On Public Relations Theory vs Nonviolence Theory (a post by Margaret Pestorius)

This is a post by my friend and fellow Bon 4 member Margaret Pestorius, clearing up some misconceptions about why we act the way we do.

There are two sets of assumptions that seem to underpin a lot of criticism regarding small group nonviolent DIRECT actions:

First: Assumptions related to Motivation for Actions

Assumptions related to motivation for action: These are commonly held assumptions that we frequently encounter as nonviolent activists. But I think they say more about the holder of those assumptions and mainstream media and society than they do about our actual motivations.

One has to sit a bit outside the mainstream media mindset to understand another way of seeing.

The primary motivation for principled nonviolent action is first always to “ACT” or “take action” or “to do SOMETHING rather than NOTHING”. Gandhi even inferred that it sometimes may be best to do something violent or harmful rather than nothing at all.

For the prime actor, it is important for them, for their human spirit, that they act rather than do nothing. [There is also an associated Christological perspective to this central idea of human action that I won’t go into here.]

Movements, then, are built on people’s responses to ACTION – not on people’s responses to OPINIONS.

Opinions rarely move people to action or change. There are too many opinions around and they are not sufficiently embodied to draw people into a change process. Opinions are also open to corruption before enactment.

Media attention for the nonviolence actor therefore is always at least a secondary effect [if not tertiary]. Media is relevant however to the extent that it has the added advantage that it protects [nonviolent actions generally draw some level of repression – think twitter and Iran].

AND media can give extra people a space to encounter the nonviolent ACTION. [Which is always a good thing.] Some people will be part of the action [the actor, the objects and the direct witnesses], however some people will be secondary witnesses. These people are valuable but are not OUR sole or primary focus as has been frequently incorrectly presumed.

The assumptions about being focussed on the media outcomes [or “seeking media attention” as it is derogatorily put], I consider, is related to people’s own beliefs about how change occurs.

Many people who share this lens are influenced by the frameworks and techniquest of public relations theory.

Public relations theory is NOT a preferred understanding for myself or Bryan as it is limited in its social justice perspective [it has none].

Nonviolent action has a social justice perspective that is clearly spelled out – it tends towards inclusivity in process and political outcome [necessary for democracy]: the old, young, sick, disabled can be and are involved; people who are not “opinion leaders” can be heard; people who are excluded from or don’t wish to be part of corrupt political parties can take action. Nonviolent action based in social justice is frequently adopted by the most marginalised of a society.

Assumptions about Fines and Activist Responses to the State

There seems to be some confusion regarding payment of fines. Again our actions are set in a theoretical framework. [and theory is just the gathering of lots of nonviolence experiences regarding what works and why people do different sorts of nonviolent actions]

Nonviolence theory places the issue of court fines in the realm of State repression [the responses of the State when/as it tries to stop you doing something].. so it becomes an issue of

1.. how one addresses first a particular injustice . and then

2.. how one responds to [we say ‘resists’] the repression that the actor faces when the State tries and stops the action.

There is an extensive literature around nonviolence theory which can be consulted further. However, Bryan [and I] do NOT pay fines where possible. To pay a fine is to say “oh, OK, you can stop us and we will go along with your response in stopping us”.

Nonviolent activists tend to resist the State as it attempts to limit the actions taken. We refuse bail conditions [e.g. “you shan’t go back to the site of the action”] where possible and we refuse to pay fines where possible, sometimes this means going to jail.

Bryan will most likely do community service for a change agency of some kind or another.

Here are a couple of links: have fun!


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolence the wiki page is as good as any!

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