#OWS => New forms of Nonviolence and Leadership emerging??

Something remarkable has been going on out there – especially at UC Davis. I have a hard time figuring out how to articulate it. I haven’t yet seen anyone talk about quite what I’m seeing, so I’ll give it a try.

Here’s what it looks like to me: Nonviolent activism is evolving rapidly right before our eyes. The level of spot-on – and often spontaneous – nonviolent creativity that’s showing up exceeds what I’ve seen before, to an extent that I wonder if a fundamentally new and more powerful form of nonviolent action is emerging.


The “Occupy” approach itself was remarkable – the word “occupy” having gone viral in virtually every aspect of society and Occupy encampments becoming uncharacteristically persistent centers of news focus. But most Occupy activism still seemed to me to be within the bounds of traditional nonviolent action – albeit without the kind of specific strategic goals or demands that characterized the work of Gandhi, King, and others. That lack of explicit goals and demands has created a dynamic hothouse of change activities in and through which MANY goals and demands – and visions and questions and conversations – have been stimulated and heard and developed and pursued. This ubiquitous diversity of public engagements, it seems to me, itself constitutes a significant contribution to the evolution of nonviolent activism. I was just beginning to get a handle on that when I heard about the silent protest that the UC Davis students did after the now-infamous pepper spray incident which I wrote about in my blog a few days ago http://post.ly/3xrXc. That silent engagement occurred the day after the pepper spray incident.


The Telegraph (UK) wrote: “According to reports Ms Katehi [the UC Davis Chancellor] initially refused to leave a campus building where she had just delivered a press conference regarding the incident after protesters gathered outside demanding her resignation. Following a three-hour stand-off, the university chancellor finally departed after students, who had been chanting ‘we are peaceful’ and ‘just walk home’, sat down in silence and linked arms.” She had to walk three blocks between lines of silently seated protesters.


While my initial response was to appreciate the students’ powerful use of silence, I realized today another significant aspect was the speed with which this innovative response was born and implemented: It happened just one day after the incident that triggered it.


Then I saw an 8 minute video that showed what happened IMMEDIATELY after the pepper spray incident:

After a period of confused anger and upset, protesters chant “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” (since many police departments have “serve” and “protect” in their mottos). Then they chant “Shame, shame!” then “Shame on you!!” The tension between the police and crowd grows palpable. The police become nervous, raising their pepperball guns protectively and threateningly. Things are about to get very ugly. And then suddenly – at 6 minutes 13 seconds into the video – someone in the crowd yells “MIC CHECK!” and the crowd yells back “Mic Check!” They say it again. The scene goes into a surreal suspended animation as the unknown initiator calls out a wisdom that the crowd had not possessed moments before, but now recognizes and follows:


WE ARE WILLING (we are willing)


… The police look around at each other. They aren’t sure what’s going on….


TO GIVE YOU A BRIEF MOMENT (to give you a brief moment)


… The police start to lower their guns…


OF PEACE (of peace)


YOU MAY TAKE YOUR WEAPONS (you may take your weapons)


AND OUR FRIENDS (and our friends)


AND GO (and go)


PLEASE DO NOT RETURN (please do not return)


WE’RE GIVING YOU A MOMENT OF PEACE (we’re giving you a moment of peace)


WE’RE GIVING YOU A MOMENT OF PEACE (we’re giving you a moment of peace)


YOU CAN GO (you can go)


WE WILL NOT FOLLOW YOU (we will not follow you)


YOU CAN GO (you can go)


YOU CAN GO (you can go)


YOU CAN GO (you can go)


The “You can go!” becomes a chant. The police back off in a tight protective cluster, facing the crowd, but slowly moving away…. The chant continues, intensely. Finally the apparent officer in charge indicates to the group of police they should leave and they all turn around and slowly walk away. The crowd cheers, surges, and cries out “Bye! Bye!” and “Yeah! Yeah!” Their enthusiastic cheering and applause continue, basking in their sense of moral and physical victory, while giving the cops lively encouragement to continue their departure. As the police near the edge of the quad, the crowd’s chant changes to “Who’s quad? Our quad?!” And then organizers announce a strike and assembly for Monday afternoon. (See another report on all this at http://dynamicsymmetry.livejournal.com/1363034.html.)


Just the fact that all this happened is remarkable. But I want to highlight the sophistication and SPEED of the nonviolent response initiated by that unknown participant in that angry student crowd facing the armed police force – using the “Mic Check” carrier wave developed by Occupy Wall Street. The intervention was perfectly timed and urgently needed: just as the police began raising their pepperball shotguns (). It looked like things were going to get much nastier, very fast. This startling “We’ll give you a moment of peace to leave” intervention was something totally new and unexpected by virtually everyone involved. But while it confounded the police, it was instantly recognized as powerful and right by the crowd, who unified around it, chanting to the police “You can go. You can go.” And those police went.


I was speechless when I first saw all this play out on the video. I could barely believe what I was seeing. Armed police backing up and leaving a crowd that had been spontaneously and brilliantly united into a powerful nonviolent Presence.


(For more recent news from Davis, see the Scott Galindez article below and .)


Then someone sent me a video of the gigantic “Batman” projection of OWS slogans on the side of a major skyscraper in NYC during the Brooklyn Bridge demonstration. See and the great Rachel Maddow interview with a key person in the stunt at .


There are standard methods and guidelines for nonviolence, as described by such experienced experts as the Alliance of Community Trainers http://trainersalliance.org/?p=221 and Harvard’s Gene Sharp (his “198 Methods of Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion” http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations103a.html has been used around the world) and other sources (see http://co-intelligence.org/P-nonviolence.html).


But these recent incidents make me wonder if distributed innovation, leadership, and creativity – which has always been part of nonviolent activism – is becoming more widespread, spontaneous, and powerful than ever – perhaps thanks to the web and social media. If this explosive nonviolence creativity continues to expand and deepen, It could generate a (r)evolutionary dynamic that will become almost impossible for status-quo systems to adapt to and neutralize.

On a more fundamental level, I see leadership, itself, evolving. Despite widespread developments in horizontal, participatory, bottom-up forms of leadership, top-down authoritative leadership has retained considerable legitimacy in dangerous and urgent situations where everyone needs to align together qui
ckly in right action in order to survive. The “You can go” intervention described above suggests that may be changing: even urgent dangerous situations may not require top-down leadership. It remains to be seen if emergent situational leadership amplified by the kind of crowd-sourced consensus that comes through twitter and the culture of General Assemblies (“Mic Check!”) can dependably generate the kind of spur-of-the-moment wisdom and co-operation needed in such situations.

If this capacity is going to develop anywhere, it will likely develop within the participatory culture and intense challenges being experienced by the Occupy movement.






UC Davis Students Are Role Models
By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
22 November 11
(Includes two powerful videos, on of the UC Davis Chancellor, one of a speech by one of the pepper-sprayed students, who is admirably AND militantly nonviolent)




It would have been easy for students at UC Davis to riot after watching their classmates being assaulted with pepper spray. Instead, they remained nonviolent. That simple act gave them the moral high ground. And that’s how social change movements grow.


Rewind a couple of weeks.


Occupy Oakland was in a similar situation. Police had violently cracked down on their encampment. Iraq War veteran Scott Olson almost died. They had the momentum, which led to a successful general strike that closed the Port of Oakland. As night fell on the day of that general strike, some of the protesters became violent. That violence turned public opinion, and slowed their momentum….


The authorities will continue to use violence in the hope that they can inspire a violent reaction from us. They know that scenes like the violence in Oakland after the general strike will kill the momentum of the movement.


Let us learn from Oakland, and follow the example set by Occupy Davis. Right now Oakland is struggling to maintain a camp, while Occupy Davis is back, bigger and stronger than ever.

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