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Sunday, January 29, 2006

My first Non-violence Workshop

Today I participated in a non-violence workshop held at the Holman United Methodist Church. Once a month, Reverend James Lawson, a leading non-violence theorist, gives a three hour workshop that examines the philosophies and methodology of past non-violent movements.

The Season of Non-violence begins this Monday Jan 30th, the day Gandhi died and continues to the day April 4 when MILK was assassinated. So this workshop focused on the philosophy of Mohandis Gandhi.
The workshop began at 9 am with around 50 people in attendance. It seemed that many of the participants were quite active in the Los Angeles area with different peace and justice organizations. I met several members of the Interfaith Communities United for Peace and Justice and The Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence . Rev. Lawson began with an introduction of Gandhi's life and supplemented it with a segment of the PBS documentary A Force More Powerful and began to discuss how we could apply his methodology to today.

An interesting discussion ensued regarding right to self defense vs non-violence philosophy. This is something that I as an individual have tried to wrap my head around many times before. I have asked myself, if I were physically attacked whether I would retaliate physically in defense or not. And what I had unstably arrived at was that even though ideally I would like to have an openness to spirit that would not allow me to act in such away, when it came down to it I would probably attempt to defend myself. (Though I don't think I would be capable of seriously harming anyone, I would just create a space for my escape) This then cast a doubt on whether I was really capable of non-violence.

Rev. Lawson clarified that there is a difference between self-defense and nonviolence, (and I hope I don't butcher what he attempted to convey) that one can still self defend on the individual level but nonviolence was actually applicable to level of movement. During the civil rights movement, African American activists would sleep upright with a shot gun in their hands to defend their family in case of intrusion, but out on the streets among many they were able to uphold the force of nonviolence. That the movement itself was about going into the community and challenging the system.

Another important idea that I real gleaned on was regarding the success of a nonviolent movement. Rev. Lawson stated that a nonviolent movement will not succeed if there is fragmentation within, if there is still any debate of the efficacy of arms. For me personally this is such a interesting observation of human nature. Immediately his statement evoked a militant frame mind, and in fact he compared it to how when soldiers are trained they all are unified under one goal. I'm wondering if that I am just pre-conditioned to think this, and if it is just changing my perspective that I'll be able to see it in a positive light.

Anyways these are some of the thoughts that I walked away with. I knew within the first fifteen minutes of the workshop that I wished I had come many moons ago. With whatever time I may have left in LA, I definitely hope to make the most of this workshop and mentors of Rev. Lawson.

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