Category Archives: Social Justice

Quick Thoughts Arising from Black Lives Matter and Pride.

For many of us our privileged status could disappear tomorrow; for some such status may never come about. Black Lives Matter and Idle No More raised the later reality into current political debates. It is important, though, for many who think that the issues raised by Black Lives Matter recently and Idle No More a little while ago will never affect them to think again. There is both an idealistic and a selfish reason to work for a truly just and egalitarian society for all. A little bit of reactionary social change and suddenly privilege can disappear. Real solidarity now, radical transformation now, is in the interest of most of us.

During my activist years I learned about a number of very obscure laws, such as Unlawful Handbill Distribution, or that criminal charges and harsh bail conditions can be imposed for such crimes as drawing peace symbols on the pavement of Nathan Philips Square. I was a pretty obnoxious activist and drew police attention as a result. The right skin colour, a real address, a union card in my pocket, etc. did not stop me from learning that police power is all too often arbitrarily exercised and that privilege is not permanent. Stepping back into safety is something available to people like me, but that safety is precarious. I don’t take it for granted.

A lot of the criticism I come across in regards to the tactics and timing of Black Lives Matter and similar groups comes from people who seem to forget what it is like to not have a voice or to be always on the outside or always having to hide something about yourself in order to fit in or to be safe. While there is a rush in the movement of confrontation, if there was an easier, faster and better way to transform the world those methods would be chosen. The social vision that Black Lives Matter raises is key for a better world for all.

The demands raised at this year’s Pride were practical, material and achievable. They move us to a place where more of us are included and, eventually, one where everyone is welcome. I may feel shielded by my social status today, but that could change all too quickly. By challenging privilege, and hopefully pushing aside privilege, they will help create a better world for me. Black Lives Matter doesn’t speak for me; I don’t speak for them. But I support what they want to achieve and the tactics they’ve chosen. My future depends on it.


Year End Donation Suggestions for 2015

As 2015 comes to an end, it’s time for my off and on sharing of ideas for sharing our abundance with charities and non-profits that do something to directly help others while seeking to make broader social change. Most of the charities have a link on their website to make donations on line, but all welcome donations through the mail. Several of these charities I’ve been on the board of; others are ones who do unique work that I support. Not all of the groups I suggest supporting are able to give charitable receipts—OCAP isn’t, for example—but all could use your financial support.

1. St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing Society
. 138 Pears Ave, Toronto, ON M5R 1T2.
St. Clare’s still seeks ways to develop new affordable housing efforts while continuing to provide affordable housing to people, most of whom come as a result of referrals from agencies working directly with the homeless, marginalized and difficult to house. St. Clare’s grew out of Toronto Action for Social Change, which organised a number of creative protests during the Harris years. While the website is being redeveloped, more information can be found at:

2. FoodShare Toronto.
90 Croatia Street, Toronto, ON M6H 1K9.
From the good food box programme to community gardening to advocating for sustainable food policies, FoodShare works hard to make sure that social justice includes what is on the table. More information can be found at: As Foodshare has a number of social enterprises it sponsors, it helps to make a note on cheques that the funds are for a donation to Foodshare.

3. Rooftops Canada.
720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 313, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2T9
Rooftops Canada, the international development arm of Canadian co-operative and non-profit housing movements, works with overseas partners in countries from the Baltic Sea to Zimbabwe to “improve housing conditions, build sustainable communities and develop a shared vision of equitable global development. “Rooftops initiatives range from capacity building to microfinance. More information can be found at:

4. Canadian Alternative Investment Foundation (CAIF),
CSI Regent Park,
585 Dundas St East, 3rd Floor, Toronto, Ontario M5A 2B7.
CAIF evolved from the Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative (CAIC), which does social investing on behalf of Canadian charities. CAIF is a charitable foundation which will be providing grants and loans to charitable organisations involved in community initiatives that further the vision of CAIC’s founders. More information can be found at

5. CHFT Charitable Fund,
658 Danforth Avenue, Suite 306,
Toronto, ON, M4J 5B9
The CHFT Charitable Fund is a project of the Co-operative Housing Federation of Toronto. Its programmes have ranged from diversity scholarships to support for the Green Roof initiative at Hugh Garner Housing Co-operative to a basketball court at Atkinson Co-op. More information can be found at:

6. Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. 157 Carlton Street, Unit 206,
Toronto, Ontario
M5A 2K3
From direct action casework to solidarity with imprisoned refugee claimants to walking picket lines, OCAP activists are a strong voice for economic and social justice. For more information

7. Puppermongers. 388 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, ON M4M 2T4
I’m not directly involved in the arts these days, but I do serve on the board of a very wonderful puppet troop. This small group does everything from workshops to touring productions. For more information, see:

8. Wilderness Committee. P.O. Box 2205, Station Terminal, Vancouver, BC V6B 3W2
The Wilderness Committee is a mainstream but persistent voice for wilderness and endangered species. In addition to political campaigns, they are a good source of fair trade goods not found elsewhere. For more information see

9. Peace Brigades Canada. 145 Spruce Street, Suite 206, Ottawa, ON K1R 6P1
Peace Brigades Canada is a part of a global network of activists who work with human rights activists in places of conflict. From Nepal to Mexico, Peace Brigades volunteers have accompanied human rights workers as the eyes of the world. For more information see

10. Shoresh. c/o 132 Cedric Avenue, Toronto, ON M6C 3X8
From a community gardens to education on the relationship between spirituality and ecology to a Community Shared Agriculture initiative, this is a great and wonderful fairly new addition to the world of food security in the GTA. For more information, check out:

The above is not an exhaustive list. I donate monthly to Interval House and the CRC. In the past many organisations such as the Elizabeth Fry Society had me among their regular donors. However, I think my top 10 represent a range of places, from social investing to radical peacemaking, that are my priorities at the end of 2015.

A Couple of Brief Thoughts on Means and Ends

It seems like a million years ago, but I clearly recall a conversation among members of the Alliance for Non-violent Action around non-violence and choice.   At the time there were sit-ins and blockades of the Morgentaler clinic.   There were some with ANVA who took the position that because the tactics were similar to those used by ANVA and others in the anti-war/anti-nuke movements they were part of our movement.   Others were clear that it wasn’t just the tactics but the cause that needed to be considered.    It wasn’t just the tactics that determined the nature of the movement but a combination of aims and tactics—non-violence can easily be used to promote a far less just, open and compassionate society.

I also remember a conversation in regards to disruption of events.   For some it was a way to speak truth to power.   For others, such efforts contain echoes of jack boots and were a statement of an unwillingness to accept the value of free speak.   For these later folks our tactics should be ones we’d be willing to tolerate against us—if we would feel intimidated by outbursts of anger and efforts to silence our speech, we shouldn’t use such tactics against others.

One of the major reasons I am politically pessimistic is that some movements I’d like to support are using tactics I oppose and some movements I oppose are using tactics I have long advocated.   I am longing to see a unity of means and ends.


When I stepped off the plane last December at Ben Gurion Airport I had an overwhelming sense of finally being home. The closest experience I’ve ever had to it was my born again moment when, caught on the wire around the Darlington Reactor site I felt enfolded by the divine presence in a way I’m rarely come close to experiencing again and then only in the rare moments when celebrating the Eucharist I find myself transcending the moment into something wonderful and eternal. Having this experience about a place and particularly within a nation I’ve been very critical of over the years still astounds me. And it puts me in a different space than the political world I’ve been a part of for generations. I still oppose the West Bank settlements; I mourn for and grieve over the deaths and injuries and trauma of Gaza today; I think that a two state solution arrived at sooner rather than later is the best option at this time for long term peace. But I would feel emotionally and spiritually devastated if Israel ceased to be, which is what Hamas and Hezbollah and other similar movements are aspiring to achieve.
This perspective means I’d not be welcome at the People’s Climate March in New York this fall. My belief that peaceful coexistence is more important in the short and long term for the people of Israel/Palestine makes me realise I’d be unwelcome at public expression of opposition to the attacks on Gaza as such gathering are all too often not a demand for peace in Gaza but a gathering to support the regime in Gaza. Peace and an end to violence I’ll always support. Taking sides in a violent dispute is, to me, moving away from advocating an end to war. In the past I’ve marched to end the Vietnam War, in opposition to the Somoza regime, against the coup in Chile, against apartheid, against police violence and the list goes on. It took years for me to get to the point where I saw contradictions in what I was after—a peaceful and more just world—while justifying my participating in such efforts as showing support for the objectives and not the means by which the objectives were obtained. I somehow didn’t make the contraction between teaching in non-violence workshops that means and ends could not be separated and taking part in political campaigns where I could separate the two. I do not believe that I can work for peace between the people of Israel and the people of Palestine if I can not call for an immediate end to violence by both sides. But if I am expected to take a side, it would be the side in which my ideals have a better chance of flourishing. They can in Israel. They can not under Hamas.
I’m hoping to hear back this coming week about my exact placement for my month-long volunteer trip to Israel this fall. Assuming it goes well I plan to return the following summer to study Hebrew and do additional volunteer work. My hope is to be involved with human rights or direct service work. There are homeless people in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; there are refugees struggling to find a voice; there are hungry people wondering where their next meal is coming from; there are people from religious minorities seeking a way to live in harmony and dignity with their neighbours. There is a fledgling credit union movement. There are cat rescue efforts. There is multi-faith dialogue. There is bridge building between conflicting worlds. There is hope and despair. These seems, surprisingly enough, the possibility that there is a place for me in all that.


During the 1979-1980 academic year students at Queen’s University organised a conference on Human Rights and Social Responsibility. While Chile was a major focus of our discussions, there was a panel on Palestine. To the surprise of many present I called for a return to the pre-1948 boundaries of Israel. Many people from the traditional left felt this was an impolitic statement—not something they disagreed with necessarily but a stand not voiced publicly. It was felt to bear more than a hint of anti-Semitism. My comment wasn’t based on solidarity with the Palestinians. I wasn’t really aware of them. But I saw the existence of Israel as a statement of our shared shame. The Jewish people needed to build a homeland because no place else on earth proved to be safe for them. The existence of Israel let us off the hook; we didn’t have to truly confront our own anti-Semitism.

Over the years I learned more about what was going on in the middle east. I read statements calling for the expulsion of the Palestinians. I saw pictures from Sabra and Shatila. I talked to trade unionists and church people who lived and worked in the West Bank.  I also talked to people from Israel. I talked to survivors of Nazi death camps and dissidents from the Soviet Union. I read more about the history of Israel and the liberation struggle of the Jewish nation in Diaspora. I talked with people from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and learned more about the liberation struggle of an fragmented people. I heard similar dreams and aspirations from two claimants to overlapping territories.

Very recently I had the chance to visit Jaffa, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I had an opportunity to meet with dreamers and practical people seeking ways to sort out the many issues but mostly I came into contact with people just wanting to get on with things.

Going directly from Yad Vashem to Bethlehem, passing through the divisive wall between the West Bank and Israel, was an exposure to two shocking realities. Yad Vashem makes it clear that the holocaust didn’t arise in a vacuum. There were ghettos and restrictions in advance of mass murder. There were pogroms and other violent attacks on the Jewish community. The genocidal attack on the Jews of Europe was a culmination of centuries of hatred. One could leave the museum with a sense of despair. Yet when one leaves the main exhibits at Yad Vashem you exit to gaze out over a wonderful and welcoming land. The promised land is there as a haven in a world of hate.

And yet the promised land isn’t safe. Thousands of rockets have been fired from the south. Suicide bombers have found their way into the safest of community spaces. There is hope in Israel but also fear than this struggle for a safe and secure haven may never end. One can’t help becoming a Zionist after this experience.

And yet a few miles away the world looks different. The promised land isn’t just a haven. There is evil growing on what should be sacred land. People are being forced away from their homes. Humiliating and discriminatory practices abound. Communal punishment is common. What often appears as random outbursts of violence from Israeli authorities and settler communities makes it hard for anyone to know how to guarantee personal and family safety even if one wants to avoid political struggles. It is easy to draw parallels between the experiences in the occupied territories and the experience of the European Jewish community in the lead up to the holocaust. One can’t help becoming a supporter of the national of Palestine after seeing this.

And then I went to spend several days in the old city of Jerusalem.
Imagine a Saturday towards sunset in the square in front of the Wailing/Western Wall. There is the blowing of ram’s horn announcing the end of Sabbath. Woven into this is a Muslim call to prayer. And, as a part of this tapestry, there are church bells. Even in a place of tension, the children of Abraham all have a voice.

Or imagine sitting in a square eating a bagel with cream cheese. The square has seen the murder of the Jewish people by Romans, Christians and Muslims. But around you today are Christians and Jews and Muslims. Cats come up to you looking for a little something. A busker is playing ‘It’s a wonderful world”. There is something a little out of time going on, as if there is a chance for a better world to come to life in Zion.

I don’t have an easy solution to all the problems in the Middle East.
But I don’t think adding yet more nation states is the solution. There are in place across the many boundaries and barriers civil society organizations and visions that exist independently or parallel to major political apparatuses that already find ways to share ideas, resources and visions. Whether found in efforts such as anarchists against the wall or in multifaith dialogue initiatives, common ground is being woven together despite the best efforts of the state. It is from common ground that hope for peace grows.

There is still a real need for Jews to have a homeland. Everyone needs a place where they can feel rooted. And there is a need for those whose ancestors moved into the middle east over the centuries who are not Jewish to feel that their lives aren’t uprooted. Maybe what allowed the Jewish people to survive through the many centuries of the Diaspora—being a nation without a state—contains the best solution for both people of the Palestine and the people of Israel.


Presentation on Co-operatives
Sunday,May 4, 2013
Donway Covenant United Church
230 The Donway West, Toronto, Ontario

Bio Note: Brian Burch is involved with a number of types of co-operatives, including housing (President, Don Area Co-operative Homes; Ontario Regional Director, CHF Canada); financial (Director, Canadian Alternative Investment Co-operative); and worker (Vice-President, Ganesh Community Development Co-operative).

There are days when I feel very old—in 1979 I took part in a conference on Human Rights and Social Responsibility at Queen’s University, which included discussions on fair trade and co-operatives. Decades later, the ebb and flow of social change again brings economic justice to a central role in social justice movements. From the Occupy movement calling for people to move bank accounts to credit unions to community bonds funding new green energy producing co-ops, our world seems again willing and able to embrace the co-operative model.

I’ll touch on a few general points and then have a question and then have a question/answer/conversation period.

The first point is that co-operative initiatives have a long history. I think that the co-operative spirit is woven into what it means to be human. From the pooling labour for harvesting crops to barn raising, from quilting bees to bringing over a casserole when a neighbour has experienced a crisis, we work together. We may think of co-ops as being the formal structures they have become, the Mountain Equipment or Karma Co-ops, but woven into the nature of all co-operatives is the human spirit that encourages us to work together for our common good.

Organisationally, co-operatives as we understand them go back to the middle ages when co-operative trading ventures, road construction companies and similar ventures were formed. However, the formal start of the modern co-op began in Rochdale, England in 1844 where weavers came together to open a consumer co-operative store to sell goods that people could not otherwise afford. The principles these people developed became the modern co-op principles that the global co-op movement has embraced, principles that distinguish co-operatives from other social institutions. These 7 principles are

1. Voluntary and Open Membership: Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all people able to use its services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
2. Democratic Member Control: Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members—those who buy the goods or use the services of the cooperative—who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions.
3. Members’ Economic Participation: Members contribute equally to, and democratically control, the capital of the cooperative. This benefits members in proportion to the business they conduct with the cooperative rather than on the capital invested.
4. Autonomy and Independence: Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If the co-op enters into agreements with other organizations or raises capital from external sources, it is done so based on terms that ensure democratic control by the members and maintains the cooperative’s autonomy.
5. Education, Training and Information: Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative. Members also inform the general public about the nature and benefits of cooperatives.
6. Cooperation among Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
7. Concern for Community While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members.

From the smallest worker co-op to Co-operators Insurance, from a community radio co-operative to Gay Lea Dairies, these principles unite the global co-operative movement. These principles are taken seriously as being what makes co-operatives truly distinctive. Non-profit day care centres and Sunkist are equally valued parts of the movement.

The co-operative structure is a very flexible one. There are no areas of human activity where co-operatives can’t find a niche. Co-op members provide medical care and housing, sell beer and gasoline, conduct research and organise communities to address poverty and homelessness. In bringing individuals together to pool resources within a co-operative structure social needs are met in a more creative, accountable and responsive way. Co-ops are a third way, different from state enterprises or traditional corporate structures. At the core, co-ops are groups of individuals who collectively achieve something greater than they could achieve on their own.

Growing up, the first co-op I became aware of was The Algoma Steelworkers Credit Union, which my parents were members of. I then heard of Co-operator’s Insurance, because my family had policies with them. I first became active in co-ops when I helped form a food buying club at University; bulk buying of food meant more money for other things. As a graduate student I become connected to student housing co-operatives and early fair trade initiatives, linking social justice activists in Canada to those struggling to gain control of their own destiny in other lands. I had a chance to learn more about co-operatives from those working to establish them in Nicaragua and South Africa while becoming familiar with worker and housing co-operatives close to home. Co-operatives challenged oppressive regimes by bringing people together to grow food and weave cloth and make goods sold through networks of solidarity activists here at home. Co-operatives, such as Unfinished Monument Press, published my poetry. Don Area Co-operative Homes has given me a place to live for almost 30 years. I still dream of a co-operative commonwealth where all of society is self-organised and all within creation have access to the goods of creation with all acting as stewards of our shared resources.


Co-operatives (From Wikipedia)

A cooperative (“coop”), co-operative (“co-op”), or coöperative (“coöp”) is an autonomous association of persons who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual, social, economic, and cultural benefit. Cooperatives include non-profit community organizations and businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use its services (a consumer cooperative) or by the people who work there (a worker cooperative) or by the people who live there (a housing cooperative), hybrids such as worker cooperatives that are also consumer cooperatives or credit unions, multi-stakeholder cooperatives such as those that bring together civil society and local actors to deliver community needs, and second and third tier cooperatives whose members are other cooperatives.

International Co-operative Alliance:

Canadian Co-operative Association:

On Co-op (CCA Ontario):

Housing Co-operative (From Housing Connections):

CO-OPERATIVE HOUSING(CO-OP) – Co-operative housing is collectively owned and managed by its members (the people who live there). Co-operative members actively participate in decision making and share the work involved in running the housing community. Applicants can apply for co-ops through Housing Connections. However the co-ops, and their selection committees, make the final decision to determine suitability when choosing members. As a member of a co-op, you must volunteer and take part in the management of the building.

ICA Housing:

CHF Canada:

CHF Toronto:

Worker Co-operative (From Wikipedia):

A worker cooperative is a cooperative self-managed by its workers. This control may be exercised in a number of ways. A cooperative enterprise may mean a firm where every worker-owner participates in decision making in a democratic fashion, or it may refer to one in which managers and administration is elected by every worker-owner, and finally it can refer to a situation in which managers are considered, and treated as, workers of the firm. In traditional forms of worker cooperative, all shares are held by the workforce with no outside or consumer owners, and each member has one voting share. In practice, control by worker-owners may be exercised through individual, collective or majority ownership by the workforce, or the retention of individual, collective or majority voting rights (exercised on a one-member one-vote basis). A worker cooperative, therefore, has the characteristic that the majority of its workforce own shares, and the majority of shares are owned by the workforce.


Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation:

Consumer Co-operatives (From Wikipedia):

Consumer cooperatives are enterprises owned by consumers and managed democratically which aim at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of their members. They operate within the market system, independently of the state, as a form of mutual aid, oriented toward service rather than pecuniary profit. Consumers’ cooperatives often take the form of retail outlets owned and operated by their consumers, such as food co-ops. However, there are many types of consumers’ cooperatives, operating in areas such as health care, insurance, housing, utilities and personal finance (including credit unions).

Consumer Co-operatives World Wide:

Financial Co-operatives/Credit Unions (From Wikipedia):

A credit union is a member-owned financial cooperative, democratically controlled by its members, and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members.

World Council of Credit Unions:

Credit Union Central of Canada:

Credit Unions of Ontario:


Non-violence philosophy for animal activism

Multi-faith centre, 569 Spadina Ave. University of Toronto,

Koffler Auditorium (1st floor)

Non-violence philosophy for animal activism

Thursday, December 13, 2012, 7:00 p.m.

Multi-faith centre, 569 Spadina Ave.

University of Toronto, Koffler Auditorium (1st floor)

Thanks for the opportunity to share some thoughts on non-violence.    I apologise in advance for depending on notes and not being as energetic as I might be.  I’m recovering from the flu and my thoughts seem to be ever more scattered than normal.

I’ll start by suggesting some of the best counter arguments to my approach to social change can be found in Ward Churchill’s Pacifism as Pathology.   There are other works available, both in print and on-line, that critically examine non-violence but I find that Churchill raises concerns I hadn’t thought of and he approaches the whole subject in clear and direct language.    If you are seriously considering embracing non-violence either in terms of strategy and tactics or as a life-long set of guiding moral principals do so consciously.   One of the core Gandhian principal is that we are experimenting with the truth—the possibility exists we don’t have it and non-violence does need to be tested both in theory and in practice.

I want people to consider three expressions of non-violence—non-violence to one’s self; non-violence to one’s cause; and non-violence as a movement in and of itself.     I may not formally touch on these ideas this evening, but think about them.   Your wellbeing is essential to the movements you are a part of; the movements you are a part of are essential to the world.

There have been a number of efforts to summarise non-violence, but I find that Ghandi’s and King’s still have the most impact:

Ghandi’s Principals of Non-violence

–          All life is one.

–          We each have a piece of the truth and the un-truth.

–          Human beings are more than the evil they sometimes commit.

–          The means must be consistent with the ends.

–          We are called to celebrate both our differences and our fundamental unity with others.

–          We reaffirm our unity with others when we transform “us” versus “them” thinking and doing.

–          Our oneness calls us to want, and to work for, the well-being of all.

–          The nonviolent journey is a process of becoming increasingly free from fear.

Martin Luther King’s Principals of Non-violence:

1)      Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.

It is assertive spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

It is always persuading the opponent of the justice of your cause.

2)   Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.

The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

3)   Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.

Nonviolence holds that evildoers are also victims.

4)   Nonviolence holds that voluntary suffering can educate and transform.

Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts.

Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.

Nonviolence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it.

Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

Suffering can have the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.

5) Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as of the body.

Nonviolent love gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility.

Nonviolent love is active, not passive.

Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater.

Love for the enemy is how we demonstrate love for ourselves.

Love restores community and resists injustice.

Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

6) Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

I see myself as both a Christian and an anarchist and both streams of thought and experience lead me to embrace non-violence.   My anarchist side is primarily influenced by Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid; my faith side primarily influenced by the writings and examples of Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King.

What I find most attractive about non-violence is its immediate practicality.  We respond to the world in the here and now.  We don’t wait for a far off time to attempt to put our ideals into practice; they are important now.    While pushing for an end to segregation, let’s integrate our movement; While pushing for an end to factory farming, let’s have vegetarian/vegan meals together.    While pushing for the legalisation of the contraception, let’s open up a family planning clinic;  While waiting for the abolition of the state, let’s have consensus decision making and radical inclusion in our movements.

Non-violence is very inclusive.   You don’t have to be physically fit; you don’t have to have lengthy training.   Anyone can chose to do less harm in the world and find ways to do so.    Even in the midst of militant campaigns, in the midst of dealing with physical force one can chose not to respond in kind.  Non-violence is not passive; it isn’t cowardly but it is also not just for an elite.    Indeed, looking at the theoreticians and practitioners of successful non-violent movements leaders and theoreticians have been primarily from outsiders and marginalized—women; LGBT communities; people of colour/racialised people; first nations; religious minorities.

Non-violence encourages open and respectful communication and dialogue.   Our opponents are an important part of this dialogue.    We would like them to join us in our struggle for a better world.     This isn’t likely to happen if they are faced with contempt and abuse.   The people who are bringing the pigs to slaughter ultimately see themselves as good people; look at ways to reinforce this.   Conversions do take place.

Non-violence is creative.   It isn’t just occupations or blockades; in many ways it is expressed best as performance art.    From applying for permits to levitate the pentagon to taking a pinch of salt from the sea to climbing over a wall at a shipyard to providing free vegetarian meals to those at or near a slaughterhouse, non-violence looks at ways both legal and illegal to point out alternatives that help build a better world.

Non-violence is both stubborn and flexible in its expression.   To achieve social transformation, one must be persistent.  Change takes time.  But how you achieve isn’t determined or dependent on a one time/one way expression.

My embrace of non-violence wasn’t easy.  When I began my activism the Black Panthers, Weather Underground, Red Brigades, FLQ and other advocates of violence and armed self defence were among my heroes.    I greatly admired the work of Martin Luther King but there was a romance around urban guerrillas that was attractive.    There was resonance in Mikhail Bakunin’s statement “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion.”   Armed revolution leading to the establishment of a radical new social order was seen as possible around the world.

But there were other images too—the young people painting flowers on the sides of tanks during the putdown of the Prague spring in Czechoslovakia; the young man putting flowers in the barrels of guns of the military surrounding the pentagon; a young girl crying because napalm was etching into her flesh.   There were courageous people in the world opposing violence with love and thoughtless violence hurts innocent people.    And there were people coming together from radical opposing sides finding common ground—veterans coming back from Vietnam opposing war ever more fervently than those that were jailed or went into exile to avoid serving.

And while some struggles were being played out in the public sphere, revolution was also happening in quiet ways.  In 1969 the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to permit distribution of information about contraception—after a  many decades long struggle which including lobbying, defiance of the law and a sustained commitment to making lives better in the here and now, not after the revolution.   Our world had changed, not through violence but through persistence compassion.

The final conversion to non-violence came from working with those involved with radical movements for social transformation.   Trainers from the Movement for A New Society brought ideas such as consensus decision making, brainstorming and other ideas of community based non-violent direct action forward—ideas now taken for granted; Grindstone Co-operative provided training and retreats to explore radical organisational forms; and those involved in the early days of Alliance for Non-Violent Action (particularly Ken Hancock) looked at ways of exploring non-violence in efforts ranging from the conversion of Litton Industries from military to peaceful production to gay rights.

I became convinced in the value of non-violence first because it worked.   While people were blowing up mailboxes in support of a nationalist struggle, the feminist world was transforming the way we lived our lives.   Those involved in sustained non-violence were able to set down roots, reach out across differences and show by example the type of world they wished to create—the most radical form of propaganda by deed.

This was also the period when a real transformation of our approach to the world around us began.   The first Earth Day was human centric but it arose from a desire to do less harm to the world around us; it was only after that that I noticed something odd happening in small ways and they growing.   It became common-place to have vegetarian food at potlucks—again something just taken for granted now; we began to care for nature less to preserve it for future exploitation than because it was more readily apparent that our world has value in and of itself.    We began talking less of humane treatment of animals than of animal rights—this transformation started because people engaged in the hard work of doing research, communicating and sharing ideas, persistently asking for vegetarian and then vegan meal options at progressive events.    We are far from the end of this struggle but in 1970 it would not have been expected for main stream media to run a documentary on pig farming or run editorials and op-ed pieces on the conditions faced by factory farmed animals if it wasn’t for the decades long non-violent movement that brought vegetarianism and animal rights from the fringes to main stream.

I am not on the front lines anymore; most of my work involves co-operatives and non-profits and far too much sitting.    These are third way experiments—neither corporate or state—in addressing shared needs and desires.    But through them I get to learn from people in Ghana and Haiti, from the Philippines and Lithuania, who are experimenting with similar structures to meet the needs of struggling communities.   Each new housing co-op; each successful micro-financing initiative; is in itself an experiment in non-violence—the structures aren’t perfect because humans are involved—but they bring people from diverse backgrounds and experiences together to jointly solve problems.

Some suggested print resources:

Mahatma Gandhi:   Hind swarag and other writings

Christopher Key Chapple:   Nonviolence to animals, earth, and self in Asia                       traditions

Clayborne Carson and Kris Shepard, eds.:  A call to conscience : the landmark speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leo Tolstoy:  The Kingdom of God is Within You

Some suggested on-line resources:

Training for Change:

Ruckus Society:

Waging Nonviolence: