Commit to active nonviolence


A peaceful, boisterous “No Hate Action Rally” in a Davenport park last week should be viewed as the first of many steps toward fostering active nonviolence and peace with justice at a personal and global level. One Human Family Quad Cities Area is to be commended for organizing an event that prioritized respect, kindness and compassion — qualities too often lacking in the public square.
Active nonviolence works, but not many people are aware of that fact. In a talk she delivered in Clinton last month, Pax Christi International co-president Marie Dennis told of a landmark study of nonviolent civil resistance campaigns over the last 100 years. Authors Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth collected data on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government since 1900. They found that from 1900 to 2006, “nonviolent campaigns worldwide were twice as likely to succeed outright as violent insurgencies,” Dennis said. That trend has been increasing over time, resulting in nonviolent campaigns becoming more successful and common during the last 50 years, just as violent insurgencies are becoming more rare and unsuccessful.

Dennis stressed that nonviolent campaigns require flexible and creative leadership. Successful nonviolent campaigns often include persons of different genders, age, race, class and urban-rural distinction. But poorly managed campaigns lacking unity – will fail. She calls for increased investment in developing, teaching and scaling up nonviolent strategies such as conflict transformation in neighborhoods, restorative practices in schools and a massive shift of resources into diplomacy and just, sustainable development. Recall that our proposed federal budget calls for the exact opposite — a huge increase in military spending. If we’re committed to active nonviolence and peace with justice, we’ll work to persuade members of Congress — who are back home on summer recess — to rework the budget when they return to Washington, D.C.

Ultimately, systemic change is necessary. Dennis made a pitch for the Catholic Nonviolent Initiative, which serves as a blueprint. It was launched last year during the Nonviolence and Peace Conference held in Rome, of which Dennis was one of the primary organizers. A partnership of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International and other international bodies, the initiative affirms “the vision and practice of active nonviolence at the heart of the Catholic Church” (

The initiative seeks to:


• Continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence. In particular, the initiative partners call on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace.
• Integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life, including the sacramental life, and work of the church through dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders, voluntary associations and others.
• Promote nonviolent practices and strategies  (e.g., nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation and peacebuilding strategies).
• Initiate a global conversation on non­violence within the church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world to respond to the monumental crises of our time with the vision and strategies of nonviolence and Just Peace.
• No longer use or teach “just war theory”; continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons.
• Lift up the prophetic voice of the church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.

Advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons is one of the most challenging elements of the blueprint. But it is worthy of further exploration and discussion. The Catholic Nonviolence Initiative merits our attention, study, reflection and support as individuals and as part of the greater global community.

Its website ( encourages these doable, concrete actions. For starters, pray — with your family, school, faith community or others. Include a prayer for conversion to nonviolence and just peace regularly in your prayers of intention. Other good ideas: host a viewing “The Sultan and the Saint” about St. Francis of Assisi’s heroic, 13th century peacemaking venture. Consider how the Holy Spirit may be calling your faith community to be active peacemakers. Adopt a nonviolent practice in your daily life. Advocate for non-military, nonviolent solutions in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Korean Peninsula among other troubled spots in the world.

An unconventional, but apparently effective nonviolence tool is what the New York Times calls “humorous subversion.” Op-Ed contributor Moises Velasquez-Manoff wrote about the German town of Wunsiedel, which dreaded the annual arrival of neo-Nazis marching on the grave site of Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess. In a creative counter response, the townspeople turned the march into a mock sporting event with colorful signs and silly slogans. Experts in nonviolent protest say the Wunsiedel approach could serve as a model for Americans looking for an effective way to respond to the resurgent white supremacist movement. The Times piece quoted Dr. Stephan, who observed that nonviolent movements succeed because they invite mass participation.” “Humor can do that; violence less so,” Velasquez-Manoff wrote.

The no-hate rally in Davenport’s Vander Veer Botanical Garden didn’t employ humor. But it did create what Clinton Franciscan Sister Marilyn Shea describes as positive energy. Let’s harness that energy so that active nonviolence and peace with justice become our way of life.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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1 thought on “Commit to active nonviolence

  1. Re: August 24, 2017 editorial
    I am a nonviolence advocate. I am also a realist. Marie Dennis advocated that we should reduce military spending. I would remind readers that the number one responsibility of all governments (local and state and federal) is to protect their citizens from foreign and domestic enemies. From nuclear threats by North Korea to shootings in many eastern Iowa cities, it would be prudent to increase the budgets of those entities who strive to keep us safe!

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