A friend just sent me an article by Paul K. Chappel in which he reflects on the ways that violence, if it takes hold in enough sites, has a good chance of destroying the Occupy Wall Street movement. It’s something iI wrote about, less eloquently, a few weeks ago, before the violence in Oakland and before the original OWS began to segregate itself between those open to violence and those who oppose it, whether morally or strategically.
Morally, I oppose violence against people. Strategically, I oppose violence against property. Emotionally, I understand the frustration in those who feel like it’s time to take things to another level. I hope they’ll pause and reflect on the ways we all get caught in the seductions of instant gratification. Nothing as large as the changes we need will happen in a matter of months, and some of it won’t happen until we’ve put in many years of agitation, protest, occupation and other (nonviolent) means of putting some kind of wrench in the works.
Chappel writes, “Although there are many ways to discredit and damage a social movement, in the modern world the greatest danger to any movement is from within. The more frustrated people in the Occupy Movement become, the more likely they will be to use violence. This is cause for concern, because some protestors in the movement may not realize what they are getting into. This is not going to be like Egypt, where a ruthless dictator was toppled in a few weeks. In many ways the struggle in Egypt is just beginning, because much of its oppressive infrastructure is still in place.
To better understand the challenges ahead, we should study and draw inspiration from the struggles for civil and women’s rights, and every other social movement in history. It may take some years before significant progress is made on the issues we are confronting today. Rosa Parks was a committed activist for twelve years prior to her famous arrest incident, and King believed that the dangerous forces we are up against now are going to make the supporters of segregation look like amateurs in comparison.
If protestors aren’t mentally prepared for the challenges ahead and are expecting immediate results, their frustration will swell and the cries for violence will become more potent. Someone in the movement will say, “We’ve been doing this nonviolence thing for eight months and no significant change has happened. I am starting to get impatient. If we want change, we must resort to violence.” There are certainly people in the Occupy Movement who have this mindset now, but as frustration and impatience increase within the movement their violent rhetoric will gain more traction.
Social movements are long-distance marathons, not sprints, and they all involve a series of victories and setbacks. The better we understand this, the less frustrated we will become, the less likely we will be to lose hope due to disappointment, and the less prone we will be to becoming violent and destroying the movement from within. To be effective in any struggle for peace and justice we must balance urgency with patience, and we must be disciplined, strategic, and well trained.”
Chappel’s website is http://www.willwareverend.com. To his comments above, and the longer, extremely thoughtful essay from which it’s drawn, I can only say: Amen.