Archives for posts with tag: Non violence
Bristol Quaker Peace Garden

Bristol Quaker Peace Garden

Nonviolence has many forms and labels… passive resistance, nonviolent direct action, pacifism, conscientious objection, fasting, civil disobedience. Today we consider civil disobedience, which is when we refuse to obey a demand or restriction by the State that conflicts with higher law and conscience. The act requires that the disobedient one accept whatever may be the consequences of refusing…imprisonment, moral condemnation, fines, even perhaps death. It should be done when one’s spiritual searching and sense of rightness permit no other response. Over the centuries, disobedient Friends and nonviolent luminaries such as Thoreau and Gandhi have eloquently shown present day conscientious law-breakers how to suffer for one’s convictions at the hands of the State.

Early English Quakers were disobedient indeed, refusing to bear arms, to remove hats in the royal presence, to testify under oath, to pay war taxes, to worship inside the established church. Following the Conventicle Act of 1668, traveling Quaker leaders and their followers were often arrested and imprisoned for their convictions. Still they persisted in spreading the Light. Between 1660 and 1680, an estimated one-tenth of the growing Quaker flock was in prison. Thus did Friends become all too familiar with the degradation of prison life and “Meetings for Sufferings” were formed to support them.

As Quakers spread their word to colonial America, they ran afoul of Puritan laws in Massachusetts. In the 1650s, Quaker missionaries were banished and threatened with death if they returned. They often did so. Mary Dyer and three other Friends were hanged in Boston in 1659. In 1661, the General Assembly passed the “Cart and Whip Act” which had Quakers carted to the colony’s border with whippings in each village along the way.

In Pennsylvania, the laws were made within William Penn’s “Frame of Government” (model for the later American constitution) so religious freedom was not an issue. But as Friends gradually lost control of the colony through the 18th-century, they came increasingly into conflict with government over military taxes, capital punishment, and Indian relations. The American Revolution presented Friends with new challenges. While many individual Friends fell away to support the independence movement, Quaker meetings, despite internal divisions, generally remained firmly against revolution. The Peace Testimony urged Friends to remain strictly neutral, involved with neither side: voting, office-holding, arms-bearing or hiring substitutes, paying military taxes, provisioning or accepting compensation for goods requisitioned, using Continental Currency, loyalty oaths…all were forbidden. Thus were Meetings for Sufferings very active during the revolutionary period as Friends suffered fines, imprisonment, exile, and confiscation of property.

Historically, refusal to bear arms was a constant form of civil disobedience for Friends. During World War I, the American and British governments were still imprisoning Quaker objectors. But the recognition of the right to religious exemption and alternative service was developing. Decades earlier, Tolstoy had persuaded the Tsar to permit the migration of the pacifist Dukhobors from Russia to Canada to avoid conscription. During the war, the newly-created Friends Ambulance Unit and American Friends Service Committee channeled COs into war relief. The AFSC led the creation of the Civilian Public Service Camps during World War II, when 12,000 objectors did difficult service as smoke jumpers, experimental medical subjects and mental hospital workers. These Quaker efforts to help government deal constructively with objectors of conscience enabled me and many others in the 1960s to do alternative service of various kinds sanctioned by the Selective Service System. In fact, the Peace Corps, conceived in part as an alternative to military service, was modeled after the AFSC’s VISA program. Still others among us came to their moral refusal while in military service and were not as well treated by the government.

Friends’ belief in the human right to value and protect that of God in another has led them to disobey Man’s law in many ways. Thus did Levi Coffin deny the Fugitive Slave Act to hide runaway slaves, Susan B. Anthony invade the polling place to cast her illegal ballot, Earl and Barbara Reynolds sail the Golden Rule into the atomic testing zone in the Pacific and later the Phoenix with medical supplies to North Vietnam, and Boulder Friends to sit on the tracks at Rocky Flats in the 70s and harbor Central American refugees in the 80s.

There would probably be more Friendly civil disobedience if Quakers were not so inventive of other ways to confront violence, to seek and speak to that of God in all. Quaker leanings and leadings toward gender and racial equality, prison reform, abolition of capital punishment, alternatives to military conscription have constantly nudged society toward its humane and egalitarian potential. And Friends’ inclination toward contemplation, listening and consensus lead us more often toward collaboration than confrontation. But on occasion, confront we must, all the while considering the humanity and worth of our opponent.


Image from Bristol Peace Garden


Though one of the world’s smallest countries Estonia has one of the world’s largest repertoires of folk songs, and the Estonians have used their music as a political weapon for centuries. Songs were used as protest against German conquerors as far back as the 13th century and as an act of resistance against the occupying army of Russian czar Peter the Great in the 18th century.

Since 1869, Estonians have taken part in an annual song festival known as Laulupidu, where choirs from around the country come together for a multi-day celebration of choral music, with as many as 25,000 people singing on stage at the same time. These gatherings, which have attracted crowds of hundreds of thousands, have always been as much about the popular yearning for national self-determination as they have been about music.

During World War II, the Soviet Union invaded Estonia, and the Communists ruled it for decades with a hard hand. By 1988, things were changing. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had introduced a loosening of control under the banner of perestroika and glasnost. Still, Estonia and much of the rest of Eastern Europe remained under Soviet domination.

Laulupidu became the cornerstone of the resistance against the Soviet occupation, when—in addition to singing the requisite songs praising the state and the Communist Party—the organizers defied Soviet officials by including banned nationalist songs and symbols.

In June 1988 protesters gathered on night on the grounds of the Tallinn Song Festival. They sang songs and waved flags that had remained hidden for nearly fifty years of Soviet rule. When no government crackdown ensued, more people showed up the next night, and still more the night after that. This spontaneous movement became known as the Singing Revolution.

On September 11, a protest event called ‘The Song of Estonia’ was held at the same location. More than 300,000 people snowed up, nearly a quarter of all Estonians. Political leaders were present and the public witnessed the first open calls for restoring the country’s independence. (A fire was lit that burned until independence was finally restored in 1991.)

By this point, even the ruling Communist Party had joined the opposition parties in calling for greater autonomy, with the Estonian government passing a declaration of sovereignty on November 16. Now having governmental sanction for their protests, the nonviolent struggle grew and many leading Communists eventually went on record in favor of independence. On August 23, 1989—the fiftieth anniversary of the Soviet takeover of the three Baltic republics—as many as 700,000 Estonians joined half a million Latvians and one million Lithuanians in linking hands which ran the length of all three countries in a show of solidarity that became known as the Baltic Chain. The government declared it a public holiday and helped coordinate the massive protest. Over the next two years, mass gatherings continued and a series of parallel institutions, such as the Estonian Congress, emerged to build an independent state from the ground up.

In August 1991, following a hard-line coup in Moscow, Soviet tanks crossed into the republic in an effort to suppress further Estonian efforts to restore full sovereignty. The Estonian Congress and Supreme Soviet then formally repudiated Soviet legislation and declared Estonia an independent state. Estonians surrounded radio and television stations, including the critical Tallinn broadcast tower, as nonviolent shields which impeded their seizure by Soviet forces. The following day, the coup collapsed in Moscow and the new Russian leadership formally recognized the independence of Estonia and the other Baltic states two weeks later.

The Greates Music Stories Never Told, Rick Beyer


The story begins on the outskirts of Jodhpur in the village of Jalnadi, home of the Bishnoi people. The year was 1730, give or take. Servants of the maharajah, or king, traveled there looking for timber to build his new palace. That they arrived in Jalnadi was no coincidence—they knew that the Bishnoi, a religious sect that worshipped nature, forbade the felling of trees. Their village stood out on the desert landscape for its lush abundance of timber. And not just any timber, but khejri trees—so valuable in the Thar desert region that the species, Prosopis cineraria, is sometimes called a “wonder tree” or “king of the desert.” Not only are these trees scarce, but they play an essential part in daily life: enriching the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients, necessary for growing crops, and providing shade, shelter and fodder for livestock.

As the legend goes, a villager named Amrita Devi noticed the men wandering onto her land, cutting down her precious khejri trees. Outraged, she wedged herself between the axmen and a tree, hugging it with all her might. She is remembered as saying, “If a tree is saved from felling at the cost of one’s head, it should be considered a good deed.” The men were not impressed; Devi was decapitated in front of her two daughters. Trees continued to fall.

Rather than retreat, however, Devi’s daughters followed their mother’s suit and clung valiantly to the trees. Within moments, they too were beheaded by the maharajah’s men. It was not long before the whole village rose up in revolt. Men, women and children joined in, embracing the trees upon which their survival depended—and heads continued to roll.

Bishnois from nearby villages joined the fight. An astonishing 363 people had been slaughtered by the time the maharajah intervened. He immediately issued a decree protecting their land from any future harm. Today, that statute is still in place; logging and hunting in Bishnoi villages is strictly prohibited.

The Bishnoi martyrs paid a heavy price. But over the next three centuries, such commitment to ecological conservation would prove invaluable to their descendants. Living in a region threatened by crippling droughts and limited natural resources, the Bishnoi have favored far better than other communities. They have staved off famine and migration, living by a sacred code that treats plants and animal life with supreme respect. Their rugged, self-sufficient way of life has let them live richly in the desert for hundreds of years—a way of life worth defending, arguably, by any means necessary.

In the 20th century, the Bishnoi’s proto-environmentalism would inspire new anti-logging efforts, from the Chipko movement in the Himalayas to tree sitting on America’s Pacific Coast.

Tree hugging, it turns out, is pretty badass. With a rich history characterized by unwavering acts of bravery and an enduring legacy that inspires even our least suspecting heroes, it seems a poor choice for an insult. Clearly, whoever deemed hugging trees the domain of wimps, slackers and spoiled college students did not do his homework.

Illustration: Cari Vander Yact


Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th and current Dalai Lama as well as the longest lived incumbent. Dalai Lamas are the head monks of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, and is also well known for his lifelong advocacy for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet. The Dalai Lama was only formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama on 17 November 1950, at the age of 15.

During the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which China regards as an uprising of feudal landlords, the Dalai Lama, who regards the uprising as an expression of widespread discontent, fled to India, where he denounced the People’s Republic and established a Tibetan government in exile. He has since traveled the world, advocating for the welfare of Tibetans, teaching Tibetan Buddhism and talking about the importance of compassion as the source of a happy life. Around the world, institutions face pressure from China not to accept him.

For certain periods between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas sometimes directed the Tibetan government, which administered portions of Tibet from Lhasa. The 14th Dalai Lama remained the head of state for the Central Tibetan Administration (“Tibetan government in exile”) until his retirement on March 14, 2011. He has indicated that the institution of the Dalai Lama may be abolished in the future, and also that the next Dalai Lama may be found outside Tibet and may be female. The Chinese government rejected this and asserted that only it has the authority to select the next Dalai Lama.

The institution of the Dalai Lama has become, over the centuries, a central focus of Tibetan cultural identity; “a symbolic embodiment of the Tibetan national character.” Today, the Dalai Lama and the office of the Dalai Lama have become focal points in their struggle towards independence and, more urgently, cultural survival. The Dalai Lama is regarded as the principal incarnation of Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion and patron deity of Tibet. In that role, the Dalai Lama has chosen to use peace and compassion in his treatment of his own people and his oppressors. In this sense the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of an ideal of Tibetan values and a cornerstone of Tibetan identity and culture and an inspiration for non violent struggle elsewhere.