2012: A Year in Nonviolent Dissent

“It gets into your system … the force and power of nonviolence.”

The above quotation is taken from a Guernica essay by Eamon Kircher Allen that was published in April this year. In April I had just returned from Egypt and was about to embark on a summer course through the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. The power of nonviolence was in my system.

Through taking the course and talking to young Egyptian activists,  long-held understandings shifted. I started to realise things that should have been obvious. Authority, global order: these things are not rigid. Oppression draws power through our consent; we can withdraw that consent. Nonviolence does not mean inaction: it is often strategic.

In the ICNC course I learned a lot about strategy; about movements from West Papua to Burma and Chile; about different terms used for nonviolence (Satyagraha, People Power..) I learned about creative resistance (the Estonian Singing Revolution, Burmese clowns, Chilean cueca sola…)

As I moved through the year and from this place to the next I saw signs of dissent; civil resistance, and what Kircher Allen called the “common font of yearning for an alternative global order.” From Egypt to Mexico and the USA I saw people struggle for rights, recognition and to strategise a commitment to nonviolence.

Cairo, Egypt. February 2012.

Cairo, Egypt. February 2012.

Mexico City. September 2012.

Mexico City. September 2012.

IMG_1608

USA

USA

There is some nuances I still debate. Such as the photograph below.

It is a stencil of Mubarak and (what I am told is) writing that says “when will he die?” I saw others (that I didn’t photograph) of his image in a noose. I believe that words can be violence so do those images have a place in a nonviolent movement?

Luxor, Egypt. March 2012.

Luxor, Egypt. March 2012.

What about the destruction of property? Below is a photograph of the burned-out NDP building in Cairo. My first glance at it inspired an initial feeling of horror, which lifted when a woman smiling and taking photos of it expressed to me how happy the sight made her.

Cairo, Egypt. February 2012

Cairo, Egypt. February 2012

A question posed in the ICNC course: If property destruction is violence then how should we think of the Danish Resistance blowing up Nazi railroad tracks?

I am learning and I am asking myself questions and I don’t understand much but I am trying. I still struggle with hopelessness and anger but I am trying to be an optimist. There is both optimism and despair in dissent but signs of nonviolent dissent give me hope. I think that is a good way to move into the new year.

Cairo International Airport. March 2012.

Cairo International Airport. March 2012.

2 thoughts on “2012: A Year in Nonviolent Dissent

  1. You posed so many poignant questions in this post, Karen, and I don’t have the answers either. But like you, I am hopeful that non-violent dissent does have the power to latch on, to dig into us, to change us. Keep doing what you do, keep digging deep with your questions.

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