A sea of candles, a street of soft-lit faces, the swell of a thousand voices singing, the unstoppable surge of tears, an ache of yearning in the heart, the possibility of change, and the sense that as all falls into darkness, the people will rise.
This is the story of nonviolent struggle . . . a story that has changed the world time and again . . . the story the government doesn’t want you to hear.
The government and mass media do their best to suppress this story. The cameras swing to the angry kid dressed in black and the provocations he launches at the police. The images flash scenes of chaos during the crackdown. The news does not report the countless hours of quiet boycotts, uneventful sit-ins, or midnight sign-painting sessions in preparation for tomorrow’s picket lines. The sudden grace of students taking wing from tyranny, walking out on classes and injustice is rarely mediatized.
Few television stations air footage of tedious city council meetings, where people witness the birth of change.
The suspicion of agent provocateurs, the cynical snort that so-and-so is a paid troll, the sighs about infuriating individuals, the teeth-gritting over long-winded speakers, complaints about self-serving power grabbers, the frustration when one person’s anger holds the whole room hostage; these are also truths in the world of nonviolent struggle.
But equally true are the quiet thoughts and subtle emotions that remain locked inside the rib cage. There are the moments when Spirit steps inside the room, and the presence of every person’s faith is palpable. There are times when the lineage of nonviolent struggle comes close enough to touch: Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Dr. King, Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi and many countless more.
There is the tired laughter of longtime activists who have run the gauntlet of these experiences. There is the organizer’s stare that pins people as they scramble for excuses to avoid a meeting. There are the head-shaking recollections of victories, losses and uncomfortable defeats. There are the silent, shadowed looks of those who raced in to save the day, but lost the battle. There is the pain that never leaves the heart when an endeavor fails, and the guilty feeling when one’s eyes sweep over a map and sees a community that lies abandoned.
There are the midnight decompression rants after hot-tempered meetings. There are those moments when the jaw drops in disbelief at court injustices, police brutality and politicians’ machinations. There is the cynical snort of the young activist who has seen it all – and the subtle disdain of the old-timer who knows the kid has not. There are the green recruits being punched in the guts for their faith in equality and justice. There are the watery old eyes of grandmothers who refuse to lie down and die.
The world of nonviolent struggle holds libraries of experience: good times, full of laughter, song, community and purpose; tough times when the thrill of rebellion gives way to the fear of repression. There are times when one narrowly avoids the pitfalls of righteousness, other times when one topples blindly in. A moment arrives when you have never felt so alive; then comes another when you wish for death. Your heart breaks. It heals. Hope rises, then falls. It feels as though nothing can stop the movement; then everything does.
Meanwhile, the neighbors are watching television.
Don’t they understand? Life and death are at stake. Extinction looms! There is no epic greater than this. Homer defers to the story of our times. The Ramayana, with its demons and demigods, the Greek epics, Shakespeare’s work – not one can compete. Soap operas have nothing on reality.
But the kids stare glassy-eyed at the screens. Teenagers eat popcorn and watch thrillers. Parents flick through the reruns. Life passes them by.
Loneliness and sadness touch the hearts of all people. Fear of the unknown mingles with the uncertainty of change. There is nothing glossy about nonviolent struggle. No movie music plays in the background. There are no commercial breaks to the intensity of reality. The fallen heroes do not stand up and take bows.
Nonviolent struggle is gritty. It’s real. It is a world the 6 o’clock news fails to adequately report. The neighbors next door frown at the screen, watching the ten-second clip of the angry protester flash again and again. Why do they do it? the wife complains to the husband. He yells at the kid on the screen to get a job.
The kid has a job, you want to tell him. He has a job, and he’s doing it. The black-clad stereotype provoking the cops is keeping his neighbors from changing the world. He’s fueling the propaganda machine. The government may even pay him to do it. He may be sincere. Regardless, he still plays his role. The people keep watching the screen.
Over and over his story repeats. His message of anger and violence drowns out the other . . . the one that entrenched power doesn’t want you to hear.
There is a sea of candles. There is a street of soft-lit faces. There are a thousand voices singing. There are tears in your eyes and a stranger’s hand in your own. The impossible looms, but you refuse to give up. This is the world of nonviolent struggle.