BCJN – Where We Stand on Nonviolent Civil Resistance

The following espousal of nonviolent civil resistance was adopted by Bronx Climate Justice North in September of 2017, following a lengthy discussion by our members in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11-13, 2017.

The statement reflects BCJN’s majority position on this topic. Because it was not possible to agree to such a complex set of issues via simple consensus, the statement does not reflect the views of every BCJN member. Those who do not choose to abide by this espousal of nonviolence are, of course, free to do so, but not as members of Bronx Climate Justice North.

In addition, though the statement was written after the events in Charlottesville, and in reaction to them and to the recent increase in white nationalist, white supremacist, and neo-fascist activities in the United States, it applies to all of BCJN’s direct action and civil resistance engagement wherever it occurs and whether directed at white supremacists, fossil fuel companies, the NYPD, or any other entity, individual, or organization we are addressing.

Bronx Climate Justice North Steering Committee, September 20, 2017

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BRONX CLIMATE JUSTICE NORTH:

WHERE WE STAND ON NONVIOLENT CIVIL RESISTANCE

In the United States, we are witnessing a surge in white supremacist, white nationalist, and neo-fascist activism and violence. These far-right forces are recruiting young members to their ranks, members so emboldened by hateful speech and policies emanating from Donald Trump during his campaign and now his administration that they are willing to reveal their faces and identities.

We feel it is vitally important to express our views, therefore, on the topic of nonviolence, in a time of generalized resistance to our own government and to forces on the right. It is also important to point out that it is not just Donald Trump and his cohort who are giving comfort to white supremacists, neo-fascists, and hate- and fear-mongers. Many in the mainstream of the Republican Party have created fertile ground, through action and inaction, for the rise of a virulent far-right. People in the Democratic Party, too, and across American society, have failed to combat intolerance and bigotry. Neoliberal policies of the Democratic establishment have contributed to the growth of ultra-right extremism. As we witness the growth of extremist organizations on the right, we are seeing a rise in the use of violent tactics by some groups on the left. These groups fail to uphold the protection of the First Amendment right to free speech. And they espouse meeting hate with violence. There is, however, no moral equivalence between white supremacists and neo-fascists, and those who resist them, including those who resist them violently.

We embrace both protest and politics in our efforts to create a just world. We believe that nonviolent disruptive protest and civil disobedience are vitally important traditions that will help today’s movements for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice grow in size and power.

Why do we oppose the use of violence to combat the state and right-wing forces?

Violence is bad strategy, as we have seen when it is used against white nationalists and illegitimate governments.

  • When directed at white nationalists, violence fuels their narrative of victimhood – of a harassed, soon-to-be minority who can’t exercise their right to free speech without being assaulted.
  • Violence toward white nationalists helps them recruit.
  • Since we find their threatened and actual violence against minority and marginalized groups repugnant, it does not make sense to employ the same force we deplore and seek to overcome.
  • Between 1900 and 2006, campaigns of nonviolent resistance succeeded more than twice as often as violent struggles, primarily because nonviolent campaigns attract more allies, more quickly. Civil resistance is designed not only to defeat our opponents, but to persuade large masses of people to join our side.
  • Successful nonviolent resistance brings more durable and internally peaceful and just democracies.

A caveat: Our espousal of nonviolence is made with the awareness that, as a rule, people of color and other marginalized populations are more vulnerable to violent repression than are white people inhabiting today’s dominant culture. We do not judge individual or collective decision-making on the question of self-defense, nor the decision to risk various kinds of harm through engagement in disruptive actions that could lead to arrest, physical harm, and other personal injuries. We espouse the moral and strategic discipline of nonviolent resistance for those who can engage in these actions.  

Direct action that harms people strengthens state repression and the forces of hate, fear, bigotry, and greed while weakening the power of civil resistance. Likewise, protests in which a mixture of tactics are employed by different groups weakens the power of civil resistance. The use of violence by a minority of people and groups is wrong because they substitute themselves for mass participation.

A vigorous, disciplined commitment to and enactment of nonviolent civil resistance and civic creation – of hope, love, diversity, inclusion, solidarity, justice, and dignity – give our movements the strategic and moral high ground. This is the ground where the fight for our lives and our deepest values will be won.

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About JenniferS.

A founding member of Bronx Climate Justice North.
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