Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Minnijean in Little Rock.

I found Minnijean a more effective speaker in Little Rock than when we saw her in Eau Claire. I especially liked what she had to say about the power of non-violence – which she described as the most powerful force in the world. Earlier (I forget which city) a number of us had been discussing the possibility of non-violence. I contend that when we think of violence as the only answer to certain problems, we under-estimate it’s cost. The Second World War is the most common example of a time it was necessary to use violence. But it cost the allies tens of millions of lives, billions of dollars and ten years to win the Second World War. I’m not saying that in 1936 (when the communists entered the war in Spain – the US government being five years late) we had the ability to confront the threat of fascism with non-violence. But I think if we dedicated a fraction of the material resources we dedicate to violence to researching non-violence we’d be able to build that powerful a force. Non-violence has had significant triumphs despite having essentially no resources.

The thing that keeps coming up though is the dedication required. The years of struggle for the Civil Rights movement and the number of people that were willing to risk death for the cause dwarfs any movement today in the US. Reading “Warriors Don’t Cry” I was struck by how much more courage the Little Rock Nine showed in the face of adversity than I’ve ever been called on to face in my life. Again, tens of millions of people were willing to sacrifice their lives to stop fascism. Firefighters risk their lives for others every day, it’s certainly not implausible that with a change in culture people would be willing to risk their lives to, for example, challenge dictatorships and spread democracy. This is a distant dream, I know. But I think it’s important to understand that the idea of non-violence as a force used on an international scale really isn’t that impractical, at least compared to the high cost of violence.

A couple of other thoughts from Minnijean. As she was talking, I realized how much the repressive state apparatus of the 50s and 60s has been replaced by ideological state apparatus. Repressive state apparatus is very vulnerable to non-violence, as we see. But ideological state apparatus (I’m looking at you, news media) is far harder to challenge. It seems like the left is yet to come up with an effective response to the massive propaganda machine of the right. The main thing I took from Minnijean, however, and we saw this in other women such as Ella Baker in Sisters in the Struggle, is a systems approach. I forgot who asked the very important question about the segregation of the education today, but I thought Minnijean’s answer was fascinating. She responded immediately by talking about housing. Similarly, I’m reading some articles by Angela Davis about abolishing prisons, and when people ask her how to do that she responds by talking about the education system. The point being we aren’t going to be able to solve our problems without understanding the way all of the systems of society interact together.

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