Political Violence Is Never the Answer

Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King
Mahatma Gandhi statue in Gandhinagar Kakinada. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial. Photo credit: Adityamadhav83 / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) and The Obama White House Archives
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US Representative Steve Scalise, a congressional staffer, a lobbyist, and several Capitol police officers were the victims of yet another senseless act of violence perpetrated in the United States. Scalise and the lobbyist are currently in critical condition.

This incident reminds us that politicians are not immune from the violence that is so commonplace in the United States.

There have been numerous assassination attempts against elected officials, including sitting presidents. Some of them were successful, the most famous being the murders of President Abraham Lincoln and President John F. Kennedy.

Law enforcement are still investigating, but early reports indicate that the perpetrator, James Hodgkinson, who died from wounds suffered during a shootout, was a Bernie Sanders volunteer. He apparently had a lengthy arrest record, and was recently seen firing a high-powered rifle outside his home.

We don’t want to jump to any conclusions about the motive of this individual. But it is clear that tensions are high in the US right now. Many see President Donald Trump and the agenda he is pushing as an existential threat. Many Trump voters perhaps felt the same way about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

We here at WhoWhatWhy know that our readers come from all different political stripes, and may have differing views on gun control. But we wanted to take this opportunity to promote our belief in non-violence as a moral principle. We also happen to believe it is the most effective means of generating political change, no matter which side of the aisle you are on. The individual who perpetrated this crime will have done grave harm to his “side.”

We thought it appropriate to share this video of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking on the subject of non-violence.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Martin Luther King, Jr. (US Marines / Wikimedia).

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39 responses to “Political Violence Is Never the Answer”

  1. 0040 says:

    Wrong ! Change is in progress when blood flows in the streets. Maintaining the status quo through assassinations as is done somewhat routinely in the US is also a form of change. Obama saw that clearly and turned his back on domestic attempts at change. MLK was assassinated when Malcolm X’s influence clearly began to move him away from his peaceful centrist position as the killing of black folk in the US and Vietnam ramped up, ditto RFK a couple of months later.

    • davidslesinger says:

      I don’t agree that MLK moved toward Malcolm. Malcolm was moving away from separatism at the time he died. MLK was hardly a centrist ever. It made total sense that MLK would oppose the violence of Vietnam. That is, of course, why they killed him, I am quite disturbed that so many MLK dinners ignore the evidence from the Memphis 99 civil trial that James Earl Ray was conned into confessing and the culprits were the Feds, the Memphis police, and the mob. I expect you will agree that repression is what moves others to activism. The current impressive model is Standing Rock where the nonviolent discipline was maintained so the violence of the authorities became even more of a motivator for further action.

    • 0040 says:

      Malcolm was assassinated in 1965 at the behest of the Johnson regime. MLK knew he was next . Both he and RFK were assassinated by the same Johnson regime in 1968.. Standing Rock is a conflated fiction over money, and like OWS, or BLM fizzled rapidly, when no blood was shed. Ferguson, then Baltimore, had potential but no leadership, and in the end was subverted by Black Quislings supporting the status quo..

    • davidslesinger says:

      Please say more about Standing Rock being conflated fiction.I agree about LBJ. You avoided addressing what I said about
      Malcolm and Martin.

    • 0040 says:

      The conflation scam, quite popular within status quo crowd these days, is around states’ rights, native land claims, and pipeline interests. Some people believe this to be a coalition. But it’s 3 men in a boat rowing in different directions which results in going in circles.

    • davidslesinger says:

      Confused. The natives are at odds with the pipeline and the state, are they not?

    • 0040 says:

      Publically, perhaps, at times . privately not so much as money and promises change hands at the speed of light in the Internet Age. Native as a monolithic term no longer exists.

    • davidslesinger says:

      You are who runs in circles. Are you saying the conflict with DAPL is not what it seems?

  2. Mackenzie says:

    I agree with the premise of the article but want to ask a more complex question. What do you think about people who spoke so nastily (including talking about violence) against Donald Trump? Do they have any responsibility in the Scalise shooting?

    • Measure_for_Measure says:

      Talking nastily? Politics ain’t beanbag.

      Advocating political violence? No. There we draw a bright line. Such advocacy deserves condemnation: those who do it should retract and apologize.

    • 0040 says:

      Who is we?

  3. Here, here! No matter what side you’re on, violence always polarizes people against you. It is no coincidence that when deep state actors attempt to marginalize any political movement, they first attempt to radicalize a “lone nut” to incite violence. Don’t put yourself on their level. You’ll always lose.

    There’s enough force, killing, and war already in this world. The only change will come from peaceful resolution of our differences and the ability freely disassociate ourselves from those that disenfranchise us.

    • 0040 says:

      Except, such peaceful change has never happened in recorded history. “In the main justice comes out of the barrel of a gun” Irish adage heard a lot during their revolution in the 1920s.

    • gustave courbet says:

      That’s not true. Gandhi’s independence movement and the US civil rights movement both used non-violence to force change upon the system. The American labor movement has numerous examples of effecting change through mass civil disobedience.

      Strikes are still used regularly across the world to push back against power. There are many many examples of non-violent tactics being used to create real change. That they are overshadowed by the more common use of violence shouldn’t obscure their existence entirely as you have.

    • 0040 says:

      Oh but it is true. Gandhi in his religious fervor was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of Muslims and Hindus. In the end it became a “meet the new boss same as the old boss” situation. Things are worse not better for the masses in the subcontinent these days. Pacifism as Gandhi saw it required that all those millions give up their lives in the hope of advancement in their next life. Murder was an everyday thing in the US civil rights era. As someone who participated in it I can assure you of that. We fought pitched battles in several large cities in that era. When we lost it was heavily reported on the MSM, when we won it was not mentioned or spun. if you did not see yourself beaten with a truncheon on Cronkite’s fictional news I considered that a good day of protest.

    • You’re misconstruing peaceful change as never happening by equating violence during, surrounding, or perpetrated on protesters to the means of facilitating that change. The state will always use the tool of violence because that is all it has. Of course violence happened, however the change came in spite of such violence.

      It is a logical fallacy to say that what happened before or after the change negates the fact that it was those that acted in a peaceful manner eventually swayed those in power to leave it.

      Thomas Jefferson created a peaceful revolution against the Alien and Sedition acts of John Adams and won the Presidency in 1800. Slaves were manumitted around the world peacefully just about everywhere but the United States.

      Would peaceful protests worked in the former Soviet Union or in Fascist Italy? No. Totalitarian regimes aren’t going to be open to peaceful change.

    • gustave courbet says:

      I’m very well aware of the violence endemic to history. Your statement was “such peaceful change has never happened in recorded history.”

      If you meant that non-violent resistance fails to convince violent state-actors to lay down their truncheons and join the love-in, of course you’re correct. Nor does non-violence shield those practising it from violence, quite the opposite. It is a tremendously difficult path to tread because it is met with force. No one familiar with it would argue otherwise.

      My point was that, as a tactic of civic reform, non-violent resistance has unambiguously and demonstrably worked. Not without sacrifice, and not in a total “we all live in an everlasting utopian paradise” conception, but it has and does work. Why else would the CIA use it as a tactic today?

    • 0040 says:

      Name one instance? I think we have different definitions for non violent resistance. You cannot negotiate equality while on your knees. Please clarify CIA use of non violence as a tactic? I almost spilled my coffee when I read that.

    • gustave courbet says:

      Well, I don’t know what you will accept as something that “worked,” but everything from bus boycotts to lunch counter sit-ins have advanced the cause of civil rights. The way non-violent resistance “works” is via generating sympathy among the general population. For instance, such tactics DON’T work in societies or areas that don’t have mass media coverage of some sort. Being beat on your knees gives you the advantage if it reveals your oppressors’ moral failures to a wider audience. The history of the labor movement and civil rights movement are full of examples.

      If you’re looking for a “final and total victory” as an example, I can’t think of any, but the history of struggle is one of halting, incremental change.

      As for the CIA, mass movement “color revolutions” have become a favorite tactic of theirs. Dispensing training in civil disobedience and social media activism, and lots of cash is an effective way of fomenting disturbance in “unfriendly” regimes.

    • 0040 says:

      You are deluding yourself in that you seem to believe that someone somewhere gives a damn when the state turns on its populace. Some small short-lived advantages were gained in the 60s-70s, little victories and holding actions at best, when the gap between rich and poor was much narrower, and real violence was occurring in all the large cities, but no more. The velvet glove came off the iron fist many years ago, and American-style pacifism is no longer a viable strategy , if it ever was.. None of those alive today who promoted peaceful resistance over the decades ever did serious jail time or suffered a severe beating. They were considered “the loyal opposition” – that stance can no longer be maintained.

    • gustave courbet says:

      Well as I said, you can can deny that the tactic has effective uses, but history says otherwise (my point about press coverage concerning nonviolent protest is simply an explanation of the social mechanics involved). I’m not trying to sell a rosy-hued mythology. In fact, I’m one of the most cynical people I know (too much history I suppose), but cynicism shouldn’t blind one to history in all it’s facets, even the occasionally positive notes.

    • davidslesinger says:

      I did 4 months in jail in 1982 over the Seabrook nuke. Not sure you would define that as serious jail time. I am going to surprise you by agreeing with you in part in asserting so much present day nonviolent resistance is weaker than it need be. It is weaker because most practitioners of public arrest for a higher cause try to minimize their jail time by such means as “post and forfeit” actions or thinking that getting a light sentence is a victory. Not everyone can handle a nontrivial sentence, but it the concept of Gandhi’s concept of “suffering in jail to touch the heart of the adversary (not to mention everyone else)” was not dismissed out of hand, the movement would be more worthy of your respect. I am quite marginalized for my advocacy of jail sacrifice. I am probably the first person to serve time for a sentence for a civil disobedience arrest on the climate change issue (in 2009) .

    • 0040 says:

      Even a weekend in a US jail is frightening. Good for you, it makes your words credible, however you make my point ?

    • davidslesinger says:

      Hardly fair to pin the deaths of Hindus and Muslims on Gandhi when his long fast near the end of his life was what quelled the interreligious violence. He hardly required millions to the discipline of a satyagrahi, though he did require high discipline of those who lived in ashrams. The greater responsibility for the deaths you refer to goes on the British, who used divide and conquer with the separation of India and Pakistan. Blaming the deaths on Gandhi is basically saying because Gandhi was so respected any ill that occurred should be put on his shoulders.

    • 0040 says:

      Adding “fair” to what you deem history makes your view of history propaganda.. Commonly indulged in by those in power.

    • davidslesinger says:

      I hope you don’t assert that revolutionaries, violent or nonviolent, need not be fair.

    • 0040 says:

      Fairness and the impulse to gain power have no logical connection. Even FDRs “new deal” was based on political expediency not fairness. That those programs have been for the most part repealed should give one pause.

    • davidslesinger says:

      Let me get this straight. You lump Gandhi and King in with FDR because why? Maybe you are defending the marxist leninist drive to achieve the dictatorship of the proletariat. My criticism of liberals and leninists, thought they both deserve some credit, is that they both want to “take power” to do good for OTHER people, ignoring all the while their tendency to feather their own nests first.

    • 0040 says:

      Yes by all means get it straight . I did not lump any thing or person . I said “fairness” is not part of the actual historical record. It is a tool used to justify or condone certain outcomes, always after the fact. Capitalism while allowing 7.5 billion to live/exist on this planet can be said to have ” done good ” as well, until the fate of all gods other creatures murdered to make this possible, and our coming extinction, as we drown in our own garbage, is considered.

    • davidslesinger says:

      I suggest revolutionaries prove they are worthy of public support by showing their ethics are to be admired by the people. If you dismiss the value of ethics, why should any person considering supporting your efforts do so? If you justify shameful behavior, why shouldn’t people expect you to use your selfish ways against them?

    • 0040 says:

      Revolutionaries are never supported by the general public until after they have gained power., be it , Washington, Lenin , Hitler, Mao , or Pol Pot. Aristotle invented Ethics , the Catholic Church turned them into a perversion. Selfishness is genetic, altruism is not.

    • davidslesinger says:

      A Marxist Leninist! Vanguard of the proletariat and all that. At least you haven’t called me a running dog lackey.

    • 0040 says:

      All “ISMs” these days, including religion, are based in Materialism and as such have the same goals and methods. Even Plato pointed that out in his Republic. Governance is based on power and lies. Marx and Lenin had little in common, as anyone who has done the research knows.. What became Marxism was already being instituted in Industrial Germany and England before Marx finished Kapital. Do a time line. But then “Bismarckism” doesn’t roll off the tongue as cleanly ?.

    • Kapricorn4 says:

      New Zealand instituted a degree of socialism before England did so around 1900, under the Prime Ministership of Richard Seddon, to whom I am distantly related via my paternal grandmother, Alice Seddon Blackburn.

    • 0040 says:

      Since New Zealand was an English colony , I believe any attempts at socialism in that colony came from England. Germany, under Bismarck and England shortly later were implementing what became socialism in the mid 1800s, before Marx completed Kapital. England had a propensity to deport dissidents, including socialists, starting in 1600s continuing to do so until the end of WW2 when the US seized its empire as reparations for war loans.

    • 0040 says:

      The primary purpose of a “scholar” in today’s world is to justify and maintain the status quo, with few exceptions.

    • davidslesinger says:

      I found some merit to this assertion when I learned that most scholars in peace studies avoid participating in jail sacrifice actions because they realize it could jeopardize funding for their position or program. Nevertheless, practice without theory is less useful than it need be.

    • davidslesinger says:

      I have never been able to get any respected advocate of nonviolence to agree that calls for action should be for nonviolent action rather than peaceful action. If you call for peaceful action, when the authorities are violent that makes the organizers into liars. If you guarantee nonviolence, you only guarantee YOU won’t be violent. The reason the civil rights activists achieved whatever success they achieved was because of the violence against them WHILE they maintained nonviolent form.

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