February 4, 2012
KEXP 90.3 FM, Seattle WA
Community Forum with Mike McCormack
MIKE McCORMACK: It is 7:30, and it’s time once again for Community Forum. And we are very lucky to have with us live in the studio this morning Kazu Haga. Kazu Haga is the Bay Area coordinator of Positive Peace Warrior Network. He’s also program director of the Peace Development Fund, co-founder and co-director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, and sits on the steering committee of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network.
Kazu, thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us this morning.
KAZU HAGA: Thank you for having me.
MIKE: So to start it out, tell us about your organization, the Positive Peace Warrior Network.
KAZU: Sure. So the Positive peace warrior network is an effort to give people around the country the capacity to educate people around a philosophy and a training curriculum called Kingian nonviolence specifically aimed at young people and those would work with young people.
You know, the level of violence that we see in a lot of our communities that live in Oakland, California, and the level of violence we see in the streets, it’s completely out of control.
And, you know, oftentimes, people will think that nonviolence is just about not being violent, but for us nonviolence means taking a stand against violence and giving community members the capacity to do something about the injustice that they see in the communities.
So with the Positive Peace Warrior Network, we’re using the philosophy of Kingian nonviolence and trying to get it to schools around the country, prisons, just — community centers — whoever we can work with to, you know, create real, lasting peace in our communities.
MIKE: So what is, specifically, Kingian nonviolence?
KAZU: Yeah, sure. So the story with Kingian nonviolence starts on April 3rd of 1968, which was the night before Dr. King was assassinated. After he gave a speech at a church in Memphis, he was back in his motel room with a couple of his key advisors, a couple of the lead organizers of the movement at the time, and they say that he had this moment of revelation where he said that the next step that the movement has to take is to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence.
And one of the people that was in the room that night was a man by the name of Dr. Bernard LaFayette, who at the time was the director of the poor people’s campaign and was a leader in the national lunch counter sit-ins and the Freedom Rides. And, you know, the way Dr. LaFayette tells the story is that they were never able to finish that conversation about what exactly King meant when he said we needed to institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence.
So after King was assassinated, Dr. LaFayette took that as King’s final marching orders, and he worked throughout the years with another man by the name of Dr. David Jehnsen to create a training curriculum called Kingian nonviolence. And really what it is, it’s the philosophies of Dr. King, his understanding of the nature of human conflict, how conflict escalates, how it deescalates, how it impacts all of our communities, what the root causes of violence are; but also not just the kind of philosophy of nonviolence on a very theoretical level, on a very philosophical level, but on a real, practical level: How we can implement those principles of nonviolence into a social change campaign.
So it’s really — it’s the principles of nonviolence as well as the organizing strategies behind the Civil Rights Movement.
There’s a lot of talk about the role of direct action. Oftentimes in our society I feel like a lot of movements — we get really excited about direct action because that’s the fun thing, it’s the exciting thing, it gets all the media attention. But direct action in and of itself is not goal, and sometimes I think we mistake, you know, organizing a successful rally as a goal in and of itself, but in the Civil Rights Movement, direct action had very specific role within a larger framework of organizing. So direct action is something you use to put pressure on the system to get to a larger goal.
And so, you know, we talk a lot about the different tactics and different strategies that people use and how they can build off of each other.
MIKE: And what attracted you or got you involved with the whole concept of nonviolence?
KAZU: Well, I definitely was not always a nonviolent person myself, and I had no idea what nonviolence was until I was about 17 years old. You know, I’d been going through a lot of struggles in my own life, and I ran into a bunch of — there was a Japanese organization that does nonviolence social justice work around the country, and they kind of just — you know, it was one of those things. They met me and they — within a couple of days, I had left home for a year and a half to travel with those folks and study nonviolence.
And, you know, nonviolence is a word a lot of organizations use, and I think a lot of organizations have a very different understanding of what nonviolence is, so early on in my life my understanding of nonviolence was exactly that; it was about not being violent, and, you know, being kind and compassionate, a nice person and all that. And it was really only through my involvement in Kingian nonviolence that I understood nonviolence to be something that’s a lot more than this passive, being kind type of thing, but it’s about being assertive, and it’s about being aggressive with what we believe and the changes that we want to see in our society.
MIKE: Aggressive seems like an interesting word to use with nonviolence.
KAZU: Yeah. But I think it’s an important word because again I think a lot of people, when they hear the term nonviolence, they think it’s about not resisting and they think it’s a very weak thing and it’s a very passive thing. And, you know, if you look at the tactics that were used in the Civil Rights Movement, they were very aggressive tactics.
You know, it’s funny because with the whole Occupy movement, it’s kind of on the national radar the way it is — the Poor People’s Campaign was the campaign that Dr. King was working on when he was killed, and as part of the Poor People’s Campaign, King was calling on poor people from all over the country of all races to come to D.C. and create an encampment called Resurrection City. And he was talking about Resurrection City being the hub from where they organize and literally shut down the city of Washington, D.C.
So King and nonviolence — nonviolence is not afraid of conflict. Nonviolence is not afraid of confrontation. In fact, nonviolence is a strategy that you oftentimes use to bring those conflicts and the confrontation to the forefront. A lot of times the conflicts in our society, the injustices that lot of communities face, it’s beneath the surface, and so mainstream America — a lot of people don’t know what’s going on. So nonviolence is a strategy that you can use to bring those issues of injustice to the forefront and really force the country to deal with it, and I think that’s what King was doing, and I think that’s what the Occupy movement is trying to do. So, you know, nonviolence — it’s not a weak, passive thing. It can be very aggressive.
MIKE: And as you say, it does seem to be at the forefront of the debate amongst a lot of the Occupy community in terms of the definition of nonviolence, direct actions, and what is the appropriate strategy for the different Occupy movements.
KAZU: Yeah, absolutely. You know, like I said, I live in Oakland, California, and I’ve been a participant of Occupy Oakland since the first day, and the question of nonviolence and diversity of tactics — it was definitely kind of bubbling from that first day, but I think when it really started to become a big conversation, it was the night of our general strike on November 2nd. You know, by some accounts, we turned out 100,000 people. The chief of police at one time said there were about 3,000 of us in the street, which is just absolutely ridiculous. But regardless, you know, it was one of the most inspirational days of my life, and based on the conversations that I’ve had, a lot of people.
You know, that in a small city of 400,000 people, 450,000 people, that we were table turn out 100,000 people or, you know, 80,000 or whatever it might have been, for a local mobilization — like, it was just crazy. It was really incredible.
But at the end that night there was some violence. There was some property destruction, there were some more conflicts with the police. And, of course, that’s what got the media attention. And so since then, the debate’s really kicked off, and it kind of culminated this past — I’d say two Saturdays ago, when about 1,000 or 1,500 or so members of Occupy Oakland tried to occupy an empty building to use as a community center and to provide some services for members of our community.
And again, there was a lot of violence, there was some property destruction, a lot of conflicts with the police. And it seems like, you know — actually, I’ve been on that road so I haven’t been in Oakland since that incident happened, but it really seems like it’s come to a head, and there’s a lot of people in Oakland that want to support — and not just Oakland but around the country — that support the general principles of this movement and want to see the same types of changes that everyone working in this movement wants to see, but they’re not okay with the violence, and they’re not okay with the property destruction. And so there’s a lot of people that are just looking for an alternative way to continue to be engaged.
And so I think whether you support nonviolence or when you support diversity of tactics, I think we need to understand that there’s massive amounts of people who want to continue to be engaged and want to make the movement stronger, and I think we just need to find those agreements and find out where we have things in common with people who support diversity of tactics, with people who support nonviolence, with people who support electoral politics, all of those different tactics. We need to find what we have in common and then try to build from there to continue to strengthen the movement.
MIKE: So let me further understand your concept of nonviolence versus violence. So we’re talking about — let’s just say with property destruction, okay? So is just all property destruction across the board considered violent?
KAZU: Well, I mean, this is just my own perspective. I think like the Ploughshares Movement, when activists broke into military complexes and tried to disassemble weapons and things like that. You know, I would support that.
Other activists say, you know, if you want to occupy a foreclosed home, then you might have to break a window to get in. I’m cool with that.
I think the issue is — in Kingian nonviolence we define violence as something that causes physical or emotional harm. Oftentimes we think of violence only as this physical form of aggression, but there’s a whole lot more suicides every year in this country than there are homicides, so that really shows the impact of emotional violence.
And I think in the case of property destruction — like, I remember during the general strike, there was a business that had actually closed in solidarity with the general strike, and they had a big sign on their window that said “Closed In Solidarity with the General Strike,” and they had their window smashed. And to me, if I was that business owner, like, that would hurt. That would cause some harm. So I believe that’s harmful.
I think that when we smash the window at a Whole Foods, I think there are people, including children, inside that Whole Foods that might be supportive of the movement, but when they see a huge group of people wearing black masks coming up to them and breaking windows in the business establishment that they’re in, I think that hurts the movement.
So, you know, I do think there are cases when property destruction is violent. And, you know, even if you can make the case that property destruction is not violent, I think it — for me it’s hard to see how it doesn’t hurt the movement. I think with incidents of violence within the Occupy movement, to me there’s a big difference when people see images and hear stories of Scott Olson getting shot, who was an Iraq War veteran who was hit in the head with a tear gas canister and was sent into a coma, in Oakland. There are images of the woman — the elderly woman in Seattle who got pepper sprayed. And, you know, a lot of people saw the images of what happened to the students at U.C. Davis that were just sitting there nonviolently as this police officer was spraying them with a tear gas — or a pepper stray, right?
There’s a difference between those types of images and the images that come out of the — oftentimes come out of Occupy Oakland where we as a movement ourselves engage in acts of violence.
If you look at history of those types of incidents, every time an image comes out when the police use violence and we as a movement are able to remain nonviolent, it paints a very clear picture of who’s on the right side of justice, and it makes it very obvious who’s right and who’s wrong. And it helps to wake up the moral conscience of the public, and that strengthens movements.
If you look at the history of movements, that’s the case too. If you look at the Bloody Sunday march in Selma, there were 650 people who were marching that got beaten back by police. The country saw what happened and it woke up the moral conscience of the nation, and two days later there were 2,500 people in the streets of Selma. And two weeks later there were 8,000 people in the streets of Selma, and that’s what made that voter campaign a success.
Whereas when incidents of violence — when we engage in acts of violence ourselves, it taints the narrative and it kind of confuses things; it’s not as clear. It’s very easy for people to say, Oh, look at those crazy rioters, right? breaking windows in our city. It makes it harder for us to win the public support.
And whether you use violent or nonviolent tactics, if you’re not in the majority, if you don’t have that majority base and that majority support, that movement it going to die out very quickly, especially when you’re using very aggressive and militant tactics. Whether it’s breaking windows or nonviolent direct action, you need the support of the public.
My mentor who trained me in Kingian nonviolence, Dr. Bernard LaFayette, he also says that no revolution is successful without the active support of the majority, and I think that’s true, and I think we need to keep that in mind when we talk about what types of strategies, what type of tactics we use; that we need to keep in mind that this movement is still at a place where we’re still building our base. And we still need to continue to grow, and every time there’s an incident of violence, the numbers decrease, and we can’t have that. We don’t have that privilege right now.
MIKE: So what do you see the role of the crowd or those people participating in an action when they see something that they don’t agree with, that they consider violent? What is their role, then?
KAZU: Well, let me kind of take a step back a little bit because I think one of the things that happens is we need to have those agreements before we hit the streets. You know, I was saying that direct action has a very specific role within the framework of Kingian nonviolence, and I was also saying that, you know, direct action and protests and rallies — that’s the exciting things. That’s what people want to be a part of, and so we have — we oftentimes have a tendency to jump straight into direct action without coming to an understanding of what our strategies are, what our principles are, what our goals are, how specifically that direct action is going to get us closer to that goal.
And so I would really urge the movement as a whole to come to some common understandings and some common agreements of how we’re going to behave when we are out in the streets. And one of the most important reasons why we need those agreements is because, like I said, this movement — like, we claim the 99%, and if we’re going to claim the 99%, we have to take that very seriously. And so when we’re engaged in acts of property destruction and things that are — that make it much more likely to bring about a police response and mass arrests and whatever it may be, if we use those tactics, it makes the movement less accessible to people with kids, people with health challenges, formerly incarcerated people, the undocumented community.
And so if we are claiming the 99%, we have to use tactics and strategies that allow for the participation of the 99%, and specifically — you know, because the 99% is a very big umbrella, and we need to be proactive about making sure that the people who are at the bottom of the 99%, who are most directly impacted by these economic policies, have a role in — have a leadership role and really are the face of the movement. And I feel like, you know, every time we break a window, it makes the movement less accessible to those communities.
MIKE: So in Oakland were you involved with trainings prior, too?
KAZU: Yeah. It’s funny because I’ve been trying to push Kingian nonviolence in the city of Oakland for many years now, and it’s been great work and there’s been great support. At the same time, every time we’ve had a training, you know, I really had to do a lot of one-on-one outreach to get people there. And we do, you know, a few trainings a year. Right now we have — let’s see here. We have three trainings — three weekends in a row in Oakland scheduled for February; they’re all booked up. We have two more in April, and those are all booked up. And so this is the first time we’re actually having trouble keeping up with the demand for this training.
So I think one of the things that we need to recognize is that every time there’s violence, it creates a huge opportunity for nonviolent activists, too, because I think every time — you know, every time there’s violence in the streets as a result of the Occupy protests, the reality is it does turn people off. And, you know, right or wrong, that’s the reality. And I think there’s an opening for people that are committed to nonviolence, that understand that nonviolent tactics can bring about radical change, to really educate people about what we are talking about.
Because we’re not — like, when we talk about nonviolence, we are not trying to shut the movement, we’re not trying to co-opt the movement, all these things that people say. We are — we agree with the folks who are advocating for diversity of tactics, that we need radical change and that we need to use very aggressive tactics, because this is beyond playing nice and trying to just talk nicely to people. We need to do something that some people may consider to be radical or extreme to just shake up the country and to get people to realize that something’s wrong here, you know. Let’s — like, time out. Let’s talk about what’s going on and really start advocating for the radical changes that we need in our society.
So, you know, the trainings in Oakland hopefully — you know, I think once we have a mass of people who really understand what it means to be nonviolent, I think the opportunity that this movement presents us with to make radical changes, I think that’s still available to us, but I think we need to move on it quick because — you know, one of my favorite quotes by a guy named Marcus Raskin said that the opportunity for revolutionary change happens in the blink of an eye, and if you miss that moment, it’s gone.
And in my experience working on many different movements and campaigns, I think that’s absolutely true. And what this Occupy movement is — it’s that moment. It’s one of those opportunities, and if we’re not ready to take advantage of it, then it’s going to be gone.
So I think we really need to start talking about long-term strategy. We need to start training people. You know, that’s the other thing that Dr. LaFayette tells me, that when he was involved in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins, those students trained for a full year before they engaged in direct action.
And in this movement and many other movements, we have this tendency to think that we can just send people out into the streets using tactics that — again, nonviolent or otherwise — has high likelihood to bring about a police response, and we’re not training our people. And we’re not talking about how we’re going to respond to that, and I think it’s dangerous and it’s irresponsible. And I think we need to train our people to be doing this work. It’s not easy work.
MIKE: Clearly you can’t train everybody because you can have actions where a lot of people are coming to them for the first time. So how do you deal with that?
KAZU: Well, I think the most important thing is I think for the leadership to be involved and to be trained and to understand where we are trying to drive the movement, right?
But I think also there are — there’s different — the whole conversation between nonviolence and diversity of tactics, to me the framing is off because there’s such a wealth of diversity within nonviolent tactics. And so I think within the diversity there are tactics that we can use that have a very high likelihood of a police response, and I think in those instances it’s really important that maybe not everyone but at least the majority of people are trained. And I think we can organize for that. I think we can strategize around that.
Then again, we might have something like a general strike that we had in Oakland where we’re trying to turn out as many people as possible, and in those instances — it’s usually just rallies and marches and things like that — the likelihood of a police response isn’t as great. So I think as organizers, all the different working groups that are organizing the events, they need to, you know, think long and hard about what tactics are we using. What’s the likely response from the police? How are we going to respond to that? Who are the best, most strategic people to send out to these rallies?
You know, again, violent or nonviolent movements have front-line soldiers, and they also have people who play a vast variety of roles, so I think not everyone needs to be trained. Not everyone needs to be willing to, you know, hit the street and confront the police, but I think the people who are on those front lines really do need to be trained.
MIKE: So you mentioned dialogue amongst those in the movement. What about dialogue beyond those that are in this movement?
KAZU: Yeah, I think again if we’re claiming the 99%, we need to be authentic about that. And the local city officials, local school boards, local police members, they are part of the 99%, whether we like it or not.
And, you know, part of the reason we use direct action within the framework of Kingian nonviolence is to give yourself leverage to go to the negotiating table. Because right now we can talk to the city, and city officials can say, Okay, we’ve heard your concerns and we don’t care.
And so one of the reasons we use direct action is to put pressure on the city so it balances the power dynamic so that we can actually genuinely negotiate. But if we’re not willing to negotiate, then…
You know, when we use forms of direct action, it puts incredible pressure on these institutions and these agencies that hold a lot of power, and by not negotiating, we’re wasting that pressure that we’re creating. All this effort, all these resources, all the time that we spend into organizing these direct actions that put immense pressure on these intuitions, and then by not negotiating, we are wasting that pressure.
So I think it is critical that we’re at the table with city officials, that we’re at the table with the police department. It doesn’t mean that — as long as we’re clear on what our principles are, then the movement will not be co-opted. And I know that that’s a fear, that once we start talking to the city, they’re going to try to co-opt the movement and this and that. As long as we are clear on what our principles are, then we’ll be fine. But that means that we also have to come to the table as a movement and figure out what those principles are that we’re not willing to compromise.
MIKE: What about co-optation within the movement?
KAZU: Yeah. I mean, I’ve certainly been accused of that. You know, I can only speak from the perspective of Occupy Oakland, but in Occupy Oakland there’s a lot of fear of co-opting — co-optation from non-profits, from churches, from electoral politics, and I think some of that is legitimate, because I think one of the things that this movement hasn’t been afraid to do is to use those radical and at time aggressive tactics. And we can’t lose that. We can’t lose that courage. We can’t lose the — we can’t be afraid to use those tactics. And some mainstream organizations may not be willing to go there, so I think there’s a legitimacy in that concern.
And at the same time, again, we’re talking about the 99%. So if we’re saying we don’t want to work with nonprofits, we don’t want to work with churches, we don’t want to work with national leadership of labor unions, we don’t want to work with city officials — who are we willing to work with?
You know, like, building movements is not about identifying where we differ with each sector of the community and finding reasons not to work with them. Building movements has to be about identifying what we share in common with the nonprofits that are doing great work in our community, with the churches that are serving a lot of people in our community, with, you know, even elected officials who — you know, I understand the money and politics, all of that, but they’re people, and if we’re willing to engage with them, there’s an opportunity to open some doors. And to me organizing is about, you know, looking at everyone as a potential ally and how we can work together.
So absolutely, the fear of co-optation I think is legitimate, and I think we need to keep that in the back of our heads, but we need to be finding ways to work together with people and not find reasons to divide ourselves.
MIKE: Do you use consensus in decision making in Oakland?
KAZU: Some people would call it that. What happens at the general assembly in Oakland is we need 90% approval from the GA. It’s not — the general assembly, to me, is not a place that’s conducive to consensus building. You know, people have two minutes to speak, pros and cons. It’s very likely that you might be booed, which, you know — and having those two minutes, having people boo you, it’s not conducive to dialogue.
And consensus building isn’t about getting to the 90%, right? It’s about building — it’s about — if it takes three days to build consensus and have everyone agree on a proposal, then that’s what consensus building is.
So again, if we’re talking about using consensus, let’s use consensus and let’s commit to — you know, if we’re talking about coming to an agreement about nonviolence and that agreement might take five days of dialogue, then that’s what we need to commit to. And if we’re not going to use consensus, if we’re going to use some sort of modified consensus or elections or something like that, then that’s fine. Then let’s just be transparent and genuine about the strategies and the tactics that we’re using.
MIKE: Do you see value in having dialogue with the 1%
KAZU: There’s an organization called Resource Generation; it’s an organization made up entirely of people with wealthy who are involved in progressive movements and involved in philanthropy and actually out there in the streets. And I’ve seen members of Resource Generation carrying around signs that kind of tell their life story, and at the bottom they always end with, “I was born into the 1% and I stand with the 99%.
And the 99% framing — it’s brilliant because it brings some communities together. And at the same time, that doesn’t allow for the reality that there’s a lot of people in the 1% that support this movement, and the fact that there’s a lot of people in the 99% that want this movement to go away.
So to me, I’ve been saying, this is not an issue between the 99% and the 1% as much as it’s an issue between the 100% of humanity and the injustice that we see in our communities.
Dr. King described the issue of segregation as not something between black people and white people but between justice and injustice, and I really think that’s the framework that we need to be working with.
You know, when we say the 99% — when we say the 1% is our enemy, it really turns away a lot of potential allies, and again, that’s hurtful for the movement. We need those allies. And we also need to be able to hold the people in the 99% that’s not supporting this movement — we need to hold those people accountable. There’s a lot of people in the 99% who are racist, classist, that benefit from capitalism, that benefit from the suffering of others, and we need to be able to hold those people accountable.
And if we say we’re the 99% and our enemy is the 1% — you know, the world is not that black and white. It’s a very nuanced world. There’s a lot of gray areas, and we need to be able to recognize and work within those gray areas.
MIKE: We’re talking with Kazu Haga. He is program coordinator of the Peace Development Fund and Bay Area coordinator of the Positive Peace Warrior Network.
And you’re in town to do some trainings?
KAZU: Yeah. Well, we are doing a mini workshop today I believe from 12 noon at the offices of American Friends Service Committee, and that’s just going to be a three-hour piece that I’m doing with a couple of colleagues that live in the Seattle area. And then tomorrow there will be another event, and I’m blanking on —
MIKE: It’s at 1:00 at Bloedel Hall at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
KAZU: There you go.
MIKE: Which, if you’re a regular listener, you should be familiar with.
KAZU: And both of those events are really meant to give people just a taste of what Kingian nonviolence is, because in March we’re actually coming back and doing a full two-day introductory training. So, you know, just trying to drum up some excitement about that. Our two-day trainings are — you know, I always say nonviolence — again, people think nonviolence is such a simple thing, that it’s about turning the other cheek. Our two-day trainings are sixteen very intense hours with homework, and the Level One certification in our program, it’s two weeks, and it’s two weeks of, like, twelve-hour days. And so, you know, for folks that think they understand that nonviolence is just about being nice and just about not being violent, there’s a whole lot more to it.
So, you know, if anyone’s curious, I really encourage you to either attend the two-day trainings or attend some of the events going on over the next couple of days just to — you know, I’m just some guy. I’m just some random dude. I’m not anyone special, but I have had the honor of working with people like Dr. LaFayette, and, you know, maybe there’s something that I can offer to this community that might help your movement here. So, you know, I encourage everyone to come along.
MIKE: All right. Just about a minute left. So if you can in a minute, where are we in history, and how important you see the occupy movement?
KAZU: I’m 31 years old, so I’m not that old, but I’ve been involved in a lot of movements. This is the biggest moment that we’ve had in my lifetime. And I think if we can come together around common principles and have common understandings of strategy and tactics and goals, then we’re facing an opportunity and a moment in history that we can create some radical changes. And so I think everyone needs to be involved, and I think we all need to find our unity.
MIKE: All right. Do you have a Web site you recommend for —
KAZU: PositivePeaceWarriorNetwork.com. I know it’s a long URL, but we’ll get something shorter soon.
MIKE: Okay. So with that, we’re unfortunately out of time. I want to thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us this morning.
KAZU: Thank you for having me.
MIKE: Again, we’ve just been talking with Kazu Haga. He is the Bay Area coordinator of the Positive Peace Warrior Network, and he’s going to be giving two talks and trainings this weekend, the first today at the American Friends Service Committee building, which is over on 9th and 40th, I believe, starting at noon. And then tomorrow, Sunday, starting at 1:00 at Bloedel Hall, which is located at St. Mark’s Cathedral. They’re off the tail end of Broadway.