Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Republican National Convention

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One of our congregants, Joan Haan, went downtown, St. Paul during the Republican National Convention.  The following is a report of her experience following the Six Principles of Nonviolence developed by Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have edited Joan’s report for grammar.  The content is all hers.   

1.  Non violence is passive but requires courage

Wednesday, 9/3/2008   We stood with the young people released from jail who were being treated by medics, circling their space with blankets to maintain privacy from the media—Fox News in particular, a reporter with his cameraman taunting and probing “Where are the protesters?”  “Where are the Police?  I’m on your side.  I’ve never seen such whiney protesters.”  Surrounding the protesters and two Peace Teams (PT) were up to 200 police and National Guard in full riot uniform, helmets with shields, holding their batons in a ready position.  The courage was in staying as I felt fear—would they use their batons, tear gas and pepper spray (like they did the night before)?  The courage was in staying as I felt the anger and grief, tears falling:  Fox News whose purpose was to incite; a military force whose purpose—among 50 something unarmed youth seated and waiting on the grass, not chanting, no sign of protest—was beyond my comprehension or imagination; young people wounded and vulnerable by their incarceration, photographed, surrounded by a military force.  Their protection was their blankets, street medics, Legal Aide, ACLU, their friends and the Peace Team.

Result of our nonviolent action:  After the blankets came down, the situation was defused and the Sheriff’s Department provided a wagon full of sandwiches. 

 

2.  Nonviolence seeks reconciliation, not defeat of an adversary

Thursday, 9/4/2008  

The young people/students in black wore hoods and bandannas to protect their identity and to protect themselves from the tear gas and pepper spray.  Congregated on a parking space near the Capitol, they had been dispersed by the police for attempting an illegal march (after the 5 PM permit) by the “No peace for the Warmakers” March.  Their stance was menacing.  Across from them were about 20 police on bikes—no riot gear.  We positioned ourselves between the police and the youth. Remembering the afternoon before, the vulnerability of the young people released from jail, I approached the group and suggested lightly—why not just leave?  Another PT member joined me.  One of the young men asked for PT hugs; we hugged him.  They began talking with passion how an unjust system demanded a violent response.  I said something about my belief in violence begetting violence, about Gandhi and MLK.  They talked of their own heroes and spoke of the exceptions—wouldn’t you use violence if you were being raped?  I finally laughed and said I wasn’t going to argue.  I stood next to one young man, touching him as I spoke, like a mother to her son.  I said something about having daughters and wanting them to be safe.  In the end they asked for hugs and left. 

 

 

Result of our nonviolent action:  I helped defuse the situation.  I don’t believe I changed any minds.

3.  Nonviolent action is directed at eliminating evil, not destroying the evil-doer

There is so much I wish I could have said to those young men in black.  I wish I could have held them closer so they could have heard my heart—perhaps then they would have heard there are nonviolent ways to “fight” injustice.  Somehow I felt like I failed them—that my generation has failed them with preemptive violence.

4.  A willingness to accept suffering for the cause, if necessary, but never to inflict it

Putting on the canary yellow MN Peace Team vest and hat was a uniform, an agreement to be nonviolence.  We were at different levels of risk taking—individually and as teams. Several of us were gassed and sprayed and four arrested. I was not.  We accompanied, witnessed, stood between potential harmful people/situations.  We alerted marchers, protesters and bystanders to potential risks and the police approved “escape route.”  One of us accompanied a bystander (possibly a delegate) to the hospital after she was tear gassed.  My mantra was “I am a mother—I will not move.”  And I wore my vinegar scarf around my neck, taking the airline advice: put your own mask on first.

5.  A rejection of hatred, animosity or violence of the spirit, as well as refusal to commit physical violence

When I was looking at the faces of those fully armed police officers I had to remind myself that they are children of God—sons, daughters; fathers, mothers; humans—hot, tired, possibly hungry, bored, scared, and equipped to the gills and following orders. I had to remind myself of the many respectful acts—warning people, letting PT members know how people could exit, choosing restraint when disrespected.

When I heard the verbal antagonism, intimidation, disrespect of person and when I heard of the destruction of property, I had to remind myself they are children of God—sons, daughters; young people; some fathers, mothers; humans—hot, tired, possibly hungry, bored, scared, vulnerable, passionate in their righteousness, wanting something.

6.  Faith that justice will prevail

 

Or faith that faith will prevail over despair and grief; that justice will at times prevail. I have witnessed first hand the ugliness of preemptive, military policing.  I understand violence has many faces and shades in a way I didn’t understand or experience before.

Result of my action:  I am left with two feelings: Grief and gratitude.  Grief for the violent presence of the police force and the action of some police; grief for the premeditated violence of some protestors.  Gratitude for the vast majority of peaceful protestors and the officers who did not react with intimidation and physical violence.  Gratitude for personal safety.  Gratitude for being a peaceful presence, making that human connection, providing safe space and defusing volatile situations.  Gratitude for the work and training of the MN PT and the privilege of affinity teams who support and encourage the nonviolent best in me.

The Minnesota Peace Team is a non-partisan group that responds to community requests to be present in potentially volatile situations.

  • Our singular focus is to assist in keeping people from hurting one another and to protect the civil rights of everyone involved.
  • The team does not interfere with civil disobedience and does not try to enforce laws.
  • All team members are trained in nonviolent techniques to be used with an attitude of openness and respect toward any one involved in potentially violent encounters.

mnpeaceteams@gmail.com or www.fnvw.org

 

 

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