Nonviolence is the Key to Bloodless Occupations

April 17, 2016

By Tom H. Hastings

Editor’s Note: I participated with Mr. Hastings in one of those occupations of Senator Wyden’s office. We used the tactic to get Wyden’s attention for what we considered a very important issue, ran the risk of arrest, were arrested, and cheerfully paid the price. That is how nonviolence works. One takes risks and pays the price for violating the law. In our case, we were sentenced to community service, but achieved what we set out to do. In Finicum’s case, his avowed violence led to his price being death, but it is hard to see how his death will advance his cause.

Video footage of the Oregon State Police shooting of armed occupier LaVoy Finicum following a vehicular chase is so very sad to watch. Finicum may have been quite stupid in his belief that American public lands should belong to private ranchers, but he did not deserve to die. Sadly, he arranged for his own death.

Finicum, the spokesperson for the armed militia which took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on 2 January 2016, was quite open—he carried a gun at all times and was ready to use it. He reached for it, apparently, and was shot dead. Geez.

Like Finicum, I’ve opposed US policy enough to risk arrest, to occupy federal facilities, and to stand up to federal law enforcement. Unlike him, I’ve actually done it numerous times and never been shot. I’ve always been nonviolent and, to be frank, my method makes victory possible and, in some cases, achieved. Finicum apparently thought that a gun makes you safer. It is the opposite.

I helped occupy Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s office twice—once when he was thinking about how he might vote on the 2002 Senate bill to grant George W. Bush essentially illimitable powers to invade and wage war on Iraq or anyone else. Wyden ended up voting our way. We were nonviolent and courteous.

I helped occupy his office again in 2006 to convince him to speak out against the war in Iraq. We were quite friendly, actually, with Homeland Security, who arrested us. Wyden did as we asked—he posted on his website (finally!) that he opposed the ongoing war and he even rose on the United States of America Senate floor to call for an end to that occupation. As usual, we carried no guns and in fact met with the staff ahead of time to explain nonviolence.

I’ve done other nonviolent occupations over the decades—even a one-man occupation of the Soviet embassy in nonviolent resistance to their weaponry. I’ve never even had a weapon pulled on me, let alone being shot, and every single public policy ask I’ve made has ultimately been granted.

It is so sad to see Muslim extremists reverting to 12th century brutality and American “patriots” regressing to 19th century behavior. LaVoy Finicum didn’t have to die; he needed to learn about nonviolence.Φ

Dr. Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and is Founding Director of PeaceVoice.

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