Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Conflict and Non-Violence
distributed 5/9/14 - ©2014

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Carol Weale, of Denver, Colorado. Her generous support helps make this publication possible.

There is a saying, "Conflict is inevitable, violence isn't." I worry, though, about the accuracy of that maxim.

When I place one of my experiences from this week side-by-side with what I see in national and global news, I am anxious about the prospects for peacemaking and non-violence in our high-stress world.

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My experience on Tuesday was vivid, but not especially remarkable. I spoke at a political rally in downtown Denver, calling on Colorado's two US Senators to vote against any legislation that would authorize the Keystone XL pipeline.

It was a short-notice event, triggered by rapidly changing dynamics in Washington, DC. About 100 of us gathered at the plaza in front of a federal courthouse, just across the street from Sen. Udall's office. The federal police told us that we couldn't stand on their plaza, and that we couldn't block the city sidewalk. We managed to let pedestrians squeeze through while the group chanted some slogans, and four of us spoke. Then a smaller group went up to the 15th floor to deliver documents to Udall's office.

There is conflict about Keystone and energy policy. On Tuesday in Denver, it was all non-violent and polite. This was not the occasion to push into escalated forms of protest. That kind of civil disobedience is planned if the State Department determines that Keystone is "in the national interest."

The people protesting in Denver, and others like us across the country, are passionate about the need to break away from fossil fuels. We are frustrated by political systems biased in the opposite direction. We are angry about the mass media which covers our issues badly, if at all, and about corporations that pursue profits and the expense of the planet. We are fearful about the degraded and dangerous world that is being created for us and those of future generations.

Passionate, frustrated, angry, fearful. But still -- so far -- our movement has been non-violent, civil in working through established channels, and persistent in trying to turn our society toward sustainability. Frustration and anger have not boiled over.

On this particular legislative fight, the fast organizing in Colorado and a few other key states may have swayed enough Senators that the Keystone vote has been called off. With the larger Keystone issue, what was considered a "done deal" three years ago is still up in the air, so we can feel that several years of non-violence has been at least partially successful. On the larger quest to turn from fossil fuels well, the struggle continues.

But when I look more broadly at the news, I see that passion, frustration, anger and fear often push up to the margins of violence, and then rage into insurrection and war.

In Nevada, cattle rancher Cliven Bundy has a conflict with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) about grazing rights. It has escalated into a month-long armed stand-off between the feds and a self-appointed militia, which has "set up checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass."

In Utah, another conflict with the BLM will come to a head at a protest tomorrow. "Led by San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, dozens of ATV riders are planning to rumble through Recapture Canyon near Blanding, Utah, on Saturday to protest the continuing closure of the trail to vehicles." There are fears of violence if the BLM blocks the vehicles. "There's a lot of anger out there (and) this is just the tip of the iceberg," said Liz Thomas, a field attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Here in the US, it is newsworthy when militia members and armed citizens face off against the government. Around the world, passion, frustration, anger and fear often lead to extreme violence.

Unrest in Ukraine has turned deadly with "pro-Russian separatists" battling the nation's acting government.

The militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria has finally provoked international outcry against their terrorism in kidnapping 276 schoolgirls and, this week, killing 300 civilians in a marketplace slaughter. The conflict stems from Boko Haram's demands for the establishment of Sharia law, and they seem willing to go to almost any extreme in pressing their demands.

A short news story in this morning's paper says "the Afghan Taliban will launch its 'spring offensive' next week with deadly strikes on government facilities."

Civil war continues in Syria -- the last, and painfully prolonged, battleground of the "Arab Spring" where frustrated and angry people rose up against repressive governments.

Yesterday in Venezuala, government security forces broke up the camps of student protesters, who have been demonstrating against the country's declining standard of living. Since February, at least 41 people -- on both sides of the conflict -- have been killed and 785 injured.

The list, obviously, can go on and on and on.

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There is no doubt that conflict is inevitable -- whether in personal relationships, local communities, or on the global stage. Anger and frustration, often stemming from a sense of powerlessness, make violence an all-too-common companion to that conflict.

It takes work to avoid violence -- work to keep communication open, work for creative strategies in airing grievances, work in finding "wins" for all sides.

So far, the movement for climate justice has worked hard at non-violence. Looking at what happens around the world when deep passion, frustration, anger and fear come together, we cannot take non-violence for granted. It will take diligent work on all sides to keep this movement peaceful, especially as the urgency of climate action escalates.

May we work to find that balance between passion and non-violence in times of major conflict.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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