How About Building Community?

Dear peace community,1-i20cover1

Arming the Left (Independent May 18-25) starts with so many hypotheticals of armed inhuman Nazis shooting into crowds of pacifist demonstrators. After spinning this dystopian tale Michael Siebert writes “Let’s say you’re black or Jewish or” fill in the blanks. “You’re unarmed and your belief that something like this could never happen here has just been shattered.”

I am Jewish. I am well aware that it can happen here. It already has. Many times. Blacks, Native People and Latinos know that intimately. Anyone who is poor or a minority knows that. From lynching and Jim Crow to native genocide and gay bashing. All were and are carried out by armed men who believe they are righteous.

That’s why I advocate pacifism.  A philosophy that undermines the legitimacy of violence as a solution will ultimately make us all safer. Learning the skills of non-violent communication and conflict resolution and de-escalation are critical, but are nowhere mentioned in the article. Strong community is critical. If that “20-year-old kid storming towards you with a pistol on his hip” sees you as the friendly neighbor, rather than the armed other, he’s more likely talk rather than shoot. If you are armed will he be more likely to draw that pistol. Are you likely to shoot him even if that pistol stays on his hip? Will your weapon make you more emboldened to use violence? If you’re armed, are you any different from that kid?

There’s an even darker side to weapons: You have to dehumanize your opponents to use them. Nick Campbell “thinks that people beholden to certain ideologies simply can’t be reasoned with, because they fundamentally don’t respect the rights of other people to exist.” That is a textbook example of dehumanizing your opponent, and is at the root of most violence. To say that the left should dehumanize others to make ourselves safer because they’re dehumanizing us is dangerous hypocrisy. When the left and right dehumanize each other where does that leave us? What are the limits of self-defense?

Let’s talk about building community. Let’s organize movements. Let’s learn de-escalation skills. Let’s hone our conflict resolution and non-violent communication abilities. That’s what would make me feel safer. And that’s what would build a stronger and more egalitarian society.

Robbie Liben, a computer programmer in Missoula and a lifelong nonviolent political activist.