Making a case for non violent direct action

The anti-Vietnam War demonstrators slowly walked back and forth on the sidewalk of the Grand Boulevard overpass above the I-70 expressway, a couple of blocks south of the campus of St. Louis University, my undergraduate alma mater.

The anti-Vietnam War demonstrators slowly walked back and forth on the sidewalk of the Grand Boulevard overpass above the I-70 expressway, a couple of blocks south of the campus of St. Louis University, my undergraduate alma mater.

Their placards, carrying simple peace messages, faced down towards the morning rush-hour traffic below. The drivers did the rest. As they slowed down to read the messages or just to better see what was happening up above, the motorists created a chain reaction which resulted in a 10-kilometre traffic backup.

This simple direct action back in 1969 was motivated by the outrage of the Kent State massacre the week before, which galvanized similar student protests acroos the U.S. against the bloody and increasingly futile war in Vietnam. As a protest, it drew on a rich, non-violent tradition reaching back through the Civil Rights movement of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and the de-colonization efforts of leaders, like Mohandas Gandhi. Its roots lay far deeper though.

Prophets have consistently arisen across human history to call out, often angrily, to the peoples of their times to break through their complacency and tolerance of oppression to build just societies. Humanity has slowly, and at times very painfully, advanced towards this goal. It has been a journey that has demanded confronting contemporary principalities and powers hell bent on maintaining their power and prerogatives.

We certainly have got plenty to be righteously angry about today. Wars, environmental arrogance and disasters, the great and growing gap between the one per cent uber rich and the mass of the poor, globally, can easily be cited. In the Yukon last summer, the housing crisis sparked a tent city beside the legislative chamber. This non-violent direct action certainly elevated awareness of the need for action in this area.

Has the territorial government’s recent action that makes a similar demonstration on government property illegal just criminalized protest by the poor instead of aggressively addressing the problem of housing for those most in need in our community?

We do not lack prophetic voices today either. I recall one such voice from my generation, that of Rev. William Sloane Coffin who wrote, “Jesus was angry over 50 per cent of the time, and it’s very dangerous to try to improve on Jesus.”

Ordained as a Presbyterian minister, Sloane Coffin served as Yale University’s chaplain for almost two decades, during which he rose to national prominence as an outspoken civil rights and antiwar activist. He noted in his The Heart is a Little to the Left, a 1999 collection of his sermons and speeches, that the anger he talked about “needs to be focused, but anger is what maintains your sanity. Anger keeps you from tolerating the intolerable.”

Rev. Sloane Coffin states in his Credo, a book published in 2003 three years before he died in 2006, “What we need to realize is that to love effectively we must act collectively, and that in collective action personal relationships cannot ignore power relationships.”

By quoting St. Augustine -“Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside of yourself”- he calls on us to also recognize and address the roots of the problems which we, ourselves, have internalized.

The reverend pointed out that “compassion demands confrontation” with ourselves as well as with the structures of injustice around us.

A free day-long workshop on nonviolent direct action will be held on Saturday, May 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hellaby Hall of Christ Church Cathedral at Fourth Avenue and Elliot Street.

Harjap Grewal, a non-violent direct action trainer, who is a Vancouver-based organizer and activist working with the Council of Canadians, will lead the workshop. For more information or to register call Tory at 334-7252.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. On Nov. 24, Silver and Hanley announced masks will be mandatory in public places as of Dec. 1, and encouraged Yukoners to begin wearing masks immediately. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Masks mandatory in public places starting on Dec. 1

“The safe six has just got a plus one,” Silver said.

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 30. Hanley announced three more COVID-19 cases in a release on Nov. 21. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three more COVID-19 cases, new exposure notice announced

The Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, announced three… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: COVID-19 strikes another blow at high-school students

They don’t show up very often in COVID-19 case statistics, but they… Continue reading

The Cornerstone housing project under construction at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. Community Services Minister John Streicker said he will consult with the Yukon Contractors Association after concerns were raised in the legislature about COVID-19 isolation procedures for Outside workers at the site. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Concerns raised about alternate self-isolation plans for construction

Minister Streicker said going forward, official safety plans should be shared across a worksite

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Megan Waterman, director of the Lastraw Ranch, is using remediated placer mine land in the Dawson area to raise local meat in a new initiative undertaken with the Yukon government’s agriculture branch. (Submitted)
Dawson-area farm using placer miner partnership to raise pigs on leased land

“Who in their right mind is going to do agriculture at a mining claim? But this made sense.”

Riverdale residents can learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s plan to FireSmart a total of 24 hectares in the area of Chadburn Lake Road and south of the Hidden Lakes trail at a meeting on Nov. 26. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)
Meeting will focus on FireSmart plans

Riverdale residents will learn more details of the City of Whitehorse’s FireSmarting… Continue reading

The City of Whitehorse is planning to borrow $10 million to help pay for the construction of the operations building (pictured), a move that has one concillor questioning why they don’t just use reserve funds. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Councillor questions borrowing plan

City of Whitehorse would borrow $10 million for operations building

Most Read