From Arab Spring to the Occupy movement, people have been rising up in recent years to fight oppression. But success isn’t the inevitable outcome of protest, and revolution, even for just causes, can lead to further oppression. In The Nonviolence Handbook, Michael Nagler provides a clear and accessible guide to what he sees as the only path to sustainable justice: the philosophy and practice of nonviolence.Nagler prefers the Gandhian term satyagraha, generally used to mean nonviolent struggle, but which literally means “clinging to truth.” To manifest satyagraha, people must acknowledge the necessity of the well-being of every person. When we exhibit patience and refrain from criticizing others harshly—things many people already do—we’re building nonviolent potential. The key is to consciously resist violence every day.
But overcoming oppression requires more than resistance. Revolutionaries, Nagler says, must develop constructive programs to “build the infrastructure for a new society before the old society crumbles, preventing the emergence of a power vacuum into which new repressive elements often rush.”Nagler argues that different stages of conflict require different nonviolent actions. Rather than starting with protest, for example, Occupy should have begun with the sort of creative, constructive actions it took after the encampments, like debt relief and support to hurricane victims.
Even the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests could have gone differently in Nagler’s view. Had the students, workers, and supporters left the square and returned to their universities and villages to educate others and take concrete steps for change, “the democracy movement in China—and the brave people who embodied it might still be alive.”
Avoiding disasters like the Tiananmen Square massacre is one of the goals of Nagler’s work as a teacher of peace and conflict studies and founder of The Metta Center for Nonviolence. His handbook—conveyed with the conviction achieved through lifelong study and practice—is of great value for those looking to cultivate a nonviolent soul and make lasting change in the world.