Elizabeth Solomon writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Welcome to 2018. Day 3 and already some among us lie dead or dying as the result of violence.
We have, in fact, already surpassed the ratio of days to murders for the year, with no foreseeable prospect of a let-up in the violent resolution of disputes.
At the same time, tense 2017 labour disputes are likely to carry over into this year as are the unproductive ego-driven political frictions. So, as we contemplate the start of the year, a fair assessment would be that a significant number of people around us seem to be sizing up for a fight on one front or the other — from domestic disputes to industrial relations, not to mention confrontational, gun-empowered criminality. There is disgruntlement with the state of the economy and the future of the political mechanisms to bring about constructive change.
Back to welcoming in 2018. It has become a tradition to make a new year’s resolution; some do so more publicly than others with dramatic commitments to fundamentally alter their lives. Others are more circumspect about it and approach the resolution making with quiet resolve. Either way, the statistics suggest that neither approach has more than an eight per cent likelihood of keeping a new year’s resolution beyond the first six weeks or so of the year.
The problem, apparently, has been that the desired change is too difficult to sustain on one’s own. Even if you have set yourself a very personal change goal, everyone around you is busily doing the same things they have always done undermining your ability to bring about a change. What if we all made a similar resolution? A recent article on non-violent civil resistance claims that it would take only 3.5 per cent of the population acting in concert in sustained non-violent resistance to bring down an unwanted regime, pointing to the ousting of General Pinochet in Chile and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia as examples of the success.
The argument is that if a campaign to bring about change is focused enough, strategic enough and able to be sustained over time, then even the most entrenched and structurally powerful systems can be changed for the better.
In TT, we are not shy about acting on our discontent. We engage in all manner of civil resistance, from burning of tires and marching to boycotting and candlelight vigils against violence. What we seem to have difficulty mastering is the building of a sustainable momentum. We give up easily and have real difficulty keeping the interest of a critical mass. No campaign can have an effect without the ongoing support of that 3.5 per cent tipping point statistic.
The article explains, “Non-violent resistance does not happen overnight or automatically. It requires an informed and prepared public, keen to the strategy and dynamics of its political power. Although non-violent campaigns often begin with a committed and experienced core (of activists). Successful (campaigns) enlarge the diversity of participants, maintain non-violent discipline and expand the types of non-violent actions they use. They constantly increase the base of supporters, build coalitions. Leverage social networks, and generate connections with those in the opponents’ network who may be ambivalent about co-operating with (unwanted) policies.” Unfortunately, in our context, this kind of sustained strategic action best describes political campaigning rather than a strategy for social change. Is there no other cause around which 3.5 per cent of the population could coalesce around?
How about non-violence itself, not just as a means to an end, but as the end in itself? There are a number of movements promoting an end to violence in this country, but they are dispersed and clearly neither strategic nor supported enough to have made any real dent in the levels of violence.
So why not start a 3.5 per cent non-violence movement. If 3.5 per cent of the population, about 45,500 individuals, all pledged to seek non-violent, non-confrontational resolution of disputes using basic mediation techniques, it would mean that at least as many other people would be brought into a non-violent, non-confrontational engagement every time a dispute arose.
The ripple effect, if people spread across the country engaging in their homes, in schools, in parliament, in their offices, on the streets, in taxis, in prisons and elsewhere were all to choose to a mediate first approach, encouraging others to do the same and showing them how, would be quite the tipping point.