The Non-Violent Army (5/00)

For those of us who believe that fundamental change is needed in the United States and the world, there is a new development that we all need to welcome, understand, support and work with: the non-violent army.

The April protests in Washington, DC against the IMF and the World Bank bore witness to this historic development. Many thousands of people from across the country followed up successfully from the November 30, 1999 disruption of the World Trade Organization in Seattle by focusing the attention of the world on these two linchpins of the world’s corporate-dominated, destructive, economic and financial system.

A traditional military army is made up at its base primarily of young people. This is true of the non-violent army of this first decade of the 21st century; fully 80-85 percent or more of those who blockaded the streets of downtown DC were under 25.

A traditional army is organized using platoons, companies, battalions, brigades and divisions. The non-violent army is organized on the basis of affinity groups, flying squads, clusters and slices.

A traditional army is trained in techniques of offense and defense, expecting to take and inflict casualties. The non-violent army is learning the techniques of civil disobedience, jail solidarity and legal issues, while also expecting to face tear gas, pepper spray, clubs, rubber bullets, horses, arrests or beatings. It makes no plans for the infliction of casualties on anybody.

Soldiers in traditional armies have uniforms and equipment appropriate to their situation. The non-violent army uses sneakers, boots, vinegar-soaked bandanas, eye goggles, ponchos and an occasional gas mask.

Traditional armies have communications systems in place for those times when engaged in battle. The non-violent army uses cell phones and walkie talkies, bicyclists and runners on foot, and a tactical operations group to re-deploy flying squads and clusters as needed.

Traditional armies have weapons of destruction. The non-violent army has weapons of the heart, spirit, mind and organization.

Twice in four and a half months this non-violent army has mobilized its forces, and it will do so again. Throughout the days of preparation in DC leading up to the April 16th mass disruption, in evening "spokes council" meetings attended by many hundreds of people, the leaders of this non-violent army emphasized that as significant as this one battle was, there was a critical need to build an on-going movement.

Words cannot do justice to the importance of this development. This is a new type of movement, in many ways. It is led predominantly by women. It is deeply committed to democracy, direct democracy in which the goal is respect for the opinions and input of all who are part of the movement. It is a movement that sings; one of the most moving songs has these words: "Rise up, we don’t have long; Come together, keep our movement strong." It integrates art, dance, humor, theater, drumming and creativity into its work and actions. And it tries to operate by consensus.

It is not a movement without weaknesses. The most glaring is its racial composition. Despite organized and active outreach efforts, and despite holding its demonstrations and blockades in predominantly African American Washington, DC, the percentage of people of color participating in the meetings and the street actions remained in the single digits, percentage-wise. Perhaps even more significant, there were no people of color in major, visible positions of leadership for and during the street actions.

It is also a movement, a non-violent army, struggling with how to build a national organizational structure and process based on direct democracy, consensus and as much decentralization as possible in a country as big as this one when people are not together in one city planning for an action. Even when together, the efforts to hammer out consensus sometimes mean the alienation of those not able to "hang" with long meetings.

But these weaknesses cannot obscure the fact that the groups under the Direct Action Network umbrella which worked together on April 16th have provided a jolt of electricity, again, to the progressive movement, to the country as a whole, and to struggling people the world over. Through a deeply felt commitment to taking action to save our endangered ecosystem and improve the lives of the world’s poor, here and abroad, this non-violent army of thousands is displaying international solidarity of the highest magnitude. By their willingness to put their bodies on the line for global justice they are reminding us all that, indeed, there "ain’t no power like the power of the people, and the power of the people don’t stop."

Ted Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network and an activist in the New York/northern New Jersey area.