In Support of Non-Violence that Looks Like Violence

A little while ago I was asking if maybe violence was necessary sometimes.  For myself, I still take a perspective of non-violence is a discipline and direction that I want to live my life, but in that article I was questioning the forcing of non-violence on others.  This is specifically a problem when non-violence is being recommended or used as a moral obligation towards those who are being oppressed.  It’s like getting mad at the women who is being abused for being violent.  It’s not so much the violence that I would support as much as it would be the use of non-violence as a tactic to perpetuate and ignore more violence.

Today I got to see Naomi Klein speak in Quebec about her new book This Changes Everything.  She showed this picture of ‘kayaktivists’ who were blocking the Shell ice breaker from reaching the Arctic (which were wildly successful by the way).  This is my kind of non-violent peaceful protests that make my heart warm.  The kind that disrupt the regular activities of those that have no other goal but profits.  These are the good stories and make for great photos and give us all hope.


But then there is the real shitty stories.  She also talked a bit about her book Shock Doctrine (one of those books that changes the way you see the world).  She talks here about how when disaster happens, profit seeking entities show up in the midst of the chaos and take advantage of the moment to force through policies and privatize as much as possible for their own benefit.  She talked about how a bunch of the low income housing projects areas were completely demolished and replaced with a suburb and it was quite obvious that the same people were not moving into those homes.


There was no kayaktivists to stop the demolition of all these people’s homes (where many of them were sustained only minimal damage and did not need to be torn down).  The picture above is a picture of someone’s house being completely demolished in New Orleans.  There was no home for those people to return back to.  There was no home given to them to replace what they had.  This is violence.  These folks sustained violence from the powers that be.  Capitalism and the entities or corporations that benefit from this system took advantage of the poorest of poor people in the midst of the worst case scenario to make more money and promote their economic ideals.

We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.

– Richard Baker  (U.S. House Representative)

The poor and marginalized suffer violence at the benefit of a system that grows as it exploits.  This is the worst kind of violence.  How is non-violence even an option for these folks?  What does that look like?  What does non-violence look like against a system that is destroying the earth?  What does non-violence look like against institutions and corporations that have no soul or empathy?

I understand the argument of non-violence as a deeply peaceful and alternative way of approaching the world.  I understand that it ends cycles and that the ultimate form of non-violence is self-sacrifice (ie. Jesus on the cross) and accepting the violence upon yourself.  As a worldview, non-violence is one of the most enlightened and all-encompassing ones.

Maybe I’m asking the Hitler question in a different way?

What does non-violence look like for the environmental movement who is fighting for the health of our planet and millions of people that will be affected by climate change?  How does non-violence help change the systems that are creating massive amounts of inequality?  Signs and kayaks and voting are important steps in using our democratic power to bring change but what happens though if they don’t win through non-violent means and things just keep getting worse?  The amoral corporations grow in power and strength using any means necessary which include all sorts of violence (demolishing homes, police protection, bureaucratic bullying) that will forever alter the entire universe that we know.

If corporations get police protection to enforce the destruction of the environment and the homes of the poor because of their profit motivation, then why shouldn’t NGO’s or activists communities get the protection of the police to enforce the destruction of oil riggers and squatting of empty homes because of their motivations of justice?  Why do our governments protect corporate interests but not public interests?

We have a very convenient understanding of violence.  We see three girls get arrested for turning off a pipeline and there was significant amounts of angry drivel I’ve heard about how irresponsible they were being and how violent their move was because of the risks that it put people in (this happened here in Sarnia just a while back).  However, those exact same people are completely silent or in blatant support of the violence that the entire Aamjiwnaang community has suffered from the corporations surrounding them for decades.  Double standard.

As the consequences and the stakes continue to grow, non-violence will continue to look more and more like violence, or almost-violence and will be ridiculed as such by the powers that be.  The lines will become blurred.  Those in power will use any means necessary to discredit or disarm those that oppose them including police interference, moral shame and public ignorance.  Those that are oppressed, or who have the calling on their life to fight for justice and life will continue to revolt by any means necessary to ensure that evil does not win out.

If you are sitting there looking at protests and activism and find yourself being frustrated by them, maybe you have found yourself scared about what they are doing because of the disruption they are causing to your life (or could have caused), maybe you are seeing their actions as violent; then maybe you have really delusional understanding of violence that only sees others and not your own.  That dangerous confrontation and opposition to your way of life would feel violent but that doesn’t make it wrong.  Likely, if you feel the pressure it’s because you, like me, are complicit in these systems that are responsible for the violence and we don’t want them to change.

The violence that the oppressed suffer will always be greater than what they cause.  I suggest we humbly repent of our own violence before we get too carried away pointing it out in others – the very one’s we have been benefiting off of.

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