Upcoming nonviolence workshops promote compassionate direct action
What will it take to end poverty, war, racism, self-hatred and other violence? Reverend Deborah L. Johnson, spiritual director at Inner Light Ministries in Soquel, says love is the way.
“When we use the word ‘love,’” she explains, “we’re not talking about a feeling or an emotion. We’re talking about a kind of love that is a direction of the will. It’s the connectedness that I choose to have with you regardless of whether I like you or not. This is the force that allows us to love our enemies.”
Andrew Harvey, the internationally known author of “The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism” adds, “Violence is born out of duality and always creates as deep [of] problems as it intends to solve.”
On Friday, Jan. 27 and Saturday, Jan. 28, Johnson and Harvey will co-lead presentations and workshops on the “revolutionary power of soul force” titled, collectively, “Love as Activism.”
“This will be an old-style nonviolence training like we did in the civil rights movement,” says Johnson. “People didn’t just go out and start marching. They had to learn how to control their temper and stand up against the violence. There is nothing nonviolent about nonviolent social change, except that the people pushing forth the change don’t retaliate in violence. Learning how to keep calm and go to that place of forgiveness is something you have to be taught.”
“Love as Activism” is a local manifestation of the “Season for Nonviolence,” a national campaign occurring from Jan. 30 to April 4 that is dedicated to the practice of love in action exemplified by Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. Johnson and Harvey will draw on the history of “soul force,” which is a translation of the Sanskrit term Satyagraha that Gandhi used to describe the nonviolence movement of India.
The two spiritual leaders will also tie in lessons from current social change movements including the Arab Spring revolutions, which have seen the overthrow of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia. Johnson believes that revolution—even a nonviolent one—will be only partial and temporary until love is extended toward one’s enemies.
“All soul force uses nonviolent techniques,” she says. “But all nonviolent techniques do not encompass soul force. It’s not soul force until you have an equal concern for the opposition; where you are expressing love, goodwill and compassion for those who are opposed to you.”
She cites Nelson Mandela as a good example of soul force in action. “He made De Klerk, who was essentially his captor, his Vice President,” she says. “He went into partnership with the very one who was oppressing him. That is soul force.”
For Harvey, soul force requires not only partnership but on-going attention and a long-term view.
“The Arab Spring is a great sign of radical progress, although there is great danger, too, that it will be co-opted by Islamic parties,” he says.
The Occupy Wall Street protests have also caught the pair’s attention. “The Occupy movement showed that there is a crack in the prevailing coca-coma,” says Harvey. “However, it needs to be more coherent, far better organized and more deeply grounded in spiritual wisdom.”
Johnson believes the movement has potential for addressing national economic issues. “At the heart of the Occupy movement is a desire to wake up, to get out of denial and for the people to govern again,” she says. “For that I do applaud. Our economic systems need an overhaul because they were not designed with equality in mind.”
However, she points to the “99 percent” slogan embraced by the Occupy movement as an example of political dualism that will make real change impossible. “The 1 percent must play a critical role and be brought into the conversation,” she explains. “They must be part of the solution. Villainizing the enemy keeps us in a dualistic model and as long as we’re still on that page there is always going to be somebody who is left out and marginalized—the one who doesn’t deserve, the one we shouldn’t care about.”
Johnson founded Inner Light Ministries 15 years ago and has always emphasized the critical skill of compassionate listening as an integral tool for revolutionary social change.
“Martin Luther King used to say that we really don’t know each other; we really don’t listen to each other,” she says. “I’ve made it part of life’s work to really listen and engage in the dialogues. You can’t have a revolution that takes over nonviolently where you throw everybody out. If you are not involving them, then it’s not soul force.”
She adds, “It’s not differences of opinion that cause conflict, it’s polarization around the differences. Soul force teaches you how not to polarize, but how to be present.”
“Love as Activism: A Direct Action Training on the Revolutionary Use of ‘Soul Force’” takes place Friday, Jan. 27, 7 -9:30 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 28, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Inner Light Center, 5630 Soquel Drive, Santa Cruz. More information and tickets are available at 465-9090 and innerlightministries.com.