Metta’s Opinion

On Fear: An Excercise in Personal Power

A funny thing happens when I receive love, appreciation, support: I freak out. An intense fear permeates the whole body. From the outside, I probably appear calm (unless you’re standing right next to me, in which case you’ll notice my face growing red and sweaty). But on the inside, I experience a frenetic energy that muddles my thinking and tightens my breathing. Curious how fear shows up for us sometimes, isn’t it?

image of tarantulaPut me in the midst of interpersonal turmoil, and I’ll sail through it with total clarity and confidence. Talk someone out of stabbing another person? Hold my mental own against a very strong man on an alcohol-induced rampage? I’ve done both with zero hesitation or fear. I used to wobble at the sight of the standard house spider. I now live with jungle for a backyard, and tarantulas bigger than my hand occasionally sneak into my casita, and I mindfully relocate them. But place me in an intimate social setting, and the survival instincts trip false alarms; I habitually go haywire. What do you experience when fear snags you?

While I may be fearless in shaky physical situations, I can nevertheless get rocked off center by feelings of unworthiness, the emotional expression of fearing connection. The inner child’s voice tells me not to trust closeness. “Don’t go there,” she warns. “It’s unreliable, and it’ll lead to hurt and humiliation.”

At Metta Center, we tend to put being before doing. Our staff and board meetings typically open with the sharing of personal revelations—in short, the nurturing of loving, appreciative and supportive connections. This revealing places me squarely in my discomfort zone. My voice quivers, I rush through words and forget important points. During my first board meeting, joined by phone, fearful feelings jolted me with adrenaline. The flight mechanism kicked into high gear, but of course there was nothing to run from—or to. While sitting in my chair with the phone muted, I found release in a burst of tears. Good, I thought. Let the tensity rise. Let it rise!

Transformation, individual as well as societal, depends on the arising and dissolving of unreleased tensions. It can be discomforting to reveal who we really are—in so doing, we go against the grain of superficial interactions. What a risky feat in a culture that claims we’re empty-headed consumers on an insatiable quest for material pleasure and in a never-ending race to the top (wherever that is). Revealing who we are, then, is an obstructive rejection of separation and a constructive reappropriation of our physical, mental and spiritual energies.

A couple of weeks ago, Metta Center asked me to join their staff as Director of Communications. I’m both honored and humbled to contribute my love for creative communications in a meaningful way. The world needs stories that elevate the understanding of our inherent human worth and potential, and I’m ready to help bring those stories into being. image of keyThe members of Metta Center’s team are my collaborators and spiritual teachers rolled into one. By inviting me to join the staff, they’ve graced me with a golden key to my svadharma, what our founder and president Michael Nagler calls “the articulation of your capacities with the needs of the world in which you find yourself.”

Work that offers us no chance to practice, develop and maintain peace and harmony for ourselves and the people we share our everyday lives with is work humanity no longer needs. May we all find and live our svadharma.

If anything I’ve shared in this post resonates with you, you may be interested in a day-long retreat on personal power hosted by Michael Nagler, Stephanie Van Hook and Linda Sartor. Scheduled for December 7, the retreat is called “Turning Fear Into Power.” If you’ll be in the Santa Rosa, CA area, you can register for it here.

Ahimsa Center Conference 2014

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Ahimsa Center biannual conference on nonviolence at California Polytechnic University Pomona, and in this blog post I would like to share with you a round-up of the conference presentations and a little about my own experience, takeaways, reflections and lingering questions.

-Stephanie Knox Cubbon, Metta’s Director of Education

ahimsa program “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.”

-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama



The Ahimsa Center was founded in 2004 by Dr. Tara Sethia, a distinguished scholar, author, nonviolence practitioner and history professor at CSU Pomona. In addition to hosting the conference, the center houses the minor in Nonviolence Studies which Dr. Sethia coordinates, a biannual summer fellowship for K-12 educators to learn about nonviolence, and numerous other educational programs and outreach activities on campus and in the local community. This year’s conference theme was Care, Compassion and Mindfulness, and the panelists included educators, religious scholars, psychologists, designers, and artists – people from a wide variety of fields who are incorporating these themes into their work. The interdisciplinary approach led to an enriching cross-pollination of ideas and allowed each of us to bring in new perspectives from other fields.


Some of the key themes during the conference included:

Happiness and fulfillment come from within us

In his opening talk, Dr. Allan Wallace of the Santa Barbara Institute of Consciousness Studies talked about “cultivating conative intelligence.” He explained conation as the mental faculty of purpose, desire, will to perform an action, or volition. He described conative unintelligence as when we try to escape suffering, we run right towards it, primarily through craving and attachment (which causes more suffering).

What does this have to do with happiness? He discussed two types of happiness, hedonic happiness, the stimulus-driven pleasure derived from what we get from the world (such as through food, sex, and material goods), and eudaimonic or genuine happiness, which is derived from what we bring to the world.  Dr. Wallace explained,  “As long as we are seeking happiness through hedonic pleasures, we are gamblers and the house always wins.” The materialistic worldview and consumer way of life that we find ourselves in currently (the “old story”) is hedonistic, and is essentially doomed. Dr. Wallace urged us to develop a richer vision of a good life, which includes meditation (which he compared to “mental hygiene”) as well as shifting our priorities towards finding purpose and meaning in life. If you know Metta’s work, this should sound familiar! What Dr. Wallace was saying resonates with the second of Metta’s five propositions in our vision, namely that we cannot be fulfilled through consumption (as much as the media would like us to believe), and can only find fulfillment through discovering our own person power and through the expansion of our relationships.  Check out Metta’s course on the Meaning of Life for more on that subject!

We are mind, body and spirit

Shamini Jain shared with us the fascinating research she is doing through the Consciousness and Healing Initiative to research the “biofield” therapies – energy therapies such as reiki, acupuncture, and others that work with what ancient healing traditions call the energy body (prana, chi, qi). Emphasizing that we are mind, body and spirit, she said all of these modalities have some similarities, such as:

  • the assumptions  that consciousness is primary and that healing takes place on all levels (mind, body & spirit)
  • the practitioner engages in grounding,  letting go of ego and connecting with universal energy
  • the practitioner uses gentle touch that directs energy flow through the system, and
  • the practitioner consciously intends for the patient’s highest good.

Her research attempts to bridge the gap between ancient traditions and modern science, which is an important contribution to the field of nonviolence!

Mindfulness and Moral Injury

Lisa Dale Miller talked about her work using mindfulness with veterans to heal moral injury, what she described as, in contrast to PTSD, the trauma induced by witnessing or actually compromising one’s own morals judgment. For example, moral injury may result from the deep grief and regret a soldier might feel for carrying out orders that go against their moral compass. In her work, she has found a “toolbox of awakened presence” that veterans can self-apply to heal from moral injury, such as nonharming, nonhatred, nongreed, and kind recognition to whatever comes. Her presentation made me reflect on the role that we can play to support the members in our communties who may be suffering from this kind of trauma, and how we might contribute to the collective healing needed from our engagement in decades of war.

Peace Ecology

Randall Amster, author of the new book Peace Ecology, shared with us about ethics of care for the Earth, and discussed the peacebuilding and transformational potential of the Earth, since it’s what we all have in common. He discussed the relationship between human-to-human and human-environmental conflict, and asked the question “How can we alter the cycle (of violence)?” While he acknowledged that window of opportunity for change is closing rapidly in terms of our environmental challenges, he holds the view that we still have potential to change if we can muster the will and take action.

Panel on Ethics and Methods of Caring and Healing

Mindful Parenting

Mindful parenting was also a theme, and Kozo Hattori  of Raising Compassionate Boys told us about his efforts to raise instill compassion in his sons. He humbly told his own struggles as a parent to raise compassionate boys in our society, and expressed how mistakes are opportunities to role model compassion and forgiveness.  His presentation touched upon themes of gender and how societally-imposed gender roles are hurtful to all genders.

Discipline, selfless service, nonattachment

Themes from Vedantic philosophy, Buddhism, yoga, and Jainism also appeared throughout the conference. Chris Chapple of Loyola Marymount University (which has the first Master of Arts program in Yoga Studies in the US) discussed the four immeasureables (lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity) and the Bhagavad Gita. One of the themes that stood out to me was tapas – the will to develop a rhythm of purification, essentially spiritual discipline to let go and burn away (tapas literally means fire) anything that is keeping you from your true self, your highest potential. In my own life and practice lately, I have been contemplating this theme a lot, as we live in a society that generally tries to pull us away from, rather than support us in, our spiritual practice. In order to discover our own person power, we have to create some effort. The state of our world requires us to be disciplined with our  intentions and actions, and it’s a helpful reminder that all of the wisdom traditions emphasize discipline and an important part of the spiritual path.

Dr. Padmanabh Jain, professor emeritus of UC Berkeley, discussed the connection between ahimsa and aparigraha (nonclinging or nonattachment), saying that ahimsa is impossible without aparigraha, and that everything in excess is himsa, harming or violence. This made me reflect on our current culture:  What does this say about our society, which puts an emphasis on overconsumption and excess? What might happen if we think about our overconsumption as a form of violence? Dr. Jain encouraged us to consider that we already have enough – another helpful reminder.

Gandhi and Restorative Justice

Dr. Veena Howard shared about Gandhi’s strategy for restorative justice and how we desperately need this approach in the US, which has the highest prison population in the world. Gandhi thought of crime as disease, and that as a society we need to defeat crime but not criminals, and to understand and take responsibility for the conditions we are collectively creating that result crime. Click here to access Metta’s self-study resources on restorative justice and nonviolence.

How inspiring to be in a room full of people who are passionate about nonviolence!


The last panel of the conference was on mindfulness in education, which gave me much food for thought. Christian Bracho asked us to remember the teachers who impacted us the most, and said in all likelihood,  it wasn’t a teacher who knew the content, but it was someone who really cared. For me this rang true, as I immediately thought of Mademoiselle Konig and Mr. Hoffman, my high school French and history teachers, who were two of the most caring teachers I encountered in my scholastic career. Who were the teachers who impacted you the most?

Another idea that emerged from the panel was that of peer coaching, and this has been on my mind a lot with respect to peace education. A lot of times, those of us who are doing peace and nonviolence education may feel isolated, like we are the only ones doing it, and we don’t really have the means to reflect on our own practice and get new ideas. So my personal goal after this conference is:

a)      To start a peer peace education meetup/coaching group in San Diego, where I live (and if you’re reading this, why not start one where you are?)

b)      If you are reading this blog and this idea interests you, I would also consider starting a monthly Google Hangout for those of us who may be in different places to connect virtually to discuss peace and nonviolence education. Interested? Email me!

Vikas Shrivastava talked about the Mindful School Project, and what struck me most about his presentation is that he shared about lessons learned from what he called “a disaster.” Rather than share with us a success story (which is often the case in public presentations), he shared about what didn’t work. He talked about our tendency to project-ify and certify everything, to make everything into a framework that we can then sell and replicate, but in his opinion this is not necessarily the best way forward. He offered some suggestions, such as:

  • Working within your realm of influence (and not feeling the need to “scale up”)
  • Let go of the “franchise dream” (creating something that can be replicated)
  • Stay focused on the work you have
  • Serve at the request of others
  • Your life is your journey

In my notes I wrote “more teacher training institutes? Community workshops?” as ideas the percolated during his talk. In a discussion after the panel, some of the Ahimsa Center graduates (of the teacher training institute) discussed the need for more professional development opportunities in this area, which has my wheels churning.


Can empathy be disruptive?Selfless Service, Gift Ecology

Finally, the closing session was with the ever-inspiring Nipun Mehta of, who discussed how being consumers is not our highest potential as human beings, and we unlock our greatest potential when we engage in selfless service. He also talked about the power of internal transformation, and how Gandhi’s internal transformation was really the engine of India’s liberation. He shared with us the principles of Service Space, which are:

  • Be volunteer run – unleash the power of many to see the collective intelligence that emerges
  • Don’t fundraise – unleash a gift ecology, and people’s cup of gratitude overflows
  • Focus on the small – unleash the ripple effect

He also talked about our need to think of different kinds of capital other than money, such as time, and how we are blind to other forms of “capital.”  He urged us to think differently about abundance, saying none of us were born into this world empty-handed. To help broaden our ideas of capital and abundance, he invited us to ask ourselves, “How can I help people today? What do we have, and how can we work with what we have?” Some of the best conversations took place around the meals that were part of the conference program (which were all vegetarian! You know you are at a good conference when vegan cupcakes are on the menu :).  The mealtimes gave us lots of opportunities to connect, network, and engage in rich discussions around these themes. I left the conference feeling very invigorated, with lots of questions, and with lots of new friends and connections with whom I can grapple with these questions.


As I returned home to my neighborhood, brimming with inspiration from the weekend, I heard the news that the remains of the 43 missing students in Mexico had  been found.  The students were studying to be teachers, and were known for their activism around social justice issues, reminding me that we live in a world where teaching and learning about the state of the world – and critiquing it –  can get you killed. As the optimism and inspiration I was filled with met the despair and pain I felt from acknowledging this reality, I was reminded that we have so much work to do. But I feel prepared, and charged, to do that work. It’s our responsibility. Sunset from the car

Meditation: A Brief Reflection

“Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve been practicing meditation for more than two years, and I come to this realization each and every time I sit: Meditation meets us where we’re at in life, opening and strengthening our hearts and minds where they most need to be.

As Eknath Easwaran and other masters have pointed out, meditation can’t be understood from an intellectual balanced stonesstandpoint. It’s by practicing that we develop the calm and wisdom needed to move through life with grace and ease, to bring greater peace into the world.

None of us is born enlightened—we all have a context that shapes who we are and become. Childhood poverty and rape deposited stones in my heart, hardening me in ways I couldn’t see or feel until I began meditating at the age of 39. Through my practice sessions, I regularly confront and dislodge these stones. Each extraction leads me to a fresh sense of freedom.

With each stone-plucking, I also gain a more profound compassion for others: it’s by seeing and feeling the contours of my own stonework that I can truly comprehend the ways in which life bestows difficulties upon everyone. Compassion means to suffer with. The word evolved from the Latin roots of com, or with, and patī, to suffer. In these terms, suffering connotes the basic ups and downs all of us go through just by the nature of being alive.

None of us escapes pain, upsets, or failures. They’re factors of life. But some of us are so saddled by emotional burdens that we can’t feel a deeper love for ourselves or others. As a society, it would behoove us to provide everyone accessible, supportive ways to confront and transform our life wounds. It’s an important piece of the Constructive Program pie, because societal harmony depends on widescale healing and compassion, the very masonry of cooperation.

I’ve heard from people who don’t meditate that I’ve got my head in the clouds—all that sitting accomplishes nothing but self-absorption, they say. My response? Meditation isn’t about creating our own private bliss bubbles. It’s about ameliorating our suffering and making spiritual leaps so that we can fearlessly serve humanity in our own loving ways.

For some of us that might mean being more present with our children or life partners; for others of us that could look like speaking truth to power, committing civil disobedience, building economic alternatives. No matter how small or large the role, each contribution matters. As poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

Time and again, it’s the meditation that reminds me to strengthen my capacity for compassion and love—and to forgive myself when I slip and reenact ingrained patterns. It also helps me remember that the smallest actions can serve others in the most heart-inspired ways. On any given day, our greatest contribution in life could be bringing a smile to a stranger’s face. We never know: one smile could be the action that tips us toward enduring good, the peace we’re all looking for.

Addendum: If you’re wondering how to bridge your meditation practice with peacemaking work, you’ll find inspiration in Michael Nagler’s Meditation for Peacemakers. This insightful e-book covers a lot of historical-spiritual ground.


Photo of Kimberlyn DavidA catalyst at heart, Kimberlyn David is forever dreaming up ways to contribute to a more loving, peaceful world. She’s the founder and lead creative at Changemaker Communications, which uses the power of words to inspire people to actively participate in their own lives and within their communities. She also teaches donations-based yoga classes and practices Vipassana meditation. Kimberlyn began blogging for Metta Center for Nonviolence after taking PACS 164-c.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who Shall Guard the Guardians?)

Originally posted on Tikkun Daily Blog on October 23, 2014.

Family members demand justice in Iguala, Guerrero. Credit: Creative Commons/The Yucatan Times Family members demand justice in Iguala, Guerrero. Credit: Creative Commons/The Yucatan Times

I’ve just come from a three-hour conversation with Pietro Ameglio Patella, prominent Mexican professor and nonviolent activist, and an old friend. He was in the country with his friend Carlos Moreno who has been searching for his son for three years without any cooperation from the official parties – indeed not only that, it has made him a target of death threats himself.

The situation in México is, without exaggeration, catastrophic. Anyone can be taken off at any time, and both drug lords and the government operate with complete impunity. Gangs come and measure your house or your business and charge you for “protection” by the yard, and recently a radio journalist was killed right in the middle of a broadcast by someone who entered the studio, fired four shots point blank and calmly walked out. As Patella told me, “our wives are in a constant panic; we don’t know from which direction the bullets could come.” No government agency offers help to the anguished parents seeking information about their lost children or other loved ones, not to mention doing anything to control the violence, because indeed they are part of it. Patella and Moreno reject the definition of “failed state” for Mexico today. Rather, they told me, it’s a criminal state.

But now, it seems, the criminal state may have gone too far. On September 26, police fired upon forty-three students, who had come to the town of Iguala in Guerrero for teacher training,as they sat in buses. The students were raising funds for a trip to Mexico City to participate in a memorial of the Tlatelolco student massacre of October 2, 1968. Six students were killed and one remains in a coma; the others were taken off by the police and handed over to the local drug gang. They have not been found. Tenmass graves have been discovered during the search with human remains, none of which to date turns out to match the missing students. Even this town in a particularly violence-torn region of the country, and the country itself, is in shock.

The Iguala massacre, as it’s now called, came at a time when the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto had just been in the U.S. portraying his country as “peaceful Mexico” thanks to the legislative reforms he instituted since taking office two years ago – with loud support from, for example, Hillary Clinton. The blatant complicity of the police has surfaced what every Mexican knows (if he or she cares to), that, in the words of Javier Oliva, coordinator of the defense and national security program at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, Iguala has “a municipal authority at the repressive service of organized crime against society.” In this respect, Iguala is no different from most parts of the country, except, of course, for Zapatista-controlled Chiapas where, if anywhere, the future of Mexico is being nurtured in radical social experiments.

20141018_142040_opt Michael Nagler (center) with Carlos Moreno (far left) and Pietro Ameglio Patella (left) at the Joan B. Kroc Peace & Justice Institute at the University of San Diego on October 18. Credit: Patrick Hiller

Patella and Moreno had just come from Washington where they lobbied for a more appropriate response from the U.S. to the massacre, which is creating the worst political crisis in Mexico in forty years. A march on the Mexican Embassy in D.C. was planned for October 22nd; but we are all in agreement that there, as in the U.S. (I’ve just been discussing this point with author and environmentalist Bill McKibben), with a situation this dire marches are not enough. In terms of a model called the conflict escalation curve we developed at Metta some time ago, when you’ve marched and gone home without a substantial response you have passed phase one of the curve, and now it’s time for satyagraha: nonviolent resistance. In the U.S. I’ve proposed that we should a) lay out a timetable of concrete demands for the reversal of climate destruction, b) lay out an equally concrete set of alternatives that make such a drastic change thinkable (e.g. the conversion to clean energy sources in Germany), andc) a description of what the government or corporate entities we’re addressing will have to face in the form of massive civil disobedience if they do not comply.

What would a nonviolent response look like in Mexico? As it happens, Latin America is the cradle of one of the most successful forms of nonviolence that’s been developed since the days of Gandhi and King, called protective accompaniment. Trained nonviolent activists have been going into Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and elsewhere to accompany threatened human rights workers around the clock, with no small success. No protected person or any third-party intervener has actually been killed on the job, and in one case at least, an incredibly small number of people in Guatemala in the 1980s made it possible for a key organization to function and play a key role in the initiation of a peace process. That same organization, Peace Brigades International, is now operating on a small scale in Mexico. Patella urgently expressed that a lot more of this support could make a critical difference. Protecting key persons could allow some measure of accountability that could break the cycle of crime and impunity (look at the genocide conviction that was recently obtained against former Guatemalan President Ríos Montt).

This, along with other ongoing measures, could open the space to address the deeper issues. There is a huge section of youth in Mexico called “ni-nis,” with ni trabajo, ni educación (neither work nor education) leaving them ripe for recruitment into the gangs. And of course, there is the northern neighbor who buys the drugs and furnishes the weapons to keep them flowing, over the bodies of the poorest Mexicans. There is the culture of corruption there (and not so far off here). These are deep, deep problems, but we might just have a chance now to get some traction on them if we can use the shock created by the Iguala massacre to support Pietro Ameglio Patella and his colleagues who are struggling heroically to raise the banner of nonviolence in a desperate world.

The Great Debaters

By: Mercedes Mack


“Who is the judge?”

“The judge is God.”

“Why is He God?”

“Because He decides who wins or loses. Not my opponent.”

“Who is your opponent?”

“He does not exist.”

“Why does he not exist?”

“Because he is a mere dissenting voice of the truth I speak!”


c. 2007, Directed by Denzel Washington. A biopic based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington), a professor at Wiley College, Texas. Set against the backdrop of Jim Crow Texas, the film depicts the journey of the Wiley College debate team, created and coached by Tolson into a nearly undefeated season that included the first debate between white and African American students in the U.S. But that’s not why this movie is awesome.

This movie is awesome because at first glance, the film is a classic underdog tale of Wiley College debate team set in the backdrop of the Jim Crow South with caliber acting and very resilient characters. Looking closer, there is an obvious undercurrent of nonviolent resistance and the tough recurring question of what do we have to do versus what we can or want to do.

There are multiple scenes in the film that address these questions- the secret meetings led by Professor Tolson, when Dr. James Farmer hits a white farmer’s pig, and other segregation-violence topics addressed in various debates. In the film, these questions are constantly contemplated as characters navigated the Jim Crowe system and each grappled with how they could change it.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the final debate between Wiley College and Harvard. Their debate topic is- Civil disobedience is a moral weapon in the fight for justice. A relevant topic in 1930 as dialogues, such those shown in the debates, were the beginnings of what would evolve into the battle cry of the Civil Rights Movement about 20 years later. The prompt was given to students as a last minute change, and in preparation, they decide whether or not to include Gandhi’s method of satyagraha-

l think we should get into Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha.  
l don’t agree.  
l don’t think people are gonna understand what–  
what– Sadagara?
Sactchmaget? Sactchma–

Satyagraha. From the Sanskrit. Meaning truth and fairness.

It is very true that many people don’t. As a student of nonviolence myself, I still sometimes grapple with understanding the deep implications of satyagraha. Michael Nagler describes satyagraha as, “A positive and spiritually based form of resistance that starts in the heart of the resistor and inevitably produces creative action.”. It’s true that everyone’s truth differs-my truth may not necessarily align with someone else’s opinion of truth. Truth always finds its root in justice and integrity. A good litmus test to whether or not your truth aligns with the “truth” promoted in satyagraha is asking yourself if it’s concerned with upholding human dignity.

Satyagraha’s truth ties into another main theme of the film- the morality and justice of the law. St. Augustine was referenced several times in the film, most notably for his famous observation, “an unjust law is no law at all”. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. clarifies his inner truths drawn from Gandhi’s teachings of satyagraha and and contextualizes it using the classic political and spiritual philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas.

A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

The debate scene between Harvard and Wiley address the “radical” implications the misconception of nonviolence carries. Nonviolence is sometimes misunderstood to be inherently anarchistic because civil disobedience involves picking and choosing which laws to obey and thus cannot be moral.

In rebuttal of the anarchistic argument, Wiley argued:

Gandhi believes one must always act with love and respect for one’s opponents,even if they are Harvard debaters. [laughter] Gandhi also believes that lawbreakers must accept the legal consequences for their actions. Does that sound like anarchy?

This examination is on point and simply put. Gandhi himself accepted jail-time many times as a part of participating in India’s independence movement. Laws are broken, not randomly, but with specific intent-chosen because they are inherently unjust and must be changed for the benefit all people. From this, participating in nonviolence is the greatest act of love and democratic participation for humankind that is possible.


Wiley_College_debate_team_19301930 Wiley College Debate Team

Students from the debate team went on to actively participate in the Civil Rights Movement. James Farmer Jr. went on to found the Congress of Racial Equality and become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.

Film critics claimed I would, “Stand up and cheer!”. And I did.


If you would like to learn more about the Wiley College Debate team, I suggest Brad Osbourne’s documentary The Real Great Debaters.

A Family Effort in the Empire Zinc Corporation Miner’s Strike.

By: Mercedes Mack

tw-saltA scene from Salt of the Earth.

On October 17, 1950, in Hanover, New Mexico, workers at the Empire Zinc mine finished their shifts, formed a picket line, and began a fifteen-month strike after attempts at union negotiation with the company reached an impasse. Miner demands included: equal pay to their White counterparts, paid holidays and equal housing. As a larger objective, the Local 890 Chapter of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers was to end the racial discrimination they suffered as a product of the institutions created by the Empire Zinc company in their town. For example, Mexican-American workers were subject to separate pay lines, unequal access to sanitation, electricity and paved streets as a result of discrimination by company sponsored housing, segregated movie theaters, etc. But for now, Union members of the 890 chapter voted to go on strike until Empire Zinc addressed their immediate workplace demands.

By June 1951, the strike had stopped production for eight months. Empire Zinc obtained an injunction against any further picketing. Wary of the mass jailing and fines that would result from violating the court order, yet not wanting to give up their strike, mine workers needed to change their tactic. Female activists in Mine-Mill Ladies Auxiliary 209, came up with the idea that they would continue the strike in place of what was an all-male striking labor force. Since they were not legally striking workers the members of the Ladies Auxiliary, the wives of strikers, as well as women and children in the community, would take over the picket line. For the next seven months, the women held the line in the face of violence from strikebreakers, mass arrests by the sheriff, and opposition from many of their own husbands, who were suddenly faced with the responsibilities of caring for children, washing clothes, and doing the dishes.


The women’s picket was carefully organized, militant, and successful. Not only did wives of Empire strikers, such as Henrietta Williams and Virginia Chacón, walk the line; many women from other towns in Grant County also participated. When County Sheriff Leslie Goforth ordered 53 women arrested on June 16, another 300 women took their places! The women and their children were jailed, their protests behind bars drew national attention, and they were soon released. While Judge Marshall did issue a subsequent ruling that the women were also covered by the injunction, months went by before the sheriff tried again to enforce the order. While the union was politically isolated from the CIO leadership and many AFL unions, the strike had broad support among Mexican Americans in New Mexico. This helped stay the hand of Governor Mechem who refrained, for several months, from using state police to reopen the mine.(Silver City Sun News)

The effect of including women  was vital to the success of the movement as a whole. It brought media attention to the struggle because it was unusual for women to be involved in a mining protest. The presence of women evoked empathy from law enforcement, and also garnered support from Mexican American women in nearby towns.

This tactic is clever for several reasons:

It broadened participation- with the inclusion of women and children, now essentially the whole mining community became involved in the movement. This increases the participatory size of the movement (ie the amount of people visibly striking) and involves a group of people who were equally affected by injustice at the larger objective level to contribute to a cause that also would benefit them.

It circumvented a repressive law- while one option would have been for the mine workers to continue picketing and consciously break the law and receive the consequences, devising a tactic that circumvented this law was a move that felt right to movement leaders. It is important to remember that all participants involved in a movement must be willing to break a law collectively for it to be impactful and if that is not the case, another strategy must be employed to the collective satisfaction of participants. This showed solidarity within the movement, as well as flexibility. It also had the unintended effect of temporarily switching the traditional gender roles for participants. While women continued the strike, men assumed household duties and were not the center of the movement anymore.

In January 1952, the strikers returned to work with a new contract improving wages and benefits. Several weeks later, Empire Zinc also installed hot water plumbing in Mexican American workers’ houses–a major issue pushed by the women of these households.



For more information:

Check out the film, Salt of the Earth, a “based on a true story” film about the strike.

A Crime to Fit the Punishment-an article that addresses the strike and the film.

Their View: Film on Empire Zinc strike 60 years ago made history


Turning Fear into Power

This article was originally posted on on October 14, 2014.

unnamed-615x429Linda Sartor standing on a Soviet tank outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. (WNV / Peggy Gish)


Linda Sartor is not afraid to die. Dedicated to nonviolence, she spent 10 years after September 11, 2001 traveling to conflict zones throughout the world as an unarmed peacekeeper, with roles ranging from protective accompaniment to direct interpositioning between parties when tensions were running high. She documents her work across the world — in Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and most recently Bahrain — in her new book, Turning Fear into Power: One Woman’s Journey Confronting the War on Terror. Inwardly quiet and exceedingly humble (she chose to sleep outside for eight years of her adult life), her courage and conviction are not only refreshing, they’re infectious. I recently had the privilege of spending a day with her to discuss her travels and the ways in which they have changed her as an individual, as well as her relationship to nonviolent action.

Is there a nonviolent response to terrorism?

I think George W. Bush misused the word “terrorism” so much that it really has no meaning. When protesters in the Occupy movement are portrayed as terrorists, that really changes the meaning of democracy too. If there is such a thing as real terrorism, I think it is often a last resort cry for help by people who are being severely abused and mistreated and who don’t have any other way to be seen and heard by those who could bring justice to a situation. A nonviolent response to terrorism is anything that brings more justice into the world, including more equity in our global economic system so that all people have their needs met and no one can abuse anyone else for their own economic advantage.

What does activism mean to you?

I think the word activism most often means protesting against something, but I am more excited about Gandhi’s idea of constructive program. I prefer the focus on creating models of what we want as opposed to protesting against what we don’t want because I believe that when we put energy against something it actually gives that something more power.

You worked for an organization doing constructive program, which is at the forefront of international unarmed peacekeeping, the Gandhian dream of the Shanti Sena, or Peace Army. Can you tell a story illustrating that kind of nonviolence at work?

The day after a massacre in a Christian Tamil village on an island in Sri Lanka, we Nonviolent Peaceforce unarmed civilian peacekeepers were greeted by the priest who took us to see the bodies. The people of the village were all excited to tell us what they had experienced the night before when the 11 people were killed. Each story confirmed that the killers were of the Sri Lankan Navy. The way it worked in Sri Lanka was that the bodies had to stay in place until the judge looked at them. When the judge arrived walking down the street, she was accompanied by Navy and police. So as soon as the villagers saw the group coming, the women and children all quickly went inside the churchyard and the men clumped closer to each other on the side of the street across from the church. The tension was palpable.

I positioned myself on the side of the clump of men, so the Navy, police and judge walked past me first and then past the village men. As they passed, I smiled and waved and that proved to be totally disarming of the tensions. At that moment, I felt a bodily knowledge that I was safer because I was unarmed than I would have been armed. No one had any reason to be afraid of me, so I was not in personal danger. From that morning on, until the villagers decided to move from their village into a refugee camp, we were able to provide a protective presence to the people and they felt a sense of security that the Navy, which was supposedly responsible for their security, could not provide.

You are one person. What makes you hopeful that you can make a difference?

After 9/11, I couldn’t sit still. I felt a longing to get into some sort of action to take a stronger stand than I had ever taken before. In the 10 years of my life that I portray in my book, I don’t know concretely how much of a difference my actions made in the bigger picture. Like the Afghan Peace Volunteers I spent time with in Afghanistan, I don’t necessarily expect to see the changes I am committed to working toward come about in my lifetime. But I believe that I have to work toward those changes anyway. It is like the line in the song “The Impossible Dream” that says, “And I know if I’ll only be true to this glorious quest, that my heart will lie peaceful and calm when I’m laid to my rest; and the world will be better for this.

On another level, if I see something out there in the world that is not okay with me, I believe that if I look inside myself and ask something like, “Where is that violence in me?” then I have a place within myself that I can work to heal. Maybe that is the only place where I really have the power to make a difference. I do believe that that little bit of healing does contribute to the healing that’s needed in the world.

I have been inspired by the words of the poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes, when she says, “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely … We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small determined group who will not give up.”

Your book is about transforming fear into nonviolent power. Fearlessness was one of Gandhi’s key characteristics of the nonviolent soul, or satyagrahi. In his 1928 work, “Satyagraha in South Africa,” he said, “A satyagrahi bids goodbye to fear.” What role do you think fear plays in perpetuating violence in our world?

I see that the powers of domination that seem to be in control of the world today thrive on creating and perpetuating a culture of fear. Fear is contagious and easily blown out of proportion by our imaginations. I see that especially when it is at a distance. For example, people who don’t live in California are afraid of earthquakes and since I have never been in a tornado I fear that. I realized when I was preparing for my first trip — which was to Israel/Palestine — that for everyone back home it would seem like I would be in danger all the time. But in reality, there were only a few moments that were quite scary, and the rest of the time was not.

We can learn to let fears be our teachers and when we accept, or even embrace, a fear and let ourselves learn what we have to learn from it, it has less control over us. It’s not that we ever get rid of fear, it is just that we can be with fear in a different way. The more I am able to be with my fears, the more freedom I have to do what my heart is calling me to do, and the more alive I feel in the end.

Do you recommend that everyone travel to conflict zones as you have?

I encourage people to recognize that they don’t have to do what I did, but that their own hearts have unique callings that are right for them. I trust that if each of us does that, it can lead to solutions that we can’t find when we only think about the problems from our heads and from the perspective of what we’ve done before.

Revolution on Granite

By: Mercedes Mack

In 1989, students in Kiev, Ukraine, had had enough of Soviet occupation and politics. Two student groups, the Student Brotherhood (March 1989) and later the Ukrainian Students Union (December 1989) formed a coalition against Soviet influence. Initially, student groups staged protests and strikes in response to concerns regarding higher education-abolish compulsory courses in Marxism-Leninism, ban on campus operations of KGB and CPSU, protect students from persecution for political activities, etc.  Demonstrations by students and Ukrainians included- taking an oath of allegiance to an independent Ukraine, and demonstrations outside KGB headquarters. Responding to a call from opposition parties on Sept 30, 1990, 100,000 students gathered in Kiev in solidarity against a proposed Union Treaty (a proposition by the Kremlin to strengthen ties among republics of the Soviet Union).

On Oct 1, 1990, on the first day of the Soviet Supreme’s second session, 20,000 people protested in the streets and workers organized a one day warning strike. Taking note of the political climate and wave of support, the student coalition regrouped and formed an achievable list of demands, inclusive to that of the grievances of Ukrainians.

*Resignation of Soviet Premier and establishment of multi-party elections.

*Abolition of the proposed Union Treaty.

*A law ensuring Ukrainian military conscripts only delivered military service within Ukraine.

*Nationalization of Communist Party property.

On Oct 2, 1990 a group of 200 coalition students launched civil disobedience in support of their demands. The students occupied what they renamed Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Freedom Square), official name Lenin Square, in Kiev, initially erecting about 50 tents. This is the same square that would be later occupied by the Orange Revolution some fourteen years later. A core group of 200 students participated directly in the hunger strike, while many others joined to participate in the general strike over the next several days, increasing support to thousands of people. Opposition members of Parliament also joined, and solidarity swelled to about 15,000. Students were inspired by the student demonstrations in Tienanmen Square, and adopted similar tactics, namely nonviolent techniques of hunger strike and occupation. Having witnessed the severe crackdown of the People’s Republic of China, organizers were resolved in their nonviolent methods.


Student hunger strike, ‘Independence Square’, Kyiv, October 1990


“We went in with cold minds, prepared for any kind of conflict, but with the conviction that the only real path open to the government was peaceful.”

The movement continued to gain support at an alarming rate. Workers from the Arsenal factory (a pro-communist establishment) in Kiev declared support for the students. Students all over Ukraine had either joined the strike in Kiev, or staged sit-ins in solidarity at their local universities.By mid October, universities had become paralyzed due to lack of student attendance.

On Oct 15, movement demands were read aloud outside of parliament by one of the student organizers, Olis Doniy and nationally broadcast. Government acquiesced within two weeks of 15 days of the initiation of the hunger strike. On October 17, 1990, Parliament agreed to restrict the Soviet military within Ukraine (volunteers excepted), dropped consideration of the proposed Union Treaty, and several months later, Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol resigned and the Supreme Soviet agreed to allow multi-party electio ns.

Although successful in getting most of their demands specifically met, the government did not keep their promises long term. Youth were shut out from participating in politics in any official capacity. Government imposed age limits on candidates and leaders that were able to participate faced great difficulty entering a majoritarian political system.

Olis Doniy reflects,  “At that time young political leaders had the possibility to realize their ideas, just as there was also the possibility for the state to incorporate them. Unfortunately, the state squandered the opportunity… in fact, ideas about the complex social and political reforms in Ukraine were to be found exclusively within the young political elite, in the student organizations.” I would add one more thing to Doniy’s reflection- that the students were also partner to the post revolution events. An option for the Granite Revolution could have been to go back to civil resistance when government acted in ways that went back on their promises. Gandhi used this strategy many times during his movement for Indian Independence. He would stop satyagraha when the British cooperated and was always open to constructive dialogue, but when the British went back on their word, or were not willing to cooperate, he would resume satyagraha. This is reflective of the fluid nature of civil disobedience-there are many victories and many setbacks, but the movement should never hesitate to re-initiate satyagraha when it becomes apparent that the adversary is no longer keeping their promise.

For more reading:Youth As An Agent For Change: The Next Generation In Ukraine