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. Partly it was giving each of us an opportunity to present our analysis of a movement and the leadership style or influence of a movement leader. We were teaching ourselves and each other while coming to our own realization of the importance of creative and communal strategy in the nonviolent way of life.
The movements presented were efforts to raise up various communities, including underrepresented ethnic or religious groups and citizens with developmental disabilities, sited in different countries. Despite the outward differences many of the external and internal obstacles faced in organizing were similar. Each participant also had an opportunity to share a challenge they faced in their own work or organization. Again, similar themes arose. Not a big surprise of course. Always, it is ourselves with whom we contend whether we are organizing to gather, focus or maintain momentum. “Organizing” begins within you, within your leadership group and within the larger community which includes your constituency, the silent majority and your perceived opposition and it continues within each of these aspects of the nonviolent life. Organizing, like all of life, is cyclical and continuous.
Organizing in the context of Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation differs because the Principles and Steps require a diligent and disciplined approach governed by love. Learning with Dr. Lafayette and Gail Faris affirmed that we need constantly to be listening (part of Step 1 – Information Gathering). In fact, every challenge presented by the Level II participants, whether personal, organizational or in a movement, had a clear need for additional information gathering, education and commitment.
I presented on the Albany Movement which usually isn’t mentioned in the Civil Rights narrative. It proves to be a very useful study for understanding what doesn’t work. No one in the Albany Movement was wrong in what they were attempting to do, but no one was really listening to each other either. There was nothing “wrong” with the tools used. It was the way they were used that had the effect of dissipating the existing momentum, an effect that may very well have impeded progress. To build upon an old adage, if the only tool you think you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. You may get that screw hammered into the wall but you’ll encounter more resistance that necessary and likely do more harm than good! The Albany Movement juxtaposed against the Selma Movement, as documented in Dr. LaFayette’s book “In Peace and Freedom,” drove home the lesson that organizing at each stage, and in each aspect of a movement, campaign or social system requires the continuous application of the Steps guided by the Principles.
We live in a culture enamored with the “3 Easy Steps to Enlightenment” type of definitive road mapping. This coupled with a dogmatic adherence to specific tools can create unnecessary conflict and slow progress. KNCR offers an approach to “organizing” that I would describe as organically disciplined. It contemplates a small group of people willing to fully commit to nonviolence with an ultimate goal of beloved community. That would be the discipline. This discipline requires careful listening to all sides of an issue wherever it arises, a search for common ground upon which to grow beloved community and a strategic choice of tools for cultivation. This is no simple or quick fix and even within the leadership group, you must acknowledge and creatively address the inherent challenges of living in community.
Observing movements, as living organisms, it is clear that some personalities are better at organizing a campaign or specific direct action, than a sustainable movement, or systems that maintain beloved community. This isn’t a judgement that any one type of organizing is more important than another. Each has its place and time, and if the community is diligent in working the steps for conflict reconciliation the most suitable “organizer” will be given the appropriate task to keep moving the community forward. However, evaluating what, who, when and where requires both that the community be disciplined in its evolution and that each member be disciplined in evaluating their participation in that process. Both the group as a collective and its individual members need to be applying the Principles and Steps. Which practices and tools they use in this application will differ depending on the culture of the community. Similarly addressing injustice in a social system will look different depending on what the unjust effect is, who is involved, where they are, the history of the system, etc. This activity of adapting your strategy for change is the organic part of organizing.
In the end, maybe the most important thing I learned is that there are no 3 Easy Steps to organizing the “perfect” movement. Nor should there be. There are some guiding stars, some principles, to help you on your journey through a campaign, a movement, a life. My guiding stars are grounded in the collective work that is memorialized as Kingian Nonviolence Conflict Reconciliation. I am free to choose my practices and tools. I am also responsible to the beloved community for how I use them. Applying the KNCR Steps, following the guidance provided by the KNCR Principles, receiving insight from those who have traveled further along their path helps me honor that responsibility.