Reflections on my First In-Practicum Nonviolence Meeting
Since arriving in Uganda I have been spending my days around the city of Kampala as you, dear reader, have come to learn. I’ve had a swell time trying Turkish cuisine (something I confess to not having anticipated doing while in Africa), seeing the new Pirates movie at the Garden City movie theatre, purchasing paintings and vintage dresses from thrift stores and craft markets, and generally being an adventuresome teenager with my newfound and oldfound friends. This kind of vacation mentality has really eased me into being in Uganda and given me necessary space to adjust, be a little homesick, and mostly to marvel at a true East African city.
But I did not travel halfway around the world for a big whopping vacation. And, believe me, I’ve enjoyed myself, but the time is approaching when the real work begins…and I cannot wait!
Today I had my first taste of MCC, what they stand for, whom they work with, what I’ll be doing in Kotido, and perhaps most especially, I attended my first real nonviolent planning meeting. It was the Annual General Meeting (AGM) for MCC and their partners, meaning that there were logistics covered (spending reports, clarifying transitions in staff, etc) but more importantly, there was an open discussion between the partners, office staff, Service Workers, Country Representatives (bosses of MCC Uganda, essentially), and all those affiliated with MCC Uganda around the central theme of nonviolence vs. violence.
As you might imagine, I was in a state of note-writing frenzy and intellectual bliss as these wonderful people shared their wisdom and insights. But this was so much more than my class last semester- for as profound as said academic venture was in exposing me to the writings of Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Cleaver, and others, our discussions were always in the abstract. Sure, historical examples and scenarios were mentally played out, but at the end of the hour and fifteen minutes we each went on with our Mount Holyoke lives. And there is no badness in this; I am truly home in my snug Ivory Tower of MoHome.
But today- today was tangible. Real. Partners from various organizations that MCC endorses, funds, and supports were providing real-life examples of when nonviolence needed to be implemented. Real strategies and demands and questions were posed with the intent of truly implementing them. It was a sliver of what I imagine it must have been like to be a part of the American Apartheid struggle- a small sliver, but one nonetheless.
With the spike in fuel and food prices in Uganda as of late, there were a series of “demonstrations” in Kampala a few weeks ago. In part prompted, no doubt, by the Tunisian and Egyptian (etc) revolutions, Ugandans began walking to work to protest the high petrol prices. This idea, rooted in the same mentality with which blacks and allies applied in Montgomery during the Bus Boycott of the 1960s, had the workings of being a truly successful and effective nonviolent protest. But, as no group seems to have truly stepped up to the plate to teach and organize nonviolent methods of protests, these demonstrations turned into riots. This specifically was addressed, as well as problems within school beatings, domestic violence, and political corruption.
These are monstrously huge problems. But, as one partner said, Uganda is more than its political parties, more than its tribes, and most of all, more than its problems. And change begins with an internal decision- the act of choosing Love. Once this choice is made, we as a people (a universal people, folks, because this is absolutely applicable to American or Canadian or Indonesian or Whateverian culture too) must recognize some crucial aspects to the act of the choice.
For, in the choosing of Love there is an integral realization and acknowledgment of universal human rights. But, as another partner addressed, with our Rights come some major Responsibilities. Chief among these is discipline; the discipline to endure methods of violence, discipline to realize each human being is of worth and to therefore treat everyone as such, the discipline to realize that choosing Love is an every moment act.
Forgive the preach-y tone, but in this idea of the Constant Choice I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Merton from his (phenomenal!) essay Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant: “…love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but by resisting and overcoming it anew every day.” Choosing nonviolence takes a helluva lot of work. My mother is fond of quoting John Wesley, the (unintentional) founder of the Methodist church, and his belief that human beings are “morally depraved.”
In this vein the act of violence is therefore something gutteral, something insitinctive on an animalistic level. To me, violence is rooted in Hate, which itself is rooted in fear. This idea was thrown around a great deal today as well; children act out in school or domestic violence occurs because of instability, insecurity, distrust- the unknown and subsequent unnerved attitude making a deadly toxin of fear. When we are afraid, we are incapacitated. We are confined to only that which is tangible, and when what is tangible is pain and loss and volatility, we desperately try to escape, to acquire enough power to get the hell out of wherever we are. In this desperation we choose violence; out of fear of returning and desire to remain where we are we fight like hell to keep what ephemeral power we have acquired.
And so the vicious cycle rotates on.
But with the Choice comes the power to exit. Enter the concrete discussion today from people who support MCC, an organization that explicitly is dedicated to Peace and moral ends by moral means. Right in my little MCC brochure was written their Truth that acts of violence disregard the sanctity of human life and “is destructive and costly, and robs the poor of needed resources.”
Therefore, in order to build capacity (my new favorite phrase) one must create a space for nonviolent education among all people, but most especially the youth. If We from a young age can understand dually we have Rights and therefore Responsibilities, what is not possible?
With all of these concepts in a flurry around the discussion and, admittedly, in my splotchy-from-the-furious-writing-pace notes, I was not only in total brain-euphoria but refueled for the coming weeks. Because this is not an easy path, whether I agree with Wesleyan thought or not (I confess, I’m still working my way through that one). From this interfaith dialogue (did I mention the number of religions and denominations within Christianity that were represented peacefully? And that a Muslim man had an enriching and profound demand for nonviolent action and Love in the family and within marriage? Eat it, Islamaphobia!) I gleaned so many plans of action and the vocabulary to share with you, dearest reader.
In brief, the All-Inclusive We need:
1. Collective concern; the recognition and action upon the belief that every single human being, regardless of their Kinsey scale identity, race, religion, class, nationality, gender, age, or background are people of worth and therefore deserve more than sympathy. We deserve action, support, and Community.
2. A space for nonviolent education.
3. To acknowledge that having Rights demands Responsibilities (thanks, Peter Parker!).
4. To admit that Fear is the ultimate root of violence; we fear what we do not understand, and out of instinct to glean power and disassociate we come to hate what we do not know. From this misunderstanding comes forth violence, which degrades and disempowers the perpurtrators as much as the victims.
5. Violence, when it occurs, must be identified explicitly as such.
6. To Choose and to Change begins with the individual.
So therein lies my summer manifesto; Laws to live by, rules to obey, and a space for me to disagree and agree and explore and wonder and question. I have so much to learn to do and to be disenchanted by and to find the marvelous of the Universe within.
And good grief, I am in for one uprooting and smashing and affirming and hard summer.
current jam: “hair” lady gaga
best thing in my life right now: the discovery of mars bars!
pages read in war & peace: okay, okay, none. but i am nearly done with me talk pretty one day by david sedaris and i started the pirate’s daughter by a wellesly prof. so, there.
marriage proposals: kind of one? he was yelling out the cab window blowing kisses, but i missed the actual word choice. so we’ll say none still…?
fantas consumed: 3