
For more information, visit: www.wearenotnumbers.org
The Many Faces of Nonviolence - Angela Davis
By Alfonzo (Fonzi) Mendoza
Angela Yvonne Davis is a lifelong civil rights activist, abolitionist, feminist - communist, author, professor, scholar, and more. She is widely known for her participation in the 1960’s uprisings against injustices and inequalities for Black people, people of color and oppressed groups in the United States and abroad; Davis was affiliated with the Black Panther Party at the height of their activism and helped build and lead the movement for prison and police abolition. Davis’ views on prison abolition and Black resistance come from her life experiences growing up in a segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and spending 16 months in a women's prison for her connection to the Soledad Brothers’ courtroom incident. She first came to prominence when she was wrongfully laid off from her teaching position at UCLA for her communist political views and affiliation with the Communist Party USA. After winning her lawsuit against the school, she was soon fired again for her use of inflammatory language.
Living in a segregated Alabama, Davis knew racial injustice all too well from a young age; her neighborhood in Birmingham was known as “dynamite hill” for the large number of homes targeted and bombed by the Klu Klux Klan. Violence has played a central role in Davis’ life, as much of it was spent trying to escape racism, homophobia, misogyny, and the prison industrial complex. One of the most prominent instances in her life took place during the Soledad Brothers’ trial in 1970. On August 7th, Jonathan Jackson, brother of George who was on trial at the time, stormed the courtroom taking the judge, prosecutor, and members of the jury hostage and hoping to exchange them for the release of his brother. Unfortunately, Jonathan, the judge, and others were killed during this incident by police, and the guns used to carry out the abduction were traced back to Davis. Going into hiding for over 2 months, Davis ended up on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list and fled California as a fugitive. She moved at night, staying with friends and comrades until she was found in a New York City hotel, and was even labeled the “dangerous terrorist Angela Davis” by then President, Richard Nixon.
While in prison, Davis was interviewed and questioned by Goran Olsson for the documentary The Black Power Mixtape on her participation in the Black Panther Party, the Communist Party USA, and her characterization as a violent militant by the media. “Because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions [revolutions]. You have to expect things like that as reactions,” stated Davis. In an interview with Black Journal in 1972, Davis said, “If there is violence in the process of waging a revolution, that will be determined by the ruling class, that will be determined by those who hold power.”
Davis has spent the majority of her life as an educator and activist, pushing the boundaries on how we view gender, race, and class. She is a highly regarded author and writes extensively on the intersections of identities and how those intersections affect the way one moves throughout the world. One of her most famous works, Are Prisons Obsolete?, discusses how gender, race, and class all affect the outcomes of one's life in the United States where the prison industrial complex looms over the lives of queer and poor people of color constantly. In a 2018 lecture on eradicating state violence, Davis said, “When we look at the struggle in Palestine, it becomes clear that state violence against Black communities in the U.S. cannot be eradicated by simply hiring better police officers, by hiring police who are less racist, or who have attended anti-racism workshops; And of course all the while keeping the police apparatus intact and that apparatus incorporates some of the histories of colonialism and slavery.”
Davis’ contributions towards Black liberation are continuing to inspire and lead a generation of abolitionists today. Her work is essential to the nonviolence movement, and helps others think critically about the structure of our society; systemic and institutional racism, classism and bigotry are not accidents of a flawed system, but rather, were intentional frameworks drafted into the fabric of our world to protect systems and people in power. Davis’ work force us to engage critically with our surroundings, and asks us to analyze the current political, economic and social structures in place today that frequently and continuously cause us harm. Her book, Are Prisons Obsolete?, make the connections of modern-day prisons to slavery in the United States. “Slavery, lynching, and segregation are certainly compelling examples of social institutions that, like the prison, were once considered to be as everlasting as the sun. Yet, in the case of all three examples, we can point to movements that assumed the radical stance of announcing the obsolescence of these institutions.” Davis’ work illustrates the true perpetrators of violence in our society and calls for a paradigm shift on how we attribute and recognize violence. By challenging our pre-existing beliefs and inherent biases, she implores us to evaluate our way of life and take the steps towards building a world free of violence, with that violence being: racism, capitalism, white supremacy, homophobia and all systems of power and oppression.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence- The Faces of the Me Too Movement
By Maegan Hanlon
On October 7, 2018, the New York Times published a story in which actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd accused entertainment giant Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct. The women claimed that Weinstein promised to advance their careers in exchange for sexual favors. Most of the women subject to his abuse wanted to get a foot in the Hollywood door. In the New York Times article, victims detailed horrors such as Weinstein stripping naked in front of them, asking for or giving women massages, and forcing them to watch him bathe. Many of the victims who spoke out against him said that he often tried to coerce women into bed with him. When a woman said no to him, he would ask more and more favors until she said yes or left. Humiliated and confused, victims believed they had nowhere to turn.
Rose McGowan. Creative Commons, Rhododendrites.
Most victims did not speak up about the abuse out of fear of retaliation. Weinstein was one of the biggest names in Hollywood and working with him brought fame and money. However, his victims also reported his explosive anger. Furthermore, Weinstein used generosity to manipulate his victims. Abusing his power within the industry, he would help them make connections to go farther in their careers. One meeting with Weinstein could secure magazine covers, roles, or endorsement deals. One meeting with Weinstien could be the meeting that launched a career. Because of this, women felt pressured to stay silent.
After her assault in 1997, up and coming actress Ashley Judd could not stay silent. According to her testimony in Time Magazine, Judd says she felt she had to warn others of Weienstien’s behavior. After telling a friend in the business about her experience, Judd learned shocking news - whispers of Weinstien’s inappropriate behavior had been circulating around Hollywood for years. Judd realized that many Hollywood executives and actors were aware of Weinstien’s behavior but said nothing. In fact, Harvey Weinstein was not the only perpetrator of abuse. There was an epidemic of misconduct happening in the entertainment industry. As more women in the entertainment industry learned of the widespread sexual harassment issues, they realized they were not alone. Rather, they found a community of women who experienced similar horrors, and they banded together to expose both their abusers and culture of silence surrounding the abuse.
McGowan and Judd’s actions sparked a global movement called Me Too. Starting in the entertainment industry, celebrities, such as Alyssa Milano and Selma Blair, began telling their stories about their sexual assault horrors. Actor Anthony Rapp detailed abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of film legend Kevin Spacey when Rapp was still a minor. As more victims spoke up, more Hollywood royalty faced accusations of misconduct. The floodgates had opened, and the truth came out. While some men’s careers were left unscathed, some men were held accountable for their actions with lawsuits from victims like Ashley Judd and Taylor Swift. In fact, Taylor Swift had photographic evidence of her assault, yet she still faced a trial. She won, and her abuser was sentenced to pay her a symbolic one dollar. Swift was not concerned about financial compensation, but rather she wanted to set a legal precedent for future assault trials.
The Me Too movement extends far beyond the world of Harvey Weinstein. In 2006, sexual assault survivor Tarana Burke coined the phrase Me Too on MySpace, but the phrase did not become mainstream until later. The hashtag #metoo trended on Twitter in 2017 after Alyssa Milano tweeted about her experience with Weinstein, and the hashtag quickly went viral. Women all over the world began speaking up about sexual misconduct in the workplace and in their personal lives. Time Magazine highlighted some stories of women who suffered from sexual abuse at their jobs. For example, Crystal Washington worked in the hospitality department at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She detailed almost daily crude comments from her boss. Fearing for the security of her job, Washington stayed quiet. However, despite her own struggles with sexual harassment, she fielded complaints of sexual harassment almost daily. Washington often listened to reports about guests cornering and harassing her staff. According the Time article, Washington and six other employees are suing the hotel for sexual harassment.
Anita Hill, 1991. AP Images.
McGowan and Judd were not the first women to face their abuser publicly in court. In 1991, American lawyer and professor Anita Hill accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct. After her accusation she endured polygraph tests and investigations. Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 where she was subjected to extreme doubt in her experience. Former Senator Joe Biden was head of the all white committee, and he handled the hearing poorly. After saying Hill could testify first, he let Justice Thomas testify before Hill. Then, Biden did not let other accusers testify with Hill. Justice Thomas still served on the Supreme Court. Today, Hill is a professor of Social Policy, law, and Women’s Studies at Brandeis University. Similarly, in 2018, American professor and research specialist Christine Blasey Ford accused President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of rape when the two were in high school in Bethesda, MD. Like Hill, Ford went through a Senate Judiciary hearing in which the committee doubted her allegations. She was subjected to polygraph tests and psychiatrist testimonies to validate her claim. In Ford’s case, believing the victim became a political stance. Justice Kavanaugh has been serving on the Supreme Court since October 2018. Unfortunately, due to the wide media coverage of her committee hearing, Ford has been forced to keep a low profile for the safety of herself and her family.
McGowan and Judd’s New York Times article blew the whistle on a widespread problem around the world. Strong women continue to take down powerful men with their reports of misconduct. Their bravery has led to a new understanding of sexual misconduct, and has helped the topic shed some of its taboo reputation. The Me Too Movement didn't stop there, it continues to evolve and expand to this day. New and deeper understanding of the issue sparked the creation of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which helps victims afford to go to trial against their abusers. Since January 2017, cities across the world have participated in annual, peaceful Women's Marches to advocate for change. While the awareness of sexual misconduct has grown enormously since 2018, there is still more to be done to help victims and prevent future victims. To learn more about the powerful nonviolent Me Too movement or to donate to help victims, please see the links listed below.
The Many Faces of Nonviolence- Reverend Joseph Lowery
By Maegan Hanlon
Reverend Joseph Lowery dedicated his life to the civil rights movement. Growing up in the Jim Crow era in Alabama, Reverend Lowery saw first hand the damage violence and racism caused in everyday life. In fact, Reverend Lowery cites an incident with Alabama police that sparked his dedication to nonviolence and civil rights. He recalls as an eleven-year-old, a police officer in his hometown of Huntsville, Alabama “jabbed him with a nightstick.” The police officer then accused Reverend Lowery of not respecting white men. Rather than letting this incident allow rage to fester internally, the reverend said it inspired him to dedicate his life to nonviolent resistance. After college Reverend Lowery worked on a newspaper column about racial injustice, and later decided to attend seminary school to become a minister. He was ordained into the United Methodist Church and joined the NAACP. His experience with faith greatly inspired his commitment to nonviolence throughout his life.
As a minister in the American United Method Church, he believed in using nonviolent tactics to advocate for equal rights under the law. He organized his first nonviolent protest with the goal of desegregating buses in Mobile, Alabama during the 1950s. Later, he helped organize the 1955 Montgomery Bus boycott in which black riders sat in seats reserved for white riders. Their efforts were successful, and Montgomery's buses were desegregated. When reflecting on this victory, he said that the boycott, “sparked and triggered an era of self-determination.” Additionally, the bus boycott victory led to the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The SCLC, led by Reverend Lowery and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., aimed to coordinate local activist groups with a strong commitment to nonviolent protest and action against injustice.
In 1965, Reverend Lowery led the march from Selma to Montgomery that brought demands on voting rights to Alabama’s Governor, George Wallace, a fervent segregationist. Reverend Lowery brought marchers from the SCLC and other organizations to the Alabama state capital to protest racial discrimination in voting procedures. His peaceful marchers were attacked by state police on the Governor’s orders, but the altercation only served to further inspire Reverend Lowery and his supporters. Later that year the reverend led a march on Washington, DC, which ultimately led to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Reverend Lowery continued to work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for many years, using his nonviolent tactics to fight for justice all over the world.
In the 1970s, he shifted his nonviolent focus to the power of the ballot, and he encouraged millions of black Americans to use their votes to fight for justice. After his success with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Reverend Lowery wanted to assure both young and old black voters that voting held power. Throughout his career Reverend Lowery continued to advocate for nonviolence tactics after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. He used his platform as a nonviolent civil rights leader and minister to preach about peace. A great example of this occurred during his eulogy for Coretta Scott King, a fellow civil rights leader and friend, who passed away in 2006. During the eulogy he denounced the United States’ involvement in the Iraq War in front of President Bush and emphasized both his and King’s lifelong commitments to peace.
In 2008 he gave the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration, and in 2009 President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. After a long and passionate life of nonviolent activism, Reverend Joseph Lowery passed away at the age of 98 on March 27, 2020. He was a celebrated pioneer for civil rights in the United States. He led the fight for equal rights in a time when it was dangerous. Reverend Lowery provided a light among the darkness for millions of Americans. His nonviolent legacy sets a remarkable example for all of us to live by.
Reverend Lowery worked diligently for civil rights in the United States, and he accomplished a great deal. However, there is still more to be done. Thus we must ask ourselves, how can we follow in Reverend Lowery’s footsteps and stand up for peace in our own communities?
Written by David Hart
Nonviolence International Welcomes The Isaiah Project
We are thrilled to welcome our latest fiscally sponsored partner - The Isaiah Project. Please be on the look out for much more about their important work in the months to come. 2020 is the 40th anniversary of the Ploughshares Movement and there is some exciting news coming about how we can celebrate together.
Many months ago, I dreamed of a series of profiles on our website that could begin to tell the story of a powerful, diverse, creative nonviolent movement growing all over the world. A movement that inspires us to continue taking daily action to build Nonviolence International and thus strengthen our capacity to make a difference in this brutal world.
Tonight I’ve been reading about seven amazing nonviolent leaders and giving thanks that they are now, in a way, part of the Nonviolence International family. I hope you will join me in learning about these guiding lights at: https://kingsbayplowshares7.org/about/bios/
They inspired me to draft a piece about them and their witness against the most horrific weapons in the world. In his history of the Ploughshares Movement, Art Laffin reminds us that we are, “trying to build a new world within the shell of the old.” This is a challenging and essential task. The old world is fading. If the new world is not born quickly, the decay of the old may crush all our hopes.
Today I had the opportunity to work with the amazing Interns at Nonviolence International and a new friend, former NVI staff, and Ploughshares leader, Paul Magno, to create a donation page for The Isaiah Project.
I love the beautiful graphic Meagan Hanlon, NVI Intern, found on the Kings Bay Ploughshares 7 website. Together we decided to use this image of painted rocks as the background photo for the new donation page. I don’t know who took this photo, but I can see that the collection of rocks is not just a colorful image to make a webpage pop; it is also the result of committed people coming together to create something unique and precious together. I imagine many hands painting their messages on these rocks.
Maybe someday I will learn the true story of this photo. Now as I ponder this image, I see it as a reflection of the inspirational Ploughshares movements that have taken shape over the last 40 years. 40 years we’ve spent in the wilderness. It is time to come home to peace.
There is a rock painted with the words, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” One that reads, “Friendship Not Warship.” Another says “Seek Peace.” And one made me laugh with the simple power of its truth, it reads, “It is not ok to kill people.”
When we realize that we are all part of one another killing people doesn't seem like a good idea. As a Jew, I remember hearing the question - what would we have done if a concentration camp was being built in our neighborhood. I celebrate these faith leaders who decided that they would take it upon themselves to notice the ultimate horor of nuclear weapons being built and deployed in our communities and do what they could to knock down these crematorium towers rising among us.
The Jewish prophet Isaiah said, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
40 years ago dedicated peacemakers inspired by the disarmed Jesus took action against evil. They didn’t know what ripple effects would come of their bold, creative, nonviolent direct action, but they decided they would witness in a way in keeping with their heart’s calling for peace. So armed only with love, they beat the most destructive weapons in the world into ploughshares.
Without any expectation of future actions they created an international movement that has challenged runaway militarism for decades. The movement has shifted and grown in a variety of ways including actions in the US, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia. I predict more to come in additional regions of this beautiful and broken world.
Decades after that first action, Nonviolence International is proud to welcome the Isaiah Project as our latest fiscally sponsored partner. The Isaiah Project is actively supporting the Kings Bay Ploughshares 7. You can learn more about their much needed work at: https://kingsbayplowshares7.org
And starting today, you can donate to support this work right here on our site. https://www.nonviolenceinternational.net/donate_isaiah Check out the photo of the colorful rocks, be inspired by their actions, donate, and spread the word. And, ponder what you can to put your values into action. How can you live out the beliefs that are core to who you are?
I’m still asking myself these questions and while I find no perfect answers, I celebrate the inspiration in the light shining from those whose commitment to peace seems to know no bounds. Thank you to all the Ploughshares activists who for decades have declared that the world can be better than it is today and who, by their actions, have shown us a path out of the darkness and into a future of peace, justice, and environmental sanity.
I am grateful for the Ploughshares Movement and all those whose spirits move them to take bold creative nonviolent action.
Written by Maegan Hanlon
Ann Wright was on an assignment in Mongolia when she resigned from the State Department in March 2003. Having served in the U.S. Army for over two decades retiring as a colonel and in the U.S. Foreign Service for sixteen years, she knew the devastating effects of war. Ann was opposed to the Iraq War and felt that she could not in good conscience represent the United States in the conflict. Because of this, she resigned from the U.S. Department of State to dedicate herself to promoting nonviolence.
Ann decided to shift her efforts to peace and nonviolent protest. She started working with organizations that were trying to stop the United States government from using war as a first resort. When talking about using war as a way to solve global issues she says, “use of the military and war seldom results in stability.” She knew that there had to be a nonviolent way to solve international disputes. As a result, Ann began a new adventure working with civilian-run organizations instead of government agencies. She advocated for nonviolence in Washington, DC and around the US talking to tens of thousands of citizens on alternatives to war. Since her resignation from the U.S. in 2004, after nearly two decades of commitment to nonviolence, Ann can testify that most Americans don’t want any more wars, yet U.S. politicians, no matter which political party is in power, still favor war and mobilization.
Ann began being personally involved in the situation in Israel and Gaza when she left the U.S. Diplomatic corps in 2003. She decided she needed to see for herself what was happening on the ground when Israel first attacked Gaza in early 2009. She went to Gaza in January 2009 to observe with her own eyes the huge level of destruction that a major military power like Israel had done in its 27 attacks on the small, unarmed territory of Gaza. The loss of life-over 1400 Palestinians killed, 5,000 wounded, and over 10,000 left homeless-inspired her to take action. In 2009, she went back to Gaza six times with CODEPINK Women for Peace to bring more people to Gaza so they could meet with survivors, document the damage, and return home to write stories about what they saw. Later in December 2009, Ann and CODEPINK brought over one thousand people to Egypt for the Gaza Freedom March to march in Gaza in solidarity with the people of Gaza on the first anniversary of the Israeli attack. However, Egyptian border police allowed only about 100 people to enter Gaza, and the rest had to remain in Egypt and used a number of nonviolent tactics including staging demonstrations in Cairo to bring international attention to the blockade in Gaza including sit-ins outside the US Embassy.
In 2010 Ann continued to support Palestinians living under the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza by joining the Free Gaza Movement. In 2008 this organization sent two boats full of people and medical supplies to Gaza and took out of Gaza some Palestinians in need of healthcare. In 2010 the Free Gaza Movement expanded the of challenging the illegal Israeli naval blockade of Gaza by sending no just two boats, but a flotilla of boats to Gaza. This project became the Freedom Flotilla Coalition. In this 2010 mission, they sent three cargo boats of medical supplies along with three passenger boats to Gaza. Ann was on one of the passenger boats when Israeli forces attacked the flotilla for attempting to enter the naval blockade zone. Nine people were executed by Israeli commandos on the boats, and one later died of Israeli gunshots. More than 50 of the unarmed, civilian activists aboard the boats were shot by Israeli commandos. See a list of casualties here. After raiding the boats in international waters, Israeli police arrested nearly 700 people and brought them to Israeli prisons. They were deported which meant they could not return to Israel for ten years. Ann has been deported from Israel three times meaning she technically has a 30 year ban to travel to Israel and therefore also to the West Bank. After her initial deportation, Ann returned to Gaza through the Rafah, Egypt crossing in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is an international organization of 13 national campaigns participating in the movement. In the 2018 flotilla, four boats in the flotilla visited twenty ports before reaching Sicily, from which they travel to Gaza. In each country they visited, they worked with Palestinian solidarity organizations to educate Europeans about the horrors of the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. By stopping at multiple ports to meet with supporters, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition is able to further spread the message about the suffering people endure in Gaza from the Israeli land and sea blockade. The journey to attempt to break the illegal naval blockade of Gaza typically ends about forty kilometers off the coast of Gaza when Israeli forces intercept the flotilla and arrest passengers. The long journey brings international media attention, except in the U.S., and awareness to the suffering in Gaza. With the help of their international partners, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition has sent boats to Gaza in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 (an all women’s trip), and 2018.
US Boats to Gaza, the United States chapter of The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, is dedicated to educating Americans about the situation in Gaza. Ann and other organizers travel across the United States holding educational events to spread awareness about Gaza. Many educational events help with funding so the flotilla can keep sending ships to attempt to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza. The flotilla’s dedication helps Palestinians remain hopeful that the world is not forgetting them.
Ann Wright came to work with Nonviolence International when she met our co-director, Michael Beer. They ran into one another at a number of peace events around the DC Metro area. Today Nonviolence International serves as the fiscal sponsor of US Boats to Gaza. Ann and Nonviolence International also support We Are Not Numbers, a platform for young Palestinian writers and artists to find their voices and tell their stories as journalists. In fact, We Are Not Numbers has released two documentaries showing the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. The first is an award winning short film, “Six Miles Out,” about fishermen struggling to make a living under the blockade. The other, called “Dreams in the Crosshairs,” is about the permanent disfigurement and amputations many Palestinians suffer under Israeli violence on the people of Gaza. The films help raise awareness and inspire international solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Through all of the suffering she has seen, knowing so many people willing to challenge Israeli and U.S. government policies towards Palestine and are willing to stand up and encourage nonviolent approaches to resolve international issues gives Ann hope. She says, “I know courage when I see it, and I have seen more courage in the brave, determined citizens...than the heavily armed forces arrayed against them.” Grassroots movements around the world show Ann the dedication many citizens have to use peaceful and nonviolent approaches to conflict resolution. She has found that civil society pressures politicians to act peacefully rather than to initiate violence. For example, United States citizens pressured President Obama to refrain from attacking Syria in 2013 over the alleged chemical attacks by the government of Syria. President Trump’s decision not to go to war with Iran also came from civil pressures to remain peaceful and avoid war. Civilian long term dedication to promoting peace and nonviolence gives Ann hope in times of violence and suffering.
The Freedom Flotilla Coalition has begun its fundraising campaign for the May 2020 Flotilla by hosting fundraisers across the country to raise money to purchase the next boats to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza. To learn more about the campaign visit usboatstogaza.org and to donate please click here