Radical Peace

Revolutions are violent, bloody, and messy. Look at the American Revolution, in which over 100,000 people died, or during the Reign of Terror, in which there were over 16,500 official deaths in less than a year. Some Marxists advocate violent revolution. The strain of thought is that to be a revolutionary, one must be violent and advocate for death to bring down the system.
I want to present a different idea of revolution, one built on peace and mutual helping. Activists often talk about how they are in it for the long haul; the changes may not happen in their lifetimes or those of their children, but the metaphorical fight and the resistance must go on. Ramona Africa, the only living survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, echoes this sentiment in an interview: “Revolution is not immediate. It took eons for this society, this world, to get to the degenerated, corrupt state that it is in now. It did not spring up overnight. It is going to take a long time to put things right. But change starts the instant you turn around and start walking the right way instead of the wrong way.” The idea of revolution being a couple years of war is not helpful for nonviolent activism, the most popular protest ideology in America since the Civil Right Movement. Ramona Africa does note that small change starts once people are “awakened” or “woke”, yet long-term societal problems will take work and action. To do the work we have to think about the long term, which people are not good at.

Even Lucy Parsons, a labor organizer and anarchist, has described in interviews how she thought America was in the “evolutionary stage of anarchism” at the time. However, Parsons had no faith in peaceful change coming about. Instead she said “a struggle in the revolutionary stage will come, and the order of things in the world will be changed by the people themselves . . . [and] I think . . . history shows that every attempt to wrest from the wealthy and powerful . . . has been made by force.” Parsons, an activist, fell into the trap of thinking her time in history was special. As we all know, though, the anarchist revolution has yet to happen. She also found historical patterns to be distinctly violent. Ramona Africa provides a different viewpoint on revolution: “Revolution looks like peace. It looks like health. It looks like satisfaction. It looks like being truly happy.” Revolution is going to take time and energy to make sure we do not repeat the same mistakes as the revolutionaries and activists before. Thousands of deaths and blood-filled streets should not be required to achieve meaningful change. To truly, fundamentally improve our way of living, we have to adopt peaceful methods of change. As Angelica Schuyler says in “The Schuyler Sisters” from the musical Hamilton, “You want a revolution? I want a revelation.” There has to be a reckoning, sure, but activists need to understand that  pacifist attitudes are not quick or easy, but peace will work in the long term. To truly live in a just and fair world, time and peace have to be the guiding principles of activism.

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