Metta’s Opinion

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


Peace Profile: Malala, a Heroine Resurrected

by: Pallavi Vishwanath



Video: Malala Day video tells the #StrongerThan story through children’s voices 

Many people in history have been met by violence due to their courage.  Not many, though, are 15. And only one received the Nobel Prize for Peace two years later!  Malala Yousafazai is not your typical teenage girl.

She hails from the Swat Valley region of Pakistan. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the largest faction of the Pakistani Taliban, had seized control of the capital, Mingora, in 2007. They governed Malala’s hometown relying on extremist references to the Quran, Islamic history and Shariah, Islamic law. The offense that struck Malala to the core was their ban on young girls attending school in 2008. BBC decided to take advantage of our technological age in order to cover the effects of the Taliban among the civilians of the Valley. Taking pages from AnneFranks’ diary, BBC thought finding a schoolgirl to blog anonymously would be revolutionary in giving the common victims of violence a voice. The dangers that accompanied such a noble task kept many families from allowing their children to take the responsibility. Then, 11 year old Malala stepped up to the challenge, beginning by discussing bans on self expression such as television and music along with forbidding girls’ education and women from going outdoors unnecessarily.

Those who defied the militant’s strict codes of Islam were publicly punished and corpses decorated Mingora’s main square, which became known as Bloody Square. Battles in the Swat raged, and fewer girls were showing up to school. Malala continued with her secret blog, criticizing the violent lifestyle of the militants and the resulting boredom from the lack of books (see: Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl). The blog opened many other doors for Malala including documentaries, radio station interviews, and appearances on Aaj Daily, AVT Khyber, and Capital Talk. After the documentary, Malala became even more emboldened as she hosted foreign diplomats, held news conferences on peace and education, and won a variety of peace awards, all along with her continued attendance at school. These opportunities were all constantly revealing her identity as an advocate for women’s education and peace. Prominent community leaders, including Malala’s activist father, symbolized the unyielding resistance to the Taliban and were constant targets of death. As Malala became more recognized publicly, death threats were slipped under her door, sent to her on Facebook, announced on ‘Radio Mullah”, and were published in local newspapers.

Over the summer of 2012, the Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to put an end to the young freedom fighter. Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, stated, “It’s a clear command of Shariah that any female that by any means plays a role in war against mujahideen (holy warriors) should be killed. Malala Yousafzai was playing a vital role in bucking up the emotions of Murtad (apostate) army and Government of Pakistan, and was inviting Muslims to hate mujahideen. If anyone thinks…that Malala is targeted because of education, that’s absolutely wrong, and propaganda of the Media. Malala is targeted because of her pioneer role in preaching secularism and so called enlightened moderation.” Various other references from the Quran were cited as obligatory actions, to kill children and women if they were engaged in rebellion against Islamic law.

Malala envisioned the confrontation with the Taliban and stated, “Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.” Through the threats, she planned on creating the Malala Yousafzai Education Foundation in Swat –and it received its first grant in 2013.

One October morning, after successfully taking her exams, Malala rode the bus home like any other day. A masked gunman got onboard and shouted, “Which one of you is Malala? Speak up otherwise I will shoot you all.” “I didn’t get a chance to answer their question or I would have explained to them why they should let us girls go to school as well as their own sisters and daughters.” The bullet entered through Malala’s head, zipped through her neck, and came to a rest in her shoulder beside her spinal cord. As the world responded to the tragic and cowardly idea that a force of bullets can silence the fight for peace, Malala continued to fight through her coma and reconstructive surgeries. (See also: LETTER FROM THE TALIBAN TO MALALA). Pakistan’s most powerful official issued a statement at Malala’s bedside, the final words emphasized in capital letters, “WE REFUSE TO BOW BEFORE TERROR. WE WILL FIGHT, REGARDLESS OF THE COST, WE WILL PREVAIL INSHA ALLAH (God willing). What was the silent majority now openly wear “I am Malala” headbands and tshirts, defying Taliban threats and identifying with Malala’s call for integrity.

Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global education, visited Malala at the hospital in 2012 and launched a petition with the slogan “I am Malala”. It demands Pakistan to agree to a plan to deliver education for every child, all countries to outlaw discrimination against girls, and for international organizations to ensure the world’s 61 million out of school children are in an institute of education by the end of 2015. A new civil rights struggle is certainly underway, led by the potentials of social media and the youth. Online information from other countries shows that education is now insisted as a universal right and obstacles such as child labor, marriage, trafficking, and discrimination against girls must be overcome.

Malala unified world leaders, celebrities, reporters, as well as “ordinary” people over the world by showing us the true obscenities and injustices that accompany the brutal force of violence, by becoming a victim to it herself, and continuing to prevail and work against it afterwards. The Pakistan military moved into the swat region to “drive out” the Taliban. There have been plans for three permanent military bases in the Swat. Although these endeavors may have began with the right intention of driving out the Taliban, it has created a new pool of Swat victims in its rain of violence to combat violence. There is a surge of orphans who need support. Their exposure to so much violence will continue the vicious cycle of militant endeavors if their trauma isn’t properly treated. These events have caused the people of Swat to divide in their feelings towards the raging militants, Taliban or army. Some want the army to leave while others fear Taliban resurgence. Although some progress has been made since 2009 the violence has smothered the revival of the local economy and fear still reigns.

Malala isn’t your average teenager, because she speaks with such power and passion as one of the millions of women and girls who are denied education by being subjected to violence ( See: THE WORLDS’ OTHER MALALAS). She boldly reveals, “Education is the power for women and that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful.” Malala is the symbol of freedom that oppressive powers should fear. Her birthday, July 12 is now known as Malala Day. On her site,, she states that, “It is a day when we come together to raise our voices, so that those without a voice can be heard.” The 17 year old continues to travel the world and fight for equality, justice, and education for all girls and boys. Her bravery is a greatness that has brought much needed strength for justice and peace movements against terrorism and bloodshed.

Malala exemplifies nonviolent leadership, recognizing where the movement for justice needed to head and lead society accordingly. When this meant putting her life on the line without raising violence in protest, she abided. When asked if she could have used some force against her attacker, Malala replied, “If you hit a Talib … then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat another with that much cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I’ll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I’ll tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you. Now do what you want.’


Other Resources: 

My Daughter Malala TedTalk:


“At night when I used to sleep, I was thinking all the time that shall I put a knife under my pillow. The time was of fear, but some people can overcome fear and some people can fight fear.”

“I have the right of education,” she said in a 2011 interview with CNN. “I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”

“God will ask you on the day of judgment, ‘Where were you when your people were asking you … when your school fellows were asking you and when your school was asking you …’Why I am being blown up?’”


O’Donnell: “Is it true that when you spoke with President Obama, that you talked about your concern that drone attacks are fueling terrorism?”

Yousafzai: “The first thing is that, it is true that when there’s a drone attack those — that the — the terrorists are killed, it’s true. But 500 and 5,000 more people rises against it and more terrorism occurs, and more — more bomb blasts occurs. … I think the best way to fight against terrorism is to do it through (a) peaceful way, not through war. Because I believe that a war can never be ended by a war.”

O’Donnell: “And you said that to President Obama?”

Yes, of course.


Her memoir is  I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban. All Pakistan Private Schools Federation banned it due to it disrespecting Islam and its potential “negative” influence.


In her address to the UN, Malala cited Badshah Khan as one of her nonviolent heroes.  Read his amazing life in Eknath Easwaran’s biography, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam (Nilgiri Press) or here on our site.







Not Just Umbrellas

The Umbrella Revolution

By Mercedes Mack

Some historical and strategic nonviolent context of what is now called the Umbrella Revolution-Hong Kong’s demand for democracy.

APTOPIX Hong Kong Democracy Protest


Outside government headquarters, a protestor raised a sign reading “Occupy Central”

Brief History of Democratization Demands in Hong Kong

Protests in Hong Kong have been occurring on and off since June 2003 when 500,000 protesters marched against Article 23, a proposed law affecting national security. Students objected because this law, aimed at enacting legislation restricting activities of “political organizations or bodies” against the Central People’s Government, but students felt this law was really aimed at preventing organized dissent and an attempt to prevent any anti-China opposition. Protests were successful and the law was not passed. In April of 2004, 15,000 people marched in protest against China’s declaration that there would be no direct election of Hong Kong’s head of government. After another protest in December of 2007, China promised a timeline for direct elections in Hong Kong-direct votes of Chief Executive in 2017, and all its lawmakers by 2020.

The Umbrella Revolution

Recent protests have been in response to China’s increasing authoritative measures on Hong Kong’s autonomy. In July, the People’s Republic of China released a “White Paper” to Hong Kong reaffirming its “power to run local affairs as authorized by central leadership” , i.e. the People’s Republic of China, by mandating that all candidates in Hong Kong’s election be vetted by a nomination committee set up by the People’s Republic of China.

In July of 2014, hundreds of thousands of people marched and then sat-in overnight demanding direct elections. On September 22, 2014, thousands of university students, part of the Scholarism movement, coordinated protests and massive sit-ins in key government and financial districts in the city.

Protests started again on Sunday Sept 28 as mostly student protestors blocked streets and rallied in front of government buildings. The protests have continued despite police response with tear gas and rubber bullets. Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the local Occupy, had scheduled a massive protest for Oct 1, a national holiday to celebrate the People’s Republic of China, but instead joined the student protests in solidarity.

Aspects of Strategic Nonviolence in the Umbrella Revolution

The Umbrella Revolution seems to be an organized nonviolent movement with much promise. Members are prepared and disciplined as well as diverse-different age groups, socio-economic  status, gender,and religion.  Movement organizers prepared for a police response with tear gas, and instructing protesters to wear goggles, and bring umbrellas (what has become iconic to the movement) to protect against the streams of tear gas. All reports indicate that protests have maintained nonviolence, even in the face of police resistance. There are sit- ins and sleep- ins in strategic financial and governmental locations in Hong Kong. There is also some constructive programming occurring within the student facet of the movement. Students have  created their own  lesson plans during the movement under the slogan “boycott classes and keep learning”. Organizers have created open and mobile classrooms, libraries and introduced public lectures by academics.

Hong Kong Democracy Protest

Protestors in Hong Kong during a rainstorm on Tuesday, Sept 30, 2014

Deliberately or not, the movement seems decentralized, lacking a single charismatic leader. The Umbrella Revolution is largely associated with Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a  local Occupy movement started by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong in January 2013 with a specific directive instructing protesters to block roads and paralyze Hong Kong’s financial district to demand democracy in Hong Kong. Tai Yiu-ting and several other co-leaders in the movement have created a nonviolent directive for Occupy based on the activism of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Another prominent group associated with the Umbrella Revolution is the student group Scholarism led by Joshua Wong Chi-fung.

In a recent NYTimes video titled Scenes of Chaos in Hong Kong, a protester commented in reaction to police destruction of tents, “They tried to remove this tent, we think this is our last place to go. If this place falls, we all fall”. In this sense, the act of occupying downtown Hong Kong, ie the tents, have become a symbol of the movement. To believe that the movement will fail if it is driven out of the downtown is not only wrong, but dangerous to the survival of the movement. Michael Nagler comments on the danger of clinging to symbols and draws a comparison to the Tienanmen Square demonstrations in 1989. In essence once the movement was driven out of the square, it ended. Nonviolent movements are much more than an occupation or demonstration. To channel the movement’s energy outside occupation of the downtown area and maintain pressure on government, the movement must diversify its tactics. This could include the implementation of constructive programs, education of the public, and lightening protests.

The Umbrella Revolution has put caught  The People’s Republic of China by what’s called a dilemma action-—they can either  brutally squash the protests and risk de-legitimizing their government or acquiesce to protestors’ demands and potentially open the doors for protest within the People’s Republic of China; which is exactly where Hong Kong wants them to be.


For more information about the various groups associated with the Umbrella Revolution see: Who Guides Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution” pro democracy movement?

For a map of the Areas of Protest, see the NY Times website.

For a great synopsis of the Umbrella Revolution, check out: Everything You Need To Know About Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution.

See NYTimes Images of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution.


Our new look, from Metta’s Director.

Dearly Beloved Community,

Welcome to our updated website. Since this site truly serves as our window to the wider world community who come to us for resources and materials on the “greatest power at the disposal of humankind,” we wanted to make sure it was at its best.

It will now be much simpler to find the materials you need to study and get involved in our work. We also hope that the site will serve as a basic primer in nonviolence education itself — when you leave for the day (planning to come back to further your studies of course), you have a better idea what Satyagraha means, how constructive program works, and have  picked up some key ideas around nonviolence strategy, for starters.

You will notice a phrase at the top of the site: nonviolence begins with you. It is a reminder that we practice nonviolence because it will take every single one of us to dismantle the violence in our world, and the time to start is now. We are not waiting for others (remember MLK: “we will take direct action against injustice without waiting for other agencies to act”), we will bring them along with us. This requires a constructive commitment to practice nonviolence not only in our social actions but in our daily lives, and we all know that this is long-term work. It asks for the true spirit of practice and a faith that the effect of our actions will ripple outward, even if we cannot see the results or connect the dots. When we use nonviolence effectively, it is felt by those involved in the interaction, even if the results aren’t visible — but they usually are!Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.53.36 PM

 The work of the Metta Center is to fulfill this great vision: to work with you and to strengthen and support your own “experiments with truth,” as Gandhi called his ever and on-going nonviolence practice.

Please take a few minutes and navigate around the site to appreciate its clarity. If you feel inspired, we would love to know what you think.

Interested in getting involved? Send us your articles! We are currently seeking interested persons to blog in some of our categories listed on the homepage, including film reviews, nonviolence for daily living, nonviolence in the news, news from around the movement, gender eyes, and inspiration. If you would like to support Metta in this way, we would love to talk with you.

How do we do it? The work of the Metta Center is undoubtably a labor of love by all those involved in the day to day workings of the organization. It is also supported by the individuals who find value and inspiration–and, we even hear, nourishment, from the work that we do every day here to make nonviolence resources available. The website update was an expense we were happy to undertake because it benefits so many people around the world who are doing such wonderful work, like yourself. If you’re in a position to do so, please consider making a one-time or monthly contribution to Metta’s work in celebration and appreciation of our efforts to facilitate the spread of nonviolence worldwide.

Finally, we are immensely grateful to Ryan McCoy of Jammin Web Designs for his creativity, patience and loving work. We recommend that if you are looking for web and design work to contact him. We send him our heartfelt thanks,  blessings and deep appreciation for his participation in our shared vision for a gentler, healthier and more nonviolent world.

In heart unity, Stephanie Van Hook, Executive Director

The Ultimate Love Story

In this blog-series accompanying our project of updating the Peace and Conflict Studies lectures (we call it PACS 164-c), Kimberlyn David reviews some of the key material of the course from a personal lens in an effort to generate personal reflection and the application of course content. Comment boxes are open below!

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“We are only as brave as the stories we tell ourselves.” ~ Metta Center for Nonviolence

Do you get paid what you’re worth? Pause on this question for a few moments, lingering on the word “worth.” What comes up for you?

Illustration of human goodnessLast week, a copywriting client told me that she’d like to give away her yoga and life coaching services—she doesn’t need to work because her husband makes enough money to support their family. “But,” she said with a confident calm, “I want to get paid what I’m worth.”

I’ve said similar words countless times, primarily out of fear about my finances and fretting about clients who’ve tried priming me for unsustainable rates (“I’m thinking of outsourcing this to Fivvr.”) The fear and fretting were of course counterproductive: the current game of capitalism requires its players to squeeze as much as they can out of people and planet for as little expense as possible. A productive avenue leads away from fear and blame to analyzing what the economic system, invented by humans, imposes on the quality of life.

For it is an imposition—on all of life. This morning’s news includes a story about the plight of walruses in Alaska. Some 35,000 of these marine creatures have been forced ashore because the ice floes they use for rest stops are disappearing, melting into the warming North Pacific. The Independent quotes Margaret Williams, the managing director of World Wildlife Federation’s Arctic program:

“The walruses are telling us what the polar bears have told us and what many indigenous people have told us in the high Arctic, and that is that the Arctic environment is changing extremely rapidly and it is time for the rest of the world to take notice and also to take action to address the root causes of climate change.”

The root causes of climate change lie with us, with how and why we consume. Therefore, the roots to reducing emissions and preventing catastrophe lie with us too.

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I’m currently living in Panama, and all eyes here are on the inauguration of the Biomuseo, a museum designed Image of slothby famed architect Frank Gehry and that highlights the importance of Panama to the planet’s biodiversity. Upon rising from the sea 3 million years ago, the isthmus of Panama bridged North and South America, and it divided one sea into two, the Pacific and the Caribbean. Panama’s emergence led to the proliferation of flora and fauna between neighboring continents, and Panama remains home to one of the world’s greatest diversity in birds, mammals and reptiles.

While the museum will serve as an important educational resource, I’m wondering whether the irony of building a museum devoted to biodiversity while wiping out environments vital to biodiversity is overlooked. Panama’s earth, seas and skies are under the plunder of development booms—luxury high rises that go largely unoccupied, the construction of unnecessary roads, over air-conditioned shopping malls, the mushrooming of American fast food chains. From the Biomuseo, you can see where mangrove forests have been cleared for what will be residential developments and airport fuel tanks.

Amidst all this “first-world” development, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find spaces of connection and inner development. Life revolves around the car and commerce. And wages for most Panamanians stagnate as the cost of housing unjustifiably skyrockets.

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“The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival needs of a present situation,” said Thomas Berry. We’re facing multiple deep crises—wars, poverty, climate changes. The prevailing story of monetary value equaling worth is failing us and everything that lives on this planet.

As Berry’s quote highlights, crises aren’t hopeless. They provide us with opportunities to grow, to create the new stories of who we are and can be. Life cannot be reduced to a spreadsheet and quantified in monetary terms. The problems we face now beg us to find and cultivate a radically different story.

We could borrow from Thich Nhat Hanh, who told the Guardian that love is our way out of climate change, because love feeds us the courage and compassion needed to make a difference. At the leadership level in governments and businesses, the fear of losing one’s status can trump wise decisions.

Then there’s the individual love we put into play for the health of our communities and the planet’s. The Climate March in New York, brought to life by 400,000 people, expressed this love.

The New Story might very well be the ultimate love story: one of sacrificing material-based self-interest for an interest in all of life and our place in it. Sacrifice isn’t scary or painful—we’re already quite familiar with it, as genuine love grows from the seeds of cherishing. Parents set aside their own interests and cherish their children’s; the tens of thousands of people marching and occupying government buildings in Hong Kong are setting aside their individual concerns for the sake of the political freedoms they cherish.

Graphic of Constructive ProgrammeLove is constructive. It builds up our human goodness, connecting us at the heart level. “We need a United People, not a United Nations,” Professor Nagler says, and it’s human unity that’s energizing people to build new institutions, from banking to food growing. Gandhi coined a term for nonviolent organizing and society building: Constructive Programme. Constructive Programme honors individual creativity and potential while providing practical strategies for eliminating war, crime and poverty.

Telling a love story helps us break free from the chains of “earning” a living—or getting paid what we’re worth. We’re alive, and in those regards, there’s nothing for any of us to earn or be worthy of.

No amount of money can ever pay us what we’re worth, because life cannot be measured according to financial wealth, which has a limited value. Our lives, full of the ability to create and love, hold limitless value. As Metta Center puts it: “Human dignity rests upon the fact that we are body, mind and spirit.”

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K David pic-300x199A 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. Kimberlyn teaches donations-based yoga classes and practices Vipassana meditation.

Coming Together in Mass Nonviolent Protest

 Post NYC Climate March, the effects of symbolic movement and what happens next.

by Mercedes Mack

marchAbout 400,000 people marched in the largest Climate March in history on Sunday September 21, 2014 in New York and other locations around the world, in a collective call to action as world leaders converged for the UN Climate Summit. As a strategy employed in nonviolence, mass marches serve as an important function for several reasons. At a very basic level, it creates solidarity within the community, or in this Climate March’s case, the global community. It highlights that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. Mass protests can also be used in part of an obstructive program to initiate civil disobedience and apply pressure for change.

Mass protests can also expand the influence of a nonviolent movement. When used strategically as part of an ongoing nonviolent movement, as the Salt March was employed during the movement for India’s independence, it can be a significant push towards success. Gandhi pursued the Salt March with intention of implementing specific mechanisms that made it impossible for Britain to keep ruling India. His march drew in millions of Indian supporters, and as a strategically employed method of civil disobedience, it became a defining moment in swaying Britain’s attitude towards India’s eventual independence.

While incorporating the use of nonviolent mass protest, the Climate March as per their purpose, seeks to make the collective desire for climate change highly visible in order to create a platform for discussion on the topic; in this way it can be recognized as a symbolic movement. In the Climate March, the circular nature of environmental degradation was highlighted through the diversity of participants and the concerns raised. Labor unions marched in protest of the dangers to public health caused by climate change. The Philippine Movement for Climate Justice marched to protest the increase of typhoons caused by climate change. The Union Theological Seminary marched to recognize climate change as a social justice issue. When stepping back and looking at the protest as a whole, we can see underlying currents of shared values in the global community can be seen.

The platform has been created, but now what?

Coinciding with the Climate March, several corporations, namely Google, Facebook, Yum! Brands, Rockefeller Brother’s Fund, as well as churches of various faiths have responded to public support and joined the divestment movement away from fossil fuels and companies that do not have sustainable practices. After the march, protestors organized in a Flood Wall Street protest outside of Wall Street in New York to protest capitalism and call attention to Wall Street’s role as a key institution in the climate crisis.

The 400,000 people marching the streets of New York Sunday make it clear that obstructive and constructive programs are needed and will be supported by the global community. What kind of steps can we take, collectively and individually to create changes that support environmental sustainability? Creating or joining alternative systems that support our environmental agenda is a very effective form of constructive program. As constructive programs grow and replace key areas in the system or injustice, they can also function as an obstructive program. Withdrawing participation and support in detrimental institutions will apply pressure to those institutions to change. By no longer engaging in systems or behaviors we don’t like, and creating new ones that promote our community values, we intentionally make an unsupportive system obsolete.

For more information on the Climate March and the organizations involved, please see the Climate March’s website.

Newsweek Magazine photo op: Photos: NYC Climate Change March Rallies

Listen to this episode of Clearing the FOG radio with organizers, Zeese and Flowers on the next steps in solving the climate crisis.


Pots and Pans Clang in Chile’s Night

By Mercedes Mack

H89.24 Arpillera, via the Royal Alberta Museum.

“At eight o’clock that evening, however, the city came to sudden life. In one neighborhood after another, a faint metallic clanking began, rising to a crescendo as people began to beat on pots and pans… May 11 was an explosion of joy and excitement, because people were so amazed that they were raising their voices-that they were speaking out.”

-Excerpt from A Force More Powerful

In honor of Chile’s Independence Day on September 18, I would like to reflect on the creativity exemplified in Chile’s 17 year nonviolent movement. Why is creativity important in a nonviolent struggle? At its essence, nonviolence is a creative solution to violence. Creativity allows for flexibility and innovation in strategy and messaging. Creativity also allows for the inclusion of all levels of society, reaching farther than just those that are willing to physically protest. Chile’s movement is a beautiful example of creativity and strength in the face of repression and cultural destruction.

In May 1983, union leaders called for a national strike in Santiago to protest Pinochet’s rule. As the strike date approached, the threat of very violent suppression by the military increased. Protest leaders called it off and instead decided to hold a National Day of Protest in place of a generalized strike. Leaders thought it would be a safer alternative and provoke less repression from police forces. As soon as night fell, people filled the streets of Santiago in protest. Those who did not protest in the streets took up pots and pans and struck them to make noise. Thousands of Chileans participated in the Day of Protest. The police tried to disperse the crowd-in doing so, two civilians were killed, tear gas was dropped and 600 people were arrested. A Force More Powerful describes the protest on May 11 as a watershed moment. A future without Pinochet was collectively realized that night. As the pots and pans clanged, and people protested in the streets of Santiago, Chileans everywhere were no longer part of a suppressed minority. An opposition broke through the silence, and there was no going back.

The ways in which Chileans contributed to the movement were extremely creative. In the beginning, police pushback was very strong. Protesters created methods of resistance that made it difficult for police to suppress, such as a “slow down” in which citizens walked and drove slowly at a designated time in order to protest Pinochet’s rule. The “slow down” was noted by A Force More Powerful as an event that fueled Chilean’s awareness of their majority and solidarity against Pinochet’s rule. As Chileans collectively slowed down during the day, and the sound of pots and pans clanged louder and louder during the nights, Chileans carved out a space within institutionalized restriction to resist.

One of the most inspiring veins of involvement was through the creation of arpilleras (shown in images in this post). Arpilleras were a political craft created by Chilean women during Pinochet’s rule. Originally they were made to protest the disappearance of loved ones, but later evolved into a  folk art distinctive of that era. The handmade tapestries depicted scenes of daily life. Together women sewed the stories of their time: disappeared loved ones, scenes they have witnessed, stories of their past, stills of daily life in Pinochet’s Chile. Arpilleras were sold and thus the stories they depicted became mobile. They moved throughout Chile, undetected, encouraging solidarity, resistance and cultural preservation.

Chilean arpillera. Photo by Colin Peck. Chilean arpillera. Photo by Colin Peck.


As Nadine Bloch writes,

“As the arpilleraistas gathered, often in church sanctuaries, the threads of their handiwork not only provided income to support their families, but also sewed together a growing consciousness of their own power. The craft provided a very accessible and low-risk entry point to the movement for many, while preserving collective memory and building capacity to go public with their demands, both on the political and home fronts — confronting the dictatorship and later the culture of machismo itself.”

The creation of arpilleras is also an example of constructive program. Coined by Gandhi, constructive program is a form of nonviolent action taken within the community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression. As a constructive program arpilleras created a way -outside of the regime– for women to support their families and for the community to share and preserve a people’s history.


pinguinos_antitezo_handsraised-750p Students protest by dragging their desks into the school quad during the 2006 “Penguin Revolution.” (Photo by antitezo.)


The tradition of creative resistance has gone on. More recently, in 2006 students requested education reform with an equally creative force. Dubbed the “Penguin Revolution,” students would pull their desks onto the quad and sit in solidarity. In addition to massive marches of thousands of people, the movement has used kiss-a-thons, hunger strikes, and dialogue with government. As part of her re-election campaign, President Michele Bachelet has announced an education reform package that addresses some of the concerns of the movement- More universities, expanding free education for students and increased funding for Kindergaten.

There is a common misconception that there is a formula, or “one way” for nonviolence to occur and be successful. The Chilean movements, past and present, are wonderful examples, rich in innovation and creativity, that best exemplify the limitless ways in which solidarity and resistance can be expressed that work around an initial fear of repression as well as education of people not already involved in the movement.

If you would like to know about the Chilean Nonviolent movement in more depth, we recommend the websites below:

Saying NO to Pinchet’s Dictatorship Through Nonviolence
Chileans Overthrow Pinochet Regime, 1983-1988

If you would like to read more about Chilean ariplleras, we recommend the websites below:

Weavings of Resistance
How Chile’s Mother’s Resisted
Art of Conflict Transformation Gallery

If you are interested in Chile’s current nonviolent movement surrounding education reform, please see the links below:

Student Leaders Reinvent the Movement

Student Education Reform Protests Rock Chile

Chile’s President Announces Education Reform Package

Ferguson: this is what losing democracy looks like

(orig. posted in Tikkun online)

by: Michael N. Nagler on August 21st, 2014

Ferguson police and protestors

Some time back in the early fifties the U.S. Navy conducted an “exercise” to test bacterial warfare…in San Francisco!  They sprayed bacterial agents into the fog over the Bay to “see what would happen.”  Sure enough, some people got sick, and one elderly gentleman died.  When Norman Cousins, editor of theSaturday Review, discovered this through the Freedom of Information Act he wrote a stinging essay in the magazine.He said, “We are outraged, and we should be; but we have to realize that these are the wages of violence.  You cannot authorize a group to go out and defend you with military force and expect that that force will never come home to roost.”

This is the lesson we again seem to not to be learning from the violence – all of it, on both sides – unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri.  Yes, what Officer Wilson apparently did on the night of August 9th was outrageous, inexcusable.  I say “apparently’” because at this time controversy and contradictory reports are still swirling and it may be a while before we know – if we ever do – the truth.  But even when we do, and no matter what it is, there is a deeper truth to which the mainstream media will never direct us to, and will, in fact, obscure by their attention to details and particulars of this event as though it occurred in a vacuum.  What I’m thinking of here goes even beyond the racial tensions underlying the scenario of the white officer and black victim.

The deeper, uncomfortable truth is, we will never see the end of these confrontations and this violence and this anguish (if you have seen the interviews of Michael Brown’s mother you know what I mean) until and unless we realize that we are creating a violent culture and set our faces against it.  The militarization of our police force is but one inevitable step in a long process that involves the promotion of violence for “entertainment,” violence as the only escape from the unfulfilling, if not hopeless lives that many lead in a materialistic culture, and violence as the means to stem the tide of that violence which is thus created.  Once you let the genii of violence out of the jar you cannot order it to attack only this or that person, within this or that guideline.

The only real escape from the wrenching destruction of the social fabric of Ferguson, of the lives of Michael Brown’s parents and so many like them, is to turn away from unleashing the influence of violence in the first place.  And the only way that I know of to do that, realistically, is to create its alternatives on every level: media that celebrate the spiritual potential of the human being, the wonders of creation, and the innate longing for and capacity for peace in every one of us.