In August, white nationalist violence in Charlottesville and a surge of proposed and actual hate gatherings in other American cities put the rise of organized white supremacist groups on front pages around the country, with the Trump-Pence administration validating the goodness of these marchers. The Trump-Pence administration also announced an escalation of US involvement in Afghanistan. In response, in our PJALS community we reflected on where we are and why, to see how we can best move forward together.

Our core strength, and the reason our Peace & Justice Action League community is 42 years old in Spokane, Washington, is that we are united in our commitment to our mission and our approach – to engage everyday people to build a just and nonviolent world through consciously nonviolent community organizing and grassroots leadership development. We are open, welcoming and non-dogmatic. Our PJALS community includes moderates, progressives, anarchists, socialists, and folks in between and beyond; people working to reform systems and institutions from within as well as people dedicated to broader societal transformation.

We created our Values and Commitment Statement to express what unites us:

In our PJALS community, we believe everyday people can accomplish extraordinary things together. We strive to draw from our differences to increase and enhance effective action to build a just and nonviolent world. Our values ask us to honor and respect our web of different life experience to work collaboratively, sharing power and decision-making. Our work is guided by leadership of people directly impacted by the problems we seek to address, both among our PJALS community and in our broader community and world. We recognize our shared humanity and commit in the following ways to neither harm a member nor see a member harmed: Use an intersectional racial equity lens in all of our work; Call each other in, not out, when we make mistakes; Use decision making processes that engage our diverse community.

In our PJALS community, we are united in recognizing that violence has many forms. Summarizing “Spiral of Violence” by Dom Helder Camara, Alastair McIntosh wrote: “Violence builds up at three levels in a society. Primary violence is the everyday effect of structurally ingrained social injustice. This generates secondary violence – the revolt of the oppressed. And that in turn provokes tertiary violence – repression by the powerful to secure their privileged position. And so the spiral of violence tightens.”

This tells us that a commitment to nonviolence requires not only individual choices but also systemic transformation to address structural violence, which Galtung wrote “is the violence built into the very social, political, and economic systems that govern societies, states, and the world. It is the different allocations of goods, resources, opportunities, between different groups, classes, genders, nationalities, etc. Its relationship to direct violence is similar to the that of the bottom nine-tenths of an iceberg, hidden from view.”

As we seek to expose and transform systems of violence and oppression, we refuse to engage in the good protester vs bad protester framework. It turns us to focus on criticizing each other; tends to paralyze our movement; and can end up silencing us all as the definition of “good” action becomes smaller and smaller. It’s just a media shorthand framework, not a useful way of thinking about each other or engaging in discussions of strategy.

We are clear that our PJALS community organizes with nonviolent strategy and tactics. Well over 100 PJALS members have completed our Peacekeeper training, where we learn and practice nonviolent conflict resolution in a protest or demonstration setting. We have offered more Peacekeeper trainings in the last 8 months than in the last 3 years combined, and we’ll continue to do so.

Going forward, we are planning to host a Street Medic training, and we have met with the Spokane Police Department to discuss police roles in the event of a white nationalist march or rally in our community. In addition, we are considering offering deeper workshops on nonviolence to explore how applying principles of active, militant nonviolence can be a powerful strategy for building and strengthening a conscious mass movement for justice and peace for this historical moment and beyond.

We are clear that our priorities this year have been Peace, Human Rights, and a Just Society. And, we are clear that we will continue to use many of the varied tactics in our toolbox. We will continue to protest and demonstrate. We will continue to welcome new people and strengthen our inter-generational movement. We will continue our grassroots lobbying of local, state, and national elected leaders and policy makers. We will continue to talk with strangers about racism and politics. We will continue to act on our knowledge that “Some policy-makers see the light; others need to feel the heat!”