My name is Robert E. Smith. I am 21 years young. I was born in McComb, Mississippi and moved to East Oakland when I as 5 with my mother, little sister and grandmother. Growing up in Oakland you’re forced to grow up fast. You’re also forced to see things that are abnormal and you have to adapt to your surroundings. I had a great upbringing. There wasn’t much violence in my home. My childhood was very peaceful. The violence started when I would leave the house. Everyone at school was taught the same as me. Things such as don’t let anyone hit you and if they do, you hit them back. Also we were taught in school to never let anyone bully you because if it happens once then it will happen again. With these morals a lot of fights occurred. [Read more...]
Letter from Anthony Ross, Jr. September 2015
My name is Anthony Ross, Jr. I am 27 years of age. I am a San Francisco native raised in Bayview Hunter’s Point, an overwhelming part of the City. I was born to Anthony Ross, Sr and Carmen Ross. Both of my parents were considered major players of the fast life (better known as the underworld). I figure that they chose that career path because of their circumstances. They both grew up in single parent homes with multiple siblings. Growing up, both my parents were in and out of jail, with both being missing in action periodically. I was left in the care of my grandmother, left to keep up with my older brother and sister. [Read more...]
A few weeks ago I completed my Level II Certification in Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation (KNCR) at The Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies at the University of Rhode Island. Level II focuses more on “organizing” for social change within the KNCR framework. Happily, I had no expectations about how that might look. I just looked forward to learning directly from Dr LaFayette and meeting other Level I trainers. As it turned out I learned exactly what I needed and I also appreciated the genius in Doc’s approach. [Read more...]
Principle #6: The Universe is on the Side of Justice. ….
As the country celebrated its “independence” last weekend, I found myself reflecting on the concept of justice.
Earlier that week, I watched a young man I’ve known for three years receive a life sentence. I watched the District Attorney and the friends of the victim advocate for “justice,” which for them meant this young man receiving the maximum penalty. And I found myself frustrated at how far apart our understanding of the concept of justice is. I watched the judge hand down the sentence, nonchalantly “doing her job” as she left another life and another family [Read more...]
Originally published in Waging Nonviolence
By Kazu Haga
April 29th, 2015
Peace disgusts me.
Let me clarify.
We all want peace. Even in the prison system, where I often work with people who have committed serious acts of violence and who are very comfortable using violence — people want peace in their lives.
But calls for people to be “peaceful” in the face of the most recent police killing infuriate me. The calls for “peace” that act as a euphemism for “stop protesting” sickens me. When law enforcement and politicians tell people to protest “peacefully” as a way of saying “stop being so mad,” it repulses me. The gross and dangerous misunderstanding that people have of the concept of “peace” disgusts me.
In 1956, a young woman named Autherine Lucy became the first black student enrolled in the University of Alabama. From the first moment she stepped foot on campus, there was violence. People rioted. And in response, the school expelled her, blaming her for inciting the violence. The next day, with Autherine expelled from campus, the riots stopped. The local newspaper ran a headline that read, “Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama.”
And that peace disgusts me.
People too often associate “peace” with quiet, with calm, with candles and kumbaya. People too often understand “peace” simply as the absence of tension. And that is a problem.
In a sermon he gave in response to the incident, Marin Luther King Jr. described this peace as a “negative peace.” A false peace, the simple absence of violence that came at the expense of justice.
It is this understanding of peace that allows people to justify going to war to create peace. “If we just kill all the bad people, then we will have peace.” It is this understanding of peace that allows us to justify mass incarceration to create peace. “If we just lock up all the bad people, then we will have peace.” And it is this understanding of peace that allows people to demand “peace” from the Black Lives Matter movement. “If the protesters would just stop yelling, we would have peace.”
And it’s true, if all we want is the quiet, calm, polite “negative peace.” If all the protests stopped, Baltimore would be quieter and calmer than it has been recently. If we simply arrested all the protesters, Baltimore would be “peaceful.” But as King reminded us, “This is the type of peace that all men of goodwill hate. It is the type of peace that is obnoxious. It is the type of peace that stinks in the nostrils of the Almighty God.”
Yes, these protests are loud. Yes, there is tension in the streets. Yes, the marches are disruptive. And that’s the point.
Peace is a messy process. Justice is loud. If people think that building “peace” in a society as violent as the United States is a neat, calm and pretty process, they are in for a surprise.
Yes, there has been violence in the streets of Baltimore. And as a trainer and practitioner of Kingian Nonviolence, I don’t think breaking windows is the most effective tactic. However, it infuriates me each time I hear some talking head denouncing the violence and criminalizing the protesters who are in the streets.
Yes, windows have been broken and police cars have been smashed. But in Kingian Nonviolence, we teach that all conflict has history, and we typically only see the moment that the conflict erupts. We have a tendency to look only at the moment of eruption to try to understand what is happening. Sometimes, a conflict has days or weeks of history that we don’t see before it erupts. And sometimes, a conflict builds for 500 years before erupting. What is happening in Baltimore is the result of 500 years of systemic racism and violence. Much like Autherine Lucy being accused of inciting violence, accusing the protesters of violence is ignoring the much larger systems of violence that they are responding to.
The actions that the protesters have been engaged in are a response to that violence. The violence of police brutality. The violence of poverty. The violence of structural racism. People are fed up, and their actions are not violent as much as they are actually a cry for peace — the positive peace that only comes about through justice. It is the deep yearning and desire for peace and justice that is moving people into the streets.
Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis recently implored the protesters to “stop the violence.” Ironically, that’s exactly what the protesters are trying to do. They are the warriors fighting for peace in a society that seemingly doesn’t honor the value of their lives. They are the ones who are sick of the violence.
I am a trainer and a practitioner of nonviolence. I believe that nonviolence is the most effective way to create change, and the only way to create “beloved community,” the reconciled world with justice for all that King lived and died for. But just as with the concept of “peace,” “nonviolence” is a highly misunderstood concept.
Extreme forms of violence call for extreme forms of nonviolent responses. And nonviolence can be as loud, as unsettling, and as assertive as violence. King called for a movement that was “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots.” So if people think King would have called for “calm” in Baltimore, they would be sadly mistaken. And if those calling for “peaceful protests” are hoping for calm, quiet, neat and orderly marches, they do not understand the dynamics of violence or peace.
Less than a month before he was assassinated, King said, “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
The biggest misunderstanding that exists of nonviolence is that it means simply to “not be violent.” You can watch someone get beaten and killed right in front of you and not do anything to help, and you would be “not violent.” You can watch police get away with murder after murder and not take a stand, and you would be “not violent.” However, true nonviolence is about taking a stand against violence and trying to transform unjust situations. A riot, as inarticulate as it may be, is an attempt to transform unjust situations. It is the cry of a people who have been unheard for generations. And it’s time we listen.
On January 19th, politicians from both sides of the isle, corporations and institutions around the country will be celebrating one of the great leaders of this country. Unfortunately, every year the celebration of this holiday feels like a disservice to his legacy. Every year, it feels like Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy has been watered-down and appropriated, used to benefit whatever political motive people may have.
For the past several years, the city of Oakland has had a tradition of gathering citizens to walk around low-income neighborhoods picking up litter from the streets. The same streets where police violence is common place. The same streets where gun violence is a daily occurrence. The same streets where homeless people sleep, where people are being displaced from their homes, where young people are being lost to drugs, where women are being trafficked.
You wonder what King would have thought about those issues, the issues that he was working on during his life. Yet in his absence, we go about our day, celebrating work that happened 50 years ago and remembering that he had this nice dream one night.
And that is a shame. That is a disservice.
We are not celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. by picking up trash while ignoring the fact that black lives are being treated like trash by state institutions. No, we are “remembering” a whitewashed and “Mcdonald-ified” version of King, as someone recently said at a #blacklivesmatter meeting. We are remembering a false narrative, an image of King who simply wanted people to hold hands and light candles.
We are not remembering the radical, militant King who organized to demand justice. We are not remembering the King who called the American government the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” We are not remembering the King who called for a movement that was “nonviolent, but militant, and as dramatic, as dislocative, as disruptive, as attention-getting as the riots.”
But this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2015, things may finally look different. This year, young black leaders in Ferguson and beyond have put out a call to organize a weekend of disruptions to “reclaim” the legacy of Dr. King. To remember that he was nonviolent and motivated by Agape love, but also radical in his politics and militant in his tactics.
The Militant King
We all remember the “I Have a Dream” speech, and that speech gets played (out) in every school across America. But we forget that at the time of his murder, he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign. We forget that part of the Campaign was an effort to call on poor people of all races from around the country to come to Washington DC and create an encampment on the national mall, and to use this “resurrection city” as the hub of operations for a mass campaign of civil disobedience that would shut down the entire city, to “cripple the operations of an oppressive society.”
Had he not been shot, and had the Poor People’s Campaign gone off in the way he envisioned it, it would have created mass disruptions and inconvenienced a lot of people. And as the #blacklivesmatter movement continues to put pressure on an “oppressive society,” it is imperative for a country that so often uses King as a moral compass to remember that King was not afraid of confrontation, and that nonviolence is not afraid of tension and disruption.
King once wrote that, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
After 500 years of slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, redlining and mass incarceration, this country still witnesses the killing of a black man by law enforcement, security guard or vigilante every 28 hours. According to Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” that is about the same rate as lynchings during its peak.
If people feel like the actions that may take place over Martin Luther King Day weekend are causing a disruption, we need to acknowledge that that’s the point.
500 years of progress, and still a murder of a black life every 28 hours. That qualifies as a country that has “constantly refused to negotiate.” And the disruptions and inconveniences are designed to make people uncomfortable, to dramatize this issue and force the country to deal with this epidemic in a real, meaningful way.
For those who say that these actions are causing tension, King wrote that, “we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
For those who say that we should be trying to advocate for changes through legal means such as the courts, King stated during the Birmingham campaign that, “the only way we’re going to break Birmingham is to fill the jails [through civil disobedience].” He also reminded us that, “everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal,” and every thing the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”
For those who say they support #blacklivesmatter but are bothered by the militancy of the movement, King wrote, “I have reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council or the Ku Klux Klan, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom…. Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
For those who say that young people need to be more patient, King reminded us all that, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet engaged in a direct action movement that was “well-timed,” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation….. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse kick and, even kill your black brothers and sisters……. then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.“
So if your brunch is disrupted this Martin Luther King Day weekend, if you get caught in traffic because of a blockade, if you are inconvenienced in some way, let us all take that moment to acknowledge that those are the ways in which you can really celebrate the legacy of Dr. King. That moment of inconvenience is simply the turning of the wheels of progress, brought to you by those with the courage to stand up and say, “enough.”
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
If you are in the Bay Area, consider supporting the call from the Anti-Police Terror Project and coming to a Bay Area Spokescouncil for MLK Weekend, culminating in a Jobs and Economy for the People march on Monday the 19th.
Honestly, if anyone was surprised by the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson, you have not been paying attention.
I have a lot on my mind – the need to articulate justice, privilege in the movement, long term strategy – so I’m just gonna start writing and we’ll see where this goes.
Let me just say one thing quickly. I have often times been critical of movements that to me lack long-term strategy or discipline, and I’ve been open about voicing them. And some have criticized me for criticizing the movement. Which is fine. I welcome criticism, as long as a willingness to dialogue comes with it. [Read more...]
Thanks to our friends at Waging Nonviolence for publishing this piece!
On Thursday, November 6th, East Point Peace Academy organized it’s first House Party!! It was a beautiful autumn evening under a full moon as 45 supporters came together to break bread, enjoy s’mores over a fire, here testimonials about our work and build community.
As is our tradition, and as part of our commitment to financial transparency and Gift Economics, we would like to share that we received $7,370 in donations and pledges, with more on it’s way. THANK YOU so much to all of our supporters!!!
If you were not able to make it to our event but would still like to support us, please click here to find out how you can donate to sustain our work.
Check out some pictures from our event:
We would like to thank Leah Pearlman for hosting, the Lia Fund and the Peace Development Fund for their sponsorship, our amazing Host Committee, all of our volunteers with special shout outs to Beth Rosales, Lauren Veasey, Dorianna Blitt and Anna Antonio, and to ALL of the people who showed up!!!
We would also like to thank all of the businesses who showed their love:
- Arizmendi Bakery
- Cheese Board Collective
- Edible Arrangements
- La Farine Bakery
- Lucky Thirty Seven
- Peets Coffee
- Tamales La Oaxaquena
- Trader Joe’s
- Whole Foods
THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!
What if all organizations in Oakland who work for social justice put down their egos and worked to create a COLLECTIVE work-plan for the next 10 years? Not just deciding to work together on 1 campaign for a year. Actually built integrated workplans that allow us to still do what each of us do best, but with a grand strategy of how we’re all contributing to the same change? What if nonprofits stopped their turf wars? What if nonprofits stopped feeding into the capitalist, individualistic mentality of this culture and took the idea of movements and collaborations seriously? What if we told all of our funders that after spending down our current grant, we’re all gonna change directions slightly and start to work together for real? What if….
I posted that a few days ago on Facebook, and have been thinking about it since.
I’ve been employed by various nonprofits and grassroots organizations for the better part of 13 years, and have been involved for a few years longer than that. Over the years, I’ve participated in many campaigns, been through several strategic planning processes, helped to develop countless workplans. [Read more...]