Nonviolence is Not Afraid of Confrontation
Kingian Nonviolence trainer Kazu Haga shares more about how peace work is not about avoiding conflict, or papering over oppression. This is the second in a series from our interview together (see also #1). ~ Dawn
DAWN HANEY, Turning Wheel Media: Kazu, you do work with folks in prison, teens, and folks in Occupy movements – how do you think a person’s lived experience of oppression affects their commitment to nonviolence?
KAZU HAGA, East Point Peace Academy: One of the things that I will say about the work we’ve been doing in the jails and in the prisons and in the incarcerated communities is that I think in some ways they’re much easier to buy into the idea of nonviolence because I think they know better than most people the impact that violence has had on our lives and on our communities.
Sometimes people talk about nonviolence as “the third way.” As human beings, I think when we see conflict, and when we see violence, we’re used to the “fight or flight” mentality. People associate nonviolence with the “flight” mentality of “I’m not going to hit back because I’m scared to do anything else.”
And I think that that understanding of nonviolence doesn’t fly so well in the jails and the prisons, but the way we see it, nonviolence isn’t about running away. It’s not about not hitting back because you’re afraid to. But it’s about standing up and looking your oppressor in the eye, looking injustice in the eye and not hitting back, not because you’re afraid to hit back, but not hitting back because you acknowledge there’s a more powerful force than that. And that’s a very different thing than running away, and it’s also something most people don’t come to just naturally.
And so I think for communities that have dealt with a lot of oppression or violence, I think once they realize that there is another way to fight back, but without using violence, then it really clicks with them. Because, as I said, they know where violence ends up, right? They know what violence leads to. And so I think once you offer them that “third way,” then they really jump to it.
DAWN HANEY: Yes. Thank you. I think a useful concept that you talked about in your Kingian Nonviolence training was King’s discussion of “negative peace.” That what some people call “peace” is really just avoiding conflict, rather actually committing to nonviolence that is forceful and right in the middle of conflict.
KAZU HAGA: Right, well, you know King was arrested a bunch of times for disturbing the peace, right? And I think that it’s this idea that he was talking about negative peace in the sense that peace isn’t just the absence of violence.
Because if that’s how we define it then you can see the line of logic that leads to well if we just bombed this country and kill all the “bad people” then we’ll have peace, because all the violent people will go away. Or if we just lock up all of the criminals, then we’ll have peace in our communities, because we’ll just isolate all the violence.
But King really understood that peace is not just the absence of violence, but the presence of justice; and calling for justice, and organizing for justice, and bringing forth a just community is not a clean process and it involves confrontation, nonviolent confrontation, but nonetheless really confronting the forces of injustice and the forces of violence.
When we talk about nonviolence it’s really important that we’re not afraid of confrontation. Nonviolence is not afraid of confrontation. In fact, it’s really about creative ways to confront violence and injustice in our communities.
Photo credit: Ryan Rocca
Kazu Haga is a nonviolence trainer and founder of the East Point Peace Academy in Oakland, California. East Point Peace Academy envisions a world where historic conflicts are fully reconciled and where new conflict arises solely as an opportunity for deeper growth. Where the depth of human relations are so high that it allows each individual to attain their fullest human potential. Kazu works in prisons, jails, schools and communities to build a powerful, nonviolent movement of peace warriors.
Kazu’s strength comes from his commitment to peace work since the age of 17, when he embarked on a 1.5-year journey across the US and South Asia, studying nonviolence while living in temples with a Buddhist order committed to peace and justice. He reflects “I believe that those working for peace need to have the same levels of commitment, training, strategy and discipline that the military invests into war. The military trains its leaders at WestPoint. EastPoint will serve as a counter to that.” Contact Kazu at firstname.lastname@example.org