The Nonviolent Tipping Point

Tipping Point: “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”     

     Malcolm Gladwell

Nonviolence: “Nonviolent action is a means of combat, as is war. It involves the matching of forces and the waging of ‘battle,’ requires wise strategy and tactics and demands of its ‘soldiers’ courage, discipline and sacrifice.”

           Gene Sharp

Those who embrace military intervention and those who embrace pacifism often do not talk to each other. Their worldviews seem to be utterly incompatible. Yet the more I have known, loved and learned from those who claim and defend these opposing persuasions, the more I have begun to hear the unmistakable currents of grief. Yes, Grief. The pacifists among us grieve the innocent lives lost when we fail to protect and defend; the militarists among us grieve the horrible costs of war. As is so often the case with conflicting persuasions, we remain stuck in our polarizations until we can finally hear one another’s grief. Once opened to the heart, our own and each other’s, we can then join forces in finding another way that honors the wisdom and commitments of each while saving us from our moral compromises.

Nonviolence offers just exactly that possibility. It is a third way, a transforming way. It is strategic, effective, defensive and proactive; yet it is also profoundly moral and it is spiritually grounded. Nonviolent action has been used for thousands of years but in the last fifty there has been a widespread awakening to its methods that is nothing less than miraculous.

In this series, offered over a period of ten weeks, I open with two interactive lectures introducing the history, principles, and strategies of nonviolence. These are followed by six films, each one documenting a successful nonviolent movement. The final two sessions are devoted to discussion and dialogue. We first explore how nonviolence can address the concerns of those who embrace militarism, and then how it can address the concerns of those who embrace pacifism.

Week 1: The history and principles of nonviolence

Come and learn about the history, core conceptions and misconceptions about nonviolence. See how it differs from both pacifism and militarism.

Week 2: Building Effective Nonviolent Strategies

Learn how and why nonviolence works, how to conceptualize a campaign, set goals, assess resources and build effective strategies.

Week 3: A Force More Powerful (Part I)

The first part of this powerful PBS documentary covers Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign against British colonialism, the US civil rights movement, and South African activists’ use of nonviolence against apartheid.

Week 4: A Force More Powerful (Part II)

The second part covers the Danish nonviolent movement against the Nazi occupation, Poland’s Solidarity movement, and the nonviolent overthrow of Pinochet in Chile.

Week 5: Bringing Down a Dictator

Inspired by the writings of Gene Sharp, the American scholar of nonviolence, a group of students organized a nonviolent movement that helped to oust Milosevic from Serbia.

Week 6: Pray the Devil back to Hell

Ordinary women. Extraordinary courage. This is the story of a nonviolent movement organized by the women of Liberia against the brutal regime of Charles Taylor.

Week 7: Budrus

An amazing account of one family’s leadership of a movement to prevent Israel’s Separation Barrier from slicing the Palestinian village of Budrus in half.

Week 8: The Singing Revolution

The people of Estonia had no weapons but their inspiration and their singing culture. They sang their way to freedom from Soviet domination.

Week 9: Discussion and dialogue: Militarism and Strategic nonviolence.

Week 10: Discussion and dialogue: Pacifism and Principled nonviolence.

I offer this series primarily for the purpose of fostering dialogue among those who want to move beyond the polarizations of militarism and pacifism, and for the benefit of those who want to help bring nonviolence closer to its “tipping point,” those who want to support awareness of a force that could transform the world.