By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Of the 700 or so participants at the “No Hate Action Rally” in Davenport’s Vander Veer Botanical Park on Aug. 16, perhaps a handful were familiar with the term “nonviolence toolbox.” Their action, however, represented a tool from the nonviolence toolbox in a very visual way.
“Nonviolent action can dramatize the issue at hand and foster the creative tension that encourages all parties to find a path to justice and peace,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, observed in a presentation last month in Clinton. She spoke of the need to fill up what she called the nonviolence toolbox.
Sister Marilyn Shea, OSF, whose religious community sponsored Dennis’ presentation, was among several Clinton Franciscans who traveled to Davenport for the “no hate” rally. One Human Family of the Quad Cities Area organized the rally in response to leafleting by a white supremacist and anti-Semitic hate group in the area. The white supremacist violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va., just prior to the Davenport rally resulted in greater attendance than organizers anticipated.
“When we were standing along the street, so many people who drove by honked their approval,” Sr. Shea said. The rally was about “just putting some positive energy into the world. That’s what happens when we join with others in a positive way with a positive message.” Participants talked together and shared signs with affirming messages about love over hate and being kind to one another. “The more positive things we can do creates a ripple effect. That’s what makes a difference,” said Sr. Shea.
Sister Lynn Mousel, CHM, walked to the rally with several other members of her religious community, the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Davenport. They carried signs from a Kindness campaign of the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. “I felt like it was important to be able to do some kind of action, to stand up against this climate of divisiveness and violence,” Sr. Mousel said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of a group that can stand up together and share the same message.”
Dennis’ talk last month in Clinton focused on a global perspective of active nonviolence — with a concern about the “military toolbox” being full to the brim with weapons and well-trained personnel while the active “nonviolence toolbox” was almost empty. But, her observations point to practical applications on the home front. The nonviolence toolbox can be filled with tools such as conflict transformation in neighborhoods, restorative justice practices in schools, building empathy across differences between youths and migrants or refugees, rebuilding confidence in the political process, respect for human rights.
Sister Jan Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, noted that “we receive a lot of messages that violence is the solution to our conflicts and problems. We’re inundated with that.
People are feeling the pain of polarization and so we want to help them understand that active nonviolence is our path forward, together.”
Dennis, in her Clinton presentation, referred to a landmark study of nonviolent civil resistance campaigns that found such efforts were twice as likely to succeed as violent campaigns for the overthrow of a government.
Gabriela Egging of Prince of Peace Parish-Clinton appreciated how Dennis spoke of active nonviolence “as being a way of life and a positive force for social change and a means of building a global community committed to the wellbeing of all. She said it is a ‘process’ for ending violence and for protecting the vulnerable. Nonviolence is also taking a stand for justice using engagement with and determined resistance against violence.
“Our world is in such need of an alternative to war and fear,” Egging continued. “If I were in charge, I would work hard to make the ‘processes’ of active nonviolence taught and talked about more widely. It is so hard to remain in fear, hate or anger when one party engages the other as a fellow human being, a ‘beloved’ of God. When we work to put our energies toward understanding the ‘other’ and their culture, history, their wounds, we can better address the ‘issues’ and not condemn the person.”
Practicing active nonviolence “begins with ourselves, accepting our mistakes and less than desirable actions,” observed Evalee Mickey of St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville, who also attended Dennis’ Clinton presentation. “And then attempt to practice active nonviolence in our homes, with our families, friends, and even with those we don’t much like. When we go out to our community, to our nation and finally, our world, we need the strength of prayer and contemplation to keep a sense of purpose of nonviolence in order to deal with everyday aggravations. Nonviolence doesn’t come easy, must be practiced and takes a good deal of strength at times, but that is what is required if we are to follow our leader, the nonviolent Jesus.”
Sister Mary Ann Vogel, CHM, said that Dennis spoke to the Congregation of the Humility of Mary at the June assembly. “She challenged us, engaged in good conversation and responded to questions. We need to be challenged and to stretch ourselves, to listen and learn how to become more engaged in the problems as well as the solutions,” added Sr. Vogel, the Sisters of Humility president. She would add to the nonviolence toolbox “taking the time to listen, to stay at the table, to hear all sides of a situation, to hear where people are coming from when they make statements and not jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts. We need contemplative dialogue.”
Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, introduced the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI) to her audience at a presentation this summer in Clinton. The initiative, a project of various Catholic organizations engaged in peace building, was launched at the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference held in Rome in April 2016.
It “affirms that active nonviolence is at the heart of the vision and message of Jesus, the life of the Catholic Church, and the long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet (https://nonviolencejustpeace.net/).” Read more about it on this week’s Opinions Page.