Discussing the effectiveness of non-violence for creating positive change
Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She is the author of many novels including The Dandelion Insurrection and The Way Between and other novels. She is also the editor of Nonviolence News, a free weekly newsletter.
I first discovered Rivera’s writing on Counterpunch and began following her on social media. A couple years back, when I asked her if I could mail her a copy of my most recent book, “The Failures of Farming & the Neccesity of Wildtending,” she graciously offered to send me one of her own books. I chose “The Dandelion Insurrection,” which I found so compelling that I couldn’t put it down once I started it, and ended up spending an entire day reading.
I will admit that I have been skeptical of “non-violence” as an approach. This dates back to my time in Portland, Oregon, in the early 2000s, when the big protests against the upcoming Iraq War were going on. There, some of the prominent non-violence activists I knew struck me as close-minded, uptight, and unrealistic. Disagreements often came up as to whether property destruction constituted violence, which I felt tended to fetishize property, and by extension to shield class and capital from criticism. Additionally, some non-violent proponents tended to conflate violence and illegality, as if Gandhi and King and others had not purposefully engaged in illegal actions when appropriate.
The most frustrating moment came for me when some of the folks from that crowd got upset that people were using chalk on sidewalks and walls to express antiwar messages. In Portland, chalking is not even illegal; this I knew for certain from a local lawyer who provided letters to chalk activists that they could show to police if challenged. And chalking is not destructive; in rainy Oregon, it’ll soon be gone. That was a breaking point for me, and I pretty much ignored the non-violent crowd after that for years to come.
But when I started getting into Rivera Sun’s work, I came to understand that non-violence does not at all have to be about prissiness or passivity. To the contrary, it can be loud, bold, active, engaging and quite effective. I found myself re-inspired, and that was a happy feeling.
I interviewed Rivera on March 11, 2020, and we covered a lot of ground. By the end of this interview, I hope that you, too, will be excited about non-violence.