Campaign Nonviolence Holds National Conference in Santa Fe

I was thrilled to be able to attend the Campaign Nonviolence National Conference this past weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The dates of the conference (August 6-9, 2015) coincided with the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Held at the Hilton Hotel, which has the largest meeting room in Santa Fe, the conference sold out months earlier at the room’s capacity of 250. It drew a mostly white, mostly Baby Boomer crowd, reflecting the demographic challenges that have faced many peace organizations, including the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. The conference was live-streamed, so it can be viewed online at http://livestream.com/streamingnm/cnnc, along with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day actions of public witness, which took place in Los Alamos before and after the conference.

The Rev. James Lawson, one of the principal leaders of the U.S. civil rights movement, gave the keynote address on Friday night and also served as a respondent on subsequent panels. He was a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., and in Dr. King’s words “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” In his address, Lawson emphasized that nonviolent campaigns must be disciplined, strategic, and rooted in the local community. And he exhorted the crowd to study the history of nonviolent action in the United States. If we are going to change our culture to a culture of peace, he said, we must address “the four historic streams that have shaped the U.S.” – “racism, sexism, violence, and plantation capitalism.” Though he was a conscientious objector during the Korean War and served fourteen months in Federal prison, through the years he has not focused his efforts on war. Rather, he has focused his efforts on the structural, systemic violence of injustice and oppression in U.S. society, noting that “poverty is the worst form of violence.”

Erica Chenoweth led off on Saturday morning. She is associate professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, associate senior researcher at the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and co-author (with Maria J. Stephan) of the book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.  Comparing the effectiveness of violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns in conflicts between non-state and state actors between 1900 and 2006, they found that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.” In her address, she summarized the results of their research, suggesting a number of reasons why nonviolent campaigns have a success rate twice that of violent campaigns. Basically, nonviolent campaigns are much easier for people to participate in than are violent campaigns. Consequently, on average, nonviolent campaigns have eleven times more participants than violent campaigns. And participation is the most important factor in determining success. They found that governments facing a challenge by 3.5% or more of their population have difficulty staying in power.

Other speakers included Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange; Kathy Kelly, cofounder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence; the Rev. John Dear, Ken Butigan, and Kit Evans-Ford, all of Pace e Bene; and several others.

The weekend concluded with a public witness in Los Alamos on Sunday, August 9, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. About 300 peace activists descended upon Ashley Pond Park, the original site of the laboratories where the first atomic bombs were designed and built. Donning sackcloth and ashes, we participated in a silent procession and prayer vigil along Trinity Drive. (“Trinity” was the code name of the first atomic test on July 16, 1945, at Alamogordo, New Mexico, about 120 miles south of Albuquerque.) The procession and vigil were followed by several speakers back at the park’s band shell, which had been decorated with 70,000 brightly colored peace cranes, many of them folded by inmates at San Quentin State Prison.

“Campaign Nonviolence is a long-term movement to mainstream nonviolence and to foster a culture of peace free from war, poverty, environmental destruction, and the epidemic of violence.” The initiative was launched last year by Pace e Bene, an independent, nondenominational peace organization founded by the Franciscan Friars of California in 1989. More than 200 organizations have endorsed the Campaign, including the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. In its first year, Campaign Nonviolence inspired 240 nonviolent actions to take place in all 50 states during the week of September 21-27, 2014. Issues addressed included mass incarceration, police brutality, immigration reform, drones, K-12 peace education, and global climate change. Pace e Bene is hoping to increase the number of nonviolent actions this year during the week of September 20-27, 2015. And it is already looking ahead to next year, calling for a week of nonviolent actions September 18-25, 2016. Pace e Bene hopes to see 1,000 nonviolence trainings held across the country over the next year. And it is encouraging people to “connect the dots” between different issues and to make alliances between different movements in an effort to build “a movement of movements.” For more info. about Campaign Nonviolence, visit http://paceebene.org/programs/campaign-nonviolence/