Tag Archives: Resistance

In Memoriam

downloadYesterday, Daniel Berrigan: Priest, Poet, Peacemaker and Protester died just short of his 95th birthday.

If, even in the face of vast American military might, he never lost sight of the hope of an alternative, it was perhaps because of his recognition that while the commitment to war was total, those who spoke for peace so often did so half-heartedly, without the commitment and energy that others dedicated to the power of war and death. All it would take, then, for peace to win, is those of us who call ourselves peacemakers, approach the task with the same energy and commitment, and prepared to take the same risks.

Through the anti Vietnam war protests, the anti nuclear weapons movement and onwards to an active stance against more recent American military interventions, Berrigan did exactly that, living what he believed and inspiring others along the way.

I don’t know enough to write a lengthy biography, nor do I feel the need to, I’m sure Wikipedia can do that. But I know enough to know he was an inspiration and that the peace movement, and probably my life, is infinitely richer for his commitment, his faith, his energy and his courage.

His is a voice which continues to resonate and continues to challenge. I know I am not yet living up to the challenge. I know I want to try.

He may not have had the media presence of some of those who facebook has mourned in 2016; but for me, he is without a doubt the greatest of those whose faces have appeared on social media on the roll call to heaven for this year so far.

Some: A Poem by Daniel Berrigan

Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.

Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,

Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.

Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.

“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”

“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”

“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”


RIP Daniel Berrigan (May 9th 1921 – April 30th 2016

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A Legacy not to be lost

Today, in the US,  is Martin Luther King Day.

He is, rightly, remembered and celebrated by, well, nearly everyone. I have no doubt he deserves to have a public holiday named after him.

But there is a risk with all this though. Giving someone a public holiday, accepting them into part of the establishment and the fabric of society, can be a subtle way for their true legacy to be controlled and manipulated.

Martin Luther-King was an outspoken advocate of non violent direct action. He was utterly committed to non-violence, but this never meant he was passive in the face of injustice: he was arrested almost 30 times in ten years because he refused to comply with oppression, even if the oppression was legal and his actions were not.

He stood up not just against racial injustice but against money and militarism. Widely remember as a face and name of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King was outspoken about other issues of injustice, poverty, and violence too. He never stuck to just fighting his own battles, but fought on behalf of others as well. He refused to accept the dominant economic and militaristic models, the very models of the society which has tried to adopt him.

Extremist has become a dirty word. Maybe it was then too, but Martin Luther King embraced that identity

“The question is not if we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love”

It is up to us to ensure that it is his true legacy which lives on. Martin Luther King was a man of faith and integrity who, committed to non-violence, fought the systems of oppression to the point of giving his life for the cause. We have much to learn and much to live up to.


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Food and resistance

“After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

John 6, 1-15

In their book ‘Saving Paradise’, Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker explain how Jesus’ act of feeding the multitudes, ‘regardless of status or need… undermined the paternalism of Rome, which was built on an elite and powerful few having so much that they might scatter their largess, distributing 20 percent of their grain as a dole to the vast masses’[1].  They describe how food was used by the Romans as a means to subdue the population of Palestine – the Roman empire had a monopoly on grain, and by being given just enough, the oppressed were expected to participate and maintain an economic system which led to their own continued subordination – the Romans created a dole system, and used it to subdue dissent.  The ‘generorsity’ of the occupying forces was in fact deeply manipulative, and a cycle of oppression and subordination was in full swing.  Jesus’ act of feeding all and sundry to excess, was a demonstration of how the kingdom of heaven might look, a kingdom whose understanding of power and the value of the individual sat in direct confrontation with that of the Roman empire, which derived power from oppressive military force and economic exploitation.  Whatever the source of the food that Jesus used to feed the crowd, it was not sourced from the occupation.

This story then, goes beyond a simple demand for charity, however noble that may be.  Jesus was not just feeding those who were hungry, he was launching an assault on the system that kept their tummies just full enough to not cause problems.  Jesus offered bread derived from love and community, and called on his movement to follow his example.  In the same way, we should provide for our communities in a way that openly challenges the power structures that maintain subordination.  We provide, yes, but we should provide in a way that both asks the question and provides a response to the systems and structures that make our ‘providing’ so necessary.  As we give food, money or shelter to the poor we should see a question – “Why is it I am having to do this?” – and start to demand answers.  If not, we are simply acting as a pressure release valve on a system violently out of control, and our participation in simply legitimises the mainstream discourse of scroungers, the undeserving poor, and of charity being a sufficient response (instead of system change).

Jesus’ act only makes sense as a response to an exploitative system, and our food banks, soup kitchens and every other charitable act is only necessary and only makes sense in the context of exploitative and degrading economic and political systems.  Our punitive benefits system hands out a similar ‘just enough’ as the Roman occupiers in the first century, expecting credit and thanks for maintaining a social order where the poorest are considered tantamount to criminal.  Our physical sustenance however, does not come from the state, from welfare systems or our earthly leaders, it is provided by the earth and by creation, by God, by our communities.  It is our deep separation from creation that means we come to rely on the ‘generosity’ of oppressive structures and have no way of undermining or challenging them.  The feeding of the five thousand is an image of hope – that beyond the vast, expansive desert of supermarkets and pre-packaged food that we see for but a fleeting moment as it passes over our lips – there is a different relationship we can create with our food, with our earth, and with our communities that is more wholesome, joyful and life-affirming.

[1]     Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Ann Parker, ‘Saving Paradise’, Page 33.

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A Recurring Dream

“I have a dream…”

I was rather excited to wake up this morning to the fifty year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech;  a true prophet of the 20th century. Half a century on and there is still a way to go for racial equal rights, not to mention equal rights for a whole host of other groups such as women and those who identify with the LGBTQ community. However, today there is an African-American President; amazing!

Though, I am reminded this week, also, in the preceding shadow of the DSEi (Defense and Security Event) arms fair that surely we could never hope to be prophets like King?

The hero Mark steel writes (summarised).

A few activists could never hope to start a mass movement which might change the course of the big corporate machines of this world.
Boycotting certain goods surely only serves to ease the personal conscience of the activist as the profits of Nike, Esso etc. could never be hit hard enough to force change.
Buying shares in Tesco in order to attend shareholders meetings and ask board members embarrassing questions is certainly fun and worth a giggle, but that’s all it will ever be.
Certainly those who chain themselves to the Docklands Light Railway, in order to stop arms dealers from getting from their hotels to the arms fair, have to be admired for their audacity. However, the arms fair will happen regardless.
Then there are the members of the international Solidarity Movement (ISM) who went to Palestine to sit in hospitals and schools, the idea being that the Israelis were less likely to fire if these places were occupied by a handful of crusties from Surrey listening to Orbital on an iPod.
Helen Steel and Dave Morris distributed a pamphlet pointing out how McDonald’s were responsible for pollution, cruelty to animals and serving food that was full of chemicals; such an insignificant gesture.
Except, McDonald’s weren’t so blasé. Instead they took the pair to court and embroiled them in a now celebrated legal battle that caused an apparently invincible corporate symbol immense international embarrassment, marking the company as a particularly repugnant example of globalisation and, in turn, forcing them on the defensive.
The same can also be said of the far more ruthless arms industry. As a result of similar campaigning they have been put on the back foot. In Britain they have to maintain that they’re honorable arms dealers and would never knowingly sell laser-guided missiles that incinerate their target on impact to anyone who might use them to do harm. When, for example, Britain sold tanks to the Indonesian army, anyone concerned were assured that they were to be used for peaceful purposes. Maybe the army there spends most of its time making giant pies for the hungry villagers and the tanks are the only things that can roll that amount of pastry.
The company EDO MBM make guidance systems for the F16 bombers used by the Israeli airforce to drop bombs on the occupied Palestinian territories. But in 2006 a campaign of weekly protests outside the factory in Brighton caused the company sufficient embarrassment that they took out an injunction against the protesters. However, the protests intensified, the court case brought by the company collapsed, and the plant recorded a loss of £2million which it blamed on ‘legal costs’, resulting in the managing director getting the sack.
Reed-Elsevier, the company that staged the annual London Arms Fair (it sounds so innocent), announced in June 2007 they were abandoning this line of business because ‘it is becoming increasingly clear that a growing number of important customers have very real concerns about our involvement in the defense exhibitions business.’
What caused them to back down? Maybe it was the protests or the countless letters and complaints. It might have been the student at Loughborough University who won a £2,000 literary prize, but discovered the award was sponsored by BAE Systems, so denounced them in his acceptance speech and sent the money the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
In Palestine, the Israeli army did refrain from firing indiscriminately in areas where the (ISM) were based.
In all these cases the activists had been able to impose themselves only because there was a wider movement and an international groundswell of opinion in their favour. The mass of the confused, with their distaste for the values of our times, applauds the activists, the leafleteers, the splendidly eccentric peace protester covered in badges. Local communities write letters backing them, they’re voted heroes on local radio and TV polls and juries refuse to convict them. But without their wonderfully eccentric and imaginative actions, the humiliations inflicted and the retreats forced on these powerful bodies wouldn’t have happened.
There are limitations to these victories. The arms dealers won’t be decisively put out of business by a direct action stunt. But in a small way they’ve been forced, by people some would dismiss, to check back from the unbridled drive for profit to take account of the requirements of human beings. (Mark Steel: ‘What’s Going On? P110-114)
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On reflecting on ‘loving the enemy’ in relation to violence and active nonviolence, the following quote from Walter Wink’s ‘Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination’ articulated so well something I had been grappling with for a long time, so I wanted to share it here:

“Nonviolence is the spiritualisation of violence, the overcoming of violent desire. It is not the mere absence of violence, but an effort to transcend, rather than commit violence….It may prove beneficial to be forced to face, daily, the humiliating fact that some of us are no less violent than those whose policies we oppose. Maybe then we can love them, since we are no better, and avoid the self-righteousness that ends all dialogue….

Nonviolence is clearly the way of Jesus. But we need to offer our violence to God as well….so that the new synthesis, the third way, manifests not only our love but also our shadow. We are not paragons of peaceableness, but wounded, violent, frightened people trying to become human. We are not wan saints incapable of evil, but plain people clad in both light and dark, under the banner of love, seeking to be spiritual warriors.

Jesus’ third way shows us the path forward: neither repressing our violence nor acting it out, but letting it be the fuel by which God empowers us to struggle for the nonviolent future.”

I think he puts it so well (!) that I have nothing to add to it.

Wink, W. (1992). Engaging the Powers; Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination. Fortress Press: Minneapolis: 293-294

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