”Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
”An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” — Mohandas Gandhi
In this past week, we have seen many in the nation honor the passing of Congressman John Lewis — one of the great leaders of the civil rights movement. In his autobiography, he stated that Martin Luther King was “the person who, more than any other, continued to influence my life, who made me who I was.” Both were beacons of light on the tremendous power of nonviolent resistance and its ability to create social change.
I am old enough to have marched with King and yet young enough to be actively taking part in the protests following the murder of George Floyd. It has been heartening to see the number of people willing to speak up and be counted. At the same time, it has been disheartening to see some people dishonor the memory of such civil rights leaders by resorting to violence.
Much inspiration for King was provided by the nonviolent campaigns of Mohandas Gandhi. Many who advocate violence believe that the ends justify the means. Gandhi addressed this issue directly: “There is no wall of separation between means and end…. The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree, and there is the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.”
His point is that once violence has been legitimized, a pattern has been set in motion in which violence continues to be legitimized over and over again. How many times have we seen this borne out by the annals of history? Gandhi and King taught that the only way to break this vicious and endless cycle is to not allow violence to corrupt the process of change in the first place.
But there is another response to the “ends justify the means” claim that is immediately and supremely relevant. Donald Trump is a classic demagogue who plays on people’s fears. The violence being employed in Portland is providing the perfect imagery which Trump will manipulate in TV ads to stir up his base of not only voters but also financial support. These ads will not be used on the West Coast but rather in the absolutely critical swing states that won the election for him in 2016.
From The Atlantic: “Now that it has been deliberately escalated, the violence will provide pictures, footage, video clips, and other material for Trump’s media supporters, and eventually for his campaign advertisements.” They will show “uniformed troops pushing back … restoring order with a strong hand. And it will use the kind of language that appeals to that part of the population that prizes safety over all else.”
When lasers are aimed at the eyes of officers and rocks are thrown, these are deliberate efforts to maim human beings. Even if anarchists wish to debate the ethical stance of nonviolence, there is a separate and totally legitimate question which begs to be asked. If you see Trump as the epitome of the greed and capitalism you say you adamantly oppose, why on Earth are you engaging in the very activity that can prop up his campaign and give him a chance to still win the moderate votes that carried his victory in 2016 and are quite capable of doing so again?
On the ultimate issue of survival of life on Earth, there are no margins to absorb setbacks. Four years of Trump wiping out efforts to prevent climate catastrophe have placed our world on the very edge of the point of no return. Four additional years will place us on the path to hothouse Earth when unstoppable heating bakes our life support systems and eventually turns Earth into a hellish wasteland.
Why are you giving support to putting him in office another four years?
Gary “Spruce”’ Houser has been involved in social change movements for four decades and is founder of the Point of No Return Media Project, which produces videos on climate distributed to news outlets for bringing science out of the abstract and for deepening urgency.