Editorial: Making Nonviolence More Powerful

IssueOctober 2015 - November 2015
Comment by Milan Rai

On Saturday 12 September, we had a wonderful ideas day in London with 18 PN workers, readers and supporters, thinking about how Peace News can develop and grow and become more useful to the cause of nonviolence and to grassroots movements struggling for radical social change.

More power than we know

One of the interesting moments came at the beginning of the day, when we considered the question ‘When have I felt powerful?’ The answers to this were meant to give some pointers to what PN could do to become more powerful, and what it could do to help grassroots activists become more powerful.

A lot of the answers came from doing nonviolent direct action (that’s the crowd we attract, I suppose), when people talked about working with a small group of people with strong bonds of trust; or having the numbers or determination to be able to determine what happened in a situation, whatever the wishes of the authorities; or having an intense focus and connection with the issues you care about.

One person said: when you know a lot about a subject, you become a powerful person. Someone else said that they had felt powerful when they were trusted with a big job (like chairing a large conference) – and, in fact, what had helped them get to that position was being nudged and encouraged to do something they weren’t sure themselves that they could really do. Something related was when someone said she felt powerful when she managed to achieve something when so many people had been saying that it wasn’t possible to change things. Taking a step back and just believing that you really can do it, and pressing ahead.

The last answer that was given was: ‘I feel powerful when I’m angry.’


That resonated a lot, given the importance PN has attached to nonviolent activists owning up to anger over the years. We’ve reprinted US pacifist Barbara Deming’s wonderful essay, ‘On Anger’ (in part) at least twice.

If we were going to apply some of those things to how Peace News develops, then we could allow ourselves and others to be more angry (in the non-destructive, disciplined way that Barbara Deming advocated and embodied); we could allow ourselves to show more of the knowledge and experience we have built up as staff and volunteers; we could be more open to nudging others to take big steps and be more open to being nudged ourselves.

We could be more conscious about trying to nurture strong bonds of trust between people engaged in social change work; and about promoting the affinity group structure for working together.

We are still turning over in our minds how to respond to a suggestion given by the much-missed Howard Clark in one of his last emails to us, on 22 November 2013: ‘any rethinking of PN should consider the proposal to stimulate and serve a network of nonviolence study and action groups. This is a well known model for development.’

A historic day

We’re very grateful to everyone who came along to Holloway Road for the meeting in the Dome Room. Thank you for your ideas and your enthusiasm and your energy – and for coming along on a day when so much else was happening. As Gabriel said: ‘Now you’ll always know where you were when you heard that Jeremy Corbyn had been elected leader of the Labour party.’

Topics: PN-related
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